Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Silver Lining

Dan Cohn-Sherbok, an American-born rabbi now living in Wales, has recently published a book called The Paradox of Anti-Semitism (Amazon USA, Amazon UK), in which he argues that anti-Semitism has helped Jewish culture survive, and that the ancient traditions are doomed to extinction without it.

News reports: Independent, Western Mail. And listen to the author on BBC Radio (Start the Week, 3rd April 2006).

Not surprisingly, this book has stimulated a lot of comment from different quarters. The Western Mail story includes outrage from a number of leading Jews. And I also found an unmistakably anti-semitic commentary on the website of a group that describes itself as "an intelligent and responsible organization that stands up for the interests of White people".

So there is nothing like a controversy about anti-semitism and Zionism to rekindle some of the old antagonisms. This seems to illustrate some aspects of the phenomenon Cohn-Sherbok is describing.

Cohn-Sherbok is careful to state his own hatred of anti-semitism. But he is not the first theologian to suggest that evil causes may sometimes have good effects. Indeed, that paradox is often used by God-fearing people to explain the presence of evil in a Designed world. We could call this the Silver Lining theory.

The Independent quotes Cohn-Sherbok comparing the survival of Judaism with the historical disappearance of other religious groups.
"I don't think it's a miracle that the Jewish religion survived so long. Other religious groups died out - Roman, Greek, Assyrian, Arcadian - they're no longer here. But we are. Why do we endure? Because we're hated. When we're given no choice, we remain loyal to the tradition."
So does this mean the survival of the Jewish religion is an historical accident? Maybe it's old-fashioned of me to expect a rabbi to believe in God, but I can't help wondering how all this fits within God's plan. tags: POSIWID
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