Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Kahane Biography

Recently I read the new biography of Rabbi Meir Kahane z"l, Rabbi Meir Kahane, His Life and Thought, Volume One: 1932-1975.

This biography is special in a number of ways. The author, Rabbanit Libby Kahane, was the rabbi's wife, and as such is able to give us the "inside story" behind the man who made the headlines. From time to time she calmly and decisively refutes the false claims of previous biographers. Almost everything she writes is meticulously documented. The author's knowledge as a librarian helped her to draw on a vast range of sources including FBI files made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

For those of us who were alive in the 1960s and 1970s, this book is a walk down Memory Lane. Those were turbulent years, and the various protests and struggles of that time play a central role in the book. It was Rabbi Meir Kahane that came to the rescue of the Jews that were the victims of inner city violence by forming the Jewish Defense League. It was Rabbi Kahane that succeeded in putting the plight of Soviet Jewry on page one of the newspapers and on the evening TV newscasts. The Rabbi even made headlines as a prisoner in Allenwood Federal Prison in his struggle to secure the right to kosher food for Jewish prisoners all over the country.

The book also reminds us things that have been forgotten with the passage of time. For instance, who remembers that in the early 1970s Rabbi Kahane was highly admired by politicians and journalists here in Israel for his militant stance, protecting Jews whether they be in the Bronx or in Moscow? Unfortunately, Rabbi Kahane lost this sympathy when he pointed out the inherent contradiction in the idea of a state that is Jewish as well as democratic. No one was able to answer his simple question: If the Arabs become the majority, do they have the right to vote the Jewish State out of existence? Lacking a genuine intellectual response, his opponents responded with long winded diatribes that avoided the question and hapless ad hominem arguments. (It is interesting to note that today the Israeli Left says quite openly that they are not interested in a Jewish State but rather "a state of all of its citizens", something which they would not admit 20 years ago.)

The book also mentions Rabbi Kahane's struggle for Torah Judaism and Jewish education. Rabbi Kahane understood the young American Jews of my generation. The Judaism which we were raised upon, which had been Conserved, Reformed, and Reconstructed to death, was a pathetic creed whose god was created in the image of man and as such was subordinate to him. He understood that the High-Holiday-fashion-show Judaism which we were exposed to was a wretched lie which would be soundly rejected by young people that loathe hypocrisy. Indeed, how few of us, products of the Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionist Bar/Bat Mitzvah factories, ended up marrying Jewish! Rabbi Kahane foresaw this disaster and did his best to prevent it.

In short, I highly recommend this book. I can't wait for Volume Two!


Ben-Zion said...

From what I have heard, she's not very far along into Volume II, and we might be waiting quite some time before we see it.

It's also interesting to note that Israel's largest book store, Steimatzky's refused to carry it.

Cosmic X said...

Interesting but not surprising! :)

in the vanguard said...

The really good people are turned into pariahs in our secularly-led land of Israel. You got people like Livni and parties like Meretz, you got homosexuality on the rise, you got Arabs entering the infrastructure, you got dilution of Jewry with foreigners, you got a media that seeks to undermine, you have leftists who fight for the enemy, ... in short, a place where right is wrong, where everything is backwards, a place where the exile is more tangible than it is anywhere else in the world. As unfortunate as this is, and as rotten as it is, the fact that the people and the land remain Holy, despite the ruling, controlling, but, to be sure, minority fringe, we have - from now on - only UP to go. At least in spirit we have Rabbi Kahane to serve as a model of strength, honesty and Torah-true values.

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