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The articles in this issue have been divided up into the following categories







How the Jews Survived

Abridged from The Daily Telegraph

Graham Turner has spent four months talking to Jews in Britain, the United States and Israel about their beliefs, their fears and their sense of what the future holds.

How on earth, I wondered, had the Jews, scattered across the face of the globe and subject to persecution such as has been visited on no other people, managed to survive, while great empires – The Assyrian, the Egyptian, the Greek, the Roman, the British – had all withered and died?

Over the course of the past 2,000 years, the Jews have been expelled from virtually every European country. They were kicked out of the German states six times; out of parts of Italy five times; out of France four times. They were massacred by the Babylonians, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Poles, the Russians and, most recently, the Germans. They have to keep thinking of moving from the countries where they live.

For many centuries, Jews could not own land, belong to guilds or go to university. In Germany and Russia, they were not allowed to travel without special permission. They were routinely blamed for everything, from the death of Jesus to the Black Death. There is surely the most astonishing story of survival against all the odds in the whole of human history. Yet they have not merely survived, they have flourished. "There are only about 13 million of us", says Ed Koch, three times Mayor of New York. "That is less than a third of one per cent of the world’s population, and yet, coming from the loins of the Jewish people, you have Moses, Jesus, Marx, Freud and Einstein, the seminal thinkers of the modern world. Not to mention 116 Jewish Nobel Prize winners".

In the United States, 5.7 million Jews account for only two per cent of the population, but have roughly 10 per cent of the members of Congress. A few years ago, seven out of eight Ivy League colleges, which, even in the Sixties were still applying quotas to Jewish students, had Jewish Presidents.

Nor have Jews merely achieved positions of temporal power. Their spiritual influence has been enormous. They have given the other monotheistic religions a catalogue of priceless gifts. They gave Christians and Muslims the notion of one God who is not only the Creator of the Universe but also the God who speaks through "the still, small voice" of Conscience. They gave Christians the basis of their moral law in the shape of the Ten Commandments.

Each year, during the Seder meal with which they celebrate Passover – the story is told of their release from bondage in Egypt. That happened more than 3,200 years ago. They are commanded to tell the story as if it were yesterday, and are expected to learn the lesson of that story. The Holocaust may cast an immensely dark shadow, but it is only the latest shadow among many. The German Jews were the most assimilated of all Jewish communities – and look what happened to them.

Political anti-semitism could only come again anywhere, even in the United States.

"Non-Jews have an endemic disease called anti-semitism", said a New Jersey Professor. "But Jews tend to blow up any inconsequential incident, as if the entire Gentile population is about to rise up and wipe them out forever. If someone throws a handkerchief in a synagogue, they think a pogrom is in progress, said Jackie Mason, the comedian".

But how did the Jews, this tiny people with no homeland, manage to survive the multiple traumas of two millennia?

One explanation, said Esther Rantzen, is that "the slow often got wiped out. You always had to be a jump ahead of the pogrom. I am casting no aspersions on those who died but, if you are persecuted for thousands of years, it is a very tough form of the survival of the fittest". The crucial factor, however, was the genius of the rabbis of old. In the long centuries after the Babylonian exile 2,500 years ago, they succeeded in creating a marvellously shockproof survival capsule for a religion whose followers had no firm land base; and who, from the moment the Roman Emperor Constantine became Christian, were forbidden to swell their ranks by making converts.

"The Jews in Babylon", said the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, "reflected long and hard about what it would take to survive in exile. "After all, they had already lost 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel, who’d chosen to assimilate when they were conquered by the Assyrians. So the rabbis who came after them knew what was at stake, because so many of their brothers and sisters had simply abandoned their people and their faith. They came to the conclusion that: "We have got to create a survival mechanism that will enable our people to keep their faith and identity in a diaspora".

Jews were told, through the dietary laws of kashrut, what was kosher (fit to eat) and what was not. That, in itself, put an immense social barrier between themselves and non-Jews. They were told that every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. Not satisfied with the Ten Commandments of Moses, they were given no fewer than 613 mitzvot to observe.

Religious Jews were – and are – expected to say as many as 100 different blessings every day. Jews everywhere were encouraged to live within walking distance of a synagogue. And the family was to be the primary unit of survival, and celebrating in the home the Sabbath and the festivals.

As the Jews moved out of their ghettos and into mainstream society over the past two centuries, they have been faced with different problems.

In an open society, mixed marriages are shrinking Jewish communities.

Can Judaism survive tolerance and kindness as successfully as it survived persecution?


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