Understanding Kahane

I don’t think most progressive Jews understand how radical Meir Kahane was. His threat to established, flacid money-based authority is a lot of why the Israeli government was later so threatened by his ideology, more than just the racism. Why should a government long accustomed to defining identity according to cultural and racial assumptions have a problem with racism? Was 1990 just the first time they noticed it?
One of my favorite Rashi torahs, one of the reasons he I’m sure he’s so popular, is the principle that in order to pass off a lie convincingly is to spark it with a truth. He says this in the context of the spies’ report against the land, which starts with praise, of how good it is before launching into the bitchery.
It’s a deep truth, and the root of how anyone can be wrong at all. It’s also the main way power is secured, from governments to religions, build an unimpeachable and people can’t argue with you without appearing to be against that truth. For anyone who thinks people who disagree with you are stupid, and can’t understand how they could be that stupid, that’s why. They are believing in something out of context because something INDESCRIBEABLY REAL was forever bonded to it in their memory. Hence, it’s useless to argue against Christianity, the UFO encounter, or Lysergic Acid with anyone, because you don’t get the profound depth of experience and reality of the parties’ who experienced them. As any therapist knows, feelings and experiences cannot be argued with, only listened to with love. How can you not believe in the Christ when it healed you and gave you a life so good, you could never imagine?
The only way to effectively communicate truth is from sounding good, because that’s the only way people can ever want to hear you, as Rabbeinu Nachman tells us. So often, the truth is hard to believe, because it’s too good, how could the world ever be that way. But if someone can shine the great joy, and make it seem possible that the great joy can come, we’re desperate. We really want to believe, so much that we dare not, lest our hearts be too shattered to ever believe again.
I once heard Yaakov Sack say when he first came to Israel, he was struck, really strong in the heart. Something was so wrong here… but something was also so right.
So it is, because, in Torah, the true and the false are so mixed as to be utterly indifferentiable, all we can do is try to find the truth buried in the clothing of the lies, until it really is unbelieveably true. Because wrong and false are just a confusion of language, a miscommunication, and even when we are drawn to lie, we often can be shocked by how much realer the lie is than the truth ever could be.
In Yeshiva growing up, it was like Israel Expressed: Something so right, yet somehow, something felt so broken in how it was being given over. Some times, some cosmic humility would come over the Torah, and it would hint at how much what we don’t know exceeds what we do, and whatever we have, it can’t be everything, or even enough, until the messiah comes. But all too often there was the broken person trying to follow what they heard the word of G-d to be. And it was clear, something was wrong.
There’s a legendary Shlomo Torah, “What’s the problem with Jewish Education?” All kids have a longing for the infinite. What does kheder tell you? You just play. What does yeshiva tell you? This book right here, this is the infinite, and that’s all. And a kid, deep down knows that the infinite must be bigger than that. So some kids, they settle for whatever it is they’re told to do, and they do it, it’s good enough. But some kids, they can’t stop yearning for the infinite, they can’t stop, and all to often, they give up on yiddishkeit, because it’s in the way.
Meir Kahane’s Torah, I was totally inspired by from like 12 – 15, because it adressed this flaw in what he called establishment Judaism, and called out Orthodox Jews for not being honest enough to be honest to what the Torah is really saying, because it conflicts with their material comforts and decadent lifestyles. “When will we finally have courage to break with the small people who lead us?”, he implored.
Growing up in a progressive household, very aware of the human responsibility to the world, the unity of all peoples as far as “A G-d that is one” would have to demand/imply, I eventually outgrew Kahanish Torah, because it really had no effective theology for Jewish responsibility to all kinds of world problems. How could it be that anyone who has more than anyone else isn’t required by divine law to, if not share it, at least take responsibility to find a way to help?
So no, I couldn’t believe, as Kahane did, that the Vietnam War was justified because Communist success endangers Israel. It can’t be that the people of the world are just fodder for our personal cosmic drama, and that it’s all just a test to see how devoted we are to our street gang, no matter what kind of awesome break dancing we’re doing. Clearly, the responsibility of the firstborn is to take care of the other kids, and my security might in the moment be to fight my brother for enough food to eat, but that doesn’t give me the right to think he doesn’t matter as much as me. But that’s not a problem that Meir Kahane monopolized, it was a symptom of wanting to know what the Bible’s really saying. And the violence and clannishness that he was into, smells to me like a good son, just trying to do it right.
The great virtue of Rabbinic Judaism is that it’s NOT the Bible religion. This is a common misconception that many people have about Judaism — that it is dependant on the Bible… It might be a symptom the Bible, but the great virtue of Torah is that it never stops growing until it’s fully clarified and all action is appropriate, because good Torah tells you how far you can go without getting destroyed, and better Torah tells you how you can even get even closer, and still survive virtuous. The rules keep you out of the whorehouse, the depth lets you be righteous where ever you are, because why would you ever want to do anything else? Just to get by?
The problem with Kahane chassidis is the problem with Israel — the prophets as a model for how to do things right. G-d tells us to do something horrible, but it’s only because we’re so hurt all the time from everytime we got hit that we could ever hear his voice telling us that. And sometimes, we’ve had to kill to survive because we COULDN’T IMAGINE another way. And it’s not our fault. How can you imagine what you’d never believe, and give it as advice?
The meek shall inherit the earth is not the message one might pick up from a Bible designed by people who were trying to win. It comes only from someone who’s already won, and needs to impart the virtue of not worrying too much to folks. It’s a deep truth, one of the most oppressive freedoms is the freedom from having to fight, because no one really wants to fight unless it’s the only way they can feel strong.
Strength through courage and devotion is more of the theme someone who’s still trying to take control might emphasize, and the whole conquering the land thing sounds very compellingly like the true divine voice for someone who’s never had anything they felt was really theirs.
One of the deepest things halakha can demand is the awareness of the futility of holding on. A house is to be built with an incomplete wall, because how can you ever feel like you’re home in exile? The longing for Jerusalem has been central for a long time, and you know what? As soon as we think we’re already there, we can give up trying to get there. Maybe better for Am Yisrael to re-understand Jerusalem. It’s gotta be somewhere, right? I heard a khocham once show me in tehillim, where it talks about Jerusalem as if it was the north star, the central star the El Elyon that all the other stars revolve around, the deer of the morning — what a beautiful view. This way, we’ll never have to accept anything less than the infinite for a while! Imagine, longing for Zion got us back here literally, imagine where else that longing can take us if we only dig a little deeper into it…
Israel’s rough for the same reason buisness is: If your will is not strong, you will be enslaved, and whatever makes one feel confident in his power to do his will is what lets him be free. Many of us have done this by settling our wills into smaller demands, and it’s the saddest thing in the world. G-d! Have mercy on us all! Give us better ways in our dreams, language to express our needs, and security in our truths, that we need never dare fear any thing, person or idea in the presence of the L-rd, ever again.

16 thoughts on “Understanding Kahane

  1. Great article yoseph!
    The educational system now, at least in Zionist schools, carefully prune their curriculum to avoid another Meir Kahana. There are somethings you cant teach in a classroom. Sometimes one truth can make so many lies, look so absurd.
    anyway, I am heading of to California, to a wedding of a girl you might remember from the Old City; Shoshana.

  2. Kahana in my opinion is the most honest and courageous individual the jewish world ever brought forth. One day hopefully every school in Israel will tech about him.
    As for the accusation of racism. The same people who woudn’t debate him when he was alive and instead villify him now suddenly have the courage to kick him when he is six feet
    under the ground.
    Pathetic and disgusting.

  3. Some very interesting and heartfelt ideas – but you need to proofread and edit your posts. I’m not just talking about spelling, I’m talking about bad sentence structures that I still haven’t figured out. You’re already out there with some very unusual ideas – please do keep posting, but you have to be clearer in your writing.

  4. Yeah, absolutely, could use editing. I wrote it in kind of a mad frenzy around dawn my first day back in Jerusalem, and posted it as draft with the hope that SomeOne Else might edit it for me, a juvenile assumption to be sure. But that’s what makes it punk rock!

  5. I really like your posts. They’re heart felt and very insightful. And punk rock too!
    The way I see it, there are 2 sides to Kahane. I’m a disciple of one, but an enemy of the other. And due to the other, i would feel very uncomfortable about sticking up for him ordinarily.
    Kahane #1 = Kahane in America. He stood for anti-materialism, Zionism as an approach to being Jewish in ways other than Aliyah (eg being a tough Jew); the JDL as a Black Panthers for the Jews; Jews standing UP for themselves militantly. It is this Kahane that I admire.
    Kahane #2 = Kahane in Israel. Rascist, Domineering, pro-settlers, advocating violence against Arabs.
    The problem with his philosophy is that Kahane #2 was a logical result of #1 once that ideology was applied away from the Jews of America to Israel.
    In general, I prefer the militantcy of Kahane to the hippiness of Carlbach!

  6. tell me if i’m wrong, but isn’t “the meek will inherit the earth” from the *christian* bible, not ours?
    other than that, fascinating and well written post with a good message

  7. yeah, that “the meek” are romanticized in christianity and not in the old testament was a point I was trying to make: This is one of the popular memes arround the far right in Israel: That “peace” is unjewish, and that strength through impostion of will, filtered through divine permission, is the virtue. They’re both different kinds of self-justifying lies that have been used for destructive and manipulative purposes by the leaders and systems that promulgated them.
    Avi– would you like to elaborate on the yawn? did you have trouble understanding any of what was said?

  8. there is some truth in your article. also, whenever a column is so lenghthy, there must be some untruth also. i don’t know why, but long rambles tend be be so. it was certainly beyond holding my attention span – I had to skip a little, just like a long daavening. back to Rabbi Kahane ZTL, he was a human like the rest of us, and possesed fallabilities as well as greatness. The gist of his message was that we Jews are different than other peoples, and are choshen by Hashem to live a Torah true life and be an example to the other nations. It follows that to do our mission, we must first survive physically, otherwise there simply will be no spiritiual quest nor a spiritual life. if the palestinian people want our destruction, then to hell with them. what are we going to do – give them the land that was given to us by Hashem? the only justification for the Jewish people’s right to the land of Israel is the biblical one.

  9. –The only justification–
    Since when do rabbanan ever hold by the bible?
    The only justification for the jewish people’s right to the land has to be something else, because halacha and rishus is never learned out from the literal bible. The tradition is that whenever G-d said something, we never REALLY understood what it meant to just be the rule, other wise the law would be ever more, poke out the eyes of some who poked yours. Anyone who holds by Judaism at all, that is anyone who uses a chazal certified hebrew bible cannot think that they are justified by something promised if it’s not good for a reason other than that it’s promised.
    God also swears that we’d never actually get there, and we remember this every friday night. Whatever we thought it was before is too small to be what we’re really asking for, what he’s really promising.
    The problem with saying the hell with anybody, is that someone is then going to say the hell with you, most probably your children eventually will say it about each other— that’s why that might not work.
    Here’s the other problem: We’re not going to wipe out our enemies without losing alot of people. Alot of jewish soldiers mothers might not be OK with that, and it’s also forbidden min ha torah to force them to fight if they’re not interested– and the truth is, alot of Israel would rather give up some part, ANY PART of what we’ve been calling the land of Israel up until now, in exchange that their kids live to have kids

  10. yes, a very inspiring essay–despite the technical errors
    A very improptu feel to this writing.
    many of the thoughts expressed point to the deeper coding of the ideologies and the various contridictions.
    this is the kind of reflection we need to get past the sensless violence and start to see one another with respect==and this requires a type of faith at some level, faith in the future if nothing else

  11. i dont think kahane was racist. rather he told the israeli public the truth and was mudered for his cause. a true zionist, “good to die for the land”. had his laws been applied 15 years ago, the world might despise us, but there would be nowhere near the amount of casualties that we have now.
    i think banning kach was simply undemocratic. they should be allowed to run for leadership.
    He was correct

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