The Spirit of Judah L. Magnes Lives On

by James M. WallJudah L. Magnes c

New York Times column, A Conflict of Faith:  Devoted to Jewish Observance, but at Odds With Israel,” opens with an interview with Orthodox Jewish scholar Charles H. Manekin.

In his column, Mark Oppenheimer describes Professor Manekin as a “rarity”, an apt description because in addition to his academic tasks, Manekin writes a hard-hitting blog, which he calls, The Magnes Zionist., named for:

Judah L. Magnes, an American rabbi who, until his death in 1948, argued that a Jewish return to the Middle East did not require a nation-state.

Wikipedia recalls Judah Leon Magnes (1877 – 1948) (pictured above), as “a prominent Reform rabbi in both the United States and the British Mandate of Palestine”.

Magnes was a leader in the World War I pacifist movement and was “one of the most widely recognized voices of 20th Century American Reform Judaism”.

The spirit of Rabbi Magnes lives on in the work of Professor Manekin, who shares his “at odd with Israel” tab with a small group of observant Orthodox Jews interviewed by Mark Oppenheimer.

Observant Jews

Four who were interviewed are pictured above in a Times compilation. They are from left, Daniel Boyarin of Berkeley, Corey Robin of Brooklyn College, Rabbi Alissa Wise and Professor Manekin of the University of Maryland.

To paraphrase the urgent question from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Who are these people?”

The University of Maryland Department of Philosophy web site offers this description of Professor Manekin:

“The focus of Manekin’s research has been Aristotelian and humanist logic in Hebrew, the philosophy of Levi Gersonides, and the free will problem in Jewish philosophy.”

What makes Manekin a “rarity” is that he is both an observant Orthodox Jew and an outspoken critic of Israel. The Times:

There is no question that Charles H. Manekin is a rarity. Not because he is an Orthodox Jew who keeps the Sabbath, refraining from driving, turning on lights, even riding in elevators on Saturdays. Rather, this philosophy professor at the University of Maryland is rare because he believes that his Orthodox faith calls him to take stands against Israel.

Manekin, 61, became Orthodox in college and an Israeli citizen in the 1980s. In an interview with the Times, “he denounced Israel’s ‘excessive reliance’ on military force, its treatment of Arab citizens and its occupation of the West Bank.”

There is more on Professor Manekin as a modern-day Judah L. Magnes:

Although not a member of the American Studies Association, he was pleased when the group voted in December not to collaborate with Israeli academic institutions — the “academic boycott.”

He is “sympathetic” to B.D.S., as the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel is known.

“As a religious Jew,” he said, “I am especially disturbed by the daily injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians.”

The day after the Times‘ story appeared, Manekin responded in The Magnes Zionist:

Marc Oppenheimer wrote a nice piece in his Beliefs column in the New York Times for which I was interviewed. The piece features Stefan Krieger, Corey Robin, Rabbi Alissa Wise, Danny Boyarin, Noam Pianko, and me.

The headline given to it was “A Conflict of Faith: Devoted to Jewish Observance, but at Odds With Israel.”

In my case that’s a bit misleading. I do have a conflict, but not between Jewish observance and Israel. I have a conflict because I am an Israeli; I live in a country that I believe is fundamentally flawed, despite the wonderful things it also possesses.

In my blog I only talk about the flaws, but that’s because they are fundamental. Perhaps I will post one day a list of my favorite things about Israel (hint: You won’t find most of them in Ari Shavit’s new book.) [link added]

The piece says my religion leads me “to oppose Israel.” That’s ambiguous; it could mean “oppose Israel’s policies” (yes) or “oppose how the Jewish state was envisioned and came into being” (yes), or “oppose the very idea of a Jewish state” (that depends).

No, I am not opposed to any Jewish state. As my colleague, Jerome Slater, has said, I don’t have a problem with a Jewish state – it’s this Jewish state I have a problem with.

Menekin called his May 12, 2008 posting, written during the 2008 presidential campaign, Leon Uris’ Influence on Barack Obama. Here is his opening:

Jeffrey (“You-Can-Dump-On-Israel-As-Long-As-You-Are-A-Liberal-Zionist-Like-Me”) Goldberg has an interview with Obama in Atlantic.Com that will trouble Obama supporters who are under the illusion that the US can still be an honest broker in the Middle East.

On the same day when my Shabbas-minyan-mate Joe Lieberman wonders out loud why a Hamas spokesman welcomes an Obama presidency, a wary Goldberg goads Obama into expressing his undying admiration for the Jewish state.

Goldberg: You’ve talked about the role of Jews in the development of your thinking.

Obama: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.

So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves.

And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

Manekin adds this cogent observation on the power of the Israel Lobby (written, it is important to keep in mind, in 2008):

In that paragraph [from Obama], and in the entire interview, you see why Walt and Mearsheimer’s thesis of an Israel Lobby is so, well, irrelevant. There is an Israel Lobby in America, and it is called America (minus some leftwing churches and Muslims).

There is much more in the Times column on observant Orthodox Jews who care enough to testify against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

These courageous Jews demonstrate an “inosculation” of their Jewish Orthodoxy with their prophetic disavowal of Israel’s conduct

In case you were wondering, the Alpha Dictionary defines “inosculation”:

“To connect to, to connect with, to open into, as a blood vessel might inosculate with another. 2. To interpenetrate, to join so as to be a part of, to grow or be tightly intertwined, as some areas of philosophy inosculate with mathematics.

The small band of Observant Jews identified by the Times, are willing to stand against Israel’s embrace of injustice.  The time has come for the rest of us to join them in their struggle and inosculate our politics with our faith. 

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Media, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Obama, Politics and Elections, Religious Faith. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Spirit of Judah L. Magnes Lives On

  1. Jack Graham says:

    Wonderful material, Jim There is nothing so honorable as an honorable Jew. There have been and still are many great characters like Rabbi Magnes whom you have so well introduced to your readers this week, One of the best was Martin Buber, a fabuous philosopher who reawakened mystical awareness in human thought, and saw no necessity of a Zionist nation state after the conclusion of the British mandate in Palestine. — Jack Graham

  2. abunaalgodon says:

    The beloved professor, James Muilenburg, began his introductory course in the Hebrew Bible with the admonition that we could never become good Christians if we were not, first of all, good Jews. He meant many things by that, but I took it that we must let the deeply moral center of Judaism seep into every pore of us. It is that deeply moral center that Magnes, Manekin, Rosen and so many other contemporary Jewish voices reflect that the Israeli government seems to have forgotten. It is indeed time for the rest of us to join them in their struggle and inosculate our politics with our faith. Thanks, Jim. Cotton

  3. Fred says:

    Any time a religion identifies itself with a political identity, is courting disaster. Israel has made itself a nation based on jewish Supremacy, where Jews have 50 laws that give them privileges over others, and the “other”–Christians and Moslems, are separated and not equal.

    What Israel is doing to non Jews is a travesty, and the US government gives Israel billions of our tax dollars, making it easier for Israel to persecute Christians and Moslems, Israel demolishes their homes, takes their land and water, and builds apartheid settlements on the stolen land. No religion that honors human kind could support these practices.

  4. Pingback: My Catbird Seat – The Spirit of Judah L. Magnes Lives On

  5. le says:

    I don’t think Mr Wall fully understands, the quote about the Israel Lobby.
    Or perhaps he does but doesn’t fully explain it.

    Mr Manekin is saying that Walt and Mersheimers argument about the lobby is irrelevant because the lobby’s power is not based on manipulation or hard boiled politics, but based on the sentiments of the American people. They have power because for the most part they are aligned with the American people. Look at Obama, who is a Zionist at heart. You can agree or disagree but that is what he is saying.
    I’ve always thought Obama was a Zionist at heart; as an American Black man of a certain age, it’s not hard to understand why.

  6. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thank you, Jim, for your introduction to such amazing characters. It is always wonderful to learn about brave individuals who go against the mainstream, whether in Israel, the US, Egypt, or the Ukraine.
    From Judah Leon Magnes to Professor Charles H. Manekin, to Jeff Halper, Rabii Alissa Weis, Mark Braverman, to name a few, are pillars of genuine Jewish bravery. They are an immense moral and philosophical-religious resource in our path for justice and peace in the Holy Land.

    As we all know, we are facing a formidable challenge. The Zionist masters of Spin have brilliantly converted mainstream Americans over, at least, the past 65 years.
    They deceptively created the Brand Name, “Israel”. They equated the Ancient Israelites of the Old Testament and Jewish Torah with modern adherents of the Jewish faith, no matter from what country around the globe they belong. They declared Palestine as a “Land with no people for a people with no land”. They created the mindset that Jews had the carte blanche to “return” to “their” country, using any means at their disposal. They defined Israel as the “underdog” under any situation, regardless of Israel’s invasions, ethnic cleansing, state terrorism, nuclear possession, and enslavement of another people.

    Leon Uris’ “Exodus” was a prime example of establishing and spreading awareness and support for Israel-right-or-wrong, in America. I remember as a college student in the US, it was required reading in many schools and colleges and churches and synagogues. American school children were literally weaned in the treacherous “Zionist Medrassas”.

    And as they grew up, the media, Hollywood, TV shows, “docu-dramas”, books, novels, “simplified” Bible stories, sermons, added to the further growth of the brand, “Israel”.

    I have no doubt that the joint efforts of Arabs and Jews, and employing creative resistance, such as the BDS movement, will eventually lead us out of this quagmire into a just and peaceful solution.

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