Dr Qazi Ashraf
‘Kashruth’ in colloquial as well as in literary jargon is equated with our idea of civilization and ‘Kashur’ culture. The story doesn’t end here. Thisword impregnated with our ‘ethos’ not only denotes our distinctive character but also symbolizes the epitome of a deep-rooted sense of pride for this people. But when we look at ‘Kashruth’ from a different perspective we can very well acknowledge that ‘Kashruth’ takes us back into the depths of history which we have shared with and continue to share with, albeit at subconscious level, with one of the most significant and noteworthy people of the world – the Jews. The Jews became Jewish only after the 6th century BC before which they would call themselves ‘the chosen people of God’. The ‘chosen people’ had an exclusive right over the ‘promised land’ of Canaan. Even though after 40 years of wilderness, the chosen people managed to forcibly cross the river Jordan and capture the promised land, life did not become as smooth as they had expected. Life’s challenges were myriad and handling the challenges demanded of the chosen people to be innovative and mindful, which they failed to be specifically on the administrative front. However from the religious perspective they proved to be very much innovative, progressive and evolutionary. They succeeded in organizing and recreating a huge body religious literature and written works and also pioneered in recasting their religious dogmas into a new body of progressive ideas that ultimately proved useful to them to sustain their identity and help them withstand the continuous, and by all standards, the merciless onslaught of history. The blows that history dealt them for their obstinacy and political naivety transformed them from the ‘chosen people’ to the ‘Jews’ and consequently found themselves at the receiving end of history for more than 2000 years. Jews handled their religious and sacred history in a remarkable way especially during a time of intense transformation of religious thought that was underway throughout the world. No other people could handle their sacred historyor religious transformation as meticulously as the Jews during this period of 1500 years following ‘the Bronze Age’. Karl Jaspers, a German historian,aptly calls this period ‘Axial Age’ – the period between 2000 BC to the first century AD.
The question is what happened during the Axial Age period that put the Jews at the receiving end despite the fact that they could brilliantly handle their ‘sacred history’? History is a witness and it has a habit of judging people, nations and cultures. And when history judges, it judges harshly although by herself she tends to remain neutral.For a moment, let’s return back to Kashruth. “Of all Jewish customs, that of dealing with things, ‘Kashur’ or ‘ritually clean’, is the most perplexing to non-Jews”, writes Max Dimont in ‘Jews, God and History.’ He continues, “…..Generally speaking, Kashruth, as the Jews call the system, rests on three injunctions in the five books of Moses”.Paradoxically these laws pertain to dietary habits and dietary laws which people in Kashmir,by the way, have been observing for millennia. These dietary habits and observance of certain other laws have been an integral foundation stone of our culture or “Kashur culture”. Our nameKashur and Kasheer, has derived itself from “Kashruth” and this can be taken as an evidence of our cultural link with the ‘chosen people’ inhabiting the land of ‘Canaan’ or present day Israel. The history of the turbulence and turmoil which the ‘chosen people’ and the later day ‘Jews’ went through could easily serve a lesson for us in today’s times of despair and disconnect that we are experiencing as a ‘people’. Jews suffered for more than two thousand years despite being the ‘chosen people’. We can easily draw a leaf from their history to learn the lesson that Jewsthemselves learned the hard way. We still have time to avoid ‘reinventing’ the wheel.
A quick look at the history of Jews will make the things clearer for common Kashmiri to wake up and probably take stock of the situation, although it is not necessary that the Jewish history can provide a template for future course of action. Nevertheless, Jewish historical saga does provide many common things which can be and should be looked at from an imaginative and intelligent perspective. The exodus of Jews (Israelites) from Egypt had been led by Moses (PBUH) but he could not resettle them in the promised land of Canaan. It was Joshua, who defeated the loosely federated, small kingdoms after crossing the river Jordan and put the inhabitants of that land to sword. Jews thus, under the leadership of Joshua, subjugated the Canaanites and established their right over the Promised Land and wrote the pages of history with the blood of innocents. Strictly speaking this ‘innocent blood’ which they spilled, was their own remote kiths’ and kins’, because they were the same people who had not crossed over to Egypt during the famine about four countries before the Exodus. So the people, history calls Israelites, reunitewith their own brethren, theHebrews, but now they could not reintegrate with each other. It took centuries to establish a political fusion between the two tribes but it remained an imperfect fusion till the end. This is how history unfolds itself.One can’t help it. Four centuries down the line, Canaanor Palestine, even under king David (PBUH) could not become a unified, centralized state. It remained a weakly fused dual kingdom of sorts like present day Jammu and Kashmir (not exactly but in some sense). Northern part was Israel and southern part was known as Judah. When King David’s son, King Solomon(PBUH) died in 931BC, Rechoboam, son of King Solomon, bequeathed only the throne of Judah. Jeroboam seized Israel and was declared the king. These two sister kingdoms got involved in a bloody civil war that lasted more than hundred years. After hundred years of bloodshed the Jews came to understand the futility of this self-annihilating warfare but then the state had become utterly weakened and could be destabilized by any external invasion. And that is what exactly happened. By now Assyrians made a comeback. The Assyrians threatened to march their armies into the already war torn Israel unless the Jews pay them tribute. This demand did not go well with the ‘chosen people’. After all, they were the ‘chosen people’ of God! How could they accept this demand knowing fully well that God, the Yahweh, was always with them and always present and protecting and shielding them from everything including the pagans. Paying tribute to pagan empire was simply a humiliation and puncture of their pride. They would spend millions for defense but would not pay a dinar in tribute. The Assyrians decided to take action. Everyone expected the Israelites to capitulate but they didn’t. How could they? They were the special people and were convinced in ‘God of Zion’ coming to their rescue, but it turned out that Yehweh, the God of Zion, had different plans. Israel was razed to the ground. The entire population was deported and exiled. The state of Israel was over.
People of Judah, paid heed to the advice of Prophet Isaiah. They stayed out of the drama. The king of Judah, acting under the advice of Isaiah, paid the tribute. The people of Judah, later known as Jews as we know them, breathed a sigh of relief. But history had different plans in store. The Assyrian might could not last for long. The Babylonia rebelled and defeated Assyria in a historic battle in 605 BC. The Assyrian nation was lost in the sands of history never to be heard of again. Judah fell into the hands of the Babylonian Empire. The Jews staged a rebellion against Babylonians in 600BC.Nebuchadnezzar headed towards Judah and besieged Jerusalem and deported the Jews who were spearheading the revolt. This was a warning for Jews to stay away from the wrath of Babylonian might. But how could the Jews digest it so easily? They persisted with ‘Zeal’ to establish the ‘Law of God’ in the Promised Land. They did not budge. The pagans had no moral authority to receive the tribute from the ‘chosen people’,rationalized the Jews. That was against Jewish ethos. They had to fight harder and harder and expel the pagan Babylonians from their land. Again history had different plans. Babylonians besieged Jerusalem, breached the fortification and destroyed the temple on the ‘Mount of Zion’ – the symbol of Jewish ethos, culture and religion. The kingdom of Judah was reduced to rubble. The population was deported to Babylonia.The state of Judah was finished exactly 136years after the fall of the state of Israel. The Jews lived in exilein Babylon in a state of slaveryand as second class citizens never to be accepted by Babylonians as their own. They had paid dearly for their obstinacy and political blunders. They knowingly were playing against their own people, own nation and culture. They repeatedly committed political suicide in the name of Yahweh in utter disregard to the existing socio-political realities of their time. They were dismayed but there was a ray of hope.
Fifty years down the line something unexpected happened. History gave Jews one more chance to prove their pragmatic politico-economic potential. The Persians dealt such a death-knell to Babylonian empire that it lost itself in the rubble never to rise again. Cyrus, the Great, became the king of the vast Persian Empire in 539 after conclusively defeating Babylonian empire. He decided to relook at the Jewish problem.The Jews were allowed to return back to Judah. Jews had never expected such magnanimity from a Persian king. Cyrus was a genius administrator. He wanted to increase the revenues of the empire. One way of doing so, was resettling the city of Jerusalem. Jews could do that…. he knew that fully well. Majority of Jews returned back. Temple which was razed down by the Babylonians was rebuilt and Jerusalem once again teemed with life and activity. By the second century BC with the reestablishment of Judah, the Jews were seemingly very much alive but at the same time, they were busy in eroding and destroying their newly formed fledgling state. By now the rising star of Roman Empire was touching the heights of sky. It was inevitable that the star will pass the skies over the Judah. And it did. Romans did ultimately annex the state of Judah. They had to. But the sad thing was that the Jews once again behaved irresponsibly and it cost them a lot – no less than two thousand years of persecution, violence and suppression that undoubtedly created deep scars and smoldering wounds in the Jewish collective consciousness. And all of that probably could have been avoided.
A classical political rift divided the Jews of Ist century BC. Brother was set against brother, father against father, and people were set against the ruler. A political chaos turned into bloody conflict. Jews were divided into three main politico-religious sects – the Essenes, the Pharisees and the Seducees. The Essenes, were the zealots or the extremists, the Pharisees were liberal and the Sudecees conservative. They were pitched against each other. In 63 BC the Romans marched into Judah and subjugated it and renamed it Judea. The Jews found themselves as captives in their own land. By 6AD, Judea showed signs of rebellion against Romans. It started from the town of Galilee. This rebellion was ruthlessly put down. But the Zealots refused to accept the verdict. They continued their work. Their ranks swelled. More and more young people joined their ranks with a zeal to fight the pagan, idolatrous Romans. Blood was shed ruthlessly by both sides. Roman resorted to atrocities and the zealots worked through ‘fear tactics’. The relentless war continued for 60 more years. Jews sacrificed their blood and wealth. In the year 68 AD, the Zealots stormed the Roman garrison outside Jerusaleum and inflicted heavy losses to Romans. Now the war was open, because the Jews had blatantly challenged the might of Rome. Romans marched towards Jerusalem decisively, laid the siege but the Jews proved to be relentless. After two weeks the Roman army stormed in. Jews were slaughtered like sheep. It was not uncommon to slaughter as many as five hundred people a day. The Temple, symbol of Jewish identity, was burned down; infants were thrown into flames; women raped and killed; priests slaughtered. Everything was burned down to ashes. Jerusalem was turned into hell-hole. 600,000 defenseless Jews were slain. The Essenes had escaped to Masada, where they committed mass suicide within the walls of the fortress after being surrounded by Roman army. Jerusalem was finished. People massacred and the remaining Jews if any were exiled or forced to migrate. Judea was laid bare to bones.
Jews had to live in diaspora scattered all over the world for 2000 years. It took a long time for Jews to understand that history followed a set rule: Might is right. Since might depends on many factors they had to learn the rules of the game the hard way. But learn they did. They understood that in order to confront the might of the enemy, they need to turn their attention to dynamics of political process which in turn is dependent upon matrix of economic processes. They understood that in order to survive in the world of pagans and opposing cultural and civilizational ethos, they had to enter into the system and negotiate their point from within the architectural hierarchy of politics rather than stay outside the fabric of the system and wait for the Messiah to come to deliver them out of the hell of their own making. They entered the fabric and since they were inherently genius, they were in a position to negotiate their point in a win – win manner. They laid the foundation of a robust economic system that was ultimately accepted by the Europe to create the modern banking system. The banking system helped them negotiate the political issue surrounding ‘their land of forefathers’ that had dominated the Jewish psyche ever since the time of exodus. They had to go through a lot of trouble and turbulence but they were successful in the end to attain their political end. All the trouble and turbulence that the Jews suffered over two thousand years in exile in diaspora did create deep seated scars in their consciousness and this burden and past baggage is weighing heavily on the collective mind of Jews. They should learn one more lesson and this time from Nelson Mandela. He buried the past and adopted the noble path of reconciliation. The Jews attained their goal but they should not behave like and reenact the behavior of their past oppressors. Once again they are treading a dangerous path. But that is another story and will need a pragmatic vision from other party to the dispute as well.
Kashmir is going through a period of crisis identical in many ways to that of Ist century AD Israel. The Jews were defending ‘Kashruth’ and became reckless and belligerent and insensitive to the existing-at-that-timegeopolitical situation. They did pay a heavy price. They could not recover from that loss and trauma even after 2000years of struggle that ensued after their ill fated defeat. What they recovered is only a fractured legacy after all those years of humiliation at the hands of other nations and people, especially the West. We in Jammu and Kashmir are also defending ‘Kashruth’ in our own way. Should we learn a lesson from the history of Jews? Should we repeat the mistakes that the Jews committed? Or should we learn to be pragmatic and rational especially in these times of changing geopolitical scenario and shifting power balance? I believe we should relook at the existing picture through a rational and cool-minded attitude. Seven decades of politico-economic disarray and disorganization isin front ofus. We are moving backward in to the history rather than gaining any palpable forward momentum. The evidence and the data are glaring at us. The only things that have changed or rather show an increasing trend, to be more specific, are the population and the overall literacy rate. But increase inthe literacy rate has failed to produce an educated society. What it has been able to produce isthe dangerously increased unemployment rate. This trend has in turn pushed the society to the brink of a dangerous civil war. Anybody who gets an opportunity to have professional education of any sort wants to leave this place. A dangerous trend of emigration is underway. The people and especially the youth, who can’t leave the state in search of a better life, are stuck here against their wishes. They find themselves deeply entrenched into chaos and confusion. Is this not a shame that in 21st century, the valley is reeling in darkness in the harsh cold of winter? Is this not a shame that in 21st century we are still lacking the proper road and transport infrastructure? Is this not a shame that we are not in a position to impart state of the art education to our young generation? The big question is how are we going to get along with such an uncertainty and threat that are looming large upon our fate?
I, for myself, believe that the existing political system based on confrontation, inefficiency, blackmail, corruption and fear cannot take us far. It needs an immediate overhaul. This seventy year old machinery is just like a dying horse. Not much can be expected from it. Enough is enough. Much blood has flown down the Jhelum. We cannot afford to continue spilling the innocent blood. Afterall how much blood can this land, our land of paradise, absorb? Its rich face is already mantled red with blood. Who is not disturbed by the present state of affairs? Who feels comfortable with the continued bloodshed? I believe everybody without exception feels suffocated,squeezed and frustrated. Everybody feels helpless in an atmosphere of manufactured fear which unfortunately is pushing us to the brink of a debilitating, dangerous and incapacitating inertia. How long can we afford to simply watch as mute spectators the spectre of death and destruction playing in front of us every single day? We owe to ourselves and to the world a great debt. Our future generations and history of tomorrow will not forgive us for our detached neutrality, selfishness and escapism. We do urgently need to come together. The educated class is duty bound to join hands, sit together and hammer out a united and strategic front or organization and come up with a concrete framework for the solution of our long pending issues and problems. We need to focus our attention to build an intellectual infrastructure that will prove instrumental in providing an honorable solution to our problems. The need of the hour is to change our perspective and take responsibility for our mistakes and also take responsibility to build the bridges of reconciliation and help reconstruction of the destruction. How long can we continue to pass the buck? We can’t afford that any longer. The buck has to stop somewhere. And it does stop here, with us.
(The author is Kashmir based Onco surgeon and author of the best-selling book “Open Secret”. Views are his own)