Monday, February 25, 2019

The Tragic Legacy of Rabbi Meir Kahane

Rabbi Benny Lau (Jerusalem Post)
There are a lot of liberal Orthodox Jews who love to point to Rabbi Benny Lau as the prototype of the rabbinic leader of the future. He is touted as the personification of mainstream liberal ideals accepted in Israel that has been roundly rejected by virtually all mainstream Orthodox institutions in America. While I have been predicting a dismal future for this line of liberal religious thinking in America, Israel’s liberals love to point to him as the accepted standard of the future for Israeli modern Orthodoxy.

I wonder though how his supporters feel about calling a other Jews Nazis? I think I know the answer to that. There have been such epithets hurled against the Israeli police by Charedi politicians. Which is in my view contemptible.

Last week Rabbi Benny Lau did the same thing. But from a different perspective against a different target. And he did so from his pulpit as a rabbi. 

The target of his accusations was Bayit HaYehudi, a right wing political party founded by Naftali Bennett. (Who abandoned his party to form an alliance with another party.) For practical purposes Bayit HaYehudi represents the right wing of Religious Zionism. They have been urged by the Prime Minister to join the Otzma HaYehudit (Jewish Power) party. Otzma HaYehudit are the ideological heirs of Rabbi Meir Kahane. Rabbi Lau also equated Kahanism with Nazism!

Now I am not a supporter Rabbi Kahane’s ideology. Far from it. I believe his views are were terrible and his rhetoric even worse. And following his ideology is what motivated Yigal Amir to assassinate Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin. 

Rabbi Kahane was a tragic figure. And to a large extent misunderstood by people that were not familiar with the intricacies of his worldview. Even though I rejected it and thought it to be harmful to the material and even spiritual well being of Israel, I understood where he was coming from. I was an avid reader of his weekly column in the Jewish Press. Very few people had his level of Ahavas Yisroel. But that love combined with his Hashkafos was his tragic flaw and resulted in his downfall.  

Kahane was perhaps the keenest observer of the realities the Arab-Israeli conflict. His analysis of those realities were difficult to refute. He understood what the vast majority of Arabs living in Israel wanted. Even those that were citizens. And it wasn’t to be Israeli citizens despite the much higher standard of living they enjoyed. They saw themselves as proud Arabs and given the opportunity they would seize control of the country. Kahane believed that Israel could not be both a democracy and a Jewish state based on his version of a theocracy. So he chose the latter and discarded the former.

Kach, the political party he founded was based on that principle. And knowing the typical Arab mindset combined with his goal of making Israel a completely Jewish state, he believed that  any Arab wishing to live in Israel should be given full civil rights. But not voting rights. That may not be democratic. But it isn't racist either. In the alternative, if an Arab refused to live under those conditions, he believed they should be given the option to leave or be shipped out forcibly. In trucks. That is what generated accusations of racism. His idea was almost universally condemned and compared to what Nazi Germany did to Jews who were forcibly shipped by cattle car to Nazi death camps.

Those accusations of racism turned into a ban by Israel of Kach which by then they deemed to be racist. But that is a  far cry from the kind of expulsion the Nazis did to us during the Holocaust.

At the time there was an impending election and polls showed  that Kach was becoming so popular that it could gain as many as 3 or 4 seats in the Kenesset. In my view that tainted Kach’s expulsion.

As much as I despised his  rhetoric, I do not really believe he was a racist. At least not in the sense that that word is usually used. But that does not mean that his views were Jewishly correct. The fact is there was not a single rabbinic leader of any stripe that supported him. Including Rav Ahron Soloveichik who was a strong supporter of settling all of Eretz Yisroel as was Rabbi Kahane.  I recall his taking precious time away from his Shiur one day to reject Rabbi Kahane's views.

Rabbi Kahane will forever remain a controversial and tragic figure, whose intentions were pure but nevertheless would have paved the way to hell if his ideas were implemented. His legacy is not a good one. His ideology lent itself to the kind of distortions and extremes taken by followers like Baruch Goldstein who mass murdered a group of Muslims praying at the Maaras HaMachpela. I do not believe for a moment that Rabbi Kahane would have ever approved of doing something like that. And I am dismayed that a respected and popular modern Orthodox rabbi has equated his views to Nazism.