The Jewish Existential Question

By David Malachi

Until recently, the relationship between Israel and the Western world, especially the Christian Right, has been seen as a unified front against Islamic extremism which is the main cause of Islamic terrorism.

Traditionally, Islam has been viewed as backwards and the Western world, which has been understood to be Christian, as modern and progressive.  In other words, the Christian Western world is deemed to be “correct” and the Islamic Middle East as “wrong”, an idea that has political, as well as religious extensions. The doctrines of Islam are simply wrong and barbaric, and the Christian ideas are the ones that are right for all humanity.

It is in that fight that Israel and Judaism have been caught in between. Trying to choose an ally between the two most popular faiths in the world, the choice of the Jews is not to just find a mere helper for their hard times but, even more importantly, the choice is between two systems, two points of view of the World, both in the Heavenly and the Earthly manner, and of the very understanding of the Nature of God.

We humans, sadly, excel in finding ways to be different than each other and so if even the greatest part of our population have concluded that there is only one Almighty Deity ,we still can’t decide for sure how He/She “looks like” or how He/She “acts” or which humans He/She “favors” over other humans. Therefore, even if people in the greatest parts of the world follow a system of monotheistic beliefs as their dominant faith, they are also divided based on religions and doctrines which extend into the creation of different lifestyles and goals in life. In that sense, the two major (in population) religions which are Christianity and Islam collide in order to prove who has the real religion. In that fight, ironically, the Jews play a basic role since the Jews are considered to be the people of the first revelation/covenant of God and thus an important ally for any of the other two Abrahamic religions that claim to be an extension of God’s covenant with humanity.

Here are the rather strange factors that have formed the current relationship between the Jews , Christians, and Muslims . In terms of Jewish beliefs , Judaism is very close to Islam since they share the same ideas about One God that has no sons/daughters , body or any equal to Him/Her. Also, in terms of lifestyle , both the Muslims and the Jews believe in a certain dietary system, in ritual cleansing of the body before prayer and before every major meal,  the practice of circumcision and belief of being direct descendants of the faith of Abraham (and even of Adam , the first human being ). In terms of culture, we can also be certain that the authentic Jewish culture, as it has been formed in the course of history, is closer to the Middle Eastern one rather than the European one. Even in the Jewish writings, Europe is considered an offspring of a whole different biblical figure, one of the sons of Noah called “Yafeth” while the Jews are descendants of another son of Noah called “Shem”, thus clarifying that the Jews historically never saw their culture being in the same group as the one of the Europeans.

But, since nothing ever stays the same, the Jews gradually lost their homeland to different conquerors who didn’t allow them to resettle back into their own land, instead, they dragged them to exiles in all the parts of the then known and unknown world creating a huge network of Jewish communities around the globe, which eventually absorbed characteristics of their host countries.

The most prominent communities eventually became the ones of Europe, and especially, North Europe. That part of the European continent has a way different climate, history, religion, and culture than the Middle East and even South Europe. The culture and ideas of North Europe eventually developed, gradually since around the 18th century into a political system of colonization and exploitation of other parts of the World.

Ironically, it was the very North European civilizations, which started investing time and money in preaching to the world that their lifestyle was superior to the other countries and people they conquered, and that they were there to “civilize” these populations, those very civilizations were actually basing their supposed superiority on stealing, and infusing with the culture’s ideas and beliefs of the very “inferior” nations they controlled. It was then when the term “ Judeo-Christian” tradition started, a name that fit perfectly and flattered the Western Christian world.

What else could they ask for, in terms of religious confirmation, other than the common historical acceptance that their faith is a direct descendant of the faith of the original chosen people of God and thus legitimizing their nations as the new chosen people?

 On the other hand, the Jews generally accepted the idea of the existence of Judeo-Christian civilization because it fit their own agenda which, more or less, only included the desire of being accepted as equal human beings and not being constantly persecuted for who they were and what they believed in . Thus the friendly connection between Judaism and Christianity was created. But was it right? Was it accurate? And above all, was it true?

Thus the friendly connection between Judaism and Christianity was created. But was it right? Was it accurate? And above all, was it true?

On first sight it seems that it’s right, that Judaism and Christianity are religions that have many things in common, if not being almost the same. They believe in one God, they believe in a messiah (an anointed liberator), they believe in the Jewish Bible and they believe in the afterlife and the eternity of the soul. But, there is more to it.

There is an old Jewish saying about pigs, that according to the Jewish dietary rules, an animal can be eaten only if it has a cloven hoof and if it chews the cud.  Pig meat is prohibited to be consumed by the Jews and an old folk story says that a pig says, “Look at me, I have cloven hooves so it is permitted for you to eat me” , but then if someone pays close attention to the life (not just the appearance) of the pig , then one can see that the pig eats any sort of food and thus it does not exactly fit the category of a permitted animal for consumption.

The same can be said about the theological relations between Judaism and Christianity, which at first seem to be very similar but with closer observation, they are almost entirely different.

In regards to theological doctrines, if we wish to be accurate, Judaism and Christianity have little to nothing in common, as shocking as it might sound to some people.  In Judaism it’s a given fact that God is One and He is not corporeal, “He” doesn’t even have a clear gender since according to the Jewish tradition and language, God appears to have both male and female aspects at the same time. The Hebrew Bible is the only real body of holy texts and the Torah (namely, the Five books of Moses) contains laws and stories that are divinely inspired, eternal and binding to all the Jews for all generations.

 Judaism also is not a mere religion and it’s not something someone can just walk in and out of. It’s actually more of an ethnic culture and a national identity of a specific people which has its own rules, that apply only to that very nation and so, Judaism is a system of beliefs that does not require any missionary job to be done on behalf of its followers.

On the contrary, Christianity contains doctrines that would be theologically unacceptable by Judaism, to say the least, for example, the corporeality of their god, the trinity (which contradicts the absolute Oneness of the God in Judaism), the independent existence of a devil, the clear definition of their god as a male, and the fact that this deity has a son.

All these ideas actually have been considered by many great rabbis and Jewish thinkers not just as wrong, but as real idolatry, which is something that goes completely against the Jewish monotheistic system of beliefs.

So here we find the Jewish people generally having a good relationship with a culture that is foreign to their own and a religion that is also contrary to their system of beliefs, and then having a bad relationship with a culture similar to their own and a religion that has only a few points that are truly different from each other.

But what could be the real problem behind this twist? If we overlook the religious differences we will find that there can be many political problems behind this as well, which can deeply affect the international image of the only Jewish state, the state of Israel.

The Western world generally becomes more and more secular and the Christian Right parties don’t have the power and influence they had in Europe and the Americas during the past. So basically, the idea of a Judeo-Christian culture plays a more and more meager role in the way that these countries decide their diplomatic paths and as a result, Israel (and the Jewish people as a whole), find it harder and harder to acquire new friends and allies in the Western world.

In terms of culture, we can also be certain that the authentic Jewish culture, as it has been formed in the course of history, is closer to the Middle Eastern one rather than the European one.

Some essential diplomatic steps that Israel could do in order to ensure her security and prosperity would be to approach the countries around her and the countries that share common ideas and beliefs but that door seems to be closed as long as Israel identifies herself with the Judeo-Christian ideas and Western culture.

But, the truth is that Israel has no other choice. Israel lived in a matrix of the possibility of joining the Western world as a real Western nation for more than 60 years. This image though, is now broken and the Iran deal is one of the many steps that the Western countries made in order to prove to Israel that by living her life in that fictional political reality , it actually hurts her and doesn’t benefit the state at all.  Like it was mentioned above, the connection between Christianity and Judaism was created in order to flatter the claims of Christianity as the true faith but since the Christian religion plays an almost unimportant role then there is also no reason for the West to keep this fictional culture alive and here stand the Jews watching the world they believed in so much to be real, then to fall down on the ground like a house of cards. Now the West decides to use other pawns for their benefit, namely Iran and many different Islamist groups that are spread all over the Middle East.

So, it’s clear that if Israel chooses to consider herself a European or American nation that is somehow rooted in the Middle East then Israel will be left alone with no real allies by her side, exposed against a great number of enemies that view Israel as an imposter and a colony of enemies of the nations that belong to the Middle East. Israel will never be anything else to the Asian/Middle Eastern nations rather than a “fort” of the West on the west coast of the Asian continent and at the same time the Western world will view Israel as a misfit in the region who has no culture and no real identity, and nothing else.

Also, the lack of decision over the cultural identity of the Jewish people is confusing the minds of the whole nation and as a result, apart from the multiplicity of sects inside Judaism, we find many Jews leaving Judaism after being influenced by their environment when their communities are unable to answer some very essential questions that have to do with their very own nature and self-identification.

In the end, Israel can take only one path, the path to embrace her true identity, her Middle Eastern identity and decide new alliances and friendships while having that factor rooted deep in mind. This path won’t and should not lead into the spread of anti-Western feelings among the Jewish people since the Western world has things still to give to Israel and visa  versa , but that path will clarify to the world and to the Jewish nation of where they belong , where they came from and where they are going in this world.

Therefore, the choice belongs to the Jewish people. Either they are going to choose reality over the mirage, East over West, Judaism over “Judeo-Christian” way of living, life over death. This is a historical, a political, a theological but above all an existential choice that belongs only to the Jewish people around the world and in the state of Israel.

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