Beyond Words” is a published 7- volume collection of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s writings in The Jewish Press, in other serial publications, and in his privately-published works.
Beyond Words can be purchased at Amazon.com
Letter to a Secular Jewish Nationalist
Written on March 9, 1973
My Dear Friend,
I note that you, as so many others who are good Jewish nationalists and devoted to the Jewish people and the state, have been puzzled and critical of some of my actions and policies. Because I sincerely respect you and want you to understand what I have done and intend to do, I think the time is long overdue for you and your colleagues to understand my thinking and the ideology that led me to do the things that you so approved of in the past as well as those you may not agree with today.
There really is a great deal of misunderstanding – I might add basic and almost total in some cases – of the REAL, things that the Jewish defense League has done and more important WHY – at least for me – they were done. Most people join a movement not so much out of ideology, but out of community of interest they think exists between them and the movement. Thus, when the Jewish Defense League protected Jewish teachers in New York City from anti-Semites, it was both praised and joined by many Jewish teachers. The latter did this, not because they agreed with the JDL in its entirety or even in most of its views – INDEED THEY HAD NOT THE SLIGHTEST KNOWLEDGE THAT THERE WAS AN IDEOLOGY. They did not care about ideology or anything else except their own narrow interests, and the result was not only that they thus misunderstood the movement, but as soon as the crisis for THEM was over they simply dropped out, not caring that other Jews – not teachers – still suffered and had to be helped.
These teachers were not interested in the fact that JDL was an organization with a philosophy of Ahavat Yisroel, the need to both love and to aid Jews in distress wherever they might be. (And that only because of this philosophy did JDL – many non-teachers – take up the fight for them.) These Jewish teachers were as disinclined to suffer for Soviet Jews or Jews of Arab lands as non-teachers were. The ONLY thing that drove them to join and be active in the movement was their OWN suffering. The moment their problem was relieved, there existed for them – as for most other Jews – no other problems. And what I say about teachers can, of course, be written about all the others who came into the JDL because of personal interests; because THEIR neighborhood needed protection of THEIR child’s school was plagued by crime. Self-interest, not Ahavat Yisroel, was the hallmark of most members, and the self-evident truth of this basically selfish motive is seen in the question asked me in every city which has not JDL chapter: “But why do we need a JDL chapter here, WE have no problems.”
You, as a sincere Jewish nationalist who does not fall into this category, can therefore understand what I write about and why we could find among even some of the JDL leadership those who, when we began the struggle for Soviet Jewry, said: “But our first interest is the protection of American Jews.” You can understand how these kind of people failed to grasp the JDL essential that Ahavat Yisroel means looking upon ALL JEWS as one people, as brothers, and that there is no difference between Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Damascus and Riga.
And so, you in Israel sang our praises and defended us when we acted violently against the Soviets and broke the law in defense of Jews who suffered at the hands of anti-Semites. For you understood the philosophical and ideological basis of our movement and you did not make the mistake of self-interested teacher, merchant or housewife. But even you do not understand, really.
We come to Israel and puzzled, you ask: What you did in the Exile for Soviet Jews and for poor Jews in troubled neighborhoods was magnificent and no one can fault you for that. But what need is there for a Jewish DEFENSE league in Israel? After all, we have an army and a police here! And why do you waste your time on unimportant issues such as fighting the missionaries and placing a mezuzah on the Sha’ar Shchem (Damascus Gate)? And why do you plan a yeshiva and a school for Jewish education here when there are others who do this? Your contribution is in the Exile where you can defend Jews, and the Meir Kahane whom we knew of there is no longer the same Meir Kahane, today.
I hear the words and the criticism and realize that just as the simple Jewish teacher backed the Jewish Defense League while not having the slightest idea what it was all about, so do you, my much more knowledgeable Jewish nationalist friend, fail to grasp the essentials of the JDL and why I, at least, helped to bring it into being.
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. The beginning of the moral and spiritual crumbling of secular nationalism is all around us to see – both in the exile and here, in Israel. Your love of Jews stems from nostalgia, the fact that you were raised either in Europe or amidst the revolutionary war against the British. Because of this, you either avoid the contradictions or are incapable of seeing them. The young Israeli or the young assimilated Jew in the exile, however, is not a Jew by habit or nostalgia. He asks the logical questions and gets no logical answers – because you are not capable of giving them to him and NO SECULAR NATIONIST IS.
And so perhaps you can begin to understand why the problem of Christian missionaries is, to me, just as important as that of Soviet Jewry. For to me, they are both the same problem, the question of keeping Jews Jewish. And thus you can see why the problem of Jewish SPIRITUAL DEFENSE in Israel is just as important as PHYSICAL DEFENSE elsewhere. I want to save the Jew physically in order that he, someday, be able to live as a good spiritual Jew. Without that, I would be prepared to put the Jew together with the black, Puerto Rican, Chicano, Zulu, Latin American, Mestizo and all the rest.
I love Jews more than any other people – not because I was born a Jew, but because the Jew, unlike any other peoples, was born for a Chosen destiny. If we believe that, then the Jew is everything; if we do not – he is no better, or worse, no more deserving of our attention, than anyone else.
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