Please help me analyze the various explanations for the survival of the Jews in the face of continual persecution, especially in terms of patterns that have repeated themselves throughout history and in terms of 1) commitment to the Torah and the role of Jewish leaders and 2) Jewish fearless self-sacrifice and determination.
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One historic pattern that Berel Wein points out is that of exile. He begins with the exile of over a million in the Ten Tribes, who, as he puts it, mysteriously vanished, and follows this exile with the more successful exile into Babylon of the 10,000 taken by Nebuchadnezzar. This exiled group included prophets Daniel, Ezekiel and Ezra. The 2,500 year exile saw, not the extinction of the Jews (as in the vanishing of the Ten Tribes) but the establishing of a respected, effective and flourishing Jewish community. Institutes of learning were established; careers and government positions were taken up; prophets were effectively leading, such as Daniel who was so safe in exile that he could daily pray out his open window toward Jerusalem. Wein asserts this pattern of exile has continued to the present day citing the example of Jews in the United States. Assimilation, establishing a Jewish community infrastructure of schools and leaders, social integration in careers and influential positions (like Jacob of the multi-colored coat in Egypt) mark this exile pattern.
Wein acknowledges an alternate historic exile pattern represented by the experiences of European exiles during the Crusades when whole communities of Jewish families were slaughtered, especially significantly in the infamous Second Crusade, and represented by the later exile in Eastern European when government pogroms took on the role of "Crusaders" yielding the same results in slaughter and maiming.
Jewish communities existed continuously in Europe for over 2,000 years. ... Their social and religious distinctiveness made them persistent targets for persecution; and such persecution, in turn, intensified the cohesiveness of Jewish communities. (Wiesenthal, Museum of Tolerance).
As Wein and Wiesenthal both point out, persecution, of either pattern, "intensified the cohesiveness of Jewish communities." This intesified cohesiveness was in part demonstrated by commitment to the Torah and expressed in the Jewish concept of contemporaneous prophets in the persons of significant rabbis who emerged throughout times of exile: "Our past had its prophets, we must have them, too, men with a supernal dream, a lofty ideal" (Henry Iliowizi, Jewish Dreams and Realities). Jewish interpretation of the Torah has always called for a superrational commitment to the Torah, as explained by Rabbi Schneerson, because of the three categories of commandments with the third being that of chukim (meaning "decrees”). This chukim category requires compliance because there is no right to question them; they are superrational, beyond reasoning out: "a decree from Me, [which] you have no permission to question" (Schneerson). Contemporary prophets and the superrational nature of chukim and the intensified cohesion of communities are the underlying reasons for the historic commitment to the Torah and for the historic role of Jewish leaders.
Within this cohesive community, self-sacrifice and fearless determination arise because of the nature of three categories of Judaic Law which are summed up in the phrase ye'hareg ve'al ya'avor, which means "be killed but do not transgress" (Wikipedia). These categories are, in order of severity, idolatry, sexual immorality, murder. When faced with coercion to commit one of these violations to mitzvot or halakha, a person must sacrifice their own life rather than to commit idolatry, sexual immorality, or murder (Wikipedia). It is from this deeply embedded root that Jewish self-sacrifice and fearless determination come.
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