Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Kissinger and the (Soviet) Jews: Tales from the Holocaust…and the Talmud

In Uncategorized on December 28, 2010 at 9:18 am

Recent revelations from the Nixon tapes made news, as Kissinger is quoted saying:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

Maybe a humanitarian concern??????” Michael Gerson, a believing evangelical Christian with a Jewish grandfather, in a WaPo op ed piece chides Kissinger and the “realism” that led him to these odious comments.  In a familiar defense, Kissinger responds, complaining that his statement, however inappropriate, was taken out of context, invokes his sacred status as an indirect victim of the Holocaust and its horrors. He lost friends and relatives, and fled from Europe’s ovens in the nick of time as a fourteen year old child. Gal Beckerman, who has recently written a history of the struggle for Soviet Jewry challenged Kissinger’s revisionism in today’s WaPo. Kissinger’s intemperate remarks reveal an older and more complex story than Madeleine Albright’s Jewish identity melodrama.

Once, I was talking to the late Jewish historian Arthur Hertzberg, and he told me the following story. When he was President of the American Jewish Congress  the Council of Presidents was meeting with Mr. Kissinger. One of the Presidents was saying Kaddish and needed a minyan for Mincha, the afternoon service. “Of the ten people in the room, other than Israel Miller (who was saying Kaddish), only me and Kissinger knew which side of Mincha was up.”, Hertzberg said. Kissinger is a different bird than Ms Albright. Albright’s Jewish identity was as strange to her as it was to George Allen–Mr. Makaka.  Why should they own something that never meant anything to them to begin with?

Henry K. grew up in a traditional Jewish household, and yet at every personal, social and political opportunity he distanced himself from his heritage. For him, there was no greater liability than his Jewish background, with his foreign accent playing a close second. His, was a betrayal of the first order. The suffering of Jews was not going to affect the grand design, the bigger picture that the little slave had managed to sell to his anti-semitic master, Mr. Nixon.  Were Nixon’s bigoted comments taken out of context too?

Kissinger has proven that the axiom of Pirkei Avot: “Beware of government, because they only befriend a person for their own designs.” (Pirkei Avot 2:3) He is the quintessential insecure intellectual, too clever by half, who understood early on  that in order to buy in to his version of the American dream, he must sell out his birthright.

As he scrambles to justify his “gas chambers” faux pas while exaggerating his human rights achievements, K. still argues that it would have been bad for the Jews for him to reveal any sentimentality.  According to Gal Beckerman, he went as far as to fabricate statistics in order to buttress his case. It is clear that Kissinger, had he been advising Churchill, would not have recommended bombing the gas chambers of Auschwitz, because it would have made him sound a bit too “Jewy”. You could almost hear him saying, “Dat we must not undermine the war effort, even though this maybe a humanitarian concern.

In the Talmud, Rabbi Yossi Ben Kisma, who refused to live in a place where Torah study was central to daily life, nevertheless, capitulated to the Roman authority when they took over and even tried to convince Rabbi Hanina Ben Tradyon to stop learning Torah in public–predicting Hanina’s demise in extraordinary detail. Rabbi Yossi, however, had Jewish interest at heart and was doing his best to convince his friend to stop his public learning in order to save him.  He argued that a kingdom that could get away with destroying God’s house, must have the Holy One’s approval, and we must not resist the punishment that has been impressed upon us.  Rabbi Hanina was martyred in an act of spiritual resistance in  a way that transformed his students, his daughter, and even and especially his executioner.  It is his story that we remember, and it is his remarkable statement while he is being burned at the stake that remains with us until this day. When his fate and his body are tied literally to a burning Torah scroll, his students ask in horror what does he see? He says, “The parchments are burning, but the letters are flying free.” (Avoda Zara 18a)

Collective resistance is not a motif one sees championed in the Talmud.  The Talmud heralds Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai who negotiates with Vespasian for a new center of learning outside of Jerusalem. The heroes of Masada’s last stand are only known because of Joesphus’ history, the Talmud did not wish to stoke Jewish passions with their examples of collective martyrdom, so it s not mentioned. Sometimes collaboration was chosen as a survival mechanism against unspeakable odds.

Rabbi Yossi collaborated with the Romans because he felt that this was the best option to preserve the life of the community. Kissinger claims that he could do the best for the community, by doing what is best for America. In other words, he made a conscious decision to abandon any contact or connection with Jewish life so that he could reinvent his own bad self.  For him to protest that he not be judged with his “Walk a mile in my shoes” Holocaust victim defense, is obscene, hideous, and disgusting. His battle to annihilate  his Jewish identity was the only thing missing from the context of his statement.

Here is what Kissinger meant by his “gas chamber gaffe”. The destiny of them–the Soviet Jews–has nothing to do with me, the reinvented American. This is more than self hatred, it is self obliteration.

With friends like Henry…


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