Rabbi Berel Wein

JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review Feb. 28, 2000 /22 Adar I, 5760


By Rabbi Berel Wein

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ONE OF THE COMMON WAYS to avoid unpleasant realities is to deny that they exist. The capacity for human beings to deny reality is unlimited. In a way, this is a positive trait for it allows human beings and even nations to continue to live their normal daily lives and remain productive and vital. All healthy human beings, always subconsciously aware of their mortality, nevertheless deny the reality of death and push it out of their minds. This enables us to be optimistic, creative and ambitious. Yet, denial of reality is also terribly dangerous. It prevents timely responses to problems and clouds our vision and eventually weakens us at the moment of true trial.

In the past century, the Western world generally and the Jewish people particularly were in fatal denial as to the evil of Hitler and Stalin. Chamberlain said that "Herr Hitler is an honorable man." He wasn't. Chamberlain merely wished that he was. But wishing and denial rarely change reality. Almost everyone in the Jewish world denied that Hitler really meant what he preached and wrote regarding Germany's necessity for lebensraum and his planned solution to the "Jewish problem." The deniers were wrong --- dead wrong. Econophone

May Day was a holiday here in Israel for decades. There were Jews here in Israel and in other Jewish communities in the world who wept bitter tears when informed that the great "father of humanity," Josef Stalin, died. The kibbutz movement here in Israel split into two, families were torn apart, new political alignments were formed, all based on the denial of the reality that Stalin was probably the greatest murderer of all time. He was also a terrible anti-Semite. Even when one of the leaders of the pro-Soviet Israeli Mapam party was arrested and tried in Czechoslovakia on an obviously trumped-up charge of spying, the hardened Leftists of Israel denied reality and continued to support the "progressive, democratic, peace-loving" policies of the Soviet Union. Only when Soviet bullets, tanks and planes began to kill Israeli soldiers did reality sink in.

The Jewish people and the State of Israel are in sore need of a reality check today. Every section of Jewish society lives today in some form of denial of reality, some more severe than others. Israel is engaged in a "peace process" that is distinctly one-sided. The words and writings that emanate from the Palestinians and the Syrians are hardly harbingers of peace. We soothe ourselves by denying the import of those words. "They don't really mean it," we tell ourselves. We are willing to accept a bad peace over a good war. But should we allow ourselves to be maneuvered into, G-d forbid, a bad war? TrakdataThe Palestinians have had six years to prove their readiness to live in peace with us. Denying the reality that that readiness is not apparent is a dangerous bit of wishful thinking. Syria has become much more belligerent in its demands and anti-Semitic diatribes since the "peace" negotiations started. What are we to make of this? Are we justified in ignoring all of this? Are we whistling past the graveyard? I hope not, but the denial of reality in these matters is frightening.

There is a large section of the Jewish world that denies the obvious failure of a Judaism of culture and secularism to preserve the Jewish people. Being Western and modern, abandoning the restraints of faith and observance, were to make Jews acceptable and remove anti-Semitism from the world. That dream has not quite materialized. In fact, a case can be made that some (certainly not all) of the hatred directed at us in the Arab world is traceable to the secular nature of the Jewish state. Islam is afraid of secularism and is wrongly convinced that somehow we are the source of it in the world. The astounding rate of Jewish intermarriage and assimilation in the Diaspora is a direct result of generations of watered-down Judaism and the substitution of secular values for faith, tradition and observance of ritual. But the official Jewish world denies all of this and continues on its course explaining that Judaism is whatever you say it is and that the denial of the Jewish past is somehow beneficial for the Jewish future.

And many of the Orthodox also need a reality check. Nineteenth century Eastern Europe is gone and will not return. Denial of the realities of the technologically sophisticated world that we live in can have disastrous consequences for our future. One-size-fits-all education, schools and curriculum is a denial of the realities of the individual talents, abilities and needs of human beings, especially children. Torah has a message and challenge for each and every Jew. That is its expression of its G-d-given holiness and uniqueness. It should not be prevented, because of societal constraints and the wishful denial of the realities of the world in which we are forced to live, to speak to all Jews, clearly and convincingly.

There is no doubt that Torah observance and study is the sole medium that will guarantee Jewish survival. But the denial by some in the Orthodox camp that Torah and Torah observant Jews will be able to face the realities of modern-day societies and prevail, is to me an error bordering on blasphemy. A little denial is always necessary. Full-blown denial wreaks havoc with our lives.

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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10/21/99: 'Holy loafers'
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09/10/99: A good year

© 2000, Rabbi Berel Wein