Thursday, February 18, 2016

What's With All These Posts About Germany?

I have a number of posts here about contemporary Germany, generally pointing out positive aspects of the society. And being Jewish and all, this may raise a few eyebrows, even though as the book Frankfurt on the Hudson points out, German Jews generally didn't become hostile to every element of Germany even after the Holocaust. So I'd like to explain here why I do this, but first I'd like to share this quote from R' Avigdor Miller.

"Hakodosh Boruch Hu makes everything intentionally upside down in this world, to test And so everything we see in this world is for purpose that we should turn upside down. I was in Germany once, and a professor was on the train with me, and he wanted to pick up my suitcase for me. I said, "Professor, you'll pick up my suitcase for me?" I fell in love with Germans, everyone fell in love with Germans. It's a big nisayon not to fall in love with Germans. They were so polite. Only Hakodosh Boruch Hu wanted us to learn that that great thought "V'nahafoch hu" - it's all upside down what you see....And now when you pass through Germany on your way someplace, you have to know, that's a nation of ogres. Not cannibals. Cannibals just eat when they're hungry, ogres eat because they like to eat people. Germans are the most wicked people, all goyim become wicked when you fall in love with them." (Purim with Rabbi Avigdor Miller, p. 122-3)

"And we have to learn forever and ever, like the Jews in Germany fell in love with the Teutonic culture, and in Austria, "the Teutonic culture," they wanted to look like Germans, and of course talk like Germans, and dress like Germans, and think like Germans, and to them that was the apex, the acme, the summit of hatzlocha b'olam hazeh, to be like the Germans. So Hakodesh Boruch Hu said, "If that's the case, I will show you who the Germans are." (Purim with Rabbi Avigdor Miller, p. 121-2)

Wow. That's really strong talk. With that said, how do I justify my posts about Germany? Consider these words from R' Miller:

"After all, Persia - as the Gemara says in Brochos  "בשלשה דברים אוהב אני את הפרסיים" - even the chachomim saw good things in the Persians, when they want to talk secrets, they go out in the field where nobody's around, we learn to be careful, and other things we learn; good middos, certain good things from the גוים, why not? Hakodesh Boruch Hu sent them; we learn good things even from an ant! We learn good things from a dove, the Gemara says, from a cat we learn good things, why can't you learn from it from the Persians?

"So Hadoesh Boruch Hu intended we should learn good things from them, but to learn to be impressed by the Persians?" (Purim with Rabbi Avigdor Miller, p. 142-3.)

That's all I'm doing, pointing out a few positive traits - organization, civic duty, a kind of public modesty, adherence to law, industriousness. The Germans have some positive traits. And they happen to be traits that were stressed historically more in the German Jewish community than elsewhere and have been diminished in the Jewish world in recent times. So I remind us of those traits by showing examples in their employment in Germany. Take for example the video of the cars on the autobahn moving aside for the ambulance.

But do I admire the Germans in general? No. I don't admire any gentile society in general, only in particulars. Germans, while modest and humble in the sense of not displaying wealth ostentatiously (contrast with the Italians) can be the most arrogant beasts on the planet. I recall conversations with Germans where I had to endure their pronouncements of having the best wine, the best engineering, the best military forces, the best language. And these were pronouncements from the heart, given with great intensity. It was actually scary.

I recall other scary incidents with Germans, like the one at a Dead Sea Hotel, where after sitting in an empty seat, I was approached by a very aggressive young German who barked at me, "Get up. You are in my seat. Get up. Get up!" That's all he said, like a pit bull from the get go. It was like a scene from of a WWII film. I thought for a moment that he might be acting. But he wasn't.

I don't forget German antisemitism prior to the era of Enlightenment with their special taxes and expulsions and bans from trade and killings. And we certainly don't ignore their immense decadence and atheism today.

Yet, I argue that the American Midwest, one of the best societies on earth, was shaped by Germanic immigrants of earlier eras, many from Scandinavia.

It's not a simple discussion. But I never offer general admiration. Germany, even at its best, is not holy. At its best, it's civilized. At its worst, I needn't elaborate.

1 comment:

  1. From what I see from your post, there is no contradiction here. But if a person doesn't look deeply, there does appear to be a contradiction between admiring Germans and the typical Jewish view of Germans as Nazis. But you are not admiring German culture in general just admiring their strengths when used for the good. Many people have trouble holding two seemingly contradictory views in their heads at the same time. But then we may miss out on some valuable life lessons. It's easy for Jews to dismiss Germans as not worth a second thought but then we would miss out on what we can learn from them, as you elaborate above.