“In studying the Jewish people we are face to face with a miracle and I venture to say: he who will be attentive cannot be incredulous.
Everything is miracle in this incomparable people.
Everything is miracle, its history, its origin, its fall, its dispersion, its stubbornness.
The contempt with which nations treat them who owe everything to them, who know the glamour of their past and the still greater brilliance of their future.
Add to this the unprecedented fact that this people alone, among all the other nations, forms one family and that this family though homeless and miserable kept itself isolated from the rest of mankind….
This fact alone would be an undeniable miracle, even if a prophet (Bileam) 34 centuries ago, at the frontier of Moab had not said: For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” Bamidbar 23.9 (1)
We cannot help but think of the above when watching Nobel Prize laureate Professor Robert Aumann of Jerusalem receiving this most famous of all honors ever to be given to a human being last Saturday night in Stockholm. After celebrating Shabbath according to Jewish law, praying the evening prayers and making havdalah as Jews have done for thousand of years, he proceeded to the hall where the King of Sweden waited for him to grant him this unprecedented award.
Here stood a Jew who had pride in showing his dedication to religious Judaism in front of all mankind, as only a few Jews have ever been able to do. With his long white beard, his yarmulke clearly visible, surrounded by his wife whose hair was covered in accordance with Jewish law, surrounded by children, children in law and grandchildren, all wearing kippot and long sleeves, eating glatt kosher food while dining with another 1300 guests of the world’s most exclusive gentile nobility, he made it clear that compromises and concessions to Jewish religious practice were in no way an option in order to receive this award. Only infinite Jewish pride was the mark of the day.
Throughout modern Jewish history most Jews were ambivalent as to whether they wanted their children to be “revealed” Jews. They did not want them to marry out but they also did not want them to stand out, to be conspicuous. They wanted them to be secular marranos, outwardly like every one else, inwardly and privately Jews. It haunted them and created enormous internal conflicts, often ripping them apart. They were Jews but they were dedicated to proving that Jews are no different from any one else. And most of the Jewish community today, whether they know it or not, inherited this conflict.
The venerable deeply religious Professor Aumann showed all of us that there is another way which instead of invoking conflict creates unconditional pride. Like Avraham Avinu, he proved to the world that Jews have the courage to be different. Instead of becoming a Spinoza, Freud, Einstein, Rabin or Peres, the Nobel laureate refuted the belief that Jews can only buy their ticket into the most advanced world community through cultural/religious assimilation. Just as Judaism is the story of a sequence of utterly revolutionary discoveries, so did the professor fulfill the commandment given to Avraham “that through you all the families of the world shall be blessed”, by not only making one of the most remarkable scientific discoveries in history but above all by daring to be different. The refusal to accept the world as it is and the obligation to transform it is the underlying motive behind all of Judaism.
By exposing the religious commitment of his entire family to the world community, he sent a message to all of mankind that it possible, and in fact a great blessing, to give one’s children the greatest of all gifts, the gift of tradition and mission and to enjoy it with all of one’s heart. While Socrates said that a life without thinking is not worth living, Judaism teaches us that life without commitment is not worth being born for. To refuse our children that merit is like denying them life altogether.
In Hamlet’s spirit the professor showed that the Jew’s Kingdom might be bound by a nutshell but they should count themselves as kings of infinite space. One is reminded of the great non-Jewish literary historian, A.L. Rowse, who ended his memoirs with the following surprising sentence: “If there is any honor in the world that I should like, it would be to be an honorary Jewish citizen.” (2)
Ambivalence cannot sustain an identity. It has created havoc in all of the Jewish world, including Israel. Attitudes which once may have made sense to our grandparents have proven to be dysfunctional and in fact unrelated to the world in which we live. Jews will have to face this and resolve the crisis before this destructive mentality will overtake us. Professor Aumann has shown us the way. May he be blessed.
(1) The Christian author S.R.L Gaussen in Die Verkundnung des Evangeliums unter den Juden, p, 376-377, quoted by Joseph Bloch, Israel and the Nations, Benjamin Harz, Berlin-Vienna, 1927, p.376.
(2) A.L. Rowse, Historians I have known, Duckworth, London, 1995