Jewish Individuals and Collective Responsibility

May 30, 2024
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A Holocaust survivor said that he felt a consolation

during the Shoah, knowing He could only die one single way:

from being beaten, from starvation or from being shot.

This extremely morbid reasoning most tragically is not

a counterintuition whose importance we’re permitted to downplay.


Though it applied to single individuals, not the Jewish nation,

all Jews are more than merely individual; we’re part of a collective

in which a focus on its individuals is divisively defective.

The whole collective’s in the driver’s seat — and without a quorum

we call a minyan riding only pillion on the Israel forum.

To continue to survive, survivors should not be benighted

as individuals causing their collective to become indicted.   


On, 5/27/24 Meir Soloveichik’s podcast, “Paul Johnson, Rabbi Soloveitchik, and the Meaning of Jewish Prayer” discussed Jonathan Sacks’ article, “Individual and Collective Responsibility,” Covenant and Conversation, 2011,in which Paul Johnson told Rabbi Sacks that he attributed the greatness of Judaism to the way that it links the responsibility of  all Jewish individuals to their  collective, the Jewish community throughout the world

Meir Soloveichik also cited the explanation of the Rov, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, for God’s rejection of Moses’ plea to God in Deut. 3:23 to spare his life and allow him to enter the land of Israel.  Deut.  3:23 states:

וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל־יְהֹוָ֑ה בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִ֖וא לֵאמֹֽר׃

And I pleaded with יהוה at that time, saying.

He explained that God rejected Moses’ plea because the Israelite collective did not join Moses when he made his plea. Deut. 3:23 implies this with the word וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן, “and I pleaded,” the singular construction of the verb suggesting to the Rov that no other Israelites joined Moses’ plea, failing as a collective to support this great individual.

Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored “Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel.” He can be reached at gershonhepner@gmail.com.

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