Thursday, November 09, 2006

Numbering Israel

some parts of this are obvious, some not - I have been of the mind that they need to be presented together so that dimensions might be discerned to both. It was tough in many ways to write, and will be guaranteed "rough sledding".

In yeshiva at Aish, it was given over more than once that the number of Jews lost to intermarriage, apathy and assimilation since the Holocaust surpasses the number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. At times, this and similar pronouncements in other spheres seem to have been used to justify “any and all means” which might conceivably stem the tide of assimilation, ignorance and intermarriage; “this is war – a war of love at that – where ‘all is fair in love and war’…and ‘now’ is not the time for critical self-examination”. This is ‘worthy’ of another post, to put it lightly (comparisons might be made between such kiruv 'uses' of tradition and apprehension about self-criticism, and certain political 'uses' of tradition as discussed in "Ploughshares Into Swords: Contemporary Religious Zionists and Moral Constraints" By Rabbi Yitzchak Blau Tradition Vol.34 No. 4 Winter 2000 and the letters later written). I’m more interested in the spiritual/philosophical consequences of the statement more than the practical use to which it may be put.
Provided this is a true statement, the consequences are enormous. The great number of religious Jews certainly don’t speak about the current situation as if it were true, nor for that matter are there any university degree programs devoted to [“Post-War experience” as] Holocaust Studies; I had to put in lots of brackets, italicization and quotation marks to keep it sufficiently PoMo….Clearly the emphasis in the statement is on “lost” and “Jews”, where the definitions derive from religious pre-suppositions. Like most people, Jews are physical and spiritual beings (unlike most people in the particular relationship of the soul to the body - but that’s another post probably never to be written), with Aish implying that the loss during the Holocaust and the era of loss since should be viewed as matters of spiritual as well as physical-genetic loss – trumping the view of them as mere “body counts” or cultural/existential loss, as materialists would likely propound. Similarly, when committed Jews talk about the quantitative, empirical differences between the suffering of Other vs. Us, when we throw out “our” statistic slogan, “Six Million” - we often find ourselves at least thinking “Six Million…souls” – a more-than-quantitative loss, not merely Jewish bodies or genes alone.
Our tradition evidences an assumption that, as far as the inner experience of suffering is concerned, the pain and loss of extreme physical affliction is below spiritual affliction - because both are encompassed within all of Creation and are common in kind and at core, trumping differences of degree - an assumption that is not universal among other philosophies. This particular “muddling of degree/kind differences” is lived out by those who, attuned to the primacy of spirit, have chosen physical death by torture and execution to spiritual ‘death’ by transgression, idolatry, etc.
Within the context of “holocausts”, we treat survivors of holocausts who lose faith or have serious crisis of faith qualitatively different from how we treat similar suffering on the part of those not in the given holocaust. In regards to victims of the Holocaust, the ultimate fate of Jewish victims - as well as all who died “as Jews” over history* - is treated as though they died as a conscious Sanctification of the Divine Name, and their place in Heaven is a great one.
Even if this Aish statement is correct, we do not treat the ultimate fate of victims in this horrific soul-loss and rampant assimilation anything like how we treat survivors of the Holocaust (this would apply even Aish because I think they miss the point due to the usefulness of the statement), I muddle victims with survivors here not out of any disrespect, but because - assuming Aish is correct - we are still in the throws of this Holocaust, which is to say that not all who are to pass on have passed on yet - nor are all those thought lost necessarily lost; there must always be hope – with honesty (Again, I’m not making a direct comparison of degree between the “Holocausts”, I’m making a comparison of kind – and I think the difference of kind is a mix of the spiritual and genetic shared by both).
Among these “presently spiritually surviving” people number many “survivors by rote”. That’s not something I’m criticizing, I would just note that there are among us, exception-al souls - the “formerly lost not lost” – BTs and others, as well as converts who have actually cast their lot with the Jewish people amidst a spiritual (and genetic), Holocaust…this might be an interesting context for another post I did.
An aside; by “spiritual” holocaust, I clearly don’t mean something so easily-remedied that it can be fixed with legions of comfy-sweater-and-sandal-wearing, guitar-strumming bearded rabbis (or yeshivishe-garbed Kiruv Special Ops units), armed to the teeth with buckets of a rich, schmaltzy cream of zmirot and cholent served with double-barrelled Carlebachian singy-songy, backed up by dancing and huggy-huggy disposition. Liars and devils have - and always will - make use of just these techniques to ensnare us – poison and falsehood can be administered with a smile and a song just as well as medicine can (though it’s hard to take medicine while smiling and singing). The ‘spiritual’ I have in mind is of much more scope and dimension, beyond the surface, psychological level so easily approached.
Provided the “Aish statement” is true, we treat as qualitatively different, loss that occurred in one context from loss that is occurring in another – even though both are more qualitively similar (of shared spiritual/genetic nature), than not, and where the latter is more extensive by comparison and is ongoing. We are not merely observing this loss - we are experiencing it and regretably prolonging it in some ways.


At 11/10/2006 1:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is sad that the rates of intermariage continue to rise.

New solutions and methods must be found to counter this.

(By the way I would appreciate if I can have some of your input on my new Jewish History blog).

At 1/17/2011 1:42 AM, Blogger rutimizrachi said...

Given that I barely understand you: I think I am picking up a very nice point about the similarity in the Holocaust wrought by the Nazis, ym"sh, and the spiritual holocaust we are still experiencing, in the value of the neshamot lost in each. I think I am also gleaning that you see the different way each group is treated -- those who perished in the Holocaust are ALL given the status of having died al kiddush Hashem, whether or not they were shomer mitzvot, whereas those who have "perished," or are struggling, within this new holocaust are not treated with the same reverence. If I'm at all close on my perceptions, the only difference I can perceive is not one of how we value the soul/body in each case, which should be the same. Rather, it is of how much responsibility we assign to the soul/body in the latter case for its own "demise." Am I way off the mark? Any validity to the shade of difference, in your mind?


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