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The Essential Essays Of An Early Rabbinical Critic Of Zionism

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2021

A Passionate Pacifist,  
Essential Writings of  
Aaron Samuel Tamares,  
Edited, Translated and Introduced by  
Everett Gendler,  
Ben Yehuda Press,  
236 pages, $24.95  
Those who are unaware of the long tradition of rabbinical opposition to  
Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, would do well to consider the writings of  
Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamares (1869-1931). His essays and sermons, written in  
Hebrew between 1904 and 1931, are as relevant today as they were radical in  
his time. Serving as rabbi in a small Polish town, Tamares addresses the  
timeless issues of ethics, morality, communal morale and Judaism in relation  
to the world at large. A delegate to the Fourth World Zionist Congress in  
London in 1900, Tamares became disillusioned with political Zionism and  
wrote extensively about his rejection of nationalism and embrace of pacifism  
and what he saw as the unique Jewish mission in the world.  
This volume’s editor, Rabbi Everett Gendler, now 92, has spent decades as a  
trailblazing environmentalist, peace activist, and proponent of social  
justice. He was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1957 and led  
congregations throughout Latin America before serving Jewish communities in  
New Jersey and Massachusetts. He served as the first Jewish chaplain at  
Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts where he was a part of a  
Protestant-Catholic-Jewish ministry. Active in the civil rights movement,  
he led groups of rabbis at prayer vigils and protests in Albany, Georgia  
(1962), Birmingham, Alabama (1963) and Selma, Alabama (1965). He persuaded  
Abraham Joshua Heschel to participate in the March from Selma to Montgomery  
in 1965 and was recently awarded the Presidents’ Medallion from the Hebrew  
Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion “in recognition of a lifetime  
commitment to social justice and environmentalism.”  
In his introduction to Rabbi Tamares and his essays, Gendler, writing in  
2019, notes that, “Here I sit, looking back 150 years, musing on two figures  
whose birth sesquicentennials we mark this year. One of them is so famous  
that his teachings are known even to billions who lack the basic tools of  
literacy, the other so obscure that even for scholars of modern Jewish  
thought, there is barely name recognition. Yet these two, Mohandes  
Karamchand Gandhi and Aaron Samuel Tamares, share 1869 as their birth year.  
More than a birth year, Gandhi and Tamares share a deep characteristic:  
both were committed pacifists, dedicated to the pursuit and realization of  
valued ends by strictly nonviolent means. But whereas the philosophical  
underpinnings of Gandhi’s views are well known, those of Tamares remain  
largely unexplored. Few of his writings have been translated from their  
original Hebrew and Yiddish, and even the original-language texts have long  
been out of print. This volume aims to correct that omission.”  
Comparison of Gandhi and Tamares  
The comparison of Gandhi and Tamares comes as a result of Gendler’s time  
spent in India where he and his wife Mary have visited regularly, helping  
the Tibetan exile community develop a community-wide education program in  
strategic nonviolent struggle. Discussing Tamares’ approach to combating  
unjust policies, he writes: “As early as 1905, Tamares was advocating  
active cooperation between Jews and non-Jews among whom they reside. In his  
essay on Judaism and liberty, he proposes both internal projects that will  
orient and prepare Jews for cooperation with their neighbors, and external  
projects to activate such cooperation in matters of common concern. He  
urges vigilance in monitoring false claims by ruling authorities that would  
distract both Jews and non-Jews from their common exploitation at the hands  
of the rulers. While far from a fully outlined program, both here and  
throughout his writings he speaks of attitudes and actions that we would now  
call acts of civil resistance. Ten years before Gandhi’s discovery of ‘the  
method,’ Tamares at times seems to suggest some awareness of such  
In Gendler’s view, “We see echoes of Tamares’ insights in the hard-to-  
believe successful, non-violent campaign by some 1,500 Aryan German wives of  
Jewish husbands for the release of their husbands from arrest and in some  
cases, from imprisonment in Auschwitz. The demonstrations took place in  
1943 on Rosenstrasse in front of the Gestapo headquarters and were audacious  
beyond belief. One of the most deeply held Nazi prohibitions was that  
of...Jewish blood defiling pure Aryan blood...yet here were 1,500 of  
Germany’s blondest Aryans protesting, with growing support from their  
neighbors, friends, and other pure Germans, the application of this law.  
And the Gestapo yielded! 1,500 German Jewish men lived in Berlin with their  
non-Jewish wives through the entirety of the Second World War.”  
From his earliest years, Tamares had a unique sensitivity. During the  
Russian-Ottoman War (1877-1878), as a young boy, he witnessed his neighbors  
receive news of their son’s death. Many years later, he described his  
memory of that day in his autobiography: “During the Russian-Turkish War,  
the terrible news came to a gentile neighbor that his son had fallen in the  
war. The mother of the soldier cried out bitterly and the little Jewish boy  
cried along with her. From that time onward, the boy was obsessed by  
thoughts regarding the terror of war.”  
Hatred of Warfare  
This experience infused in Tamares a hatred of warfare and violence that  
would lead him to espouse a fierce pacifism. This was tied to an idealistic  
vision of Jewish destiny. It was not just a spiritual ideal but an inherent  
part of the mission and purpose of the Jewish people. Although he was  
originally sympathetic to Zionism, he came to believe that the Zionist focus  
on creating a territorial nation-state based on the model of contemporary  
European nationalism amounted to a betrayal of the vital Jewish mission in  
world history: to be a non-political, even anti-political, community. He  
recanted the essays he had written in support of Zionism and forbade them  
from being reprinted. He wrote new essays and books explaining his pacifist  
vision of Judaism and ideological opposition to Zionism.  
His belief that only a pure, non-political Judaism could offer humanity hope  
for a different future was reinforced in the first decades of the 20th  
century. He looked with scorn at European civilization after the mass  
slaughter of World War l. He was alarmed at Jewish attempts, through  
Zionism, to mirror what he perceived to be the worst attributes of that  
civilization. He wrote: “Jews exist as a people to spread the moral  
precepts of the Torah, including a pacifist aversion to bloodshed, to the  
rest of humanity...The Jewish mission must be accomplished without the use  
of force.” In a 1913 essay he wrote: “Judaism, throughout its long  
existence, has but one destiny—-to uplift the spirit of humanity in the  
image of the people of Israel, chosen by the Higher Intelligence to receive  
its word.”  
In Tamares’ view, the viability of the educational mission of the Jews to  
humanity, and therefore to the betterment of all humanity, was dependent on  
the continued existence of the Jews. The powerlessness of exilic existence  
and the frequent victimization of Jews reinforced the moral teachings of the  
Torah. A victim of injustice, he believed, understands the importance of  
justice; a victim of violence appreciates the horror of violence. He  
wrote: “This destiny cannot be undertaken by any new political party or  
sect as effectively as that ancient people, whose yearning for freedom and  
justice are its ancient heritage from days gone by, that is to say the  
nation of Israel in galut...The long education of the Jew on the knees of  
the noble spirit of the Torah, on the one hand, and the low spirit of the  
burden of exile on the other, removed from our midst all base egoism...”  
Betrayal of the Jewish Mission  
The Zionist dream of “normalizing” the Jewish condition—including a return  
to national life—-was seen by Tamares as a betrayal of the Jewish mission.  
Zionism became nothing less than a rejection of a prime element of the  
Jewish mission in history: to impart ethical living and pacifist values to  
all of humanity.  
Originally attracted to Zionism, Tamares attended the Fourth Zionist  
Congress in London in 1900 and started his movement away from political  
nationalist Zionism, seeing it as just another form of materialist political  
machinations and self-justifying violence. He preached that the way of  
Torah is ethics, peace, humanism and spiritual growth. He wrote: “For us,  
the Jewish people, our entire distinctiveness is the Torah and Judaism; the  
Kingdom of the spirit is our state territory.” He called himself “the  
sensitive person who feels the pain of the world.”  
At the Zionist Congress, Tamares saw not a movement to liberate people, but  
a movement to liberate territory. After a year of silently absorbing his  
discovery, he denounced Zionism publicly because he saw that its goal was to  
be another European nationalist movement, rather than follow the Jewish  
mission of Torah and ethics. He saw that Zionism’s goal was the  
establishment of a European-style nation-state in Palestine and although the  
Balfour Declaration specified that the rights of persons living there would  
be fully respected, Tamares did not see how this could be achieved. He  
feared that the European-inspired Zionism of Theodor Herzl would betray the  
world mission of the Jewish people. He was deeply concerned about the  
rights of the indigenous people of Palestine.  
“Exile” was not Punishment but Purification  
The idea of “exile,” Tamares believed, was not a punishment but a  
purification since the Jewish mission is unlike the mission of the nations:  
“We must reveal to them that between their world and our world lies a deep  
and terrible chasm...The means to achieve their success is the sword,  
whereas ours is the book...Ours is the study of Torah. The nations that do  
not have the Torah cannot cast their swords aside.”  
Of particular interest is Tamares’ 1930 essay, “Three Unsuitable Unions,”  
exploring his assessment of Zionism. Rabbi Gendler notes that, “Tamares  
grounds his passionate criticism of nationalist Zionism in his fervent  
rejection of war and its spoils. He is outraged that the discourse of  
political Zionism validates World War l without any mention of its  
devastating human costs. This compromise of fundamental Jewish religious  
principles receives intense, yet precisely measured condemnation. The  
betrayal of Israel’s mission to the world, carefully restated, requires that  
the revival of the Hebrew language not be dependent on affirming nation-  
state nationalism, with its attendant sovereignty, domination, and amoral ,  
ethically dubious power politics.”  
Tamares was not alone in questioning this understanding of Jewish  
nationalism. Gendler writes: “The goal of an independent, sovereign, power-  
political nation-state as ‘the highest expression of Jewish national life  
and the culmination of Jewish history’ did not go unchallenged among Jewish  
thinkers. The quotation from ‘Zionism and the Roads Not Taken’ by Professor  
Noam Pianko (Indiana University Press), an illuminating study of the Zionism  
of Simon Rawidowicz, Mordecai Kaplan, and Hans Kohn reminds us that many  
Zionists looked to ‘an alternative to nation-state nationalism that would  
reconfigure the relationship between nationality, sovereignty and  
international politics. Many today are surprised to learn that Henrietta  
Szold, the founder of Hadassah, the women’s international Zionist movement,  
appeared before the United Nations in 1946 to oppose the division of  
Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, as did the President of Hebrew  
University, Judah Magnes, the philosopher Martin Buber, and other devoted  
early residents of Palestine.”  
Harsh Anticipation of Nationalist Sovereignty  
Concerning Tamares’ harsh anticipation of nationalist sovereignty at play in  
a Herzl-inspired State of Israel modeled after nineteenth century European  
ethnic nationalism, Gendler tells the reader to “...keep in mind such  
elements as these: a state-authorized Chief Rabbinate refusing recognition  
of the validity of a religious conversion overseen by as eminent an Orthodox  
rabbi as Haskell Lookstein, the continuing indifference in Israel, without  
any serious move toward exploration, of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002,  
repeated in 2007 and 2017; and the recently passed Israeli law enshrining  
the right of self-determination in Israel ‘as unique to the Jewish people.’  
For Tamares, the only surprise would be our surprise at developments such as  
In his 1930 essay, “Three Unsuitable Unions,” Tamares begins: “The need for  
the corrective function of Judaism has grown sevenfold as the wickedness and  
folly of this ‘enlightened’ world have grown apace. At first the intention  
of the Hebrew language and culture movement was that the Jewish people serve  
as a living challenge to the abominations of the earth, a task for which all  
its teachings, customs, sufferings and experiences had prepared it. To be a  
strong and universal people, the reviver of the dispirited of this earth,  
swimming against the currents of the world while to rescue the scattered  
remains of humanity’s ethical possessions from beneath the smoking ruins of  
the recent conflagration: this was the original vision of the movement.  
How tragic, then, that the movement has become associated with Zionism  
which, as interpreted by its political leaders, is the very reverse of the  
sublime willingness to swim against the violence-and-persecution-filled  
currents of the world today. For political Zionism aspires entirely to swim  
with the stream and be assimilated by the nations.”  
The reaction to the Balfour Declaration, writes Tamares, “...revealed  
already a long-standing self-depreciation before the territorial nations and  
the desire to become like unto them, a humiliating state of spirit which had  
hesitated to bare itself previously. But suddenly a sign appeared. The  
powerful of the planet went forth to fight, destroying by fire a thousand  
forests and farms in their flaming conquests, covering the earth with  
corpses. And when the final word had been declared by cannons, the victors  
met to divide the planet into tiny kingdoms which would pay heed to them.  
At this point our ethically wayward hastened to plead before them: give us,  
too, a tiny piece of land, whose name shall be ‘the Jewish State.’ Our  
worthiness has already been proved by the ‘Jewish Legion’ which we recruited  
and sent with you to shed blood in ‘liberating Palestine’ from Turkey. Thus  
did the self-designated Jewish delegation go to Paris to enter the Club and  
collect a share of the spoils of the bloodiest war in human history.”  
Abusing the Prophets  
Tamares argues that the Zionists “are so cynical in calling darkness light,  
that they are not even embarrassed to abuse the testimony of the prophets.  
Thus the exalted visions of the end of days have been appropriated and  
applied by the nationalists to this present disgraceful and vile period—-  
when the abstractions of ‘nations’ and ‘sovereign states’ are ‘liberated’  
and actual human beings are murdered!—-when ‘national symbols’ are invented  
while man, the living symbol of the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be  
He, is erased! For our political careerists, however, all this is quite  
It would have been possible for Jews who wished to live in Palestine and re-  
establish the Hebrew language to do so peacefully and modestly, Tamares  
notes, and “A modest arrival of this sort would not have frightened and  
aroused the Arabs, and so it would have been possible gradually to establish  
there, in the land of our forefathers, a Hebrew settlement to the  
satisfaction of Jews everywhere, even though this yishuv did not dream  
dreams of ‘statehood’ and ‘sovereignty,’ nor presume to dominate Jews  
everywhere as ‘teacher of all Jews in the Diaspora.’ It would have been  
possible to establish a simple Jewish settlement in the land of Israel like  
Jewish settlements everywhere on this earth...Thus Jews in the land of  
Israel would have joined Jews everywhere in waiting for the true coming of  
the Messiah, that ideal moral redemption which is anticipated in Scripture  
and Rabbinical Teachings. But our Balfourists, whose every limb and sinew  
desired a nationalist career, could not be content with this.”  
What the early Zionists completely ignored, Tamares writes, is that  
Palestine was already fully inhabited by others: “Relying on the strength  
of Balfour and drunk with pride at being near him, the Zionists hid their  
eyes from the fact that the actual place was not a newly-discovered,  
unsettled island located at the far ends of the earth, but was a place  
already inhabited by a people which was sure to feel the ‘nationalist’ and  
‘sovereign-political’ aims as a needle in its living flesh...That the League  
of Nations should be negligent in giving aid to the Jews to establish  
themselves as a ‘Jewish state’ in their ‘historic land’ over some  
‘uncultured’ people which stole into the land and has lived there a mere  
1,500 years (but a day and a half in the eyes of those who boast an  
historical perspective in which a thousand years are but a day); that the  
League of Nations not keep its word, uttered at the propitious moment after  
the orgy of World Slaughter, authorizing the Jews to go forth and subdue  
that ‘uncultured’ people now living there and to establish a ‘national  
home’—-this the Balfourists find to be a grievous sin without parallel, for  
which the nations will never be forgiven!”  
Political Zionism Imperils Judaism  
Political Zionism, Tamares believed, imperils the character of Judaism,  
which has survived so long free from what he saw as “the defilement” of  
nationalism. “Additionally,” he points out, “the establishment of the  
desired political state with a Jewish majority would affect adversely Jews  
elsewhere, both physically and spiritually. Physically, this proclaimed  
preferable place for Jews gives implicit sanction to persecutors elsewhere  
who would like to oust ‘alien’ Jews from other lands, for they can now say:  
Jews, what complaints have you against us? Why do you insist on residing  
here where, by your own Zionist admission, you are mere temporary aliens?  
Go on to your own country, Palestine, where you are now the dominant  
majority; and, en route, be sure to thank us for our kindness in  
recognizing your ‘historic rights’ to the land of Israel! As for the  
spiritual damage to Jews elsewhere, by exaggerating the delights and the  
incomparable dignity which Jews supposedly enjoy in the ‘fatherland,’ Jews  
elsewhere will come to despair of the quality of their lives as Jews.”  
Zionism, Tamares argues, makes an idol of the land of Israel, replacing God.  
The way of rulers, he declares, “is exactly what they (Zionists) imitate,  
not the way of men of Torah. For the latter, the life of a man is precious  
above all else. Respecting the individual, the motto of our Sages...was:  
‘Nothing takes precedence over saving a human life.’ As for the people as a  
whole, the people takes precedence over the land; the land was to be  
sacrificed for the people: ‘that his land atone for him.’ Even in the case  
of the noted destruction of the Temple, the Sages expressed their  
satisfaction that the Holy One, Blessed be He, poured out His wrath on the  
land and not the people.”  
What Zionism does, Tamares laments, is fail entirely to understand Judaism’s  
genuine nature and message: “As for building a ‘spiritual center’ for  
Judaism such advocates reveal a failure to grasp the nature of Judaism. For  
Judaism at root is not some religious concentration which can be localized  
or situated in a single territory with a ‘throne’ for the sacred, anointed  
leader who draws the heavenly stream earthward through the doors of the  
heavens which are opened directly opposite that ‘sacred place,’ he being  
intermediary between mortal men and God. Neither is Judaism a matter of  
‘nationality’ in the sense of modern nationalism, fit to be woven into the  
famous three-fold mesh of ‘homeland, army, and heroic songs.’ No, Judaism  
is Torah, ethics and exaltation of spirit. If Judaism is truly Torah, then  
it cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory. For as  
scripture said of Torah: ‘Its measure is greater than the earth.’ (job  
Torah is not Inherited  
Beyond this, he notes that, “Neither is Torah the monopoly of particular men  
or particular places. Our Sages said of Torah (Yoma), and it is repeated by  
Maimonides (Laws of the Study of Torah): ‘The crown of Torah is prepared  
for all Israel.’ And in Avot our Sages said: ‘Prepare yourself to learn  
Torah, for it is not a biological inheritance.’ If Torah is not inherited  
from the womb, all the less is it the automatic inheritance of any  
‘country.’ If Judaism is ethics and exaltation of spirit, then its task is  
not simply to perfect peoples, societies, or other such abstractions,  
neglecting on their behalf the particular human being. Rather is its task  
the perfection of the individual person, living and actual. Hence the true  
locus and center of Judaism is within the heart of every Jew...wherever on  
all this earth such a Jew is found, there is the place of Judaism. Logic  
cannot accept the fixing of a particular piece of ground as the ‘spiritual  
center’ of Judaism.”  
Tamares may be seen as prophetic in his critique of Zionism. He saw very  
clearly the distinction between religious faith and nationalism and viewed  
the deification of a particular piece of geography as a form of idolatry.  
He would not be surprised at contemporary Israel’s occupation of the West  
Bank and its denial of basic rights to its indigenous population. Even  
before the creation of the State of Israel, he expressed concern about the  
fate of the people who were living there in the event that Zionism succeeded  
in its goals. His critique of Zionism emerged from his commitment to  
liberty and pacifism and his rejection of nationalism in its many forms.  
In this book, Rabbi Gendler has translated many of Tamares’ sermons. In his  
introduction to “On Judaism and Liberty,” which was delivered in 1906, and  
his 1905 Note on this subject, he writes: “Tamares...displays glimmerings  
of recognition that religious terms such as ‘justice’ and ‘truth’ can have  
these societal effects. His pragmatism is clearly reflected in the opening  
of his Note on Judaism and Liberty. It is during this time period that  
Tolstoy (early 1900s) in Russia is advocating Christian pacifism, and that  
Gandhi (1895-1915) in South Africa is discovering elements of the method of  
non-violence. This is not to suggest that Tamares’ commitments to pacifism  
were not primarily from Jewish sources . At one point he specifically  
rejects aspects of Tolstoy’s pacifism, and it was not until the 1920s that  
Gandhi published ‘My Experiments With Truth.” It would appear that at this  
time period, revelations of the pragmatic power potential of religious  
ideals were being transmitted through such individuals as Gandhi, Tolstoy  
and Tamares...Apart from Tamares’ prescient (1905) anticipation of the great  
European bloodbath of World War l, starting in 1914, his sketch of  
developments in Europe in the preceding decades is quite specific. He  
contrasts sharply ‘Nationalist’ and ‘liberal’ currents, condemns Bismarck  
and Junker Nationalism by name, and clearly affirms the proclamations of  
individual human dignity and rights as reflecting the true meaning of  
“Judaism and Liberty”  
Writing in 1905 in his first bound volume, the pamphlet “On Judaism and  
Liberty,” Tamares expresses concern about the trends he sees in the  
contemporary world of Jewish thinking: “How terribly tragic that the Holy  
Spirit, the spirit of honesty that invested the pages of Hebrew literature  
in the beginning has vanished in these later times, these days of shrill  
slogans of nationalistic moments. In those earlier times, the task of the  
Hebrew authors was to inspire in the hearts of the people the most basic and  
healthy life aspirations, both individual and collective. For example, the  
striving for wisdom and knowledge, for graciousness and consideration, for  
justice and love: a love for all humans, a love for the larger world, and  
inclusive brotherly love——these aspirations they tried daily to plant in the  
midst of our people. Even though this effort resembled the call of the  
times for the Jew to leave his narrow, separate circle and to join the  
greater world...even so, however, how welcome were these calls to the Jewish  
spirit, and in fact especially to the Jewish spirit which abides always in  
the shadow of the divine Torah. For this inspired Torah asks of the Jew to  
strive for sublime ends, to embrace the whole earth.”  
The Book of Genesis, Tamares notes, “...neither knows nor recognizes  
‘nations, peoples, classes, sects,’ all of the latter created ex nihilo by  
the Creator of all in the divine image and likeness, created to live and  
sustain himself through dominion over nature, not his brother. This also  
was the culture of the first nineteen centuries. Liberals, students of the  
prophets, for whom the Bible was ‘a lamp unto their feet,’...Then did the  
rights of men grow and blossom. Then it was recognized that the only  
compass point which could faithfully guarantee ideas safe passage through  
the shoals of the darkness was one absolutely fixed point: the foundation  
of life on this earth in the individual person.”  
In a 1918 essay, “The Community of Israel and The Wars of the Nations,”  
Tamares explores the essential parts of Jewish history which he believed  
many of his contemporaries had largely ignored. More than two thousand  
years ago, at the time of the Revelations at Mount Sinai, the words of the  
Torah were bestowed by God to the Jewish people: “The Jewish People  
responded to His call by hastening to express its willingness immediately in  
these words: ‘We will obey and we will hearken.’ Therefore the Torah was  
conveyed to the Jewish People, creating a firm bond and covenant between  
the people and the Holy One...for the people the covenant had as its goal  
their becoming ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy people,’ i.e., their  
becoming a People each of whose individual members would have within his  
heart purity and nearness to God to such a degree that it would be as a  
whole, a kingdom all of whose members were priestly and holy : every member  
serving nobly in the Divine sanctuary and comporting himself with the  
holiness befitting such ministering.”  
Collapse of Sovereign Pride  
At this time, Tamares notes, “The people had just escaped from the burdens  
of Egypt and had seen, with its own eyes, the absolute collapse into  
nothingness of material might and ‘national,’ ‘sovereign’ pride; and it was  
itself situated in the midst of a dry, barren desert with neither ‘national  
territory’ nor an established army...These factors made the hearts of many  
people ready to welcome the covenant. Their total removal from the tight  
trap of materialistic nationalism well prepared them to respond, ‘We will  
obey and we will hearken,’ to proclaim ecstatically their complete readiness  
to become a kingdom of priests and a holy people.’”  
But after this, when they came to the land of Canaan, seized it and  
established a sovereign state “like all the nations,” there began hovering  
over its head the danger Moses warned against: “Lest when thou hast built  
goodly houses, and dwelt therein...then thy heart be lifted up, and thou  
forget the Lord thy God, who brought ye forth out of the land of Egypt out  
of the house of bondage.”  
The spirit of nationalism, Tamares shows, drove the people away from God:  
“the Holy Spirit began to be driven away and separated from them by the  
gross spirit of ‘political nationalism’ which took their hearts. And as the  
Holy Spirit fled from the people, the imprint of the Torah also faded, the  
trace of the Divine ordinances they had received at Mount Sinai. Rather  
than the Torah eventuating in an Immanent Godhead dwelling in the midst of  
the children of Israel, a Divinity Whose abode was the heart, the heart of  
every individual Jew—-rather than this, the children of Israel began viewing  
the Divinity as exclusively external, with Its abode in the midst of  
political protocol and propriety.”  
Children of Israel Become Political  
From that point, the Children of Israel became political. “The corruption of  
the ethical sense,” Tamares writes, “soon brought them to request that a  
king be set over them also, ‘like all the nations surrounding them.’ The  
prophet, representative of the Intimate Presence, cried out bitterly against  
the clamor for the appointment of a king, the clamor to make of the Torah  
‘an official document.’ And the Holy One...expressed His full participation  
in the prophet’s sorrow by saying to him: ‘for they have not rejected thee,  
but they have rejected Me, that I should not be kin over them.’ But to  
destroy them was not was not the desire of the Holy One...”  
What happened next, Tamares writes, was that, “The Jewish people fulfilled  
its intention to be ‘like all the nations,’ and performed its part: it  
saddled itself with kings. And the kings performed their part: they  
involved the nation in cruel wars though absolutely nothing required it  
(‘optional wars’ in Rabbinic terminology), and thus the people were killed  
and killers, slaughtered and slaughterers...All of it, the whole business,  
exactly as carried in the surrounding nations...the Father in Heaven...sat  
mourning the straying of His sons in the paths of the nations.”  
In response to their rejection of the role God had set forth at Sinai and  
their embrace of narrow nationalism instead. Tamares writes that, “He would  
not tolerate forever their backsliding and turning aside from the mission  
assigned to them. Certain it was that He would soon lay hold of severe  
means to drive His people toward the goal He desired, shattering and  
destroying in wrath and fury all the crude contrivances and paraphernalia of  
alien ‘nationalism,’ from which we’re issuing influences damaging to and  
destructive of the Torah...He would raze the palaces of kings, pull down the  
Temple and exile Israel from its land...It is clear that Exile...was  
essentially a constructive measure for the future: the return of the  
Presence to ‘Her place’—-the hearts of all who are in a state of loneliness  
and solitaries. The prediction of the prophets came to pass.”  
Exile elevates Israel’s Status  
The exile was, Tamares tells us, an elevation of Israel’s status rather than  
a descent. With exile, he writes, Jews arrive “at the splendid gates of our  
global mission, the task which was appointed to the Israelite nation by the  
prophets, namely ‘to be a light unto the nations.’..our mission is not less  
likely to succeed in exile—-it is more likely than ever...In the exile we  
are apprentices, and indirect mentors showing the world a live example of  
how one is to fulfill the divine ideal.”  
Rabbi Gendler has performed a notable service in translating these works of  
Rabbi Tamares and making them accessible to American readers. His words  
provide a profound critique of an American Jewish religion which has placed  
Israel advocacy as its top moral priority, although there are hopeful signs  
that this is beginning to change.  
In his own book, “Judaism For Universalists” (Reviewed in the Spring-Summer  
2016 ISSUES) Rabbi Gendler recalls early in his career being referred to as  
“a radical universalist with a rabbinic degree.” If this taunt had come at  
a later time, he writes, he would have replied, “Of course I’m a  
universalist! How could I dare to be a rabbi without being concerned for  
all human beings? Abram’s original command from God, as he was sent on his  
journey and assured ‘I shall make of thee a great nation,’ was ‘Be thou a  
blessing...in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed’ (Genesis  
12-2, 3). Not to be a universalist , not to be concerned that through the  
quality of Jewish life all human families should be blessed, would represent  
a betrayal of the original purpose of God’s call to Abram to become Abraham,  
the father of all three monotheistic traditions, Judaism, Christianity and  
Religious Universalism  
Originally, the accusation of being a universalist with a rabbinical degree  
was dispiriting to Gendler. “Looking back now,” he says, “I can hardly  
believe my internal reaction. Why didn’t I welcome these words as an  
unsought testimonial to the truth of my calling, even if they were  
dismissively intended? Why didn’t I summon Amos and Isaiah to strengthen  
the case?” He cites Amos (9:7): “Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O  
people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of  
Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir.”  
Gendler notes that, “Amos and Isaiah thus unite in the assertion that God  
works toward and welcomes the liberation of all peoples . Indeed, the  
holder of a rabbinical degree had better be a universalist! How else could  
he or she serve adequately and with integrity such a universalist God, whose  
liberating concern extends to all peoples and all persons? Sadly, I had  
forgotten the penetrating words of our dear friend from Princeton, Erich  
Kahler, who characterized the Jews (in ‘The Jews Among the Nations,’ 1967)  
as ‘a tribe directed toward the achievement of an all-embracing, super-  
ethnic humanity ...The substance of its particularity is universality...a  
tribe directed toward humanity at large.’ Nor did I remember Heschel’s  
trenchant remark about idolatry: ‘What is an idol? Any God who is mine,  
but not yours, any God concerned with me but not with you, is an idol.’”  
Sharon Strassfeld of the Jewish Catalogue, said of Rabbi Gendler: “He has  
been ahead of the curve on every major issue facing the world, before any of  
us saw with any clarity things that were eminently clear to him.”  
“who are the Jews?  
In a conversation in 2015 with Lawrence Bush, then editor of Jewish  
Currents, Rabbi Gendler was asked, “And who are the Jews to your mind? Who  
are the Jews of the Bible, of history, of today? When I say ‘I am a Jew’  
what would you like me to mean?” Gendler replied: “I would like, when any  
one of us says, ‘I am a Jew,’ for that...to have a value overtone. I would  
like it to mean that I am someone who is committed to, and appreciative of,  
and active in, the preservation of the rich gift of Creation, of beauty, of  
the wondrous deliverances of the human spirit. I would like it to imply the  
appreciation of sustenance, and support for the liberation of individuals  
and of peoples from unnecessary constraints. There are necessary  
constraints, of course: The loss of all boundaries is terrifying, not  
liberating. But the expansion of freedom, that’s what I would like being  
Jewish to mean. To say ‘I am a Jew’ means I am associated with a group of  
people whose basic dedication is to these goals. Some of them will do it in  
our traditional ceremonies, others will do it in less distinctive, more  
general fashion—-but we all have a feeling of relationship to one another.”  
When it comes to Israel, Bush points out that “non-Zionism” is “particularly  
unusual“ in contemporary Jewish life. Gendler replies: “Yes, and it’s the  
one Jews seem most concerned about. Israel. So let me say that I am  
overwhelmed and delighted by the outpouring of scholarship and culture and  
sheer fruitfulness of Jews living together and sustaining institutions in  
that land, but I have personally not found visiting Israel a positive  
experience...My painful feeling has been that Israel has become a too-  
available substitute for Deity or even values in defining Jews and Judaism.  
Israel-centrism is great danger for Jewish identity, and the behavior of  
what I have seen since the 1967 war called ‘imperial Israel’ is a great  
danger to Jewish values...You know, the number of non-Zionists in the  
American Jewish community is quite sizable. And in my congregations, people  
who shared my discomfort with Israel, especially with its displacement of  
the Palestinians, had a place to come.”  
Kindred Spirits  
Rabbi Gendler and Rabbi Tamares are, in many ways, kindred spirits,  
separated by time. By making Tamares’ sermons and essays available to an  
English-language 21st century audience, Gendler has helped to bring Judaism  
back to its universalist spiritual origins. These writings tell of a Torah  
of compassion and pacifism, a Judaism not tied to nineteenth century  
political nationalism and committed to a spirituality that embraces men and  
women of every race and nation. Professor Alan Brill, who teaches Jewish-  
Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, calls this book an “inspiration”  
and says it is “an essential work to understand Eastern European Orthodoxy.”  
Beyond this, it shows how far many today have strayed from Judaism’s humane  
tradition and provides a means to return from today’s currents of  
nationalism and ethnocentrism. *

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