Waging a national and religious war of survival, the Maccabees had to be harsh
with their enemies, the Seleucids, bearers of seductive Greek gifts. They were
ruthless toward their Hellenized followers, the Jewish city dwellers who forsook
their heritage for Greek delights. The Hellenized Jews were the more affluent
and sophisticated among the Jews. They were enamored with universal values,
unlike their fellow ignorant Jews, the unschooled yokels who did not speak
proper Greek and were stuck with Jewish particularity.
Jews sported Greek fashion and hairdos and did gymnastics with the boys. They
cared a lot for appearances, for “aesthetics”. They were
But they were not too concerned with liberty; with the
freedom to be different, Jewish. Jewish tradition and its sages must have seemed
to them narrow-minded, retrograde. How could you even start comparing the Bible,
this confusing medley of stories and poetry, with the disciplined methodology
and coherence of lofty Greek abstractions; with their universality? How could
you compare the passionate effusions of a Jeremiah or an Isaiah with the cool
logic of a Plato or an Aristotle? OUR CONTEMPORARY university-educated
Hellenized elites probably feel the same. They too consider themselves the
proponents of progress and enlightenment. They too scorn retrograde religious or
nationalistic uniqueness and particularity. They have no use for religions that
celebrate individual accomplishment and insist on individual responsibility. How
could you compare such narrow-minded religions with the all-embracing faith of
universality and equality – socialism? When they speak of human rights, our
progressives therefore mostly think in terms of collective rights, the rights of
a faceless public, of a homogenized nation, or best of all, the masses – these
amorphous aggregates in whom the individual is merely a standardized cipher,
never a distinct, unique being, with varying needs and wishes.
be why our liberal elites are not so keen on individual liberty. The struggle
for liberty is an expression of our noble human quest to free ourselves from the
drudgery of mere survival, from its distinction-less sameness. Liberty
encourages us to cultivate what is unique and different in each of
Dazzled by the lofty abstractions of Greek thought and the
tautologies of post-modernist dogma, progressives mostly overlook the greatness
of Judaism’s commitment to the sanctity of individual life, the deep
significance of its conviction that “he who sustains one soul of Israel has
thereby sustained a whole world” because in Judaism each soul is a unique,
incomparable and irreplaceable being; not the faceless member of a
Now, as then, the Hellenized fail to appreciate the world of
difference between Judaism’s profound affirmation of life (“these are the laws
and commandments that man shall observe to live by them”) and the obsession of
other religions with death; the import of Judaism’s embrace of the progression
of time as a fecund process of change leading to salvation. They do not grasp
how basically Judaism’s embrace of life differs from the obsessive fear of death
which made other religions want to arrest time both physically (by building the
everlasting pyramids) and mentally (by creating perfect immutable abstractions)
because they feared time’s ruinous progression leads to decay and
Paradoxically it was Judaism’s affirmation of life that made
some Jews able to fight for its survival even at a risk of their lives.
Judaism’s survival, they deeply felt, was essential not only for the
preservation of their most distinct and creative culture, but for the evolution
of human life, its uniqueness and its redemptive potential.
INDIFFERENCE of our progressives to individual liberty, that is worlds apart
from the politicized collective liberty which they so worship, that is so
different from their faith-driven quest for “equality” is crucial to the
understanding of their often duplicitous attitudes toward freedom in issues such
as Palestinian rights and economic rights, to pick just two.
remarkable how many of Israel’s progressives, especially in the academia and the
media have dedicated their lives to the establishment of a Palestinian state
because they consider political equality, the right of “self-determination” a
supreme expression of freedom. The same people who are so “liberal,” and
consider Jewish nationalism reactionary, totally devote their best efforts to a
most jingoistic and racist Arab nationalism that tramples the most basic human
rights of its own citizens and shunts most its energies to a jihad against
As long as it fits even the most perverse definition of
“self-determination,” it does not seem to matter to our progressives that the
Palestinian Authority is really a coalition of clans that gravely oppress their
people. What really matters to them are not individual rights, but collective,
political rights whose attainment justifies in their eyes any means, even
terrorism, the ultimate outrage against individual human rights.
similar reasons, it seems, our liberal elites are very hostile toward economic
freedom. The same intellectuals, academics and artists who would climb the
barricades at the mere suggestion that government should be allowed to curb
creative freedom, even when it may threaten society, are the ones who strongly
advocate economic oppression.
Our progressives have been indoctrinated to
believe that profits come from exploitation, that commerce is a zero-sum game
that leads to growing inequality (as it temporarily does sometimes).
is for them a cause for its damnation, because they worship the false god of
equality, and uphold an abstract and unrealizable “right,” more important than
the right of people to improve their lives even if not at an equal pace, as must
Progressives also fear that economic liberty grants too much freedom
to the individual, and that it may lead to a vulgar and demeaning consumer
culture (which it may, temporarily, but is then always succeeded by a great
flourish of culture).
By rewarding the creative hard-working individual,
they worry, economic freedom may make people doubt the merits of equality, and
this is the greatest heresy of all. It must be stamped out through economic
suppression or the market will become a jungle, they are convinced, despite the
overwhelming evidence that markets brought on the whole huge benefits to
humanity, and still do (look at what happens now in China and India where even
badly constrained markets have created a miracle of economic
So freedom, yes, say our progressive, but only in their god’s
creative acre; not for the general public. It is too good – and dangerous – for
the common people, they are convinced.
This is why we must continue
fighting so hard for economic freedom, whose benefits are so huge and obvious.
Economic freedom despite its human failings also works, much better than all its
alternatives, as Churchill said of democracy.The writer is director of
the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress.