Shavuos 5773 -- Eternity Envy; What Lies Behind the Israeli Attacks on Syria
by Jonathan Rosenblum'
May 14, 2013
David Goldman is one of those rare polymaths capable of startling observations in multiple fields – economics, demographics, religion, music – and the ability to weave them all together in fascinating ways. A recent document produced by the Church of Scotland, "An Inheritance of Abraham?," a veritable potpourri of reasons for rejecting the Jewish claim of a historical connection to the Land of Israel, occasioned a typical Goldman apercu: "The most successful Christian communities embrace the State of Israel, while the least successful abhor it."
Ironically, the Church of Scotland was once a hotbed of Christian Zionism. It was a Church of Scotland cleric who coined the phrase, "A land without people for a people without a land." But that was more than a century ago, when the Church of Scotland, and the Calvinism it embodied, was far more vibrant than today. Since 1956, the Church of Scotland has shed two-thirds of its members, and continues to lose them at a rate of 5% a year.
Things are not much better for the Church of England. Less that 40% of Britons say they believe in G-d, and more British Muslims than British Christians attend weekly religious services. Like the Church of Scotland, the Church of England has increasingly descended into mindless political correctness. Israel has often borne the brunt of that political correctness in the form of resolutions for disinvestment.
The religious energy in America has shifted dramatically from the old mainstream churches – Episcopalians and Presbyterians – towards evangelicals. Here too, Goldman's observation holds up. Both the Episcopalians and Presbyterians have passed disinvestment resolutions in recent years (though the Presbyterians' was subsequently rescinded.) Meanwhile the evangelicals have proven to be the most stalwart supporters of Israel, often citing the Biblical verse, "And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you; and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Bereishis 12:3).
The United States is by far the most religious of the developed countries. Two-fifths of Americans attend services weekly, and only 18% never worship. By contrast, more than half of Britons never attend church, and only one in eight does so weekly. That religiosity correlates highly with attitudes to Israel. Americans favor Israel over the Palestinians by nearly five to one, while Britons view Israel negatively by a ratio of nearly four to one.
Goldman connects his observation about failing religions to another: anti-Semitism is correlated to declining ethnic groups. Europe's most prominent anti-Semitic party at present is Hungary's Jobbik Party, the third largest in the country. And Hungary's fertility rate today is a paltry .83 per woman, the lowest in Europe. But well below replacement fertility rates characterize the entire continent. The UN projects, for instance, a Russian population of 115 million in 2050, an astounding 30 million people less people than inhabited Russian in 2000. (In Scotland, by the way, the number of births per year is one-half of what it was in 1950, and the number of babies born to married couples one-fifth.)
Meanwhile Muslim birthrates remain high across Europe. Native Europeans, then, can already smell the death scent of their own self-extinction.
Goldman quotes the German-Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig on the fear of impending death at the national level:
Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction. . . . Indeed the love of the peoples for their own peoplehood is sweet and pregnant with presentiment of death. . . . Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books; and their laws and customs have lost their living power.
Only one people has shown itself immortal: the Jews. As Mark Twain observed in his famous essay "Concerning the Jews."
The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?
To see the Jews return to their ancient land, once more speaking their ancient tongue, and still observing their ancient law must be particularly grating to Europeans who can already foresee another people dwelling in their land, speaking a different language, and having sacked a once proud culture.
Twain made his observation before the Holocaust, which claimed one-third of the world's Jews. Yet even after that national tragedy of a scale experienced by no other people, the Jews (at least those dwelling in Israel) show an optimism about the future that contrasts sharply to European pessimism. Elsewhere Goldman has created a graph formed of two axes – one fertility rates and the other suicide rates. On a graph of industrialized nations, Israel – with the highest fertility rate and close to the lowest suicide rates (Goldman uses the two as a measure of national optimism) – exists in a quadrant all by itself. Truly, the Jews are a nation that dwells apart.
Students of anti-Semitism have long made the connection between anti-Semitism and envy. George Gilder in The Israel Test, for instance, treats anti-Semitism as primarily a function of envy of Jewish success, the same type of envy that drives anti-capitalist levelers of all types.
But, I think, Goldman has located the most profound source of history's "longest hatred": Jewish immortality. As Michael Wyschograd observes, "Israel is beyond the 'laws' of history. It is not subject to the rise and fall of other peoples and empires, a fact which causes angry philosophers of history whose schemes Israel undermines to refer to it as a fossil."
That envy is less in America because Americans remain more optimistic about their own future than most Westerners. Despite alarming drops in fertility rates, the American birthrate remains well above European levels. And American religion, as noted above, remains vibrant. (Birthrates and religion are closely linked, as Mary Eberstadt details in her new book How the West Really Lost God.) Moreover, the most vibrant segment of the panoply of American religions has largely linked its future to the state of Israel and come to see in Israel's existence not a cause for envy but proof, as Goldman puts it, that the "God of the Bible is a God of kept promises."
Let Shavuos be an occasion for us to reflect on history's most enduring miracle – the survival of the Jewish people, as a sheep among seventy wolves – for that immortality can only be explained by our connection to the "living G-d" through the Torah He gave us at Sinai.
What Lies Behind the Israeli Attacks on Syria
Israel likely had numerous objectives in the multiple strikes on Syrian arms depots over a twenty-four hour period last week. The Israeli government has long made clear that it will not tolerate the transfer to Hezbollah via Syria of advanced missiles, and has previously bombed arms convoys headed into Lebanon from Syria. Last week's strikes, analysts agree, were designed to prevent Hezbolloh from obtaining Fateh-110 solid-fuel missiles, which can be launched in minutes from a small vehicle, and carry a half-ton warhead with great accuracy over 300 kilometers. Israel also sought to deny Hezbollah high-precision Yakhont missiles that could be used against the new gas rigs off the Mediterranean coast upon which Israel's energy future is so dependent.
The strike also sent several messages to Iran. The missiles stored on the outskirts of Damascus were in thickly protected underground caches, which few countries in the world could have broken through with such ease. Their destruction reminds Iran of Israel's capabilities. And President Obama's message of support after the strike sends conveyed to Iran American backing for Israel's self-defense.
The civil war in Syria has turned into a proxy war between a Shiite Islamist state, Iran, and free-floating Sunni jihadists, who are supported by Saudi Arabi and the Gulf states. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was summoned to Tehran for a mid-April meeting with Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. According a report prepared by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Suleimani spelled out plans to establish a 150,000-man Iranian and Shiite force in Syria. That force would outnumber the number of Syrian troops still under Assad's command.
The Revolutionary Guard's first priority is to prevent the fall of the Assad regime. Syria is crucial to the mullahs' vision of a Shiite crescent from Iran to Lebanon. But Iran is also developing a Plan B, which would leave it with militias in place to grab large swaths of Syria, in the event Assad falls.
Such an Iranian takeover would represent even a greater threat to Israel than new sophisticated missiles in the hands of Hezbollah. Hezbollah is subject to deterrence. It paid a heavy price for the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and knows that the Israeli response will be even more destructive in the event of a new war in Lebanon. Iranian forces in Syria in possession of the same missiles, however, would be less concerned about Israeli retaliation against Syria. Last week's Israeli strikes may well have been designed to forestall that scenario.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity, Arab-Israeli Conflict, Iran, Shavuot, World Jewry
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