Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Monday, July 30, 2007
Sunday, July 29, 2007
This post will look at the disconnect between popular and scholarly belief and try to examine the origin of the myth several centuries after the event occurred. I will follow pretty closely the first part of a comprehensive article on the subject by Hebrew University professor, Yisrael Yuval, which is available here . Because this article is under copyright, I can’t quote more than a few passages, and so I will just be paraphrasing him. But I urge you to read the article, especially his copious footnotes.The myth was not invented by the Zionists, although it was greatly used by them, in part, to justify the return of the Jews to their ancestral homeland. For the tacit assumption of the Zionists was that if the Jews had left the land willingly, if they had merely “emigrated” because they found opportunities beckoning in the Diaspora, then they would have betrayed their allegiance to the land, and their return would have been less justified. That is one of the reasons why Zionists argued for years that the Palestinians left Palestine of their own free will – if they were forcibly expelled, then somehow their claim to the land would be stronger. Of course, the putative expulsion by the Romans was not the only claim of the Jewish people to the land – many peoples have been exiled from their lands, and the Zionists were not claiming that all of them had a right to return -- but it dovetailed nicely with the historical view of the wandering Jew that finds no rest outside of his native place from which he was expelled. The first point to make is that well before the revolt against Rome in 66-70 c.e., there were Jewish communities outside Palestine, most notably in Babylonia and in Egypt, but elsewhere as well. References to the dispersal of the Jewish people throughout the civilized world are found in the book of Esther, Josephus, and Philo. There is no indication that these communities were small, satellite communities. Second, there is no contemporary evidence – i.e., 1st and 2nd centuries c.e. – that anything like an exile took place. The Romans put down two Jewish revolts in 66-70 c.e. and in 132-135 c.e. According to Josephus, the rebels were killed, and many of the Jews died of hunger. Some prisoners were sent to Rome, and others were sold in Libya. But nowhere does Josephus speak of Jews being taken into exile. As we shall see below, there is much evidence to the contrary. There was always Jewish emigration from the Land of Israel, as the quote above from Baron indicates. The first mention of the exile of the Jews occurs in remarks attributed to the third century Palestinian rabbi, R. Yohanan that are found in the Babylonian Talmud, a work that received its final recension several centuries later (c. 500 c.e.): “Our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land” (Gittin, 56a). The editor/s of the Talmud referred this statement to the Roman exile. Similar statements can be found elsewhere in the Babylonian Talmud attributing to rabbis living in the Land of Israel the view that the Romans were responsible for the destruction of the House, the burning of the temple, and the exile from the land. But if one examines other Babylonian sources, and most sources from the Land of Israel, the statements most likely refer to the First Temple, and the exile by the Babylonians. There is, after all, something odd in having rabbis living in the Land of Israel bemoaning an exile from the Land of Israel. Yuval summarizes the sources as follows: “In other words, it seems that the triple expression—destruction of the House, burning of the Temple, exile from the land—originally (in the sources from the Land of Israel) referred to the First Temple and were applied to the Second Temple only in Babylonia.10 In the Tannaitic and early Amoraic sources, Rome is accused only of destroying the Temple, not of exiling the people from their land.11 A broad historical and national outlook, one that viewed the “Exile of Edom” (Rome being identified with the biblical Edom) as a political result of forced expulsion, did not survive from this period. Nor would such a view have been appropriate to the political reality and the conditions of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, which were certainly very well known to the members of that generation.” In fact, Chaim Milikowsky, professor and past chairman of the Talmud department at Bar Ilan university, has argued that in 2nd and 3rd century tannaitic sources, the Hebrew term rendered as “exile” has the meaning of political subjugation rather than physically being driven from the land (cited in Yuval, p. 19, n.1) This, by the way, dovetails nicely with the Zionist historiography that emphasizes the loss of political independence, rather the physical removal of the Jews from the Land of Israel. For Zionists were somewhat at a loss to explain how Jewish rabbis could create the Mishnah and subsequently the Talmud of the Land of Israel if there was a mass exile. This much of Yuval’s essay is uncontroversial and based on widely-accepted historiography. What follows is speculative and fits well the general trend of Yuval’s work, which is to see much greater Christian influence on the formation of rabbinic Judaism than has hitherto been recognized. Yuval points out that in early Christian sources, following the failed Bar Kokhba rebellion, there is an attempt to interpret the removal of the Jews from Jerusalem as punishment for the sin of rejecting Christ, and the depletion of the Jewish population of Jerusalem in light of the Biblical prophecies of exile. The Jewish reaction, on his reading, was to emphasize that Jews were still very much in the Land of Israel – which contemporary Jews, for the first time, interpreted to include not merely the Northern Kingdom of Israel, but the entire land. Only later, during Talmudic times, was the Exile from the Land incorporated in Jewish collective memory. What implications does the exposure of the myth of the Roman Exile have for Zionism, the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, etc., etc. None, in my opinion. It is less important that the Jews were actually carried off into Exile than that they thought they were. The rabbis, and even earlier Jewish scholars, tended to conflate the Babylonian exile with the later loss of independence among the Romans. As a formative moment in Jewish religious consciousness, the destruction of the first temple and the exile was vastly more significant than the destruction of the second temple; some, like Bible scholar Adele Berlin, have argued that parts of the Bible, and maybe even the Torah, were edited in light of the trauma of the Babylonian exile. What this means is that in Jewish (and Christian) consciousness destruction, exile, and return, became significant categories in light of which history was read. If there is any argument for a right to return, it is not based, in the case of the Jews, on being driven out of the land against their will. It is more because of the Land of Israel playing such an important role in the consciousness of many (though not all) Jews. This is a more modest claim than is generally heard; it certainly does not in itself justify Jewish hegemony over Palestine. But it does put on the table the very real connection (imagined or not) between the Jewish people and Palestine. That, to me, is what is reasonable about Zionism. In the words of J.K. Rowling, just because it is in your head doesn’t mean that it is not real.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Israel Racism Watch -- Knesset gives initial approval to bill restricting JNF land lease to Jews only
The Haaretz English Translation is here
Basically, the Israeli Knesset gave preliminary approval today to a bill outlawing the lease of land owned by the Jewish National Fund to goyim. It now goes into committee where, God willing, it will be buried. But I doubt it.Of course, it is against the halakha to sell the land of Israel to idolaters. The fact that Rav Kook ruled that Muslims are not idolaters is a source of unending embarrassment to the religious right. But the point of this bill -- cosponsored by a member of Ehud Olmert's Kadimah party -- is to bypass the High Court's 2004 ruling that required the JNF to lease state land to Israeli arab Adil Ka'adan as a result of that ruling, Meni Mazuz, the State Comptroller, instructed the JNF not to discriminate in sales. That angered the Israeli legislators, who wish to pass this discriminatory law. The irony is that there was an attempt to prevent the bill from being tabled because it is racist. Apparently, not enough. By the way, the Ka'dan ruling was praised by Alan Dershowitz in his book, "The Case for Israel." I am hoping that Alan will speak loud and clear against this racist -- oops -- "Jewish" law, (that is how the proponents are describing it.) Should I be glad that the racism that is so deeply rooted in political Zionism, and the State of Israel, is being flushed out of the closet for everybody to see? Not really. But hang on...it is a Jewish state, right? And that land was bought by Jews for Jews. I mean shouldn't everybody have to a right to buy land for her family? Sure, and I have a legal and moral right to sell only to whites -- right? Will the Knesset redeem itself? Only if we shout loud enough.
Alan, please make a comment on the Huffington Post today. You say that you have criticized Israel before. Let's hear you loud and clear.
By the way, for a truly bizarre reading of the Ka'dan case by Ruth Gavison, the liberal-hawk law professor turned neocon (on her way to being a female Scalia), see
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Friday, July 13, 2007
In memory of my teacher (for one course), Prof. Yosef ben Shlomo, z”l
Bloggers, I am told, shouldn’t write long posts. So I will be long on claims and short on arguments.Let’s start with some of my assumptions. From its inception the Zionist movement in its statist form threatened the aspirations of the emerging Arab nationalist movement, and the vast majority of the Palestinian residents. The increasing settlement of Jews in Palestine with the express purpose of that settlement being a Jewish state was obviously opposed to the national self-determination of the native population. Of course, given the context of nationalism, colonialism, and orientalism, etc., Zionism was understandable, and I am not for a minute casting aspersion on the morality of the political Zionists. (On the contrary, the view of Zionism as a national liberation movement is one I basically accept – as long as that liberation is not at the expense of another people with claims at least as equal.) Hence , the resistance of Arab nationalists to Jewish nationalism was entirely reasonable. I am not claiming that the Arab position was right; I am claiming that it was reasonable. Israel is now nervous about being swamped with Sudanese refugees. Just imagine how we would feel if those refugees claimed that they were coming home to rebuild their ancient homeland. Even if one accepts the justice of some Zionist claims, those claims would have to be balanced with the claims of the native population, who had every reason to believe, especially following the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, that in the normal course of things, a Palestinian state would arise that would reflect the makeup of the majority of its inhabitants. Irreconcilable claims are often settled through a reasonable compromise mediated by outsiders. In retrospect, the Arabs miscalculated badly in rejecting partition, but that rejection was understandable. The Zionists miscalculated badly by rejecting partition after they got the upper hand, but that rejection was also understandable. In any event, the UN ratification of the partition plan did not justify the unilateral declaration of independence in 1948, much less the failure to relinquish territory achieved in war, much less the horrible decision not to let the Palestinian refugees return to their homes. And now for the question of Zionist settlements. I am not here talking about private ownership but of national sovereignty. (Important distinction. I will talk about private ownership in a separate post.) Land held by Jewish individuals or companies prior to 1948 should in no way have been seen as automatically belonging to a future Jewish state. If I buy a house “for the Jewish people” in Kansas with the intention of that land being part of a future Jewish state, then this purchase doesn’t advance that claim. Of course, if Jews live in the house, then a democratic government should represent them. But what makes territory part of the state is recognition of that fact, based on international law, treaties, etc. Territory acquired as a result of the 1948 war belongs to the State of Israel by force of that land being recognized by the countries of the world, and by the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people, as under Israeli sovereignty. This includes the land that was acquired in the 1948 war beyond the UN Partition borders. Without such recognition, this territory remains disputed territory. In the eyes of Hamas, for example, it remains disputed, just as in the eyes of some Israelis, the West Bank remains disputed. Still, I believe that the Israel’s sovereignty over such land is as provisional as are its borders. Until a treaty is signed and Israel has recognized borders, everything, in principle, is up for grabs -- including Sheikh Yunis (today Ramat Aviv -- that line was for Prof. Ben Shlomo!) Territory acquired after 1967 is universally viewed by international bodies as Occupied Territory. That includes, in my book, anyway, areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Some conclusions I draw from the above: 1. What counts when it comes to sovereignty is not just what we think but what everybody thinks, i.e., the Palestinians and the world. At the moment, the vast majority of the world, including the Palestinian people, including Hamas, are willing to conclude some sort of peace settlement with Israel on the basis of the 1948 armistice lines. While there is nothing holy about these lines, they are a convenient starting point because of international recognition and the passage of time. 2. That there are Jews and Christians who believe that Israel has a historical claim to Judea and Shomron means as much to me as that there are Iraqis who believe that Iraq has a historical claim to Kuwait. (I am not referring here to the religious question of Eretz Yisrael, which I find utterly irrelevant to Zionism. ) 3. Every step that Israel takes with respect to settlement inside the green line should be done taking into account its implications for bilateral relations with the Palestinian national entity. 4. No Israelis should be settled on post-67 occupied territory against the wishes of the Palestinian people, and in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. I think that Israelis have the right and the responsibility to negotiate for settlement for Jews – for example, the Jewish settlement in the Jewish Quarter – but as part of a peace settlement, and not unilaterally by the occupying power. I wish I had time to argue these points, but I don’t. I haven’t said enough about the morality of the Zionist settlement program. That is a difficult topic, but I think that parts of the settlement program was justifiable in light of the norms and expectations of the time, many of which are no longer relevant. Again, I am not talking about private ownership, but about national sovereignty. So, it is more legitimate for Israelis to settle territories that are within their recognized national sovereignty, than for those that are without. Settlements outside must conform to the guidelines of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as generally interpreted.
Shabbat Shalom...please enjoy the Shabbat respite from the Three Weeks, and no public display of mourning, please!
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Of course, tell that to the Knesset's committee on legislation, which declared the occupation of Gaza over...so Israel will not have to pay conpensation to civilians for destruction of life and property.http://www.ynet.co.il/home/0,7340,L-8,00.html (Hebrew) Remember the motto of (political) Zionism -- maximum control over the land with minimum responsibility for the natives.
Friday, July 6, 2007
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Don't laugh. In the late eighteenth century, the German Jew David Friedlaender argued (ironically) that if the price for German citizenship was conversion to Christianity, then the Germans should allow for a conversion to an enlightened form of Christianity, to which the Jews could submit en masse.
Judah Magnes, my kind of Zionist, had another solution. But that is for another day.