Prof. Paul Eidelberg
Apropos of the eruption of anti-Semitism, especially of the Jew-hatred in the Muslim world, this article focuses on philo-Semitism, which may interest both Jews and non-Jews.
Aristotle's successor at the Lyceum, Theophrastus, called the Jews “a nation of philosophers.” Numenius, a Syrian philosopher of the second century and a forerunner of the neo-Platonic school, regarded Moses as the first and greatest of the philosophers. Christian historian Eusebius (ca. 300 CE) said of the Jews, “For of all mankind these were the first and sole people who, from the very first foundation of social life, devoted their thought to rational speculation...”
Turning to modern times, Harvard graduate John Adams, the second president of the United States, expressed the conviction of many 18th century American educators, “The Jews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. They are the most glorious Nation that ever inhabited the earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a bauble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the Globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind more, and more happily than any other Nation, ancient or modern.”
British historian and statesman Thomas B. Macaulay, another admirer of the Jews, stated “In the infancy of civilization, when our island was as savage as New Guinea, when letters and arts were still unknown in Athens, when scarcely a thatched hut stood on what was afterwards the site of Rome, this condemned people had their fenced cities and cedar palaces, their splendid temple ... their schools of sacred learning, their great statesmen and soldiers, their natural philosophers, their historians and poets.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (wrongly viewed as an anti-Semite) had this to say in The Joyful Wisdom, “Wherever the Jews have attained to influence, they have taught to analyze more subtly, to argue more acutely, to write more clearly and purely; it has always been their problem to bring people 'raison.'“
In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes, “In the Jewish 'Old Testament,' the book of divine justice, there are human beings, things, and speeches in so grand a style that Greek and Indian literature have nothing to compare with it.”
Returning to Rav Kook, in his seminal work, Orot, he writes, “Israel alone affirms the undiluted monotheism that enhances our inner character that motivates the Jewish culture's magnificent resurgence.” Whereas the Torah created the Jewish people before they had a land or state of their own, gentile religions were superimposed on pagan nations.
The religious wars of 17th century Europe, the Holocaust, and today's ethnic conflicts in Europe and the Arab Middle East confirm Rav Kook's insight that “religiously inspired Gentiles necessarily combine the sublime and the primitive aspects of their cultures, since no individual can renounce the ethnic character that crystallizes with a people's entry into the international community.”
To be sure, and as Rav Kook points out, “There exist saintly, philosophical, religious and divinely imbued persons everywhere, but with Israel alone the corporate spiritual fruition coincides with the Universal Divine ideal.”
Rav Kook admits that irreligion and materialism could not spread in Israel were it not for lapses and philosophical stagnation among the observant. He writes, “Though buried under heaps of stagnant delusion, foul practice and intellectual depravity, the impact of the Divine on the Jewish character can at no time be erased.” Soon it will be rejuvenated. Only the Jewish People can dissolve the woeful contradictions of mankind, can unite the “world of the spirit with the material world of action” and thereby endow mankind with joyful wisdom.
Something like this was discerned by Nietzsche. This avowed atheist, who abhorred the otherworldliness, hypocrisy, and joylessness of Christianity of his time, offers this remarkable vision, “On the day when the Jews will be able to show as their handiwork such jewels and golden vessels as the European nations of shorter and less thorough experience neither can nor could produce ... then once more that seventh day will appear, when the G-d of Israel may rejoice in Himself, His creation, and His chosen people--and all of us will rejoice with Him!”