Israel’s Third President’s Surprising Fascination with a False Messiah

March 28 2018

Born Shneur Zalman Rubashov in 1889, Zalman Shazar would serve in Israel’s first cabinet and later as the country’s president from 1963 until 1973. Shazar, however, was not a politician by calling but a historian, who studied under Simon Dubnov—then the dean of Russian Jewish historians—and later trained at German universities. His research on the disastrous career of the 17th-century false messiah Shabbetai Tsvi would inspire Gershom Scholem’s definitive studies. Stuart Schoffman revisits Shazar’s peculiar fascination with this historical figure:

Just as historians have begun to re-evaluate Ḥasidism, Rubashov declared [in a 1913 essay], they should appreciate the vital “sap” of Sabbateanism, its power to inspire the Jewish nation. . . . In 1924, Zalman Rubashov made aliyah. The next year, . . . he wrote an editorial entitled “Yom Shabbetai Tsvi,” [in which he argued that] if we Jews were fully rooted in our history, we would honor Shabbetai Tsvi on this, his 300th birthday. . . . Shabbetai built a “popular movement such as the diaspora had never known.” He “overcame the diaspora, vanquished the medieval nature of Judaism, and forced open the gates of a new Hebrew history.” He “struck new fire from the eternal rocks of religion, to redeem the people and the individual.”

In other words: the Great Pretender was a tragic Promethean hero who ignited an enduring revolution. Writing in Hebrew in secular Tel Aviv, Shazar boldly spun a messianic fiasco into a Zionist manifesto. . . .

Scholem delivered a tribute [to Shazar after his death in 1974]: “In a certain sense, it was Shazar’s personal tragedy that he was unable to fulfill his destiny as a historian. . . . The scholar and statesman within him strove to dwell together but could not find balance and compromise.”

I . . . beg to differ. Leafing through the Sabbatean studies of Israel’s third president, I hark back to his mentor Simon Dubnov, who wrote in 1893: “We recount the events of the past to the people, not merely to a handful of archaeologists and numismaticians. We work for national self-knowledge, not for our own intellectual diversion.” Some historians do it best on the page, others on the stage of Jewish history.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Gershom Scholem, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Jewish history, Shabbetai Tzvi, Simon Dubnov, Zalman Shazar

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia