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Nissan 5768

Maybe Things Will Change Again


Written by the rabbi


לשיעור זה בעברית: אולי הדברים שוב ישתנו

In the Talmud we find in a number of instances that even though circumstances may have changed or that the halacha has apparently overruled a practice in one direction or another, the rabbis nevertheless did not change the original practice because "perhaps the matter will revert back to its original unacceptable state."

Thus even though the present does not exactly mirror the past any longer, nevertheless the problems and dangers of the past must be taken into account in formulating present behavior and halachic decision.

The concept in Judaism is that even though we may have computers and cell phones today and our ancestors were not so equipped, nevertheless the lessons of our ancestors and their safeguards in Jewish and general life should not be easily dismissed today.

The Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, taught us that for every apparent reason used to explain why a rabbinic decree was originally legislated and enforced there are many hidden and subtle reasons that also exist that justify the existence of that decree.

Therefore, merely stating that circumstances have changed and that the stated reason for the decree no longer applies, in no way invalidates the decree itself since all of these unknown and almost prophetic reasons for the decree still exist.

One of these reasons is the idea mentioned earlier - perhaps the situation that exists today will somehow revert back to the same one that existed at the time of the original formulation of the decree.

The circumstances surrounding the Jewish people changed drastically sixty years ago after the Holocaust and the establishment of the state of Israel. Jews had a sense that the world would never allow another such Holocaust to recur. Israel and the Israelis were seen as brave, progressive, heroic and justified in defense of their lives and their land.

The state was granted legitimacy by the United Nations and by much of the world. It was a fairly heady time for Jews. Open anti-Semitism was no longer socially and academically acceptable and individual Jews rose in growing numbers to power, wealth and influence undreamt of a century earlier.

Jews in the United States felt so much a part of American society that they no longer classified themselves as belonging to a minority group. Thus forty million Hispanics and thirty million African-Americans are officially characterized as belonging to minority groups while five million American Jews are not!

The state of Israel grew and developed and was seemingly the strongest power, militarily and economically, in its area and amongst its immediate neighbors.

All of this allowed for a weakening of faith in ourselves and for complacency that minimized outside threats and internal betrayals of purpose and policy. People, especially in the media and academia, Jews and non-Jews, began to enter the "post" period of thought.

Post-Zionism, post-Jewish solidarity, post-anti-Semitism but present supposedly legitimate anti-Israel complaints, post-Torah observances, post Jewish uniqueness and choseness, in short - the past was gone and we now live in a new world where we don’t fear the pogroms, bigotry and dangers that once were our daily lot.

But a strange thing occurred in our brave new world. The old world, about which the rabbis of the Talmud warned us somehow returned. Existential danger to the Jewish state from Moslem fundamentalism, anti-Semitic verbal, physical and media attacks, have returned all over Europe.

It has again become fashionable in many circles to blame the Jews for all of the world’s ills. The rhetoric against Israel and Jews today has returned to the levels of the 1920’s just prior to Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.

There are many, including those in powerful governing positions in the Jewish world, who somehow still prefer whistling past the graveyard. But the rabbis of the Talmud in their wisdom always warned us that the old can and oftentimes does return again to haunt and confound us.

History has a bite and a sting to it, especially Jewish history. In this season of remembrance of the Holocaust and of commemoration of the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel sixty years ago we should view our current Jewish world through the prism of that past Jewish world.

Circumstances are never the same from one generation to the next. But problems, dangers and weaknesses have a tendency to be consistent and repetitive.

The wise and prudent will always heed the advice of the Talmud and remember that the past situations may yet occur again and we should therefore be prepared somehow to deal with such possibilities.


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