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Is Jewish Survival A Miracle? – OpEd

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Passover, the oldest (3,200+ years old) Jewish holy day ended on April 23, 2022; and Israel Independence Day, the newest Jewish holy day will be celebrated on May 5, 2022. Between these two celebrations of Jewish survival, is the Jewish commemoration of the Holocaust on April 28. This three week period brings up the question of the uniqueness of Jewish survival.

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The king of Prussia, Frederick the Great, in a discussion with his court chaplain once said, “Give me proof of the inspiration of the Bible.” The chaplain replied, “Your majesty, I can answer your request in two words”

King Frederick looked at the chaplain with amazement and asked, “What two words provide such strong proof?”

The chaplain answered, “The Jews your majesty.”

Indeed, the continued existence of the Jewish people in spite of centuries of persecution, is the best proof of the Bible’s inspiration, and of the existence of the God who promised to preserve the Jews, return them to their homeland, and bring them to a time of great national blessing in the last days.

This retelling of the well known dialogue between Frederick and his court chaplain, comes not from a Jewish source, but from a Christian minister: Dr. James Boice.

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Of course, Jews also believe that the survival of the Jewish People is a real miracle. The Jews are the only nation. religion or people in the western world today; who still celebrate the same holiday (Passover), use the same language (Hebrew), and pray to the same God, as their ancestors did more than 3,200 years ago.

Although their language and religion has continued to grow and change, its evolution, identity and continuity has never been broken. In the whole world, only the Chinese and the Hindus can boast of a similar continuity.

But the Chinese and the Hindus have never been exiled from their land and then returned, not once but twice. Nor have the Chinese and the Hindus lived most of their history as a small minority, resting assimilation into the majority. Jewish history and survival is truly and amazingly unique.

The recent revival of Jewish life in Poland is one example of the miraculous ongoing survival of the People of Israel. Since the end of Communist rule in 1989, thousands of Poles have discovered a previously hidden Jewish ancestry, and decided to return to that identity. In Warsaw today, there are three Progressive Reform Congregations and two Orthodox Synagogues; all of them filled with Poles who found that in some mysterious way, they have a Jewish soul that yearns to come back to the Jewish people.

Of course, those who participate in a large scale miracle have difficulty in seeing it as a miracle. People are human; they always have their faults and weaknesses. Even during the Exodus from Egypt, the greatest miracle in Jewish history, Jews were complaining to Moses about food (Exodus 16: 2-4), drink (15:24, & 17:2-3), danger (14:11-12). and his leadership (14:10-12). Yet 120 generations of Jews would look back to this event as the greatest of all miracles.

And then there is Isaiah’s 2700 year old prophecy, that “an old man who does not live out his years; one who dies at a hundred, will be thought of as a mere child; one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.” is also attaining its realization. A report by the UK Office for National Statistics that one third of babies born in 2012 in the UK are expected to live to 100.

Experts base their projections on current and future survival trends. The number of centenarians has been steadily increasing in the UK – from 600 in 1961 to nearly 13,000 in 2010. In 2012, the figure will hit 14,500, and by 2035 will have topped 100,000. Of those born in 2012, 135,000 men and 156,000 women are expected to still be alive by age 100. Another prophecy fulfilled.

And then there are the Jews who have been returning to the Land of Israel in fulfillment of many prophecies of the Biblical Prophets. Even the lost tribes of Israel are returning. Groups of ‘lost’ Indian Jews, who are descendants of the tribe of Menashe, one of the ten tribes exiled from the Land of Israel in 721 BCE by the conquering Assyrian Empire, are returning to the Land of Israel.

The Bnei Menashe Indian Jewish community asserts it is one of the ten lost tribes of Israel who were exiled when Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BCE.

According to its oral tradition, the tribe travelled through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet, to China and on to India, where it eventually settled in the north-eastern states of Manipur and Mizoram. In March 2005, Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar officially backed the Bnei Menashe’s claim to be Jewish. That announcement led to a wave of immigration from India to Israel; and about 1,700 of the 7,200-strong Bnei Menashe community arrived in Israel. But the flow stopped in 2007, when Israel stopped giving visas to the Bnei Menashe due to objections from some ultra-Orthodox Rabbis.

Israel’s later decision to reverse that policy enables the remaining Bnei Menashe members to migrate. A source close to the prime minister’s office gave two reasons for the change in Israeli policy. Some of the donors to Shavei Israel, an organization that seeks to repatriate ‘lost’ Jewish communities, are also donors to Netanyahu, and perhaps more important, several fundamentalist Protestant groups that support Netanyahu also pressured him strongly because they believe that the return of the remnants of the ten lost tribes to the Land of Israel is a necessary part of the coming Messianic Age.

In reality the ten northern tribes of Israel were never lost; they were just submerged among the much larger non Jewish population in the places where they lived, or they moved to distant lands, and over the course of centuries became detached from the main body of the Jewish People; and were forgotten.

The well known Marano Jews, who are the descendants of Jews forced to convert into the Catholic Church in 15th century Spain and Portugal, are a good example of a submerged Jewish population. The Jewish communities in Ethiopia, India and China are a good example of remote Jewish communities, who became detached from the main body of People of Israel and were forgotten. These three were rediscovered in the 19th century by Christian missionaries.

Ethiopian Jews, are the largest remote community that started returning to Israel a generation ago after a separation of over 2,000 years. The amazing 1991 rescue of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in an airlift lasting less than 48 hours stirred and inspired people for several weeks. Subsequently, the difficult problems that the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000 Russian Jews who immigrated in the 1970’s and 1980’s) occupied the Jewish media. Now both are taken for granted. The miracle has become routine.

But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia two generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle. If you had told Russian Jews a generation ago that the Soviet regime would collapse, and the Soviet Empire disintegrate; while hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream.

In our own generation we have also seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will bring your offspring from the East (India) and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 43:5-6) Truly amazing things are happening in our generation if we would only open our eyes.

The world Jewish population is about 15.2 million, with 45% of them now living in Israel. In 1900 only 1% of the Jewish People lived in the Land of Israel.

All those who encourage others to join the Jewish People now, will be part of that Divine and yet very human miracle. Those who are very willing to be helpful follow the path of the great sage Hillel, who accepted people as converts who had been turned away by the great sage Shammai. The Talmud’s verdict on the two sages is, “A man should always be as flexible as Hillel, and not as inflexible as Shammai.” (Shabbat 31a) This is especially important in our generation’s Poland where thousands of gentiles with Jewish souls are trying to return home.

Those who make it hard for these Jewish souls to become part of a Jewish community are sinners; even if they hide themselves under the words of strict Shammai type law that they chose to follow.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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