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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Reeh - Against demagoguery and totalitarianism

The twentieth century can be described as the time when totalitarianism spread. Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin are just some names on the long list of demagogues who established oppressive anti-democratic regimes in their countries. In some cases they led their peoples into terrible conflicts, such as the Second World War, the greatest catastrophe produced by human malice.

Great thinkers such as Hannah Arent (author of The Origins of Totalitarianism) and Erich Fromm (author of The Fear of Freedom) tried to explain the mass phenomenon of choosing despotic and totalitarian leaders who erect systems of repressive terror. This parashah already warns the people of Israel not to follow or obey any leader who proclaims ideas contrary to the values of justice, righteousness, mercy and spirituality that are found in the biblical text.

In chapter 13 of Deuteronomy, three laws are consecutively enunciated that prohibit following a prophet (2-6), individual (7-12) or society (13-19) that fosters the adoption of a pagan creed. Totalitarianism is based on a dehumanizing ideology or creed. Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, and so many more “isms” erected a paganism in which millions of humans served as sacrifices to their heathen deities.

Isaac Abarbanel (Lisbon 1437-Venice 1508), in his famous exegesis of the Torah, notes the common denominator of these three consecutive passages, saying that no individual should be corrupted by a prophet or knowledgeable person, or by their relatives or friends, or by a social majority that proclaims racist, segregationist and or hateful ideas. Abarabanel suffered in own his lifetime because of the virulent antisemitism promoted by Catholic monarchs. As a result of the edict of Granada (March 31, 1492), he was forced to leave the Iberian Peninsula despite having served the kings faithfully.

These biblical norms give guidelines for the construction of a better world, one in which hatred, iniquity, self-centeredness and idolatry are no more and the memories of the horrors that humans beings have committed throughout history fade away.

Shabbat shalom!


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