Wednesday, November 26, 2008

HaKUZARI (Verdeutscht und Verbessert) or The Khazars – Redux

"Ben Zoma said:" Who is wise? He who learns from all people, as it is said (in Psalms 119:99): 'From all those who taught me I gained understanding'". - Ethics of the Fathers IV:1

The translation of the Hebrew description of Shlomo HaMelelkh (King Solomon) is usually rendered the wisest of all, but the Hebrew חכם מכל also says that he was wise *from* all. All includes our detractors, and even our enemies. Sometimes we have to listen to our enemies to get at the truth.

I listened to the anti-Semitic accusation that Ashkenazi Jews are not real Jews and asked myself if I can find a kernel of truth in it if I correct for the spin, filter out the distortion and fill in the blanks of their ignorance with what I know about Judaism.

I arrived at the following conclusions:

First, it is the Jews and only the Jews, most specifically the Jews who are knowledgeable in Jewish Law, who decided if someone is Jewish or not. It should be eminently clear that is not the place of any person outside any given culture to decide who belongs to that culture and who does not and anyone who attempts to do so is a fool and a knave. We need not regard their criteria as to whether one is Jewish or not as valid at all. Jewish Law defines who is a Jew quite categorically and clearly.

The Jewish world accepts the Ashkenazi Jews as no less, or more, Jewish than the Jews of other streams: The Sephardim, the Mizrahim, the Temanim, the Jews of India, and the Ethiopian Jews.

The following considerations in no wise shed doubt upon the Jewishness of the Ashkenazi Jews. That is a given, absolute, and there is no Jewish group who has any hesitations whatsoever about marrying Ashkenazi Jews or including them in a prayer quorum or any religious commandment or activity whatsoever. Neither will there ever be any hesitations concerning the Jewishness of the Ashkenazis and no one will succeed in sowing a seed of doubt considering this matter in our hearts.

That said unequivocally, it must also be said that the story of the conversion of HaKuzarim (the Khazars) reads more like fable than fact and a reconsideration of the story as told is in order.

All those who have a standard Jewish education have read SEFER HAKUZARI (THE BOOK OF THE KUZARI, sometimes translated into English as THE DISPUTATION) , as relayed by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi. In the story we read of the King of the Khazars who, having had a dream in which he is told that his intentions are acceptable in the eyes of Heaven, but his practices are not, decides to hold a debate among a Jewish representative, a Muslim representative and a Christian representative to the purpose of deciding to which religion to convert he, himself, and his entire idol-worshipping kingdom.

The representative of the Jewish faith wins the debate, as we all know, and the Khazars convert to Judaism. The details of that conversion are not related to us in the book.

The anti-Semites would have it that all Ashkenazi Jews, who are of light complexion and often have light hair and/or eyes as well, are so because they are all descendants of the Khazars. This is arrant nonsense, of course. More Jews who are fair are that way because the barbarians of Europe raped Jewish women regularly than because they are descended from the Khazars, whose complexion, by the way, we are unaware of. Anti-Semites never recall that ugly historical fact in their public ruminations as to why it is that the Ashkenazis are fair. It is easier to delude oneself that the Jews are white because they are reptilian shape-shifters than to admit that one's own grandfather or great-grandfather was a drunken, sadistic brute without the least measure of self-control or respect for human life. It is entirely possible that the Khazars were Mongolian. There is no necessary reason to believe that they were White at all. But the people who staged the pogroms most certainly were.

That being said and behooved I was to say it; I was, in reconsidering this story, now as an adult, forced to ask myself if, when the Christian cleric who lost the debate returned to Rome and told his superiors that the Jews had won fair and square and that the Khazars had decided to convert to Judaism if the response of his superiors was: 'If that is God's will, then so be it. Blessings all around!' Not bloody likely. It is far more likely that either the Church encouraged the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism, because they knew that they were idol worshippers and they knew full well how hard it is to convert an idol worshipper, or, knowing that these newly converted heathens would bring us only sorrow, sat back and let the idol worship work its own special magic as it seeped into Jewish ritual practice.
We Jews had had ample experience with the effects on Judaism when large numbers of heathens are integrated into Judaism. We experienced it in the Holy Land, in Babylon and then again in ancient Rome, at which time, it is said, as many as one-third of the Roman elite had adopted at least some Jewish practices. The Rabbis were very concerned about this development, as they were rightly aware that if the Jews adopted Roman pagan practices in large numbers they would seriously undermine our way of life. We should not have allowed the mass conversion of the Khazars – but we did and we are paying the price to this day. Knowing the Jewish People as I do, I do not believe that the conversion of the Khazars en masse was welcomed or encouraged. I doubt it would have been accomplished at all without pressure and fear of reprisals is we refused and it would not be beneath the Church to apply such pressure and monger such fear.

I believe that the Khazars, well-meaning as they might have been, brought with them their old and entrenched heathen ways and integrated many foreign, pagan practices, and ways of thinking, into Judaism. And I believe that that affected a large percentage of the Jews in Europe as the foreign influence spread as the Khazars married other Jews.

That is one of the reasons why we see, to this day, that among the Ashkenazi community there are "customs" and "stringencies" and "interpretations" of Torah that are clearly pagan. Another reason why Ashkenazi Jewish practice is profoundly compromised is that the Jesuits found it easier to infiltrate and distort Jewish practice among the Ashkenazis because they are most similar to their phenotype (the result of being forced to be similar to their genotype, for the reasons described above that Gentiles of European extraction don't feel comfortable recalling).

An Ashkenazi Rabbi once told me quite candidly that Sephardim to not have to take on as much stringency as do Ashkenazis because they are genetically closer to the original Jews and thus experience less bodily and psychic resistance to serving God than do Ashkenazi Jews. While he was correct about that; the irony of the fact that the very stringencies and customs that Ashkenazi Jews practice as part and parcel of their observance are foreign pagan influences and thus hinder, rather than serve and expedite, service of God did not dawn on him.

Yet, the Ashkenazi Jews are completely accepted as Jews and there can be no questioning their Jewishness whatsoever.

We do, however, have to see to it that their practice does not remain the dominant one in Judaism, as the Jesuits would have it precisely because it is distorted and impure. Their customs, stringencies and Biblical interpretations must be examined one by one to make sure they accord with true Judaism, absolute monotheism, with no traces whatsoever of pagan practice and idol worship and that includes the eudaemonism of the various Rebbe cults of the "Chassidim".

The next part of the quote I opened this piece with reads: "Who is strong? He who conquers his evil inclination."

My sincere thanks and gratitude are extended to all my anti-Semitic adversaries who compelled me think deeply about this matter and be able to pinpoint this problem, so that it may be rectified, and, in so doing, benefit my People and allow me to contribute one small portion to the Jewish People's continued march on to moral/spiritual perfection. The evil of anti-Semitism exists to strengthen us by overcoming it. We are taught that we must bless the unpleasant, which we associate with bad, even as we bless the pleasant, which we associate with good – and as we have all experienced, sometimes our detractors and enemies teach us more than our friends and certainly more than our flatters.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel