Rabbi Berel Wein

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Jewish World Review August 18, 2000 /17 Menachem-Av, 5760

On Wagner and Chacham Ovadia


By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- OVER THE PAST TWO WEEKS two incidents touched upon the still-open wound of the Holocaust. The first, which received worldwide notoriety, was the speech that Chacham Ovadia Yosef made to his Saturday night Jerusalem class, advancing a kabalistic, reincarnation-based theory as to G-d's reasons for the Holocaust.

Now, that is too hidden and complicated a subject for me to deal with. My knowledge of kabala is limited, and I have given up trying to understand G-d's reasons for anything, especially the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, anyone who has any familiarity with traditional Jewish thought, Kabbalah, Chassidic teachings and the wealth of Jewish folk tales knows that reincarnation, expiation of previous-life sins, and the nature of the exposition of hidden G-dly reasons for inexplicable human tragedy, was not shocked by what Chacham Ovadia said. Nothing in his words contained any calumny or insult to the innocent Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Rather, he was searching for a way to comfort Israel.


Anyone who knows Chacham Ovadia, even cursorily, knows that he mourns for the victims of the Holocaust no less than the administrators of the Holocaust museums and organizations worldwide.

Whether he should have addressed so painful a subject on open radio microphones, with an antagonistic media just waiting to pounce on any of his statements, is another matter. I think that by now he also probably wishes that the incident never occurred.

Last Saturday evening, before the departure of the Sabbath, the second Holocaust event occurred. It received far less publicity than Chacham Ovadia's words, though it was the subject of some articles in the arts section of a number of Israeli newspapers. The Voice of Music radio station has finally broken the taboo against the playing of the musical works here of Richard Wagner, one of the premier antisemites and Nazi heroes of the past.

Wagner's opera, Tristan and Isolde, was performed in its entirety on Israeli radio.

Now listen to the reaction of our progressive, liberal-minded, tolerant elite, as reflected in an article on this subject published in Ha'aretz: "Now the wall has been breached. The broadcast of Tristan and Isolde will put an end to the ban on Wagner in Israel ... After this week's broadcast, it will not be long before Wagner returns to the concert hall. That may depend on the reactions to this week's broadcast.

"One may make a risk-free guess: the reactions will be feeble. Who is now going to make a big fuss about Wagner's rehabilitation? Few Holocaust survivors are left, and they are too old and weary to show up in the sack-cloth and uniforms of the camps, with truncheons in their hand, to rain blows on the amazed audience. Whom would they strike? Certainly one feels that their goal is no longer relevant... After all, who is in the least bit interested in yet another discussion of this topic, which tragically, has become one of the most hammered-to-death topics in the debate on music and culture in Israel?"

Now, how's that for intellectual sensitivity to the Holocaust, my friends?

The young Shomer Hatza'ir, the Youth of Meretz, the fresh-cheeked young idealists of the Labor Party, spent a good number of days picketing outside the home of Chacham Ovadia. They were shown on television and in the press arriving in air-conditioned buses, dressed in special T-shirts prepared for the occasion, to vent their spleens at the aged rabbi and at the other unenlightened ones who inhabit Har Nof in Jerusalem.

They were there to teach those people proper respect for the Holocaust and its victims. These young people, who sadly know nothing about Judaism, Jewish heritage or Jewish values, and who have undoubtedly never had a serious conversation with an observant Jew in their young lives, are somehow part of our future. The honor of the victims of the Holocaust burns so deeply within them that they are willing to confront other Jews openly, provocatively, antagonistically and unnecessarily.

I wonder why they weren't sent as well by their handlers to picket the Voice of Music that so barely breached the barrier against Richard Wagner. For after all, the Holocaust played no favorites among us, did it?

And what about the teachers who chaperoned a group of Israeli students to Auschwitz last year. These secular students invited a striptease act into their room that night. The teachers clucked in benevolent disapproval, but "understood" where their young charges were coming from.

Who picketed the homes of those teachers and students? Where was the international furor about the victims of the Holocaust then?

Come on guys, get a life!

The rabbis of the Talmud stated a truism --- "Wise men should be careful with their words." Our current wise men of Israel, in all of its feuding camps, would do well to take those words to heart.

And the provokers and haters, those who continually sow dissension and those who so gleefully abet them by giving them undue public exposure, should reexamine their motives.

We could all benefit by a little more quiet, a lot more fairness and at least a modicum of good common sense.



JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He resides in Jerusalem. You may contact Rabbi Wein by clicking here or calling 1-800-499-WEIN (9346).


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© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein