A pagan came to Rabbi Hillel saying that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel could teach him the whole of the Torah in the time he could stand on one foot. Hillel replied, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it.”
Once again the Speaker’s Action Group under the direction of Shirley Anne Haber, Executive Director, Miles Smit and a network of dedicated volunteers and co-sponsors (such as B’nai Brith) has brought us a remarkable documentary film, Body and Soul, by Gloria Greenfield. Shown at a cinema in North York, Toronto, on November 12, tickets sold out days in advance and the theater was packed.
Greenfield was on hand to take questions from the audience, which were varied and thoughtful. A reception for the audience was held after the film. There was much enthusiastic discussion and DVD copies of the film sold like hotcakes. I went home that same evening and spent many hours late into the night, thinking about the film, what it showed and what it means to me. Here are my thoughts.
It is now commonly understood that we are living in an “ahistorical period.” This does not mean that history has stopped. It means that among a growing number of college educated North Americans, it is no longer expected that an educated person must have a grasp of world history, or Western history, or American history, or the history of the ancient world, which produced that blueprint for American independence and democracy, the Old Testament. This phenomenon has been well documented and can be explored through the many publications of the Boston based National Association of Scholars (NAS).
And so people now get their history from Hollywood films, TV, magazines, newspapers and the blogosphere, from John Stewart or the Colbert Report. They become filled with pseudo history, as landfills are filled with garbage. This has allowed a disciplined and dedicated coalition of Cultural Marxists and radical Islamicists to take advantage of America’s newly minted historical amnesia. Their self-declared enemy is the Jewish people and, any supporter of the State of Israel.
Instead of empirical history based on primary sources and archaeology, these self congratulatory, self anointed, revolutionary elites now provide the masses with a new narrative, one that denies that there is an organic relationship between the Bible and English speaking democracies. At the same time, this new narrative also denies that the Jewish people have any legitimate historical, cultural, religious or political connection to the land of Israel. On the one hand the goal of this new narrative is designed to, in the eyes of the average American, destroy the legitimacy of the modern State of Israel and on the other hand, to create an invented history for an invented people, the Arabs of the Land of Israel and what is now called Jordan (Mandated Eastern Palestine).
One American Jewish filmmaker who has woken up to this problem is Bostonian, Gloria Greenfield. Recognizing that a new generation of North Americans under thirty have been relentlessly indoctrinated with this new anti-Israel historical narrative, she has put together a documentary that demonstrates the continuous Jewish tie to the land of Israel for the last three thousand years.
Greenfield has told the almost entire story of the people of Israel through filmed interviews with a collection of world experts. Each one of them has published acclaimed books and articles on all and every issue that touches upon the unbroken relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.
It is a tough job, and she was given just over an hour to do it. This essay is a summary outline of what she presents, with some of my own thoughts and reactions. It is not a film review where I tell you what I like or do not like. This short review essay (short in the 1960s, pre Twitter era, definition) is no substitute for the fine visuals and roster of experts that are featured in her film.
But, if it can motivate any of its readers to see the film, or even better, get their college uneducated children to see it, then I have done my duty. If then having seen the film, they start reading works by Victor Davis Hanson, Ruth Wisse, Yoram Hazony, Jonathan Sarna, Shmuel Trigano or any of the many other experts and scholars that are featured in the film, I will take all my friends out for dinner to a very expensive restaurant.
In the Beginning
The first part of the film is called “In the Beginning.” Greenfield seamlessly assembles some of the best experts on the history and archaeology of the Jewish people from the time of Abraham to the last Jewish revolt under the Roman Emperor Hadrian, to tell this rich and complex first chapter of the story.
In this episode, the eloquent (and somewhat hip) former Chief Rabbi of England, Jonathan Sachs, points out that the two key events of early Jewish history were Abraham’s journey from Ur to the land of Israel, a personal journey born out of a relationship with the one and only God and, the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, a collective journey from slavery to freedom and which I would add, Jews commemorate every year during the holiday of Passover. He is followed by scholars of history and archaeology, such as Professors Robert Wistrich, Aren Maeir and Israel Finkelstein.
For me, the three key highlights of this section are the external evidence that connects the Jewish people to the land of Israel during the Iron age, the confirmation of the location of the ancient Jewish Temple of Jerusalem under today’s Temple Mount and, the Roman origins of the word “Palestine” that they coined to humiliate their defeated Judean rebels.
One of the most telling pieces of external, “extra Biblical” evidence that the children of Israel were the dominant and ruling people of the land in ancient times are various Assyrian texts that talk about Israel and its kings as worthy opponents in war and conquest. In particular, the 9th century inscriptions from the time of the Assyrian King Shalmeneser III are highlighted.
Then, it is pointed out that all across the land of Israel and among its Canaanite neighbours, altars to the Gods were always established in the highest point in the city. The Temple of Solomon, the temple rebuilt after the return from the Babylonian exile and Herod’s temple, can all be shown to be at the highest point of Jerusalem confirming the location of the Jewish temple on the Temple Mount.
The film shows us a remarkable Herodian construction that has been recently excavated from underneath today’s Temple Mount, and which has survived intact from the time it was buried by the invading Romans, when their soldiers torched the last standing Temple. It is an uncanny sight and certainly worth visiting. During the time of Jesus, from these gates, one entered the actual Temple. By that time, the thriving Jewish diaspora also looked towards the Temple as its spiritual centre and people made regular, often annual pilgrimages to this national religious shrine, from as far away as North Africa and Mesopotamia.
At the beginning of the second century AD, the Jewish people of the Land of Israel revolted against their Roman oppressors for the second time, and were brutally defeated by the forces under the Roman Emperor Hadrian. As a confirmed pagan, he built a pagan temple on the ruined Temple Mount and declared that conquered Judea should now be called Palestine, in memory of the ancient Iron age enemies of the Jews, the Philistines.
This word then later entered Christian theology and modern politics as a form of subtle supersessionism, suggesting that it was God’s will that the Jews be dispersed and exiled from their land of origin. Seven centuries before the Arab conquest of the land of Israel, an angry Roman Emperor midwifed the concept of “Palestine”. (I remember first visiting Israel during the summer of 1971. I came back to Toronto and told my English teacher about my trip. She said, “So, you have been to Palestine.”)
My Heart is in the East
This section of the film is designed in a subtle way, like the Jewish voice in one of those asymmetrical disputations in the middle ages, when Catholic monarchs set up theological debates between numerous Christian and outnumbered Jewish theologians. It is designed to answer those who say, “Ok, I accept that the Jews were a majority in the land of Israel until the Roman expulsion, but that was two thousand years ago. It is not relevant to today.”
In this section Greenfield clearly shows that the same argument made by the indigenous peoples of North and South America, “ We were here first. We did not shrink voluntarily. We were forced to do so and we still claim the land,” applies equally to the Jewish people and the land of Israel during the last 2000 years.
The first part of this section shows that since the time of the expulsion of a large number of Jews by the Romans (but not all, as many Jewish communities flourished in the Golan and Galilee after the Roman conquest of Jerusalem) the land of Israel was never anything but a backwater for its conquerors. For the Byzantines it was ruled from Constantinople, for the early Arabs from Damascus, for the Crusaders from Western Europe, for the Turkish Mamluks from Cairo and for the Ottomans from Istanbul. During these times the land was an outpost of something larger and was always at the periphery of a stronger empire. Nor did any one people living in or around the land of Israel claim it as their “national home.”
This is quite the opposite of the Jewish situation, for the Jews of both the Islamic and Christian middle ages. To the degree that the conquerors of the land of Israel made its existence marginal to their major concerns (Jihad for the Moslems, Divine Right of Kings and the recreation of a Holy Roman Empire for the Europeans) the exiled Jews made the land of Israel central to their beliefs, rituals, and behavior. Diaspora Jewry was permeated with a desire to physically return to the land of Israel as pilgrims or returnees. For example, in what is now Moslem Iraq, from the 8th until the 11th centuries, Jews made regular long-term visits to Jerusalem to mourn the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, often staying there for weeks at a time. They were often hosted by local Jews, who lived in the city, full time.
Despite the massacre and expulsion of the Jews by the Crusaders, within a generation the Jewish presence in the Crusader Kingdom was substantial, especially in Hebron, Zefat and Tiberias. In 1211, 300 Rabbis from France made “aliya” and took up permanent residence in the land of Israel. Similarly, during the height of the Renaissance, when the Jews of Italy were prospering economically and culturally, many of them made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, if they could afford it.
When the Jews were expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, thousands moved to Zefat in the Galilee and made it a world centre of Kabbalistic study. During the 16th century there were 30,000 Jews in Zefat and from 1840 until today, the Jews have been a majority in Jerusalem, outnumbering the local Moslems and Christians.
All of this was driven by a ritual calendar that followed the seasons of the land of Israel and that put the Bible at the centre of Jewish life, with its promise of a return to Zion and freedom from Christian and Moslem oppression, whose theology and legal systems made the Jews second class citizens and, which resurfaced with devastating effect during the Holocaust of the 20th century.
New Blossoming of the Jewish Spirit
The American and the French revolutions changed the world. The old order of divine right of kings was broken. The scientific revolution, the enlightenment, the rebirth of democracy and the rise of ethnic nationalism created a world where reasonable Western Europeans could no longer justify the prison like confinement of the Jews in the crowded ghettos of Europe and, their continued treatment as second-class citizens. As the Jews joined one or a number of newly created European nation states, they quickly mastered the ways of secularism and many of them, at the request of their Gentile fellow citizens tried, for the first time in history, to take out the nationalism from Judaism. Thus was born the German Reformed Judaism movement.
In this part of the film Greenfield shows us the problems and prospects of Jews during the 19th century. The visuals shown and the scholars interviewed in this part of her documentary, demonstrate that on the one hand, Jews embraced the secularism of this new world and often tried to assimilate. On the other hand, as often as they tried, that is how often they were rejected and then demonized by representatives of the strong and residual traditional anti-Semitism that still permeated most of Europe and the Middle East. This tension gave rise to men of vision such as Moses Hess, Leon Pinsker and Theodore Herzl who opposed this new anti-Semitism. But Herzl, Hess and others did not invent Zionism merely as a response to a renewed Jew hatred.
They saw the ethnic nationalism all around them, the blessings of science and industry and literally imagined a renewed Jewish people in their own land, participating in the life of the world as equal and independent members of the family of nations, but reconstituted as a political nation in their own ancestral homeland, and thus regaining their respect as an equal nation. One scholar in the film simply points out that most of the Jews, who returned to Israel, even by 1900, came from the Moslem Middle East. They did not need 19th century secular ideology to tell them that they were persecuted and needed to return to the land of Israel. They returned first. They and their children then readily joined the Zionist movement.
The pull of Zion was so strong and continuous that “places of refuge” in Uganda, Madagascar and Argentina never attracted the interest of a majority of Jews, as did the literal return to the land of Israel. During the 19th century, Theodore Herzl, Moses Hess and orthodox Jewish Rabbinical Zionists provided the ideological and philosophical basis of what is now Israeli society and Israeli culture.
The physical return to Zion was now in gear even thought it faced enormous obstacles. But the modern European countries that also gave birth to the Dreyfus Case and the forgeries called the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were not going to facilitate the return of the Jewish people to their national homeland. Nor were the Ottoman Turks, who ruled the land from Istanbul.
The Iron Wall
This is a short part of the film where Ruth Wisse and Rick Richman both point out the fact that the Zionist movement started out without a concern for military strength. It was unconcerned with physical self-defense. Only when the Arabs of the land of Israel recreated the pogroms of Eastern Europe, with the passive complicity of the British authorities who were in charge of the League of Nations Palestine Mandate, and whose goal was to facilitate the creation of a Jewish homeland, did they start to arm themselves.
The key agent of change was the charismatic Vladimir Jabotinsky. He convinced the British army to allow the Jews to constitute an independent unit called the Jewish Legion, which helped liberate the land of Israel from the Ottoman Turks, who had allied themselves with the Germans during WWI. Then, during the early years of the British Mandate, he also organized the Jewish self-defense group called the Hagganah, which became the core of the Jewish army after Israeli Independence in 1948.
Knowing full well that the Nazis were the greatest threat to the Jewish people, Jabotinsky came to New York in 1940. At a meeting of 5,000 people he asked American Jews to constitute a Jewish fighting force to face the Nazis. This was two years before America joined the war, after having being attacked by the Japanese. It did not happen. Had he succeeded, today’s world might have become a much better place to be Jewish.
The World at War
In this section Greenfield uses historians such as Benny Morris, Anita Shapira and Jonathan Sarna to make the singular point that, contrary to contemporary (ahistorical opinion) the State of Israel was not established because of the Holocaust, but in spite of the Holocaust. The government of the United States did nothing to save the Jews of Europe of whom two thirds were murdered by the Nazis and their allies.
We also see that during WW1 the Turks ruled the land of Israel with an iron hand, conscripted Jews to fight in their army and expelled all Jews who had Russian identification papers. The triumph of the allies brought British rule to the land of Israel and the Balfour Declaration, which looked in favor upon the establishment of a Jewish National Home, in the land of Israel and which at first allowed for considerable Jewish immigration.
However, by 1939, on the eve of WWII and the Holocaust, the British published a White Paper, which in its own subtle way declared their commitment to the Jews null and void. From then on, the administration and the government of Britain favored the Arabs of the Middle East and the land of Israel. The Jews had been abandoned by the “allies.”
War time America was no different and perhaps worse than the British, for they accepted few Jewish refugees and never bombed the death camps. It is well known that if FDR was not a complete anti Semite, he was a man to whom the destiny and safety of the Jewish people meant little, or nothing. This may explain why American Jews after WWII rallied around the cause of the Jewish State, for the country to which they had given their complete loyalty, the United States, had shown a gross moral neglect of the Jews, one that has resurfaced, in today’s presidential administration.
From Ambivalence to Betrayal
In retrospect it is odd and hard to remember that in 1948 it was the Soviet Union that turned the tide in the UN in favor of Israeli independence. They then backed up their pledge by supplying the Israelis with weapons to fight off the five Arab armies that were trying to wipe it out, including the Arab Legion of Jordan (eastern Mandated Palestine), trained and manned by British officers.
Soon after, Stalin’s adoption of the worst aspects of 19th century anti Semitism moved the Soviets into the orbit of the Arab world, and later into an alliance with Egypt’s new military dictator, Gamal Abdel Nasser. At the time, the governments of the Arab League countries were liberally populated with former Nazis who were often given high positions within these dictatorships.
When Israel was threatened with destruction by the Egyptians, Syrians and Jordanians in 1967 it managed to defeat them. The Arabs then adopted the role of “victims” and lobbied the so-called non-aligned movement to align themselves against Zionism. This culminated in the UN sanctioned declaration of 1975 that Zionism is racism. It was only repealed after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
However, during the last twenty five years the left, the Islamic bloc of the UN and much of Western academia has taken up where the non-aligned movement left off. They now preach that Israel is a “mistake.” Like the books of the ‘dead white males’ who make up the intellectual heritage of the West, they demand that Western Civilization on campus, (the Bible, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Thomas Aquinas, Ben Franklin and Sigmund Freud, not to mention Winston Churchill), as well as Israel, “have got to go.”
A Matter of Law
It is now quite common in leftist and politically correct circles to declare that Israel has no legal right to exist and should be wiped off the map. At the same time, these same advocates of Jewish destruction are constantly marshaling UN resolutions to support their arguments. This is because they know that their new, largely young audience is ahistorical. And so in this section Greenfield quickly, clearly and almost effortlessly (which is always a sign of artistic clarity) shows that Israel’s right to exist was part of the Mandates created by the League of Nations after WWI and, that all these treaties were adopted and validated by the United Nations in 1945. They are still valid today. Thus Israel’s position and right to exist is guaranteed by international law (and, by its two peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan) How did this come about?
After WWI the Ottoman Empire was divided into various mandates by the League of Nations. These were established as protectorates with a goal to helping these areas attain independence in due course. The land of Israel was the basis of a mandate given to the British, west and east of the Jordan River, within which a Jewish homeland would be established. Soon after, they arbitrarily cut off eastern Palestine and created the state of Jordan, where no Jews were allowed to live.
Then, in 1947 when the Jews of the remaining mandate agreed to partition “Western Palestine” with the local Arabs, these Arabs refused and invited the nearby armies of the Arab League to destroy Israel. Israel survived, but lost one out of every one hundred Jews then living in the land.
In their frustration, the Arab countries diverted their rage towards the innocent Jewish communities who had lived among them for more than 1000 years. They engaged in pogroms, denationalized Jewish properties, took away passports, froze bank accounts, put Jews in prison and detention camps on trumped up charges, and treated Jews like second-class citizens. They drove out one million Jews, most of whom found a refuge in the newly created State of Israel. Their money and property have never been returned to them. Nor have they been compensated for any of their traumatic losses. I believe that what the Arab countries did to their Jewish communities is now called “ethnic cleansing.”
All of these Arab countries were and remain, various kinds of dictatorships and authoritarian states, that do not give their citizens the same rights as Israel’s Arabic speaking citizens, who are now the most secure and prosperous Arab community in the Near East.
In Every Single Generation
This part of the film focuses on the war of ideas. The left and its anti Semitic allies, which includes the Palestine Authority, have decided to rewrite history and deny anything specifically Jewish, Israeli or national about the Jewish relationship to the land of Israel, which includes denying that there ever once was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. In the early 1990s at a conference of Palestinian scholars, it was decided to rewrite history so that the only story of the area was that of the Arabs. On PA TV Dr. Jaber Khader, a professor at An Najab University has said, “The Jews have no existence in this Palestinian Land.”
The PA has joined UNESCO as a state and has used that membership to take holy sites of Christians and Jews and declare them Palestinian, such as the tomb of Abraham in Hebron. They have also transformed Jesus the Jew, into a Palestinian for they understand if they accept his Jewish identity, then this would imply Christian endorsement of a long term historical Jewish presence in the land of Israel. Noted classical scholar, Victor Davis Hanson, calls this, “history as therapy.”
The result of this systematic rewriting of history is to invert history. Instead of educated Europeans recognizing that Christian and Muslim civilizations gave rise to the Nazi treatment of the Jews, they claim that the Jews are treating Palestinians like Nazis. As an anthropologist I would like to bring to the reader’s attention a recent declared boycott of Israel by 250 US based anthropologists, and would point out that a growing number of anthropological journals, if not the majority of them, publish articles that regularly demonize Israel.
The Jews and their allies are now fighting a war of ideas whose goal is to delegitimize Israel and make the Iranian bid for nuclear weapons look like self-defense. It is a world turned upside down, and best evoked by the famous novel by George Orwell, 1984. What most viewers of the film do not realize, is that this narrative has become mainstream in American and Canadian colleges and universities, especially at the Ivy League schools.
North American Jewish parents are now paying millions of dollars to send their children to institutions of higher learning that teach Jew hatred. We, the hard working, hard saving, baby boomer parents, are heavily financing this war of ideas against the Jewish state here in North America. Jewish and non Jewish alumni from these universities and colleges have yet to organize protests, or return their degrees in protest.
The films closes with Professor Ruth Wisse, a Harvard based scholar of Yiddish and Jewish literature, who reminds us that Israelis and their allies have made one major mistake since 1948. They have not demanded respect. That is to say, they have not demanded that they be treated as the equal of all or any other nation, all the time. This film is a demand for that respect. I suggest you see it. Then, as Rabbi Hillel once recommended, go and study.