Monday, 4 April 2011

Jewish History as "Proof" of God

We’ve all heard the familiar refrain “Believe in Judaism because of the miraculous history of the Jews! How could such an oppressed and pursued nation have survived the tribulations of the exile if not through some sort of miracle?”

Like most attempts to base Judaism on some sort of “proof” – this one IMHO fails. At best our history can inspire but it can’t prove and can’t even point or hint to some sort of divine agent who protects Israel.
How does one go about destroying the Jewish people/religion once they’ve become a relatively large religious movement spread all over the world? Are there really so many people plotting the destruction of world Jewry? And is such a scenario even a possibility were God to leave us to the vicissitudes of the world?
The most straightforward way to rid the world of Jews is to kill them. And indeed over the years many Jews have been killed because of their religion or “race”. However, it is important to remember that despite what we say in our Passover liturgy - no government or power (AFAIK) until Hitler ever made an attempt to physically destroy the Jewish People in its entirety. (With the exception of the story of Megillat Ester which is of dubious historicity) The uniqueness of the Holocaust in the long history of anti-Semitism is that it was meant to be a “Final Solution.” Progroms, crusades, and blood libels were  not meant as a “final solution” to a “Jewish problem”. The reason that Jews physically survived the exile is actually quite simple – no one until the Holocaust ever tried to exterminate them completely.

The above is equally true when it comes to converting Jews. Although in a few cases entire countries tried to convert their Jewish populations (many times in Spain) we must keep in mind that both Christianity and Islam officially believe that forced conversions are not valid.

It is not a miracle that we survived if nobody was actually plotting to annihilate us, physically or spiritually, in the first place.

Another important factor worth considering is the dispersion of Jews. Jews are and were found in almost every corner of the Earth. Jews have lived in Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Buchara, Georgia, Britain, and even the New World and the Far East. With so many Jews living in so many places and under so many different religions and governments - it is literally impossible to convert or exterminate every last Jew in the world. The amount of organization that would be required is mind boggling and would require the most outrageous conspiracy to implement. Even if one or two anti-Semitic nations decided that a world with no Jews would be a better place, one or two nations simply do not have the power to kill/convert all the Jews spread out all over the world. It would take a veritable pandemic of universal, murderous anti-semitism for such a terrible thing to be even vaguely possible.

I think the better question to ask about Jewish History is “How couldn’t the Jews survive the Exile?” And I have to admit that I don’t find it too miraculous that we managed to survive when the entirety of our “nation” was never really in jeopardy.


Chaynobody said...

Also - I've never heard mention that according to this claim we should all follow Karaites or Copts of Egypt - both of these groups have long long histories of being small minorities (much smaller than us Jews most years) suffering from great persecution and repression and yet are still here and still keeping their faith. No doubt THEY use this very claim to prove the truth of God supporting THEM against all odds.

Frum Heretic said...

I think that a proper treatment of the "history as proof" claim needs to be looked at in conjunction with the so-called prophecies of Jewish persecution and survival.

S. said...

Sorry, not impressed. “How couldn’t the Jews survive the Exile?” is a ridiculous question. Assimilation, that's how.

Shiltonhasechel said...

You're right of course - I didn't discuss assimilation. So I would say about assimilation that generally speaking strong religious groups with a canon and especially Jews with very strict and defining laws don't just assimilate out of existence. People will tenaciously hold on to their identities despite persecution. I'm trying to think of a religion with a canon and a strong identity that completely assimilated or disappeared but none come to mind. I'd be interested to hear examples and compare them to Judaism.

Exaltedinsolitude said...

I assume this is in response to last week's Mishpacha magazine article?
In any case, welcome back Shilton - you were missed!

Shiltonhasechel said...

I don't understand what that would that show. The prophecies are too vague...

Shiltonhasechel said...

Another factor I didn't discuss, and which comes up in these discussions is the fact that Jews didn't just survive - they flourished - at least in Europe.... I don't think one can say the same thing about Copts or Karaites... Worth thinking about

G*3 said...

Assimilation wasn't a big problem until the ghetto walls came down. A Jews usually couldn't assimilate as a Jew, and becoming a Christian or Muslim meant complete rejection by your freinds and family. Plus conversion was seen as worse than suicide, a social norm that's hard to ignore.

Shiltonhasechel said...

oh really? had no idea. What was the article about?

Chatzkaleh said...

Added your article to OTD resources:


S. said...


> So I would say about assimilation that generally speaking strong religious groups with a canon and especially Jews with very strict and defining laws don't just assimilate out of existence.

The problem is there is no parallel really with Jews and Judaism because of the dispersion. The Jews were never strong numerically until the 19th century - look up some population statistics. And even when they finally became something like 15 or 20 million, as opposed to the 3 or 4 million they were in the 18th century, they were spread thin.

Ultimately you are right, that the gentiles did their part to keep the barriers there too. Nevertheless, you are wrong that it would have been more likely that the Jews remained as a distinct entity than the opposite.

Actually, a good question is what would have happened if the Jews had been dispersed in a world with no theological significance accorded to Jews or their book.

G*3, in my context "assimilation" doesn't mean remaining a Jew, just not being "frum." Correct, it meant converting and plenty of Jews did convert. Here we're discussing why the rest didn't. Conversion was seen as worse than suicide? Tell that to the many thousands upon thousands of Jews who did convert over the ages, and I'm not even talking about the 19th century when certainly hundreds of thousands converted to Christianity.

G*3 said...

> Conversion was seen as worse than suicide? Tell that to the many thousands upon thousands of Jews who did convert over the ages

Truthfully, my statement is based more on my impressions from what I've read than on any explicit source. But the fact that thousands of Jews did convert doesn't show that I'm wrong any more than the fact that thousands of Jews have commited suicide would show that I'm wrong.

> The Jews were never strong numerically until the 19th century

That's true of humanity as a whole. Did the percentage of Jews in the population grow in the 19th century, or does the increase reflect the general population increase?

Jacob Stein said...

I think the question more is why didn't everyone do like you've done, choose the easy thing and drop out?

Answer: Because God made sure in advance that there would always be a million or two honest people in the world.

Exalted in Solitude said... - Mamesh Hashgacha Pratis!

On another note, I always say, if you look objectively at Jewish history, you would have to conclude God is an anti-semite.

Henger1 said...

That Mishpacha article seems straight out of their Purim Edition.

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