General Topics

The Hour and The Man


Over the years I have noticed so often that the most mediocre or the most flawed of individuals, or sometimes the most inappropriate or even downright bad, get into positions of authority and power, when far more able, appropriate or effective people are overlooked for all kinds of reasons.

Sometimes it’s just the way self-perpetuating oligarchies ensure they have “their” men in positions where they can be controlled. Sometimes it’s the way political parties work. So I am never surprised at which people get to the top of the greasy pole. Its only amazing that on rare occasions the appointment is felicitous. I am sure we can all think of examples, in businesses, establishments, religions and countries.

Was Tony Blair really so superior to all the other Labor leaders of the eighteen years who preceded him but were destroyed by the Conservatives? Or was he the right person, in the right position, at a favorable time? How did Bill Clinton, a second-rate governor of a third-rate state with a colorful past, get to be president of the most powerful nation on earth? Was he so much better than all the other Democrats? Or was George Bush really the very best candidate the Republicans could find to be president? I’m not arguing about whether they have done good jobs or not. Just observe, how many accidents and incidentals occur on the path to the top and how rare it is that those favored at the start are those who succeed in the end.

Who would have predicted in 1950 that throughout the Jewish Diaspora Jewish education would come to be regarded as the norm? In London only Rabbis Solomon Schonfeld and Kopul Rosen fought for Jewish Education against arguments that it would prevent integration and inhibit success in life. Their arguments have never been bettered. Yet fifty years later it took a range of circumstances, including the collapse of the State Education System, for almost 75% of the UK Jewish community to be hooked on Jewish education. It had little to do with people (though I don’t underestimate some important contributions). It had much more to do with circumstances.

Who would have thought thirty years ago that Orthodoxy in the UK and in America would now be burgeoning, with massive birth rates, tremendous resources and an explosion of shtieblach , chedarim and yeshivas, while at the same time becoming Chassidish more than Lithuanian, fundamentalist more than scientific, and rabidly right-wing? Can one put this down to any one or group of individuals? I think not. After all, you could never have found as great an authority, scholar, and brilliant brain as the late Dayan Yechezkel Abramsky, of the London Beth Din from 1932 until 1951. He would knock the whole of the present Beth Din into a cocked hat with room to spare. But his influence in his time was miniscule compared to their influence in Anglo-Jewry today. Was he a lesser man? I don’t think so.

Sometimes circumstances have to change. Sometimes attitudes. For nearly two thousand years Jews, wherever they were, desperately wanted to return to Jerusalem, or at least to have the freedom to do so. Would anyone suggest that Herzl’s love for the Holy Land was any greater than that of Yehudah Halevy or of Nachmanides, from medieval Spain, who pined and yearned and ultimately died to get there? And was Ben Gurion a better advocate of the right of Jews to their homeland than Jabotinsky? No. The facts were that the circumstances for the rise of a secular Zionist movement could not have come together any earlier in history, if no other reason than that the very idea of a Secular Jew did not exist before the so-called Enlightenment. And the conditions for establishing a Jewish homeland only occurred in the twentieth century with a confluence of factors, Britain getting the Mandate at Versailles and later the Second World War and Hitler.

Life is, indeed, very much a lottery. Who would have thought that Sharon, condemned by the Kahana Commission for not preventing Christian militias to enter Sabra and Chatilla, would one day become Prime Minister? And who would have thought that he would follow Begin and be far more adventurous and concessionary than other leaders? (I did! I said it at the time to incredulous friends and have it in print.)

I’m not at all surprised by Arab rejoicing at his state. After all, I’d rejoice at the neutralization of all enemies of the Jewish people. Though most Israelis are not enemies of the Palestinians. They just want to protect themselves. Neither am I surprised at the response of some Jews that it serves him right for withdrawing from Gaza. We have always had our share of sick minds.

But who will take his place. Perez? Perhaps an improvement on those who came before him but someone who would wreck Israel’s economy by returning to a Neo-Socialist Command Economy. Netanyahu? A total failure as Prime Minister. A morally compromised opportunist (although admittedly an effective Finance Minister), who has no constructive answer to the diplomatic process other than to say “No”–like rabbis who find it so easy to say “No,” “Treif,” “You can’t.” But ask them to make concessions or be lenient and they go weak at the knees.

Or Olmert? The greasy wheeler-dealer who can’t control his mouth and who’ll go whichever way the money or the opportunity calls? Look around at the Knesset and you see a roll call of the most uninspiring, often corrupt and incompetent men and women you could ever wish to come across anywhere in the free world (outside the UN and the EU). Where will leadership come from?

Sometimes I think God got us into this mess and He will get us out of it. The Messiah will come. Sure, we have waited two thousand years and every prediction so far has proved to be absolutely wrong, not to say dumb. But who knows. Miracles happen. Someone will rise to the occasion and once again, like Joseph in Egypt, we’ll say, “The hour maketh the man.”

submit feedback