Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Tale Of Two Letters - 1976

"K A H A N E"
the magazine of the authentic Jewish Idea

September 1976 – Elul 5736

Two letters arrived for me within a few days of each other.  Together they tell an important tale.  It is a tale of the distortion and the misshaping of the authentic Jewish Idea and it is a tale that every Jew should hear and understand.

This first letter came from a Jew – a religious Jew – a Jew whose home is in the State of Illinois.  The relevant parts of this letter read as follows: 

“Sometimes when we become firmly convinced of something, we tend to state it to others with a certain degree of fanaticism.  Of course, you are right that the Jews of the entire world should make Aliyah to Israel.  But let us consider some practical aspects … are all of us going to be able to support ourselves as well as our families in Israel?  Are we headed for an “Auschwitz” America?  I hope and pray it does not happen and I do not think it will.  But if it does, that will mean that America has turned full tilt against Israel and Jews will be no safer than in America.  Prayfully, one day, my family and I will gather enough faith and courage to make Aliyah. But until we do, if we do, we do not require constant harping on this subject.  What we do need now is your spiritual leadership in becoming better Jews where we are.  Prophesize to our brethren in Israel.  Bring them back to Torah.  Prepare the land and the people for us?”

The other letter comes from an Israeli.  A student who lives in Jerusalem and who studies at Hebrew University.  He is not religious, but a firm nationalist.  The relevant parts of his letter are:

“I do not write this letter in my name alone but in the name of many tens of students who agree with all of your main points… The thing that leads to a parting of the ways is “your fanatical religion” as they call it.  Most of the students are irreligious.  Know that many, many would like to see themselves in your camp, but they totally reject Rabbi Kahane because of their fear of “fanatical religion.”  With all due respect, I suggest that you only emphasize the major issue that is common to all including the irreligious.”

Two letters.  Each in their own way showing the schizophrenia that has seized the Jewish people and that has misshapen and deformed the authentic Jewish Idea.  Two letters from two-Jews, each of whom has forgotten a different side of Judaism.  One, a “religious” Jew who forgets that without the nation there is nothing.  The other, a “nationalist” Jew who does not know that without religion, the Jew is meaningless.  And how important it is for us to understand the totality and truth of the Jew as a RELIGIO-NATION.  For if we do, we suddenly understand the reality of the Jewish Idea; we begin to grasp the truth that will lead to the final redemption.  And if we do not, we continue our descent to tragedy. 

You see, my secular nationalist friend, unlike you, I see nothing at all very special or logical about nationalism, per se.  I see nothing very rational about setting up boundaries and a barrier, separate governments, armies, parliaments, economics, exchange rates and languages.  If anything, nationalism is a barrier to world brotherhood and one of the major fomenters of conflict and war. If I were a secular nationalist I would be hard put to explain why Jews should remain separate and not assimilate and I would struggle for a rational explanation of Jewish behavior – stubborn and obstinate – over two millennia of exile as they suffered every conceivable manner of persecution and yet, refused to disappear.

There is only one reason why Jews should be different, and that is the very special difference, the uniqueness that makes them separate and different from all other peoples.  ONLY the election of Israel, only the concept of a Chosen people, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation; only the “Ata b’chartanu, You have chosen us from all the nations”: only the “hamavdil beyn kodesh l’chol, He who differentiates between and separates between holy and profane, between Israel and the nations”; only the need to be different, apart and separate NOT BECAUSE OF SOME VAGUE LANGUAGE OR HISTORICAL DIFFERNCE but because of the distinct uniqueness of Torah and the commandments as a DIVINE decree – only this gives any validity to the Jew remaining alive as a distinct entity.

There is nothing special about a Jewish tank or jet plane, nothing special about an independent state of your own with a Parliament, Prime Minister, national airline and social-economic-political problems, all nations have them.  There is nothing special about a scientific institute, universities and lawyers, physicians and sanitation men; all nations have them.  But no nation has Torah except the Jewish people, and that is the difference.  The only one.

And so, when I helped to found the JDL and called to people to love Jews so much that they should be prepared to climb barricades for them, fight physically for them, perhaps sit in jail for them, why in the world did I care about some Jew in Leningrad or Damascus more than some Zulu in South Africa?  Only because Ahavat Yisroel follows directly from the special quality of the Jewish people – the DIVINE nation – each of whose members partakes of that divine quality and is my brother MORE than other peoples.  Without my belief in the Jews as the Chosen People of G-d, there would be not the slightest interest for me in them more than in other people.

And if you wonder why secular Jewish nationalism, that which we call Zionism, has proven to be such a disastrous failure among our youth in Israel; and if it bothers you that the youth questions the basic axioms that, to you are truth incarnate, going so far as to dispute the right of the Jews to Israel and even joining an Arab spy ring; and if you are disturbed at the fact that most Israelis have little ties to world Jewry, and so many would like very much to leave the country and make a great deal of money elsewhere; and if the Jew in Israel looks more and more like any other people and feels nothing special about himself and his state – learn an important lesson.

Secular Jewish nationalism – no more than any other kind – can give no rational reason to a sensitive and intelligent young person to see anything special about his people or his state – especially when that state is faced with constant crisis, hardships and sacrifice.   There are those secular Jewish nationalists who remember either the anti-Semitism of the Exile or the nostalgia of Judaism.  Most Israelis know neither and they ask logical questions and demand answers that the letter writer, a secular nationalist, cannot really give him 

As for me, without religion there are NO Jewish people worth fighting for and worth dying for.  There is no Jewish state worth sacrificing so much for and crying out “not one inch.”  Everything that the nationalist writer sees in me as “nationalist” is instead RELIGIO-NATIONALIST, or the authentic Jewish Idea.  Failing to see religion and G-d at the heart of Jewishness; failing to see G-d at the center of Jewish destiny, as the G-d of History; failing to understand that without a return to Torah, nothing will help us – the secular nationalist understands nothing.

And he is joined by the “religious” Jew form Illinois.  A Jew who can say such “practical” things as “are all of us able to support ourselves in Israel?; as “I do not think” an Auschwitz can happen in America; as if America “turns full tilt” against Jews then Israel is also doomed; as advice to stop harping on Aliyah and instead try to make us “better Jews where we are.”

The one writer puts religion on the shelf and thinks that he is a complete Jew, while the other ignores nationalism and prides himself on his being able to be a true Jew.  Both are wrong.  Both are cripples, the one limping on the right foot and the other on the left.

The religious Jew asks that I try to make Jews better “where they are.”  That is exactly what I do when I “harp” on the fundamental mitzvah of Aliyah.  I am desperately attempting to reach the Jew “where he is” in the Exile and make him a better Jew by telling him to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the land.  I reach out to him and try to make him a better Jew who will stop being so casual about a mitzvah that the rabbis tell us is equal to all the commandments of the Torah; who will realize that the rabbis call him, the dweller in Exile, a man who is as one without a G-d; who is called a worshipper of idol impurity; who is promised that in the Exile he will “find no rest for the sole of his foot.”

He wishes me to make Jews better than they are?  Every article I write concerning the immutable place of the nation and the state of Judaism does just that.  Every criticism of religious Jews for failing to understand that there can be no authentic complete Judaism without the Land of Israel is that.   Every time I attempt to teach the lesson of the State of Israel as being the beginning of the redemption and the beginning of the era of Kiddush Hashem is that.

 The religious Jew who does not perceive that the Exile is Hillul Hashem, the desecration of G-d’s name is one who does not understand Jewish history and the Jewish destiny.  If he does not understand that his remaining in the Exile desecrates G-d’s name, guarantees a terrible Holocaust and impedes the swift final redemption – then shout to him the truth over and over again no matter how annoyed he is, or rather precisely because he is annoyed. The Jew who remains in Exile and refuses to live in Israel is NOT a good a Jew as he should be.  The Jew who can fail to understand that the Exile is a curse that is guaranteed to end in Auschwitz, and who can lay aside a mitzvah because “how will we support ourselves” (meaning, in the manner to which we have become accustomed), and who can think that the destiny of Israel lies in the hands of America – is a Jew who badly needs help.  He is as “irreligious” in his way as the secular nationalist in his.

The question of Aliyah is not a peripheral or tangential one.  It is at the heart of the Jewish future and destiny.  And it will be shouted forth so that, in the words of the Book of Ezekiel “whether they listen or cease to listen, but let them know that there was a spokesman among them.”

Somewhere in the Exile, the authentic Jewish Idea became misshapen and deformed.  On the one hand there were those who forgot that the Jew is a religion. On the other hand, there were those who forgot that we are a nation.  Both are helping to bring tragedy upon us.  Until we return to the authentic Jewish concept of a RELIGO-NATION I will continue to receive letters from people who do not understand.  Somehow they must be made to understand and that is why I write.

If you did not receive this article personally, and would like to receive Rabbi Kahane articles weekly, please contact me at:  BarbaraAndChaim@gmail.com

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