Two Orthodox Approaches to Vulnerability and the Exodus Narrative: The Stranger in the Writings of Irving Greenberg and Meir Kahane
If one seeks to learn about “immigration” on the website of the Orthodox Union (OU), the umbrella group for the majority of non-Haredi (centrist/modern) Orthodox congregations in the United States, one first of all finds many articles describing, applauding and encouraging the immigration of Jews to Israel. One article, for example, applauds the Holocaust refugees who, in violation of British law, sought to reach the land of Israel in 1947 on the ship known as Exodus 1947. Other articles celebrate programs that facilitate Jewish immigration to Israel and survey rabbinic rulings on why living in Israel may be obligatory or meritorious for Jews. But there is little on the website encouraging the State of Israel, specifically, to welcome non-Jewish immigrants or even refugees (including the tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers currently residing there). And there is particularly little sympathy for Palestinian refugees who fled from their homes in what is now Israel during the Palestine War in 1947–48: one article rejects the right of return for Palestinian refugees by appealing to the ancient Jewish ties to Israel and declaring that “the Jewish people’s right of return to the land of Israel trumps the relatively modern claims made by this so-called Palestinian people.” The OU does, however, encourage other countries to accept refugees, as a recent OU statement urged United States political leaders to strike the “difficult balance” of welcoming Syrian refugees while, at the same time, “limit[ing] immigration to those individuals who share our American ideals and aspirations.” And in an OU guide devoted to the question of “What does Judaism say about immigration?,” Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir considers the “intense debate in the United States and all advanced countries” on immigration, and shows how while some traditional rabbis have encouraged restricting immigration, one should also balance such rulings with the following message:
The Torah emphasizes in many places a positive, welcoming approach to the stranger or immigrant. Indeed, this attitude is described as one of the foremost lessons of our exile in Egypt. For instance, it is forbidden to take advantage of the alien’s vulnerability: “And don’t oppress the stranger nor pressure him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20). “Don’t pressure the stranger; and you know the feelings of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
Admitting that such verses may refer to converts rather than true outsiders, but guided by “the underlying ethical message” of these verses, the author concludes that countries such as the United States should welcome “strangers” who are “productive and law-abiding and don’t present an excessive burden,” but that countries may restrict or prohibit immigration when “accepting strangers presents a palpable threat to existing residents.”
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My discussion of the OU website is as of September 2017.
Zev Wallack, “The Battle of the ‘Exodus’ Against the British Army,” Orthodox Union, July 11, 2007, https://www.ou.org/life/israel/battle_of_exodus_against_ british_army.
Gerald M. Schreck, “Chairman’s Message,” Jewish Action: The Magazine of the Orthodox Union, December 8, 2008, https://www.ou.org/jewish_action/12/2008/chairmans_message9.
Avi Zakutinsky, “The Mitzvah Of Making Aliyah (Living In Israel) Today,” Orthodox Union, accessed September 25, 2017, https://www.ou.org/torah/halacha/practical-halacha/the-mitzvah-of-making-aliyah-living-in-israel-today.
The only expression of sympathy for non-Jewish refugees to Israel that I can find on the ou.org website is in an article posted there written by a Conservative rabbi: Daniel Gordis, “One Treadmill, Two Refugees, One College,” OU Life, November 21, 2007, https://www.ou.org/life/israel/one_treadmill_two_refugees_one_college. On the refugees and asylum seekers presently in Israel, see “Refugees in Israel,” ASSAF–Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, November 2016, http://assaf.org.il/en/node/46.
David Bogner, “Sometimes People Need to Move,” OU Life, March 20, 2008, https://www.ou.org/life/israel/sometimes_people_need_to_move.
“Orthodox Union Statement Regarding the Syrian Refugees Issue,”Orthodox Union, November 19, 2015, https://advocacy.ou.org/orthodox-union-statement-regarding-syrian-refugees-issue.
Asher Meir,“Immigration,” Orthodox Union, accessed September 25, 2017, https://www.ou.org/torah/machshava/jewish-ethicist/immigration.
On Greenberg’s vision for PORAT (People for Orthodox Renaissance and Torah), the modern Orthodox organization that he co-founded in 2016, see Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, “Can Modern Orthodoxy Be The New Center?,” The New York Jewish Week, May 4, 2016, http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/can-modern-orthodoxy-be-the-new-center. For examples of how Greenberg's legacy has inspired members of the International Rabbinic Fellowship, the counter- part to the RCA, see Shmuly Yanklowitz, ed., A Torah Giant: The Intellectual Legacy of Rabbi Dr. Irving (Yitz) Greenberg (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2018).
Irving Greenberg,“(Orthodo)X-Men, On Screen and Off,” The Forward, June 13, 2003, http://forward.com/opinion/7470/orthodo-x-men-on-screen-and-off.
Shaul Magid, “Facts, Persuasion, and Religion as Evasion: The Debate between Meir Kahane and Irving (Yitz) Greenberg (1987),” in The New Jewish Canon, ed. Yehuda Kurtzer and Claire Sufrin, forthcoming.
Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (henceforth, MT), Melakhim 6:1.
“Rabbi Kahane Debates Prof. Greenberg,” YouTube, accessed September 27, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZefkNmO5ins&t=6s.
Maimonides, MT Melakhim 10:12
“Rabbi Kahane Debates Prof. Greenberg.” As Greenberg writes elsewhere: “Some traditional Jews (including the late Meir Kahane) point to Maimonides urging that Arabs be treated like the conquered Canaanites and repressed with a strong hand. I appeal to Maimonides’s view that even though it is legally permitted to hold slaves, the hallmark of a Jew is kindness.” See Irving Greenberg, “How Should Jews Treat Their Arab Neighbors?,” Moment Magazine, May–June 2009, http://www.momentmag.com/ask-the-rabbis-how-should-jews-treat-their-arab-neighbors.
Irving Greenberg, “The Ethics of Jewish Power,” Perspectives (New York: National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), 1988), 8.
Irving Greenberg, Yitzhak Rabin and the Ethic of Jewish Power (New York: National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), 1995), 21.
Aviezer Ravitzky, The Roots of Kahanism: Consciousness and Political Reality (Jerusalem: Shazar Library; Institute of Contemporary Jewry; Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism; Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1986), 61.
Ehud Sprinzak, The Ascendance of Israel’s Radical Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 215.
Mordechai Inbari, “Meir Kahane,” in Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, vol. 14 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017).
See Meir Kahane, The Jewish Idea, trans. Raphael Blumberg (Jerusalem: Institute for Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane, 1996), 2:639.
Babylonian Talmud (henceforth, BT) Avodah Zarah 64b; Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim 10:12. Kahane discusses this requirement in The Jewish Idea, 2:620–1.
Sifre Deuteronomy §200; Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:610; see also 2:605, 615–20.
Maimonides, MT Melakhim 6:1; this translation is from David Novak, Zionism and Judaism: A New Theory (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 218. Kahane brings the text in The Jewish Idea, 2:605.
Novak, Zionism and Judaism, 218–19.
Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:637.
E.g. BT Yevamot 45b, BT Kiddushin 76b; cf. Maimonides, MT Melakhim 1:4. Kahane’s discussion is in The Jewish Idea, 2:606-8; Meir Kahane, Beyond Words: Selected Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane, 1960–1990, ed. David Fein (Brooklyn: Institute for Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane, 2010), 4:569.
Sifre Deuteronomy §259 and Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:614. Kahane himself notes alternative understandings of the Sifre on that page. Though Kahane notes that the Ra’avad does not take as strict a stance as he does, it should be emphasized that the Ra’avad does think that the ger toshav is prohibited from living in Jewish cities so long as the Jubilee cycle is in force.
Sifre Deuteronomy §259; Maimonides, MT Beit Habeh. irah 7:14; Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:614. Regarding Maimonides’s codification of this law, see Menachem Marc Kellner, Maimonides on Judaism and the Jewish People, SUNY Series in Jewish Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 45, 129n47.
Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:624.
Maimonides, MT Avodat Kokhavim 10:3–4; BT Avodah Zarah 20a-21b; Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:624–27. Cf. Yosef Karo’s Beit Yosef, H. oshen Mishpat 249:2.
In The Jewish Idea, 2:627–8, Kahane turns to the Tosafot (s.v. de-amar) on Avodah Zara 20a, as well as the understanding of the H . azon Ish. For sources that read the restriction narrowly, see Shlomo Riskin, “Selling Land in Israel to Gentiles,” Meorot: A Forum of Modern Orthodox Discourse, no. 9 (2011): 1–7.
Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:622, quoting MT Melakhim 8:10. Kahane also quotes the Ritva (Yom Tov ben Abraham Ishbili) and the Ramban (Nahmanides) on BT Makkot 9a to this effect.
Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:623, quoting MT Melakhim 8:11. Maimonides's clearest precedent is found in Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer, Parashah 6.
For further discussion of Maimonides’s teaching, see Steven S. Schwarzschild, “Do Noachites Have to Believe in Revelation?,” in The Pursuit of the Ideal: Jewish Writings of Steven Schwarzschild, ed. Menachem Marc Kellner (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), 29–59; Jacob I. Dienstag, “Natural Law in Maimonidean Thought and Scholarship (On Mishneh Torah, Kings, VIII, 11),” Jewish Law Annual 6 (1987): 64–77; Suzanne Last Stone, “Sinaitic and Noahide Law: Legal Pluralism in Jewish Law,” Cardozo Law Review 12 (1991): 1167–70.
MT Melakhim 10:9; Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:637– 8; Kahane, Beyond Words, 7:190–93.
MT Avodat Kokhavim 10:6; cf. MT Issurei Biah 14:8, BT Arakhin 29a. Kahane’s discussion of the law and its interpreters is in Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:636.
Kahane, Beyond Words, 3:443.
Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:596–597, 628–36; see also Kahane, Beyond Words, 3:545–52; 4:283–4; 5:489–90, 5:501.
BT Bava Metzia 58b; Mekhilta on Ex. 22:20; Maimonides, Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, Negative Commandments 252–53; Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 1:201–2; Kahane, Beyond Words, 3:162–3, 4:572, 6:268.
Sifra (Torat Kohanim) on Lev. 19:34; Maimonides, Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, Positive Commandment 207; Kahane, Beyond Words, 4:572; 6:268.
Ibid., 6:274, quoting Nahmanides’ commentary on Exod. 3:9. Cf. Ibid., 5:70, 7:116–121; Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:548.
Kahane, Beyond Words, 5:70. 45. Ibid., 3:193.
Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:555, with reference to the Keli Yakar on Gen. 47:27; Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:556 and Kahane, Beyond Words, 5:71, with reference to: Shemot Rabbah 14:3; Tanhuma, Va’era 14; Tanhuma, Beshalah 1.
Kahane, Beyond Words, 7:121, quoting Mekhilta Yitro on separation from other nations. On the impurity of other lands, see the image of the exile as a cemetery in Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:568, with reference to Mekhilta Bo, 1, and 2:579, especially with reference to Ibn Ezra on Isaiah 52:11.
Kahane, Beyond Words, 5:70, quoting Ibn Ezra on Deut. 4:10 and Sforno on Deut. 6:21. Cf. Kahane, The Jewish Idea, 2:547.
See Shaul Magid, American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 211–12.
Kahane, Beyond Words, 2:261.
See Meir Kahane, Never Again!: AProgramfor Survival (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1971), 5–30, 75–111; Kahane, Beyond Words, 6:55–56.
Kahane, Never Again!, 165–92. On Kahane’s sense of Jewish vulnerability, see Shaul Magid, “Anti-Semitism as Colonialism: Meir Kahane’s ‘Ethics of Violence,’” Journal of Jewish Ethics 1, no. 2 (2015): 202–32.
On Kahane’s lack of concern for non-Jews, see Magid, American Post-Judaism, 218–19.
See Kahane, Beyond Words, 7:177–78; Magid, “Anti- Semitism as Colonialism.”
Kahane, Beyond Words, 3:540, 4:462. On Kahane’s critique of American Judaism, see Shaul Magid, Meir Kahane: The Rise and Fall of an American Jewish Survivalist (Princeton: Princeton University Press, forthcoming).
Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 (BT Sanhedrin 37a), discussed in Irving Greenberg and Shalom Freedman, Living in the Image of God: Jewish Teachings to Perfect the World (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), 31–32. See Darren Kleinberg, “Hybrid Judaism: Irving Greenberg and the Encounter with American Jewish Identity” (Ph.D. Thesis, Arizona State University, 2014), 130–33; Joshua Feigelson, “Relationship, Power, and Holy Secularity: Rabbi Yitz Greenberg and American Jewish Life, 1966–1983” (Ph.D. Thesis, Northwestern University, 2015), 116–17, 128.
Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 34–35.
Irving Greenberg, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity, and Modernity after the Holocaust,” in Auschwitz: Beginning of a New Era?, ed. Eva Fleischner (New York: Ktav, 1977), 17–18.
Greenberg, The Jewish Way, 53.
Irving Greenberg, “The Interaction of Israel and American Jewry – After the Holocaust,” July 1975, http://rabbiirvinggreenberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/article_paper_israel.pdf, 41.
Greenberg,“Cloud of Smoke,” 49.
See the sentence that follows the previously quoted sentence in Ibid., 49–50. On the limits of Greenberg’s concern for Palestinians, see Marc H. Ellis, Beyond Innocence and Redemption: Confronting the Holocaust and Israeli Power: Creating a Moral Future for the Jewish People (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1990), 112.
Greenberg, The Jewish Way, 64.
Shmuly Yanklowitz,“20 Orthodox Rabbis Call on the Orthodox Community to Prioritize DACA These 6 Months!,”Jewish Journal, September 12, 2017, http://jewishjournal.com/uncategorized/224324/20-orthodox-rabbis-call-orthodox-community-prioritize-daca-6-months. Greenberg further discusses US immigration policy in Irving Greenberg,“Pirkei Avot: A Guidebook for the New Administration,” Jewish Journal, November 30, 2016, http://jewishjournal.com/news/nation/212962.
Yanklowitz,“20 Orthodox Rabbis.”
See Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 148, 243.
BT Sanhedrin 109a. The document also cites a commentary on Leviticus 19:18 by Rabbi Yitzhak Shemuel Reggio.
Louis E. Newman, Past Imperatives: Studies in the History and Theory of Jewish Ethics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), 194 (and see 191–93, 196). Greenberg’s approach discussed in this paper also has much in common with the “narrative model” discussed by Newman in Ibid., 194–96.
Newman, Past Imperatives, 196.
Taly Krupkin, “Drawing Inspiration From Trump, Far-Right Kahane Movement Seeks U.S. Revival,” Haaretz, January 7, 2017, https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.763389; Sam Kestenbaum, “A New Generation of Jewish Militants Embrace Trump
— and Even the ‘Alt-Right,’” The Forward, January 31, 2017, http://forward.com/news/361745/the- next-generation-of-militant-kahanists-embrace-trump-but-are-divided-on; Sam Kestenbaum, “Jewish Militants See White Nationalists As Natural Allies,” The Forward, March 20, 2017, http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/366477/jewish-militants-seek-white-nationalist-alliance-but-draw- the-line-at-nazis.
Brett Stevens, “Interview With Jonathan Stern,” March 18, 2017, http://www.amerika.org/politics/interview-with-jonathan-stern.
Tomer Persico, “Why Religious Zionism Is Growing Darker,” Haaretz, May 16, 2017, https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.789226?= &ts=_1494949429233.
I am very grateful to Irving Greenberg and Emily Filler for conversations that helped to inspire this paper and to Michael Gottsegen, Shaul Magid, and Louis Newman for reading drafts of the paper.
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