“ K A H A N E ”
The magazine of the authentic Jewish Idea
May 1977 Sivan 5737
THE WISDOM OF THE NATIONS
If one tells you that there is wisdom among the nations- believe it. So speak the sages of the Talmud in laying down for the Jew the principle that, outside of the study of Torah, there is indeed wisdom and art to be learned from the non-Jewish world. And, truly, the world of our times is filled with gentile wisdom that is proper and necessary for the Jew to learn and in which he should become proficient. In one of these areas the nations of the world have a long lead on us and have been studying their art for centuries with as much zeal and diligence as the Jew bent over his Gemora in the long winter nights and the hot summer days. It is an important art, this gentile craft, and one which is more than a luxury for our people. It is an area whose knowledge and proficiency is basic to survival, and Jewish existence in this era of the jungle trumpets forth the need for studious and diligent Jewish study of Torat Ha’amim – the wisdom of the nations. I speak of the art of shooting, the craft of self-defense, the marriage of the Jew and the gun.
“Jewish youth, learn to shoot.” So wrote the late, great Zev Jabotinsky in an essay that has to rank as one of the most brilliant and prophetic writings of modern Jewish times. The days were the 1930’s; the era Churchill so aptly labeled the Locust Years. In Eastern Europe, the pogromchiks and anti-Semites of all intellectual stripes fumed and raved against the Jew. The seeds of Jew-hatred sprouted there with unbelievable speed and in the Third Reich the catalyst for the worst of anti-Jewish horrors had surfaced. And Jabotinsky watched the agony of his people and beheld – as a latter-day Jeremiah – the black future that was moving inexorably upon them. He saw it all, felt it all and sat down to write his essay. He called it ‘Oifen Pripitchek.’
What knowledgeable Jew does not know the song of that name! The haunting tune and indescribable words of the poet Warshawsky paint for us a picture of the Jew that opens for us the secret of his survival. A fire is burning on the hearth and the house is warm. The melamed – the teacher of tiny children – sits about with his little wards and teaches them their first Hebrew letters.
‘Learn my children, learn with diligence,” he tells them. “Remember what you learn here, Aleph, Beis, Gimel…” And as he teaches his three and four year olds, he speaks to them but, in reality, to himself and to each of us.
“Children, you will get older and then you will understand yourselves, how much within these letters lie tears and how much pain…”
And Jabotinsky took this song – this unofficial national anthem of Diasporan Jewry – and used it as his point of departure. The Rebbe continues to teach his children, continues to sigh with the persecution and pain of centuries but continues his lesson saying: “One must be strong to survive all that we have borne and consolation can be found only in strength.”
Every generation has its Aleph Beis and Jabotinsky takes his Rebbe and has him look at his tots, the tots whose fathers and grandfathers before them faced a hostile and vicious Jew-hating world, who were beaten and wracked with pain, who died at the hands of nations who knew how to shoot. And Jabotinsky’s Rebbe sees his tots who will have to face the same muzhiks and the same animals, who will face the guns of the nations, and he teaches them the new Aleph Beis – “Young men, learn to shoot!”
It does not matter that the Aleph Beis is difficult. It is not relevant that it is strange and we are instinctively repelled by it. The Rebbe must teach his children that “of all the necessities of national rebirth, shooting is the most important… We are forced to learn to shoot and it is futile to argue against the compulsion of an historical reality.”
There were too few Rebbes in real-life who taught Torat Ha’amim to their children, and in the Eastern Europe of Jabotinsky’s time he was vilified and condemned for his new Aleph Beis. ‘Fascist,’ Fuehrer,’ ‘militarist’ were but some of the kinder epithets used by enemies and by those whose lack of vision and timidity blinded them to the realities of what was happening. They looked at the clock and saw that it was six, while Jabotinsky was already reading midnight. Because they hooted him down and because they had not learned to tell Jewish time and because Jewish youths were told not to learn to shoot, the black night came down upon European Jewry, finding them unprepared, ill equipped, untrained and amei haaretz (ignoramuses) in Torat Ha’amim. They paid for their ignorance by the millions and for their clumsiness with whole communities. If a handful of the enemy could pursue with ease a thousand Jews, it was because they had mastered the art of shooting while the Jew – the man of the book – stood naked in his incompetence. The nations had the rifles and we did not. The Jewish dropout paid the supreme penalty.
Every Jew a 22. Let it be shouted and let the educational campaign go forth. Let Aleph Beis be taught to Jewish young men and women. Let the study halls be filled with Jewish diligence and deep scrutiny. Young Jewish men and women, learn to shoot. Drink thirstily at the feet of the non-Jew this one art in which he excels. Learn, practice and outdo all the rest for we dare not be as ignorant as our fathers were before us and we cannot repeat the errors of the past. If Jewish neighborhoods are prey to muggers and rapists and robbers because it is well known that Jews and Jewish homes have no guns – let it be changed. If Jews are victims of hoodlums and hooligans because the Jew is not one who is armed and dangerous – let it be different. If the Jewish image is one of fearful timidity and ignorance in Torat Ha’amim,; if the nations of the world laugh at our backwardness and confidently beat us for it – let Torat Ha’amim also go forth from Zion and the voice of Jewish strength from every Jewish neighborhood and home. If there is a difference in the level of crime and violence in an Italian neighborhood as compared with the Jewish one, the difference is that within the mind of the hooligan, one has the shadow of the gun while the other is filled with peaceful ignoramuses.
If those who, in future days, would bring to these shores the night of the long knives, contemplate such thoughts with confident impunity, let them hear that Jews are leaning their new Aleph Beis. The bully and the hoodlum do not so swiftly move to trample Jews when their own noses will be bloodied and when the taking of a Jewish life is pursued at the risk of his own.
The problem is not the non-Jew, but the Jew. What is needed is a change in his psychology and in the way he looks at the gun. He must be made to understand that, in a world where the nations master the art of shooting, Jewish survival depends upon Jewish knowledge of the same and on non-Jewish knowledge that the Jew has this knowledge. A wild dog fears a whip; the mad-dog anti-Semite fears the gun. He should; being proficient with it he knows what it can do to the Jew – and to himself. With love of peace and desire for tranquility, young Jewish men and women, learn to shoot.
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