Rabbi Binyamin on the Indigenous Arab Population

Rabbi Binyamin offers us another glimpse into the world of religious Zionism in the first half of the 20th century, the potentials of the original Mizrachi movement.

RABBI BINYAMIN (pseudonym of Yehoshua Radler-Feldmann; 1880–1957), Hebrew journalist. Born in Zborov, Galicia, Rabbi Binyamin published his first essay in 1903, then in 1906 moved to London, where he joined J.Ḥ. *Brenner. Arriving in Palestine in 1907, he first worked as a laborer in Petah Tikvah, then as secretary of Herzlia, the first Hebrew high school in Tel Aviv. In 1910 he moved to Jerusalem, taught at the Rehavyah Hebrew high school, and later at the Taḥkemoni religious school. After World War I he was active in the Mizrachi Party and edited the religious national monthly Ha-Hed (1926–53) for more than 2 5 years. Hahed”’s purpose was to bring the Haredi population closer to the Zionist idea and he was the first editor of the religious Zionist Movement’s newspaper “Hazofe”. After the State was established Rabbi Binyamin edited the monthly “Ner”. He is also known for his support of vegetarianism and seeking converts to Judaism.

In 1925 he was among the founders of the Brit Shalom association, which advocated a binational state for Arabs and Jews. In 1936, he tried to found an institution of higher learning similar to YU where Yeshiva and secular studies were each studied for half a day in one institution. Rabbi Binyamin published thousands of articles and essays, often expressing individualistic viewpoints. He did much to introduce Brenner and Agnon to the Hebrew reading audiences. In 1939, after Jewish terrorists of the Irgun had conducted a series of attacks against Arab civilians, he edited a collection of essays by Jews condemning the spilling of innocent Arab blood called, Against Terror. After the Kafr Qasim massacre, he offered to move into the Arab village to show solidarity with the village.

In 1926 he wrote a work collecting praise of the Holy Land – available on Hebrewbooks. In the work he thanks Rav Kook, Admor Haheletz, Rav Avraham Shapira,, Gershom Scholem, and Shai Agnon. It is interesting to note that the work still needed a dictionary of difficult Hebrew words.

Rabbi Binyamin was a staunch believer in a bi-national country. In the essay below was against the 1956 war and wanted Jews and Palestinians to live together. He rejects calling the 1948 a war of liberation, rather one of subjugation.. His essay uses the same word for those Jews smuggled into the country and for those Muslims sneaking in to see their former homes. He condemns the growing virtue of militarism. This essay was translated by Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel for the Mondoweiss blog.

Reminder, the discussion on this blog is about varieties of Modern Orthodoxy or the Mizrachi movement. If you want to discuss contemporary politics than go to Mondoweiss, the political blog that was its source.

I also included his critique of the Yishuv that was more interested in building a state than saving Jews in WWII. He screams out that the war to save Jews is not just a British war without a concern for Jews.

From elsewhere on the web I have included his call for “a platform for truth, love, and peace,” and not nation, homeland, class, religion, party, and family. Already in 1907 he called out that “ When you come to inherit the land, Do not come as an enemy and an adversary.”

The following essay by Radler-Feldman appeared in the Ihud Association’s Ner journal, in March, 1956. translated by Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel.

A New Israeli Message to Our Infiltrator Brother
(A vision seen in a dream)

You are trembling, worried, afraid for your life, because you are at our mercy. You fear severe punishment, long imprisonment or death.
Have no fear, our infiltrator brother. We will not harm you, but help you.
These words are strange to your ears. You have never heard anything like them before. No matter. Tomorrow or the day after, you will understand their practical, revolutionary significance. Your children will learn their profound, inner meaning. The children of other nations will learn them, to the end of days.

Listen now:
We called our war with you, our Arab brothers, the “War of Liberation”. Fancy words – fancy and false. We did not fight a war of liberation, but a war of subjugation. We were free men before the war. In fighting it, we became slaves. Slaves to whom? To the harshest Pharaoh in the world: his majesty Satan himself, the Evil Inclination, selfishness and arrogance, constant gnawing anxiety, fear of a “second round”, a “third round” and so forth, ad infinitum. Our bellowing for the “best weapons ever seen” was not manufactured, but the natural outcome of this state of affairs.

The false education we gave our children – our gifts from God – dedicated to bloodshed and Moloch, flowed from the depths of these circumstances. In short, we felt trapped and believed in one force alone – physical strength, in which we placed our faith! That is where all our thoughts lay, and that alone is what all of our leaders, spiritual, scientific and religious, worshipped. Many shared this superstition with us; the great nations of east and west alike. Their eyes were blind to the light of truth.

It is a long and sorrowful affair. Let us not dwell upon it.

But, by the grace of God, the blinders were removed from our eyes, and a great light, a heavenly light shone upon us. And it is by this light that we shall now walk. A revolutionary change has occurred, that no one would have believed possible.
You shall no longer be called infiltrator but ascender*, because you have unknowingly ascended toward the redemption that has borne you on its wings. You are not an enemy, a foe and an adversary to us, but a brother and friend.

And this is what we shall do with you:

We shall resettle you in our midst, as one of us, in one of the villages of your people, as you choose. And we shall announce it on the radio, to your fellow refugees, lest they worry unnecessarily: so-and-so son of so-and-so was apprehended in such and such a place at such and such a time, and the Israelis who apprehended him gave him food and water and resettled him in such and such a village, and he himself will now speak to you. And from now on, refugees will not have to infiltrate by stealth, trembling with fear and trepidation, but may enter calmly, in peace and tranquility, secure in the knowledge that nothing will befall them. If a hundred come, we will welcome them in peace, and even if a thousand should come, we will welcome them as brothers, with love and fellowship.

Then there will be a certain pause, a brief one. And we shall observe the effect of our actions. And when they have been successful, we shall do as much again. For we know that this is the sublime way of peace. This is the great and incomparable messianic idea. Do you not agree?

Ner, vol. 7, issue no. 7, March 1956
* Maʿapil – the same Hebrew word used for clandestine Jewish immigrants to Palestine, imbued with strong positive connotations in Israel of the 1950s.

Here is his paraphrase of Deuteronomy, he felt that the secular settlers were being hypocritical of not keeping the mizvot but wanting to cite Deuteronomy as justification for their actions.

And when you shall go in to possess your homeland, do not go therein as an enemy, nor as foe. You shall come to the inhabitants of the land in the spirit of peace. Not by
malice, not by transgression, nor by animosity will you build the homeland of thy forefathers, but by love and mercy, righteousness and faith. And you shall love the inhabitants of the land, for thy brothers they are, your own flesh and blood, and you shall not disregard them.

Yad Vashem translated a piece of his article about fighting the Nazis. He complained that the yishuv and even the religious Zionists were more concerned with he state than enlisting to fight the Nazis to save Jews.In the spring of 1941, hew rote against the establishment:
“[The rabbis] agree unanimously that it is a great mitzvah to fight Amalek until his ultimate downfall and destruction …. However, they have three stipulations. First, the mess hall must be kosher…. Second, [the Jewish soldier] must fight right next to his home—his country…. He does not feel a worldwide, international responsibility. The third point is a different condition: if he is given his own flag and his own unit in all details and particulars, he will join the fray.”

Here is a letter to Prof. Hugo Berman, argueing that Zionism needs to be “a platform for truth, love, and peace.” this one and the next one was taken from the blog Magnes Zionist.

My brother Bergmann: By providing “a platform for truth, love, and peace,” we do not have the idiotic intention that these three values are our exclusive possession.…Rather we wish to say – and to repeat and drill it to ourselves most of all – that we consider these three to be foremost in rank. Other people bend their knee to other important values, such as nation, homeland, class, religion, party, and family. Whereas we place the aforementioned values first, and subordinate all the others to them. We subordinate even the Holy One Blessed be He, Himself to them, for, so to speak, the Creator of these values is also subject to them, and must justify His governance before them.

Already in 1907, while still in Galicia, he wrote the poem Masa’ Arav (‘An Arabian Prophecy’) which begins

When you come to inherit the land,
Do not come as an enemy and an adversary
But bring greetings to the inhabitants of the land
Build not your generations’ sanctuary in resentment, indignation, or enmity
But rather in love, grace, justice, and faith
Hatred will arouse strife, but love will allay wrath
It will bring brothers together, and make peace with the distant
You shall love the inhabitant of the land, for he is your brother, your self, your flesh
Do not avert your eye from him.
Do not hide yourself from your own flesh.

5 responses to “Rabbi Binyamin on the Indigenous Arab Population

  1. Zohar Maor recently wrote an article on R. Binyamin’s pan-Semitism and his relationship with R. Kook. Email me an I will forward it to you. “Jerry Haber” has a few posts about him as well.

  2. I will take a look.

  3. R. Binyamin was an interesting person, even if his positions were radical and at times factually wrong (let’s just say the issue of the Yishuv and the Nazis is not as simple as he posits).

    I remember reading somewhere that members of the Mizrachi – none of whom were remotely close to his positions – mourned him respectfully when he passed.

    IIRC, Yosef Gorny gave him pretty thorough treatment in his book “ZIonism and the Arabs”.

  4. the idea of pan-semitism used to be somewhat popular it seems, Aviezer Raviski, קץ המגולה ומדינת היהודים has a fascinating discussion re: several thinkers who thought along these lines

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