Hatred as a sales gimmick - A critic of Sefi Rachelevsky's book about the ultra-Orthodox, "The Messiah's Donkey," says it lacks intellectual integrity and contains outright lies - By Eliezer Don-Yehiya (Haaretz).
As a public service, IMW views the following article from Haaretz 4 October 1998, as in the interest of visitors to our web site.
Hatred as a sales gimmick
A critic of
heralded book about the ultra-Orthodox,
"The Messiah's Donkey,"
says it lacks intellectual integrity and contains outright lies
By Eliezer Don-Yehiya
Sefi Rachelevsky's recent book, "The Messiah's Donkey," seeks to solve a mystery for which the author has been unable to come up with a rational explanation: the fervent support of religious Israelis for the right and for the right's candidate for prime minister. According to Rachelevsky, the source and motive for the attitude of religious Jews toward the left are to be found not in the political or social sphere but rather in the realms of mysticism and the kabbala. This fact, he says, is reflected in the very nature of the religious community's attitude toward the right.
|In Rachelevsky's view, the attitude of the religious community as a whole toward the left is characterized by deep, total hatred: the members of the left are perceived by the religious not only as political rivals but also as the representatives of the forces of evil in this world. The sources of this thinking are the demonization of the concept of "the left" in kabbalistic literature and the extension of this demonization to include today's Israeli left in the wake of the rise of the kabbala's status in the religious community here.|
This inimical attitude toward the left is augmented by the extreme hostility expressed in traditional Jewish sources towards Amalek and other enemies of the people of Israel. The upshot of this approach is that the religious Jewish community can never live in peaceful coexistence with the left.
Under this theory, at a certain stage the left can be used to help complete economic and security-related tasks in paving the road to the eventual redemption of the Jewish people; however, once it has accomplished the necessary objectives, the left must descend from the stage of history, because its very existence contradicts the concept of national-religious salvation.
It is incredibly easy to refute Rachelevsky's thesis. There is no connection whatsoever between the kabbalistic concept of "the left" and the position of the religious Jewish community vis-a-vis the political left in Israel today. The kabbala's impact on this community is far less than what the author would have us believe, and the impact of radical messianism on religious Zionists is on the decline. The animosity toward the left in the religious camp is not total and also can be explained rationally, principally by the fact that the forces of militant secularism can be found primarily on the left.
"The Messiah's Donkey" is a fraud. Its author is unfamiliar with the bulk of the literature on the topic he has chosen. He fails to present solid evidence for his arguments, which are, for the main part, based on deliberate distortions of fact, on half-truths, on superficial analysis and on sweeping generalizations. I shall present here a few illustrations that clearly demonstrate the author's approach and methods.
Rachelevsky holds the entire religious Jewish community responsible for the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Although he is not to first to come out with such an accusation, Rachelevsky has this distinction: He does not establish a connection between the assassination and the response of both the religious community and the right to the Oslo agreements. In his opinion, the very rise of the left under Rabin enraged the religious community. He points the finger of blame at religious Israelis not for their participation in demonstrations organized against the peace agreements but rather for their having prayed for Rabin's elimination and for their feelings of thanksgiving, after the assassination, over the fact that their dream had come true. Rachelevsky cites the "fact" that "many religious Jews in Israel" omitted the prayer for the State of Israel from the Sabbath morning services or else altered it. Actually, only a few isolated individuals and synagogues made any changes in the prayer. However, they did so only to protest the Oslo agreements, but not to express any bitterness over the rise of the left, as the author alleges. Furthermore, their behavior and the behavior of the religious Jewish community in Israel in general in no way indicated a desire to see their prime minister assassinated.
Rachelevsky claims that, when news of Rabin's assassination became known, "the congregants in many synagogues danced for joy... and in some synagogues, the prayer of thanksgiving (birkat hagomel) was recited, as were other prayers for the supposed deliverance of the Jewish people from a great danger. There were those who prayed that a similar fate would befall "all of the enemies of the people of Israel." Characteristically, he presents no evidence for this baseless accusation.
The innovative element in this book is the mystical-ritualistic dimension that is assigned to the Rabin assassination. According to Rachelevsky, Yitzhak Rabin's death is the modern-day version of the Biblical story of Isaac (whose name in the original Hebrew is also Yitzhak) and the assassin was the messenger of the religious Jewish community, whose members regarded the reenactment of the Biblical episode to be a righteous act.
" In line with that approach, the assassination is but one stage in the process of the Jewish people's redemption and in the eradication of the political left: "Like its leader, Yitzhak/Isaac, the left must be sacrificed on the altar at the hands of the triumphant right." It is difficult to counter such arguments, just as it is difficult to talk any sense into people who still believe that Jews ritually use the blood of Christian children in the baking of Passover matzot.
Similarly, one detects traces of ancient blood libels in Rachelevsky's claim that ultra-Orthodox Jews support the right because the right is the champion of war and they want war, which offers a wonderful opportunity for the shedding of the blood of their hated enemies, the secularist free-thinkers. In Rachelevsky's view, "the rabbis of the modern period interpreted the thinking of the Hazon Ish (a noted rabbinical authority) to mean that the possibility of the left ushering in a new era of peace constituted a real danger and that every effort must be made to ensure that the right remain in power. Thus, peace will continue to be elusive and the wicked secularists will continue to die in the defense of Israel's borders and will not be able to do harm to the members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
" This claim is contradicted by the fact that the leaders of the Lithuanian branch of Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and especially Rabbi Shach, who are the disciples of the Hazon Ish, tend to be dovish on matters of defense and foreign affairs. Rachelevsky reconciles this contradiction with the explanation that the dovishness of the Lithuanian leaders stems from their desire to prevent anything that could possibly endanger the lives and well-being of Jews living in the Holy Land. The claim that the ultra-Orthodox prefer war-mongering is also refuted by the words of Rabbi Shach himself, who, in 1984, said the following in a public address: "Jews sit in houses of study and recite psalms to ensure the safe deliverance of the soldiers in the field. These Jews pray from the depths of their heart: 'Dear God, we beseech You to save these soldiers, to shield them from bullets, to preserve their lives and to let them return safe and sound to their homes."
Despite this statement, Rachelevsky seeks to portray Rabbi Shach as someone who feels no pain over the blood shed by secularist Israeli Jews, especially if they are also leftists: "In the eyes of Rabbi Shach, the left in Israel is worse than the Nazi Amalekite left... Thus Rabbi Shach has issued a rabbinical ruling according to which a Jewish leftist may be considered to be a persecutor of the Jewish people and to be under an automatic death sentence as far as Jewish law is concerned...
" There is a plethora of false and absurd arguments in this book, and it does not deserve to be regarded as a serious study. Rachelevsky carefully selects only those facts that can back up his bogus arguments. For example, he quotes extremists in the religious camp, choosing to ignore the moderates.
Some critics have compared this book to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In point of fact, "The Messiah's Donkey" is far worse. The author of the Protocols accuses the Jews of wanting to take control of the entire world. Although the Protocols and this book are fraudulent forgeries purporting to delineate a conspiracy that is a fraudulent forgery in itself, Rachelevsky goes one step further: He claims that the ultra-Orthodox are not satisfied with just exercising total control of the left but rather that they have no compunctions about the blood shed by the members of the left and are continually plotting to liquidate them. Thus, "The Messiah's Donkey" belongs in the category of virulent anti-Semitic writings.
This book does not deserve to be given any serious attention or to be critiqued. However, I felt that I had to speak out against it for two reasons. First of all, it is published by Israel's most widely circulated newspapers, which is bending over backward in its sales promotion for the book. In addition to its other "virtues," the book is poorly and sloppily written, with an abundance of syntactical errors. Apparently, the newspaper publishing "The Messiah's Donkey" believes that hatred, especially hatred of the ultra-Orthodox, helps sell books.
The second reason is the glowing comments that have come from authors and media personalities who are considered to be intellectuals, including poet Nathan Zach, critic Yoram Bronowsky and journalists Yaron London and Orit Shohat. According to these individuals, all means are legitimate in the holy war being waged against the ultra-Orthodox. They like the idea presented in the book of an "iron wall" that should be set up in order to prevent the ultra-Orthodox from achieving their evil goals. Among the tough measures he proposes for dealing with the ultra-Orthodox community, Rachelevsky includes termination of its autonomous status and an end to government funding for state religious schools. His supporters are so enthusiastic about such ideas that they are willing to overlook the grave defects of this book: its lack of intellectual honesty, its outright lies and its sweeping and utterly baseless generalizations.
The writer, Eliezer Don-Yehiya, is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University.
© copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved
|As a public service, IMW views the following article from The Jerusalem Post , October 8 1998 - 18 Tishri 5759, as in the interest of visitors to our web site.|
(September 23) - Secular Jews are nothing but donkeys, doing the dirty work of the religious in the grand plan to bring the Messiah. That's the view that author Seffi Rachlevsky ascribes to much of the national-religious camp in his controversial new book.
But Jewish philosopher Eliezer Schweid is less sanguine.
"There is a secular public that is very thirsty for these types of books," Schweid says. "It increases their zealous warring against the religious.
"This is all part of the culture war. A large part of the secular public is afraid of haredim and Orthodoxy. I can't say that there are not good reasons for this, and that the haredim or Gush Emunim are all pure. There are dangers within them, and messianists within them that threaten democracy.
"But within the framework of this argument, I would not cast aspersion on all religious Zionism, and all Judaism.
That, Schweid implies, is exactly what Rachlevsky has done.
THIS new messianic brand of religion that is influencing everyone, from the NRP to Shas and the haredim, has deep roots in the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, Rachlevsky writes.
He maintains that the writings of Kook are not as liberal and humanistic as they have been portrayed over the years. Indeed, he argues, the contrary is true.
"According to Rabbi Kook, the secular population is the donkey of the messiah. After the secular population has built the material state, the turn of the religious will come to take power and create the spiritual-messianic state," he writes.
In other words, Rachlevsky interprets Kook as believing the secular are nothing but tools to do the dirty work necessary to bring about the redemption.
Rachlevsky then goes on to describe how this plan is being put into effect, and how the students and disciples of Kook have essentially created an avant garde who believe in his messianic theology, and are working actively to implement it.
Mercaz Harav, the Jerusalem yeshiva that is the bastion of Kookian philosophy, has given clear "mystical and kabbalistic explanations to topical events," Rachlevsky writes.
"In their view, we are in the days of the messiah. Disasters such as the Holocaust are the birth pangs of the messiah. The existence of the State of Israel is the beginning of the messianic state and beginning of fulfillment of the Divine promise.
"There is an explanation of the dominance of the secular, which on the face of it presents a serious problem. The secular have a role in that they help speed up the redemption, and through their sins perform political mitzvot that even they are unaware of.
"The religious Zionist youth have an important role in riding the donkey. The religious youth need to influence, direct and lead the donkey - the material state that was built by the secular hands."
Kook's teachings, Rachlevsky maintains, have evolved into what is essentially a program to translate this messianic blueprint into practice.
"Within a short time, the teaching of Kook swept up the majority of religious Zionist youth, both in faith and in deeds. Their parents came a little later, and with them the political representatives in the Knesset.
"Within a decade [from 1967], Rabbi Kook's outlook was the dominant one among the majority of those in the religious Zionist camp. The old religious Zionism, believing in enlightenment, democracy, socialism and cooperation with Western values, disappeared from the map."
THIS presentation of Kook's philosophy, says Schweid, whose books on modern Jewish thought are standard texts in Jewish philosophy courses around the country, is a distortion "that verges on incitement."
He says that the idea that hidden in Kook's thought is a plan for the religious to take over the state sounds like something from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
"I only read what was published about the book earlier in the summer in the media, and no more," Schweid says. "And I don't intend to read any more. There is something very disgraceful about this, something that borders on incitement.
"I won't say that what he writes does not have any anchor in the texts, but you can come to these conclusions when you take anything out of context, and interpret it in a one-dimensional manner."
Schweid, an Israel Prize winner for his studies in Jewish thought and his efforts as founder of the Kerem Institute, which trains teachers in a "Jewish-humanistic framework," says Rachlevsky's characterization of the secular as donkeys in Kook's thought is a distortion.
"If he said this was the feeling of some of Rabbi Kook's more zealous students, I would say some of that may be true," he says. "But to attribute that to Rabbi Kook is slanderous."
Schweid says that Kook, rather than viewing the secular as a mere instrument, actually wrote that the early pioneers were doing acts more holy than even those of many of the Torah-observant. Rachlevsky, Schweid says, has ignored the dialectic in Kook's thought, and presented it a completely one-sided fashion.
THOUGH Schweid agrees that messianic fervor has gripped the religious community since 1967, he maintains that the same messianism exists among many secular Jews as well.
"Many of those who warn against religious messianists are themselves secular messianists," Schweid argues. "They speak in terms of democracy, an adoration of liberal democracy," and a complete rejection of anything that contradicts their view of what democracy is.
"I don't want to say that I don't have very grave concerns, and sharp criticism - I think there is much room for criticism of religious Zionist movements today," he continues. "But you have to distinguish between criticism, which deals with things as they are, and defamation. The question is whether the author is representing the phenomena, the ideology and roots as they are, or in a distorted fashion."
Tamar Ross, who teaches the philosophy of Kook both at Bar-Ilan University and Midreshet Lindenbaum, a women's yeshiva in Jerusalem, says it is "off the wall" to view Kook's philosophy as exploitative.
"I think that Rabbi Kook had a genuine respect for the power of secularism, and saw some value in it that the religious community should adopt," Ross says. "He did not see the secular in a totally utilitarian matter - as part of a 'use-them-and-get-rid-of-them' theme."
Although Ross, who is familiar with Rachlevsky's book only through the press, says that the author's presentation of Kook's view seemed "warped," she does say there is "a basic flaw in the way Rabbi Kook relates to the secular public that a person who espouses pluralism in our generation would reasonably object to.
"The bottom line," Ross says, "is that Rabbi Kook is not prepared to see secularism as the secular see it, and regard it as it is per se. Rather, he views it as part of a larger scheme. He is certainly not a modern pluralist who allows for every opinion, who sees another person's opinion as the other person sees it, and for whom every opinion is given equal weight and respect.
"But, on the other hand, Rachlevsky implies that the philosophy is exploitative, which is totally off the wall."
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