The Ghetto Mentality

Major Jewish communal organizations have a long history of backing Victim Disarmament. We are often our own worst enemies. Aaron Zelman’s forming of JPFO was partially driven as a response to this sad fact. I contend this powerful, self-destructive tendency is part of a larger issue.

About eighteen years ago I was in Mordor on the Potomac. A small group of friends were talking in the hotel when I was asked by one, a very prominent attorney, just why Jews were so often not just politically statist, but rabidly so, especially in the area of Victim Disarmament. At the time, just as now, Jews were among the leaders in this arena.

My theory was that the inclination stemmed from a powerful force; the Ghetto Mentality:

People forget that Hebrew slaves, upon leaving Egypt, were forged by G-d, through Moses, into a powerful guerilla military force. They repeatedly defeated established and skilled armies and conquered the land of Israel. For generations, steeled by their belief, they fought off incursions and carved out their homeland. A Nation of Princes.

Subsequent, progressive, abandonment of the ‘terms’ of the Covenant brought harsh lessons from G’d in the form of civil war, invasion, conquest, the fall of the Holy Temple, and exile to Babylon (and back to Egypt). Lessons learned, the people returned to the Land, only to fail again. Facing a People once again corroded with spiritual debasement, the Romans finished the job. They conquered Israel, sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and drove the people into exile.

Jews’ experience in Europe constantly found them pinched between the Church and the Nobility. The nobility required the endorsement of the Church (as the elect of G-d) to lower the cost of retaining power. The Church required the nobility to provide the threat of violence when persuasion and hellfire fell short.

The Church’s vexation with the Jews’ refusal to convert spawned lurid tales of ritual child-murder and “desecration of the host”, just in case deicide was not enough to dehumanize them in the eyes of the people. When the peasants were whipped up into violence in frustration with their lot, the Jew was offered by the Church a natural target.

On the other hand, the nobility tended to like the Jews as they were peaceful, intelligent, hardworking, and kept to themselves. Even better, not constrained by tortured logic on the biblical meaning of Usury, Jews, as a community, were a source of always scarce money, for the constantly broke nobility.

Having few options, when threatened with death at a hands of Church inspired mobs, Jews ran to the nobility for protection. Over time, Jews concluded that working behind the scenes and currying favor with secular power was the only workable survival strategy.

But the time of powerful nobles was coming to an end. So too, the constraints on Jewish access to secular education, to land-ownership, to work in the guilds, and to legal protection by the secular courts were weakening.

Gradually setting aside their fundamental belief in Torah, and longing for Geula, many Jews focused on secular, social action, to satisfy their ingrained drive for Tikkun Olam. After many, many centuries of exile, poverty, suffering, and death, many thought the Enlightenment (and the Jewish variant; the Haskalah) was the correct path. Perhaps, they thought, ‘this’ was the way to bring about the coming of Moshiach?

The first Jewish immigrants to America found that they were once again a minority, but that much (but not all) of the religious antipathy’s vigor had stayed in Europe. Largely of German background, many had been favorably disposed to assimilation via the Reform movement. Intermarriage was very common within two generations. As a guarantee of safety the habit of ingratiating themselves with political power seemed a wise course.

A second wave of Jews came to America in the late 1800’s. These new immigrants had experienced the weakening of the Church and the ascendency of the secular state. They had suffered Pogroms and forced military service. The secular reforms of Western Europe were far slower in coming to the East. Still, they were far more traditionally religious (Today we would call them Orthodox, although that is a better description of congregational affiliation than of people) than those Jews who came in the 1700’s.

This second wave was a profound embarrassment to the established order. Poor, uncultured (in the secular sense), and worst of all, religiously observant, they threatened to remind the Gentile that the first wave immigrants were still Jews. These new (largely Polish, Russian, Baltic, and Slavic) immigrant Jews thus were pressured both from within and without to blend in, and damned fast.

Settling mostly in the large urban centers they naively concluded that American political power was less malignant and dangerous than in the Old World. In a sense they were correct; American politicians were happy to sucker people with little regard to race, creed, color, etc. The Jew responded by the time-proven method of ingratiation.

The aforementioned assimilation was quick in coming. The State became the new focus of worship. Social action in union organizing and Progressive and Socialist politics the new path. For many Jews America was the new Zion, the democratic State was the new Temple, and Social Action was the new Torah. Guns were for gentile hunters, policemen, and soldiers.

The Jewish Poet-Warrior, forged at the foot of Sinai, was all but forgotten. A new day dawned.

And then, a very harsh decree came from the Heavenly Court… An odd little Austrian guy with an amazing gift for oratory started stirring up crowds in beer halls.


4 thoughts on “The Ghetto Mentality”

    1. The Frierdiker Rebbe upon arriving in America. Hey! Shaddup-a You, Captain Foo! (My first-born son chiming in). 🙂

  1. Ben Avraham’s analysis strikes me as deeply researched and logical, I draw similar conclusions from a much shallower process. I am no historian.
    It still makes me wonder how many holocausts does it take to learn a lesson? The Warsaw heroes, the partisans, and the founders of Israel and the IDF represent not a large fraction of the Jewish world body so to speak. The majority of headlines are Jewish victims of attacks and non existent defenses. Do Jews only learn from even numbered holocausts? I wonder sometimes if the “people of the book” are reading the wrong book. Perhaps Jews should read from the Cossack book. No one likes them either, but they are rarely, as individuals, sought out as ‘prey.’ I wonder why. (not) Should Jews become Cossacks? No, but if a Cossack can enjoy a bagel without becoming a Jew maybe a Jew could, on occasion, tear off an antisemites head and shit down his neck, In France, just because it was appropriate and felt good at the time. Live a little! Literally.

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