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Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism

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I ARRIVED home last night to find on my doorstep a copy of the new book Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism by Jack Ross.  How thrilling!  I knew Rabbi Berger, who died in 1996, and admired him greatly for his courageous work on behalf of what he called “emancipation and integration” and against Jewish nationalism, or Zionism.  (I’ve been reading his book The Jewish Dilemma, published in 1945, a well-reasoned yet passionate critique of Theodor Herzl’s program and beyond.)  He was truly the last great Classical Reform Jewish rabbi – Classical Reform Judaism having been founded in opposition to nationalism, to the ideas of diaspora and return to Zion.  (“We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.” –from The Pittsburgh Platform, 1885.)  Berger was a founder and long time director of the American Council for Judaism, which opposed formation of the state of Israel, and later of American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism. Among ACJ’s members were Frank Chodorov and Murray Rothbard. (ACJ was the subject of Thomas Kolsky’s 1992 book Jews Against Zionism).
Here is the publisher Potomac Books’ description:
Dramatic changes have taken place in the last decade with respect to the vmiews of the American Jewish community toward Israel and Zionism. Since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000, the involvement of the Israel lobby in precipitating the Iraq War and promoting war on Iran, and Israel’s widely condemned wars in Lebanon and Gaza, large swaths of the American Jewish community have been disenchanted with Israel and Zionism as at no other time since the founding of the State of Israel.
However, anti-Zionism in America has a long history. Elmer Berger was undoubtedly the best-known Jewish anti-Zionist during most of his lifetime, particularly from World War II through the 1967 Six-Day War and its aftermath. A Reform rabbi, Berger served throughout that period as the executive director of the American Council for Judaism, an anti-Zionist organization founded by leading Reform rabbis.
Author Jack Ross places liberal Jewish anti-Zionism (as opposed to that of Orthodox or revolutionary socialist Jews) in historical perspective. That brand of anti-Zionism was virtually embodied by Rabbi Berger and his predecessors in the Reform rabbinate. He advocated forcefully for his position, much to the chagrin of his Zionist detractors. The growing renaissance of liberal Jewish anti-Zionism, combined with the forgotten work of Rabbi Berger and the American Council for Judaism, makes a compelling case for revisiting his work in this full-length, definitive biography.
Bravo, Jack Ross!
Posted by Sheldon Richman.  Re-printed with acknowledgements to the libertarian blog site Free Association http://sheldonfreeassociation.blogspot.com/


5 thoughts on “Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism

  1. The Jewish return to Zion is prophesied in the Old Testament which is part of the Jewish scripture ( although admittedly in Jewish theology the books of the prophets are not given the same reverence as the Torah)
    As a Christian, my position is simply God said it, it has come to pass, and that is the end of it.
    Further more I do not believe any anti nationalist position has any place in a site promoting distributism.
    Distributist societies, such as Japan Costa Rica and now much of South America, including Venezuela and Ecuador, are invariably nationalist. to the degree they are distributist, and oppose the international Banking cartel, which is of course the main promotional force of Laissez Faire Capitalism.
    That is reality as opposed to half baked theories which do not work in Human society, but which are always. like the plague, present amongst us.
    Distributism, of course, can take many forms, and has no need for a mythical benign super national force. (which in all of human history has indeed been a complete contradiction of terms)
    The importance of the basic concept is that a sovereign democratically representative governments acting in accordance of the particular ethnic and cultural make up of the occupants of a particular nation, can make their own decisions on how distributed the wealth and ownership of means of production shall be, each in its own territory, and allow or restrict trade competition with other nations as best befits its own people.
    The prime tenet of internationalism or (lets call it its true name, Imperialism,) has always been unrestricted so called free trade,in all areas under its mandate regardless of its demonstrated destructive effects on the labouring classes.
    This has indeed been demonstrated so thoroughly in the last decade that to ignore that effect and to criticize the only force that can hold it in check, a return to nationalist control of the national monetary and trade systems, is to have ones head completly buried in the sand
    Ands as a person who has been involved in third party nationalist politics the past 15 years it has been more than a little encourageing to see my message finally striking a chord.
    In short methinks the author of this piece is in the wrong place with his paean to a Globalist so called man of God. .especially one so self importantly arrogant that he ignores the prophets of his own religion.

    Posted by John | July 1, 2011, 4:14 pm
  2. Zionism was created by Theodor Herzel and others at the end of the 19th Century, and in that era it was commonplace to be colonialist, to be racist, to be super-nationalist, to adore the nation-state,so the idea of France for the French, Germany for the Germans, and then some state for the Jews. This all formed the basis for Zionism.
    Zionism and Judaism are contrary to each other. Because Judaism is universal and humane, and Zionism is exactly the opposite. It is very narrow, very nationalistic, racist, colonialist, and all this. There is no “National Judaism.” There is Zionism and there is Judaism, and they are completely different.
    Zionism has nothing to do with Judaism. Because Judaism – a Reform Movement- that is highly, highly ethical. And so, you cannot connect Zionism with “highly ethical.” You can only connect the words “aggressive,” “oppressive,” “stealing,” “robbing” with Zionism. But not “highly ethical.”

    “Our race is the Master Race. We are divine gods on this planet. We are as different from the inferior races as they are from insects. In fact, compared to our race, other races are beasts and animals, cattle at best. Other races are considered as human excrement. Our destiny is to rule over the inferior races. Our earthly kingdom will be ruled by our leader with a rod of iron. The masses will lick our feet and serve us as our slaves.” Menaheim Begin, 6th Prime Minister of Israel.

    Does this narrative sound familiar to you? Think Nazi.

    Judaism in its correct form is not a religion of hate any more than are Christianity, Islam or Buddhism. Zionism, however, is a secular, geopolitical system of hate…it is NOT a religion. It is a power cult (hiding behind the Jewish faith) of death, greed, lying, avarice and self-aggrandizement which views with contempt and derision all who do not subscribe or submit to its dogma.

    Posted by Nalliah Thayabharan | May 11, 2012, 3:40 am
  3. We have been praying ever since, three times a day, for the “engathering of the exiles” [kibbutz galuyoth], returning to and restauration of Zion: “yehi ratzon milefanekha Adonay Elokheynu v’Elokhey Avoteynu sh’ta’aleynu b’simcha le’Artzenu v’tita’eynu b’gvuleynu”; “tkah b’shophar gadol l’heruteynu v’saah nes lekabetz galuyotheynu”.
    Zionism is the aspiration of the Jewish people to regain its liberty, independence and restore its homeland. Zionism is the aspiration of the enslaved and oppressed Jewish people for freedom and equality among the nations.
    It happened nowadays, there’s no doubt there’s room for much, much better, yet some of us are emphasising the “baruch ata shehechyanu v’highyanu la zman haze”! Lo kalah hee, lo kalah ha-derekh! Eli, Eli sh’lo iygamer l’Olam! v’ymru ymru Amen!

    Posted by Levi | October 1, 2013, 11:05 pm


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