“And so Mumbai joins Kishinev, Hebron, Berlin, Babi Yar, Maalot, Sbarro’s, Sderot (we could easily mention 150 other sites) to the annals of sudden infamy."
Or does it?
On December 5, just one week after terrorist atrocities left at least 180 dead in Mumbai, The Jewish Week of New York published a blistering editorial, consecrating the event as one more milestone in antisemitism.
“And so Mumbai joins Kishinev, Hebron, Berlin, Babi Yar, Maalot, Sbarro’s, Sderot (we could easily mention 150 other sites) to the annals of sudden infamy,” the editorial’s opening declared. Titled “Another Day in Infamy,” the piece mourned the six Jews killed in Mumbai’s Chabad outreach center during the attack and invoked the “more than 2,000 Jews killed by Islamic terrorists in the last decade alone.”
The editorial cited the Nazis as the terrorists’ historic model.
Sitting in his home, Larry Yudelson, a veteran journalist and observant Jew, was incensed as he read the piece. In a December 11 posting on his popular blog, Yudeline, Yudelson lambasted it as “an editorial that will live in infamy.”
Quoting its opening, Yudelson wrote: “You wouldn’t know from this paragraph — or the eight that follow — that nearly 200 non-Jews were killed in the coordinated terror attacks, whose primary targets were foreigners in Mumbai. The official paper of the UJA-Federation of Greater New York treats them as unpersons.”…
As I got to this point in JJ's piece, I stopped reading for a moment. Who at the Jewish Week would write an editorial like this? I knew Gary Rosenblatt would never write something so dismissive of the suffering of others. There was only one person on the Jewish Week's masthead who, I thought, might write something like this.
I kept reading:
…In fact, however, it is not clear whether the Chabad victims were hit simply for being Jews or—in a city of 5,000 native Indian Jews whose nine synagogues were left unscathed—they were targeted as symbols of Western Jewry, Zionism and Israel or – as many observers believe – modernity, globalization, Western civilization or some combination of all of them.
Survivors of the hotel attacks report that the terrorists also specifically sought out Americans and British citizens and, of course, the mostly upper-class Indian patrons at these sites. The attackers prioritized them for murder, often passing over other non-Indians. Moreover, while under siege, one of the terrorists at the Chabad center called a popular Indian TV channel. On the air, he ranted specifically against the recent visit of an Israeli general to the Indian-ruled section of Kashmir, where India is locked in a bitter, decades-old conflict with Pakistan. Israel has become an increasingly important arms supplier to India in this clash.
“There were complex dynamics at work here,” said Jerome Chanes, a prominent sociologist of American Jewry and scholar of antisemitism. “It was about India and Pakistan; it was about ethnic tensions, and it was about antisemitism.”
“The terrorists hate the West as the antithesis of their absolutism,” agreed Rabbi Irving Greenberg, a pioneering theologian and scholar of the Holocaust. “And they hate the Jews because they see them as a symbolic representative of Western civilization. The Jews are a focus, but this is a much broader agenda.” By contrast, he said, “the Nazis were focused specifically on killing Jews.”…
No serious evaluation of the Mumbai Chabad Massacre I'm aware of differs much from Chanes or Greenberg.
So how did the Jewish Week editorial see only the antisemitism? Why does it view the world in a such a narrow way?
Eisav sonei Ya'akov, the old rabbinic saying that means Esau hates Jacob.
The apparent kindness shown by Eisav to Jacob is viewed as false.
Here is an explanation of Eisav sonei Ya'akov from Yanki Tauber, a Chabad rabbi:
In Genesis 33:4, the Torah tells us about a kiss: after thirty-four years in which Jacob had fled his brother's wrath, and in which Esau had never ceased plotting to kill him, Esau has a change of heart. Seeing Jacob approach, Esau runs to him, embraces him, and kisses him.
But the word vayishakeihu, "and he kissed him," has a line of dots above it, which is the Torah's way of telling us that this was not a normal kiss. What was abnormal about this kiss? The Midrash cites two interpretations. One is that the Torah is telling us that it was not a true kiss -- Esau was really trying to kill Jacob by biting his throat. The other interpretation is that Esau kissed Jacob with all his heart -- that's what was abnormal about the kiss, since "we know that it is a cardinal law of reality that Esau hates Jacob."
Either way you look at it, the bottom line is that Esau hates Jacob. No matter what Jacob does, Esau hates him. If Jacob appeases him, gives him gifts, acts towards him like the brother he is, Esau hates him even more.…
What this explanation lacks is the definition of Eisav.
Is Eisav simply the person Eisav who purportedly lived 3700 years ago? Does Eisav include all the descendants of the original Eisav? Or is Eisav a code word for all non-Jews?
One of Eisav's descendants was Amalek, the archetypical enemy of Jews. Rabbis have seen Amalek in Haman of the Purim story, in Hitler, in Ahmadinejad, in dozens if not hundreds of enemies of Jews between them.
But rabbis, especially haredi rabbis, have also seen Eisav in all non-Jews.
How could that be when so many non-Jews are anything but antisemitic?
A Chabad rabbi once explained it to me like this, based on the Tanya, "Everything 'good' a non-Jew does for a Jew is really done for his own benefit, not the Jew's."
In other words, there is a scale. Some non-Jews are like Eisav's descendant Amalek. They are the Cossacks, pogromists, Nazis and White supremacists. Others are Amaleks-in-waiting who express their latent-but-innate Jew-hatred by a lack of altruism.
The only exception to this formula would be the righteous gentile, that extremely rare individual who does show true altruism.
How can I be so certain the rabbinic formulation Eisav sonei Ya'akov is behind the Jewish Week editorial?
The incident Eisav sonei Ya'akov is based on, told in Genesis 33:4, is part of the weekly Torah portion called Vayishlach. Vayishlach was read this year on Saturday, December 13. Jews study the weekly portion during the 6 days leading up to the Sabbath reading. The section of Vayishlach containing the Eisav-Ya'akov kiss was studied Tuesday, December 9. Te Jewish week's editorial would have been "put to bed" Tuesday night December 9 or wednesday morning December 10.
So who wrote the Jewish Week editorial? Exactly who I thought wrote it. The Forward continues:
…The author of the Jewish Week editorial, Jonathan Mark, the paper’s associate editor, argued in an interview that “no one would ever challenge the Amsterdam News or El Diario or the Advocate,” referring to leading black, Hispanic and gay community newspapers, “if they took a position that reflects their community.”
“I was writing for the Jewish community,” Mark said. “The events were less than a week old. The Jewish community was uniquely in a position of sitting Shiva. And in a Shiva you don’t walk up to the mourner and say, by the way, 100 other people died yesterday. It’s not to deny the other tragedies, but you’re speaking to a mourner.”…
Mark is, first of all, a nice man. But he is also a man who sees the world through very particularist lenses, lenses colored by years of centrist and haredi-inluenced Orthodoxy. (And lenses that see little wrong with Orthodoxy and much wrong with everything else.)
The heroes of that tragic episode are a Muslim cook, a Christian nanny and Hindu commandos.
Even so, that Mark would see the massacre at Chabad Mumbai as Eisav sonei Ya'akov is not surprising.
Yes, Eisav hated Ya'akov in Mumbai. But Eisav also loved Ya'akov there and even risked his life for him.
Most of us see that with ease. But most of us do not wear Jonathan Mark's specially-colored glasses.