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A Threat from Within: A History of Jewish Opposition to Zionism [Paperback]

Yakov M. Rabkin
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 2006 1842776991 978-1842776995
There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in. These words by the poet Leonard Cohen could aptly describe this book, which takes history as a witness to the exceptional nature of Zionism in Jewish history. It explains many points of discord between the political ideology of Zionism and what most people consider Judaism. It also shows how Jewish traditional conscience offers a hope for the solution of the Middle East crisis. The conflicts in Israel/Palestine acquire a different meaning when seen in the context of Jewish opposition to Zionism. This book has attracted Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike who find this story inspiring in today's world of mobile identities.


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Review

"This book is required reading for every serious student of Jewish history and concerned layman alike."--Rabbi Daniel Greer, Dean, Yeshiva of New Haven


"By daring to question Zionism, Rabkin squarely poses the question of the future of Jewish life. This question will form the struggle of Jewish identity in the 21st century."--Dr. Marc H. Ellis, Professor of American and Jewish Studies, Baylor University

'This book sheds light on religious anti-Zionism, which, demographically and ideologically, represents the most serious threat to Israel as a State and as a collective identity"-- Joseph Hodara, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

'I can only welcome the publication of this unconventional book based on often ignored historical facts. It is up to us to draw lessons from it.' - Rabbi Moshe Gérard Ackermann, Neve Yerushalayim Jewish Education Network, Jerusalem

'Yakov Rabkin has produced an altogether remarkable book that tells the story and analyses the ideas of the Orthodox Jewish movement opposed to Zionism and the State of Israel. I am enormously impressed by the author's historical scholarship, by his brilliant analysis of a complex literature and by the lucidity of his prose. This is an extraordinary book.' - Dr Gregory Baum, Professor of Theology, McGill University

'This book is fascinating. it presents a range of anti-Zionist arguments developed in Jewish religious circles that are practically unknown to the public. It is a solid contribution to scholarship.' - Dr Alain Bouchard, Professor of Theology, Laval University

'This is a capital book that comes at the very time that "the eternal Middle East question" demands new approaches that may defuse the crisis. This is why this book must be read without delay that the greatest number of people possible.' - Dr Charles Rhéaume, historian, Department of National Defense, Ottawa

'As an Israeli patriot and as a philosopher, I consider it essential to integrate the discourse of Judaic anti-Zionism into the badly needed public debate about our past, present and future.' - Dr Joseph Agassi, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; Tel-Aviv University and York University, Toronto

"This book helps defuse anti-Jewish violence" --Cardianl Godfried Danneels, Primate of Belgium

About the Author

Yakov M Rabkin is Professor of History at the University of Montreal.


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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This book will be called anti-semitic Dec 20 2008
Format:Paperback
This book is a sober account of the resistance to Zionism exhibited by a broad segment of religious Jews. It is not at all based on the alleged rantings of a tiny segment of orthodox Jews. The author presents these views as acceptable to Jew and non-Jew alike, irrespective of religious conviction. The argument is straightforward: there are definitive features of the Jewish tradition which are easily accessible and which are clearly incompatible with Jews' allegiance as Jews to any sovereign political state.

Incidental to the author's main argument is the claim that a number of European national Zionist organizations refused to accept Hitler's offer of Jewish refugees on the grounds that to do so would lessen the case for Israel as a unique refuge for persecuted Jews. This claim is easily confirmed by independent historical research, and is well known to scholars of the period.

This book, like all books, persons and organizations critical of the Zionist project, will be denounced as anti-semitic. This predictable accusation should be met with skepticism. The author is simply resurrecting an argument that was accepted by the majority of the world's Jews in the period following the nineteenth century designation of Palestine as the future homeland of world Jewry: most Jews rejected Zionism and eventually came to accept it only after decades of concerted persuasion by ardent Zionists. And yes, Hitler's abominations helped too, but none of this supports a case for political Zionism. The author's defense of this position is meticulously laid out. Decide for yourself by reading the book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By bert ax
Format:Paperback
It raises fundamental questions about the nature of Zionism, which has created a new Jewish identity in the eyes of many Jews and non-Jews. The book also offers a totally new perspective on the conflict in the Holy Land and must be read by all those who feel concerned by the incessant bloodshed there. Clear, accessible and brilliant, this book is a major contribution to our understanding of Judaism and Zionism. A seminal work that is required reading for specialist and layman alike.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An Unscholarly Work of Much Distortion Oct. 26 2008
Format:Paperback
As soon as one delves into this book of discontextualized sectarian rabbinics, one notices the oddity of the book's title: "A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism." It turns out that the author, a science history professor in Montreal, has distorted this work into a screed of ultra-Orthodox rabbinic opposition to Zionism and the state of Israel centered in an extremely small sect (less than 500 people) called the Guardians of the City. This sect is ostracized by all Orthodox Jews, including Hassids, around the world.

Because of his lack of credentials in the field of rabbinics, the author accepts at face value the ravings of this sect which embraces the Hitlerists in Iran. He fails to tell his readers that while this sect is anti-Zionist today because the Jewish Messiah has not yet arrived, the sect is pro-Zionist in the future when the Messiah will indeed arrive. At that time , the sect envisages the expulsion from the Holy Land of all non-Jews who do not accept the Torah.

Midstream, the author shifts gears quickly, recognizing that he is dealing with thin gruel indeed. He dons the corrupting narrative of mythology disseminated by the Arab League and Brezhnev's Soviet regime to regurgitate the anti-Semitic canards against the Jewish state. In the process, he dredges up the calumnies about Israel's founders collaborating with the Nazis, starting all the seven wars with the Arabs, and persecuting the angelic Palestinian Arabs (who were indeed collaborators with the Third Reich under their leader Hajj Amin el Husseini).

Why did this otherwise intelligent professor write this mendacious work of nonsense? Readers will be shocked to learn that he feels threatened by the anti-Semitism prevalent in his surroundings.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rupture with tradition March 21 2006
Format:Paperback
Cordial thanks to the author for rehabilitating Judaism! Many of us have become accustomed to mistake the State of Israel for Judaism. The book shows how a few secular Jews who wanted a new identity brought Zionism and the State of Israel to the fore. Zionism has nothing to do with Jewish values of love and harmony.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Judaism and Zionism Nov. 21 2007
By Irene Rheinwald - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Sifting through the complexities of the current Middle East situation, one can easily assume all Jews support the state of Israel. Not so: a deep discord has erupted between avowed Zionists advocating Israel and Jews, both secular and religious, who reject the state, albeit for very different reasons. Not everyone is aware of the desperation and suffering of the Palestinians, who now suffer at the hands of Zionists. Not Jews, but Zionists.

After the horrors of the Shoah, natural instinct lead Jewish survivors to seek safety, a land to call their own, the land promised by God. Perfectly just, perfectly reasonable, perfect in all respects.

Except for one critical issue: although Jews and Arabs had lived together in reasonable harmony for centuries there, the influx of massive numbers of Jews, replete with the support of the world (guilt for turning away?) had profound and devastating effects on the native Palestinians. The latter remember all too well the start of the "Nakba", an excruciating travesty that continues today.

But Professor Rabkin's book does not touch upon the current political and legal situation, although his perspective is clear. This book is difficult to categorize: it touches upon history, philosophy, spirituality, ethics and delves into the deepest levels of being Jewish. These are truly eschatological issues, issues that affect the Jewish soul in this realm and the next; beyond the narrower, but highly relevant, dimensions of international law and politics.

Here we see the profound difference between Zionism and Judaism from a historical and ethical aspect: Zionism, a modern offshoot, actually contradicts the essence of what it means to be a good Jew. This new schism is not based on traditional, expected lines such as Ashkenazi and Sephardic, observant and non-observant, religious and secular Jews, etc, but rather, how one regards the state of Israel in relation to oneself and God.

Professor Rabkin speaks from the orthodox perspective - in that God did not give Jews land unconditionally, to take and prosper upon. Indeed, God merely promised such land if - and only if - Jews returned to the ways of God. God, Orthodox thinking held, punished the Jews for sin, and sinning deeply. Pride, arrogance, idolatry - all resulted in exile. The Jews could only return to the land in a state of humility, kindness, peace, justice, and subservience to the laws of God, not man. Observant Jews in exile over the centuries eschewed all forms of violence, including symbolic. In humility, one finds strength; in striving to live whilst accepting one's suffering as God's will, one becomes closer to God. Job is perhaps the greatest illustration of dignified acceptance. Of course, this is rather bewildering to our modern society, which values aggression, force, materialism and pride. The Jews offended God, but will always be welcomed back into God's good graces, provided the effort is made. Jews must live peacefully among all peoples, not in their own land, according to God. God will provide the land when the Jews learn, not before, and Jews are not to take land.

And it is with force, power and ferocity that the Israelis claimed the state of Israel - devastating Palestinian land, homes, people, driving out thousands, all in the name of this 'promised land'. It is for these reasons the Orthodox reject the concept of a man-made Israel, constructed on the blood and bones of murdered Palestinians; this is against God's admonition to the Jews. Also, the more taciturn, aggressive and critical Zionists become, the more God is offended. It is interesting to note Stephen Spielberg examined the price of violence in his film "Munich".

Israel, in effect, has become the new "Golden Calf", the new idolatry.

No, Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism; to question and/or reject the existence of Israel is not to be an Anti-Semite or a self-loathing Jew. Indeed, it seems that to oppose the state of Israel as it currently exists is the means by which one can be a better, and wiser, human being.
47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foundational book about Judiasm and the state Nov. 1 2006
By Robert Lipton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a groundbreaking book, as an american jew, I strongly resent my religious and cultural heritage being co-opted by zionism. This book precisely lays out what is exactly at stake ---- the very heart of a jewish identity. The typical tribalist zionist is most threatened by such an analysis because this book deals in-depth, with the dirty secret of zionism, its profound antipathy toward the core jewish traditions. I have read many great and not-so-great books on the middle east, but this book is different, it places the whole zionist program in a very different light, only partially discussed in other writings, such as Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. Any too easy dismissal of this truly important book can only be considered fatuous, at best. Perhaps the most important concept to consider is that Rabkin thinks that jews have persisted over time because of values that transcend the state, nations come and go, Israel is a crude attempt to subvert this and to artificially establish a jewish state in a place and way that goes against almost all jewish values. Indeed, Rabkin asks what is the thing now that makes Israel a jewish state? Is it religion, a lifestyle, a history, a culture, etc. He answers in the negative, the thing holding it together as a state is a common place nationalist quest, not unlike any other on the planet, nothing special here and an effort doomed to ultimate failure. The last time something like this was tried, the Jewish presence in Palestine was essentially destroyed by the Romans.

Do buy this book, religious or not, zionist or not, if you are intellectually open minded, this could be a watershed for you.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Judaism vs Zionism Dec 30 2012
By Dr. Ludwig Watzal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is the most unusual book I have ever read. It is the most courageous undertaking because it challenges Zionism and its ideology head-on. The book shows that Zionism has little to do with Judaism. It stands for a totally different value system. It is even a negation of central Jewish values. According to the sources the author cites Zionist ideology is absolutely opposed to Judaism and misuses its teachings for its political ends.

Yakov M. Rabkin teaches history at the University of Montreal. He specializes in the history of science and contemporary Jewish history. He leads the readers' right into the thinking of anti-Zionist orthodoxes, for which Zionism is the antithesis of Judaism and therefore a heresy. He shows convincingly the split between Judaism and Zionism. Although the readers might think these people Rabkin writes about are a "lunatic fringe", their arguments are still valid and have been bothering the Zionist leadership. In traditional Judaism the Torah is central. "The Zionist movement and the creation of the State of Israel have caused one of the greatest schisms in Jewish history."

The book draws extensively on the rich tradition of rabbinical thought. Rabkin's book explains how a commitment to the Torah forms the common denominator for the religious opposition to Zionism. Pious Jews believe that they have an obligation to criticize Zionism publicly, for two reasons: Firstly, to prevent the desecration of the name of God; secondly, to preserve human life. With this kind of criticism they hope to protect Jews from the outrage they believe the State of Israel has generated among the nations of the world. What Rabkin's book also reveals is the fact that most orthodox people do not recognise Israel's right to exist.

The author states in the first chapter "Orientations" that there has been a permanent Jewish presence in Palestine even after the destruction of the second Temple. The coexistence between all three religious groups - Jewish, Muslim and Christians - who lived peacefully together in the "Old Yishuv" until the Zionists arrived in Palestine. This holds also true for the coexistence between Jews and Muslims in the Arab countries.

In the chapter "New Identity" Rabkin states that Zionism has put forward a new definition of what it means to be Jewish. Longing for the Messiah has been a constant notion in Jewish history. The Zionists turned this transcendental concept into a political program which constituted a break with the tradition. The Jewish tradition traces the origins of the Jews to the shared experience ot the epiphany of the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. As a group, the Jews are defined by the commitment to the Torah, the normative bond with the Torah remains the determining factor. It is exactely this bond which obliges them to follow the commandments of the Torah, which makes Jews the "chosen people", a status that implies no intrinsic superiority, writes Rabkin.

The author shows in chapter three the deep cultural gap which exists between the Zionist concept of the Land of Israel and the Jewish one. "For the Zionists, love to the land is possessive: it can tolerate no other claimant. The land cannot truly be home to another people that had long inhabited it." This contradicts the traditional Jewish viewpoint in which "the settlement in the Land of Israel will be brought about by the universal effect of good deeds rather than by military force or diplomacy. It will follow the advent of the Messiah, unlike the biblical conquest of Joshua, which was achieved by the use of power." Rabkin also rejects the interpretation of the Bar Kokhba or the Maccabees revolt against the Romans. "The Zionist moral of the story is also opposed to the Jewish tradition."

In chapter five "Collaboration and its limits" the author describes the resistance against the Zionist enterprise by the pious Jews. They viewed the newcomers as "rebels against the Torah and thus as persons both evil and dangerous". At first, the local Arab population enjoyed cordial relations with the Zionist leaders. Only when Arab leaders became fully aware of the political ambitions of the Zionist movement did their views come around to those of the pious Jews in taking a rejectionist stance, which has remained dominant in the Arab world ever since.

In the chapter "Zionism, the Shoah and the State of Israel" Rabkin presents two very different viewpoints of the tragedy. From the Judaic point of view shared by most pious Jews, the tragedy of the Shoah calls out for the closest scrutiny of one's own behaviour, for individual and collective atonement, writes Rabkin. For them it is not an occasion for accusing the executioner and even less an attempt to explain his behaviour by political, ideological or social factors.

For the author the civic religion of Israel remains a fragile construction. The Haredim have never accepted it, because it has been introduced to replace Judaism. They are convinced that the creation of Israel, which they see as an arrogant revolt against God, may well touch off a catastrophe of worldwide proportions." They believe that the Zionist structure of the state has perpetuated the conflict. The pious Jews are "convinced that the creation of Israel, which they see as an arrogant revolt against God, may well touch off a catastrophe of worldwide proportions." They believe that the Zionist structure of the state has perpetuated the conflict.

Rabkin's book shows that Zionism has never been monolithic, and anti-Zionism has reflected this complexity. Despite defamation Judaic opposition to Zionism has shown remarkable perseverance. It seems as if this opposition will persist as long as the Zionist enterprise continues in the Holy Land. They all insist on the primacy of the Torah and its values like peace and dealing justly with the neighbors. Such ideas are subsitituted in Zionism by militarism and conquest. This exceptional book is an outcry for universal justice and a must read. It should find many readers.

Dr. Ludwig Watzal works as a journalist and editor in Bonn, Germany.
14 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but problematic Sept. 15 2006
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There are actually two strains of Jewish opposition to Zionism and perhaps a third. Firstly there is the religious objection. Zionism is not based on Torah, it is secular and deocratic, communist sometimes and gives women and gays equal rights, and Arabs and Muslims and Christians. These are not Torah values neccesarily. It doesnt invisage a state governed by Torah sages, such as the chief rabbi and a Sanhedrin and rebuilt temple. Also it is not ordained by the arrival of Messiah.

The second objection is from the left wing jews who simply object to nationalism and beleive in assimilation.

The third objection was from conservative loyal Jews who felt they would be expelled if Zionism suceeded, they would be seen as disloyal and they would be forced to go to Israel.

This book concentrates mostly on the Satmar and Neturei Karta varieties of anti-zionism which although it has old roots is more a modern phenomenon, that links itself with palestinian and left wingers, even gay rights activists, anything to condemn Israel. But these religious people are themselves radicals, like Hamas, they oppose the secualr jewish state as Bin Laden opposes the monarchies and secular arab regimes and hence it is strange to see left wing literature supporting religious extremism, the anetham of liberalism and human rights. But alas that is the truth behind this publication. This could have been much more but instead it was less.

Seth J. Frantzman
10 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete study July 18 2007
By Arnold Frost - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I found the book, reportedly to speak of Judaism and Jews as a whole sorely lacking in major areas. One was the fact that nearly all, if not all, of the voices and commentary contained in the book came from only one part of world Jewry, Ashkenaz.
The fact is that great rabbis from all over the Sephardic and Edot HaMizrach world view Zionism favourably, these voices seemed to be completely absent from the book. When the author makes arguements in the name of Judaism and selectively quotes from a small part of world Jewry, surely the nature of the book is severely compromised.
The fact is there has never been a scholar or Rabbi of repute from outside of the Ashkenazi world who has a theological problem with Zionism and the State of Israel. This stands in stark contrast to the author's views on how Judaism views Zionism. Without the views of the "other" Jews, this work shamelessly sounds out important voices to any work on religious responses to Zionism.
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