Friday, November 09, 2012

Jewish speciation

I am reading a wonderful book, "The Song of the Dodo: island biogeography in an age of extinction" by David Quammen.  So what has this got to do with the Jewish question, the answer is nothing, and everything.  Bear with me as I attempt to traverse this particular intellectual tightrope.
Speciation is the process whereby new species evolve.  Reading this book on ecology and the development of understanding of evolution on islands is very instructive.  Islands have thrown up some strange species over long periods of time, as Darwin and Wallace discovered.   Quammen also uses human examples for illustration, such as the Aborigines of Tasmania, who were separated from their cousins on Australia for some 10,000 years and who developed not only their own social structures but also some distinct physical characteristics (they were taller and thinner, with bushy reddish hair) and they never used boomerangs.  But, they were not a separate species, only perhaps going on the way towards a sub-species, before they basically became extinct after contact and competition with British civilization.   
If I compare the Jews in eastern Europe to the early Zionists, although they came from the same origin, the Zionists broke off.  They developed a completely distinct new secular philosophy and those who made aliyah to the Promised Land, then part of the Turkish Empire, faced tremendous physical difficulties and challenges.  They self-consciously sought a break with the old ways, they returned to the Land and worked the land.  They had to develop self-defense organizations and train for combat.  Meanwhile the Jews in eastern Europe remained passive and depended on God for protection. a plan that did not work.  The early Jewish immigrants to Eretz Yisrael were isolated in a harsh new environment with a completely different social structure, often in cooperative kibbutzim. 
It was as if a Jewish offshoot had landed on a far distant island and there began the process of forming a new species of Jew, a process of speciation.  This process became complete when the original population, the Jews of eastern Europe, was wiped out, as if by a cataclysm, even though a man-made one, and became virtually extinct (although there were some survivors) and the remaining Jews on their desert island, surrounded by enemies, evolved into a new sub-species.  Once the new Jew established his ability to survive in the new-old environment and organize a State, they became Israelis. 
Many people have speculated on the difference between Diaspora Jews and Israelis.  Of course, in the West, in the US and Britain, Jews have a great deal of freedom to practice their own beliefs, to live safely and to vote in elections.  They too are distinct from the Eastern European Jewish model.  But, even in Britain, Jews are not all that safe.  All Jewish organizations need round-the-clock protection and in Britain and all over Europe there is a resurgence of anti-Semitism and Jews are regularly attacked.  In the US things are better and Jews have the luxury of voting for candidates who do not represent their best interests.  That is indeed freedom.  But, even though the Jews of America are free, they are not as independent and self-reliant as Jewish Israelis.  Jewish sovereignty is a precious commodity that had to be earned by harsh experience, a process of survival of the fittest, a process of speciation. 


Post a Comment

<< Home