Readers, I promise this is the last time. Jews are my mafia, my Cosa Nostra, "our thing". Jews repeat with each other, teach each other ways of doing and talking. They hold each other to a form of life, and that holding to the same ways is like the holding to the same shape that things do and which allows us to give things a name. If you do the same things as others you can call the repetition, the shared behavior "ours". Like any other possession it can be more or less useful.
That is all we are talking about here. Nothing mystical.
This week in the New York Review of Books two holocaust scholars are at each others throats. One scholar talks about beastliness, inhumanity, human will and choice to become inhuman. The other is interested in what this one historical instance of inhumanity has in common with other similar ones, with other large scale mass murders. For the second scholar, the first's talk of beastliness defeats the purpose of finding the common human element behind these related histories.
Their debate is whether the ideas behind the killing were unique, and whether the practice or organization of the killing was unique. But this isn't the right question.
I agree with the first holocaust scholar's claim that a special, unprecedented kind of inhumanity was involved in the holocaust. But I also agree with the other scholar that there seems to be no uniqueness in this instance of theory and practice of mass murder, which we can summarize as:
1. A theory of one group's superiority to another, and the need for one group to be cleared away to allow the effective education and flourishing of the other.
2. Knowledge of ritual practice, of its ability to increase group loyalty.
3. Efficient practice of mass murder incorporating both technical knowledge of ritual practice together with technical organization of social life.
I will leave it to historians, but I don't think a strong argument can be made that the holocaust was unique on the these grounds.
The difference is in the target.
This particular people had to be eliminated not only because they interfered with the good of the group, but more essentially, because they interfered with the mechanism itself of mass murder, with the essential mechanisms of the murdering society. And this was known and understood.
This group was teaching, by existing as the thing it was, something that endangered the presumptions essential to the mass murdering machine. And what was this teaching?
The answer is so simple and obvious and so often repeated by me I hesitate here. The Jews take their laws from god, not each other. Their rituals cannot be used to make mass killing easier, regular because the group practice only is a collective reminder of what the individual owes to his god. If we wanted to create a group of people, a group practice that was absolutely incapable of mass murder of this self conscious, knowing of ritual technique, knowing of technical social organization kind, we would be creating the Jews. If the Jews become mass murderers, they cease to be what characterizes them as Jews. The thing that they are excludes them from the practice they were made the target of. The clarity of the opposition astonishes us and teaches us about ourselves, if we care to learn the lesson.
That is the significance of the holocaust, the only certain characteristic that separates it from other mass killings. The self consciousness, the human knowledge involved in mass killing had taken a step further. Added to knowledge of how to use ritual to apply theories in group life was an understanding of this process itself, of the kind of people who could and would practice it, and of who were its natural enemies. And acting on that knowledge.