Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years

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Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years

By Israel Shahak. Pluto Press, England, 1994, 127 pp. List: $17.95. The book can be obtained by North American readers for $15.50 including postage from Americans for Middle East Understanding, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 570, New York, NY 10115-0241, telephone (212) 870-2053.

Reviewed by Dr. Edna Homa Hunt

In the wake of the massacre of Palestinian men and boys inside and around the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron earlier this year, who has not asked how such killings could have been perpetrated? And how can one explain the joy of Kiryat Arba settlers as--within hours--they publicly celebrated the death of almost 60 people? Or understand the lament by several settler rabbis, in the aftermath of this killing spree, that "so few were killed"?

Unless there is real knowledge of Jewish culture and Jewish law, the Talmud in particular, the answers can only be speculative. The truth is that the halacha (the legal system of "classical," or Rabbinical, Judaism) enjoins killing non-Jews in times of war. And, if you are a member of Gush Emunim and a settler in any part of "the redeemed land of Israel" (otherwise known as "the occupied territories"), you are perpetually in a state of war. Therefore, killing Palestinians as if they were Biblical Amalekites or participants in 18th century Polish or Russian pogroms is a positive commandment.

More than that, according to Holocaust survivor and author Israel Shahak, in Israel:

Since 1973 this doctrine is being publicly propagated for the guidance of religious Israeli soldiers...in a booklet published by the Central Region Command...whose area includes the West Bank.

No one need be surprised, therefore, that during the occupation Israeli soldiers and officers shot Palestinian children; or women hanging laundry on a veranda; or brutally beat up blindfolded and tied-up prisoners. In the rare cases in which these perpetrators are brought to trial, "their wrist is slapped" or they are imprisoned for a few months.

For all who have been troubled by the policies and practices of the "Jewish State"--indeed, by the very concept--but did not know how or whom to ask, Professor Shahak's recently published book, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, is essential reading.

Over a period of at least 30 years, among his many other activities, this professor of chemistry at Hebrew University pursued a quest which culminated in the publication of the present book. Its first phase was a 36-page Hebrew-language monograph Shahak published in Israel in 1966. Its title, Towards a Jewry of Truth and Justice and Against Jewish Attitudes Towards Strangers, conveys the theme that pervades his present book, and informs every nook and cranny of its 103 pages, plus 14 pages of text-enriching "notes."

In 1981 the very same monograph appeared, in two installments, in the English-language periodical Khamsin, published for a while in England. Provocative as they seem when presented in the current English-language book, the difficult truths it contains are well known within Israel, and have been for a good long time.

Roots in History

With this book, Shahak takes readers through an erudite tour of Jewish history. The exposition is detailed enough to cite chapter and verse of halachic laws, specifying discriminatory action, or inaction, against non-Jews in every conceivable situation and in all spheres of living. His erudition in Talmudic literature and history enables him to leap through the centuries and select the crucial events highlighting the development of Jewry from Babylon to Spain, England to Egypt, Poland and Russia to Palestine, on to present-day Israel.

What astonishes me is that nothing in my 10 years of schooling and 25 years of living in a mostly exclusivist Jewish environment prepared me for the information and insights contained in Shahak's book. …