Yoske Achituv who died two weeks ago was the last of the German born Orthodox leaders of the Religious Kibbutz movement. Most of the reigns of leadership had been pasted to others in the early 1990’s and most of Achituv’s colleagues, even younger ones, have already passed away. I first meet him in the 1980’s and in the last decades he was a known figure in the religious academic circles. His wiki page has a nice list of his writings and articles about him.
Yosef Achituv, known to one and all as Yoske, was a slight man, whose unfailingly gentle soft-spokenness, vaguely luftmenschlich air and easy benevolence were almost comically at odds with the power of his intellect and moral clarity, and the depth of his passions. Born in Germany in 1933 he came as an infant with his family, studied in a Haredi yeshiva and religious Zionist high school, and, in the course of his army service in the early 1950s joined Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, in the south near Ashkelon, where he lived, worked and taught for the rest of his life.
Almost all the religious kibbutzim are inside the Green Line, and are regularly been lonely redoubts of moderation in the religious Zionist camp.
The religious kibbutz movement as a whole, Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Dati, is an insufficiently-known side of the Zionist story, one very much worth telling, even, or especially, now that Yoske is gone.
While religious Zionism was historically driven by the moderate, statist, bourgeois Mizrachi movement, and later by the redemptive messianism of the latter-day followers of Rav Kook, the Kibbutz Ha-Dati, founded in the interwar years, drew on different cultural sources: the moral pathos of Samson Rafael Hirsch’s German neo-Orthodoxy, the fervent existentialism of Polish Hasidism that stamped the Religious Workers’ Party, Ha-Po’el Ha-Mizrachi, and, later, (in the person of leading thinker Eliezer Goldman) a mix of Maimonidean rationalism and American-style pragmatism, all leavened with a healthy mistrust of authority. Yoske was shaped by all these currents, while reworking them by his own lights in endless teaching (to both young people and adults) one major volume, dozens of studies and hundreds of essays. I could go on at length about his ideas, but three key themes will have to do for now.
First, he understood Judaism, community-building and education in terms of one another. Thus Judaism is about forging a range of dynamic spaces that counter the “arousal culture,” as he put it, of consumerism, fostering individual flourishing and mutual responsibility, in a never-ending lifelong process of education that “creates the human atmosphere befitting the ability to serve God and keep His mizvot.”
Second, humility. Yoske’s personality was inseparable from his ideas, and he was as humble in lifestyle and deportment as he was about what religious teachings and Zionism could and couldn’t claim or achieve. In recent years, the traditional term for modest restraint, tzniut, has (in many circles) become a watchword for policing women’s bodies. But Yoske took on this discourse with patience, calm and erudition, arguing against the objectification of women by ad agencies and rabbis both. Modesty, he maintained, is moral education—It’s about how we consume as much as how we discipline our desires.
Third, he railed against the transformation in religious Zionism of the land and people of Israel into metaphysical abstractions that crush human beings. This was another front in his struggle with objectification. In a sense, he thought Religious Zionist theology went both too far and not far enough. Too far in essentializing, reifying living, breathing realities into inhuman abstractions, and not far enough in recognizing that Zionism is a genuine revolution, a new situation— one of Jewish sovereignty, internal and external diversity, and newfound power—that requires a critical deep reinterpretation of traditional concepts and categories in terms of human equality from within the halakhic process itself. Read the rest here
From Avi Sagi’s Eulogy:
Yoska was all about compassion and caring for others. He never asked anything for himself. He was content with his lot, and this contentment found expression in an absence of want. His unique goodness was demonstrated precisely in the way that goodness should be – giving to others and caring for them. Even during his illness, he always, always, thought about others – his wife Yaffa, may she live and be well, his children, grandchildren, friends, the kibbutz, religious Zionism, the State, and every person suffering. Because he was a loving, compassionate man. He thought about everyone but himself. He was the kind of man who was a rock for everyone during hard times and good times.
Yoska’s direct interest was to mend religious Zionism, which he was an integral part of him.
Yet his work strove towards an even further horizon: mending the entire society. He wanted to return the special synthesis between religion and humanism to Israeli society in general and religious Zionism in particular as well as the profound respect for all of God’s creatures regardless of religion, gender, political or national orientation, or skin color. This respect was not an empty concept, and if it was empty then it is we who are empty.
This respect is demonstrated in his recognition of the equal value of all mortals, and a courageous stand against attempts to exclude women, or to hurt non-Jews, strangers, and those who are struggling and suffering. The man was a Jewish religious humanist. And as opposed to Leibowitz who saw a contradiction between humanism and Torah, Yoska believed that humanism is the very foundation of Torah and any other position is a desecration of God’s name.
Read the Rest Here
Tributes in Hebrew זכרונות עמיתים(יאיר אטינגר, עיתון הארץ, יוני 2012)