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How do we reconcile the Torah's viewpoint that punishments make Jews better with what we see that punishments push Jews away (and rewards make Jews better)?


The Gemara says that Mashiach will come if the Jews are all righteous or all wicked.

The Gemara asks how could Mashiach come if the generation is all evil, so the Gemara says that Hashem will place a leader over the Jews similar to Haman, and the Jews will all do Teshiva like we did in the time of the Megilla, and we will merit the redemption.

Moreover (in a more general way), we see that Hashem promises to bring punishments on the Jews if they disobey. These punishments are there to help the Jews do Teshuva. These two points show that according to the Torah, Bad times for the Jews leads to Teshuva.

Yet, in our time we see the opposite happening. When times went bad for the Jews (in the times of the Czar, Stalin, and Hitler), Jews went progressively worse. Jews were generally religious until the late 1800s. In Russia, as a result of the oppression, many Jews became Communists and many converted altogether. When Stalin came, many Jews who still stayed religious left Judaism (they didn't do Teshuva, they just left out of fear). When Jews came to America (and were in general poor and were at least somewhat oppressed), they stopped being religious to work on Shabbos.

Moreover (and especially) after the Holocaust, most survivors stopped being religious completely (if G-d exists, where was He when I was in .... ??!!)


However, lately we started seeing another pattern. As Jews started feeling better, they stated being religious. After the victory of the six-day war, many people started coming back to Judaism. After Jews (in general) became more financially settled, people started coming back to religion.

  • Re "Yet, in our time we see the opposite happening. When times went bad for the Jews (in the times of the Czar, Stalin, and Hitler), Jews went progressively worse....", see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_hoc_ergo_propter_hoc. – msh210 Jun 21 '12 at 20:10
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    I tried to make the title fit the content better, but it's a bit wordy and dry now. Feel free to improve it. – Isaac Moses Jun 21 '12 at 20:14
  • This would be a good question but it seems extremely speculative about even its basic assumptions about how Jews behave in the face of both adversity and comfort. – yoel Jun 21 '12 at 21:20
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    There are soooo many unsourced statements in this question, it's actually pretty impressive. – Double AA Jun 21 '12 at 23:34
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I'm pretty sure that you find cases where what you describe happened, and cases where the exact opposite happened (adversity caused greater devotion). I don't think you can determine the overall effect without some serious studies.

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    +1 Overly general and unsourced questions deserve overly general and unsourced answers. – Double AA Jun 22 '12 at 2:16
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    Just to clarify, that wasn't an insult. I think this is an excellent answer for the question. Also I see you are new here, so welcome to Mi Yodeya! Allow me to suggest that you register your account to gain access to all the features of the site. I look forward to seeing you around! – Double AA Jun 22 '12 at 2:44
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If the reward-and-punishment doctrine need any justification, here's some. As long as one example exists, there is reason to believe.

A very pious person I knew lost his father, his grandmother, and r"l his 23-year-old little brother in the same two weeks. This is not the worst suffering in our history, but to hear him describe it was to wonder how it would be possible to stand up and bow to G-d again after.

I asked him how he kept going, and he said his sole reason for continuing to exist was his belief in the doctrine of reward and punishment.

We see here how both actual punishments(?) and the belief in them caused someone to keep Torah, which saved his life.

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