The Paradox at the Heart of Hebrew Literature’s Most Famous Rejection of the Diaspora

June 7 2022
About Ruth

Ruth R. Wisse is professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literatures at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund. Her memoir Free as a Jew: a Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, chapters of which appeared in Mosaic in somewhat different form, is out from Wicked Son Press.

Published in the annus horribilis of 1942, Haim Hazaz’s short story “The Sermon” is one of the seminal works of Zionist literature, even if it is little-read today. Its title refers to a fictional speech before a Haganah committee given by the normally taciturn Yudka, in which he denounces Jewish history as such. In Hillel Halkin’s translation its climactic passage reads:

Jewish history is simply boring. . . . It has no adventures, no conquering heroes, no great rulers or potentates. All it has is a mob of beaten, groaning, weeping, begging Jews. And you’ll agree with me that there’s nothing interesting about that . . .  nothing! If it were up to me, I wouldn’t allow our children to be taught Jewish history at all. Why on earth should we teach them about the shameful life led by their ancestors? I would simply say to them: “Look, boys and girls, we don’t have any history. We haven’t had one since the day we were driven into exile. Class dismissed. You can go outside now and play . . .  ”

Yet, as Ruth R. Wisse explains in her weekly podcast, The Stories Jews Tell, there is much more to Hazaz’s work than this summation of what was, at the time, a popular strain of Zionist thought. She writes:

At the mention of Jewish culture, the kibbutzniks [who make up his audience] break the tension to poke fun at the German-Jewish professors they (and author Haim Hazaz) disdained—members of Brit Shalom such as Ernst Simon and Martin Buber, who were dedicated to the cause of Arab-Jewish reconciliation and promoted a binational rather than a national state. The contempt of these practical kibbutz and Haganah members for the European intelligentsia was another kind of protest against the unwelcome carryover from the Diaspora. While Yudka denounces the messianism of the ultra-Orthodox, the kibbutzniks mock the political messianism of those who think they can have a country without fighting for it.

But because Hazaz has not given us a Churchillian orator or a sermonic pronouncement, the story can hold together what is in danger of being torn apart. Yudka is indeed the “new Jew” of the Yishuv, the builder-defender of the old-new Land of Israel, yet he is still enough of the Diaspora “Yid-ke” [in Yiddish, “little Jew”], to worry about rejecting the Judaism that brought them there. The actuality belies the theoretical dichotomy, and the altered names and pronunciation do not change the fact that they are all functioning in the language of the Bible.

Yudka embodies the age-old Jewish civilization that part of him wants to reject. Hazaz exposes the paradox.

Read more at Stories Jews Tell

More about: Haganah, Hayim Hazaz, Hebrew literature, Jewish history, Kibbutz movement, Zionism

Ordinary Gazans Are Turning against Hamas—and Its Western Sympathizers

In the past few days, difficult-to-confirm reports have emerged of unrest in the Gaza Strip, and of civilians throwing stones at Hamas operatives. A recent video from Al Jazeera showed a Gazan declaring that “God will bring Qatar and Turkey to account” for the suffering of Palestinians in the current war. Being an agent of the Qatari government, the journalist turned away, and then pushed the interviewee with his hand to prevent him from getting near the microphone. Yet this brief exchange contributes much to the ongoing debate about Palestinian support for Hamas, and belies the frequent assertion by experts that the Israeli campaign is only “further radicalizing” the population.

For some time, Joseph Braude has worked with a number of journalists and researchers to interview ordinary Gazans under circumstances where they don’t fear reprisals. He notes that the sorts of opinions they share are rarely heard in Western media, let alone on Al Jazeera or Iran-sponsored outlets:

[A] resident of Khan Younis describes how locals in a bakery spontaneously attacked a Hamas member who had come to buy bread. The incident, hardly imaginable before the present war, reflects a widespread feeling of “disgust,” he says, after Gazan aspirations for “a dignified life and to live in peace” were set back by the Hamas atrocities of October 7.

Fears have grown that this misery will needlessly be prolonged by Westerners who strive, in effect, to perpetuate Hamas rule, according to one Gazan woman. Addressing protesters who have taken to the streets to demand a ceasefire on behalf of Palestinians, she calls on them to make a choice: “Either support the Palestinian people or the Hamas regime that oppresses them.” If protesters harbor a humanitarian motive, she asks, “Why don’t we see them demonstrating against Hamas?”

“Hamas is the destruction of the Palestinian people. We’ve had enough. They need to be wiped out—because if they remain, the people will be wiped out.”

You can watch videos of some of the interviews by clicking the link below.

Read more at Free Press

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Palestinian public opinion