Mi’yom l’yom: A Holocaust-Independence Day “Connection”?

As the current eight-day interval between Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom Ha’azmaut (Israeli Independence Day) began earlier this week, I found myself pondering the validity and, if valid, the meaning of the following “simple” syllogism:

1.    (Tens of?) Millions of Jewish lives have been saved post-Holocaust, and G-d willing, many millions more will be saved, thanks to the existence of the State of Israel.

2.    Israel would not exist had the Holocaust not occurred, because the U.N. partition vote on November 29, 1947 was attributable, to a substantial extent, to world sympathy for the people who survived the then-very recent Holocaust.   

3.    It must follow, therefore, that the Holocaust, as inconceivable (except for those who experienced it) of an evil as it was, was not a totally, unmitigated evil.

Can this be true?  Must we, however excruciating the very idea, concede, albeit with extreme pain and reluctance – that there was something positive about the Holocaust, i.e., Israel’s resulting existence?  (And must we also therefore grudgingly credit the Arab argument that they, too, are “victims” of the Holocaust because they unfairly lost their land because of it?)  

No. 

First of all, we do not know that “Israel would not exist had the Holocaust not occurred.”   As of the UN Partition vote, and despite strict British immigration restrictions since the infamous 1939 “White Paper,” Jews were already in the majority in the area allocated to them by the Partition Plan, and in Jerusalem. Nor did the prospect of a Jewish state emerge from the Holocaust.  Thrice in just the preceding three decades, major powers had sanctioned a Jewish homeland in Palestine (Balfour Declaration, 1917; League of Nations San Remo Conference, 1920; Peel Commission, 1937).  

Had the Holocaust not occurred, Britain might have unilaterally established or otherwise facilitated a “two-state solution” upon its withdrawal from Palestine.  (See contemporaneous histories of Transjordan and Bangladesh, for example). More likely, the 1948 war (then, or later) would have occurred in any event, with a Jewish victory resulting in the establishment/survival of a State.   

(It is also a gross overstatement to say that the UN partition vote “established” the State of Israel.  Had this been the UN’s actual intent, the US surely would not -- a week after the vote -- imposed an arms embargo on the region, which jeopardized the Jews far more than the British-trained and equipped Arabs. The UN and US would have prevented five Arab armies from invading, or at least come to Israel’s aid if and when it happened. I thank Rabbi Joshua Adler for these observations). 

Second, even if all the statements are true, the "fact" [i.e. assumed premise] that good (i.e. Israel’s existence) resulted from evil (the Shoah), and that the good would not otherwise have occurred, does not change the character of the evil.  Many – perhaps nearly all – advances in medicine and in safety, which have prevented untold millions of injuries, illnesses, and deaths, were prompted by accidents, plagues, natural disasters, etc.  Even if we say that the afflicted and dead did not suffer and die in vain because cures were invented and others saved from harm, we would not say that the illnesses, accidents, disasters, and suffering were positive. Better that they never have occurred and thus that no cures or saving of future people would have been necessary.  

Third, the “logic” of the above syllogism assumes a quantitative value to human life.  That is, if six million had to die (and millions more suffer) so that even more could live and not suffer, it was “worth it.”  But while math may be based upon logic, it does not follow that good and evil can – or should -- be so measured.  In Judaism, the saving of one life is worth “the entire world.”  I discussed this topic with an esteemed rabbi, himself a Holocaust survivor, who considers the creation of Israel to have been nothing short of a miracle.  Even so, he told me, this miracle was not worth the death of even one child Holocaust victim.  

Certainly, Israel has been, and continues to be, profoundly affected by the Shoah.  But next week, B”H, I will observe Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day for the 23,169 casualties of war and terrorism who have fallen since 1860), and then celebrate Yom Ha’azmaut without the slightest thought that the connection between the latter observance and that which occurred eight days earlier on Yom Hashoah was cause-and-effect.

Shabbat shalom and Happy Israeli Independence Day! 

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3