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The Halachah That Eisav Observes

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

It has come to this: Observant Jews in Paris, Antwerp, Amsterdam, and other European cities are apprehensive about appearing in public while wearing identifiably Jewish garb such as a yarmulke — and certainly a tallis. The “quenelle,” reminiscent of the Nazi salute, has grown popular among many European athletes as a way of taunting Jews. Newspaper cartoons do not hesitate to picture grasping, hook-nosed Jews in ways not seen since the Nazi publication Der Sturmer. Among the business and so-called educated classes, economic and academic boycotts of Israel are in vogue in a thinly disguised anti-Semitic effort to delegitimize and make a pariah of the Jewish state. Some of this is of course due to the growing Muslim influence in Europe — Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, among others, will have Muslim majorities in the coming years — but their poison has been enthusiastically adopted by many native Europeans.
In America, which blessedly has much less anti-Semitism than Europe, academic boycotts are becoming de rigueur, and the main concern of the US State Department is not the fact that Syria has killed over 100,000 of its own citizens, but that Jews might build a balcony in the Jerusalem suburb of Maaleh Adumim, which the UN calls “the territories.” All this, just 70 years after the Holocaust, which everyone thought would once and for all wipe away the stain of Jew-hatred.
But this should come as no surprise to Jews who know their history. Two thousand years ago, our Sages declared prophetically: “Halachah hi: Eisav sonei es Yaakov,” it is a universal law: Esau hates Jacob. This is one halachah that Esau maintains religiously. The devil of anti-Semitism does not disappear; the prince of darkness lives on. Haman is not only a Purim figure.
Why the persistence of anti-Semitism? A virtual industry of studies, research, institutes, books, and conferences have been devoted to the subject — and no one knows the answer. It might well be that at bottom this Jew-hatred is a hatred of G-d, Who was introduced to the world by the Jews. The world has never forgiven us for this. That Jewish G-d, with His restrictions and disciplines, with His thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots — our lives were so pleasant without Him and His ways. We could do what we wanted when we wanted. No one interfered with our instincts and our desires. But now we have been infected with a conscience and with limitations — all because of these Jews.
Is it not curious that this resurgence of Jew hatred should occur precisely when Jewish assimilation in the US and in Europe is at its height? The American intermarriage rate hovers around a shocking 75 percent, with the European rate even higher. Xmas trees are not rare in Jewish homes, and 40 percent see no contradiction between being a Jew and believing in the founder of Christianity as the messiah.
One would assume that, with Jewish assimilation at its zenith, anti-Semitism would recede. But the reverse is true. Is it possible that there is a hidden message here: You cannot escape your Jewishness. The more you flee it, the more you will be pursued by your Jewishness. You might want to forget, but you will constantly be reminded. You can run but you cannot hide. Similar phenomena occurred less than a century ago: German Jews were at the forefront of assimilation — Berlin was the new Jerusalem — but suddenly these assimilated Jews found themselves caught in the vortex of Nazism.
Similarly, the early secular Zionists were convinced that if there were a Jewish state, anti-Semitism would grind to a halt. If we became a nation like all other nations and assimilated k’chol hagoyim, then we would be beloved and allowed to live in peace. Little did they know that their secular dream would be shattered and that the State of Israel would become the new shtetl and that the old pogromniks would take on new, more sophisticated Jew-hating masks like boycotts and divestments. And yet, despite the facts staring us in the face, there are still forces among the Jews in the Diaspora and in Israel who would fight Jew-hatred by joining the haters and by adopting their values. How sad that they are unaware, even at this late date, that the prince of darkness has many lives and many guises. Haman lives on.
What are we to do? Can anything be done? How might a sensitive Jew react to this insidious disease? Stay tuned for our next column.

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