The Myth of Solidarity

Internal divisions always have been part of Judaism. They never doomed the Jewish people before, and they won't now.

Will internal divides destroy Judaism?

First, we must explode one myth: the myth of classical Jewish solidarity. We romanticize the unity of our forebears. Jews have always suffered from internal divisions, at times far more drastic than today.

The Rabbis of the Talmud tell us that baseless hatred was responsible for the destruction of the Temple. This is more than rabbinic hyperbole; remember that the Romans, who eventually destroyed the Jewish state, were invited in because the Jews could not maintain peace among themselves. Once invited in, the Romans never left.

Though we do not like to recall it, Hanukkah is not only a triumph of freedom for Jewish practice. Hanukkah also recalls a war between different Jewish factions.

Inter-Jewish enmity did not end with the ancient world. The Middle Ages saw its share of divisiveness, and in the modern age the brutality of the rhetoric between Hasidim and mitnagdim (who regularly excommunicated each other and even burned each other's books) as well as the enmity between the traditionalists and the maskilim (enlighteners) is shocking. Even inside the same learned circles harmony did not always reign.

The great scholar Saul Lieberman was once asked whether there is any humor in the Talmud. "Yes" answered Lieberman, "the statement that scholars increase peace in the world."

In modern times the State of Israel has become the focus of these conflicts. When political capital is on the line, divisions take on a new resonance.

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