In a speech given two years before his death last Friday, Israeli writer Amos Oz spoke of what was holy to him
On November 29th, 2016, two years before his death, Amoz Oz gave a speech as part of a panel discussion dedicated to “Jerusalem and the Overlappings of the Sacred” during the “Global Forum of the National Library“. In his speech (which was given in English) Oz spoke of Jerusalem, the city in which he was born. He also revealed the things which he held sacred and the moral imperative which guided him. Here are a few selections from the speech:
On holy places
To me, one place in Jerusalem has been sacred since I was a little boy: The library. I am a son of a librarian. I happen to be also the son-in-law of a librarian, the husband of an archivist, the brother-in-law of another librarian and the father of three writers. What else could I be? Which other place could be more sacred to my heart than libraries?
My late grandmother Shlomit, who died almost exactly 60 years ago, long before the Six-Day-War, long before the disputes about the holy places in Jerusalem – she might have had the answer to the problem of the future of the disputed holy places in Jerusalem. When I was a little boy, maybe four, maybe five, grandma Shlomit explained to me in simple words the difference between Jew and Christian…
“You see, my boy” she said, “the Christians, they believe that the Messiah (has) been here once and he will come again one day. We Jews, we happen to believe that the Messiah (has) not been here and he is still to come. Over this dispute,” said grandma Shlomit, “you cannot imagine, my boy, how much bloodshed, hatred, persecution, cruelty…Why?” she said, “Why can’t everybody simply wait and see? If the Messiah comes saying: ‘Hello! It’s nice to see you again!’ – The Jews will have to convert or at least to apologize to the Christians. If, on the other hand, the Messiah comes saying: ‘How do you do? Very nice meeting you!’ – The entire Christian world will have to convert or at least to apologize to the Jews.” She knew one or two things about open-ended situations and open-ended solutions.
What was sacred to him?
Human solidarity, justice, sharing, rule of law, family values, the family table, stories, a sense of humor – all these are components of Jewish heritage.
I will add to that: human life, human suffering… There is pain enough to go round. There may not be love enough to go round but there is pain enough to go round without ourselves adding pain upon pain.
Pain is a great human equalizer. Sometimes I say tongue-in-cheeck that pain is almost a socialist – it doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor, Jew and Christian and Muslim…Pain is pain. Pain is a great unifier.
Amoz Oz and Jesus
I disagree with Jesus Christ. I love him, he is close to my heart, but I disagree with him on a few things. I never agreed with Jesus Christ on the idea of universal love – everybody loving everyone else. This is very sweet but very childish. I disagree with Jesus when he says ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.’…Oh yes, we know. We are not moral idiots…When we inflict pain on others we know exactly what we are doing…We know very well. Even a little child pulling the cat’s tail – he knows or she knows that they are inflicting pain.
Oz’s faith and moral imperative, “in a nutshell”
Paraphrasing Kant of course – no one can invent anything new – I would say: Thou shalt not inflict pain, or to be more modest: Thou shalt try to inflict as little pain as you possibly can… This is not relative. This is not dependent on varying narratives and varying traditions. We know.
A cure for fanaticism:
I have never seen a fanatic with a sense of humor… especially a self-targeted sense of humor…this is a powerful immunity to fanaticism. If I could only condense the sense of humor into capsules and persuade entire populations to swallow my humor capsules, thus immuning them to fanaticism, I would qualify for the Nobel Prize, not in Literature but in Medicine…A sacred curiosity, a sacred sense of humor…And may every one of us fight as much as we can, against the internal fanatic inside each and every one of us Amos Oz 1939-2018 May his memory be a blessing