Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Kislev 5766 - December 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Confessions of a Secular Newspaper Editor

by S. Yisraeli

At this time of year, as our wayward brethren are also preparing to celebrate Chanukah—not by performing the mitzvas associated with it, but through various ceremonies and events—it is interesting to examine a piercing article written by a secular newspaper editor in Israel on Chanukah 40 years ago.

The article, which remains quite relevant today, was called to our attention by HaRav Naftoli Hakohen Kaminetzky, who said he remembers that the article had a major impact at the time and was excerpted at length in the chareidi press and by chareidi figures.

At the beginning of 5746 (1965-66) several public debates over religious matters and national policy were being waged and led to ongoing incitement against shomrei Torah. In Chanukah of that year, Ma'ariv editor Shmuel Shnitzer wrote an article under the headline "Al Hanissim Ve'al Hasinoh" ("Of Miracles and Hatred"). Shnitzer was a secular person, but he was able to see the logic and justice of religious positions more often than many of his colleagues. He wrote:

In the windows, the little flames of the Chanukah candles flicker, reminders of deeds of long ago. Wondrous deeds that long ago, when we were younger and purer, generated great admiration in our hearts. But now that we have grown older and wiser, they are beginning to stir a certain disquietude.

In bygone days, the Chanukah miracles was very simple and very elucidated. It was clear which side we were on in the dramatic struggle of the few against the many. Human beings have a fabulous trait: even if the matter does not affect us directly, man always sides with the weak in his war against the mighty . . . All the more so in this war of tzaddikim against reshoim and the pure against the impure. As long as it was clear to us beyond any doubt who the pure were — and who the impure were.

But now, in this sober and advanced generation, the distinctions are no longer so clear. Now, in the days of the Shabbat Law and the Port Ashdod dispute and religious coercion and the stubborn rabbinate, we must reexamine the Hasmonean Revolt. We must go back and assess their aspirations and ideas, and ascertain whether they were really so right. We might just discover, in light of the new wisdom we have gained in recent years, that their victory was not a victory for freedom at all but a victory for reactionaryism.

It could be that we must come to the conclusion that the ideas that inspired them to rise up and fight the Greeks were not as exalted as they appear at first glance. They may have been the type of thing that modern, 20th century man is ashamed to identify with.

Let's try to translate the story of the Hasmonean War into present-day language, and we'll see how it appears in the judicious eyes of the modern Israeli. First of all we must ask ourselves who—in that war—stands for progress and who for weakness and blind clinging to past ways.

For it is not a foregone conclusion that the zealous, provincial family from the small village on the outskirts of the tiny district of Judea represented progress. Had Mattisyahu or any of his sons ever read Plato? Did they know Aristotelian philosophy? Did Modi'in have a theater and could one see the works of Aristophanes, Sophocles and Euripides there?

Presumably not. And in all likelihood these Hasmoneans were rebelling against culture, the universal culture that was taking over the whole world and developing the aesthetic senses of all of the nations.

And what did these provincials have to match the glory of Greek civilization? The spiritual seclusion of a small clan opposed to every innovation and every change? The rigid, fossilized halachos fixed over 1,000 years earlier? Their Shabbos Law? Religious coercion? Obstinate resistance to raising pigs? These were the people out to vanquish Hellenism?


Shnitzer goes on to write sarcastically about how, in the eyes of the contemporary Israeli, the Hasmoneans look like a band that decided to "withdraw from the greater kingdom that could have opened the expanses of the world of culture before them and to set up an incubator for dated ideas and a home for fanaticism . . .

There is very little doubt Antiochus and Epiphanus were right and not Mattisyahu the Kohen. Particularly in light of the Hasmoneans' subsequent conduct when success began to shine on them. After murdering a government clerk carrying out his duties, Mattisyahu fled to the mountains where he and his sons prepared to wage war against advancement (without a referendum, of course, and without taking into consideration the institutions of the Yishuv, which opposed the war). And when they won they went up to Jerusalem without holding elections, ousted the Hellenists from all of their posts and imposed a regime of religious coercion on the city that, according to all indications, was much worse than today's.

Over time the zealots also took control of Port Ashdod, and if any conclusions can be drawn based on their opinions on other matters, presumably they forbade all work on Shabbat. And doubtless in the Hasmonean hotels the tourists of the time did not find any arrangements to hold the traditional Bacchus celebrations.


Shnitzer stresses that the freedom the Hasmoneans achieved was not used to establish a progressive state open to the spirit of the times:

Rather than blending in with the Greek world and opening the gates to the influences of civilization, they transformed it into a spiritual ghetto where all Greek teachings were prohibited. Were they in the State of Israel of today, a resistance league would have to be set up against them and the progressive public would have to sign petitions and wage an informational campaign against their narrow-mindedness and against their fanaticism and against their uncultured worldview. But they had the luck of dying on time, many years ago. Therefore today we can turn them into heroes . . .


At this point, the Ma'ariv editor claims, the time has come to deal with the spiritual contradiction head-on:

An interesting paradox, no? But the sad thing is we live this paradox. For we do not extinguish all of the menorahs as a sign of protest against the religious coercion of the Hasmonean Kingdom. Rather we light the candles and awaken our hearts and recite blessings over the miracles—and meanwhile we are waging a brainless war against the Jewish religion.

Maybe we sensed it and maybe we didn't. But we were distracted and now we have become one of the only countries in the world where an organized campaign against the Jewish religion is being waged, one of the only countries where the assets of Jewish culture are openly vilified, one of the only countries where hatred of religious Jews for being religious is nurtured.

Of course we say all this is done in Russia, not here among us. And we even grant ourselves the right to demand religious freedom for Jews—in every other part of the world. In international arenas we rise up and cry out that Jews are not being allowed to pray, to keep Shabbos and kashrus, and to give their sons a bris and to bury their dead according to Jewish law—in every other country. We do not feel that here, in the Jewish nation, dangerous tension is forming between the liberated Jew and the religious Jew, ugly inclinations towards hatred are starting to blaze, scorn for the observant Jew is growing, resembling what once existed only in the most antisemitic lands.

We do not sense how hard it has become for the religious Jew to breathe freely here, how he is held under suspicion by the liberated public, how a tainted libel is becoming rooted here reminiscent of the libels the antisemites disseminated against the Jews: that the religious are trying to take over the country, that they are buying up land and houses and neighborhoods to expand their areas of control, that they are engaged in a war of conquest and are progressing step-by- step to impose their views on the secular public.

We do not see that the opposite is true. What is taking place here is that more and more liberated Jews who once related to the religious Jew with tolerance and understanding (which is the proper attitude in a cultured society) are beginning to display intolerance and hatred, and that religious Judaism in the State of Israel is in a state of withdrawal and defensiveness and that soon the observant man will be unable to feel at home in this country.

Antisemitism has often served as a leverage point for dubious political movements that latched onto it to achieve their unworthy objectives. Nazism rose to power in Germany by using the hatred of Jews to unite the right and left under a single front against the "Jewish plutocracy" and "Jewish Bolshevism."

I fear that the hatred for the Jewish religion is beginning to play a similar role in Israeli politics, employing the same methods of vilification and libel and casting suspicion. Using this tried-and-true technique, various political figures are now trying to gain easy popularity and to use it for various purposes that have nothing to do with questions of religion.

In an artificial manner, through propaganda that draws its inspiration directly from the poisoned wells European fascism drew on in the 30s and using the same images of Jews with beards and payos and traditional dress, the public is given the impression that if a port does not operate on Shabbatot it will harm civil liberties, because a truly free country has to run seven days a week. And if there is a day of rest, the country will be subjugated to the religious minority.

And a falsehood is being maliciously disseminated according to which here we have already solved the problems of work and manufacturing, and the only other thing we lack in order to attain the production levels of other countries is to work the Friday night shift.

And in our thinking we begin by turning this technical question into a matter of principle, accentuating the differences and fanning the flames of dissent, transforming an insignificant, lesser matter—such as having to drive a couple hundred meters further in order to respect others' beliefs—into the greatest problem the state has to contend with and a matter of yeihoreg ve'al ya'avor—as long as Jew hates Jew and the Jewish state girds its loins to suppress the Jewish religion.

The dangerous venom of religious hatred is getting absorbed into our hearts and minds. Gradually we are coming to believe that all the other world religions are relevant, yet the Jewish religion alone belongs to the Middle Ages, that provisions have to be made for all religions but that these provisions must be denied to the Jewish religion, that a pine tree in an Israeli hotel is a necessity but Shabbat rest at an Israeli port is base and contemptible. And the venom penetrates the highest ranks as well . . .

This stance—that this is not a place for a war of faith, that the State of Israel must guarantee the religious Jew full provisions for religious life, at least like those established in the non-Jewish nations—is falling from grace in the atmosphere of provocation infused in us by figures scheming against the unity of the people. Simple common sense that tells us that internal peace comes before external peace, and that the disputes among the Jewish people are easier to settle and more pressing than the disputes with non- Jews — is no longer in fashion. Every pacifist on the outside becomes a militant on the inside. Whoever is willing to forfeit areas of state territory in exchange for a dubious peace with the enemy from without is unwilling to forfeit driving in a religious neighborhood one day a week in exchange for peace with his Jewish brother within. For Abdul Nasser and Hussein, as everybody knows, seek Israel's best interest, while Moshe Shapira (of the NRP) alone is scheming against it.

When this attitude goes from being the stance of a small faction to the official worldview of the top government officials; when it begins to gain wide support in society, when coalition negotiations hit a dead end because compromise can be reached on every question except that on the questions of religion it becomes impossible to reach an understanding — then the time comes to sound the alarm bell. For from here it sounds like the dissenters who seek to dissolve the unity of the people and to set up barriers between Jews have succeeded in their goal much more than we imagined and much more than we can afford to allow.

He who appreciates dissension, who constantly strives to diminish Jewish power and to dismantle the Jewish frameworks, he who tried in the past to undo the ties that connect the Jews of Israel to the Jews of the Diaspora and now is striving to upset the bit of unity we have here within Israeli Jewry — he can list the current situation as an achievement, a victory.

He who is convinced we are a single people, secular and religious alike, and that we share the same fate, must understand that he assumes a very heavy historical responsibility when he decides that in the State of Israel the Jewish religion must be a part of the opposition. For then, the same values for which the Hasmoneans went to war — in our eyes can only stir derision and hatred.

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