Jews Need Their Heads Examined
Tzvi FishmanBefore making Aliyah to Israel, Tzvi Fishman was a Hollywood screenwriter....
I’ve been having a great time reading through the amazing, inspiring, and incomparably educating, seven-volume collection of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s writings, “Beyond Words.” It’s literally an encyclopedia of Judaism, and a laser-eyed CT of the ills besetting the Jewish nation in our time. Volume 7 is especially important - in addition to articles from 1989 and 1990, it has indexes that enable the reader to find articles by subject, by title, and even by the references in the article to specific quotations from the Torah and the Talmud.
To order the volumes at www.amazon.com, type “Beyond Words Kahane” on the search line. Or at the link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=beyond+words+kahane
To order in Israel, call 02-5823540.
The Introduction of the series, written by David Fein, the collection’s compiler and editor, presents an important overview of Rabbi Kahane’s writings, and offers an inside glimpse at his towering personality and his struggle to serve the Jewish People by getting out the true message of Torah. Here it is in full:
An Adherent’s View
An Honest and Courageous Rabbi
By David Fein
The writings in this anthology constitute a classic collection of Jewish thought and literature, not just a cry from the heart, a commentary on events past and forgotten, or mere rhetoric. Their author will eventually be recognized as a prophet before his time, the most honest and courageous Jew and Zionist of his generation.
Rabbi Meir Kahane’s main focus in his much-too-short life was “What is good for Israel and the Jewish people.” He loved his people and his land, and led them with honor and ethics. He did not join with corruption of any color to gain wealth and power. For over 30 years, he was at the head of any action that protested the bringing of pain or injury to a Jew.
He loved the Jewish people, but thought there was something terribly wrong with them: They had been destroyed psychologically by a 20-century long exile, losing all common sense and sense of self-preservation. After 2,000 years of figuratively living in someone else’s attic, his own people were the epitome of abnormality, complexes, and insecurities. The Rabbi wanted to save the Jews and their tiny State of Israel, not from external enemies, but from themselves. He often quoted Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar: “The fault . . . is not in our stars, but in ourselves” (see the article “The Fault, Dear Brutus,” January 12, 1979).
He said there was a Jewish Idea that today was either silent or distorted. He spoke about truths, unpopular Jewish truths, about which no one else had the courage to speak. And like the Prophets of old, he criticized his people for their shortcomings and warned of the enemy outside — and perhaps more importantly — inside the gates. He did not know everything, nor did he claim to have all the answers. He was not a politician but a Rabbi who used politics to advocate for the Jewish people. Most rabbis and ordinary Jews who privately agreed with him did not have the courage to support him publicly.
Rabbi Kahane was the most impressive and controversial Jew of his time. He was so different from his contemporaries as to be almost an existential anomaly. His incisive and analytical mind, brilliance as a writer and orator, charismatic personality and sincerity made him a natural leader. These elements combined in him so favorably that one could not help saying, “This is a man!” He had the quality of being “real.” How does one know when someone he or she meets in life is for real? One just feels it, knows it. Such was this man. The power within him was far above that of anyone else in his generation.
The Rabbi was a complete and normal Jew, an ideologue and exponent of a complete, normal and healthy Jewish way of life.
He was an amalgam of a rare combination of influences. Although his father was an Orthodox rabbi, he was raised, to quote his own words, “in the real world,” his friends being mostly secular Jews and gentiles. He knew the ways of the world and thought highly of many of them. His ability to relate to people of different backgrounds served him well throughout his life. His knowledge of Western history, philosophy and even sports was on the highest level. He was a very “Western” man. And, learned in both ways, he chose the Jewish way, which he thought superior. What differentiated him from other rabbis was not knowledge, per se. It was the uniqueness of his mind: the brilliant logic, his healthy outlook and his physical and emotional courage.
After serving as a rabbi in two synagogues in New York, he realized that “being a rabbi” (i.e., working as one) was not for him. He said that in olden times being a rabbi was not a career or a profession, but a calling, and as such entailed the need to work a “real” job as well. He noted that around the time of Maimonides, rabbis became paid employees of synagogues or communities, and he quoted the Rambam as saying, “No good can come of this” (Commentary on the Mishnah, Tractate Avot 4:7).
Rabbi Kahane’s views regarding the non-Jewish world have been distorted. I must disabuse the reader of the thought that the Rabbi disliked non-Jews. His attitude could be summed up as “Vive la différence!” Let every people be true unto itself. He respected accomplishment, decency and goodness in others. I believe he admired gentiles for their normality and for being able to exist and develop in peace in their own lands. He thought they possessed not only wisdom, but the common sense lacking in his own people. He had excellent relations with all types of people — I personally witnessed many gentiles, some of them quite prominent, greeting him warmly, if not adoringly. Although he thought the United States was a great country — by far the greatest foreign land Jews have ever lived in — he believed that the Golden Age of “symbiosis” between Jews and America would eventually end.
The Rabbi did not advocate violence, per se. He sought peace as much as any other person. He believed that in most cases one should not resort to violence unless one has tried everything else. He did, as any normal person, advocate the use of violence in self- defense and when there is no other way to react to an enemy. When one deals with Esau, one must use the weapons of Esau.
Rabbi Kahane disliked people and nations who disliked Jews, and he hated those who hated Jews. He noted that as a mark of our abnormality, Jews do not really hate their enemies. He criticized the famous remark of Golda Meir: “I can forgive the Arabs for killing our boys. What I cannot forgive them for is for making our boys kill them.” The Rabbi said that he did not forgive the Arabs for killing our boys. (Another immortal remark of Golda Meir, the socialist Laborite, was: “I do not want to wake up every morning and hear of how many Arabs were born the night before.”)
• • •
“Oh, give me an honest atheist!,” Rabbi Kahane used to sigh. He believed that Judaism was meaningful only when one does not “play games” with it, and that its practice and outlook had become warped from the long Exile. One cannot create a healthy culture as a minority within a majority culture. He thought the Judaism of his native U.S. was not Judaism, but a materialistic caricature of it that was obnoxious to G-d. He believed that the Reform and Conservative movements were disastrous to the Jewish people, and that the “prim and proper” Orthodoxy of Jews in affluent American suburbs (which he called “the suburbs of the Shadow of Death”) left a lot to be desired, namely complacency and lack of self-sacrifice. He felt all American Jews, from atheist to ultra-Orthodox, have much in common: They live in their own mental world, and they do not want to leave America.
The Rabbi accused the American Jewish leadership of inaction and impotence during the Holocaust. The leaders did nothing because of fear — of being accused of double loyalty, of getting arrested, of losing their standing among the gentiles. Ordinary Jews enjoyed expensive Bar Mitzvahs as 12,000 Jews per day were turned into soap. Kahane coined a term that became famous: “Never Again!” He did not mean that Jews would never again suffer a Holocaust, for as long as they live among gentiles, such a thing is possible. Rather, he meant that never again would Jews go meekly and voluntarily to their deaths, as they had in many cases after following the advice of fellow Jews, who, collaborating with the enemy, told them to leave their homes and relocate for the sake of goodwill and “peace.”
Zionism without Judaism was bankrupt, he wrote, and represented nothing more than “shallow, empty nationalism.” The real war was not with the Arabs, but for the hearts and minds of Jews, especially young Jews. And unless we win this struggle, we can defeat the Arabs in battle a hundred times and still lose the war. Kahane was a critic of the society that secular Zionism had created among the Jews in the Land of Israel, and he thought it the worst of cultures, its practitioners having neither Jewish values, nor, in many cases, any values. “Are you a more just society than Sweden?” he rhetorically asked his secular Knesset opponents. He thought that Jews on all sides of the political spectrum needed to learn tolerance — towards each other — and that just because one does not agree totally with another does not make that person an enemy.
• • •
The goal of those who held power in the Jewish world during the years of Rabbi Kahane’s activism was to separate him from mainstream Jewry, in an effort to minimize his truthful, powerful message. Their genius lay in the use of defamation, distortion and rhetoric, thus obviating honest discussion and analysis of the issues he raised. Their words did not have specific meanings, but were rather sounds used to evoke particular emotions. It did not matter that in recent history the involuntary expulsion of hostile civilian populations had been internationally sanctioned. As just one example, U.S. President Harry Truman and British Prime Minister Clement Atlee agreed in 1945 to the expulsion of several million ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe.
Kahane was bothered not so much by people who disagreed with him as by hypocrites. For twenty years he asked: Do the Arab citizens of Israel have the right, peacefully, through babies and not bullets, by becoming a majority of the population, to change the name of the country to “Palestine,” and do with it as they see fit? Not one Jewish leader would answer the question. No one answered “No”; no one answered “Yes.” The Rabbi’s response: If you believe in the absolute rule of democracy, of course the Arabs have that right. And if you are a Zionist, of course they do not. Is there a contradiction between Zionism (of any kind) and the ideal of democracy? Yes, there is.
Perhaps Rabbi Kahane’s greatest victory was in forcing “the only democracy in the Middle East” to make a mockery of itself, by committing political homicide in broad daylight in openly banning a legitimate party that polls indicated would become the country’s third largest.
The issue is not Kahane’s opinions, but the right of a Jew in a Jewish state to express views that can be accepted or rejected in the marketplace of ideas. One does not have to agree with anything Kahane said on the Arab issue to be shaken by the frightening efforts to silence differing views. The question is: Where does it end? If there is no objective truth, why is a religious or Khomeini-type party that bans a secular party it sees as blaspheming the “word of G-d” any worse than a secular party that bans a competing party on the grounds that it is offensive to its values? Both are operating from exactly the same premise.
Since the Rabbi’s death, in exquisite justice, it has become common for prominent Israelis, including former Prime Ministers, speaking in the West, in many cases at prestigious universities, to be “banned” themselves. Alas, those who hate the Jewish state consider even those Israelis who banned the Kach Movement to be pariahs and even their kind of Zionism to be illegitimate. “Said Rabbi Hillel when he saw a skull floating on the water: ‘Because you drowned others, you were drowned, and those who drowned you will in turn be drowned’” (Pirkei Avot 2:7).
• • •
Nineteen years after Kahane’s death, history has vindicated his foresight. Conditions have deteriorated for the Jews, and life in Israel has become drastically less secure. The Rabbi wrote: “We are not a ‘free people in our land,’ but, rather, a terrified people.” We, the Jews, have not cured or purged ourselves of our contradictions, schizophrenia, or terror at the thought of having to do just that. As we did during the Holocaust, we are collaborating with the worst enemies of our people. As an example of the yiddishe kup (Jewish head), we imported into the country 20,000 terrorists, gave them automatic weapons, designated them “police,” and called them “peace” partners. No, the fault is not in “our stars.” It is the logical result of a State and People that lost its Judaism, then its Zionism, and then its very sanity. “From the sole of the foot unto the head, there is no soundness” (Isaiah 1:6).
After his murder, Rabbi Kahane was eulogized by many in the religious-nationalist camp. Most came to bury him while praising him as little as possible. They felt guilt over their lack of support for his positions and relief that he would no longer be around to embarrass them. Most prefaced their comments by saying that not only did they disagree with his ideas, but they were as far from them as “East from West.” They were not exaggerating, but rather exhibiting symptoms of our sickness, a pathology not limited to “left-wing” or secular, “assimilated” Jews.
The leadership of the Israeli right-wing, of the settlers, never did, and does not now, espouse (publicly, at least) the philosophy of Rabbi Kahane. They reject any idea of expulsion of Arabs and, like the Left they so castigate, raise high the lie of coexistence with Arabs, lest they be branded “racists.” Thus, the right-wing appeal to the wider Israeli public not to give up the territories is based strictly on secular, “practical” issues, such as security, rather than issues of theology or G-d (see the article “Ashamed of G-d,” May 25, 1990). In this, the right-wing continues the policy of the mainstream Zionist leadership, which from its beginnings in the late 1800s ignored the Arab presence in the Land, in naïveté or unwillingness to want to see that the Arabs also had “political ambitions.” The consensus is that to raise the issue of Arabs-who-do-not-want- us would cause the mass of Jews to reject the whole settlement “enterprise.” According to this philosophy, self-restraint (havlaga), life-as-a-daily-hell and the continued murder of Jews are unfortunately the price we must pay on the road to redemption. And so we must act as we did when we were defenseless, before there was a State, before we had one of the world’s strongest armed forces. We must continue settling the land, sometimes suffer, reject vengeance, as much as possible ignore the Arabs, and, in the end, G-d will, somehow, provide the solution.
In 1988 I visited Ma’aleh Amos, a settlement in the territories that is surrounded by many Arab villages. I spoke with a resident, originally from the West. She told me that it was not the numerous Arabs but Rabbi Kahane who frightened her. This comment surprised me, and the next day I told it to the Rabbi. He quickly responded, “Of course I do.”
Today Israel is doing a magnificent job of manifesting so-called Jewish moral superiority by apologizing for its existence and fighting an enemy dedicated to its total destruction with feeble, temporary military incursions. Israel’s no-policy is allowing its Arab citizens to grow and destroy the country from within. Arabs currently constitute 20% of the population of the State, and their birthrate is twice that of Jews. The Galilee and the Negev, both sensitive military areas, today have solid Arab majorities. It was only because of the votes of Arab Members of Knesset that the Oslo Accords passed — the majority of Jewish Knesset members voted against it.
What concerns Arabs is not the relative size of Israel or its degree of tolerance for the Arabs who live in it. It is the fact that Israel is a Jewish state and not an Arab one, the fact that it exists at all. Because the Arabs believe Israel was established on land entirely stolen from them, there is nothing Jews and Israel can do to make them “happy” — other than cease to exist.
The Rabbi believed that Israel had catastrophic leadership, but deserved it. Its people are deluded, self-centered, and apathetic, and the same is true of its government. With every concession to Arabs, Israelis either celebrate, shrug and say “Give peace a chance,” or continue sitting in front of the television set. Of those who do understand, many are frightened and simply want to survive each day rather than confront the problems at hand. They see what happened to one who spoke the truth. They know that if they say that the Arabs must be transferred out of the country, there is an excellent chance of their ending up in jail. I do not blame them and cannot say what I would do in their position. The problems and solutions are frightening, and life so short. But we must stop deceiving ourselves and face the issues honestly. The truth, no matter how difficult or bitter, is always better to acknowledge.
The choice posed by many, that we can either “rule over another people” or have a Jewish state, is a false one. It is this false definition of the problem by both the Left and the Right, and people’s fear of speaking up, that have led us to false solutions and may, G-d forbid, destroy us. We are hardly “ruling” over another people. If anything, it is they who are ruling us. Furthermore, giving back land or dividing the country with a wall does not solve the problem of too many Arabs — because Israel faces the same demographic and terrorist threat on the “safe” side of the wall from Arabs who are its own citizens. Finally, ignoring the problem of too-many-Arabs has led us to the present policy of having no position except trying to muddle through and survive another day.
Rashi said: “And you shall clear the land of its inhabitants, and then you will possess it. Then you will be able to exist in it, and if not, you will be unable to exist in it” (Commentary on Numbers 33:53).
Sforno on the same verse: “If you drive them out, then you will be able to live there . . . and if not, you will not survive there. When you eliminate the inhabitants of the land, you will be privileged to hand over the land as an inheritance to your children. But if you do not eliminate them, even though you conquer the land, you will not be privileged to hand it down to your children.”
Must the Arabs be expelled from the country? Yes, they must. The Arabs must go so that the Jewish people can exist in the one land that they possess.
• • •
Rabbi Kahane used to say, half-joking, that Jews are so neurotic and paranoid, they need a “national couch.” I do not think that is funny. Our abnormality, our deep sickness of soul, our refusal to choose, causes the death of Jews in Israel and condemns the country to an endless hell. Moreover, it results in the “death” of Jews in the Exile by making Israel an unattractive, dangerous place, leading Jews to stay away from it and to disappear — albeit comfortably — through assimilation.
Had Rabbi Kahane lived, I believe he would eventually have become Prime Minister of Israel. And had he been allowed to take his rightful place in the history of his nation, he would not have abided the wreckage that has befallen us since his passing.
Rabbi Kahane was quite relaxed concerning his own importance. While his supporters viewed him as literally carrying the fate of the Jewish people on his shoulders, he tried not to take himself too seriously, quoting the Talmudic maxim that “One should not believe in oneself until the day one dies” (Pirkei Avot 2:4). People constantly admonished Meir Kahane about his safety. He was fatalistic, often saying, “They got Kennedy, didn’t they?” He believed that if the issues he spoke about remained unresolved, there would be great suffering for the Jews, but that in the event of his demise, G-d would find another way to save the Jewish people — the important thing being that Jews must never lose hope or faith. G-d’s plan is perfect, even if we do not understand it or it may seem harsh. And even though the thought may not be of much comfort, G-d will never allow the Jewish people to be totally destroyed, as that would be the ultimate Hillul Hashem, Desecration of G-d’s Name.
Some say that if only the Rabbi had cultivated a different public image, he would have been more successful. After his murder, some supporters wrote that those who opposed him did so because they misunderstood him or thought his public demeanor too abrasive; that if only people could have seen what a nice person he was, things would have been different! One person asked me to include articles showing the Rabbi’s humorous side, claiming they would improve the book. It is true that he had a keen sense of humor. (Example: “Jewish women choose not to have babies. Abortion is their game: 35,000 abortions last year, all Jewish. Arabs don’t have abortions; they’re frum.”)
I disagree with this point of view and think such people are living in a state of denial. Those who opposed the Rabbi did so because they understood him only too well. The reason for the enmity and opposition to him on the part of the Left was not because they thought he lacked a sense of humor and did not explain things “nicely” enough. It was because they abhorred his ideas. And the Right saw in him a clear danger to its status and standing.
Kahane believed our salvation would come from the Torah, its study and practice. He understood, however, that it is a sociological law that salvation will not come from rabbis or functionaries who have salaries and jobs to lose (see the article “‘Amcha’ — Your People,” July 2, 1971). From where would it then come? “The back of the bus” — from people who have nothing to lose.
Jews frightened by his proposal to transfer the Arabs invariably raised the issue of unfavorable world reaction to such a move. The Rabbi understood that his solution would make the nations of the world — united in nothing except what concerns Israel — unhappy. He responded that a state is not given to a people on a silver platter, but must be earned through sacrifice. He said that it is preferable to have a Jewish state that is hated by the entire world than an Auschwitz that is loved by it. In summary, “Ein breirah” — there is no choice.
• • •
In 1937, when Meir was a child of five, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, on his second visit to America, visited the Kahane family’s home. It was only two years before the Holocaust; he had come to the U.S. to speak about Jewish survival. Jewish organizations boycotted him and took out full-page ads in newspapers urging Jews not to come and hear him. Meir’s father told his son that once only six people showed up to hear Jabotinsky speak, but he would not let the organizers cancel, saying: “I will speak to six people, who will speak with another six people, and those six will speak with more, and so on. It is a matter of life and death for the Jews.”
The very act of speaking the truth, no matter what the outcome, is a victory in itself. Rabbi Kahane told me that he felt free, quoting the Talmudic statement, “There is no free man but he who studies Torah” (Pirkei Avot 6:2). When we become honest and normal, and with courage go out and conquer the mountain for a Jewish people in a Jewish state, we will also be free.
I hope that this introduction has not only helped to clarify the feelings that Rabbi Kahane’s followers hold for him, but also touched readers’ minds and hearts. I am honored to have known this great man and hope this collection of writings is a fitting tribute.