In the beloved Old Country, a Jew has visions of her homeland

US Politics
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Last month I visited the Old Country for the first time. Poland. Land of my grandmother and grandfather, burial ground of countless unknown relatives. For six days, I wandered the country, and for six days I marinated in a deep nostalgia for a Jewish past I have never lived but have always felt far more connected to than, say, the Zionist-dominated present.

In one particularly moving episode, I walked the still-cobblestoned street where my grandfather walked as a boy, a narrow lane of Bialystok called Czysta Street where he, his parents, and eight siblings all lived [old homestead is pictured, below].

Lizzy Ratner's family's homestead in Bialystok

In another, I celebrated, cake and all, what would have been my great-grandparents’ 118th wedding anniversary. I visited the synagogue in Tykocin where one of my great grandfathers might have prayed. And I roamed the overgrown cemeteries of Warsaw and Bialystok, wondering which of my relatives were buried there, marveling at the tangled breadth of what once was, mourning its loss, and puzzling over why, if we’re going to insist on having some kind of a “homeland,” so many Jews demand that it be Israel when it so clearly should be Poland. Poland, land of latkes and bialys. Poland shel zahav. 

This, of course, isn’t the reaction you’re “supposed” to have. In the popular Zionist narrative, the Old Country – and the unspeakably murderous brutality that Jews suffered there – is the (non-Biblical) justification for the state of Israel. It’s the narrative stepping-stone that gets people from anti-Semitism to Eretz Yisrael, from colonization to justification, and a whole industry of books, teen tours, and UJA-style delegations has sprouted up to help cement the connection. 

And yet, when I returned from my trip and one of my more Zionist relatives asked the inevitable question – “So now you understand why Jews need Israel, right?” – I still couldn’t say “yes.” For me, the Old Country opened up a very different set of narratives. 

Let’s start with some basic facts. Jews have a long history in the sprawling eastern European basin that is and has been Poland. Some say this history stretches back over 1000 years, and almost all agree that there have been bona fide Jewish settlements in Polish lands since at least the 11th Century.  These Jews seem to have come, at least initially, from the wilds of Western Europe, driven by the rabid Jesus-freakery of the crusaders into the relatively tolerant arms of the emerging Polish kingdom (and the word “relative” really does need to be emphasized). It was hardly a picnic, but Poland’s comparative merits meant that Jews kept coming for decades and then centuries. By the mid-16th Century, as much as 75 percent of the world’s Jews on Polish soil, and by the eve of the Holocaust, Poland was home to the largest Jewish population in Europe. My own grandfather’s shtetl-town was a solid 70 percent Jewish in 1939; my grandmother’s town, Warsaw, was one-third Jewish. And as of 1998, it was estimated that more than three out of four American Jews could trace at least once grandparent to pre-Nazi Poland. 

As one of these three-out-of-four American Jews, I can attest to the enduring power of my Old Country roots. My childhood was Roman Vishniac photographs and The Fools of Chelm (along, oddly, with unhealthy doses of WASPy Victorianism courtesy of my all-girl private school). It was Yiddish-accented great-aunts and uncles who’d never managed to slough their Bialystoker ticks. It was an ethos of always needing to prepare for the worst – for famine, plague, or pogroms – despite obvious security and plenty. And it was stories, lots and lots of stories, of my grandpa Harry, né Osher, a small man who barely reached 5’ 4”,who had little more than an eighth grade education but amply made up for it with sechel and chutzpa, who was generous to a fault, and who believed, profoundly, that the fate suffered by Europe’s Jews meant that you did everything possible to prevent other people from suffering the same thing. 

Or, put differently, if I have any cultural proclivities at all other than those of the deracinated modern-day American, they clearly belong to the Yiddishe world of Jewish Poland – not the aggressive, militarized one of modern Israel. 

This sense persisted – pecked at me, really – throughout my Polish sojourn, and by the time I was half way through the trip I’d begun to nurture a stubbornly-elaborate fantasy: rather than settling in Israel, Jews had instead migrated en masse to the Polish Old Country where they re-claimed their homes, land, synagogues, and streets. What’s more, these Jews were joined in my imagination by Romany, gay folks, all the “undesirables” of the Nazi regime along with any other oppressed and dispossessed. After all, wouldn’t that have been a far more just resolution and rebuke to the powers of European racism and brutality – creating a refuge for the persecuted right in the bastards’ back yards – than creating a distant Jewish nation on Palestinian soil? Than repeating the war’s dark lessons of nationalism? And let’s be honest, if there was a land to which Jews had a legitimate, strong connection, wouldn’t it have been the one where the majority (though not all) had spent hundreds upon hundreds of years?

No doubt any Zionists or ultra-religious folk who might happen to be reading this are probably frothing at the mouth right about now, yanking at their beard hairs. “You’re romanticizing the Old Country!” they’ll shout (even as they romanticize Israel). “The Bible makes no mention of the land surrounding the Vistula and beyond,” they’ll cry. And then they’ll accuse me of the greatest crime of all: of failing to understand the lessons of the Holocaust, of shrugging off centuries of hate. 

In fact, I would argue that it’s just the opposite (though, if we’re talking guilt, I will cop in this instance to a certain regrettable Ashkenazi-centrism, though I’d also like to think this is more polemical than actual). 

Like most Jewish kids of a certain time and place, I grew up with the Holocaust as a kind of cosmic microwave background, glowing radioactive in the distance. From the time I was tiny, I could recite many of the essential, horrendous details the way some young Jews can recite Talmud: six million, Hitler, Mengele, Auschwitz, Einsatzgruppen, gas chamber, death march, Final Solution. And now, having actually had the chance to visit Poland, I suspect I’ll never fully recover from the sucker-punch of the experience: from Auschwitz, Treblinka [where the author is pictured below], and the utter obliteration of an entire way of life. The Nazis (with later help from the Poles and the Communists) really did do a smash-up job of erasing a whole culture. Where there were once homes, synagogues, and artisans’ shops there are now parks, churches, and ruins. Where there were once towns full of families, there are now mass graves. And where Yiddish music and theater once thrived there is now, as we discovered one distressing afternoon in Tykocin, the Polish equivalent of minstrel shows: young Varsovians dressed as if they’d raided the wardrobe department of Fiddler on the Roof – in peyos, tzitzit, black vests, and caps – doing the sorriest wedding-dance I’d ever seen.


But far from freeing me to embrace Israel, this just made me more disturbed – more ragingly angry, frankly – by what Israel has done, and continues to do, to Palestinians. Again and again, as I stared at the remnants of ghetto walls, I wondered, baffled, how a people that was forced to live – and die – behind walls could force another people to live – and die – behind walls? Or how these same people who were pushed from their homes could push another people from their homes? Or force them to cross checkpoints, carry I.D., waste from hunger, dig tunnels to get food, and die at the blunt end of an Israeli missile? These are things I simply cannot understand. And as powerfully as I felt them before going to Poland, I feel them more powerfully now. 

So in an attempt to re-wire the discourse just a bit, I would like to reclaim the Old Country from the jaws of Zionism. Instead of tours that whisk young people from Auschwitz to Israel, I would like to see trips that go from the Warsaw ghetto to the Jabaliya refugee camp. In place of a Jewish mainstream that looks only – and mistakenly – to Israel for its identity, I would like to see Jews who reach across time and space, to old countries and new countries, for a sense of who they are – and might be. But above all, if I can’t see an all-inclusive Yiddishe utopia resurrected in Poland, I would at least like to see the true lessons of “never again” enshrined in a single, consummately-inclusive Israeli-Palestinian state – a state that serves, through its unparalleled openness and respect for the rights of all its residents, as a true rebuke to the forces of hatred and genocide. I’ll admit that I don’t know exactly how to make it happen; policy often eludes me. But I do know that every reality begins with the notion of its possibility.

About Lizzy Ratner

Lizzy Ratner is a journalist in New York City. She is a co-editor with Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss of The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.

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84 Responses

  1. James
    August 8, 2009, 11:57 am

    thanks for sharing..

  2. Kathleen
    August 8, 2009, 2:07 pm

    Lizzy what a beautiful post/ article. So smart to retrace your roots. My grandparents came to the U.S. from Poland around 1920..Polish Catholic. Some of their relatives perished in WWII also. One thing I can never figure out is why when the numbers of people that Hitler’s killing machine wiped out why our media never and I mean never mentions the 3 million Poles who perished along with Gypsies handicapped, etc. Why we only hear about the 6 million Jews.

    You sound like you have read far more about the history and that part of the world than I know. I also wonder about just what the environment was like in Poland for so many Jews to have moved there if there was allegedly so much anti semitism. Had to be an environment that they felt somewhat welcome.

    Also wonder about what the environment was for so many Poles to have participated as (guards, etc) in the killing machine. What was the situation like between Jews and Catholic Polish before Hitler came to power?

    Odd that the Jews were fleeing due to the “Jesus Freakery” yet the Bible (written by a bunch of Jewish guys) is so often used to lay claim to the land now referred to as Israel. As if Yahweh was a real estate broker some 2000 years ago. Real problems. Have never figured out the “chosen people” spin either.

    “These Jews seem to have come, at least initially, from the wilds of Western Europe, driven by the rabid Jesus-freakery of the crusaders into the relatively tolerant arms of the emerging Polish kingdom (and the word “relative” really does need to be emphasized).”

  3. Richard Witty
    August 8, 2009, 2:28 pm

    Thanks for sharing.

    Your experience though doesn’t negate the importance of Israel for the Jewish community.

    Most in Israel hold “conditional” views towards Palestinians, NOT the expansion at all costs utopias.

    They mostly conclude, “IF” there is a demonstrated path in which Palestinians and Jews/Israelis (often not distinguished in Arabic) can coexist, then wonderful. If not, then, we cannot just suicide or agree that we are even mosquito fodder (rockets, intermittent terror).

    Democracy is in the present.

    I have musings for suburban New Rochelle, from which very very few of my friends and family remain. I suppose I could have musings from Lithuania, remembering the very few photos my grandparents collected. But, they would be irrelevant.

    Maybe the utopian religious musings of Solomonic times are dismissable.

    The 6+ million Jews there now aren’t though.

    Its appropriate to oppose wrongs. Its necessary though to distinguish whether in opposing a wrong, one is not adding one’s voice to another, or even a greater one. There are too many dissenters and Palestinian solidarity that are frankly willing, even eager, to chase the Jews out. Even that sentiment when applied to settlers that have lived where they DO live for 40 years, is a bit more aggressive than I would ever condone.

    Does the Palestinian that has never seen his grandfather’s residence, really have an uncompromisable claim to it? Certainly, a great deal, but a claim sufficient to dispossess another?

    • LeaNder
      August 9, 2009, 12:18 pm

      Even that sentiment when applied to settlers that have lived where they DO live for 40 years, is a bit more aggressive than I would ever condone.

      Look at the graph. 40 years back would mean 1969.

      1986 = 50.000
      2008 = 300.000

      So we aren’t talking about 40 years, no matter how often you repeat that number, but 22. And these 22 year make 83% of all. No 40 years in sight on these statistic. You trust the Israeli Bureau of Central Statistics, I am assuming.

      Here the whole blog entry.

      • kylebisme
        August 9, 2009, 6:35 pm

        You are falling for the Zionist trick of not counting the settlements built around and incorporated into East Jerusalem in those statistics; the actual current number of settlers being around half a million.

    • Donald
      August 9, 2009, 2:28 pm

      “Most in Israel hold “conditional” views towards Palestinians, NOT the expansion at all costs utopias.

      They mostly conclude, “IF” there is a demonstrated path in which Palestinians and Jews/Israelis (often not distinguished in Arabic) can coexist, then wonderful. If not, then, we cannot just suicide or agree that we are even mosquito fodder (rockets, intermittent terror).”

      My impression is that when you exclude the Arab haters on the one hand and the minority of sincere peace activists on the other, most Israelis don’t give a fig about Palestinians–they just don’t want to be targets of their violence. They don’t much care about Palestinians who are the targets of Israeli violence. This is just human nature–Americans are no different. Many Americans (or most?) seem to care very little about how our foreign policy effects others, so long as those others don’t take potshots at us.

      As for dispossession, you’ve said the settlers should be allowed to stay in many cases if they are willing to live under Palestinian rule, but to be really fair about it, at least some Palestinians should be allowed to settle inside Israel proper if they are willing to live under Israeli law. I don’t think you can really talk about fairness to the settlers and favor a two-state solution without confronting the fact that Israelis have been given massive privileges over the decades and just to freeze things along the 67 borders and also let Israeli settlers stay is more of the same. There are practical reasons (fear of civil war being the main one) why “one man, one vote” might not be such a good idea, but that would be the only truly just solution if it could be made to work (i.e., no civil war). But don’t start talking about fairness to the settlers unless you want others to start thinking about who has not had the choice of living wherever they wanted.

    • Shingo
      August 9, 2009, 5:28 pm

      A typically dissingenunous post from you Richard,

      As alwaysk, your fundamental argument is that, while the Palestinians are justified in their sense of outrage and injustice, they should swallow th ebitter pill and accept the status quo.

      You and Israel’s defendders repeatedly argue that Israel is a democracy. If so, then it should respect property rights and as such, the Palestinian that has never seen his grandfather’s residence, has an absolute claim to it, as would anybody in the Western world to land that they inherited.

      What’s more, your position is even more hypocritical, when you consider that a Jew, who has never seen Israel, is granted rights to claim a stake in the land that was stolen from the grandfather of that Palestinian, and thereby, dispossing him in the first place?

    • seansmom
      August 12, 2009, 8:37 pm

      They mostly conclude, “IF” there is a demonstrated path in which Palestinians and Jews/Israelis (often not distinguished in Arabic) can coexist, then wonderful. If not, then, we cannot just suicide or agree that we are even mosquito fodder (rockets, intermittent terror).

      try going home? Or maybe just give tourism revenue back to the people of the land? Give them back the airport you people call the Ben Gurion but was not really the name of the airport? Move out of the village that belongs to some of the people murdered in the Gaza massacre! Move out of Jerusalem that belong to them too! I have to say, I really don’t like thieves either! YES the USA is a thief too! I am ALL on the side of the native Americans! I don’t like this thieving business and I don’t like genocide! I don’t like the people who perpetrate it or condone it! People like this make the world an ugly place! So naturally I don’t like Israel! I root against you day and night.

  4. Richard Witty
    August 8, 2009, 2:30 pm

    I think the real work for progressive Jews is to “take back” Zionism from the right.

    To declare that democracy is critical, that the extent of jurisdiction is more than enough, and accept that proudly.

    No shame, no aggression.

    • Citizen
      August 9, 2009, 6:27 pm

      Actually, Mister Witty, you cannot take Zionism back from the right because Zionism itself is a predator philosophy from inception and in fact. Zionism per se requires taking land from others. Pretty simple. Remember the old French novel with the plot
      where the poor protagonist stole a loaf of bread?

  5. Psychopathic god
    August 8, 2009, 2:30 pm

    Indeed, thanks for sharing.
    I’m going to risk a. tramping on your profound thoughts about your Polish Jewish roots; the possibility of being called an antisemite/holocaust denier/fill-in-the-blank all-round bad egg; and the possibility that Phil will not permit these thoughts to be published.

    I’m not Jewish or Polish; I’m the first-generation child of Italian immigrants. My mother lost her farm in Italy to the forces of WWII; my father lost his sight to an ordinance blast while fighting with the US Navy in WWII. My family has known suffering and loss caused by the evil of war.
    I’ve been labelled an antisemite because I demand that my parents’ suffering be recognized just as really as the suffering of Holocaust victims. I insist that there is “no aristocracy of suffering.” When innocent people are made to suffer from man’s inhumanity, each instance is one to which we should say, “Never again.”

    My Italian parents made a life for themselves and created a family in a neighborhood that was defined as a Polish Catholic parish, so we children went to a Polish Catholic school. We learned Polish starting in first grade, then went home and heard Italian at home. That was not a bad thing.
    The bad part was that we learned little else than how to pray in Polish, all through grade school. I came to resent the education I didn’t get, and raged against the school, the nuns, the church. How dare they not teach me!
    Eventually, I learned that the Polish order of nuns who were my teachers had escaped from Poland, part of only a few nuns who were able to do so. They were allowed to leave precisely because they were NOT educated: their apostolate was to be housekeepers for the priests. The many educated nuns had been killed by Germans intent on erasing Polish culture and erudition.
    There is no aristocracy of suffering.
    When innocent people are made to suffer from man’s inhumanity, each instance is one to which we should say, “Never again.”
    That goes EQUALLY for every person who draws a breath, whether a Polish Jewish victim of Holocaust, or a young Italian boy fighting for the US Navy, or an Italian girl whose beloved village farm was stolen from her, or an American-born child of Italian immigrants who was badly educated in a Polish Catholic school because a hideous evil thought Polish culture should be obliterated.
    Never again.

    • Shmuel
      August 9, 2009, 3:36 am

      You are right, P.god, that “there is no aristocracy of suffering”, but there are factually different levels of suffering and inhumanity. As a Polish Jew living in Italy and coming into contact with human stories and memories different from my own, it is clear to me that the suffering of most Italian non-Jews under Fascism, German occupation and war, was not the same as that of most Italian Jews, and the suffering of Italian Jews was not the same as the suffering of Polish Jews. This is not a matter of aristocracy or privilege, but crucial to understanding history and its lessons. Like Ms. Ratner, I am deeply pained by the use that has been made of Jewish suffering to inflict suffering on others. That is the problem with the Holocaust today, not the recognition of the Nazi genocide as an outrage to our humanity that exceeds even the outrage of war.

      • Shingo
        August 9, 2009, 5:33 pm

        Very well put Shmuel,

        I think the degree of suffering is very difficult to quantify, and I would argue that on an individual level, it would be wrong to suggest that no Gentile suffered as much as any Jewish person might have suffered n WWII.

        The uniqueness of the persecution and victimization that the Jews of Europe suffered has no precedent and as an ethnicity, the suffering that was inflicted upon them is most certainly unique.

      • Citizen
        August 10, 2009, 6:50 am

        You make a good point, Shmuel. Hence the verbiage “Crimes Against Humanity.”
        Hence more such as “genocide.”
        It is the last word in irony that the Holocaust is today used as an excuse for what is
        being done to the Palestinians by the USA and Israel.

    • seansmom
      August 12, 2009, 8:46 pm

      When innocent people are made to suffer from man’s inhumanity, each instance is one to which we should say, “Never again.”

      amen g.pod!

  6. BradAllen
    August 8, 2009, 2:36 pm

    Wow… I hope many Jews read this, this is reality with intelligence and a warm heart beating. Thans for sharing this.

  7. MRW
    August 8, 2009, 2:43 pm


    You need to read Paul Kriwaczek’s Yiddish Civilization, recommended by Tony Karon which he describes as a must-read and endlessly revealing tale of the years between the Roman Empire and the collapse of the heym. Scroll down on Karon’s page for some interesting tidbits.

    The Jews of Poland came from the East, not the West. Kriwaczek states there is no Jewish or Gentile historical evidence that the Jews of Germany fled to Poland to escape persecution during the Crusades. They were invited along with Christian Germans, sometimes by the aristocracy, sometimes by the rulers, sometimes arriving as the conquerors themselves, because they were better educated and had connections to commerce and politics. Karon highlights a passage that describes how “Jews had long been used by the Polish nobles as their tax collectors and bailiffs, making them the on-the-ground presence of an oppressive feudal system under which the peasants chafed. It was a moral disaster.” The subsequent passage is worth reading.

    Another book to read is Israeli historian Israel Shahak’s history short book of the history of the Jews—available for free on This romanticism of the truth, when the net can dispel so much historical BS, is becoming as they say in French effrayant.

  8. MRW
    August 8, 2009, 2:45 pm

    I apologize. I obviously dont know how to use the new html tags and attributes here.

    • kylebisme
      August 9, 2009, 3:07 am

      It is standard HTML with limited functionality as detailed bellow the posting window, you should be able to get the gist from this page.

    • LeaNder
      August 9, 2009, 12:36 pm

      You simply didn’t close the tag, MRW. I had this problem occasionally. Since there is no preview, it may make sense to check the tags on another page, if you use many.

      I do not always but sometimes. E.g. here. But basically it’s enough to check if all tags are closed.

      There surely is an advantage now, that you can’t create e.g. italic threads, or as in your case above, link threats, since all tags are closed automatically with your post. That wasn’t always the case.

      • LeaNder
        August 9, 2009, 12:37 pm

        threads, of course.

  9. Tom
    August 8, 2009, 3:04 pm

    Great post. Reminds me of Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock, in which a character, (pretending to be Philip Roth ) gives speeches in Jerusalem advocating “Diasporism”, suggesting that the true home of the Jewish people is Poland. One thing for sure, more great art came out of Jews in Eastern Europe than from Jews in Israel.

    • MRW
      August 9, 2009, 2:15 am

      One thing for sure, more great art came out of Jews in Eastern Europe than from Jews in Israel.

      Because they were assimilated.

      No great art has ever come out of Israel.

  10. Citizen
    August 8, 2009, 3:09 pm

    Thank you Ms. Ratner, for sharing. Here’s the Jewish Virtual Library’s take on Jew in Poland over history: link to

    It seems the old Jewish Diaspora narrative continues, in Poland, as everywhere, especially around the Western World. Eventually a country has had enough of the
    Jews as a collective and pressures them to move elsewhere. They appear to be always
    the middleman, between the goy elite and the goy masses. The goy elite exploits the masses via their jewish minions, who are useful tools; the goy masses are always at the bottom of the power hierarchy. The difference in the modern era is that in the USA the
    jews have actually become a significant part of the ultimate power class, and in Israel
    they are the only power class. Further, as to USA foreign policy, the USA jews and the Israeli jews ARE the power class in both places. This is a new situation. It is now the Palestinians who need to produce a second edition of MAUS. The comic book will
    need to include a lot more anthropomorphic animal types. And each one more complex. A new Updike novel needs to appear, one more complex than both Updike and
    Roth. We need a new Red Badge Of Courage. Any takers?

    • LeaNder
      August 9, 2009, 12:43 pm

      Look, citizen, if it was as easy as you suggest. The huge waves of immegration from Russia wouldn’t have created a similar problem here in the early 20 century before the Nazis. Fact is these people weren’t on the average rich. …

      And huge areas with Polish Jews at one point in history became Russian Jews.

      The “middlemen” is part of a much larger and more complex story. The Polish kings invited Jews at a time when not many European doors were open.

      • Citizen
        August 9, 2009, 6:32 pm

        Nothing you say changes what I said, LeaNder. What exactly is your point?

    • Psychopathic god
      August 9, 2009, 1:10 pm

      In Ruderman’s lectures on the intellectual history of Jews, he discusses an Andalusian Jewish poet who wrote along these lines: “We Jews have attained the highest degree of influence in this culture; it’s government leaders depend on us Jews; we are prosperous, we are creative, we are intelligent. God told us we were to be the leaders of mankind. WHY AREN’T WE IN CHARGE? God PROMISED us we were to be in charge….”

  11. homingpigeon
    August 8, 2009, 3:52 pm

    “I’ll admit that I don’t know exactly how to make it happen; policy often eludes me. But I do know that every reality begins with the notion of its possibility.”

    Keep writing moving articles like that and you’re making it happen. The pigeon is pleased to be on the same planet as you.

  12. VR
    August 8, 2009, 8:56 pm

    “And then they’ll accuse me of the greatest crime of all: of failing to understand the lessons of the Holocaust, of shrugging off centuries of hate. ”

    On the contrary I would say those who have not learned the lessons of the Holocaust are those who repeat the same actions. Just like I would say a criminal has not learned if he commits the same crime, he stands before the judge and the judge says apparently you did not learn your lesson. I would apply the same to a group of people, if they commit atrocities in kind they have not learned the lesson. The “never again” is meant to have a universal application, if it is void of this the same crimes will continue to occur. Anyone who refuses to admit this and continues on the same course has become willfully blind, they have become ingrown, and they refuse to grow. At that point it does not matter how many reminders we give about what happened to us, we can have a Holocaust special on TV every couple of hours and a blockbuster movie every quarter and it produces nothing but reminder that we use as a selfish excuse do it to others before they do it to us –


    • MRW
      August 9, 2009, 2:34 am

      we can have a Holocaust special on TV every couple of hours and a blockbuster movie every quarter

      Then we read the news from Israel and the Israeli policy and attitude towards the Gazans and realize they learned nothing. Zip.

    • seansmom
      August 12, 2009, 8:53 pm

      I would give up the holocaust if I was a Jew out of embarrassment. . After all these years it seems to be getting rather obvious to most people. A bromide that doesn’t do the job when Israel massacres people who were there before they got there and who are not going away.

      • Shmuel
        August 13, 2009, 2:10 am

        If you mean give up the Holocaust as an excuse for theft and murder, I’m all with you. If you mean give up the Holocaust as a weapon, hear hear. If you mean give up the Holocaust as something to be jealously guarded against comparison to other human tragedy and suffering, amen. But if you mean move on and forget about it, I wish we could. The Holocaust is a giant hole in my family and my culture. It is the disappearance of a civilisation, and the tremendous peronal anguish of people I have known and loved. As a Jew I am ashamed of Israel’s actions and of the many Jews and non-Jews who support them. I am also outraged at the cynical exploitation of the Holocaust and the descration of the memories of my aunts and uncles and cousins. Sadly, tragically, we can’t just give it up.

  13. seafoid
    August 9, 2009, 3:08 am

    Very little in the mainstream is written about the ethnic cleansing years in Europe and very few non-specialists (even the descendants of the victims) know much about them . Germans don’t talk about what happened after ww2, Turks don’t talk about the expulsions from Salonica, Greeks don’t discuss the Pontic tragedy. Poles don’t talk about how their country was shifted 300 km west. Most Poles who now live in what was once Pomerania don’t know their roots are in Galicia.

    The 100 years of European history to 1950 are dreadful and full of a sadness and emptiness that no bombing of Gaza can ever erase.

  14. Shmuel
    August 9, 2009, 3:10 am

    Thanks. You have expressed many of my own thoughts on the subject, although I have (so far) felt unable to visit the places in which most of my family was murdered, along with their entire civilisation. Zionism, with its utter contempt for the Eastern European diaspora most of its leaders came from, and its active efforts to erase everything but the memory of persecution, finished the job.

  15. Eva Smagacz
    August 9, 2009, 3:12 am

    In Poland, … there was little question: Jews were Jews. With some exception, Jews neither considered themselves nor were they regarded by others as Polish or Polish Jews. As is well known, Jews in Poland were allowed to have their own laws and institutions. They were a nation unto themselves and they maintained their nationhood in Poland. From the time of their arrival and through the centuries, they sought to protect their way of life. They were not merely a separate religion but a tightly-knit community, leading life largely separate from Poles. They had their own
    customs, culture, dress, schools, courts, community government, and language (in the 1930 census almost 80 percent declared Yiddish as their mother tongue). Menachem Begin’s father refused to learn Polish. In a word, the vast majority of Jews were unintegrated socially and culturally in the fabric of the larger society. They shared little or no national sentiment or common allegiance with the Poles. They and the Poles were almost strangers. They avoided association with the vast majority of the population, the Polish peasantry, not wanting to live like, or with, them.

    Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski, Jews in Poland: A Documentary History (New York: Hippocrene, 1993;

    • LeaNder
      August 9, 2009, 12:49 pm

      Look, Eva, this is a generalization too. As far as I remember there were many cities in Poland that had really high percentages of Jewish citizens. When were Jews in Poland emancipated?

      You can’t mix up several centuries.

      • Eva Smagacz
        August 9, 2009, 3:39 pm

        LeaNder, I’m just quoting Pogonowski – I have no experience of Poland with Jews. I never knowingly met a Jew until I came to England. All my knowledge of Jews is from books, and stories from my grandparents’ generation.

      • Citizen
        August 9, 2009, 6:40 pm

        Again, LeaNder, What is your logical point? You seem to be suffering from some
        ideological persuasion; what is it? Nobody here knows. Is it just the Shoah, but not
        the Nakba? You love your hair shirt so much, you want to give it to everybody?

      • LeaNder
        August 9, 2009, 7:20 pm

        My main point is. If you don’t know the basics, in our specific case, at what time Poland granted Jewish Poles emancipation or equal citizen rights, you can’t blame them for keeping themselves apart, or creating their own structures. Obviously that was as much the decision or the wish of the feudal lord as their own or their leaders wish at the time. For him it was much more easy to tax the whole group collectively than to create structures to tax them.

        Try for one second to imagine European history without Hitler and the Nazis, and without Russia’s resistance to change. Without Russian troubles and the scapegoating of Jews by e.g. the elites or the Blackhundred. Without Russian pogroms there wouldn’t have been Zionism. Without the Tzar’s resistance to change no communism on Russian ground. Without Hitler Zionism would have never reached the stage and support it did, including initially from the Nazis. I don’t find it too difficult to imagine that without the specific correlations above Jews would be integrated as European citizens in their specific countries, no doubt with more or less initial resistance from special interest groups.

        I don’t like it when history is read backwards, it doesn’t make any sense. All human beings have to somehow adapt to circumstances. It is not so easy that Jews wanted to keep themselves apart only, the countries they went to didn’t want to integrate them as easily just as much. This is a complex story.

        When I read a couple of specialists on the topic several years ago, I realized what kind of institutional frames could have quite possibly created what rumors. If you don’t understand something, it’s easy to misjudge. But if you do not understand there is also a big danger, that you force whatever you read into this basic rumor frame.

        I can’t think of the expert’s name I would like to suggest you read about the larger context. I can check. But be prepared it’s not entertaining adventure literature complex studies.

  16. Eva Smagacz
    August 9, 2009, 3:15 am

    In an article entitled, “Jews and Poles Lived Together for 800 Years But Were Not Integrated,” published in the New York newspaper Forverts (September 17, 1944), Yiddish author and Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote under the pen-name Icchok Warszawski:

    Rarely did a Jew think it was necessary to learn Polish; rarely was a Jew interested in Polish history or Polish politics. … Even in the last few years it was still a rare ccurrence that a Jew would speak Polish well. Out of three million Jews living in Poland, two-and-a-half million were not able to write a simple letter in Polish and they spoke [Polish] very poorly. There are hundreds of thousands of Jews in Poland to whom Polish was as unfamiliar as Turkish.
    The undersigned was connected with Poland for generations, but his father did not know more than two words in Polish. And it never even occurred to him that there was something amiss in that.

    Bashevis Singer again returned to this theme in the March 20, 1964 issue of Forverts: “My mouth could not get accustomed to the soft consonants of that [Polish] language. My forefathers have lived for centuries in Poland but in reality I was a foreigner, with separate language, ideas and religion. I sensed the oddness of this situation and often considered moving to Palestine.”

    Singer recalls wanting to learn Polish as a boy growing up in Warsaw, but his father scoffed at the notion.

  17. Eva Smagacz
    August 9, 2009, 3:24 am

    Many Jews who became residents of the reborn Polish state in the aftermath of World War I were in fact opposed to Polish rule and the concept of Polish nationhood. They would only settle for living in Poland under one condition: full autonomy, which meant separation from the “Other”—their Polish neighbours.

    Zionists, who dominated the joint committee of East European Jewish delegations at the [Paris]Peace Conference and enjoyed the support of the American Jewish Congress, demanded that Poland … recognize their Jewish residents as members of a distinct nation, with the right to collective representation at both state and international levels.

    This would entail the creation of a separate Jewish parliament in Poland, alongside a state parliament representing all the country’s nhabitants, and it would mean the creation of a Jewish seat at the League of Nations.

    In demanding formal, corporate, political/diplomatic status for a territorially dispersed nation, as distinct from a state, the Zionists were challenging traditional notions about the indivisibility of state sovereignty.

    Aviel Roshwald, Ethnic Nationalism and the Fall of Empires: Central Europe, Russia and the Middle East, 1914–1923 (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 165.

    • Queue
      August 10, 2009, 7:25 am

      Thanks for all the citations Eva. I learned more about the history of Jews in Poland from your last three posts than I have anywhere else.

  18. Danaa
    August 9, 2009, 10:07 am

    Witty – I finally figured out where you are wrong:

    The israelis who consider themselves Jewish (who may or may not be so) despise Arabs with a patience you cannot even begin to imagine. They were brought up to dislike and suspect anything Arabic and have absolutely no desire to live together in peace with the original inhabitants of the land. Exceptionalism and superiority is what Israelis are taught in their schools. Fear is but another tool to maintain separateness at all costs. You are not from israel, Witty and I submit to you that you have nothing in common with the so-called jews who live there. You share nary a blood line or even a narrative, except most superficially. When young americans are pulled into the israel myth – such as the west point traitor tzvi mark who was featured here recently, or Rob Browne’s niece, they are drawn into a cult, the extent and depth of which you don’t know but the outlines of which many people here are beginning to perceive.

    Sadly, the Israelis who consider themselves Jewish do not share your beatiuous view of them. They are – have become – purely selfish – much as any conquering tribe has done from time immemorial. It is ours because we took it – to the victor go the spoils.

    Continuing to attribute to this group of people attributes of spirituality will only lead you to be negatively surprised by the depth of the depravity of their soul – time and again.

    Now let’s see if the quote feature worked.

  19. Danaa
    August 9, 2009, 10:09 am

    It didn’t.

    Here is the Witty quote I was trying to single out:

    “Most in Israel hold “conditional” views towards Palestinians, NOT the expansion at all costs utopias.

    They mostly conclude, “IF” there is a demonstrated path in which Palestinians and Jews/Israelis (often not distinguished in Arabic) can coexist, then wonderful. If not, then, we cannot just suicide or agree that we are even mosquito fodder (rockets, intermittent terror).”

    • Richard Witty
      August 9, 2009, 2:52 pm

      And by conditional,

      Do you think that I mean “easy”, so easy that Hamas can say in a couple public statements in English, “we would accept if the majority of resident and diaspora Palestinians stupidly accept an Israel at the green line?

      Conditional means the conditions that are within the reasonable range of consent. So, for Israelis, having experienced terror in their neighborhoods (without warning, without a state of escalation) and also having experienced terror in the form of missiles shot over walls and boundaries from Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, that includes a high bar of confidence of security.

      I think that bar of confidence can be constructed, and is in process of being suggested and constructed through a combination of treaty, proposed physical features, border protocols, and other consented features that I don’t have a clue about.

      I personally believe that there are MANY actions and policy changes that Israel could have done and can do unilaterally without harming its security. That Netanyahu chooses to punish so as to have a bargaining chip, is sick, thuggish.

      Peace is constructed by an intersection of needs. To the extent that each group makes unnecessary demands (not needs), they deter the prospect of peace. So, for example, I personally don’t believe that Jerusalem for either state should be a “red line”. That seems to be rhetoric to me. A capital is a material location, a set of buildings, a meeting place. To romanticize a historic or poetic capital to a current necessity is silly.

      Unnecessary conditions make an intersection of needs difficult. Politics, to get elected, all adrenaline driven rather than the progressive’s basis, compassionate reason.

      Its wierd when dissenters use language like “what’s wrong with him”, instead of addressing content.

      I do know the cult. I live near it. My son is a chabadnik, and some of my closest friends are chabadniks. We differ, and the dozen or so that I know live in very liberal areas of the state and are attempting to appeal to our sensitivities. Its very cool to see chabadniks join ecology organizations and try to promote solar energy for example. (Who would have thunk? They showed me a video of the rebbe advocating for solar energy in 1978 at a lecture to his thousands of bearded and incredulous followers.)

      The chabadniks that I know are definitively opposed to the concept of state, and state force, as valid means to acquire property in the historical Israel, or for any implication of messianic time.

      The neo-orthodox hilltop youth do indulge in that cult. They somehow ignore the daily verse, “If you keep my commandments, I will give you the rain in its time…. If you don’t, you will be scattered like dust”.

      That community is an “if” community as well. The means to reach them though is through discussion with the rabbis, on the basis of Torah, and that takes learning Torah to do at all, and to a high level of seriousness to be listened to at all. (Which I haven’t yet done.)

      • Shingo
        August 10, 2009, 6:24 pm


        What’s the problem with Hamas’ public statement and when have they ever used the term ““we would accept if the majority of resident and diaspora Palestinians stupidly accept an Israel at the green line?”

        I am asking you to produce a link to this source. You have made it a habbit of making outlandishstatements without providing links.

        Whatever fear and trauma you attribute to the Israelis having suffered, the Palestinians have suffered much worse, by an order of magnitude.

        Whatever terrori Israelis might have experienced terror in their neighborhoods (without warning, without a state of escalation) is but a fraction fo what the Palestinians have experienced. Whatever missiles have been shot over walls and boundaries from Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, are but a tiny fraction (in number and lethality) of the missiles that Israel has unleashed on these parties.

      • The Hasbara Buster
        August 10, 2009, 10:29 pm

        Richard, the neo-orthodox hilltop youth are a bunch of criminals. You don’t learn religious books to stop criminals from stealing other people’s property. You go with the police and jail them.

        Israel’s failure to crack down on its extremist Jews is indicative of the true extent of its commitment to peace.

      • LeaNder
        August 11, 2009, 7:35 am

        Interesting catch. I doubt he quoted. He is simply guessing what the Hamas leadership thinks. But since he is no Palestinians in the process he obviously is somehow projecting his own thought on theirs.


        But he would call it historical experiences.

      • Richard Witty
        August 11, 2009, 8:56 am

        The “stupidly” I put in. Sometimes you can read it between the lines, or merely suspect it, or sometimes their spokespersons give it a cue.

        The impression among those that don’t gullibly digest Hamas’ statements (the majority in the world), is one of distrust, that of observing a history of political opportunism (mixed with sincere social service among many, but not the politicos).

        Is there good reason at all to compete for who is a bigger victim. If the goal is fair peace and reconciliation, there are significant compromises to be made on all fronts, including some that seem fundamental.

        The attitude of “I’m a proud and non-compromising warrior” sometimes improves things, sometimes harms them.

  20. gte
    August 9, 2009, 10:31 am

    A lovely, thoughtful, and provocative (in the best kind of way) post. Thank you for sharing. -gte

  21. mayangrl
    August 9, 2009, 12:07 pm

    “Does the Palestinian that has never seen his grandfather’s residence, really have an uncompromisable claim to it? Certainly, a great deal, but a claim sufficient to dispossess another?”

    This was only 60 years ago. Now let’s try the quote slightly altered:

    “Does the Jew that has never seen his ancestors’ residence of a thousand plus years ago, really have an uncompromisable claim to it? Certainly, a great deal, but a claim sufficient to dispossess another?”

    Apparently yes! God was in the real estate business once upon a time and gave all Jews, for all eternity, claim to the land. So it is now the manifest destiny of the Israelis to own all land from the sea to Jordan, and whoa to all those who get in the way.

  22. Citizen
    August 9, 2009, 1:35 pm

    You have to understand, Witty is a Jew reared in the USA, and totally protected by
    goy laws in a nation that is 98% goy. Actually he is overprotected as a Jew. Homeland Security gives his Jewish community much more protection than an any Goy community;
    his community in Israel gets more US goy dollars than any goy commnunity in the USA.
    The thanks the goys get is zero; in fact, it’s expected, as if US goys bought the Talmud, which they did; they just don’t know it.

    • Shmuel
      August 9, 2009, 2:09 pm

      Can you please stop making these derogatory references to the Talmud, which – refined, interpreted, modified, reconstructed – is the basis for all modern Judaism. Zionism is a Jewish version of 19th-20th-century European nationalism, rejected by a majority of Jews of all kinds (Bundists, Reform, Ultra-Orthodox, etc.) prior to the Holocaust. The Jewish-religious component of Zionism is even more negligible than the socialist veneer given to it by Labour Zionism. To suggest that the racism and sense of entitlement exhibited by Zionists today is inherent to Judaism is factually incorrect and a slur against all Jews throughout the ages. The correct term for such an approach, also coined in the 19th century, is anti-Semitism.

      • Citizen
        August 9, 2009, 6:59 pm

        Hi, Shmuel.

        Yes, you are correct when you say that Zionism is a Jewish version of late 19th to 20th Century European
        nationalism. And , yes , it was rejected prior to the Shoah by the Diaspora. However, the actual
        double standard in the Talmud is there for all to see, so how is it factually incorrect?
        Do you say that the Talmud does not distinguish between how A JEW SHOULD TREAT a Jew versus a Gentile in the same situation?

      • Colin Murray
        August 9, 2009, 8:59 pm

        Shmuel, I agree with all of your points, and your succinct summary is one that should be heard more often. I suspect that most people, upon realization that there is something not quite right with the traditional Zionist narrative we learn in America, know next to nothing about the difference between Zionism and Judaism, or the historical context of the former and diversity in the latter. I didn’t, and I don’t think it’s easy to figure it out on one’s own, even with the time and inclination. Now that politically active Zionists are coming under increasing scrutiny and criticism it is important that people revising their views understand.

      • Danaa
        August 9, 2009, 10:44 pm

        Shmuel, what citizen is probably referring to are the talmudic prohibitions on certain activities by Jews (such as working on Sabath, or exploiting another jew) which are OK for Goys. It is not true that the entire talmud is of one mind however. many rabbis argued that it is just as much a violation to cheat a goy as it is to cheat a jew – because in the end, it reflects poorly upon the entire community of jews, and may even endanger its members. Generally, the Talmud does not advocate cheating or looking down upon goys, but that does not mean that one can’t find places where one rabbi or another argued differently.

        basically, one can find in the talmud whatever one wants – including places where jews are assigned exceptionalism. But so what? is there any culture or group in the world whose writings or traditions don’t assign specialness to its members? OK, there are the Finns but let’s forget about them for a second.

        Too bad that neither goys nor jews (in the US or in Israel) know enough talmud to make proper attributions. I actually wish we had someone learned in the ways of the talmud on this site. I know that in Israel – thye secular people know absolutely nothing about what the talmud says, and in fact, might be shocked to find out that they violate almost every talmudic prescription on a daily basis.

        Which brings me to what I like to remind people sometimes – that Israel is the worst place in the world to be a jew in, as the essence of jewishness itself is in direct conflict with most of the instruments of state. Given the amount of concentrated hatred one finds in israel towards everything and everyone and the endemic corruption, not to mention the utter absence of any sense of humility (a virtue much extohled in the talmud), I’d say that the best and deepest teachings of judaismd are flaunted in israel most – both in letter and in spirit. It’s as if the house of shamai won finally after all these years, undoing almost everything hillel preached.

        So don’t be so hard on citizen – maybe he assumes there are actually jews in israel. Or maybe he realized one day that the goys of the US (OK, some at least) are becoming more jewish than the jews?

      • MRW
        August 10, 2009, 3:25 am

        Then what part does the Sanhedrin play in your argument? I’ve spent days, weeks, reading this part of the Talmud. It’s racist. It underscores and orders a hideous sense of entitlement. Big time.

        Roman Catholic texts contain the same insular rulings but the Grand Poohbah Pope has had to state these sections no longer apply, and memorialize these changes in 20th C Papal decrees. Not so the Sanhedrin or the Talmud. Rabbis state emphatically that these passages are edicts for true Jews, now, in 2009. These are even given to the IDF as marching orders.

        So, disabuse me. Educate me. And dont wave the anti-semitism flag in my face. I’m done with that horseshit after the recent Gaza War: you have no more of a leg to stand on than Bush calling me unpatriotic for objecting to his lies about the Iraq War.

      • Shmuel
        August 10, 2009, 2:07 pm

        Citizen, MRW and others.,
        Yes there are racist bits in the Talmud, and misogynist bits and all sorts of other nastiness. One can find similar things in the ancient tetxs of all scriptural religions. The question is what those religions have done with those texts since they were written. One cannot understand the Talmud without reading at least some of the thousands of commentaries, codifications, responsa, philosophical works, poetry, etc, written over the past 1,500 years – rooted in the Talmud, but interpreting and reinterpreting it in keeping with changing mores and values. Even the Orthodox (I remind everyone – a small minority among contemporary Jews) interpret Talmud and are far more “evolved” than its original authors. The racist or misogynist parts of the Talmud (a very very small part of a huge corpus) no longer represent the values of the vast majority of Jews, who – to the extent that they are familiar with Jewish sources – have rejected those parts, taking them in their historical context and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Unfortunately, selective readings of the Talmud, without the context of subsequent literature, thought, values and practice, have been instrumentalised for centuries, for the vilification of Jews and Judaism as a whole.

        MRW, I was not “waving the flag of anti-Semitism” in anybody’s face, and I fail to see the connection to the Gaza massacre. Opposition to Zionism and its apologists in no way justifies racism against Jews, just as opposition to Apartheid of Jim Crow did not justify racism against Christians or whites. With regard to Sanhedrin (which I have studied in depth, in the original language, on and off for at least 25 years), or rather to the specific parts of a very lengthy tractate, to which you seem to be referring, see above.

      • Shmuel
        August 10, 2009, 2:40 pm

        I would like to add one more point to my argument. Forget religion – Abrahamic or otherwise. How fair would it be to attribute racist or misogynistic attitudes among westerners to carefully selected passages from the classic literature of western civilisation – say Homer, Virgil, Plato, or Shakespeare or Jefferson? If Jews or Christians or Muslims or Pastafarians or westerners or easterners are nasty, they should be taken to task, without insisting that their nastiness is inherent to their culture, based on a few disembodied quotes from their ancient literature. It’s really easy to trash a whole culture or people that way. Easy and wrong.

      • MRW
        August 12, 2009, 3:17 am


        You wrote Even the Orthodox (I remind everyone – a small minority among contemporary Jews) interpret Talmud and are far more “evolved” than its original authors. In that I absolutely agree.

        But tell me this: is it true that if there is a question in the Talmud between what evolved rabbinical interpreters are saying 2,000 years after the fact and the original rabbinical writings that the original writings take precedence? Is this accurate?

        I believe, but I am not sure, that in the Catholic faith, the Popes have the right, ie have the force, via Papal decree to change the religious tenets and they stand as religious law thereafter. The Pope is supposedly ‘infallible’ as a result. Not so the Rabbis. Is this true? And if so, who is the final arbiter of rabbinical law?

    • Donald
      August 9, 2009, 2:32 pm

      There are no such thing as goy laws in America. There are just laws.

      I don’t know to what extent prejudice against “goy” exists among American Jews, and for that matter I don’t know how much remaining anti-semitism there is among Ameri can “goy”, but I don’t think it helps to talk about “goy” laws.

      • Shingo
        August 9, 2009, 5:50 pm


        There are cases of Jewish Law differing from common law outside of Israel. Jewish communitis in the UK for example, have been granted persmission to arbitrate over disputes, divorces etc., according to their own customs. This is not so suiggest it’s a bad, thing, in fact, I think it’s a very altruistic concept.

      • Citizen
        August 9, 2009, 7:04 pm

        Exactly the point. Goy Laws in USA are strong on equality before the law. Problem
        is Goy blind support of Israel supports Jew Laws of inequality in Israel.

      • Colin Murray
        August 9, 2009, 9:11 pm

        I agree that the notion of ‘goy’ laws is nonsense, and there is certainly no favoritism in the vast majority of pedestrian judicial deliberation. The exception is national security, where there is a clear pattern of political obstruction and biased enforcement of the law.

      • MRW
        August 10, 2009, 3:43 am

        There’s still a lot of prejudice among Jews against goys in the US. Read Elliott Abrams. Tell me what isn’t reported in the MSM. Today. Now. Try discussing certain topics on HuffPo. Check out the Chabad. There’s lots of prejudice against the goys.

        And it goes both ways. Dont think for an instant that the ‘Jews killed Jesus’ thing will ever go away. It wont. Hagee likes to gussy it up in florid language. So do conservative Catholics. Check out the Seven Mountains Apostolic Reformation ‘transformation’ videos. [A Palin special.]

        The Abrahamic religions are all zeroed in on the Dark Ages. I predict they are going the way of the Great White Whale. Extinction.

      • Kathleen
        August 10, 2009, 4:52 pm

        Whenever a group lays claim to being “chosen people” that is a problem. If there is a god there is no way one group would be chosen over another.

        The biggest PR scams of all times in the Bible (written by a bunch of Jewish guys) God told us we were the “chosen people” what a bunch of hooey…science fiction

      • Shmuel
        August 11, 2009, 1:43 am

        Kathleen, The expression “chosen people” does not appear in the Bible. The Bible actually refers (twice) to Israel as God’s “treasure people” (am segulah), generally understood by scholars as a kind of pairing, in a pagan sense, between a specefic deity and a specific people. The concept of chosenness (rejected today by the vast majority of Jews) probably developed as a response to persecution – “you may treat me like scum, but I’m really special, so there” – a kind of defence mechanism to preserve self-respect.

      • Shmuel
        August 12, 2009, 1:56 pm

        Forgot to answer your final query, MRW. There is no final arbiter in Jewish religious law, although some halakhists enjoy more recognition than others. You are supposed to pick one authority (or at least school of thought) and stick to him. Shopping around for whoever you think will give you the answer you want to hear is frowned upon but not unheard of, especially in more liberal Orthodox circles. It’s somewhat more chaotic than the Catholic system, but it works for us :-)

    • Shmuel
      August 12, 2009, 12:45 pm

      Dear MRW (may I call you M?),
      The first rule of Orthodox (and to a certain extent Conservative) Jewish law is “don’t try this at home”. In matters of law and practice, one must ask a competent halakhist, who will interpret the ancient texts in light of subsequent development of the law, including interpretations and even amendments (as in the case of the famous amendments of Rabbi Gershom “Light of the Diaspora”, prohibiting polygamy, and divorce without the woman’s consent). As a matter of fact, this principle of understanding earlier concepts only in terms of later interpretation is at the very heart of Rabbinic Judaism and its split with Karaite Judaism: Do we just read the Bible, or is there a huge body of interpretation and development that goes with it? Like all legal and ethical systems, Jewish religious tradition evolves, sometimes more and sometimes less, but it always evolves (whether the fundies like to admit it or not). So my answer is yes, even among the Orthodox minority, ancient text cannot be taken without later interpretation, and the later authorities take precedence. For the non-halakhic Jewish majority, the Talmud is merely a source (conscious or unconscious) of inspiration and an important part of our culture. Anything we don’t like, we don’t have to accept.

      • MRW
        August 12, 2009, 3:32 pm

        Thanks, Shmuel. One final question. By “Rabbinic Judaism,” do you mean Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, etc?

      • Shmuel
        August 12, 2009, 5:49 pm

        My pleasure MRW. To answer your question – in a way, all of the above. Rabbinic Judaism is the stream of Judaism that gained ascendancy (as opposed to the Sadducess or Essenes or Jewish Nazarenes for example) after the fall of the Second Commonwealth, and dominated Jewish history until the Enlightenment and Emancipation. All modern streams of Judaism developed from Rabbinic Judaism, although most now reject its traditional authority.

  23. LeaNder
    August 10, 2009, 10:23 am

    Richard, all comments seem to undergo an approving process. I occasionally ask myself, if it wouldn’t be better to shut up. This is a time consuming process for Adam and Phil.

  24. Citizen
    August 10, 2009, 11:37 am

    Here’s a sketch of the history of the Jews in Poland and surrounding areas from the 13th Century thru the 18th century:
    link to

    It does not dispute either my own or LeaNder’s POV. Judge for yourself who’s comments are more accurate.

  25. Citizen
    August 10, 2009, 12:31 pm

    LeaNder needs a more nuanced view of real life in old Poland. Here’s a book you can read online, perhaps starting at page 53. Eventually you will get to this:
    The Arenda System: “Heaven for the Jews, Paradise for the Polish nobles, and hell on earth for the Polish peasants.”
    link to

  26. mark
    August 10, 2009, 4:22 pm

    Leander wrote:

    My main point is. If you don’t know the basics, in our specific case, at what time Poland granted Jewish Poles emancipation or equal citizen rights, you can’t blame them for keeping themselves apart, or creating their own structures.

    The movement for Jewish emancipation gained traction in the 19th century. However, Poland didn’t exist during the 19th century, having been partitioned among Russia, Prussia and Austria, so asking when Poland “granted Jewish Poles emancipation or equal citizen rights” is somewhat pointless–Poles themselves were oppressed in their own country. It is also true that throughout the history of Poland Jews did also have various privileges, due to their role in commerce, etc.

    • MRW
      August 12, 2009, 3:35 pm

      You’re right about that. Just check out Bialystock. It changed nationhood constantly.

  27. gte
    August 11, 2009, 5:33 pm

    Everyone interested in Poland and the creation of Israel will want to see the final part of Robert Fisk’s outstanding documentary The Road to Palestine. The entire documentary is worth watching, but it’s the ending which provides a Polish connection and which gives the documentary a finish that feels like a punch in the gut.
    link to

  28. wondering jew
    August 12, 2009, 8:11 pm

    I realize the discussion has left the original article by Ms. Ratner behind, but I was not overly impressed by the original essay. Particularly: “No doubt any Zionists or ultra religious folk who happen to be reading this are probably frothing at the mouth right now, yanking at their beard hairs.” Obviously Ms. Ratner does not feel much sympathy for Zionism or for ultra religious Jews, but I don’t see how this kind of rhetoric improves the atmosphere of discussion. Ms. Ratner has respect for the side that she sympathizes with, that is the Palestinians, but guess what: that means that the Zionist and the ultra religious are now the Other. So if she wishes to respect the Other, a different tone would be necessary.

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