Several weeks ago, I received a three-page fax informing me of its author's grief at my "attack" on his "teacher and spiritual mentor," the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. The writer, a rabbi and the leader of the small squad of remaining Kahane followers in Los Angeles, advised me not only that Jewish law requires me to beg forgiveness before a minyan of ten adult males, but that if I failed to provide him with a written apology for my transgression, he would publish his own attack on me in the next issue of his organization's newsletter.
My correspondent seemed a slow reader, since my initial "attack," called "Kahane: Doing Evil
," appeared almost two years ago, about six weeks before Rabbi Kahane was assassinated. However, since the evil that men do lives after them - just a couple of weeks ago, Rabbi Kahane's Kach party took "credit" for the terrorist bombing of a Jerusalem butcher shop in which an Arab butcher was killed and a dozen innocent people injured - Kahane is not quite a dead issue. (Kahane's son was quoted in Newsweek
as saying that killing Arabs is "natural.")
Judging from his response to my column, my rabbinic correspondent was particularly exercised that I characterized Rabbi Kahane as a racist, quoting with approval the New Republic
's Leon Wieseltier, who called Kahane the first Jew "who may properly be compared to the Nazis."
The invitation to compose an apology, which I ignored, galvanized me to accomplish something I have been meaning to do for several years: provide a comparison of Rabbi Kahane's political program with the Nazi racial laws. Then you can judge for yourself, dear reader, if Wieseltier's evaluation is an accurate one.
I found much of my work already done for me in a 1986 book, Heil Kahane,
by Israeli journalist Yair Kotler. Hitler's Laws
1. The Reich Citizenship Law (1935) stripped German citizenship from all individuals, including Jews, who were not "of German or cognate blood"; Jews lost the right to vote and could not hold public office;
2. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor (1935) forbade marriages and all non-marital sexual relations between "Jews and citizens of German or cognate blood."
These two laws (the so-called "Nuremberg Laws") were followed by other repressive regulations, including:
3. Apartments in Munich and Berlin could not be newly rented to Jews without a special permit (1939);
4. Marriages between Germans and Jews were forbidden and cancelled if "illegally" contracted, even if contracted abroad (1939);
5. Jews were forbidden from studying in German schools; being included in visits to youth hostels; participating in school activities which would bring them into physical contact with German pupils; entering public swimming pools; or using resort facilities with Germans.Kahane's Laws
Proposals set before the Knesset in 1984 by MK Rabbi Meir Kahane included these regulations:
1. Non-Jews to reside in Israel only as "resident aliens" without any rights of citizenship, without any right to participate in any political proceeding, to be appointed to any position of authority or to vote in any election;
2. A non-Jew was not to live within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem;
3. Jews to be forbidden to marry non-Jews, whether in Israel or abroad, and such marriages would not be recognized;
4. All sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews to be forbidden, with transgressors to be punished by jail sentences of up to 50 years;
5. All "mixed" educational institutions, summer camps, community centers and all joint trips by "mixed" groups would be prohibited.
6. Separate beaches to be established for Jews and non-Jews.Click here to view the above comparison side by side.
No, comparing Kahane to the Nazis - even without mentioning the Kahanist gangs intimidating and carrying out violence against Arabs and "left wing" Jews in Israel - does not seem far-fetched at all.
I hold as an article of faith that our own home-grown Jewish racism and fascism are no better than anybody else's. Rabbi Kahane insisted, however, and the small band of his followers continue to parrot, that he was merely teaching Jewish law.
This is nonsense. As I wrote previously, Jewish law does not require rabbis, let alone the State of Israel, to dehumanize or terrorize either Jews or non-Jews. Important halachic
authorities condemned Kahane's interpretations of Jewish law; few, if any, Orthodox authorities publicly supported him.
The shame of the Orthodox rabbinate, however, is that a few rabbis have
endorsed Kahane's ugly ideas. Many more have simply avoided speaking out.
Rabbinic reluctance to denounce Kahane's ideas and activities arises both from shared membership in the same "old boys' network" - many Orthodox rabbis knew Kahane or studied in yeshiva or rabbinical school with him, and many admired his earlier work in New York on behalf of Soviet Jews and Jewish self-defense - as well as from simple lack of courage.
That is Orthodoxy's shame. Even as we denounce neo-Nazis in Europe and anti-Semites in the U.S., recalling with alarm that Hitler, too, started with a small band of followers and waited till the time was ripe, we would do well to remember our own fascism, resistance to which is an obligation that requires no apology.