DO JEWS COUNT?
The Channel 4 film this week, Jews Don’t Count, made by David Baddiel, explored the double-standards that exist in society regarding antisemitism.
The roots for differing attitudes to Jews on the part of their neighbours are describedin the Torah portions we are reading.
Last week saw Abraham who was so admired by his Hittite neighbours. They called him “a prince of G-d in our midst” (Genesis 23:6), and they were prepared to offer him a choice burial plot for Sarah for no charge. By contrast, in this week’s parasha, Isaac discovered that the Philistines were trying to undermine him. They were jealous of his wealth and prosperity. They even sabotaged the wells that he dug. Jacob had it even worse. At the end of this parasha he had to escape to Haran. He spent many years under the control of Laban and his descendants were to suffer brutal slavery in Egypt.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, (1808-1888) the great leader of German orthodoxy, lived in a time of growing civil emancipation for Jews. He was a Deputy for the Jewish community in the parliament in Moravia. He saw in these interactions of the Patriarchs with those around them a paradigm for the relationships their descendants would experience in the lands of their dispersion. There will be times when Jews will be oppressed by their rulers. There will be times when they will have wealth and power, but they will be envied for it. And there will be times when they will enjoy great respect. There is a bitter irony in Rabbi Hirsch’s words, written in the nineteenth century, before the spectre of Nazism was ever envisioned: “Jewry…not so long ago, suffered trials of misery… and triumphed over them. Its current phase consists in living free and independent among the nations, without having to fear … opposition and jealousy…Then we can look forward to the last stage of the exile, to win the respect and admiration of the nations, as did Abraham.”
We now see that the experiences of the Patriarchs do not constitute a paradigm of linear progression in the lives of their children. They can occur simultaneously. In a pre-Messianic age, at any one time, Jews, or, for that matter, other ethnic or religious groups, may be experiencing misery or respect, hatred or admiration. As Baddielpoints out, even in our country, today, where the government roundly condemns antisemitism, there are pockets in society where such attitudes still exist.
We look forward to a time when Jews and Gentiles, in every part of the world, will be able to live together in mutual respect, harmony and peace.