Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years

Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years

by Israel Shahak
Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years

Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years

by Israel Shahak

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Overview

Israel Shāhak was a remarkable man. Born in the Warsaw ghetto and a survivor of Belsen, Shāhak arrived in Israel in 1945. Brought up under Jewish Orthodoxy and Hebrew culture, he consistently opposed the expansion of the borders of Israel from 1967.

In this extraordinary and highly acclaimed book, Shāhak embarks on a provocative study of the extent to which the secular state of Israel has been shaped by religious orthodoxies of an invidious and potentially lethal nature. Drawing on the Talmud and rabbinical laws, Shāhak argues that the roots of Jewish chauvinism and religious fanaticism must be understood before it is too late.

Written from a humanitarian viewpoint by a Jewish scholar, this is a rare and highly controversial criticism of Israel that will both excite and disturb readers worldwide.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745328409
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 11/20/2008
Series: Get Political Series , #5
Edition description: Second Edition, New Edition
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 22,890
Product dimensions: 5.32(w) x 8.46(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Israel Shāhak was a resident of the Warsaw Ghetto and a survivor of Bergen-Belsen. He arrived in Palestine in 1945 and lived there until his death in 2001. He was an outspoken critic of the state of Israel and a human rights activist. He was also the author of the highly acclaimed Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (Pluto, 1999) and Jewish History, Jewish Religion (Pluto, 1994).

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

A CLOSED UTOPIA?

I write here what I think is true, for the stories of the Greeks are numerous and in my opinion ridiculous. (Hecateus of Miletus, as quoted by Herodotus)

Amicus Plato sed magis amica veritas – Plato is a friend but truth is a greater friend. (Traditional paraphrase of a passage of Aristotle's Ethics)

In a free state every man can think what he wants and say what he thinks. (Spinoza)

This book, although written in English and addressed to people living outside the State of Israel, is, in a way, a continuation of my political activities as an Israeli Jew. Those activities began in 1965–6 with a protest which caused a considerable scandal at the time: I had personally witnessed an ultra-religious Jew refuse to allow his phone to be used on the Sabbath in order to call an ambulance for a non-Jew who happened to have collapsed in his Jerusalem neighbourhood. Instead of simply publishing the incident in the press, I asked for a meeting with the members of the Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem, which is composed of rabbis nominated by the State of Israel. I asked them whether such behaviour was consistent with their interpretation of the Jewish religion. They answered that the Jew in question had behaved correctly, indeed piously, and backed their statement by referring me to a passage in an authoritative compendium of Talmudic laws, written in this century. I reported the incident to the main Hebrew daily, Ha'aretz, whose publication of the story caused a media scandal.

The results of the scandal were, for me, rather negative. Neither the Israeli, nor the diaspora, rabbinical authorities ever reversed their ruling that a Jew should not violate the Sabbath in order to save the life of a Gentile. They added much sanctimonious twaddle to the effect that if the consequence of such an act puts Jews in danger, the violation of the Sabbath is permitted, for their sake. It became apparent to me, as drawing on knowledge acquired in my youth, I began to study the Talmudic laws governing the relations between Jews and non-Jews, that neither Zionism, including its seemingly secular part, nor Israeli politics since the inception of the State of Israel, nor particularly the policies of the Jewish supporters of Israel in the diaspora, could be understood unless the deeper influence of those laws, and the worldview which they both create and express is taken into account. The actual policies Israel pursued after the Six Day War, and in particular the apartheid character of the Israeli regime in the Occupied Territories and the attitude of the majority of Jews to the issue of the rights of the Palestinians, even in the abstract, have merely strengthened this conviction.

By making this statement I am not trying to ignore the political or strategic considerations which may have also influenced the rulers of Israel. I am merely saying that actual politics is an interaction between realistic considerations (whether valid or mistaken, whether moral or immoral in my view) and ideological influences. The latter tend to be more influential the less they are discussed and 'dragged into the light'. Any form of racism, discrimination and xenophobia becomes more potent and politically influential if it is taken for granted by the society which indulges in it. This is especially so if its discussion is prohibited, either formally or by tacit agreement. When racism, discrimination and xenophobia is prevalent among Jews, and directed against non-Jews, being fuelled by religious motivations, it is like its opposite case, that of antisemitism and its religious motivations. Today, however, while the second is being discussed, the very existence of the first is generally ignored, more outside Israel than within it.

Defining the Jewish State

Without a discussion of the prevalent Jewish attitudes to non-Jews, even the concept of Israel as 'a Jewish state', as Israel formally defines itself, cannot be understood. The widespread misconception that Israel, even without considering its regime in the Occupied Territories, is a true democracy arises from the refusal to confront the significance of the term 'a Jewish state' for non-Jews. In my view, Israel as a Jewish state constitutes a danger not only to itself and its inhabitants, but to all Jews and to all other peoples and states in the Middle East and beyond. I also consider that other Middle Eastern states or entities which define themselves as 'Arab' or 'Muslim', like the Israeli self-definition as being 'Jewish', likewise constitute a danger. However, while this danger is widely discussed, the danger inherent in the Jewish character of the State of Israel is not.

The principle of Israel as 'a Jewish state' was supremely important to Israeli politicians from the inception of the state and was inculcated into the Jewish population by all conceivable ways. When, in the early 1980s, a tiny minority of Israeli Jews emerged which opposed this concept, a Constitutional Law (that is, a law overriding provisions of other laws, which cannot be revoked except by a special procedure) was passed in 1985 by an enormous majority of the Knesset. By this law no party whose programme openly opposes the principle of 'a Jewish state', or proposes to change it by democratic means, is allowed to participate in the elections to the Knesset. I myself strongly oppose this constitutional principle. The legal consequence for me is that I cannot belong, in the state of which I am a citizen, to a party having principles with which I would agree and which is allowed to participate in Knesset elections. Even this example shows that the State of Israel is not a democracy due to the application of a Jewish ideology directed against all non-Jews and those Jews who oppose this ideology. But the danger which this dominant ideology represents is not limited to domestic affairs. It also influences Israeli foreign policies. This danger will continue to grow, as long as two currently operating developments are being strengthened: the increase in the Jewish character of Israel and the increase in its power, particularly in nuclear power. Another ominous factor is that Israeli influence in the USA political establishment is also increasing. Hence accurate information about Judaism, and especially about the treatment of non-Jews by Israel, is now not only important, but politically vital as well.

Let me begin with the official Israeli definition of the term 'Jewish', illustrating the crucial difference between Israel as 'a Jewish state' and the majority of other states. By this official definition, Israel 'belongs' to persons who are defined by the Israeli authorities as 'Jewish', irrespective of where they live, and to them alone. On the other hand, Israel doesn't officially 'belong' to its non-Jewish citizens, whose status is considered even officially as inferior. This means in practice that if members of a Peruvian tribe are converted to Judaism, and thus regarded as Jewish, they are entitled at once to become Israeli citizens and benefit from the approximately 70 per cent of the West Bank land (and the 92 per cent of the area of Israel proper), officially designated only for the benefit of Jews. All non-Jews, (not only all Palestinians) are prohibited from benefiting from those lands. (The prohibition applies even to Israeli Arabs who served in the Israeli army and reached a high rank.) The case involving Peruvian converts to Judaism actually occurred a few years ago. The newly-created Jews were settled in the West Bank, near Nablus, on land from which non-Jews are officially excluded. All Israeli governments are taking enormous political risks, including the risk of war, so that such settlements, composed exclusively of persons who are defined as 'Jewish' (and not 'Israeli' as most of the media mendaciously claims) would be subject to only 'Jewish' authority.

I suspect that the Jews of the USA or of Britain would regard it as antisemitic if Christians would propose that the USA or the United Kingdom should become a 'Christian state', belonging only to citizens officially defined as 'Christians'. The consequence of such doctrine is that Jews converting to Christianity would become full citizens because of their conversion. It should be recalled that the benefits of conversions are well known to Jews from their own history. When the Christian and the Islamic states used to discriminate against all persons not belonging to the religion of the state, including the Jews, the discrimination against Jews was at once removed by their conversion. But a non-Jew discriminated against by the State of Israel will cease to be so treated the moment he or she converts to Judaism. This simply shows that the same kind of exclusivity that is regarded by a majority of the diaspora Jews as antisemitic is regarded by the majority of all Jews as Jewish. To oppose both antisemitism and Jewish chauvinism is widely regarded among Jews as a 'selfhatred', a concept which I regard as nonsensical.

The meaning of the term 'Jewish' and its cognates, including 'Judaism', thus becomes in the context of Israeli politics as important as the meaning of 'Islamic' when officially used by Iran or 'communist' when it was officially used by the USSR. However, the meaning of the term 'Jewish' as it is popularly used is not clear, either in Hebrew or when translated into other languages, and so the term had to be defined officially.

According to Israeli law a person is considered 'Jewish' if either their mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother were Jewesses by religion; or if the person was converted to Judaism in a way satisfactory to the Israeli authorities, and on condition that the person has not converted from Judaism to another religion, in which case Israel ceases to regard them as 'Jewish'. Of the three conditions, the first represents the Talmudic definition of 'who is a Jew', a definition followed by Jewish Orthodoxy. The Talmud and post-Talmudic rabbinic law also recognise the conversion of a non-Jew to Judaism (as well as the purchase of a non-Jewish slave by a Jew followed by a different kind of conversion) as a method of becoming Jewish, provided that the conversion is performed by authorised rabbis in a proper manner. This 'proper manner' entails, for females, their inspection by three rabbis while naked in a 'bath of purification', a ritual which, although notorious to all readers of the Hebrew press, is not often mentioned by the English media in spite of its undoubted interest for certain readers. I hope that this book will be the beginning of a process which will rectify this discrepancy.

But there is another urgent necessity for an official definition of who is, and who is not 'Jewish'. The State of Israel officially discriminates in favour of Jews and against non-Jews in many domains of life, of which I regard three as being most important: residency rights, the right to work and the right to equality before the law. Discrimination in residency is based on the fact that about 92 per cent of Israel's land is the property of the state and is administered by the Israel Land Authority according to regulations issued by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an affiliate of the World Zionist Organization. In its regulations the JNF denies the right to reside, to open a business, and often also to work, to anyone who is not Jewish, only because he is not Jewish. At the same time, Jews are not prohibited from taking residence or opening businesses anywhere in Israel. If applied in another state against the Jews, such discriminatory practice would instantly and justifiably be labelled antisemitism and would no doubt spark massive public protests. When applied by Israel as a part of its 'Jewish ideology', they are usually studiously ignored or excused when rarely mentioned.

The denial of the right to work means that non-Jews are prohibited officially from working on land administered by the Israel Land Authority according to the JNF regulations. No doubt these regulations are not always, or even often, enforced but they do exist. From time to time Israel attempts enforcement campaigns by state authorities, as, for example, when the Agriculture Ministry acts against 'the pestilence of letting fruit orchards belonging to Jews and situated on National Land [i.e., land belonging to the State of Israel] be harvested by Arab labourers', even if the labourers in question are citizens of Israel. Israel also strictly prohibits Jews settled on 'National Land' to sub-rent even a part of their land to Arabs, even for a short time; and those who do so are punished, usually by heavy fines. There is no prohibition on non-Jews renting their land to Jews. This means, in my own case, that by virtue of being a Jew I have the right to lease an orchard for harvesting its produce from another Jew, but a non-Jews, whether a citizen of Israel or a resident alien, does not have this right.

Non-Jewish citizens of Israel do not have the right to equality before the law. This discrimination is expressed in many Israeli laws in which, presumably in order to avoid embarrassment, the terms 'Jewish' and 'non-Jewish' are usually not explicitly stated, as they are in the crucial Law of Return. According to that law only persons officially recognised as 'Jewish' have an automatic right of entry to Israel and of settling in it. They automatically receive an 'immigration certificate' which provides them on arrival with 'citizenship by virtue of having returned to the Jewish homeland', and with the right to many financial benefits, which vary somewhat according to the country from which they emigrated. The Jews who emigrate from the states of the former USSR receive 'an absorption grant' of more than $20,000 per family. All Jews immigrating to Israel according to this law immediately acquire the right to vote in elections and to be elected to the Knesset – even if they do not speak a word of Hebrew.

Other Israeli laws substitute the more obtuse expressions 'anyone who can immigrate in accordance with the Law of Return' and 'anyone who is not entitled to immigrate in accordance with the Law of Return'. Depending on the law in question, benefits are then granted to the first category and systematically denied to the second. The routine means for enforcing discrimination in everyday life is the ID card, which everyone is obliged to carry at all times. ID cards list the official 'nationality' of a person, which can be 'Jewish', 'Arab', 'Druze' and the like, with the significant exception of 'Israeli'. Attempts to force the Interior Minister to allow Israelis wishing to be officially described as 'Israeli', or even as 'Israeli-Jew' in their ID cards have failed. Those who have attempted to do so have received a letter from the Ministry of the Interior stating that 'it was decided not to recognise an Israeli nationality'. The letter does not specify who made this decision or when.

There are so many laws and regulations in Israel which discriminate in favour of the persons defined as those 'who can immigrate in accordance with the Law of Return' that the subject demands separate treatment. We can look here at one example, seemingly trivial in comparison with residence restrictions, but nevertheless important since it reveals the real intentions of the Israeli legislator. Israeli citizens who left the country for a time but who are defined as those who 'can immigrate in accordance with the Law of Return' are eligible on their return to generous customs benefits, to receive subsidy for their children's high school education, and to receive either a grant or a loan on easy terms for the purchase of an apartment, as well as other benefits. Citizens who cannot be so defined, in other words, the non-Jewish citizens of Israel, get none of these benefits. The obvious intention of such discriminatory measures is to decrease the number of non-Jewish citizens of Israel, in order to make Israel a more 'Jewish' state.

The Ideology of 'Redeemed' Land

Israel also propagates among its Jewish citizens an exclusivist ideology of the Redemption of Land. Its official aim of minimising the number of non-Jews can be well perceived in this ideology, which is inculcated to Jewish schoolchildren in Israel. They are taught that it is applicable to the entire extent of either the State of Israel or, after 1967, to what is referred to as the Land of Israel. According to this ideology, the land which has been 'redeemed' is the land which has passed from non-Jewish to Jewish ownership. The ownership can be either private, or belong to either the JNF or the Jewish state. The land which belongs to non-Jews is, on the contrary, considered to be 'unredeemed'. Thus, if a Jew who committed the blackest crimes which can be imagined buys a piece of land from a virtuous nonJew, the 'unredeemed' land becomes 'redeemed' by such a transaction. However, if a virtuous non-Jew purchases land from the worst Jew, the formerly pure and 'redeemed' land becomes 'unredeemed' again. The logical conclusion of such an ideology is the expulsion, called 'transfer', of all non-Jews from the area of land which has to be 'redeemed'. Therefore the Utopia of the 'Jewish ideology' adopted by the State of Israel is a land which is wholly 'redeemed' and none of it is owned or worked by non- Jews. The leaders of the Zionist labour movement expressed this utterly repellent idea with the greatest clarity. Walter Laquer, a devoted Zionist, tells in his History of Zionism how one of these spiritual fathers, A.D. Gordon, who died in 1919, 'objected to violence in principle and justified self defence only in extreme circumstances. But he and his friends wanted every tree and every bush in the Jewish homeland to be planted by nobody else except Jewish pioneers.' This means that they wanted everybody else to just go away and leave the land to be 'redeemed' by Jews. Gordon's successors added more violence than he intended but the principle of 'redemption' and its consequences have remained.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Jewish History, Jewish Religion"
by .
Copyright © 2008 the estate of Israel Shahak.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword to the first edition by Gore Vidal
Foreword to the 1997 edition by Edward Said
Foreword to the 2002 edition by Norton Mezvinsky
Foreword to the new edition by Ilan Pappe
1. The Consequences of Ethnic Cleansing
2. The Jewish Religion and its attitude to non-Jews part 1
3. The Jewish Religion and its attitude to non-Jews part 2
4. Conclusions
Notes
Index

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