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The Incivil Irritatingness of Jewish Theodicy

John Murray Cuddihy

UNCIVIL RELIGION: Interreligious Hostility in America
Edited by Robert N. Bellah and Frederick E. Greenspahn
Crossroad New York 1987

According to an old joking story, of which every group has its version, a professor assigned term papers on the topic of "The Elephant to a small seminar of independent-study students. The German student wrote on The Taxonomy of Elephants"; the French student wrote on "The Elephant and Romantic Love"; the Jewish student wrote on "The Elephant and the Problem of Anti-Semitism."

There is a long tradition of connecting Jews with matters that, on the Surface at least, have little or nothing to do with them. A recent issue of the Jewish Week, for example, notes that "'The Jewish Contribution to the Olympic Games' will be broadcast as a multi-part series from now through the 1984 Summer Games, on 'Page One,' the syndicated news- magazine program produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Richard Trank, program director, will interview sports buff Richard Macales, who will provide little-known facts concerning Jewish Olympians." 1

Such an egregious tradition, which sees the salience of Jews and anti-Semitism for such an extraordinarily broad range of subjects, events, and topics "makes it all the more notable, then," Professor Berel Lang writes,

that anti-Semitism, which has been such a coercive factor in Jewish history, should be viewed as not part of the "Jewish Question" at all, but as an issue, since it could only have been defined by non-Jews, remains quite fully their question: to answer, as well as to answer for. The reasonable, indeed urgent, concern to understand anti-Semitism -- its origins and causes, its forms of expression--has, for once, nothing to do with the Jews. This view, furthermore. . . has served as a premise in the most serious historical attempts to analyze the phenomenon of anti-Semitism--in standard works, for example, by Poliakov and Parkes and, hardly less noticeably, in the general Jewish histories by such figures as Graetz, Dubnow, and Baron....This resistance to the possibility of a connection between anti-Semitism and Jewish history is understandable, but it has also been pernicious. Consideration of that possibility is, in fact, crucial to a grasp of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism; its avoidance has, in fact, persistently distorted the analysis of anti-Semitism as a general occurrence and has skewed the accounts of even such specific, ponderable expressions of anti-Semitism as the Holocaust itself. 2

"The Jewish Contribution to the Olympic Games"--such contributions are common, but the "Jewish Contribution to the Jewish Question"? To this problem the Jewish contribution is claimed to be nonexistent.

Recently the position that anti-Semitism has nothing to do with Jews and everything to do with gentiles was formulated in its pure form: "The notion that anti-Semitism can be, in the slightest degree, the fault of Jews," writes Cynthia Ozick, "is in itself--even when it crops up, as it frequently does, among Jews--a species of anti-Semitism. In three indeli- ble sentences of irrefutable clarity," she continues, "Barbara Tuchman blows away this foolishness: 'Anti-Semitism,' she says, 'is independent of its object. What Jews do or fail to do is not the determinant. The impetus comes out of the needs of the persecutors.'" 3 Not only does anything Jews do or refrain from doing have nothing to do with anti-Semitism, but any attempt to explain anti-Semitism by referring to the Jewish contribution to anti-Semitism is itself an instance of anti-Semitism!

This reductio ad absurdum has stunning implications. It means that Jews have not been causal agents in their own history. Nothing about them has "contributed" to the emergence of anti-Semitism. They did not act and interact causally and historically with other groups in history. Morally blameless, the Jews in this self-conception escaped the rough give-and-take of history. They were outside history, aspiring to what Lionel Trilling calls in another connection, unconditioned spirit." Following Maritain, let us call this "angelism." 4

Theodicy, as we know, is a traditional branch of classical moral theology. It endeavors to understand evil, to reconcile God's goodness and omnipotence, on the one hand, with the fact of evil--sin, pain, death, cruelty--on the other. How does one reconcile a benevolent and omnipotent God with the existence of evil? Milton wrote the epic of an evil fall, a Paradise Lost, in order, he writes, "to justify the ways of God to man." A book on theodicy written by a rabbi led the nonfiction best-seller list for much of 1983. It was called When Bad Things Happen to Good People.5

Jewish theodicy is the way Jews--ordinary Jews, secular or religious-- handle the problem of evil in everyday life and in their writings and literature and art. For Jews, the problem of evil takes paramount shape as the problem of anti-Semitism, and the problem of anti-Semitism is climaxed in the Holocaust. In the course of performing their theodicy, the discourse of Jews is frequently irritating. Not necessarily wrong, or inaccurate, or immoral or illegal, but just simply annoying.

Why? Because, I would hold, of its presumption of total innocence on the part of Jews in relation to the historical phenomenon of anti-Semitism. In this theodicy, the Jewish people become as blameless and benevolent as God himself is supposed to be in the dilemma of classical theodicy. The problem becomes, "How do bad things [read: anti-Semitism] happen to this good people?"

If this people in practice really considers itself blameless, as sinned against by other groups, itself not sinning against them, it is driven by its own logic to a kind of Manichean view of the world in which a small weak, good group (the Jews) is dispersed among a large, strong, bad group (the nations, the goyim). This small, good group is self-defined as a victim of the large, strong, bad, Christian group that victimizes it.

It was not ever thus with Jewish theodicy. The classical theodicy blamed the Jews themselves for the woes of exile. The earlier lamentations were intrapunitive. I define Jewish secularization and emancipation as precisely a shift in the direction of blame: from a deserved punishment from God for violating the covenant to blaming the instruments of his wrath, the nations. The vector of blame shifts from intrapunitive to exteropunitive, leaving the Jews themselves relatively blameless.

Jewish theodicy so conceived finds nothing morally problematic about its claimed status as victim. Jews blame the victimizer, the anti-Semite. They see the anti-Semite as blaming the victim, the Jew. This they take to be very problematic and irrational. Yet, when Jews' own historical actions, in the Middle East for example, create a stateless people who, in turn, blame the Jews and the Israelis, what does Jewish theodicy do? It blames the victims, the Palestinians, and sees nothing irrational in this. This presumption of blamelessness is irritating because it violates reciprocity.

Let me try to supply some concrete, often random, contemporary examples of this kind of self-regarding moral complacency. I believe that, in the main, they are typical, rather than exceptional.

Stuart E. Eisenstat, former assistant to President Carter for domestic affairs (1977-81), speaks of American support for Israel as based on many things, including "the enlightened ethics of Israel."6 The shape of the phrase itself is odd. Would anyone say, for example, that Margaret Thatcher's England supports American policy because of "the enlightened ethics of the United States"? Or our support of England--would we say that it was based on "the enlightened ethics of England"? Simply as a locution, it is odd, even apart from the problem of whether or not it is true.

Another example: As David Denby writes, Woody Allen's "Broadway Danny Rose, conceals a good deal of Jewish self-regard--indeed, the Jews-are-more-moral-than-other-people sentiments get a little sticky here, especially as all the Italians apart from Tina [played by Mia Farrow] are pictured as outright slobs." 7 In Danny Rose, Denby continues, Woody Allen plays "a small-time Jewish entertainment figure so insistently moral that he lingers in a restaurant to lay down a tip even as Mafia hit men are coming in the door to bump him off." 8

This moral smugness and self-regard can take the form of imputing envy to "the world," to the gentile, to the goyim. Hence Elie Wiesel's remarks at the Western Wall shortly after its "liberation" in the 1967 war: "Let's not fool ourselves. The world already envies our victory. Already we can hear the strident voices.... Even our 'friends' are not likely to forgive that we were victorious--that it was such an impolitely swift victory, so complete, so magnificent, it is understandable. We have suddenly stripped them of the chance to pity us." 9 Notice Wiesel's curious certitude that the goyim "envy" Jews their victory; but, he adds, given that the victory was so "impolitely swift . . . so complete, so magnificent," such envy is "understandable." This public kvelling and sanctimonious moralizing are all rolled into the familiar Wieselian bolus. It is irritating. And yet the New York pundit and critic John Leonard announces, "If we stop reading [Wiesel]--if we stop listening--we will lose our souls." 10

This matter of Christians envying Jews is revived by Jewish intellectuals and their allies in every era. The question is always what is being envied and why? Thirty years ago, the Jewish social thinker Karl Polanyi addressed this problem in the course of his review of the late Benjamin Nelson's The Idea of Usury, From Tribal Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood. 11 The Deuteronomic ban on tribal usury--the taking of interest on a loan to one's brother Jew--was waived in the case of the gentiles. Medieval Catholicism universalized this prohibition: no usury from anyone. What Polanyi describes as a "monstrous situation" arose, a situation in which Jews were envied by Christians for "having evaded the cross of the supererogatory ethic." The Jew must have been aware, Polanyi writes, that he enjoyed a "privilegium odiosum conferred on him by the restriction of the Deuteronomic injunction to his own kind." Hence, he concludes, the idea of usury in the West has dramatic implications and "bears the imprint of the Jewish-Christian calvary." 12

The vicissitudes of interreligious envy, unlike those of interreligious hostility, remain a curiously underresearched topic. To return to Elie Wiesel: Was "the world" he deemed envious of the Six-Day War--so impolitely swift . . . so complete, so magnificent"--envying its magnificence or was it envying, when and if it did, perhaps, a privilegium odiosum, an immunity from criticism in the Christian West? America would have been swift to condemn, had a Third World country won a similarly "magnificent" war.

What is it that enables Jews and Jewish spokesmen so often to occupy the moral high ground with such confidence? To answer this, we need more case material.

Several years ago the following appeared in the Jewish Week:

Brooklyn's ex-D.A., now Jerusalemite, Finds Israel Rewarding

A reporter ran across a familiar face and familiar Brooklyn accent in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and asked Eugene Gold, new immigrant, how he liked it in Israel, how Israel compared with America.

That was an unfair question, the former District Attorney of Kings County (Brooklyn) said. "It's unfair to compare Israel with America. Materially, there's no land like the States, but that's not what we came here for anyway," he said over a glass of wine with a reporter for "Israel Scene," the slick magazine of the World Zionist Organization.

Gold practically stepped out of his office in Brooklyn when his term ended six months ago and onto an aircraft, with his wife, to take them to Israel to live.

"Why they went on aliyah?" Sure," he said. "In New York we had a much higher standard of living. But we wanted to be part of a state that reflects the uniqueness of being Jewish--the morals, the justice." He looked at his wife, Ronnie. "Well, didn't we?" he asked her. She beamed assent. 13

What is so irritating, to me anyway, about Gold's contrast between America and Israel is the facile identification of America with "materialism" and a "higher standard of living" versus Israel, with its "uniqueness of being Jewish--the morals, the justice," its idealism and higher standard of morality and justice. Anybody can understand and sympathize with the feeling of the American immigrant, toward the end of his life, returning to the old country--or the new country, or the Altneuland--to live out his days on Social Security. You don't have to be a cultural anthropologist to empathize with the good feeling of being "at home" among "your own," with familiar sounds, and laughs, and tears. But Gold's ordinary human contentment is inseparable from the Zionist ideology of the Jewish state as morally superior to other states. The Golds made aliyah for high-minded motives, for moralistic reasons. The Diaspora they leave behind is damned with faint praise: "Materially, there's no land like the States, but that's not what we came here for ...." In fact, they made a sacrifice in going; they traded in a higher standard of living for a higher standard of morality. The ideology buried (and not so buried) in this interview is irritating and incivil and, I think, tied ultimately to Jewish theodicy and "why bad things happen to good people." The "impulse to moral aggrandizement," to use Lionel Trilling's phrase, to group moral aggrandizement, appears here with appalling frankness.

The self-image of the Jew as morally superior to the goyim is embedded in the situation of Jewish emancipation. Being marginal and relatively powerless, in other words, being luftmenschy, enabled Jews, especially Jewish intellectuals, to become very moralistic, very critical of the Diaspora. Ideologies like Marxism, Freudianism, Hebraism, and Reform Judaism embody this high-minded thrust. The luxury of powerlessness ended with the founding of Israel. In becoming Israelis, Jews dirtied their hands. But, despite les mains sales, the old-time theodicy of victimage continued, especially in the Diaspora. There is a strain, a conflict, between two rhetorics--between the Diaspora Reform rhetoric of the Jew as ethical, moralistic, and pacifistic and the Israeli rhetoric of Sabra victory and pride, between, if you will, New York Times editorial talk and the talk of Menachem Begin and General Ariel Sharon.

There are, of course, attempts to keep the Diaspora rhetoric alive. We turn again to Elie Wiesel, who writes: "How do Jews respond to violence?" With retaliation? No. "When the enemy is mad, he destroys; when the killer is mad, he kills. When we are mad, we sing."14 But the Israelis also have guns. The Times knows this. In its 1977 Christmas editorial on Bethlehem we read, "Atop the Church of the Nativity, Jewish lads tug idly at their slung firearms and scan ocher hills that command our [sic] history. What is sovereign there in Bethlehem? And who?" 15 This is transition rhetoric, bridging powerlessness and power; a vista of Diaspora Jewish lads protecting Christian pilgrims, tugging idly at slung firearms, scanning ocher hills. It is Wordsworth cum Uzi, a pastoral "occupation."

Earlier, Rabbi Jacob Neusner had noted the way Israel seeks "to make war without fanaticism, to wage peace with selflessness . . . above all its hatred of what it must do to survive." 16 Prime Minister Golda Meir's statement that she might be able to forgive the Arabs their killing of Israelis but she could never forgive their having turned Israelis into killers of Arabs has become famous. Reviewing an Israeli book on the Six-Day War, American Jewish writer Hugh Nissenson observes that the soldiers' "victory agonizes them. They refuse to discard the immemorial Jewish sense of identity with the victim . . . they are horrified to become conquerors."17 Accompanying the review is a photo of an Israeli who looks like a tzaddik.

There is an almost conscious search on the part of Jewish writers to find a rhetoric, and metaphors, and analogies that will hold on to both images at once: the Jew as agonized, good, and victim together with the Jew as victorious soldier. The Hebrew Bible seems to offer the ideal synthesis-- the image of David and Goliath, with Israel as David, of course, and the Arab world as Goliath. When Random House brought out Yigal Allon's story of Israel's armed forces in 1970, it was called The Shield of David. In February of the following year, again Random House published Shimon Peres's account of Israel's military and industrial strength; it was titled David's Sling.

How _does_ one cling to the old image and yet acknowledge the new? Novelist Herbert Gold turns the rhetorical trick by using a metaphor taken from born-again Christianity: "I grieved with the twice-born steely ones of the Israeli army." 18

The figure of the Diaspora Jew as schlemiel is retained by Diaspora Jews and incongruously combined with the confident, even brash, Sabra. In European Jewish writing, Ruth R. Wisse notes, "The fool appears in many guises: on the battlefield he cries: 'Stop shooting! Someone might, God forbid, lose an eye!'" 19

Somehow, the Diaspora rhetoric of the Jew as schlemiel, as a fumbling, bumbling, inept loser--as a Christ-figure, even--continues even as contradictory reports pour in. The 1982 invasion of Lebanon and siege of Beirut was a severe test for Diaspora Jewry's traditional theodicy. Who were the bad people? What were the "bad things" that were happening to "good people"? Who were the good people?

On August 5, New Yorkers read a dispatch in the Times by James F. Clarity, datelined Jerusalem and headlined, "Begin Says 'Nobody Should Preach to Us'": "The Prime Minister [addressing 200 American members of the U.J.A.] evoked loud applause discussing the Israeli army. 'It is the most valiant army in the world,' he said. 'It is the most humane army in the world. Our boys get killed in order not to hurt civilians. Nobody is going to preach to us humanitarianism.... Nobody, nobody,' he nearly shouted, 'is going to bring Israel to its knees. The Jews do not kneel but to God.'" 20

On that same day, Washingtonians read a front-page dispatch in their Post by William Branigan, datelined Beirut, and headlined, "Nowhere to Run As Shells Rain On Downtown Beirut": "For many there seemed nowhere to run on this day of terror as Israeli shells and bombs launched from land, sea and air fell nonstop from midnight until just after dark.... The pattern of nearly 20 hours of shelling appeared to be indiscriminate to reporters and other observers...." 21

Was this "the most humane army in the world," with Israelis getting killed in order not to hurt Arabs, as the prime minister told his American U.J.A. visitors? Or was this an "indiscriminate" bombing of civilians in a nonstop siege, as William Branigan told the Washington Post? The two images of Israeli Jewry were clashing in August 1982.

It so happened that a Times correspondent had also described the bombing as "indiscriminate": "On August 6 . . . Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times' bureau chief in Beirut, cabled his Manhattan editors in outrage when he awoke to discover that they had summarily cut the word 'indiscriminate' from his lead on the previous day's Israeli bombing of Beirut. The bombing had 'the apparent aim of terrorizing its [Beirut's] civilian population,' said Friedman's Telex. His editors had been [he wrote] 'afraid to tell our readers,' and the correspondent thought it 'thoroughly unprofessional.'" 22

Why were the editors of the New York Times "afraid" to tell their readers that the Israeli bombing had, for twenty hours, been "indiscriminate" ? What were they "afraid" of ? As we have seen, Branigan's dispatch to the Washington Post on the same day had also described the bombing as "indiscriminate," and his editors had not seen fit to censor the word.

No published comments on the siege and the siege coverage, Roger Morris writes in the Columbia Journalism Review, are more telling than the heretofore unpublished text of Thomas Friedman's "impassioned Telex" to his Times editors when the paper deleted the adjective "indiscriminate" from his August 5 lead on the Israeli bombing. "He had always been careful, Friedman said (and his dispatches would document the claim), 'to note in previous stories that the Israelis were hitting Palestinian positions and if they were hitting residential areas to at least raise the possibility that the Palestinians had a gun there at one time or another.' He [Friedman] had used 'a strong word' such as 'indiscriminate' only after he had taken a hazardous tour of the city with Branigan of the Post and had concluded that 'what happened yesterday was something fundamentally different from what has happened on the previous 63 days [of the siege]. The 'newspaper of record should have told its readers and future historians' about the Israeli terror bombing, Friedman went on. It was [he Telexed] the 'very essence of what was new yesterday.... What can I say?' he concluded. 'I am filled with profound sadness by what I have learned in the past afternoon about my newspaper.'

"Sent over the Reuters open wire and widely read in the profession, Friedman's cable provided a remarkable inside look at the conscientiousness of reporters in Beirut and their awareness of the sensitivity at home of what they were reporting. In a sense," Morris concludes, "it would be a more eloquent rebuttal to critics of the war coverage than any dispatch from the front." 23

What is this "sensitivity at home" that made the Times resort to the censorship of one of its own bureau chiefs? What was the Times afraid of? Readers? Yes. Jewish readers? Yes. Jewish organizations? Yes. All would probably have come down on them heavily. But I think a deeper fear was the fear of losing an illusion, a theodicy, a carefully constructed and maintained "social construction of reality." For a millennium, if any Diaspora Jew were to hear news about "bad things happening to good people" there would be very little doubt in his mind about who the good people" were and who were the perpetrators of the "bad things." This presumption of Jewish victimhood, of Jewish blamelessness, had never been publicly rebuttable. But it was rebutted that week in Beirut. And all the efforts of the Anti-Defamation League to include the Beirut press coverage in their annual audit of defamation have failed.

In fact, the surfeit with what I call Jewish angelism did not have to wait till 1982. There already had been murmurings in the wake of the 1967 war. When, for example, psychoanalyst Erik Erikson defended the Israeli occupation in a passage in his book on Gandhi, writing that "the triumph of Israeli soldiery is markedly subdued, balanced by a certain sadness over the necessity to reenter historical actuality by way of military methods not invented by the Jews and yet superbly used by them," Princeton anthropologist Clifford Geertz was slightly nauseated by what he calls the "moral double-talk" of this passage. He goes on to say that he prefers "the bleak candor of Realpolitik to images of a saddened soldiery fighting to advance the cause of pacifism . . . 25

But, even after Beirut, what Geertz calls the "moral double-talk" goes on. Author Herman Wouk, for example, on his way to visit his two sons in Israel, one in the navy the other in the army, wrote that the Israeli army is "the strangest" army in the world. Why? Because the army hates war "as much as the anti-nuclear marchers do." 26 If only Wouk, a professional writer; had said, "almost as much as the anti-nuclear marchers do," but no, he must go all the way, for it is Israel and his own sons he is writing about, and Beirut must become another Aldermaston.

After the siege of Beirut came the September massacre at the Sabra and Shatila camps, committed by the Christian Phalange while their Israeli ally looked the other way.27 There was an outcry against Israel. Prime Minister Begin resisted calls for a commission of inquiry. After having visited Begin, Reform Jewish leader Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler asked, "What has given us, historically, the strength to withstand the attacks of the world?" And he answered his own question as follows: "Our sense of rightness. The only thing that has enabled us to withstand the torments of the centuries, the martyrdom, was our sense of moral superiority." 28

Underlying all the ideologies of Diaspora Jewish intellectuals--secular ideologies like Marxism and Freudianism, religious ideologies like Reform Judaism and Hebraism, national ideologies like Bundism and Zionism-- there is a generic ideology that I call the ideology of Jewish moralism. Like all ideology in the modem sense this one both reveals and conceals-- conceals by generalizing--an interest. "Cui bono?" we ask of this posture of moral high-mindedness. "The Jews," Susan Sontag notes, "pinned their hopes for integrating into modern society on promoting the moral sense . . . for every sensibility is self-serving to the group that promotes it." 29

The premise of this generic ideology was superiority to the surrounding environment, the nations, the goyim, superiority to what Jews like Begin and Wiesel call grandly "the world." The ideology remains group-enhancing. It performs this function even if it is not, in fact, true. Plausibility is enough.

Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, this ideology is no longer very useful and is being cast aside. The Jewish ideology passes; the Jewish interest abides. That interest no longer centers in a politics of redistribution. In fact, few Diaspora Jewish intellectuals use the old moralistic vocabulary in discussing foreign policy. The word "justice" has fallen into disuse. Jacobo Timerman is old-fashioned. Expelled from Argentina, he used on Israel the same moralism that Diaspora intellectuals had been using on the claims and pretensions of the Diaspora nations for generations.30 His stay in Israel was a short one.

So, the old free-floating Jewish intellectuals of Karl Mannheim vintage, these classical intellectual skywriters, these luftmenschen have ever since 1948 done a long, slow free-fall down, out of the circumambient air. They hit the ground running, running away from the old "interstices" and into the arms of the new conservatives.

The origin of this Jewish ideology of moralism--Mathew Arnold and S. D. Luzzatto called it "Hebraism" 31--is in the secularization of the doctrine of Jewish election, Jewish chosenness. This affirmation of chosenness secularized itself into a value attitude of moral superiority. What the late Harold Nicolson wrote about the early Christians applies, a fortiori to the Jews: "The prejudice against the Galileans was not due to their doctrine or their form of worship so much as to their bad manners. It was their attitude toward the non-elect that irritated people; not their faith."32

Brandeis University sociologist of religion Marshall Sklare notes that Jews "still possess a feeling of superiority, although more in the moral and intellectual realms now than in the area of spiritual affairs. While the [Jewish] feeling of superiority is a factor which has received comparatively little attention from the students of the problem [of explaining Jewish survival], it is of crucial importance because it operates to retard assimilation. Leaving the group . . . is viewed not as advancement, but cutting oneself off from a claim to superiority." 33

In more recent times, chosenness was inherited as a sense of one's betterness, one's betterness to the goyim. What a Jewish child in mid-century America inherited, writer Philip Roth told an Israeli audience, was "no body of law, no body of learning and no language, and finally, no Lord--which seems to me a significant thing to be missing." But what one did receive, Roth went on, "was a psychology, not a culture and not a culture in its totality. What one received whole, however, what one feels whole, is a kind of psychology; and the psychology can be translated into three words--'Jews are better.' This is what I knew from the beginning: somehow Jews were better. I'm saying this as a point of psychology; I'm not saying it as a fact." 34

In a recent book, Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin maintain that, in fact, "Jews generally have led higher quality lives than their Gentile neighbors" owing to the higher values instilled in them by their Judaism, and that gentiles, perceiving Jews as "better than" themselves, resent and envy them precisely for this.35 This, they claim, is the cause of anti-Semitism.

This is, clearly, the obverse side of Barbara Tuchman and Cynthia Ozick's statement that the very effort to explain anti-Semitism as a response to anything Jews do or don't do is itself anti-Semitism: les etremes se touchent. Here anti-Semitism is related intrinsically to Jewish values and Jewish behavior, to Judaism itself: it is the compliment vice pays to virtue. Jews are better morally and superior culturally and are perceived as such by others. And this, not scapegoating or projection, Prager and Telushkin claim, is the reason for anti-Semitism.

But, Joseph Sobran objects, "most people in the West have tended to look on Jews as backward, not superior. The popular sociology that made 'jew' and 'gyp' slang terms for sharp dealing may have been crude and cruel, but it hardly expressed a sense that Jewish and Gypsy life were worthy of envy. Prager and Telushkin overlook the sheer ethnocentrism of other cultures, because they are possessed by an ethnocentrism of their own.... [The book] Why the Jews? assumes that Jewish self-absorption is matched by a Gentile absorption with Jews."36

A final point: After a particularly atrocious terrorist attack on women and children in Israel on Saturday, March 11, 1978, Prime Minister Menachem Begin wrote in the Jewish Press that these women and children were slain by murderers "only because they were Jews, only because they were citizens of Israel. They fell at the hands of murderers who pointed their arrows at the Jewish heart." 37 These words contain the whole of this paper.

The scapegoat theory "is popular," Robert Segal writers, "because in refusing to explain anti-Semitism historically it precludes any possible apology for anti-Semitism."38 But if the scapegoat theory thus makes anti-Semitism capricious and irrational, Begin's Zionist ideology, where no historical explanation is needed because Jews were slain "only because they were Jews," makes anti-Semitism an eternal, Manichean problem. This type of explana-tion is, Segal writes, "likewise antihistorical: a priori anti-Semitism rather than any a posteriori, historical anti- Semitism stems from the same fear as that underlying the scapegoat theory: the fear that a historical explanation will make the Jews responsible for anti-Semitism, and will thereby excuse it." 39 "To say that [Jews] are singled out simply for being Jewish is to speak not only tautologically but also nonhistorically," Segal concludes. 40

To make this point clearer, let me use a fanciful example. Suppose that the Irish, deeming themselves the "lost tribe of Israel," had, in a fit of irredentism, returned in force and occupied Palestine in 1948, thus inheriting all the Arab world's hatred that Jews have, in fact, inherited. Suppose, further, that Arab terrorists had blown up a bus full of Irish women and children on March 11, 1978, and that the Irish prime minister cried out, "These women and children were slain by murderers only because they were Irish." Would it not be clear to almost everyone that they had not been killed for their Irishness, but rather for their behavior, for what the Arabs believed they had done, for their actions, their occupation?

In Begin's account of Israelis being killed for their Jewishness as such, the Jews are at least not marginalized as they would be in a historical or general social-science analysis of the atrocity. They were not killed, he is telling us, as scapegoats, as projections or displacements for some other hostility, territorial or otherwise. They were murdered because they were Jews and, as he writes, "only because they were Jews." This makes Jewishness the center of everything.

In the illusion of that centrality there reappears what Hannah Arendt calls the Zionist ideology of eternal ahistorical anti-Semitism.41 In the conviction [34] that the Israelis were murdered for their being (for being Jews) and not for their doing, we find the heart of the secular Jewish theodicy. And in this theodicy, which is a tautology, we find at work what theodicies always do--consolation When it comes to their own behavior, Jews go on a moral holiday, legitimated by their secular, post-emancipation ideology. And if consoling to Jews, it is irritating to many non-Jews.


1. Jewish Week, 20 April 1984, p. 28.

2. Berel Lang, "Anti-Semitism--A Jewish Question," Judaism 26:1 (Winter 1977) 68-69.

3. Cynthia Ozick, "Debate: Ozick vs. Schulweis," Moment 1:10 (May-June 1976) 78.

4. Jacques Maritain writes about that beata nox of November 1619, when the fertile idea of the reform of reason--sparkling with angelic lustre"--was conceived by Descartes in a little heated room in Germany (The Dream of Descartes together with Some Other Essays [New York: Philosophical Library, 1944 ]21) .

5. Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Schocken Books, 1981).

6. Address at the Ben-Gurion Memorial Ceremony, Sde Boker, Israel, 13 November 1983.

7. David Denby, "Movies: Guy and Doll," New York Magazine 17:6 (6 February 1984) 66.

8. Ibid., p. 64.

9. Elie Wiesel, "Holy Place," from Hadassah magazine, reprinted as part of Israel, a special advertising supplement in the New York Times Magazine,

11 September 1983, p.15) sponsored by the Israel-American Friendship Committee, in assoc. with Zaham Publications, Ltd.

10. John Leonard, advertisement for Summit Books, distributed by Simon & Schuster, New York Times, 29 April 1981, p. C28.

11. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949 (2d ed. published by the University of Chicago Press in 1969).

12. Karl Polanyi, "The Brother and the Other," Commentary 10:2 (August 1950) 193 and 194.

13.Jewish Week, 6 August 1982, p. 6 (my italics).

14. A Jew Today (New York: Random House, 1978) 180.

15. "The Command of Bethlehem," New York Times, 25 December 1977, r. 10E.

16. Jacob Neusner, "Judaism and the Zionist Problem," Judaism 10:3 (Summer 1970) 32. [end 35]

17. Hugh Nissenson, reviewing The Seventh Day: Soldiers' Talk about the Six-Day War, ed. Avraham Shapira (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971), in New York Times Book Review, 2 May 1971, p. 41.

18. "On Being a Jew," Commentary 53:3 (March 1972) 63.

19. Ruth R. Wisse, The Schlemiel As Modern Jewish Hero (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971) 23.

20. New York Times, 5 August 1982, p. A2, col. 4.

21. Washington Post, 5 August 1982, p. Al (my italics).

22. Roger Morris, "Beirut and the Press Under Siege," Columbia Journalism Review 21:4 (November/December 1982) 24.

23. Ibid., p. 30 (my italics).

24. Erik H. Erikson, Gandhi's Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence (New York: W. W. Norton, 1969) 376.

25. Clifford Geem, "Gandhi: Non-Violence as Therapy," New York Review of Books 13:9 (20 November 1969) 4.

26. Herman Wouk, "Must Wars Occur?" Parade (supplement in the Washington Post, 6 February 1983) p. 7.

27. Despite Israeli Foreign Ministry denials, David K. Shipler's dispatch to the New York Times, 19 September 1982, pp. 1 and 14, reads:

"Nevertheless, as early as the second week of the war last June, Israeli of ciats were speaking privately of a plan, being considered by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, to allow the Phalangists to go into West Beirut and the camps against the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The calculation was that the Phalangists, with old scores to settle and detailed information on the Palestinian fighters, would be more ruthless than the Israelis and probably more effective."

28. David K. Shipler, "In Israel, Anguish over Moral Questions on Beirut," New York Times, 24 September 1982, p. A10. The massacre was September 17-19.

29. Susan Sontag, "Notes on 'Camp,' " in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966) 290.

30. Cf. Jacobo Timerman, The Longest War: Israel in Lebanon (New York:Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).

31. Cf. John M. Cuddihy, The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity (New York: Basic Books, 1974) 183-84.

32. Harold Nicolson, Good Behaviour: Being a Study of Certain Types of Civility (London: Constable, l9SS) 89.

33. Marshal Sklare, ConservativeJudaism: An American Religious Movement (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, l9SS) 34.

34. Philip Roth, "Second Dialogue in Israel," panel on The Jewish Intellectual and Jewish Identity, Congress Bi-Weekly 30: 12 (16 September 1963) 21.

35. Why the Jews The Reason for Anti-Semitism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983) 34.

36. Joseph Sobran, "Anti-Semites All," National Review 35:15 (5 August 1983) 948. [end 36]

37. "Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin Speaks," Jewish Press, 24 March 1978, p. 3 (italics mine).

38. Robert A. Segal, "The Historical Inexplicability of Anti-Semitism," Contemporary Jewry 5:2 (Fall/Winter 1980) 66.

39. Ibid., p. 67.

40. Ibid., p. 68.

41. The Jew as Pariah (New York: Grove Press, 1978) 141. Elsewhere she writes of Diaspora Jews' conviction "that the eternal and ubiquitous nature of anti-Semitism [hasl been the most pofent ideological factor in the Zionist movement since the Drerfus Affair" (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil [New York: Viking Press, 1965] 10 [italics added]).