Principles for a Hebrew Liberation Movement
(A lecture by Dr. Israel Eldad to students in Jerusalem, published in Sulam, no. 53-54, Elul 5713-Tishrei 5714 [Autumn 1953])
Actually, the intention in framing the title of this lecture is to negate it, and arrive instead at "principles for the redemption of
Even the need to talk today about principles for a liberation movement, after Zionism and the Underground war and so forth, denotes a crisis, for in the natural order of things principles precede movements; movements do not precede principles. The word "crisis" is also foreign. In Hebrew, the word for crisis, mashber, means the "moment of birth." Our purpose in this article is to transform the word mashber from its foreign meaning, "crisis," to its Hebrew meaning: "to give new life."
How did we come to be using foreign words (the word mahapecha, "revolution," is another such word we have adopted), instead of our own words? By using foreign tools, the modern Hebrew liberation movement used modern tools: the technical tools, and the political parties, and newspapers - the tools of a modern liberation movement. Eventually we became attached to these concepts. When we meant a complete change of all values, as opposed to a continuation of the present, we said "revolution." We forgot that our concept of "redemption" is itself a revolutionary concept, and implies revolutionary means. Redemption is a decisive and one-time-only change. The redemption from
The use of modern tools then led to a change in the content. The newness of the means changed the content of the ends. So that now our people say: We wanted a state, and we have a state like all others; what do we want now? Our crisis is twofold. It is internal: not knowing who we are, what we want, why we must undergo all we do; the problem being: Is Israel like all the other nations or not? Do we need "liberation" or "redemption"? And this crisis is compounded by the general crisis of the rest of the world.
The fact is that since for over 200 years we have been part of the world, participants in its life, we have had to endure in addition to our own internal crises, those that engulf the world: in religion, society, politics, art. As if our own troubles weren't enough for us, we have theirs, too. This is what we are entangled in now. The world's economic problems plus our own, and so, too, its spiritual problems. The world's crisis is not its first: the ancient world, typified by paganism, endured a crisis. Christianity presumed to help the world resolve that crisis. The world's second crisis was the emergence from the Middle Ages, with the Renaissance, and humanism, which stressed the importance of the individual. Today the world is undergoing a third crisis.
Where were we during the earlier crises? We were well ensconced within our national ghetto. Strong. We were a solid spiritual-cultural unit. Today we are part of the world's spiritual confusion. We speak the language of the world even if we speak Hebrew. In the past, Judaism suffered many problems and schisms, but not crises, if crisis is defined as confusion regarding ideological principles, such as who we are, and why we exist (in today's existentialist terms). Judaism did not suffer these in the past but does today.
The Zionist liberation movement hid this crisis for a time under the urgent daily problems forced on us by the Gentiles: Dreyfus, the British Foreign Minister Bevin during the Mandate, Hitler. They forced us to deal with saving our bodies. So it is no coincidence that today, when we have supposedly already fulfilled the role of life-saver that we stand and ask questions of an existential nature.
The very posing of the questions is a sign of illness, though also a step on the way to its cure. For the Gentiles to ask about the purpose of their existence is understandable. They were stuck in paganism's world of lies. Christianity was supposed to rescue them from this crisis; they wanted to merge Christianity's abstract ideas with the physical world of the Greeks and ended up painting the Madonna, and so on, creating a Golden Calf of sorts: i.e., Western culture. So such crises are understandable for them. But ours is different.
We entered ours the moment we began to absorb Gentile values. We, the Jews, find ourselves in a crisis that does not belong to us.
Our twofold crisis is actually one: As long as Judaism had not left the ghetto, it underwent no fundamental ideological crisis. So the crisis is not twofold, it is one. It began when we went forth to the Gentile world.
How do we resolve this crisis? Ninety-nine percent of our thinkers say: Because our crisis is that of the entire world, we must solve the world's crisis, and then ours will be resolved; socialism, democracy, the danger of world war - the resolution of our crisis will come with the resolution of the world crisis. This seems a logical solution. But the solution proposed by a movement of national liberation is different: Resolve the two crises by separating completely from the foreign world, and returning to our own. Thus we can be rid of both crises.
To accomplish this we must initiate a great conceptual revolution: to wipe clean the slate of 200 years worth of Jewish lack-of- Enlightenment. To proclaim a reaction, a great retreat, to the spiritual state we were stuck in 200 years ago. But without giving up Hebrew sovereignty and modern tools. We must find the Archimedean point from which we can hold the entire globe. We must do in our philosophy what Descartes did in modern philosophy. He initiated individualistic European philosophical terms for European thought. "I think therefore I am." We must find our "I," the root of our self- consciousness, on which we can build our ideas - in and with our own terms. Not "I think," which is typically European. Thought is not our ground. Our ground is: "In the beginning God created."
Maimonides, who tried to build a bridge between Torah and Aristotle, set as the principle of his system the words: "I am the Lord your God," based on which he expounded the meaning of God and all it obligates. Rabbi Judah Halevy uses the same Biblical verse in his book The Kuzari, but he quotes the full verse: "I am the Lord your God who took you out of
The concept "of Mosaic persuasion" is not ours. We relate to the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" but not to the "God of Moses," even though Moses reached the highest level of knowledge of God.
The Jew always talked of God "who has chosen us"; until the Emancipation, when the Jews wished to enter the Gentile salons. The Jews of the Emancipation abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and adopted the "religion of Moses." They couldn't enter the goyish world with the God of Abraham, they were ashamed of Him.
Our sages based many of their thoughts on the concept of revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah. The "three days of separation" which preceded the giving of the Torah at Sinai is also a basic concept in Judaism. Judaism means setting limits, boundaries, separations. Limits to human knowledge, to God, to the country, to the nation. Another of the symptoms of our crisis is the lack of limits, of borders. We are vague. The mind knows no limits; emotion moves and limits. Judah Halevy says there are no two philosophers who reached the same conclusions, and this shows the mind cannot be relied upon. It is the mind's fault that the Jew has ceased to see borders, while the giving of the Torah was set-off, bounded, by the three days of separation. The concept of God is limited: He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - that is the limit. More than that is metaphysics, philosophy. Our nation has a God who is limited, racially and historically. This anti-metaphysical base is central to Judaism.
Until the Emancipation there was no spiritual crisis in Judaism, because there was no crisis in the self-awareness of the Jews, who knew who they were. Even though there were conflicts and differences of opinion concerning various commandments, or over whether to give precedence to one's intention or to fulfilling the letter of the law, or whether to try to hurry the Messianic era, there was still a clear feeling of being part of a collective and of a continuum. The basic question: Who are we? was not a problem. This problem arose when we left the ghetto. When the Jew had to answer the question: Are you a Jew or a Frenchman? What are you? - if you want equal rights in
It was with good reason that part of our people surprised the world by opposing equal rights. Jews opposed to getting equal rights?! The world couldn't understand that. But those Jews who didn't want the rights had an instinctive awareness: This is the beginning of the end of the Judaism, which till then was a structure without cracks. The Jews who chose to leave the structure found their solution: they were "of Mosaic persuasion." At that moment, a new schizophrenia entered Jewish awareness, which we are still suffering from today; it is one of the thorns we must clear away. We cannot plough the fields of sovereignty without clearing these thorns. One of the worst of these thorns is: the two-pronged approach: being a man and a Jew. Even our nationalists accept the division between the Jewish and the human point of view. This division began with the Emancipation.
It continued with Judah Leb Gordon and the national movement: whether to act as a man at home and a Jew outside or the reverse. The fight for rights in the Diaspora is an illusion and a distraction. It is planning for the present. If we want to view matters from a practical revolutionary point of view, we must always remember that the Torah says: "Among the nations you will know no rest....” meaning, that in the Diaspora, things are going to be bad.
The disaster resulting from the Emancipation was the division between the Jewish and human aspects of a Jew. This is the reverse of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's clear and brilliant formulation: "You are called man, and the nations of the world are not called man." Note: the first word, "you," in the Hebrew is atem, not atah - it is in the plural. "You" means the whole nation as a collective. The term "humanity" is a foreign word. In Hebrew we say umot haoloam, the "nations of the world." The abstract concept "humanity" is Platonic; it is an abstract idea. It doesn't exist in original Hebrew texts, where we encounter only the nations of the world. Unlike "humanity," the "nations of the world" is a limited concept; according to the Jewish worldview, nothing abstract exists.
The Jew, in all his history, felt himself a man in the fullest sense of the word: a man, in the image of God. All other forms of life were not men. According to the Jewish view, form and content do not exist separately. There is no meaning to the hybrid political attempt, propounded by the some of the founding fathers of the State of Israel, to "be nationalist in content and socialist in form." The Jew as Jew - that is a man. What should a Jew have as a human being that he doesn't have as a Jew? The Torah does not have commandments that are Jewish and others that are human. What laws for human beings are not already found in our Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Laws? Judaism did not leave a vacuum that needed to be filled with "humanity," where a person acts as a person rather than as a Jew. Judaism is total. Judaism includes the whole person and Jew. It is the union of person and Jew. Judaism was not a religion, but a complete way of life. It included all of life. Any phenomenon that was new to man, was included by Judaism in its commandments. Religious spokesmen today have confined Judaism to a ghetto of its own. This happens when there are religious political parties in the governing coalition, it is a splitting of life and its forms; there is no wholeness.
Judaism was wholeness. The Emancipation began an atomization. Single Jews. Detached from their roots. An "objective" examination of Judaism. We have two examples of such objective, examined Judaism: psychoanalysis and Biblical Criticism. They are the same. Not that they are similar, but they are identical in nature: an arbitrary dissection of a whole. Kitsutz banetiot. After slicing away at the soul, and detaching it from its root, they are surprised when that soul then wilts. The Jew who was committed to Torah and observing the commandments had no complexes. Our idea was so strong that it united all the divided atoms of the soul into one higher whole. When you take the spirit of God from man only the dust of the earth is left. When you take the higher spirit from man, you are left with instincts. The resulting crises are natural for Gentiles, but surprising for us.
Limits are a basic concept in a Hebrew liberation movement. In Hebrew, the word for "limit" is gvul, from the root gavel, meaning to give a set form to dough. Historic action and a liberation movement should give form and limits to things. Things in their chaotic origin are unlimited, formless. Man is lost in infinite time and space. What can he grasp? But Judaism gave the world Bereshit, Genesis, the "beginning," with which the Torah opens. This is the first concept of limits in space and time. Thought is by nature circular, without beginning. The Torah opens with the letter bet, not with a definition of God. We know God only from His creation. The land was chaos, and God set limits: oceans, order, instead of infinity. There is an order and an intention in history. If the world had been created by accident, it would have no meaning. But if it has a beginning, a creation, it is no accident, rather an intention, with purpose. This direction is another basic concept, in addition to limits. No history of any other nation is as clear and defined as ours. Everything that happens to us already appears in regard to our three Patriarchs. Abraham stands under the banner:
The Kabbala says of Jacob that he is Tifereth, glory, a compromise between or mixture of the chesed of Abraham and the din of Isaac. He is known by his name