Friday, January 02, 2009

On Jewish Survival

The following is the next installment in my Reply to John Ray of Dissecting Leftism fame.

On Jewish Survival

To John

It is certainly on the mark to argue that Jewish history has been cursed with a litany of horrors. It is also correct to note that the Judaism with a history over three thousand years ultimately survived these horrors. What is open for real questioning (as you duly infer) is whether this survival has been one of style and from a strategic standpoint could it have been more impressive in both number and in form. Your argument makes a good point in noting that the Jews, from a numerical perspective are a relatively small population. I agree less than fifteen million in a world closing in on seven billion souls is clearly small potatoes. Many a biologist would scoff at such notions of real survivability especially in a world where offspring numbers seem on the surface to be a clear indicator of success in nature.

However numbers, particularly in a biological framework, can mislead perhaps just as easily as they affirm. The Passenger pigeon for one dominated North American skies up until the 18th century, but today it is extinct. The same fate would likely have befallen the American Bison if it not for the brave work of conservationists. Biological history is suffused with other creatures whose numerical advantage proved to be of little ultimate value in the duration of the survival game. On the other hand the rare Coelecanth has survived from Ancient times outliving a plethora of other fish that once dwarfed it in abundancy. The same is true of that living fossil, the crocodile. (While it is true that crocodiles sit at the top of the food chain and therefore have no predators, as a top predators it is even more likely to face extinction as its energy requirements aren’t usually tolerant of a compromise in the trophic levels below them).

So what do these life science examples mean for the Jews? We know that temporally related number counts are not everything. The Great Empires of the past boasted large numbers but most lie on the scrap heap of history today. Each of the Akkadians, Hittites, Lydians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, Nazca, Mayans, Aztecs, Incas all fall into this category. Not to mention the Old Celtic and Harappan civilizations. All had their style once but now that style is more of a curiosity than anything else. One could say that some have survived under a different guise: The Zoroastrian Persians are now predominatly Shi’ite Muslims - an outsider cultural takeover if ever there was one - while the Ancient Egyptians have been assimilated into an Arab World that for all intent of purpose has regressed considerably from the Golden Age. I am therefore not convinced that this qualifies as survival at all. The Jews on the other hand stared down many of their adversaries (and pf course suffered for it at times), but the core of the culture, the very basis that certainly defines it has emerged largely intact despite the turbulence.

Yes Ashkenazic Jews do differ from Sepharidic Jews. In fact each of these categories have sub-categories within them (leave it to the Jews to find some minor points to squabble over) rendering such a classification system partly meaningless. However at its core (among Judaism’s adherents) lies a commonality which champions free will and the responsible philosophy of ethical monotheism. This is part of the Jewish survival strength. Not easily quantifiable but certainly background significant.

On additional point you mention that Christianity has expanded in number to the point where its followers number around a billion. However what you didn’t mention is that Christianity’s rapid expansion (a physicist may call this inflation) was largely due to its vigilant promotion by the Roman Emperor Constantine, following his defeat of his rival Maxentius at Milvian Bridge in 312AD. Constantine was a zealot in his stance. He actively worked to eradicate paganism and promoted Christian bishops to high positions in his court. There is some arguments as to why he adopted this pro-Christian stance. One school argues that it was for the sake of political unity (Rome was divided by a multitude of conflicting beliefs…Constantine may have been an original opponent of multi-culturalism…and needed a new glue to bind his subjects to a common cause). Others believe that his transformation was genuine and of spiritual significance. Regardless how one sees it, the end result was Christianity received the single greatest growth boost in its history.

A further milestone was reached when Theodosius, the Eastern Emperor and Gratian, his counterpart in the West, recognized Christianity as the official Religion of the East (380 AD) and Western portions of the Empire respectively. The religion’s dominance was now solidified. Judaism on the other hand would never be the recipient of such official sponsorship from such influential figures. European History is filled with further examples of local leaders first converting to Christianity (for one reason or another) and then bringing the bulk of their populace into the umbrella of the church in the follow-up.

I will not enter into the ‘people without a state argument’ as it has already been dealt with in earlier posts by others. However I will take up the ‘choice of allies argument that you put forth’. The Jews I believe have traditionally looked for allies…however where they have erred is that in doing so they often compromised their beliefs to fit in with the nuances of the so-called brothers in arms. This has almost always backfired. The Marxists/communists/socialists offered them lip service (behind a veneer of anti-semitism) in exchange for a divorce from their religious soul while a rush to join the ranks of capitalism has had the consequence of catalyzing a materialistic assimilation. In addition the Christian churches traditionally turned a cold shoulder to any advances.- preferring conversion to accommodation. In short where were the Jews to turn?

Now its true in contemporary times that Evangelical Christians (particularly in the US) have offered a hand of friendship, which I believe that Jews should take. Many have, especially those on the conservative real of Jewish politics (Israel itself has a multitude of programs that encourage Evangelical Christians to visit the Holy Land). The fact that some in the ADL chooses to see otherwise, in turning a blind eye to such assistance, is more of its leadership sinking into the sludge of anti-clerical secularism than anything else.


Gavin Kanowitz
A South African- born Jew in a Canadian court.
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