| Point of View |

Time to Quarantine

Is there yet an inoculation for blatant, poisonous anti-Semitism?


The virus has hit Eretz Yisrael.

The votes are still being counted as I write these lines, but one thing is certain: During the election campaign a line was crossed, leaving an indelible mark of shame on Israel’s political landscape and tremendous damage to the fabric of its society. And this mark of shame bears the fingerprints of Avigdor Lieberman. The hands that left that smudge carried the deadly virus of hatred for the Torah and those who espouse it. Like the coronavirus that has the world in a panic, this virus too spreads with frightening speed. It has already infected many, although no one has thought of putting the carriers of this dangerous disease under quarantine. And although it’s pretty clear where the virus is found in highest concentration, no one has put a lockdown on the epicenter of the threat.

With the media helpfully at their side, the carriers are free to spread their virus throughout the population from the epicenter — the campaign headquarters of chief carrier Avigdor Lieberman. He himself suffers from a severe and seemingly incurable case of Jew-hatred, causing him to spout the most absurd accusations against the chareidi community. Recently, his accusations have gone from the absurd to the insane, dredging up the rhetoric of the classic anti-Semites of history.

But nevertheless, he has his following, even among the intellectual class. Professor Amiram Goldblum of Hebrew University publicized a call this week to impose a lockdown on all “mezuzah-kissing” chareidi communities in Israel, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In the interest of public health, he’s urged the authorities to put Bnei Brak, Kiryat Sefer, large swathes of Jerusalem, and all other locales populated mainly by chareidim, under mass quarantine. The professor has a few other practical suggestions, as well, for those solicitous of their own health: Refrain from kissing those mezuzos, and stay away from places like Mearas Hamachpeilah (where a group of South Korean tourists had visited, all of them possible asymptomatic carriers of the virus) and the Kosel.

Unlike the coronavirus, though, the anti-Semitic virus is nothing new. We’ve seen it in every generation, and though it subsides at times, it never disappears completely. But it is particularly distressing to see the symptoms appearing among our very own Jewish brethren. It seems utterly counterintuitive and inexplicable.

Indeed, the phenomenon of anti-Semitism is incomprehensible by any rational analysis. The holy Tanna Rabi Shimon bar Yochai taught us, “Halachah hi b’yadua sh’Eisav sonei l’Yaakov — it is a well-known rule that Eisav bears hatred toward Yaakov.” What sort of “halachah” is this? The gaon Rav Menachem Ziemba Hy”d gave a beautiful explanation. Rabi Shimon is noted for always finding a taam, a supportive reason in the Torah, whenever he stated a halachah. Yet here he simply cites Eisav’s hatred for Yaakov as “well-known,” without bringing any supportive reasoning. This is how it is; that’s all. A deep contrast between Israel and the nations is embedded in nature as we know it, and it breeds antagonism.

And lehavdil, Hitler yemach shemo was keenly aware of this polarization. He wrote: “If they [i.e. the Jews] are the children of G‑d, then we are the children of Satan. And if we are the children of G‑d, then they are the children of Satan. There is no room for both of us on this earth.”

Lloyd George expressed this truth eloquently:

“Of all the extreme fanaticism which plays havoc in man’s nature, there is not one as irrational as anti-Semitism. … If the Jews are rich, [these fanatics] are victims of theft. If they are poor, they are victims of ridicule. If they take sides in a war, it is because they wish to take advantage from the spilling of non-Jewish blood. If they espouse peace, it is because they are scared by their natures or traitors. If the Jew dwells in a foreign land he is persecuted and expelled. If he wishes to return to his own land, he is prevented from doing so.”

Yes, anti-Semitism is senseless and irrational. We know that, and we also know that halachah hi — this is how it is. It’s in the DNA of the nations, and we can’t make it go away.

But how are we to comprehend the spewing of such unreasonable ideas, reminiscent of classic anti-Semitism, from the mouths of our fellow Jews, which were voiced loud and clear during the past few months of election campaigning by certain parties whom we’ve already named?

But it is still difficult to accept or make sense of the fact that this non-Jewish disease has begun to manifest among our own people. Perhaps the words of the Maharal of Prague can lead us in the direction of understanding this baffling phenomenon.

The Maharal explains that the Eirev Rav, the idolatrous “mixed multitude” that tagged along with Bnei Yisrael when they left Egypt, were a neta zar, a foreign element implanted within the Jewish People, and so they remain to this day. They never fully became a part of the Jewish People, but we have been literally “stuck with them” ever since, and their influence has been very harmful to us throughout the generations. But when the time comes, as the Redemption draws near and the nation is purified in preparation for that day, the Eirev Rav will separate from Am Yisrael. Who knows? Perhaps the process has even begun, as the neshamos of the Eirev Rav, who hate the Jewish People and its Torah, are being sidelined by Am Yisrael amid cries of scorn, hatred, and rejection of our heritage.

“If they are the children of G‑d, then we are the children of Satan. And if we are the children of G‑d, then they are the children of Satan. There is no room for both of us on this earth.” If we look for a rational, human solution for anti-Semitism, we won’t find one. But still, how did this virus spread to the Jews? The answer will be revealed only with the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days, amen.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 801)

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