It would be fair to say that every human group suffers from a schismogenetic malaise of one sort or another. Countless nations have experienced violent domestic spats that in some cases deteriorated into bloody revolutions and civil wars. Even so, it would seem that the Jews are a special case, displaying throughout their history an exceptional tendency toward factionalism. “The Jewish people has been a divided house from the very beginning,” wrote Arthur Hertzberg and Aron Hirt-Manheimer. “When Jews, on occasion, did have the semblance of a united structure, it was short lived.”19 Indeed, any time the Jews managed to form a large, autonomous commonwealth, they were seized by an almost uncontrollable urge to tear that unity to pieces.The essay is copiously documented. Here he quotes Josephus from Roman times:
Clearly, the people of Israel suffered from this particular illness since day one: The Hebrew Bible makes no effort to spare its readers stories of fraternal hatred and its murderous outcome. In the wake of the sin of the calf, for example, the members of the tribe of Levi, acting on Moses’ instructions, killed three thousand men who had sinned by worshipping the idol. Jephthah of Gilead massacred forty-two thousand men from the tribe of Ephraim in a single day. The war that the Israelites declared on the tribe of Benjamin following the brutal rape of the concubine in Gibeah cost tens of thousands of lives, almost destroying the Benjamites completely. And the kingdoms of Israel and Judah continued to clash even after their bitter split; Jehoash, the twelfth king of Israel, even advanced on Jerusalem to despoil the palace and Temple treasuries.
O most wretched city, what misery so great as this didst thou suffer from the Romans, when they came to purify thee from thy intestine hatred! For thou couldst be no longer a place fit for God, nor couldst thou long continue in being, after thou hadst been a sepulcher for the bodies of thy own people, and hadst made the holy house itself a burying-place in this civil war of thine. Yet mayst thou again grow better, if perchance thou wilt hereafter appease the anger of that God who is the author of thy destruction.41And he concludes with this:
The long and sorry history of the Jewish nation is undeniable proof of its extraordinary psychological resilience and its willingness to transcend internal divisions in times of danger. One can certainly take comfort in the knowledge that, when under pressure, the Jews have proven their capacity to act as a unified force to be reckoned with. But a society cannot reach its full potential solely on the basis of its willingness to rise to the occasion. On the contrary, it must develop the tools that will enable it to deal with the more mundane tasks of maintaining a sovereign and democratic state. A culture of public schismogenesis will complicate, if not confound, efforts to do so, and in the long run will erode a society’s ability to survive existential crises. Even at this very moment, as we enjoy the relative security and strength of the state we have established in the land of our fathers, we Jews must review and remember that heartbreaking dirge written by Josephus, witness to the greatest disaster that our nation ever brought upon itself.