Jews Without Borders | The Nation


Jews Without Borders

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As David laments in a similar vein about his adultery with Bathsheba in Psalm 51: "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me." Moreover, Berkowitz contends that the ultra-Orthodox attitude toward homosexuality is not as uniformly hostile as one might think. Rather than consistently attack homosexuality, he says, the rabbinate often treated it as "a minor transgression." He notes that there are "prominent homosexual and homoerotic motifs in Jewish mysticism and poetry," that at least one rabbinic authority stresses "the imperative of exclusive male bonding in mystical community-building" and that it should be remembered that "the world of the Haredim is a closed circle of men, which is in great part obsessed with controlling and directing the sexual energy of its community." As is often the case, no community is more sexually charged than one devoted to sexual asceticism, which is why a poet who mingles the mystical and the erotic and who writes about subterranean passions that other members of the community might also feel (even if they cannot bring themselves to admit it) could play such an important and valued role.

About the Author

Daniel Lazare
Daniel Lazare is the author of, most recently, The Velvet Coup: The Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the Decline of...

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What united all these concerns for De Haan was his characteristically idiosyncratic concept of Jewish Orientalism. Whereas Goldziher saw Eastern European Orthodoxy as degenerate, De Haan saw the Haredim as a natural part of the Palestinian landscape, where he hoped they would continue to coexist peacefully with the Arab community. This was at a time when the main body of Jewish Orthodoxy still rejected Zionism as a deeply heretical effort to "hurry" the coming of the Messiah by abandoning the Diaspora and returning to the Holy Land before God had given his express approval. In embracing Orthodoxy and rejecting Zionism, De Haan "reconceived the Orient," to quote Berkowitz, "as an enclave for pious Jews, under the tutelage of British colonialism, and in close communion with Palestine's Arabs"--a dangerous stance in a period when Jewish nationalists were just beginning to flex their muscles.

In 1924 De Haan was assassinated. Although suspicions have long settled on the far-right Revisionist Zionist movement of Vladimir Jabotinsky, Berkowitz argues that the hit was ordered by the top echelons of the mainstream Zionist movement for a variety of reasons: because De Haan had entered into negotiations with the Arab elite; because, as a correspondent for leading Dutch and British newspapers, he had published numerous stories that were embarrassing to the Zionist establishment; and because he was about to expose improprieties involving Zionist land purchases, including a plot to murder a local Jew who had refused to cooperate in an important real estate deal. The movement itself has never admitted complicity, and Walter Laqueur's all but official History of Zionism (1972) omits any mention of the assassination.

With De Haan out of the way, the majority of Orthodox Jews made their peace with Zionism, Jewish-Arab relations went into free fall and the Zionist regime that emerged after 1948 was hostile not just to the Palestinians but to Jews from the Middle East and North Africa as well. As Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, points out in another essay in Orientalism and the Jews, a series of articles in the newspaper Ha'aretz in 1949 summed up the dominant attitude toward the new wave of Jewish immigrants from Arab lands:

We are dealing with people whose primitivism is at a peak, whose level of knowledge is visibly one of absolute ignorance, and worse, who have little talent for understanding anything intellectual. Generally, they are also slightly better than the general level of the Arabs, Negroes, and Berbers in the same regions.

De Haan's Orientalism did not provide a way out for the Jews of Palestine since, among other things, it made no allowance for the Arabs' legitimate aspirations for independence from the British. But Zionist Occidentalism has not provided a way out either. Rather than siding with the East or the West, perhaps the real aim should be to rise above both.

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