RAEL JEAN AND ERICH ISAAC: THE RABBIS OF BREIRA….PLEASE SEE NOTE
THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT COLUMN FROM 1977 AS WE CONTINUE TO EXPLORE THE RADICAL INFLUENCE ON MIDDLE EAST POLICIES…..
Many have commented on the influence upon Obama of Saul Alinsky, Bill Ayres, Rashid Khalidi, etc. and they are right to do so. But Bret Stephens (drawing on Peter Beinart biography of Obama) points out the influence of Arnold Jacob Wolf and the coterie around him in shaping Obama’s views on the Middle East. Wolf was a Chicago rabbi who served for a time as Hillel rabbi at Yale. He was the chairman of Breira, the first in what would become a series of Jewish anti-Israel organizations pretending to attack the state out of concern for its welfare. Although Breira as an organization did not last long, its influence on American policy has been great. Tom Friedman, who still spills anti-Israel bile from his perch as the New York Times’ chief columnist and deep thinker, was an early Breira acolyte and Sandy Berger was active in one of its lineal descendants, Americans for Peace Now. Jeremy Ben Ami, genetically alas, the son of a great Zionist, Yitzhak Ben Ami, is spiritually the son of Breira. And Breira, most especially its rabbis, have largely taken over Jewish communal organizations (which indeed they set out to do). There is no better example than John Ruskay who started out in the vicious CONAME, went on to become one of Breira’s two initial paid staff. went on to become president of Jewish Theological Seminary and now serves as executive vice president and CEO of the United Jewish Appeal–Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York. The funding of left wing radical groups (including ones spouting anti-Semitism) by Jewish communal organizations has become such a scandal that watchdog groups have sprung up around the country to protest their actions. If you read this article you will understand the roots of the problem.
MIDSTREAM April 1977 The Rabbis of Breira
We, the whole Jewish people preach the destruction of America (Arthur Waskow, Executive Board, Breira)
From one point of view Breira (the Hebrew word for “alternative”) is the current success story of American Jewish organizations. In the three years since it held its first public meeting in a Manhattan synagogue, Breira has burgeoned into a national membership organization, held its first national conference in Washington D.C.. established a series of local chapters, inaugurated a monthly journal, interChange, won substantial funding, assembled a glittering roster of intellectuals and well known rabbis for its letterhead, and attracted national and indeed international attention. It has succeeded,. in the words of Alan Mintz, one of its founders, “beyond any of our expectations.”
But Breira can also be seen as the most dangerous organization ever to have appeared on the American Jewish scene. For while purporting to be Zionist, it works in ways that strengthen the hand of Israel’s enemies. Calling itself “a project in Diaspora-Israel relations,” Breira in its various statements of purpose returns to two themes: “Development of vigorous and creative Jewish communities in the Diaspora,” which Breira asserts has suffered from the way in which support of Israel has captured the energies of American Jews, and inauguration of a policy of “extensive discussion and debate within the Jewish community” about Israeli policies and problems. In fact Breira’s literature and activities have been directed single-mindedly to urging Israel to accept and the United States to pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza under the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization. According to Breira’s Mark Bruzonsky, writing in December, 1976, in The Nation, “Breira’s only hope is so to weaken American support for Israeli policies as to force policy changes, by U.S. imposition if necessary.”
Clearly Breira offers ammunition of the highest value to enemies of Israel. As Robert Reisman pointed out in his essay, “Joining the Jackals,” statements made by Breira (as well as by the Social Action Commission of Reform Judaism under the leadership of Rabbi Balfour Brickner and Rabbi David Saperstein, both then on the Executive Board of Breira) were taken up by Spiro Agnew to prove that Jews, too, criticized “Israeli imperialism.” But more important, for equivocal or tiring friends Breira offers an excuse to cease pressing for satisfaction of Israeli military needs and to begin considering instead the needs of the Palestinians (after all, satisfaction of Palestinian needs, according to Breira, would automatically lead to fulfillment of Israel’s need for security). For those Congressmen and Senators beginning to feel that Israel perhaps absorbs too much United States attention and money, it must be a relief to learn that a Jewish organization professing devotion to Israel reproaches American politicians who put too much emphasis on commitment to her welfare: Breira’s chairman, Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, in the pages of interChange accused then vice-presidential candidate Fritz Mondale of placing us “in the position of less-than-loyal Americans” because on a visit to New Haven he tried to persuade a group of local Jewish leaders that Carter would be a strong friend of Israel. 1 They must find David Szonyi a welcome surprise as he complains, again in interChange, that of Jewish members of Congress not one has taken a leadership role “in trying to change American, and through it, Israeli Mideast policy” (i.e. to force Israel to recognize a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in Gaza).”
In January, 1977 Americans for a Safe Israel, a small New York based group, published a pamphlet by one of the authors of this article pointing out that a number of those who took the direction of Breira had been involved in anti-Israel organizations.’ Breira’s two first paid staff members, Bob Loeb and John Ruskay (Bob Loeb remains Breira’s Executive Director) came from CONAME, Committee on New Alternatives in the Middle East, which was described by Time magazine as one of a number of Arab or pro-Arab organizations working in the United States. Along with that of a series of Arab organizations, CONAME’s signature appeared on telegrams urging Congress to send no arms to Israel during the 1973 War.4
Nineteen of CONAME’s steering committee members and sponsors came to Breira, many of them to serve on its advisory and executive committees. A key member of the Executive Board, Arthur Waskow, was a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., a radical think tank devoted to hastening the demise of our present social arrangements and “laying the groundwork for the new society that will replace the present collapsing one.”6 The Institute, whose staff included a number of activists whose opposition to Israel had earned them the seal of approval of the Association of Arab Students in the United States and the Association of Arab-American University Graduates,7 received most of its funding from the Samuel Rubin Foundation. (Samuel Rubin is the retired head of Faberge). Once a major contributor to the United Jewish Appeal, the Rubin Foundation had become one of a number of Jewish foundations funding radical left organizations. The Rubin Foundation, which in 1974 alone contributed $1,200,000 to the Institute for Policy Studies’ Transnational Institute, became the major funder of Breira, with a $100,000 gift on a matching basis in 1976.
The reaction to exposure of the background of much of the organization’s leadership was mixed. It was experienced by Breira as part of an attack being mounted by a variety of individuals and organizations, including The Jewish Week, which a week prior to the pamphlet’s appearance had launched its own vigorous assault. And although Breira claimed the need for dissent as its raison d’etre, it labelled that expressed towards its own programs, policies and personnel as “McCarthyism,” “witch-hunting,” “yel-low journalism,” and “guilt by association.” There were resignations, including those of Jacob Neusner and Nathan Glazer, who had lent his name to interChange and who, as author of a series of articles criticizing various efforts in social engineering and what he termed the “imperial judiciary” that insisted upon implementing them, presumably felt uncomfortable on realizing he was allied with many who had recently called for the destruction of “Amerika.” There were public announcements of resignations that had already been made quietly, including those of. Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, editor of The Jewish Spectator, Rabbi Robert Gordis, editor of Judaism, and Rabbi Joachim Prinz: some of Breira’s better-known names had grown wary through their own experiences with Breira’s staff. On the other hand, as in the case of millennial sects, when the date on which the world was to have been destroyed has passed, many believed all the harder. At Breira’s national conference in February Irving Howe announced that he would withstand all efforts to suppress free speech; in a letter to The Jewish Week, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz affirmed, “I would count it a sin against my Jewish ethics not to be associated with Breira”; he urged Jews “to join this valuable minority movement in the Jewish community.”8
That Breira is an organization of American Jews is not what gives its critiques both weight and piquancy. The American Council for Judaism is a Jewish organization that criticizes Israel, but little attention is paid to it because its marginality in the Jewish community is apparent. If its membership were composed exclusively of Marxist revolutionaries fresh from their onslaughts against “Amerika,” Breira would receive little attention.
The Rabbis of Breira
What enables Breira to claim an authentic Jewish voice is the large numbers of rabbis who are members. Moreover, it is Breira’s rabbis who have dulled the normally quick sensory apparatus of American Jews in detecting organizations working in ways harmful to Israel. To the public eye Breira looks almost like an organization of rabbis; its chairman and two of its three vice chairmen are rabbis and ninety-eight rabbis are listed as members of its advisory committee or as “affiliates” in ads Breira has published. Criticized for its penchant for publishing criticism of Israel in ads in the general press, Breira ceased doing this at the very time the organization was growing most rapidly. The public ads thus clearly identify only a proportion of the rabbis who have affiliated themselves with the organization. Bob Loeb, in an interview given to the Gannett press in February, 1977, confirmed the public impression, asserting “a large percentage of the organization is made up of Conservative and Reform rabbis.” The excitement of the media at the dissenting voice provided by Breira on the issue of Israel is thus quite understandable.
It is tempting but inaccurate to view the rabbis who joined Breira simply as dupes of the radical-left hard core. No doubt many were captured by Breira’s professed concern for Israel’s welfare, its emphasis upon the right of dissent, and its promise to invigorate the cultural life of the American Jewish intellectual. But on the whole it is too simple to divide Breira into the manipulating and the manipulated. For in a very real sense—this is not said to exculpate Breira’s hard core —its initiators did no more than create an organizational framework into which a large number of individuals could give expression to their disenchantment with Israel and alienation from the institutional life of American Jewry. Who then are the rabbis of Breira? What made them susceptible to its appeal?
0verwhelmingly Conservative and Reform, the Breira rabbis are for the most part young; the Vietnam War was the decisive experience of their lives. They were united, virtually to a man, in opposition to the War. Opposition to the War was widespread, to be sure; a great many rabbis opposed to the War never joined Breira. But for those who came to Breira the opposition to the War extended to a general critique of American society that for these rabbis became bound up with Jewish imperatives. It should not be forgotten that a proportion of those who became rabbis at this period would not have done so had it not been for the War; Shamai Kantor (himself a rabbi) called the swollen student bodies of the rabbinical seminaries “the gift to Judaism of the Vietnam War.”9
A Iarge number of Breira’s rabbis (and other members) had participated in or had felt close to the community building counter-cultural Jewish groups, for example Fabrangen in Washington, D.C., or the Havurat Shalom in Somerville, Massachusetts, or the New York Havurah, which for all the genuine differences between them shared a critique of American Jewish congregational and organizational life. A number of those who joined the havurot were political radicals. Others were primarily interested in the comforts of community, or looked to develop a personal spirituality and a sense of meaning in their Judaism in fellowship with others engaged in a similar search. While some of those who received rabbinic training in the Somerville havurah hoped for positions of religious leadership, as Stephen C. Lerner noted in a 1970 essay on the havurot, “The one field excluded by virtually every member is the congressional rabbinate.”10 Jewish education and community work and the Hillel rabbinate on the other hand were acceptable career goals. This was a perspective that extended to many in the rabbinical seminaries sympathetic to the havurah. The concentration of Breira members among Hillel rabbis, to the point where an article in The American Zionist termed the Hillel Foundations “incubators of Breira,” is thus readily understandable. Two of the four rabbis on Breira’s Executive Committee are Hillel rabbis; Breira’s Chairman, Arnold Jacob Wolf, is Hillel rabbi at Yale.
Fabrangen lost its initial UJA funding when members became involved in a protest on behalf of the Palestinian terrorists. While no such incidents marred the havurot, Israel does not seem to have been high on the agenda of most members. Alan Mintz, who became a founder of Breira, notes that when he joined the New York havurah “Israel was virtually foreign to my consciousness.” “My Judaism,” says Mintz, “was a delicate flower of the Diaspora, a kind of aesthetic religion based on values and symbols which sacralized personal relations, introspective states and the natural world.”11 Mintz went to Israel shortly before the Yom Kippur War; under its impact he “discovered the national and political existence of the Jewish people….” On returning to the United States he reports being shocked to find Breira’s leaders jubilant about the War’s equivocal outcome and he dropped out of the organization.12 William Novak, whose continued activity in Breira suggests that he cannot be accused of over-sensitivity to the attitudes of those around him, dropped out of the Havurat Shalom in Massachusetts because of what he felt was the group’s essential indifference to the Yom Kippur War.”
This is not to say that Breira is without congregational rabbis or without older rabbis. A few were pure pacifists; others had pacifist orientations. Thus members of the Jewish Peace Fellowship, including Rabbi Leonard Beerman, Rabbi Everett Gendler, Rabbi Robert Gordis, and Rabbi Michael Robinson joined Breira. Max Ticktin, the Assistant National Director of Hillel, had been a Iong-time pacifist. For some rabbis resentment at the unsatisfactory status of the Conservative and Reform rabbinate in Israel clearly played a part. Rabbi Joachim Prinz complains bitterly in Moment14 of “the preposterous and appalling religious scene in Israel.” Prinz goes so far as to say that world Jewry cannot be expected to contribute to Israel’s economy while “being denied the right to complain about the non-recognition of its religious diversity.”
The attitudes toward Israel that developed especially among the younger rabbis who were to form the base for Breira were grounded in their emotional and educational experiences. Sociologically speaking, the Conservative and Reform rabbis who emerged from the training seminaries in the latter part of the 1960s and early 1970s came from liberal, relatively affluent homes.” While it is hazardous to generalize about any large group, enough has been written about this milieu to note some of its pertinent characteristics. The doting on juvenile achievement, particularly scholastic achievement, while traditional in Jewish society, developed into a deference to juvenile judgment that in traditional society would have been inconceivable. There the religiously grounded parental authority, or the authority of age and knowledge set certain limits. In the newer society the mere idea of limits was considered oppressive and stultifying for the creative development of the new generation. While all this is fairly characteristic of upper-middle-class America, what distinguished its Jewish segment was a somewhat greater intensity of verbalization of lofty social values and a widespread identification of liberal economic and political values with religion.
It is no secret that Jews were attracted in disproportionate numbers to movements seen as embodying these values: the civil rights movement, the student movement, the anti-War movement. Less noted is that for many young Jews their first real encounter with anti-Semitism was to be in these movements. They had been beneficiaries of the Holocaust, the memory of which, for a few decades at least, made anti-Semitism disreputable. In the civil rights movement they encountered the hostility of Blacks not merely to themselves as whites but to themselves as Jews. In the radical wing of the anti-War movement they found Israel branded as an imperialist tool in terms of quasi-Marxist doctrines that contrasted the purity of the “third world” with the corruption of the technological empires. For Jews in general and for young rabbis or rabbis-in-training in particular there was an acute psychological problem in coming to terms with this experience without abandoning belief in cherished reference groups. Israel became an emotional problem: in some way she must be guilty.
Nor did their education, secular or rabbinic, provide an intellectual antidote. The emotional swell that surrounded not only the major movements of the period but issues like preservation of the environment, the quality of life, and the transformation of sex-roles were not tempered by careful intellectual analysis or scientific examination for which, in any case, ability and patience were lacking. The generation of teachers and the intellectual pace-setters that could, and should, have provided that analysis for the young had lost the will to defend the academic dogmas and standards of intellectual integrity that might have prevented an undifferentiated assent to the claims of commitment, fervor and striving for the perfect community on the part of the young. Still traumatized by the events of World War II, which seemed to show these values had been helpless to prevent the Holocaust, they were ready to half-believe that the idealistic young might inaugurate a better world after all.
Certainly their studies in the social sciences did nothing to enable them to confront the challenge to their loyalties. The secret of the solution to conflicts was embodied in something known as “conflict resolution,” whose principles could be formulated and, so it was assumed, successfully applied anywhere. Both sides of a conflict were typically equated: victim and aggressor could be lumped into a single moralistic category since they both had grievances with moral legitimacy. The observer was given the choice of identifying equally with both or holding himself above the fray and condemning both sides for their misdeeds.
How influential this notion of balanced evil-doing could be is evident from the writing of Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, who in an essay called “The Sin Against Persons” describes the Jewish prohibition against shaming another in public and uses this to balance the offenses of prisoners with those of the prison (prisons destroy prisoners by treating them shamefully) and of youth with the legal system (the young are shamed by restrictions like the marijuana laws) . He extends the analysis to Israel whose retaliatory actions against Arab terror are said to be “designed specifically to demean Arabs.”16
While Wolf may be an extreme example, the notion that both sides must have a share in the right attracted a number of rabbis to CONAME, with its promise of coming up with the missing “new alternative” that would “resolve” the Arab-Israel conflict. CONAME, sponsored by a series of “peace” groups, specialized in bringing anti-Israel speakers to the United States and arranging speaking tours for others already here: it became increasingly apparent that the chief alternative it offered was the disappearance of Israel. (CONAME, for example, sponsored Israel Shahak, a professor of chemistry at the Hebrew University, who said he “condemned the whole idea of the Jewish state as unjust and absurd, as leading necessarily to subjection, to oppression, and to unlimited war.”17 (All the rabbis who served as sponsors of CONAME or on its steering committee later joined Breira: Albert Axelrad, Leonard Beerman, Richard Levy, Michael Robinson, Arnold Jacob Wolf and Everett Gendler. All but Gendler became members of Breira’s Executive Board.)
The theological seminaries reinforced pre-existing attitudes and beliefs. For the Judaism encountered in the seminaries seemed to lend itself to a radical political-religious synthesis. While there are important differences in the theological orientation of the seminaries of the Conservative and Reform movements, the historical relativization of traditional halacha and of Judaism in general is pervasive. While almost two hundred years ago this perspective inaugurated the modern Jewish scholarly study of Judaism, in the context of nineteenth-century intellectual and social currents it meant the identification of the unvarying core of religion with politico-ethical purposes. Such quasi-secularization was probably unavoidable in an intellectual environment molded by Hegel’s ideas: Hegel had transformed religious into secular eschatology, substituting the devious working of rational, autonomous reason for Providence and—witness to the Christian foundations of his system—had identified the goal of all history with an accomplished fact—the Prussian state. For Christianity, too, the meaning of universal history and its culmination had also been achieved—in the Redeemer. How enthralled some early nineteenth-century Jewish thinkers were by Hegelianism is apparent from the fact that they finally adopted Christianity, the official faith of the state, which, like Hegel, they concluded represented universal history’s culmination.
For most Jews who accepted the historical relativization of their faith, their grounding in a Jewish conception of sacred history in which a Messianic age was yet to come pointed in different directions. On the one hand it allowed the translation of Providence’s redemptive schemes into meliorative or revolutionary ideologies that gave prophetic authority to social and political efforts on behalf of all mankind. On the other hand—more significant for modern Judaism—it led to a recasting of the Hegelian mythology of history into a version in which Judaism bears through history the mission of progressively mediating to mankind its “eternal truth” by pointing to history’s culmination in universal brotherhood.
Early Reform movements came into conflict with traditional Judaism for these movements regarded Judaism’s historical formulations and practices as imbued with parochial elements to be superseded in true Hegelian fashion by more comprehensive and universal ones. This applied not merely to halacha but to the very messianic idea from which Reform Judaism distilled its concept of Jewish historical destiny. What was central to the Jewish messianic idea, namely the national restoration of Israel and its universal recognition by a redeemed mankind as God’s first born, were discarded in the new formulations of a collective religious mission to be a light unto the Gentiles. Religious aspirations for national renaissance or a national ancestral territory appeared as almost atavistic relapses to the Jewish Reform movement, which viewed them initially as completely antithetical to the universal Jewish mission. Practical efforts to bring about a Jewish national restoration were thus generally opposed by Reform no less than by many Orthodox thinkers for whom such efforts constituted a sinful and presumptuous crossing over from the sacred realm to that of secular political history.
The Reform movement has of course come a long way from its nineteenth-century antecedents. Especially in the United States, some of the most eminent Zionist leaders emerged from its ranks. Nonetheless it took the Holocaust and the subsequent establishment of the State of Israel to radically change the majority’s attitude toward Jewish statehood. And yet, in spite of this change, and the considerable muting of the mission idea in recent theological development, the religious Reform leadership, and to some extent the religious thinkers in the Conservative movement are prone to view activities directed toward the realization of a universalist political utopia as quasi-religious Jewish obligations in the unfolding of messianic history. For those who participate in this reading of events, the national must serve the universal obligation. Thus while the State of Israel can be seen as a stage on mankind’s road to final redemption, and is in fact seen in this light by many, those who insist that the Judaic-messianic goal is a universal one can regard it as a theological-political embarrassment.
The individual whose political-religious writings and activities give extreme expression to ideas found in vaguer, more tentative form in the rabbis of Breira is not a rabbi at all. Arthur Waskow, a central figure in Breira, has a doctorate in history; he is a political radical, a senior fellow of The Institute for Policy Studies. He prefigured Breira’s themes in his book The Bush is Burning published in 1971; he inaugurated the “Palestinian state solution” in the ads he placed in The Village Voice and The New York Review of Books in 1971 and 1972; he was either founder of or active in a whole series of organizations in the late 60s and early 70s, including Jews for Urban Justice, the National Jewish Organizing Project, the Jewish Campaign for the People’s Peace Treaty, Trees for Vietnam, and Fabrangen, whose members provided many of the recruits for Breira; he was and remains a major figure in the actual decision-making in Breira.18 Most important, perhaps, he linked the soft periphery with the hard core.
Waskow was seen as a devoted Jew. Taken seriously as a Jewish thinker, Waskow had articles published in Judaism as well as in the counter-culture’s Response and in both the Jewish and general press. He wrote the section “How to Bring Mashiah” for The Jewish Catalog, the best-selling testament of the Jewish counter-culture. To some he was a religious model. Thus David Szonyi, who was to become a member of Breira’s Executive Board, wrote: “People like Arthur Waskow. . have taught us to dream more Jewishly.”19 It is interesting that when Waskow’s Freedom Seder was attacked in Commentary in 1971 by Robert Alter and in the same issue the magazine’s editor, Norman Podhoretz called him “a wicked son,” all the rabbis who came to Waskow’s defense in letters to the editor, insisting on the value of his contribution to the restructuring of Jewish life, were later to join Breira: Balfour Brickner, Arthur Green, Everett Gendler and Robert Goldburg. Rabbi Eugene Borowitz defended Waskow in the pages of Sh’ma from Commentary’s “ax-murder”; he too was to join Breira.
When Waskow came to Judaism in 1968 from previously wholly universalist concerns he found in it the divine mandate for his radical politics. In 1971 Waskow wrote in Response: “We know what we are supposed to do about Empires. , . . We, the whole Jewish people, have been commanded by our tradition to preach the destruction of America.”20 Little wonder that Waskow rejoiced in this newly discovered Judaism which gave the sanction of a four-thousand-year-old tradition to what shortly before had been the prescriptions of a freshly-minted New Left politics.
Waskow’s technique in explicating Jewish texts can be seen in an article he published in Judaism in the fall of 1971. He begins by quoting the nineteenth blessing (in the prayer book it is actually the twelfth) of the Shmone Esre prayer, one of the major components of the liturgy. “May You speedily uproot the Empire of Arrogance and crush it, subduing it quickly in our own day!” Who, says Waskow, can help but know that Judaism is intrinsically political when this prayer is repeated daily, since it shows that under some circumstances the most honored upholders of tradition have called for or hoped for revolution. The question we must ask, says Waskow, is “Does the Jewish tradition impel us to believe that at this moment we must become committed as Jews to the radical transformation of America and the world?” Waskow’s answer of course is that it does; he foresees Jewish communities of survival and resistance governing and feeding themselves, pursuing a new halacha and constituting a threat to the American Empire. “Such a reconstituted newly-halachic Jewish People could not be the Empire’s accomplice or pawn in deforesting Vietnam, poisoning the air and water, occupying Czechoslovakia, letting people starve in the midst of plenty, locking Israelis, Egyptians and Palestinians into a permanent arms race. . .”
What Waskow has done in a few sentences to Jewish tradition merits some analysis. To begin with, his version of the nineteenth blessing upon which he builds the Jewish demand for revolution is not, as he asserts, a daily prayer; it is a variant and ancient formula dating to Trajan’s persecution. Understood by commentators to refer to the “dominion of evil” and not to political imperial systems, the prayer was originally directed against heretics, sectarians and authorities engaged in a determined effort to stamp out Judaism by any means. To interpret it as principled opposition to “Empire” in the sense that Waskow understands that term is laughable. The overwhelming evidence is that rabbinic tradition makes it a religious obligation to support imperial systems that allow the free exercise of religion.
Thus a wholly misconstrued passage becomes the basis for Waskow’s finding a Jewish imperative for creating communities of resistance to the American “Empire.” What Waskow demands is not protection of the autonomous religious personality or assertion of religious values and ideals different from those of the dominant culture, but destruction of that culture and its special institutions and construction of a Utopia upon which Waskow bestows the religious term “Messianic Age.”
Waskow sees no difference between American and Soviet society: he emphasizes their identity by describing how his “newly halachic Jewish people” would not be the Empire’s accomplice in deforesting Vietnam and occupying Czechoslovakia. How Soviet or Czech Jews are supposed to constitute themselves as a “community of resistance,” governing and feeding themselves, Waskow does not bother to explain. The Empires are really one: the freedoms of the United States—including the freedom to be Jews—have no meaning for Waskow, who in any case has no use for political democracy; in the same article he says of elections: “They are too slow . . . an elaborate way of collecting power from the people and handing it over to someone else.”
What Waskow wants is a general strike to inaugurate the Messianic Age. He concludes his article: “Let our watchword be this: the Shabbat was the first general strike, a holy general strike; let us build an age of Shabbat!” Again there is a deliberate distortion of Jewish religious conceptions: in what sense can one call the Shabbat a general strike? In Jewish religious terms the Shabbat was God’s commandment and its observance an act of obedience, not of rebellion.
In Waskow, in short, the displacement of the national by the universal messianic mission could scarcely be more blatant. The Messianic Age is upon us—if we will it. According to Waskow the technological preconditions that were not present in the time of Jesus, Bar Kochba, Sabbatai Zvi and Jacob Frank, have now been met; it is up to Jews to bring Messiah-revolution by their political (i.e. religious) activity.
But it is a universal revolution; thus Waskow, insofar as he uses the Jewish religious tradition, must do so in order to destroy it. In his Freedom Seder, for example, he subverts the central point of the Seder, which is God’s election of his people Israel and his bringing them to the Land destined for them, over which they are given sovereignty on condition that they remain loyal to the Covenant by which the Land became theirs. The blessing sanctifying the election of the Jews is turned by Waskow into a blessing of a God who sanctifies everything, who makes no distinction between “the holiness of the Jewish people and the equal holiness of other people.” The egalitarian holiness of all things leads him to incorporate part of an Allen Ginsberg poem into the Seder: “. . . . The World is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!”
Waskow notes in his Seder that the tradition says that next year we hope to celebrate in the Land of Israel. But Israel for Waskow is a mere symbol and he immediately adds, “And as another tradition says, `Ubi libertas, ibi patria’—where there is liberty, that is my country. That is my Israel.” Were we sitting in Jerusalem, says Waskow, we should still say “Next year in Jerusalem, next year in the City of Peace . . . next year we hope all mankind will celebrate in the Land of Israel—that is in a world made one, in a world made free.” In other words, Israel has no physical territory—it is a symbol of the ideal world, which will be everywhere.
If Israel is merely the metaphor for liberty, then although the Jewish communities that live there are a matter for concern, geographic Israel is not important. It is scarcely surprising that not long after he discovered Judaism, Waskow announced that he was a “diasporanist.” It is the Diaspora that “has a world-shaking task in this coming generation—the apocalyptic generation of all Jewish and human history, in which Humanity could be destroyed or could be freed.” That task is to resist the Great Powers: “Abolish the Jewish Establishment. . . . Abolish the American government.. . . Abolish the Soviet super-State” and create “Cornmunitarian, libertarian, democratic, ecstatic, socialist Judaism.”21 That Waskow’s utopia is a version of the Bundist one can be seen from his essay “First Fruits: 1999,” which describes a society in which autonomous Jewish communities take their part in an anarchist-syndicalist world.
If the State of Israel were to have a role in this at all, it would only be as a pioneer in self-abolition. Waskow raises the issue of the prophet Samuel’s critique of kingship to ask: Would Samuel’s vision of the future mean going beyond the State of Israel —not to the setting up of a non-Jewish state in Israel’s place, for a foreign Kingship is likely to be at least as idolatrous as a Jewish one—but perhaps to Buber’s community of communities, a federation of kibbutzim and neighborhoods into a self-governing Jewish community not afflicted by ‘stateliness.’ “22 (Waskow of course ignores the fact that Samuel viewed kingship as idolatrous because it permitted the coexistence of communities, villages and neighborhoods of the most diverse peoples, the sort of thing Waskow has in mind in his utopia, and that Samuel preached the extinction of the non-Hebrew in the Promised Land; the sin of the kingdom that Samuel denounced was the failure to uproot Amalek “utterly.” But one has the feeling Waskow does not anticipate that Israel will in fact serve as his messianic pilot project. Even Waskow is presumably aware that the existence of so many millions of hostile Arabs, which he ignores, is not likely to be ignored by the people of Israel.
No, in the real world, in cold practical terms, if one can even use such words in relation to visions like those of Waskow, the existence of Israel impedes the true Jewish mission. The commitment of Jews to the preservation of Israel was found repeatedly by Waskow and his fellow-radicals to stand in the way of willingness to embark upon attacks on United States foreign policy. Years after the Vietnam War, Waskow was still complaining that Jews wanted to hear of nothing but Israel and Soviet Jewry.23 The geographical reality of Israel thus stood in the way of the allegorical Israel whose mission it was to redeem the world, by actually preventing Jews from engaging in their fated role.
The parallels in Waskow’s formulations to Christian conceptions of “the New Israel,” “the new Jerusalem” etc. are striking, although what we deal with are not direct derivations from Christian conceptions but rather the religio-anarchist bent of Jewish pseudo-messiahs in general. While in historical messianic movements it is the messianic claimant who establishes the sectarian or heretical version of the faith, finding warrant in the traditional view that only the Messiah can create a new halacha, in the case of Waskow the warrant already existed in the historical relativization of the halacha and in the expansion of its homiletical treatment by modern currents in Judaism. This explains why his “messianism” finds sympathetic resonance in rabbinical circles.
Waskow is thus both follower and initiator of “creative halacha.” At Kibbutz Micah, a farm in Pennsylvania, Waskow relates “. . . We begin the shabbos service with a purifying mikve in the creek. A dozen of us, men, women, children, naked, exhilarated, join hands in a circle, chant the mikve prayers, go deep under, let ourselves float in the water, the World . . . the sexual energy high, but-and spiritually directed. . . .”24
Traditional rites are transformed, the forbidden allowed, indeed commanded. It is all very messianic. Perhaps the only novel element in Waskow’s messianism is its diasporanism. All previous Jewish pseudo-messiahs, with the possible exception of Jacob Frank, considered their messianic role to involve restoration of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel. Apparently it took the actual restoration of a Jewish territorial sovereignty in Israel to produce a messianism that ignores the national core of the Jewish religion.
A number of Breira rabbis had a markedly similar view of the Jewish messianic mission in which, geographic Israel plays little part. Rabbi Richard N. Levy, a member of Breira’s Executive Board, asserted that it can “be argued that the best place to work for the acceptance of our values is in the Diaspora. . . .” The Diaspora is offered as hope to Israel: “. . . the knowledge that there is a ‘someplace else’ is a corollary of our messianic imperative to view no state as the ultimate, but each land where we are temporarily housed as a mere way-station, a partial answer, another experiment in the creation of that world-society in which the Messiah could be at home. . . . Geula ba-Golah, liberation through Diaspora, is as viable an option for American Jews as aliyah.”25 Breira’s Rabbi Everett Gendler argues that at this stage of history Galut is the essence of the human condition and finds in this “the kernel of a Theology of Diaspora.”26 Breira’s Rabbi Eugene Lipman contrasts the nature of nationalism with the nature of Jewish peoplehood and finds them contradictory: nationalism is by its nature exclusive while the purpose of the Jewish people is universal peace, well-being, perfection.27 Jewish sovereignty thus stands in the way of the universal Jewish mission.
Fulfillment of the Jewish mission requires the purity of powerlessness, impossible to unite with the responsibilities of statehood, certainly with a statehood constantly under challenge from armed neighbors. Arnold Jacob Wolf seems almost relieved by the ambiguous outcome of the Yom Kippur War. Israel will learn to be “humble,” “less arrogant.” Wolf says: “The enormous chutzpah and pride of the Israeli are shattered or at least chastened once and for all. . . . We are all galut Jews now, children of exile.”28 Breira’s Rabbi Arthur Green says that his Holocaust hero is some Jew who he likes to think could have strangled the Nazi who came for him but chose to die with Sh’ma on his lips and no blood on his hands. Says Rabbi Green: “This is why I choose, by the way, not to be an Israeli; why I even dare to take some pride in my heritage, davka as a Jew.”29 The exercise of power is viewed as by definition an inferior moral choice; there ceases to be a real distinction between its justified and unjustified use. Breira’s Henry Schwarzschild poses what he sees as a moral challenge: “What is your emotional response to the score card of Arab fedayeen killed in a foray by the Israeli army? … What has our humanity become?”30 In this moral vision we should presumably react in the same way to the murder of Israeli children at Maalot as to the destruction of their murderers. Surely, this is not the expression of a higher morality but the end of all morality.
The concern for Israel’s survival becomes in Arnold Jacob Wolf’s phrase “cowardly acquiescence to Israel.”31 Despite the fact that in these quasi-Messianic conceptions, geographic Israel plays a negligible role, the State of Israel is judged by the standards appropriate to an age of Messianic fulfillment. It is hard to avoid the feeling that for a number of these rabbis Israel is a theological scandal, inasmuch as its political reestablishment can be and often is seen as of religious significance in redemptive history while it must act according to the political realities of a clearly unredeemed age. Israel, it is discovered, “is not Zion.” No less than for the traditionalist Christian churches, for these rabbis the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel poses a problem. For the first, sovereign Israel ill accords with the Jews’ assigned role as humble witness to the truth of Christianity; for the second, it impedes the Jewish task as mediator of humanity, as that tribe of which it can be said “the substance of its particularity is universality.”32 These attitudes lead to an enormous carelessness concerning the consequences for Israel in the real world of actions that the rabbis of Breira do not hesitate to enjoin upon her and that are based on their selective reading of the demands of prophetic morality.
Breira’s rabbis, with their readiness to wipe out the political realm alto gether, see themselves as “loving” critics of Israel. They make all the criticisms the enemies of Israel make out of hatred—Israel is intransigent; she discriminates against her minorities; her policies are destructive of peace—but they make them “lovingly.” If they lobby in Congress against fulfillment of Israel’s needs as defined by the government of Israel, they will do it out of “love.” If they work to change United States policy so as to force upon Israel a PLO state on the West Bank, they will work “lovingly” for that change. But whatever the motives, in the real political world the rabbis of Breira act in concert with the enemies of Israel, become indeed their self-fashioned tool. Little wonder that those with records of hostility to Israel have entered Breira, for the very fact that it “lovingly” assails Israel’s actions and policies makes it incomparably more effective than any Arab or obviously pro-Arab organization.
One direction Breira’s “loving” critique has taken has thus far received little attention: the allocation of funds to Israel through the United Jewish Appeal. In one of his characteristic leading questions, Waskow asks: “Do we have a responsibility to oppose the giving of money or support through conventional channels, if that means adding to the political power of those presently in power who we feel are blindly marching toward the destruction of Israel?”33 David Glanz, a member of the working committee that established Breira, has also written of the moral imperative of withholding funds from Israel when American Jews feel her policies are wrong.34 Rabbi Richard N. Levy asks if a published list of the Jewish Agency’s contributions were to reveal that the money was supporting groups or policies inimical to peace, would one be justified in withholding a proportion of one’s contribution?35
One of the resolutions passed at the national meeting of Breira in February, 1977 endorses, as a model for alternative ways of giving, the tzedakah collective. This consists of a group of individuals who pool their charitable contributions and then determine those specific charities that best accord with the values of the group. According to an article in interChange, the small number that now exist have been giving their money locally to groups like Breira and in Israel to the dovish dissident groupings. In New York City the number of donors to the United Jewish Appeal has halved in the last three years and the amount of money collected has fallen from $130 million in 1974 to $88 million in 1976. While economic conditions have been a major factor, should the idea of the tzedakah collective make a real impact the United Jewish Appeal, and the Israeli institutions that rely upon it, would be in trouble indeed.
The fate of Breira is not yet clear. At this time it is still a small organization (only 1200 by its own testimony) , its members an elite rooted in the Jewish counter-culture of the late I960s. (Many of the women active in Breira come from the Jewish women’s movement, including Martha Acklesberg, Liz Koltun, Paula Hyman, Lucy Steinitz and Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer.) Whether it grows or disappears or becomes an isolated group like the American Council for Judaism, will depend upon the American Jewish community. Breira’s rabbis appeal to a traditional Jewish belief in weakness: what Hannah Arendt once called the incurable delusion of European Jewry that in weakness and dependence lies the best hope for the security of the Jewish people. Arnold Jacob Wolf expresses this attitude clearly: “The old Jewish policy of subtle, deferential, sometimes even deceptive accommodation is what kept us alive during the past; it (and prayer) is all we can count on now. . . .”36 If wishful thinking displaces willingness to recognize the nature of the forces arrayed against Israel, Breira will grow. The Palestine Liberation Organization in its national covenant has declared its determination to wipe out the State of Israel no less clearly than Hitler in Mein Kampf made clear his determination to destroy the Jewish people. In The Distorted Image Sidney Bolkosky documents the wishful thinking of German Jews confronting the growth of Nazism in Germany. They looked at the Germans and saw their own reflection. If the rabbis of Breira look into the well of the future and see mirrored there the leaders of a Palestinian state in their own image, and if they persuade a sizable segment of American Jews that the image reflected is an accurate one, the fate of the German Jews stands as a warning and a prophecy.
I. interChange, vol. 2, no. 3, Nov. 1976, p. 3.
2. interChange, vol. 1, no. 6, Feb. 1976, p. 7.
3. Rael Jean Isaac, “Breira: Counsel for Judaism” is available for $1.00 from Americans for a Safe Israel, 147 East 76 Street, New York, N.Y.
4. CONAME, six weeks after information concerning its signature on the telegrams had been published in Near East Report, denied that its signature had been authorized. However, the pamphlet points out that since the week the telegrams were sent, Bob Loeb had come out with a statement that CONAME would work to halt the flood of arms going to the Middle East from the U.S. and U.S.S.R., the telegrams clearly conformed with CO-NAME’S policy.
6. Paul Dickson, Think Tanks (New York: Atheneum, 1971), p. 276.
7. IPS staff member Paul Jacobs and IPS codirector Marcus Raskin were featured speak- ers at the national meeting of the Association of Arab-American University Graduates in 1972; Eqbal Ahmad and Joe Stork were on the suggested speakers’ list of the Organization of Arab Students in the United States; Tariq Ali addressed the second annual convention of the Association of Arab-American University Graduates.
8. The Jewish Week, Jan. 30-Feb. 5, 1977.
9. Sh’ma, December 11, 1970.
10. Stephen C. Lerner, “The Havurot,” Conservative Judaism, vol. xxiv, no. 3, Spring, 1970, p. 9.
Alan Mintz, “Have You Sold Out?” Symposium in Response, No. 29, Spring, 1976, p. 42.
12. Alan Mintz “The People’s Choice? A Demurral on Breira” forthcoming in Response.
13. William Novak “On Leaving the Havurah” Response vol. 8, no. 2, Summer, 1974, pp. 108-15.
14. December, 1976.
15. Charles Liebman in “The Training of American Rabbis” in The American Jewish Yearbook 1968 presents data illustrating this point as well as the appreciably lower family income and occupational status of those attending the orthodox Yeshiva University.
16. Sh’ma, September 20, 1974.
17. Israel Shahak, “A Principled Foundation of Peace,” American Report October 29, 1973.
18. One reason for Joachim Prinz’s unhappiness with Breira was the vigor with which Waskow assumed decision-making responsibil ity. Waskow tried to obtain Prinz’s signature to a press release at the time of Rabin’s visit to Ford and when Prinz asked to see the release before giving his signature was told there was no time. Prinz observed that Waskow “always did things like that.” (Conversation between Prinz and Martin Spickler of Washington, D:C., January 25, 1977.)
19. David Szonyi, “Have You Sold Out?” Symposium in Response, Spring, 1976, p. 72.
20. Arthur Waskow, “The Response Symposium” Response, vol. IV, no. 4, Winter, 1970-71, pp. 122-3.
21. Ibid., p. 120.
22. interChange, September, 1976, p. 4.
23. Arthur Waskow, “Have You Sold Out?” Response Spring, 1976, p. 37-8.
24. Arthur Waskow, “Women, Men and Shabbas” (mimeographed).
25. Richard N. Levy, “On Remaining in America,” Response Winter, 1971-2, pp. 102-4.
26. Everett Gendler, “To Be a Jew in the Diaspora: An Affirmation” Response, Fall, 1974, p. 115.
27. Sh’ma October 1, 1976.
28. American Report, Nov. 26, 1973.
29. Arthur E. Green, “A Response to Richard Rubinstein” Conservative Judaism vol. 28, no. 4, Summer, 1974.
30. Sh’ma June 9, 1970.
31. Sh’ma, May 22, 1970.
32. Everett Gendler quotes this phrase of Erich Kahler approvingly in Response, Fall, 1970, p. 57.
33. Network, February, 1975.
34. Sh’ma, October 19, 1973.
35. “Have You Sold Out?” Response op. cit., pp. 66-67.
36. American Report Nov. 26, 1973.
MIDSTREAM-A Monthly Jewish Review, published monthly, except June-July and August-September when hi-monthly, by The Theodor Herz’ Foundation, Inc. Board of Directors: KALMAN SULTANIK, Chairman, CHARLOTTE JACOBSON, Vice-Chairman, ISADORE HAMLIN, Secretary, ALLEN POLLACK, ISRAEL MILLER, EMANUEL RACKMAN, MARIE SYRKIN, 515 Park Avenue, New York, New York 10022. Subscription: $8.00 a year, $15.00 for two years. Single copy $1.00. Second class postage paid at New York, N.Y. 10001. Copyright © 1977 by The Theodor Herzl Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Indexed in Public Affairs Information Service. Unsolicited manuscripts must be accompanied by return postage. Indexed in the Index to. Jewish Periodicals.
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