Why wasn’t there a Jewish army in World War II to fight the Nazis? No group had more motivation to do so. Well, it’s not that they didn’t want one. Rick Richman’s Racing Against History skillfully recounts the efforts by three major Zionist leaders to raise a Jewish army in America to fight Hitler. Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and David Ben-Gurion, representing the center, right, and left of the political spectrum, came to the United States on separate missions with the same goal in 1940.
Jabotinsky’s Children is a hatchet job, cloaked in a tone of historical objectivity. The “children” are Betar, the youth movement founded by Zionist leader Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky, which boasted some 65,000 members in the 1930s, most of them in Poland. The book’s thesis is that Betar youth, whom the author says Jabotinsky originally viewed with “a mix of pity, disdain and suspicion,” ultimately shaped his world view, making him open to fascist ideas. The author, Daniel Kupfert Heller, an assistant professor of Jewish Studies at McGill University, further asserts that Jabotinsky deliberately wrote “provocative and ambiguous prose” to allow “Betar activists to interpret their leader’s writings as they saw fit,” in line with what the author views as their own authoritarian and violence-prone ideology.
A more dramatic story than that of Israel’s first kings as told in Samuel I and II is hard to imagine. But law professors Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes in The Beginning of Politics take an unusual approach in viewing Samuel as “a profound work of political thought” in which the absorbing narrative is constructed in order to highlight the central structural themes about the nature of political power and its effects on those who wield it. In their reading the hero is neither Saul nor David but the anonymous author who has “produced what is still the best book ever written in the Hebrew language” embodying lessons as relevant today as they were then.
In 1948, as Israel was heading into its first war, an IDF general sent a letter to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s new prime minister, thanking him for the offer of chief of staff, but politely declining because he had learned that the Jewish State only had six million bullets. “We will need 1 million bullets a day in a war and I am not willing to be chief of staff for just six days,” he wrote.
“The restoration of Hebrew,” writes Lewis Glinert, professor of Hebrew studies at Dartmouth College, “was an act without precedent in linguistic and sociopolitical history.” And as his valuable new book, The Story of Hebrew, demonstrates, it was a conscious decision by Jews who decided that if they were going to make it out of the Diaspora, their language was going to make it, too. So successful were the “guardians of Hebrew’s textual memory,” that when the time came to restore Hebrew as a spoken tongue after two millennia, they did so, in Glinert’s words, “almost overnight.”
In 2012, Wired Magazine named Cody Wilson one of the “15 Most Dangerous People in the World.” At first glance, it was a surprising choice on a list that included the likes of Bashar al-Assad and “El Chapo” Guzman. At the time Wilson was a 24-year-old University of Texas law student. What made Wilson so dangerous was that he was working on a 3D printable gun, the digital files of which he then planned to distribute to anyone who wanted them.
“The Ugandists and the Territorialists are jumping up on chairs, shouting furiously at the President; their faces are distorted … the electric lights in the hall are turned off … The noise and tumult continue for a long time in the dark hall,” wrote Russian Zionist leader Leib Jaffe, describing the scene at the Seventh Zionist Congress on July 28, 1905.
In Who Stole My Religion? Richard H. Schwartz accuses his fellow Orthodox Jews of stealing Judaism—even as he attempts to hijack it for his own environmentalist creed.
A man who fell in love with progressive politics first and Orthodox Judaism second, Schwartz married the two in his mind and is now frustrated that the shidduch—or love match—won’t take hold in the larger community. The roughly 10 percent of Jews who are Orthodox are stubbornly conservative. Schwartz laments that, while an overwhelming 78 percent of all Jews went for Barack Obama in 2008, an almost identical percentage of Orthodox Jews voted for John McCain. Given that Schwartz praises Judaism for its heritage of non-conformity (starting with Abraham), he might have celebrated the Orthodox for going their own way. But no, Schwartz seeks 100 percent Jewish support for the current pieties of the left wing of the Democratic Party.
It’s refreshing, in a world rife with anti-Zionist propaganda, to read a book written by someone who actually thinks Israel was a good, indeed a grand idea. Daniel Gordis describes the Jews’ return to their homeland as “one of the great dramas” of human history—the story “of a homeless people that kept a dream alive for millennia, of a people’s redemption from the edge of the abyss, of a nation forging a future when none seemed possible.” From a collection of “vulnerable settlements,” Gordis describes how Israel grew into a flourishing country with the largest Jewish population in the world using a revived language that even the founder of Zionism believed could not be resuscitated.