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Ancient Visions, Future Hopes: Recalling a Religious Objector to Jewish Nationalism

Everett Gendler
Fall 2003

In its classical source, Isaiah 30:15-18, the number thirty six is associated with righteousness, justice and hopeful certainty of Divine redemption through “turning and stillness, tranquility and trust.” In later tradition, it alludes to the thirty-six righteous who, usually unrecognized, quietly sustain the world. Invariably poignant, this year, the 36th anniversary of the Six Day War, the number also stirs in me pain and distress. Why?  

Thirty-six years have passed since, to the “realists,” the promise of peace seemed near at hand from the preponderance of Israeli power. In real-politik, after all, are not power and peace coordinates? Isaiah would have been profoundly skeptical; he had long ago proclaimed that peace would be “the work of righteousness,” and that the longed-for “tranquillity and trust for ever” would also be “the result of righteousness.” (32:15-18)  

Why, then, despite the plaintive cries for “peace, peace,” is there no peace? Is it entirely obduracy on the part of those who oppose a Jewish Israel? Without dismissing that as one factor contributing to the increasingly tragic impasse, this thirty-sixth anniversary should also invite a re-examination of possible elements of injustice, residues of unrighteousness, that were embedded in the very beginnings of the Zionist movement. These need full, yet sympathetic, acknowledgement if ever a peaceful future is to become a reality.  

Entrapment of Our Own Times  

This is no easy task. Apart from unresolved general issues of social causality, there are also the passions of the moment. Who is to be trusted? To which voices shall we give ear? When are criticisms of Israeli injustice genuine, when do they mask other motives, provide expression for simple anti-Semitism? If only we could escape from the entrapment of our own times, hear a fresh voice that we can trust, know that its challenges and criticisms emerge from love of the Jewish people, not hatred, from fidelity to Jewish values, not their rejection.  

There is, in fact, such a voice: Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamaret’s final pained and impassioned critique of political Zionism, Shlosha Zivugim Bilti Hagunim, “Three Unsuitable Unions,” written in response to the Hebron riots of 1929. Born in 1869 and soon dubbed “the prodigy from Maltsh” in recognition of his prodigious Talmudic and Biblical learning, Tamaret served as rabbi of the village of Milejczyce (Poland) from 1893 until his death in 1931. In contrast to most of his Orthodox colleagues, he early joined the political Zionist movement, and was a delegate to the Fourth Zionist Congress in London in 1900. That experience was profoundly disillusioning to him, however, and after a period of distressed silence, he began to denounce Zionism specifically and nationalism in general, a denunciation that became more intense with the passing years. The true human costs of the Russian-Japanese War of 1905 were evident to him in the faces of bereaved villagers, and his penetrating analysis of World War I from a Torah perspective is astonishing for its passion, its eloquence, its tradition-based pacifism, and its political realism. His pen-name, Ahad Harabbanim Hamargishim, one of the Passionately Concerned Rabbis, was entirely appropriate to his character as summarized in Encyclopedia Judaica: “an unusual figure in the rabbinical world: an Orthodox rabbi who fought against the fossilized halakhah in a completely original style and who attacked nationalism and political Zionism as anti-Jewish phenomena.” (Vol. 15, pp. 783-784)  

But can an outcry from seventy years ago contribute to a critical inquiry today? I believe that it can, by affording us a fresh perspective on a number of recurrent basic issues, issues whose avoidance has impeded any genuine solution to the agony of the Middle East today.  

Compromise with Nationalism  

In approaching any area of conflict, we tend to accept, as a given, the validity of boundaries and settlement lines established by the victorious powers after World War I. There is surely a pragmatic case to be made for trying to work within them; they are the actualities of today. Though many may not be sustainable (Iraq, e.g., a volatile “union” of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish communities), they must serve as starting points. Additionally, the establishment of Israel as a modern nation-state was achieved by “joining the club, buying into the system,” as we, with diminished eloquence, might put it. Appealing to the League of Nations to receive redistributed lands worried Tamaret, in that the terms of the appeal appeared to validate the prior bloodshed and destruction. He also found that this compromise with modern nationalism compromised both Jewish values and Jewish identity. Here are some of his words on this issue, in translation from the Hebrew.  

“The World War should have been truly assessed for what it was: an unmixed defeat for humanity. Any decent man should have scorned its outcome, never excusing its brutality and blood-letting by any purported future results. For nothing can compensate for millions of young lives lost, millions of parents deeply bereaved, and millions of joyless, suffering disabled. And what of the utter pollution of the spiritual atmosphere, which turned men into beasts of prey and ambush! ... men have become wolves to one another, life has deteriorated seriously, and Jews, always the target, are more maligned than ever.  

... “But our political Zionists have taken it upon themselves to praise and glorify this age of a new heaven and a new earth created by the war. Never do they cease from singing the praise of ‘liberty’ and ‘justice which has awakened in the world as the result of nations girding themselves with swords and going forth to ‘free lands,’ or of the ‘righteousness’ which has been awakened in the hearts of nations to correct the ‘historic burden’ of Israel by returning it to its ‘birthplace’ ...  

“Not only in theory and words have our Balfourists shown solidarity with the rulers of the earth, but in practice as well. They founded the ‘Jewish Legion’ to fight with ‘Nilolai Nikolovitz’ - otherwise a persecutor of Jews - to ‘liberate’ Palestine from Turkey. Nor was this help insignificant.  

“Physically, of course, the help of a few hundred Jewish soldiers was inconsequential compared with the millions of men fighting in the Allied cause. The ethical help, however, was substantial indeed, consisting, as it did, in the destruction of ethical feeling and the removal from men’s hearts of any remains of religious reverence, prerequisites for enabling men to wage war and attack others whom they had not previously so much as seen or known. Such was the very considerable moral contribution of the ‘Jewish Legion’ to ‘Nikolai Nikolovitz.”’  

* * *  

Divine Mission  

Tamaret took seriously the idea that Jews have a Divinely directed moral mission in the world, and while a fully observant, halakhic Jew, he understood our purpose in universal ethical terms. Hence the pain and the passion of his recognition that if Jews were to adopt the time-dishonored, ethically tainted tactics of violent statecraft, a grievous moral injury would be inflicted on all of humankind.  

“Small and humble is Jacob, and his ability to influence humanity for good is indeed limited. On the other hand, his ability to corrupt and pollute the moral atmosphere of the earth, should he pervert his way, is greater than anyone else’s. For it unfortunately follows logically: if this frail and tender people, whose existence has always been secured by Moral Force, at last acknowledges the sword, how shall one answer those nations who have always lived by the Sword? ...  

“For Jews have suffered each time they saw, even from afar, the glittering helmets and flashing spears of a troop of soldiers approaching, and know well the terror which sends innocents running shelter to shelter ...  

“But it is not only because of Israel’s extraordinary suffering at the blade of the sword that Jacob, should he, too, now begin to lust after sword and ammunition, has this special capacity to befoul the ethical atmosphere more than any other nation; it is also because of his distinction as ‘the chosen people.’  

“How terrible is that corruption which would result from any evil example set by ‘Jacob, selected by God, Israel, His special treasure’ were he, also, at last to adopt the faith of Esau. ... One may be sure that when Jacob behaves deviously or dishonorably, the example will be duly noted along with his distinction, and suddenly he will become a valued authority who serves to sanction their own misdeeds. ...  

“The Junker philosopher, Nietzche, may have scorned the Jewish ethic of justice and dubbed it ‘slave morality,’ but the ‘Jewish Legion’ of Jabotinsky, however questionable its recruits, was welcomed with open arms and great rejoicing.”  

Moral Dismay  

Might some of this moral dismay, vividly articulated by Tamaret, underlie the international focus on Israeli policies that some Jews construe as “a politically correct form of anti-Semitism, part of a very old story?” Perhaps the latter plays some part, but Tamaret’s eloquent expression of such attention as reflecting world acknowledgement and need of the Jew as moral guide for humanity, desperately seeking such guidance, is not to be lightly dismissed. Even a cursory consideration of the current world interest in the Tibetan exile community, together with the adulation of the Dalai Lama for his nonviolent teachings, might suggest that Tamaret was an astute and realistic diagnostician of this deep human moral hunger. Am I the only one to whom it seems that, in recent decades, saffron robes have become the update of Jochanan ben Zakkai’s tallit?  

Another powerful source of our fear, distress, and despair is the widespread belief that the Palestinians and their Arab supporters refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Israel-Palestine. It is not clear how true this belief is. What shall we make, for example, of the public proclamation last March, by all the Arab states, of readiness to recognize and establish relations with the state of Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from the territories occupied in the Six Day War? Regrettably, this offer was not, to my knowledge, ever explored.  

But look at the Palestinians’ insistence on ‘the right to return;’ doesn’t this effectively deny the validity of the Jewish state?’ is a frequent reply. In fact, I have heard, from Palestinians, proposals for their right of return that are willing to limit the annual numbers of those returnees to a percentage of Jewish immigration in that year. This surely bespeaks acquiescence to the Jewish need for self-determination, even if not concession of ultimate legitimacy More to the point, however, is our unquestioning assumption of the self-evident justice of a Jewish state as we have come to know it. It may well be that at this point in time, it is the least unjust, least injurious solution to an increasingly intractable human impasse; a viable-two-state “solution,” one Jewish, one Palestinian, does seem to me the least worst next step. But this is far from claiming inherent justice for Jewish sovereignty, power-political in nature, over a modern nation-state. Here again Tamaret, a rov in a Polish shtetl, saw and articulated the profound ambiguity, from the very beginning, of settlement in a spirit of dominance rather than of sharing. Not for him the empty reassurance of “a land without a people for a people without a land”; such idle words did not set him at ease in Zion. Vividly he portrays what we might, perhaps, designate, from his perspective, as the original sin of the political Zionist settlement.  

Zionism’s Original Sin  

“Travellers to Israel never entered as simple immigrants, merely desirous of a peaceful place in which to work and create a life for themselves, a place which would satisfy their romantic desire to hear echoes of the Biblical age still resounding on the mountains of Judah and which would, in due course, nourish their spirits with that revivifying air of the land of Israel.  

“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 ancestors, 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, that the land of our forefathers not be less than lands elsewhere. 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 Rabbinic Teachings. ...  

“Armed with a piece of paper, the official obtained from Balfour, and with that pride which comes from having seen the face of the king, the Zionist leaders began to proclaim loudly and openly that they had come to establish ‘Jewish State’ and to become lords of the land. They further began to urge Jews to hasten from the four corners of the earth to the land of Israel, not because Jews personally needed to emigrate, but in order to achieve a Jewish ‘majority’ and thereby become the ‘dominant people,’ outnumbering the original Arab inhabitants of the land, who would then become a ‘tolerated’ minority ...  

“... 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.  

“... Thus the result resembles the tale told by Rabba bar bar Hanna (Baba Batra 73b). A group of seafarers saw a slope which from afar resembled an island, and so they approached, left their boats, and spent several days resting on it. During this interval they wandered about, spread themselves out, and soon felt like absolute owners of the place. Finally they lit a fire with which to bake bread and roast meat, and at last discovered that, although it had appeared to their eyes as a lump of inert clay, this was not an island but rather a living whale. As soon as the fire was felt by the fish, he turned on his back, quaked, raged, and tossed them all into the sea. Had their boats not been near to rescue them, they might have drowned in the sea. The application is painfully evident.”  

Analytical Knife  

The sharpness of his analytical knife and the heat of his cauterization are enough to induce surgical shock; extraordinary, also, is his ability to experience and express the phenomenon of Jewish settlement as the Arabs then living in the land might have felt it. Would that current returnees from “solidarity missions” with Israel could offer us some comparably empathetic report on how Palestinians have experienced life under occupation since 1967. And what healing effects might we hope for from our serious self-scrutiny of felt injuries by the original Arab population, however unintentional on our part? Perhaps such a human perspective, gleaned from personal meetings, would enable us, as a community, to respond more adequately and more constructively to what is evidently deep despair and destructive hostility among the Palestinians. Might this be somewhat analogous to the moving efforts of the Christian church to look afresh at anti-Jewish elements in Christian tradition, even in the Gospels, and to try to respond to them? The healing effects of this teshuvah, this turning towards recognition of the deeper sources of pain and conflict, dare not be disregarded by a tradition such as ours, for which it occupies such a central place both in ethics and in theology.  

Tamaret was entirely sympathetic to Jewish settlement in the holy land, but in a particular spirit.  

“... one who travels to the land of Israel must go for his own sake, not for the purported sake of the Jewish people. Let him there build for himself a house, plant for himself a vineyard, take for himself a wife, sire unto himself children and grandchildren. But let him not build a ‘national home’ for the Jewish people nor a ‘spiritual center’ for Judaism!  

“The Jew who immigrates to the land of Israel for self-fulfillment, and does so without any pretense of perfecting the Jewish people as a whole does, in fact, yield satisfaction to that people; for it is a delight to the spirit of the people that its children are to be found living in the holy land of its longings and desires. Such immigrants are indeed precious to all the Jews of the Diaspora.  

“But one who enters the land of Israel with trumpets and shouting, who proclaims that he ‘goes up’ for our sake, the community of the Diaspora, that he goes to the ‘homeland’ and the ‘national refuge’ - such a one is, plainly put, a ‘troubler of Israel.” For whoever builds a ‘national refuge’ acts mistakenly, conceding thereby the Sodomite measure by which the dwellers of this planet are declared to be either ‘owners’ or ‘intruders,’ with the former having the privilege of disposing of the latter as they see fit. Furthermore, such a one narrows the universal image of Judaism, demeans the image of Diaspora Jews, and casts upon them shadows of despair.”  

* * *  

Israel and the Diaspora  

How, then, does Tamaret view the proper relation of Israel and the Diaspora? First of all, he is caustic in his rejection of Israel-centrism.  

“... there is a strange capitulation of Diaspora Jews ... Periodicals show almost exclusive reliance on material from Israel or that having to do with Zionist politics. Jewish educators know only to teach the map of Israel, Zionist songs, significant Zionist anniversaries, love of ‘fatherland’ and Sephardic pronunciation.  

“It would appear to be widely accepted that the true task of Diaspora Jews, including the intellectuals, is simply to do piecework at home for the chief culture factory in Israel. ... It is serious error for Jewish intellectuals to attach themselves as tail to the horse of political Zionism.”  

He further portrays the injury that “homeland-centered” Judaism inflicts on the Jewish people in these terms:  

“Political Zionism, as developed thus far, clearly imperils the character of Judaism, which has survived so many centuries free from the defilements of ‘nationalism’ and ‘homelandism.’  

“Additionally, 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!  

Spiritual Damage  

“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.  

“The Zionists, of course, insist that everywhere in the world Jews will point with pride to Israel and the people there, will come to subject themselves to the ‘fatherland,’ and will finally accept it as the source of a spiritual revolution.  

“Yet I find these consolations offered the millions of Jews outside of Israel - namely, knowing that there, in the ‘homeland,’ a handful of Jews live a ‘life of honor’ and ‘are equal to all men’ - are even emptier than the promise of the Feast of Leviathan which others offer to presently suffering Jews. For the latter at least promises a personal recompense in the future for the sufferings of the present, while the prophets of the idol called ‘homeland’ offer merely generic consolations: that lowly Jews in the Diaspora shall enjoy vicariously the lives of the proud Jews in Tel Aviv who dance the hora, and be satisfied that they are members of the same family. And even this only on condition that the Jews of the Diaspora place themselves under the influence of the fortunate ones in Israel.  

“Do you hear? We had always imagined that as a Diaspora people, purified and cleansed of the pride of the sword, we should be able to share a goodly teaching with others. But now come the Balfourists and reveal to us the secret that we are lowly creatures who have no salvation except to listen to what proceeds from the mouths of our distinguished brothers in the ‘homeland,’ to make of their teachings a crown for our heads and whose words shall be our light.  

“However, if it is simply by virtue of dwelling in a ‘homeland’ or ‘fatherland’ that our Balfourists have become superior men, sanctified already in the wombs of their mothers to be teachers and guides, providers of fare for the souls of all the Diaspora, then consider: Distinguished teachers such as these already abound for Jews in the Diaspora! For in every single land where Jews dwell, there are many who try with all their might to stuff us with their own cultures, the culture of ‘by your sword shall you live.’ The Jews of the Diaspora have no need whatsoever to bring from afar such false bread as this!”  

* * *  

Religious Rejection  

The final words of his essay re-state the reasons for his principled religious rejection of the very notion of Israel as a “spiritual center.” They also reveal clearly his understanding of traditional Judaism and its ultimate purpose.  

“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. ... 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 11:9)  

“Neither is Torah the monopoly of particular persons 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 Abot 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 person. Rather is its task the perfection of the individual human being, living and actual.  

“Hence the true locus and center of Judaism is within the heart, within the heart of every Jew whose heart is of flesh, not of stone. Wherever on all this earth such a Jew is found, there is the place of Judaism.”  

* * *  

Painful Task  

The preparation of this translation-summary has been a painful task; its reading will not be pleasant either.  

No claim is made that Tamaret’s analysis is complete, adequate, or without need of some qualification. Living before Hitler and the full Nazi expression of demonically destructive racist nationalism directed against Jews, Tamaret does not, of course, address himself to that appalling phenomenon. Would it have affected his analysis, attitude, or response? Might it have confirmed his worse fears about the ultimate distortions to which modern nationalism may be prone? Would it also have prompted a change of policy on his part, or would he have insisted that even then, “en kategor naaseh sanegor,” that extending the malady of modern nationalism was no way to cure the cancer itself? Would he have agreed that under the circumstances the Jewish people had to become “like all the nations” in order to save Jewish lives, or would he have rejected this as, finally, both a short-sighted, illusory solution and an ominous renunciation of the Jewish Messianic function in world history? Who can say? The questions unfortunately must remain unanswered and unanswerable.  

Notwithstanding, Tamaret’s response to issues of hostile surroundings and persecution are important, for they strongly suggest that his stance would have been realistic if applied in the early stages of that period of horror, and that his position has relevance for us today. One example. Tamaret was, from the beginning of his rabbinate, concerned with societal problems; it was his activism that led to his early involvement with the Zionist movement. After breaking with political Zionism and directing his major attention to matters near at hand, as early as 1905 he advocated the formation of groups of Jews to monitor closely the relations between Jews and the people among whom they resided, urging timely responses to tensions that arose. These responses were to include, internally, the Jewish communal cultivation of the spirit of “living in peace and amity with all people, whether or not they be of the Jewish religion;” and externally, “whenever plans are afoot to stir up hatred among the common people by intrigues and agitators, to turn to the masses of the common people and, in their language, invite them to peace and brotherhood, at the same time showing them clearly the falseness of the accusations leveled against us...” Tamaret also discusses the advisability of “revealing before the masses the source of these accusations and the destructive interests of their creators, whose only intention is to distract the eyes of the people from their own interests...”  

Reaching Out to Non-Jews  

Meaning what in relation to Germany? First of all, even before the rise of the Nazi scourge, Tamaret would have been reaching out to his non-Jewish neighbors, trying to cultivate mutual understanding, establishing inter-religious communities of support that could have been appealed to in resisting the Nazi program. Could such solidarity have made a difference in the face of the Nazi onslaught? Would resistance by fellow Aryans to the Nazi program have affected events? There are cases where it did, among them the ending of the early euthanasia policy. Even more astonishing is the case of the German wives of Jewish husbands, who banded together against the Gestapo in 1943 and, by public demonstrations in front of Gestapo headquarters on Rosenstrasse, successfully saved their husbands from transfer to the death camps! (Nathan Stolzfus’ Resistance of the Heart is a well-documented, probing study of this important episode.) The cultivation and growth of inter-group sympathy, advocated by Tamaret as an important component of Jewish self-defense, was undeniably one significant factor in the rescue of the Danish Jews, and there are numerous other instances where it was a vital element in saving Jewish lives.  

But what of his rejection of the nationalist doctrine of Jewish sovereignty over the Holy Land? Does this not represent the abdication of responsibility for providing a place of refuge for Jews in need of protection? In evaluating this claim, it is vital to remember that there were committed Zionists living in Palestine who, even in 1948, were vocal in proclaiming their opposition to the United Nations partition of Palestine and the establishment of two states. They included Judah Magnes, first president of the Hebrew University, Martin Buber, Ernst Simon, and, until her death, Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah. They, residing in Palestine throughout those years, can hardly be dismissed for lack of knowledge of the situation there. Neither dare one accuse them of lack of concern for the rescue of Jews in need.  

Sharing the Land  

A case can be made, I believe, that a policy such as Tamaret’s or, later, that of Berit Shalom, might have saved more Jewish lives during the Holocaust than the nationalist approach. How so? An analogy may be helpful. Compare William Penn’s approach to the native inhabitants of Pennsylvania with the cowboys-versus-Indians approach all too common elsewhere. Was not the peaceable acceptance of Penn’s newcomers testimony to the possibility of immigration and settlement in a spirit of mutual respect? Remember, also, stories of natives around Plymouth instructing the newcomers in helpful methods of agriculture in the new world.  

Think now of a Jewish settlement process that had followed the spirit proposed by Tamaret, and which every step of the way took pains to establish relations of mutuality with those already living in the land, at no point threatening dominance. If such a basis for amicably sharing the land had been early established between Jews and Arabs, cannot one imagine that there might have been some Arab predisposition, or at least willingness, to offer refuge to other Jewish settlers in desperate flight from the Nazis? This is, of course, mere speculation after the devastating fact of the Holocaust. But don’t we permit ourselves speculation about how a sovereign Jewish state would have altered the outcome of events of those years of horror? Indeed it might have. But so might a process of settlement as advocated by Tamaret. And which might have offered the greater long-term security to Jews settling there? The question is again one which cannot be answered, but I would urge that we not unconsciously assume that the answer is obvious.  

Two other elements in Tamaret’s position especially invite further scrutiny and development beyond the space limitations of this article. Tamaret emphasized the importance of the Diaspora Jewish moral renunciation of violence and statecraft, insisting that this does affect, at least to some limited degree, the ethical actions of power states in the world. Was this simply fantasy on his part? I think not. For evidence in support of his contention, look, for example, at the excerpt from Judah Magnes’ Journal in which he reports on his interview with President Truman in May, 1948 ( especially pp. 494-495 in Dissenter in Zion, edited by Arthur A. Goren, Harvard U. Press). There he reports Truman’s dream that “peoples whose life was based on the same moral code might get to understand one another.” After referring to the common basis of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim moral codes, and his hope that this understanding “might help to lift the world from the materialism which was holding the world down to the ground and might destroy it, “ Truman laments: “But here it is - you Jews and you Arabs are spoiling things. You are not giving the Jews and the Christians and the Moslems of the rest of the world a chance to have confidence in one another. That is one of the reasons why I deplore so deeply this conflict in the Holy Land.” However one may evaluate Truman’s statement, it is clear testimony to the importance of the Jewish and monotheistic moral stance in affecting human affairs. In terms of today, I am confident that Tamaret would be among those asking about Jewish moral credibility and the policies of the Israeli government as permissive elements for U. S. foreign policy under the direction of President Bush.  

Human Needs of “The Other”  

Finally, a brief word in support of the political realism even today of policies in the spirit of Tamaret, that is to say, policies which accord full, generous-hearted recognition to the valid human needs of “the other.” In a remarkable “Letter from Porto Allegre: At a Leftist Summit, Cheers for a Separate Mideast Peace,” by Lucy Komisar, (Forward, Feb 7-14, 2003), she reports that “20,000 participants in the stadium were crying and cheering as the peace statement was read with the sound system playing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine.”’ Instead of an anticipated resolution condemning Israel and questioning its legitimacy, a statement emerged that, in Komisar’s words, while it might cause even some “Jewish doves (to) flinch,” was “a powerful pro-Israel statement from the point of view of many activists on the far left prone to rejecting the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.” How did this come about? There was serious dialogue and preparation before the Forum by local Jewish and Palestinian communities in Porto Alegre; Brazilian Chief Rabbi Henry Sobel was involved; there was support from new President Lula da Silva’s Workers Party; and personally present were Shulamit Aloni, Galia Golan, Ely Ben-Gal, Zyad Abu Zyad (a member of the Palestinian Parliament), Alam Jarar, and Lana Nusseibeh. The statement affirmed “peace, justice, and sovereignty for our peoples, an end to Israeli occupation of the lands occupied in 1967, the creation of an independent Palestinian state by side by side with Israel along the lines of 4 June 1967 with Jerusalem as an open city, the capital of each of the two states, an agreed just and fair solution for the Palestinian refugee problem in accordance with UN Resolution 194,” and an end to violence on both sides of the conflict. That such a statement could evoke cheers, tears, and tumultuous applause at an alternative global summit of nearly 100,000 people, and that it could be characterized as “the highlight of the conference,” testifies, I submit, to the profound wisdom of Tamaret’s insistence that conducted in the right spirit, Jewish settlement in Palestine could enjoy the support and esteem of all.  

Tamaret’s outcry can, I believe, open our souls to fresh, creative responses to the tragic Middle Eastern tangle which is the focus of so much attention, concern, anguish, and longing on the part of all of us. It can also help us towards a much needed redefinition of the proper relation of Judaism, Diaspora, and Israel. For his courageous, unflinching statement I am grateful.  

(This essay is a longer version of an article printed in Tikkun magazine July/August 2003 (www.tikkun,org)  

For further extracts in English from the writings of Rabbi Tamaret and a fuller biography, see “Passover and Non-Violence” (Judaism, Spring issue, 1968; and “Politics and Passion: An Inquiry into the Evils of Our Time,” (Judaism, Winter issue, 1963). Hebrew readers can now read Tamaret’s autobiographical memoir, some scattered essays, and excerpts from four of his five published books - though none from his critique of Zionism - in the 1992 volume, edited by Ehud Luz, entitled Pacificism and Torah Works by Aaron Samuel Tamares, published by The Hebrew University and Hebrew Union College.  

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