Living up to Truth, Ch. VII - Jewish Survival - the Fact and its Implications

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Living Up to Truth
by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb
2nd Revised Edition

Title Page | Author's Preface | Translater's Forward
I - The Relevance of Religion | II - Religion: Pragmatism or Truth? | III - Belief and Action: Criteria for Responsible Decision | IV - True Predictions | V - Archeology | VI - Revelation and Miracles - the Kuzari Principle | VII - Jewish Survival - the Fact and its Implications | VIII - Summary and Conclusion



Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7

This chapter will finish the survey of the evidence. So far, we have seen the prediction of Deuteronomy 28-30, a brief survey of the archaeological evidence, and an argument for the Biblical description of miraculous events. We will now see three more pieces of evidence and then draw the conclusion.

Jewish survival has long enjoyed widespread attention. It is clear to all that the Jewish historical experience is unique in ways which cannot easily be explained. This has attracted the ambition of historians of all stripes to try the mettle of their favorite theories on this extraordinarily difficult historical problem. For Jews, this fact has more personal implications. It sets them apart from the common human experience and gives them a point of pride in their connection to an indestructible people. In spite of all this professional and personal interest, the message of Jewish survival has been doubly missed by historians and (non-traditional) laymen, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

First, the nature of the fact itself has not been appreciated. Its extent - over 3000 years admitted even by the most severe critics - and the uniqueness of the enormous historical pressures which should have caused the disappearance of the Jewish people, are not appreciated in detail. The result is that the superficial suggestions offered to explain Jewish survival are taken seriously, when a survey of the details would show them to be clearly incompetent. Second, there is a failure to focus specifically on WHAT has survived. In particular, no account is taken of the many experiments of large populations of Jews with other cultural forms which have not survived. The purpose of this essay is to rectify both of these mistakes. We will start with a survey of the features which make Jewish survival so difficult to explain. The most popular theories designed to explain Jewish survival will then be tested against the fact(s) and found wanting.

Jewish history divides into two major periods: from its inception to the destruction of the second Temple, and from that date to the present. Each period presents its own obstacles to historical explanation. We start with a survey of the unique features of each.

Ancient Jewish history comprises at the very least 1000 years from the time of king David to the destruction of the second Temple. (This much will be admitted by all; the prior 800 years from the time of the patriarchs is controversial in secular sources and will thus be omitted here.) For approximately ninety percent of this period, i.e. for all but the exile in Babylon, there was a large concentration of Jewish population and an independent Jewish state in the land of Israel. (Of course, "independence" allows for significant pressure from empires like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, etc.)

What is striking about this period is the unparalleled uniqueness of Jewish belief. Principles shared by virtually every ancient culture contrast sharply with Jewish sources. The general agreement among other cultures is due to two factors. First, their beliefs reflect common circumstances (the constants in the human condition in the ancient world - birth, death, war and peace, dependence upon poorly understood natural phenomena, etc.). Second, cultures in contact affect one another: ideas are borrowed and mutually modified. Judaism is assumed to have shared the first factor with all other cultures (This is the assumption of the neutral historian, which we accept here in order to show even him the uniqueness of Jewish survival. We know that miracles and prophecy made Jewish historical experience utterly unlike that of other nations.), and its geographical position ("the crossroads of three continents") made it extraordinarily susceptible to the second. Its uniqueness is thus very difficult to explain. What follows are six examples of distinctive Jewish beliefs. (See Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), chaps. II-IV.)

1. Monotheism. Polytheistic idolatry is the rule in ancient religions. The restriction of worship to a single deity is almost unknown. (The "solar monotheism" of Akhenaton in ancient Egypt is not parallel - see Kaufmann, pp. 2, 226-7.) The reason is simple: natural phenomena are so disparate that they are inevitably assigned to different deities, and then each of those deities must be served or else the natural forces under their control will injure the errant community. The uncompromising commitment of Judaism to one G-d only is without substantive parallel in the ancient world.

2. Exclusivity. Each ancient nation had its own pantheon of gods. But each recognized the appropriateness of other nations worshipping its own pantheon. The universalism, and consequent exclusivity of Judaism are absent from ancient religions. (See Genesis 43:32 where Jews visiting Egypt eat separately from the Egyptians because the Jews' food is a religious abomination to the Egyptians!) Thus, aside from Antiochus' attempt to eliminate Judaism, there are no religious wars in the ancient world! (See Bickerman, "The Historical Foundations of Postbiblical Judaism," in L. Finkelstein ed., The Jews - History, Culture, Religion, v.1, pp. 106-7.) When one country conquered another the second was usually required to acknowledge the chief god of the conqueror, and the conquered were usually happy to comply: the very fact that they lost the war proved that the others' chief god was very powerful. The rest of the religion of the conquered nation was left intact. Only the Jews proclaimed a universal and exclusive concept of deity: our G-d is the only one, all others are fantasy.

3. Spirituality. Ancient religions associated gods very closely with physical objects and/or phenomena. The "god of the sun" is the sun, as god, and so with the moon, the sea, the lightening bolt, etc. The same holds for physical processes like fertility, life and death. The only ancient religion to declare that G-d has no physical embodiment, form or likeness is Judaism.

4. G-d as absolute. Ancient religions picture the gods as limited in power. Many start with a genealogy of the gods. That means that certain powers predate them and are out of their control. Only Judaism understands G-d as the creator of all that exists and completely unlimited in His power over creation.

5. Morality. The gods of the ancient world are pictured as petty tyrants acting out their all-too-human desires in conflict with men and with one another. Aside from taboo actions which sometimes overlap with moral concerns, no condition of absolute moral perfection applies to those gods. Only the Jewish G-d is defined as meeting that description.

6. Anti-homosexuality. All ancient cultures permitted some forms of homosexuality, and for many it had religious application. The only exception is Judaism which opposed all forms of homosexuality, whether religious or merely hedonistic. (See Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.) To ancient cultures, these Jewish beliefs appeared absurd. They contradicted the common experience and convictions of all mankind. Maintaining them branded Jews as quixotic outcasts. The historical problem is to explain how a people originated and preserved so extreme a set of beliefs without being overwhelmed by the unanimous consensus of all other nations.

This problem cannot be solved by appeal to the general success of Jewish cultural achievement. The Jewish nation did not enjoy any outstanding secular success which could have served as the means of preserving Judaism. There was no far-flung Jewish empire, no revolutionary innovations in mathematics, medicine, economics, architecture, the arts, philosophy etc. Had there been such, we might have explained the survival of Judaism as a mere accompaniment of an otherwise successful society.

One final characteristic of ancient Judaism must be noted. Throughout the ancient period Jews experimented with other forms of religious belief and practice. The prophets testify to Jewish idol worship. (This must be understood as syncretism: not an abandonment of Judaism in toto but an amalgamation to local conditions. "The Jewish G-d took us out of Egypt, so He is very powerful, so of course we celebrate Passover. However, if you want your garden to prosper, a sacrifice to the local baal will help!") During the Babylonian exile a significant percentage of Jews intermarried and adapted their beliefs to the Babylonian milieu. When Greek culture became dominant in the Middle East many Jews became Hellenized. During the end of the second Temple, the Sadducees rejected the traditional Oral Law and substituted their own adaptations of Jewish practice. Needless to say, all these efforts eventually failed. Thus the survival of Judaism stands in contrast with those competing Jewish cultural forms which expired.


Jewish belief was unique in the ancient world in its commitment to monotheism, the exclusive, spiritual, absolute and moral concept of G-d, and opposition to homosexuality. This unique belief survived in spite of continuous contact with powerful foreign cultures, and was not the result of other Jewish cultural successes. Jewish experiments with modifications of the traditional formula disappeared.

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7

Now we turn to the second period of Jewish history: from the destruction of the second Temple to the present. During this period, Jewish communities were widely spread among a variety of antagonistic majority cultures, without any central authority or control. What ought to be expected of Judaism under such conditions? From the experience of other cultures, we should expect large-scale cultural borrowing and influence. Yemenite Jews should show the influence of Arab-Moslem culture and religion, French Jews the influence of Catholicism, Russian Jews the influence of Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. How critical should these influences be?

Let us take as a comparison the development of Christianity during the same period. At present there are hundreds of different Christian sects, each with its own version of the original doctrines and events of early Christianity. The Trinity is understood in widely different ways by Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Unitarians. the Eucharist is the real consumption of the blood and flesh of the founder of Christianity for some, a symbolic representation for others, and dispensed with entirely by others. This wide variation means that the original information cannot be reliably recovered.

Now this occurred to a religion which was in a majority position from the time of Constantine, with both central authority and control. Whatever the details of the historical forces which lead to the loss of their origins, those forces should have applied to Judaism with infinitely more power. In fact, what happened is the opposite: there is no disagreement concerning the fundamentals of Jewish belief, practice and experience of 1900 years ago. Thus the survival of Judaism during this period is utterly unexpected, violating the normal process of cultural transformation.

(Here we must be careful not to misunderstand the contemporary division among the "branches of Judaism". They do not differ concerning what Jews of 1900 years ago believed and practiced: there is no doubt that Shabbos was celebrated on Saturday, that pork was forbidden, that the coming of the messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple were the goals of Jewish history, and that they believed every letter of the five books of Moses to have been dictated by G-d at Sinai. They differ only concerning how much of the Judaism of 1900 years ago should be practiced today. This is not at all parallel to Christianity in which matters of equal centrality are very much in debate.)

In addition, as in the ancient period, this second period saw Jews experimenting with modifications of Judaism. The Karaites resurrected the heresy of the Sadduces in denying the traditional Oral Law. The Marranos tried to deal with the Inquisition by feigning Christian practice in public while living as Jews privately. Both of these experiments were historical failures: the Marranos have disappeared from the Jewish people, and the Karaites are a scattered and dying sect. (The more modern experiments at modifying traditional Judaism still exist and thus strictly speaking we cannot yet judge their historical fate. But if past experiments are any guide....) The survival of Judaism as we know it was not without competition from other Jewish allegiances.


The following are the features of Jewish survival which we have surveyed: (1) 1000 years of national independence (excepting Babylon), during which (2) Jewish belief is of unparalleled uniqueness, (3) unaccompanied by any outstanding secular success, and (4) succeeding in competition with various experiments at modifying the content of traditional Judaism. This is followed by (5) 1900 years of minority status among varied antithetical majority cultures which, (6) by comparison to Christianity during the same period ought to have caused the disappearance of Judaism, and (7) again saw the failure of experimental modifications of Judaism.

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7

Now let us use these aspects of the historical record to test the adequacy of the popular explanations of Jewish survival. The most common theory of Jewish survival is persecution: the will to spite the oppressor's goal to annihilate one's people and culture. (See for example J.P. Sartre's Anti-Semite and Jew.) The idea is that Jews' resolve to maintain their unique identity is a response to their being defined as alien by the non-Jewish world. If only Jews were accepted as equals and given access to non-Jewish society, Judaism would disappear. This theory fails on three counts. (a) It does not even apply to the period of national independence. (b) The last 1900 years has not been a period of uniformly severe persecution. Judaism survived the "golden age" of Spain, and traditional Judaism is enjoying a renaissance in contemporary America. (According to the theory, we should have expected the group with the strongest Jewish identity disappear the fastest in the absence of persecution as the prop for its existence; this is precisely what is not happening.) (c) We are not the only culture which has been conquered and persecuted. Christianity and Islam conquered and destroyed scores of pagan cultures which obligingly ceased to exist. Why did persecution not produce their survival? (Or are only the Jews spiteful enough?)

A second theory to explain Jewish survival asserts that Jews simply have a special ability to preserve their culture. (Whether this ability it genetic or acquired - a gene or a genius - the theory does not say.) Even so vague a suggestion can be refuted by the historical record: if there were such an ability, why did it not enable all the Jewish experiments at modifying traditional Judaism to survive also? Where are the Jewish polytheists of the first Temple, the Babylonian and Hellenistic Jews, the Sadduces, Karaites and Marranos?

A third type of theory holds that certain aspects of Judaism - beliefs, values, laws, customs, social forms, etc. - have enabled it to survive. For example, it is asserted that dietary restrictions serve to separate Jews from non-Jews and help the former to preserve their identity. This type of theory fails for two reasons. First, no reason is given to think that the cited aspects of Judaism should contribute to survival rather than being irrelevant or even harmful. For example, a small group of immigrants could find dietary restrictions an embarrassment. The tension of being socially isolated could lead to abandoning that practice, which would then weaken observance generally and thus hasten assimilation. In general, that only Judaism has survived and only Judaism has a particular feature A, does not imply that A contributes to Judaism's survival We would need independent evidence which shows that A contributes to survival.

Second, this theory begs the question at issue in a subtle way. The point of the theory is to provide a naturalistic explanation of Jewish survival. Even if the aspects of Judaism cited by the theory do contribute to survival, we have to ask how they themselves came to be, and why they are unique to Judaism. If we have no naturalistic answer to these questions, then the theory is ultimately a failure. (Compare explaining why George is the only human to run the mile in three minutes by citing his extraordinary leg muscles. If we cannot explain why his legs are so uniquely strong, we still do not understand his achievement.)

Let us suppose that a list of features unique to Judaism can be found which can be seen to contribute to Jewish survival. How is it that only Judaism has such features? Surely other cultures had brilliant men capable of innovating such features for themselves? If not, surely others could have taken them from us? (It will not do to argue, as does Yehezkel Kaufmann, (Kaufmann, p. 225.) that the unique aspects of Judaism are due to Moses' genius, and that genius has no rules by which its products could be expected. In order to be appreciated as such, genius must produce recognizable solutions to recognized problems. Otherwise the innovation will not be labeled genius, but insanity. If the explanation of Judaism's unique aspects is Moses' genius, then others would definitely have learned his techniques from us.)

Finally, there are those who would give up the hope to find a single explanation for Jewish survival. They argue that each of the cited explanations contribute some portion of the overall effect. Persecution does produce some will to resist; Jews are gifted at cultural longevity; some features of Judaism naturally contribute to survival and may have originated randomly. No one element by itself produces survival - that is the reason it was so easy to find counter-examples to the theories based on one explanation alone.

This approach also fails, on three counts. (a) No evidence has been supplied that persecution, and genius contribute to survival at all. If persecution promotes survival then at least some of the other persecuted cultures should have survived. If there is a Jewish genius for survival then at least one of the cultural experiments should have succeeded. And the naturalistic explanation of Judaism's unique possession of survival characteristics has not yet been provided. Thus in the light of the evidence we have three times zero. (b) It is not clear that other cultures which disappeared did not share all three features. To assert without proof that none of the cultures which disappeared through persecution possessed people gifted at preserving traditions and features fostering survival, would be mere cultural parochialism. (c) Without specifying the details of the combination of the elements of explanation, this approach is too vague to be taken as a serious attempt at explanation. What kinds and what extent of persecution contribute to survival? What gifts in particular enable people to preserve a culture? What features of a tradition contribute help it survive? ( This approach reminds me of the remark of one historian: "It is true that we cannot explain Jewish survival. But we will!" Translation: "I believe with perfect faith that everything can be explained naturalistically and therefore there is no need to believe in G-d!")


Persecution and unique abilities do not explain the facts of Jewish survival. The appeal to unique qualities of Judaism fails because there is no independent reason to think they contribute to survival, and there is no account of their origin and uniqueness. Since there is no reason to think that any of the theories provides any explanation at all, the combination of the theories is no better.

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7

The moral of this review of failed theories is clear: there is no serious candidate for a naturalistic explanation of Jewish survival. How then can Jewish history be understood? Only as traditional Jewish sources understand it: as G-d's providence manifest through his relationship with the Jewish people. When Esther learns of Haman's plot to destroy the Jewish people, she asks: "What is this, and for what [why] is this?" She is not content with a description of the political intrigue with its social, psychological and economic background. Those are relevant, but superficial considerations. The underlying causes are determined by G-d's providence - what purpose of His these events are designed to serve. Only thus can they be truly understood.

If Jewish history cannot be understood naturalistically, then the blind application of naturalistic methodology to the details of Jewish experience is a mistake. Imagine a botanist studying the flora of a garden. After he examines and classifies the flowers, shrubs, grasses and trees, he comes across a butterfly. "What sort of plant is this?" he thinks. "It has no roots, it flies...!" As long as he tries to apply the methods of botany to a butterfly, he will not understand! Similarly, an attempt to understand facets of Jewish history by comparison to those nations whose history is naturalistic cannot produce understanding. For example, to explain similarity of certain Jewish and non-Jewish ideas by asserting that we must have taken our ideas from others just as all other nations do, will be a totally unjustified comparison. If we were subject to cultural influence like all other nations then we would not be here!

Thus the supernatural element of Jewish survival must be squarely faced. Since there is no reasonable naturalistic explanation, the unbiased investigator must at least seriously entertain the possibility of a supernatural explanation and examine it with as much objectivity as one can muster. The attitude of the philosopher who said that, had he heard G-d speak at Sinai he would have sought out the nearest psychiatrist, must be rejected. When a consistent phenomenon defies all recognized explanations, other avenues must be courageously explored. In this way a Jew will finally discover the ultimate Source of Jewish survival.


Since Jewish survival currently defies naturalistic explanation, the naturalistic model of explanation which works for other cultures cannot be confidently applied to Jewish history. The only available explanation is Divine Providence.

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7

To complete the review of Jewish survival, let's consider now another unique aspect of Jewish history: the quality of life. After all, it is not enough to merely survive; the quality of life experienced must be high enough to make it worthwhile to survive! I think that it can be shown that Traditional Jewish communities have enjoyed, uniformly, a higher quality of life than the host cultures to which they belong, or among which they find themselves. When I say a higher quality of life, I mean with respect to values that even the host cultures would share. Of course, if I define a higher quality of life in terms of keeping kosher, that would be ridiculous. The host cultures don't care to keep kosher, so there is no significance to such a comparison. But I mean with respect to values that would be acknowledged by the host culture. Traditional Jewish communities have a higher rate of success in implementing those values than do the cultures among whom they live.

Take for example violent crime. The percentage of violent crime - murder, assault and battery, rape, and kidnapping - in Traditional Jewish communities is, in terms of comparative statistics, simply not as high in comparison with the communities among whom we live. Take Brooklyn for example. In Williamsburg, Traditional Jews and Puerto Ricans live side by side. Ask the sergeant who runs the local police precinct which community experiences more violent crime. I'm not saying that violent crime never takes place in Traditional Jewish communities, but it takes place very rarely. Communities living under the same conditions - urban, overcrowding, poor facilities, broken streets and so on (the kinds of conditions that a liberal sociologist would expect to determine the quality of life) - still demonstrate sharply diverging statistics. Those sociological conditions do not determine the quality of life in Traditional Jewish communities.

This is true not only with respect to violent crime. It is also true with respect to addictions - alcoholism, drugs and so on. The claim is not that there is no alcoholism, but that if you compare the rate of alcoholism there is an enormous difference. In the United States today, one out of every fifteen adults is an alcoholic. That is a figure that Alcoholics Anonymous puts out. In the Traditional Jewish community, if one in fifty is an alcoholic that is a tragedy. There are instances, but a disparity of a factor of three is an enormous disparity for people living under roughly the same conditions.

Take for example literacy. In a Traditional Jewish community, the literacy rate is 100% (aside from brain damaged children, autistic children, or children with other severe disabilities). In the United States today, the functional literacy rate is 75%. In the Scandinavian countries it is approximately 90%. Nowhere in the Western World do you have a literacy rate of 100%.

Take for example Family stability. The divorce rate in the United States is 54%, the same as it is in Canada. The divorce rate in the Traditional Jewish community is certainly less than one third that figure. Now, I hope I am making it clear that I am not claiming perfection here. We have many imperfections and problems. Smoking for example is an addiction which is rampant in the Traditional Jewish community, and it is a tragedy. But, if you take the overall quality of life with respect to those characteristics that even the host culture are interested in, the disparity is enormous. And this is true in not only contemporary times, but this is true if you trace back to comparative judgments about medieval Poland, the Roman Empire, the Greek periods, or any period for which we have reliable historical data. You find that traditional Jewish communities are distinguished sharply in terms of the quality of life which they enjoy.


Traditional Jewish communities have always enjoyed a superior (not perfect) quality of life with respect to values shared with the host culture. These include family stability, literacy and freedom from violent crime and addictions.

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7

Now, these two features of Jewish history that I have mentioned - survival and quality of life - constitute a kind of pragmatic success, an unparalleled pragmatic success. We have been able to survive and we have been able to produce consistently higher quality of life under conditions in which no other civilization, no other culture, no other religion has been able to function.

[Comparison with the Amish and other similar communities is not to the point here. They may enjoy a high quality of life, but they achieve it at the price of isolation. Only under their strictly controlled conditions do they achieve their success. The point about Traditional Judaism is that it enjoys its superior quality of life under the same conditions in which the host culture does not achieve a similar quality of life.]

How is it that a civilization survives and flourishes? I am not going to say anything profound now. I only wish I had a profound answer to this question! Rather, I am just going to give you a way of describing the phenomena.

A civilization is a modus operandi; it is a set of rules for living. (Many of those rules are not taught formally, but are implicit in the way people behave.) Those rules need to be adapted to the conditions under which you live. If they are well adapted, they will serve you well and they will flourish. If they are not well adapted to the conditions under which you live, there are two choices. Either you modify, or you simply disintegrate. If a civilization is too rigid, and the conditions under which it lives change radically, then it will simply fall apart. If it is more flexible, then it can perhaps change its character to meet the new conditions.

Now here you have a civilization, Traditional Judaism, which has lived under the most widely separated conditions that mankind has ever experienced. There was Traditional Judaism when we had our own monarchy during periods of success, our own kingdom. There was Traditional Judaism under conditions when we were conquered by outside powers and were under the sphere of influence by those outside powers. There was Traditional Judaism under conditions of exile; centralized exile as it was in the Babylonian period and enormously scattered exile under the conditions of the last two thousand years.

How can a civilization survive under such widely differing conditions? If it were rigid and unable to change to meet the new conditions, then it would simply fall apart. If it were flexible and able to meet the new conditions, then there ought to be four hundred Traditional Judasims today. Why? Because, we were living under so widely differing conditions, that if we were adapting to meet those new conditions, then we ought to have widely different forms of Traditional Judaism. Neither of these scenarios occurred. How can that be explained?

The only way to explain it is as follows, and this explanation will beg the larger question. Traditional Judaism has never adapted to the variables in human existence. Traditional Judaism has adapted to the constants in human existence. It has not adapted to the conditions of life that change, it has adapted only to the conditions of life that do not change. Because, if Traditional Judaism adapted itself to living in the mountains, then you would have a radically different Traditional Judaism in the mountains than you have in the plains or in the deserts. If Traditional Judaism adapted itself to a successful economic period, then you would have radically different Traditional Judaism in poorer economic periods. If Traditional Judaism adapted itself to peaceful conditions, then when Jews lived under war, you would have to have another type of Traditional Judaism. If Traditional Judaism adapted itself to living under Moslems, then you would have to have a radically different Traditional Judaism living under Christians.

If Traditional Judaism had adapted itself to the local conditions, then you ought to have many forms of Traditional Judaism today because the local conditions varied widely. Traditional Judaism would then look something like contemporary Christianity. If you have one basic form of Traditional Judaism throughout the world believing in the same basic principles, able to marry one another's children, eat in one anothers' homes, praying in one another's synagogues, then Traditional Judaism cannot be adapted to local conditions. Traditional Judaism has got to be adapted only to the universal conditions of human existence.

[The existence of many non-Traditional forms of Judaism does not affect this point. If we had followed the norms of human experience there would be no single, recognizable, world-wide Judaism which defines itself as representing the historically continuous principles of Judaism. That other groups have decided to change the historical tradition is true but irrelevant. The surprise is not unanimous agreement on Jewish practice, but that the diverse conditions of Jewish existence have allowed any continuity in representing the historical foundations of Judaism.]

But that in itself is a puzzle. Why is it? What would lead a civilization to forgo the advantages of local adaptation? No one else did it. Everyone else adapted to the local conditions in order to get more fruitful interaction with local conditions. How is it that Traditional Judaism should be the only civilization that resists adaptation to local conditions and maintains its pristine purity of adaptation only to the constants of human existence? I have no naturalistic answer to this question. It is another unique feature of Jewish history.


A civilization is a set of rules for living. These rules will survive only if they are not in conflict with the life environment. If they are adapted to the variables in human life then, when those variable change the rules must change or disappear. The survival of Traditional Judaism in radically different environments means that Traditional Judaism, unlike other cultures, is adapted only to the constants in the human condition.

Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6 | Section 7

Finally, and I will only briefly assert this and briefly describe it, I think it can be argued that Traditional Judaism has had a bigger impact on world civilization than any other culture. This tiny, numerically insignificant group of people has transformed world beliefs, world values, the world's basic view of existence more so than any other group.

Think of what the world was like three thousand years ago and imagine a rough progress of development to the present day. It seems to me that the world has been getting more and more Jewish as time goes on. Three thousand years ago everyone was polytheistic. Today, there are many less Polytheists. Perhaps Hinduism qualifies as real bona fide Polytheism. Perhaps some strains of Christianity qualify as Polytheism, perhaps not. But, from a time when the whole world was polytheistic, the world has become largely rid of that particular distortion. The ancient world in which the gods were simply super humans with all the frailties and the problems of mankind - fighting with one another and so forth - has largely been overcome. If you take the Christians and the Moslems together, you have considerably more than one and a half billion people who regard our Bible as divine in some sense (even though in many cases they misinterpret and misapply it).

The concept of justice is essentially a Biblical concept. In fact, it could be argued that morality itself is a Biblical invention. In the ancient world there was no concept of morality. And in so far as morality has become a modern idea to which the vast majority of mankind attaches itself, at least as an idea (practice is another matter!) is also the Judaising of world civilization.

Now all this is an enormous surprise. Even the Greeks' contributions to world civilization are outgrown. Greek science has now been replaced by modern science. In fact much of what had to be done in the Renaissance was to outgrow Greek science. Greek philosophy? There are still some who study the ancient Greek thinkers. But as an impact or as a contribution to the living ideology of mankind, the Greeks have simply been passed, as the Romans have been passed, and as the medieval period and the Renaissance and all the rest have passed. Only Traditional Judaism is still making contributions to the present day quality or conditions of life of world civilization as a whole.


Traditional Judaism has made, and continues to make the largest single contribution to the development of civilization. This includes the gradual passing of polytheism, recognition of the Bible, and acceptance of the Biblical concepts of justice and morality.

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