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Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens
Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens

No Profits in Prophets

I’m so afraid of the Bible.

There are so many stories there that are relevant to current political situations, and I’m really afraid to use them. Too many look at Israel through a religious, rather than a national prism. Let’s face it, religions don’t get self rule in their own states, nations do. So I’m worried that events in the Bible will confuse more than enlighten.

Then I listened to a debate about Thucydides, and how the lessons of his writings should be understood when considering modern geopolitics.  So the heck with my hang ups. If an Athenian from the 5th century has something to teach us, then I’m being silly not to apply the insights of 6th century Jerusalem. After all, to quote Churchill, “No two cities have counted more with mankind than Athens and Jerusalem.” Plus, we just posted a podcast episode about history and its relevance to current events. So think in terms of nation/states and politics, rather than religion and piety. Here we go.


In Yirmiyahu’s book, chapter 28, there is a smackdown between him and another prophet named Hananiah ben Azzur. Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) is wearing an actual yoke to symbolize Judea’s submission to Babylon as God’s plan. After all, things are looking pretty dark. King Yehoyakim, thousands of aristocrats and elites, money and temple objects were dragged to Babylon after an attack. So Jeremiah counsels, let’s keep our heads down.

This sounds awful to Hananiah. Here’s his response:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Hosts, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will remove the yoke of the king of Babylon from your necks. Within two years I will bring back all the Temple treasures that King Nebuchadnezzar carried off to Babylon. And I will bring back Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the other captives that were taken to Babylon. I will surely break the yoke that the king of Babylon has put on your necks. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” 

17 WEIGEL ENGRAVING HANANIAH 28BB.jpgHananiah assaults Yirmiyahu

Things go downhill from there, as you can see for yourself. Needless to say, Yirmiyahu was right, Hananiah was wrong, and that was awful news for everyone. Like, “fall and destruction of Jerusalem” kind of awful. (“What the heck was Hananiah thinking?!” is a great question for a different discussion)

Who do you suppose the people listened to? And why?

If your answers are 1) Hananiah, and 2) probably because he sounded more positive and patriotic, and so was telling the people what they wanted to hear, then I agree with you.

Now I’m not saying that the analyst who is giving you the bad news that you don’t want to hear is always right. Optimists are smart too. Sometimes they are correct. What I would like to argue is that critical thinkers should weigh the news that you don’t want to hear more carefully.

Look, we all succumb to confirmation bias. The safest way to avoid being a sucker is to take the perspective that goes against your own, and listen to it with a very open mind. It couldn’t hurt to be extra vigilant and critical of your own perspective as well.

Here’s another example. This one isn’t biblical, it's modern. It's from an address from Zeev Jabotinsky to the Jews of Warsaw on the 9th of Av in 1938. Please read every word.

“It is already THREE years that I am calling upon you, Polish Jewry, who are the crown of World Jewry. I continue to warn you incessantly that a catastrophe is coming closer. I became grey and old in these years, my heart bleeds, that you, dear brother and sisters, do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit its all-consuming lava. I see that you are not seeing this because you are immersed and sunk in your daily worries. Today, however, I demand from you trust. You were convinced already that my prognoses have already proven to be right. If you think differently, then drive me out of your midst! However, if you do believe me, then listen to me in this twelfth hour: In the name of G-d! Let anyone of you save himself, as long as there is still time, and time there is very little.
What else I would like to say to you on this day of Tisha B’Av is whoever of you will escape from the catastrophe, he or she will live to see the exalted moment of a great Jewish wedding - the rebirth and rise of a Jewish state. I don’t know if I will be privileged to see it, but my son will! I believe in this, as I am sure that tomorrow morning the sun will rise.
Eliminate the Diaspora or the Diaspora will surely eliminate you.”

Tragically, most of the Jews of Warsaw paid as little heed to Jabotinsky as the Jews of Jerusalem did to Yirmiyahu. They put their faith in voices that were more comforting. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever be able to foresee events with the prophetic accuracy of those two great Jews of the past.

But I sure hope we are all better listeners today.

jabotinskyportraitbw_pppa.jpgZeev Jabotinsky

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