assumed the role of
the “outsider” when
we stood at Mount
Sinai and accepted
to fulfill the Torah
– the Divine
to our tradition,
historical event at
Mount Sinai evoked
the hatred of the
towards us. The
states the following
teaching: The name
“Sinai” alludes to
for when the Torah
was given, the pagan
nations began to
hate the People of
Israel (Shabbos 89a
– commentary of Iyun
An example of this
hatred of the
nations can be found
in Psalm 83 which
describes how an
alliance of pagan
nations tried to
destroy the People
of Israel. The
following verses of
this psalm indicate
that a primary
motivation of their
attempt to destroy
us was their hatred
of the One God Whom
“O God, do not hold Yourself silent; be not deaf and be not still O God. For behold, Your foes are in uproar and those who hate You have raised their head. Against Your people they plot deviously, they take counsel against those sheltered by You. They said, ‘Come, let us cut them off from nationhood, so Israel’s name will not be remembered any longer!’ For they take counsel together unanimously; they strike a covenant against You.” (Psalm 83:2-6)
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the above passage, explains that the nations feel threatened by the moral and ethical demands of the One God Whom Israel represents. He writes:
“God stands in the way of men and nations with His absolute power as a ruler and with the absolute requirements of His moral law, for both of which He sent Israel as a memorial and messenger among the nations. Judaism, with its concept of the invisible God and its idealistic view of the world and of life as a whole, has always been thoroughly hated by those who capitalize upon the degeneracy and corruptibility of man. The advent of Israel as a nation among nations – bare of all those things upon which the other nations base their existence – represents such a protest against the entire social and political structure of the rest of the world that the nations would desire nothing more than the elimination of Israel from their midst.”
Rabbi Hirsch adds the following insight: The very name of our nation, “Yisrael” (which means “God is sovereign”), as well as our persistent survival, proclaims the ultimate and universal supremacy of the Divine rule.
In other words, even when we are not properly fulfilling the Torah, both our name and our very existence represents a Divine ideal which threatens the degeneracy and corruption within human society.
The Christian nations also viewed us as a threat, for we, the people of the Torah, refused to worship the man that they deified. Our refusal was based on the following Divine proclamation at Mount Sinai: “You shall not have other gods before My Presence” (Exodus 20:3). In addition, the Torah states, “Know it today and take it to heart repeatedly that Hashem alone is God; in heaven above and on earth below – there is none other” (Deuteronomy 4:39). It is therefore forbidden for us to deify any object, force, or being, including a human being; in fact, the Torah tells us that “God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19). When the Christians insisted that Jesus is the Lord and Savior, we remembered that Hashem told us: “I, only I, am God, and there is no Savior aside from Me” (Isaiah 43:11).
We also refused to accept their view of him as the Messiah, for he did not fulfill the prophecies regarding the role of the Messiah, who is to gather all the exiles of Israel and inaugurate the age of universal enlightenment and shalom. (For an example of these prophecies, see Isaiah 11:1-12.) As a result of our refusal to accept their religion, the Christians hated us; thus, Maimonides writes in his Mishneh Torah regarding the Christians: “They caused the members of Israel to be slain by the sword” (The Laws of Kings 11:4 – the uncensored edition).
A study of Jewish history reveals that when the Arab founder of Islam realized that we would not accept him as our prophet and guide, he turned against us. In addition, there were a number of Muslim groups that persecuted us for not accepting their religion, and just as we had to flee from certain Christian countries, we also had to flee from certain Muslim countries. During these periods of persecution, we found refuge with some Christian and Muslim rulers who tolerated our presence and who viewed us as potential contributors to the development of their countries; however, we were still viewed as the “outsider” – the proud and stubborn people that refused to accept the religion of their host-country.
With the rise of the modern age, there were secular dictators that viewed our independent-minded people as a threat to their totalitarian power. For example, Stalin, the brutal ruler of the Soviet Union, turned against our people, and he especially persecuted those Jews who attempted to study and fulfill the Torah. At a later stage, he persecuted those members of our people who were his supporters! His contemporary, the modern Haman who ruled Germany, tried to annihilate our entire people. This secular dictator and his followers not only wished to eliminate our physical presence; they also wished to eliminate our spiritual presence. The German oppressors understood that we represent the Divine ideals which they hated. As a result of this hatred, they burned synagogues, Torahs, and all Torah-related works. In fact, any book written by a Jew was destroyed, and any music composed by a Jew was banned! In their view, each Jew – regardless of his or her level of observance – was a living representative of the “dangerous” ideals which needed to be eliminated from the new Aryan society which they wished to establish.
It is remarkable that this modern Haman, who almost succeeded in conquering the world, saw our stateless and unarmed people as his greatest threat! His hatred and fear of our people therefore serves as a reminder that we contain within ourselves a spiritual strength which threatens all evil rulers and their followers.
Our letters on the isolation of Israel reveal an awesome paradox: In the previous letter, we learned that our attempts to assimilate among the nations evoked the hatred of the nations; however, in this letter we learned that our courage to be different through accepting the Torah evoked the hatred of the nations. It seems that hatred will be directed at us no matter what we do! How, then, can we eliminate all the hatred against us? The answer can be found in the following messages which Moshe Rebbeinu proclaimed to our people before we entered the Promised Land:
1. “See! I have taught you statutes and social laws, as Hashem, my God, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to possess it. You shall safeguard and fulfill them, for it is your wisdom and understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes and who shall say, ‘Surely a wise and understanding people is this great nation!’ ” (Deuteronomy 4:5, 6)
2. Hashem will establish you for Himself as a holy nation, as He swore to you, if you will keep the mitzvos of Hashem, your God, and walk in His ways. Then all the peoples will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you.” (Deuteronomy 28:9, 10)
The above messages reveal that we will gain the admiration and respect of the peoples of the earth when we become a social model of the Divine teachings.
As we discussed, the Torah-committed Jews of the Old Yishuv strived to achieve this goal under challenging conditions, and they developed respectful relations with many of their Arab neighbors. The following information can serve as an example:
During the 19th century, the Jewish population of the Old City was rapidly increasing, and Jews began moving out of the overcrowded Jewish Quarter of the Old City into the Moslem Quarter. Rav Ben Zion Yadler, a famous “magid” – preacher – of Jerusalem, grew up in the Moslem quarter, and in his memoirs of that period, he writes:
“The hub of Jewish activity in the Moslem Quarter of the Old City is centered around Hebron Street, and northward towards the Damascus Gate…There were twenty-two synagogues in that area, both Ashkenazic and Sephardic, and two Ashkenazic yeshivos, Toras Chaim and Chayei Olam, as well as Sephardic ones…The neighborhood was mixed with Arabs; nevertheless, one was not afraid to walk alone through the alleyways, and there did not exist any animosity between Moslem and Jew. In fact, a spirit of benevolence existed there.”
As we mentioned in a previous letter, Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin was a leading sage who was also the founder of an orphanage in Jerusalem which was first located in the Moslem Quarter. Wherever Rav Yehoshua Leib went in the Moslem Quarter, the Arabs regarded him with awe, standing for him and taking care that his way was unobstructed.
In his description of the flourishing Jewish life in the Muslim Quarter, Rav Ben Zion added that there was visible proof there of the following verse which describes the respect that our people will gain when we keep the mitzvos of the Torah and walk in the ways of Hashem:
“Then all the peoples will see that the Name of Hashem is proclaimed over you, and they will revere you.” (Deuteronomy 28:10)
The complete fulfillment of this Divine promise will take place during the messianic age, when “Torah will go forth Zion, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
Be Well, and Shalom,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
1. The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the following related message regarding the way the peoples of the earth will view us in the messianic age:
“You shall be called ‘Kohanim of Hashem’; ‘ministers of our God’ will be said of you.” (Isaiah 61:6)
2. We received the following Divine promise regarding the future recognition that we will receive from the nations towards the beginning of the messianic age:
“Thus said Hashem, God of all the hosts of creation: In those days it will happen that ten men, of all the different languages of the nations, will take hold, will take hold of the corner of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you!’ ” (Zechariah 8:23)
1. Dovid Rossoff is the author of the well-researched book, “Where heaven touches earth” – Jewish life in Jerusalem from medieval times to the present. It is published by Guardian Press. The above information about Jewish life in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City is taken from this book. For further information, you can write to the author at: Rossoff @ actcom.co.il
2. Our recent letter
Relations in Old
Jerusalem: Parts 1
and 2” – is now in
the archive of our
series on our