Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting Back to Rabkin

A month ago, I commented on Yakov Rabkin. And I sent my blog post off to him and he responded and asked that I read his book. I agreed.

But I couldn't get through it.

I had already read "Zionism Reconsidered" when it first came out some 38 years ago. I have the first edition of "V'Yoel Moshe" of the Satmar Rebbe from 1964. And many other tracts, pamphlets and books since then. So, for me Rabkin's book was a disappointment. Almost nothing original and incisive.

But Rabkin himself was a disappointment. I do not know him but I am going to take an educated guess that he comes from a poor Jewish literary background, became observant late in life and his Hebrew is fairly minimal. Thus, to take on the subject at hand, which is the antizionism of traditional ultra-orthodox Jewry based on what I know is a misreading of Biblical, Talmudic and Rabbinic sources, is too much a task for him.

And so, I had to put the book down. But in order to present to you (and him) some highlights of my criticism, I will go through the pages I marked and concisely mention my negative remarks.

P. 25 As an example of his claim that Jewish nationalism sought to be a substitue for religion, he quotes Jabotinsky referring to a "God" that Jewish youth need - when what Jabo was doing was using "God" as a goal, not as a divinity. He further claims that Betar, the youth movement, "replaced Judaism", which is stupid for many thousands of Orthodox Jews joined it and stayed religious in it. Betar even demanded that its members respect tradition.

P. 27 While noting that Zionists "used the Torah to justify Zionist claims to the Land of Israel", he is upset tha AD Gordon denied the Toprah's divine origin. Deny or not, the claims of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel are rooted in the Bible so what is Rabkin trying to say? Well, a few lines further on, he writes that what Gordon has done is devalue the absolute value of human life by asserting that Jewish life inthe Diaspora is not worth living (unlike Rabkin's heroes among the most fanatic Hassidic masters of Hungary, Rumania and Poland who sought to sanctify Diaspora existence as part of God's master plan for evebntual redemption) and therefore, Gordan, et al. are akin to...German National-Socialism aka Nazism.

P. 29 He claims that it was not antisemitism that Zionism was foremost repsonding to but...liberalism and nationalism. But Zionism was only a modern political framework for the natural Zionist element of Judaism which is the mitzva to live and dwell - גור ושכון - in the land and to assert ownership over it לאחוז בה. And most certainly it was antisemitism that formed the major thrust for the organization of Jewry to achieve Zionist aims.

P. 53 He bemoans the fact that Haredim are estranged from academic post-Zionist circles, which is the fault of these secularists who should have found "points of convergence". In other words, better the atheist than a National Religious type.

P. 57-58 He makes a big deal out of nothing in pointing out that Jabotinsky's Hebrew primer, "613 Words" was replaced by a book called "1000 Words" and why? Because Russian Jews in the 1970s had little knowledge of the cultural nexus between 613 and the number of Biblical commandments thought to be also 613!

P. 62 He acts as an exegesist and claims that the phrase "promised land" does not refer to the people to whom the land was promised but to the divinity that promised the land, skipping over the numerous times that God had made a covenant to award the Land to the Jewish people. And what do we do with the command of Deuteronomy 1:8 - "See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers — to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and to their descendants after them"?

P. 72 In dealing with the Oaths, that classic aggadic commentary, as if it could replace Biblical commandments, he writes that there was a restriction against collective settlement and this, at a time when the land of Israel, despite Roman conquest, was being collectively settled by Jews against all hardship.

And at the bottom, he notes that the term "Land of Israel" is not found in the Pentateuch. But the "Land of the Hebrews" he is forced to record is. Are not the Jews referred to as Hebrews as much as Children of Israel? And in the Book of Joshua, which will not in the first Five Books, Joshua himself is a Pentateuchal figure and in chapter 11, verse 21, we read of ארץ בני ישראל: "the land of the children of Israel". Oddly, for a Diaspora-oriented fellow, he ignores the Egyptian stella of 1230 BCE which uses the term Israel to describe our part of the world. And Genesis 15:18 just records "land" because one needs no other definition: "In that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land...".

I had to stop here. Rabkin's intellectual capability in dealing with the source material is limited, he is repetitive of previous works, is shallow and his logic is inconsistent and wildly unreliable in understanding the context of events in Zionist history. He worships the Neturei Karta brand of Judaism. He delights in his modern Golden Calf.

1 comment:

YMedad said...

Dear Mr Medad,

Thank you for sending me your comments. I shall try to take some of them into account in further editions of my book.

Hodesh tov!


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