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Purim 2006 -- Not All Authority is Bad

Rabbi Daniel Lapin

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This past Monday night TBN broadcast a two hour show on which, together with another Orthodox rabbi, Aryeh Scheinberg, I had the privilege of explaining the Jewish holiday of Purim. Throughout the discussion of the Book of Esther I was exquisitely attuned to the blessing of living in America. Only in America would Christians have produced that show and only a Christian network aired it. Things were not a lways as good for Jews as they are now in this blessed land.

For hundreds of years, till the first massacre in 1298, a Jewish community thrived in Nuremberg, Germany. Nuremberg hosted many other vicious pogroms till the 1930s when Hitler chose the city as the site for the most spectacular Nazi party rallies. Leni Riefenstahl 's brilliant propaganda movie "Triumph of the Will" shows the Nuremberg Nazi rallies reenacting the historic tension between the message of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that of barbarism and paganism. Later Nuremberg was chosen as the location for the Nazi War Crimes' trial. (Tip: Rent the 1961 movie, Judgment at Nuremberg starring Spencer Tracy and Marlene Dietrich.)

In its final days there at Nuremberg, the Third Reich posthumously dealt a blow that would seriously undermine the West well into the twenty-first century.

On October 16, 1946 Julius Streicher mounted the Nuremberg scaffold and before dropping to his death, snarled "Purimfest 1946." The report of his last words, carried by Newsweek on October 28, 1946, revealed how knowledgeable the notoriously anti-Semitic Streicher was about the Jewish holiday of Purim which celebrates a Jewish victory against an earlier generation's Hitler. In its final days there at Nuremberg, the Third Reich posthumously dealt a blow that would seriously undermine the West well into the twenty-first century.

First, a brief side excursion into the law of unintended consequences. This law observes that although the architects of America's welfare state certainly never intended it, their work ended up creating the morass of despair and the explosion of illegitimacy that have become the monument to that ill-fated experiment.

Similarly, Einstein never intended his theory of relativity to be used by a generation eager to prove that everything is relative; including morality. Also, the inventors of the birth-control pill never intended their discovery to spawn a nation of adolescent men who would come to regard women as no more than playmates. But all these unintended consequences did come to pass.

Even good intentions can unexpectedly bring about dreadful consequences.

Intentions are not nearly as significant as consequences when the time comes to appraise an act or an idea. Even good intentions can unexpectedly bring about dreadful consequences.

When the Allies decided to try the surviving Nazi leaders directly after the end of WW II their admirable intention was to portray the hideousness of Nazism in the hope of forever ridding the world of its poison. What they unintentionally achieved was to repeatedly broadcast the defense theme of the Nuremberg defendants until it was the one phrase that people could recall from all the mind numbing testimony.

"We were only following orders."

The West is still reeling from the unintended consequence. Nuremberg popularized the idea that morality means rejecting authority.

Later the baby-boomers took the Nuremberg lesson to heart. "Question authority" became the rallying cry of the nation's youth eager to identify itself as more moral than its compliant elders. They conveniently ignored the fact that these elders were the ones who had actually fought and won the war that began and ended in Nuremberg.

American culture absorbed the Nuremberg lesson tha t obeying authority is always Nazi-like.

American culture absorbed the Nuremberg lesson that obeying authority is always Nazi-like. First came a rejection of the authority of parents. As the earliest symbol of authority, parents found their role gradually and subtly undermined. Teachers and educators were next. It was no longer appropriate for professors to grade students, rather the reverse was to take place. Finally, even the government was recognized as an illegitimate agent of authority and police became "pigs."

It was ironic, given the prominent role played by Jewish radicals during this period, that during the holocaust, those Christians like the Ten Boom family of Holland, who risked and often forfeited their lives by saving Jews were usually motivated by the religious principle that God's authority outweighed that of the Nazis.

Nowhere however, was the movement to resist all authority more vigorously pursued than in the area of religion. "Question authority" led to the questioning of those religious rules that had governed mankind for thousands of years: celibacy before marriage, monogamy within marriage, indeed, male-female marriage itself, and the values of work and decency, all came under attack. Self restraint, the crucial gift that Judeo-Christian thought presented to western civilization, was replaced with self-esteem.

To this day, loyal adherents to God's authority are still reviled as 'the religious right."

Pastors, rabbis, and priests found themselves automatically discredited unless they joined the rebellion against authority as so many weak religious leaders did. Those leaders who remained faithful to the hierarchical principles of Judeo-Christian thought became suspect as did all individuals who believed in an authority greater than themselves. To this day, loyal adherents to God's authority are still reviled as 'the religious right."

We can and must repair this damage to the fabric of our society. Insisting that all human lives, ambitions, successes and outcomes must all be equal does not eliminate hierarchy as much as it welcomes tyranny. One of religion's most useful functions is ordering the world for us. Close relatives are more urgent charity recipients than exotic strangers. One's own parents must be respected more than other people's parents even if they do appear more reasonable than one's own. Certain acts are greater sins than others. Certain calls are more compelling and virtuous than others. A kind and loving authority that structures our lives, families and communities is not only desirable but indispensable.

Julius Streicher knew that Purim was the holiday on which the 10 sons of Haman, tormentors of the Jews, were all hanged. He also probably knew that Purim celebrates the Jewish acceptance of God's authority. On that cold October dawn, as he and his nine co-defendants prepared to replay the role of Haman's ten sons, Streicher's wild yell "Purimfest 1946" was an anguished cry of recognition. The Nazi's obedience in and of itself was not the problem. Their fatal error was in granting that obedience to a human being.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, an Orthodox Rabbi in Seattle, and President of "Toward Tradition." "Toward Tradition" is America's leading bridge-builder between Jewish and Christian communities; spanning the divide between Christians and Jews by sculpting ancient solutions to modern problems.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Read the entire article on the Toward Tradtion website (new window will open). For free and unrestricted use with attribution.

Posted: 23-Mar-06



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