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An Atheist in the Yeshiva: The education of Yossi Zvi Gurvitz

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It’s Yom Kippur, and I guess I have to explain why a former yeshiva boy will soon prepare his usual Friday dinner and may, if laziness permits, take out his camera into the streets and attempt to capture the ferocious burst of freedom which can be experienced only in Israel on this day: the roads all devoid of cars and given, for one day, to bicycles and hikers.

I’ve been born to a national-religious family in Petah Tikva, a sleepy town of exceptional ugliness, and was raised there during the period when the town stopped pretending to be a moshava (a small, collective township) and took on the inflated pretensions of being a city. I did the usual course for children of my migzar (class, section): an elementary school only for religious-national children, segregated by sex since the third grade. Then, when my peers of the secular schools would simply go to middle high school and then high school, I was sent, at age 12, to a yeshiva middle high school in Nechalim, a nearby village.

Looking back, it is almost incomprehensible to me that I didn’t notice how much ideology was pumped into us even at that stage. We learned long hours, longer than our secular peers, and about a third of them was dedicated to what was purely ideology. At the age of 14, this was ratcheted up to 11 when I started yeshiva high school, which was also a boarding school.

How bad was it? Bad enough that I saw going into the army as a sort of liberation. We spent up to three weeks in there without going home. We lived a strictly regimented life:

  • Wakeup at 06:15
  • Morning prayer 07:10 to 08:10
  • Breakfast and cleanup until 08:45
  • Four and a half hours of talmud study (broken up with three breaks of 10 minutes)
  • Lunch at 13:15
  • 30 minute break
  • Secular studies at 14:15. Secular studies also included bible study and mahshevet yisrael (a diluted, stunted, and apologetic form of Jewish studies). This lasted until 18:15.
  • Then we had dinner
  • At 19:10 seder erev: learning, in teams of two, the talmudic lesson of the next day. This lasted until 20:10, then we prayed the evening prayers and had some time for ourselves.
  • Lights-out was at 22:00 or 23:00, depending on age.

Saturdays were pretty much the same, though with much fewer classes.

Looking back, it’s pretty obvious the system – which was very common in the national-religious sector – was meant to make certain no one was ever hardly alone. Privacy was not part of the program. There was always someone with you. Rebels were quickly weeded out and expelled. My parents made it clear rebellion was not an option.

The system did not fit me. It did not fit many: about a third of the graduates, as a rule, left the religious life. This was never discussed. We were raised up to be elite which will take the country by storm and put the religious-nationals as leaders of society, a position the migzar desperately sought. I was a graduate of the first mass media class in Nechalim: the point of the class was to make certain some national-religious people would make it into media outlets, which were then seen as controlled by the “left.”

I’m the only one in my class who’s still in the profession. I guess it didn’t work out quite as planned.

Me and the system had our minor clashes early. In 1984, a cinema in Petah Tikva – Heichal Cinema – began operating on Friday night. That caused a collision with the religious status quo in Petah Tikva, but the town now had a large secular population who wanted something to do on Friday nights. The ultra-religious began holding demonstrations outside Heichal, seculars began their own counter-demonstrations, and then the yeshiva decided all the students would march on Friday nights to Petah Tikva – a few kilometers away – and participate in the demonstrations.

For the life of me, I couldn’t see why. What business was it of mine, what some other person did on Friday night? He wasn’t forcing me to see a movie. Why should I force him to not watch one? So I decided to stay behind. This had two side effects: one, I discovered I had a few hours to myself while my class marched to Petah Tikva in the hope of gaining some street cred by being beaten up by a cop; and second, people started treating me as a sort of dissident. And, to quote the Dixie Chicks, I kinda liked it.

On October 28th, 1984, I had my first crisis of faith. That evening, David Ben Shimol – an IDF soldier – fired a stolen LAW anti-tank rocket into a Palestinian bus as vengeance for an earlier Palestinian terror attack. He killed Jamal al Matour and wounded 10 more Palestinians. As I mentioned earlier, every evening we had a seder erev, which began punctually and without fail at 19:10. That evening, for the first and only time I was in Nechalim, it was postponed.

So that people could have time enough to dance.

I stood aside, trying not to comprehend what I was seeing. My seder companion – dear, dear Asher, who’s now in New York and openly gay – asked me later what was wrong. I told him that several months earlier my grandfather confided in me for the first (and only) time how the Nazis murdered his parents. He was in tears as he related how the SS men were so in awe of his mother that they didn’t dare to shoot her facing her: they told her she could go and then fired at her back. Today, I wonder how much of that story was true; at the time I was shocked by it. And I told Asher seeing people dancing in joy at the murder of an innocent man was inconceivable to me. On what were we on?

I wasn’t alone in feeling this. My rabbi, Menashe R., came from an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva. One Saturday night, they brought some settler preacher, who spoke about din rodef – the right to kill a person if he puts you in mortal danger – and said that Palestinians who attack Israelis should, therefore, be killed on the spot. Extremely unusually, Rabbi Menashe summoned up the class after the sermon – we didn’t have classes on Friday night – and told us sternly everything we heard was bullshit. He began speaking softly and coldly, and quickly heated up into shouting: din rodef, he said, permits you to kill someone who puts you at risk – but only for as long as he does so. As soon as he puts his weapon down, or even begins escaping, he is no longer a rodef (the literal meaning of the word is “pursuer”); you are no longer permitted to harm him, since immediate danger has passed. What we’ve heard that night, he ended shouting at our uncomprehending faces, was an incitement to murder.

Dissent didn’t make you popular at school. I always had a stubborn, some would say ornery, streak in me (possibly an inheritance from my grandfather, who once had to be flown from New York under police escort after he insisted the Satmer slaughter house was not kosher – he wrote a book on some obscure part of the schita ritual and was considered an expert on this particular aspect). I have also had a passion for history.

Thus I came upon a thorny issue. I read Josehphus Flavius’s history of the Jewish rebellion in 66 AD. There’s a pivotal scene where Josephus, turning himself over to the Roman general Vespasian after losing a major battle in Galilee, tells the skeptical pagan that as Jewish priest, he can prophecy that Vespasian would become an emperor, which he soon enough did (and we have reason to suspect he used Josephus’s ‘prophecy’ as a propaganda device).

All fair and good; but then we began studying Gittin, an unusually stupefying book of the Talmud dealing with the precise way of divorcing a wife. Smack in the middle of it, we found four pages of Talmudic legends dealing with destruction of the Jewish Temple. The main story dealt with Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai escaping from the besieged Jerusalem, getting to the tent of General Vespasian, and prophesying he would become emperor.

Stop the presses!

We have two different stories, from two different sources, detailing the same scene. There simply can’t have been two Jewish priests or holy men promising Vespasian the purple. One (Josephus’s) was written in the first century, the other in either the third to fifth century. And then, there was the inconvenient fact that Vespasian never besieged Jerusalem, while he did defeat Josephus in Galilee. Somewhat naively, I took the issue up with Rabbi Menashe – an open and caring man, who borrowed one of my books on Greek warfare and was fascinated by it – and witnessed a collapse of reason. Rabbi Menashe would debate anything, but he had his limits. You couldn’t imply the Talmud was not inspired by the Holy Spirit.

So I was already having my doubts when 1986 rolled in. A good friend, Eyal, was sent to a high yeshiva – we all were – and he came back transformed. Apparently the yeshiva he was sent to was run by some firebrand preachers, who put the fears of hell into him good and well. He started holding midnight rituals and prayers, which – as he, Asher and I were roommates – was highly disruptive. Remember, we went to sleep at 23:00 and had to wake up at 06:15. And he would get back and tell us in minute detail what sort of tortures we would go in the afterlife. Which, aside from being disruptive, was annoying as hell.

I am, as mentioned, ornery. He was quoting at me cabbalistic texts I was not familiar with, and I had no intention to waste my precious reading time on what I even then considered to be spiritual garbage, so I had to shift my line of attack. Hold on, before you speak to me about hell and its torture, kindly prove to me It exists. I can’t seem to find it in my Bible.

I was reading a lot of humanistic and philosophic books that year, and it showed. By this time, we had another rabbi, not nearly as tolerant as Rabbi Menashe. Suddenly I was spied on and reported on. He tried to send me to a yeshiva in Jerusalem, Machon Meir, but that backfired badly. I was suddenly under no supervision. I showed up for morning prayer and evening prayer, and spent the rest of the day roaming Jerusalem, attending the Demjanjuk trial and visiting churches. Participated in a mass in The Dormition Church with the monks (I was high on Name of the Rose at the time), and spent Sundays with the Anglicans of Christ Church, near the Jaffa Gate. I read the New Testament and kept a copy. While I never took it too seriously – once you’ve seen through the Talmud, seeing through the New Testament was child’s play – it was a window into a forbidden world.

So, after two wonderful weeks in Jerusalem, I came back and was immediately summoned by the rabbi. We know where you were on Sundays, he said sternly, don’t do it again. I think if anything could have made me a Christian, that was it (ornery!). I snuck back to Jerusalem on a Tuesday, met in secret with the Anglicans, and they prayed for me.

Apparently no one was listening, because I was sent within weeks to another high yeshiva. I remember almost nothing of the two weeks there; just that it was in some settlement (can’t remember which, but it was hilly and cold). I do know I came back converted, spewing some Orthodox garbage. Asher listened to me raving for a few hours, and the next day told me to sneak with him from a lesson. We went to our room, and he slapped me. “Snap out of it,” he said. “That’s not you! I don’t know what they did to you, but it’s not you. Snap out of it.”

I did. And I still don’t know what happened there. (Asher, if you’re reading this, thanks). I was much more wary, though.

This was the time Kahane was a Knesset member, and he was wildly popular in the yeshiva. They used to sing instead of “yibaneh ha’mikdash”, “may the Temple be built”, “yitpo-yitpo-yitpotzetz ha’misgad” – “May the Mosque be Blown Up.” So I read Kahane’s book, and looked up the footnotes. Everything he said, every racist and genocidal utterance, was backed up by the Talmud and Halachia ruling. I learned a lot from that book, and it made it clear to me first, that there is a deep genocidal side to Orthodox Judaism, and secondly that I couldn’t be part to it.

And then came Shavuot, 1987. Plutarch’s classic Lives was recently translated into Hebrew. For unknown reasons, they broke the original format – which matched a Greek notable’s life with that of a Roman counterpart – and published it in two books: the first one dealt with the Romans, and the second the Greeks. I read the Roman part a year before, and while it greatly expanded my historic horizons, it wasn’t earth-shattering – it was covering stuff that was in the basic history books.

The Greek book was different. The edition began with the biography of the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus, a likely mythic figure. And it detailed Spartan life. Now the earth did move. That was a window into another, totally alien, captivating, dangerous world. That was Shavuot Night: We were supposed to stay in the Beit Midrash and study Talmud all night. I snuck to my room every fifteen minutes, to gobble up a few more paragraphs of Plutarch, and then went back. Asher covered for me. And by the time the holiday was over, I shed what remained of my Jewish belief.

Compared to that, Christianity was a mere shadow. This was paganism at its brightest, most splendid side; the most alien values to those of the Judeo-Christian world; and I would have one day to be cured of my Spartan obsession. But when it comes to that hoary clash, the one we celebrate on Hanukkah, between Judaism and Hellenic culture, I am firmly in the Grecian camp. And years later, when I began to write, I titled my first essay, “I’m a Proud Hellenic.”

My Judaism was extinguished. What about Zionism? That will take another post, I’m afraid.

An earlier version of this story appeared in +972 in 2010. 

Yossi Gurvitz

Yossi Gurvitz is a journalist and a blogger, and has covered the occupation extensively.

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31 Responses

  1. Mooser on September 29, 2017, 3:51 pm

    “I learned a lot from that book, and it made it clear to me first, that there is a deep genocidal side to Orthodox Judaism, and secondly that I couldn’t be part to it”

    I don’t like those odds either.

  2. Keith on September 29, 2017, 7:30 pm

    YOSSI GURVITZ- “Everything he said, every racist and genocidal utterance, was backed up by the Talmud and Halachia ruling. I learned a lot from that book, and it made it clear to me first, that there is a deep genocidal side to Orthodox Judaism….”

    It is my understanding that Orthodox Judaism is the modern version of what Israel Shahak calls Classical Judaism. And that this Judaism is the religion of Diaspora Jews in pre-modern (medieval?) times. In other words, it is the religion of Jews who resided in a larger Gentile community performing specialized tasks. In other words, there was/is a genocidal component to Orthodox myth-history, but not actual history during this period. I would suggest that this extreme hatred of “the other” was a component in maintaining Jewish tribal solidarity during this period. A genocidal impulse which the Classical Jews lack the power to implement (fortunately). Then comes modernity and the splintering of Jews into Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular Jews, along with changes in the political economy, and these teachings fall by the wayside. Alas, along comes Zionism with its rejection of assimilation and emphasis on tribal solidarity and of non-Jews as the hostile other. And now we have Israel which, with the support of empire, seeks to transform myth-history into real history and metaphysical genocide becomes real genocide. In essence, a brutal, violent myth-history has been transformed into the ideology of the modern state of Israel and of American Jewish Zionists.

    • JeffB on September 30, 2017, 7:27 am


      violent myth-history has been transformed into the ideology of the modern state of Israel and of American Jewish Zionists.

      American Jewish Zionists are by and large ignorant of most of Talmud and what Talmud they are exposed to is mostly religious. For example the Talmud people start learning with is about when to eat the evening heave offering. Note that no one has actually eaten a heave offering in 19 and a half centuries. The myth that American Zionists draw from is American myth. A small settler people landing in the continent growing and expanding. The quest to be free from an oppressive Christian churches of Europe. A native people that start out friendly (Thanksgiving) but become hostile and dangerous (Plains wars). Etc…

      FWIW the myths that I think early Zionism itself came from things like the Russian workers movement, Hegelianism, German romanticism…. The Zionists drew on Judaism as a source for the myth, that’s for example why Herzl was overruled and Palestine rather than Uganda is where Israel is located. Judaism had a theory of a return to Zion but the specifics were blank. Which is why I think originally (and even today) the means of return could have been almost anything. Zionism dialogues with Judaism but it really is a new Judaism. All the Judaisms that exist today are new. The Judaism of the Talmud simply isn’t a viable faith for today’s world neither for the Orthodox nor the Reform.

      In terms of the transformation of Orthodox Judaism in Israel I just don’t see any evidence that the Messianic Zionism that exists today ever existed in Judaism. Too much of Zionist philosophy is 19th century, a reaction to Napoleon, for it to be authentically historical. Kahane is creating new theology he isn’t discovering old theology. The best evidence for this is that is that the view of the Messianic Zionists are very dissimilar to Sicarii, Zealots… who are authentic and whatever sense you can ascribe “nationalism” in a modern sense to 1st century people are nationalist. But they mostly weren’t even associated with the distinct Pharisaic Judaism (and of course they all predate Rabbinic Judaism).

      The Orthodox can’t draw on authentic Jewish nationalistic sources in context. Take those groups above. Some of their literature survived (though not much). If the Orthodox actually start reading those sources they step into a world of real 1st century Judaism. Henotheism not monotheism. Jewish astrology magic as a regular religious practice. The sacrificial cult as central not a side belief. No knowledge of later Mishnah interpretations. Reading them in context it will become simply impossible to believe that the Oral Law was delivered to Moses and did not evolve at a later date. Judaism is a religion of practice not belief. But ideologically it does depend on the idea that there was continuity and development not radical breaks. The historical record reflects several radical breaks. There is no getting around that problem.

      • Keith on September 30, 2017, 11:44 am

        JEFFB- “American Jewish Zionists are by and large ignorant of most of Talmud and what Talmud they are exposed to is mostly religious.”

        Zionism represents a modernized, secular version of Orthodox Judaism with its strong emphasis on a people apart. This has been fused with Blood and Soil nationalism. And as Israel becomes more religious, Israeli Zionism takes on more of the trappings of Orthodoxy. For a fuller discussion, read “Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years,” by Israel Shahak.

    • Misterioso on September 30, 2017, 11:17 am

      More news about Israel, “a light unto nations [not]”

      Sept. 29/17

      “Israel doing nothing to stop attacks on churches and mosques”


      “Since 2009, at least 53 churches and mosques have been vandalized in present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank.

      “The vast majority of those cases – 45 – have been closed without any charges against perpetrators.

      “In all, there have been just nine indictments and seven convictions, according to Israeli government data reported by the newspaper Haaretz. Only eight of the cases remain under investigation. They were usually dismissed on the grounds of unknown perpetrators.

      “A lawmaker raised the matter in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, at the request of Tag Meir, an organization that monitors racially motivated crimes.

      “According to Haaretz, public security minister Gilad Erdan wrote to the lawmaker that the attacks ‘were perpetrated from various motives, ranging from negligence through mental illness and, in extreme cases, incidents of arson that appear deliberate.’

      “The newspaper noted that Erdan’s assertion ‘seems to contradict the fact that most of the cases were closed on the grounds of ‘perpetrator unknown.’ Moreover, according to Haaretz, all the cases involved arson.

      “The name of the organization Tag Meir is a play on the Hebrew words tag mehir – or price tag – the term Israeli settlers and extremists have adopted to describe their sometimes lethal attacks on non-Jews and their property, especially Palestinians.”

    • Mooser on September 30, 2017, 11:36 am

      ” that there is a deep genocidal side to Orthodox Judaism….”

      They just have a little problem with arithmetic. That can turn genocide into suicide.

    • pabelmont on October 1, 2017, 10:52 am

      Perhaps the genocidal aspect (hate the others; PLUS) is the obverse of the rule that Jews should live in harmony in the societies in which they lived (not make waves, not encourage antisemitism). If you spend your time MAKING NICE to your neighbor and even perhaps PRETENDING to love your neighbor how long does it take to actually HATE him? (How their teeth must have hurt, what with gritting them so furiously.)

  3. wondering jew on September 29, 2017, 11:21 pm

    Hello Yossi,
    My uncle, though younger than me, attended Nechalim in the early 70’s. You translate Yeshiva gedola, as a high yeshiva, I assume. I would translate it as a “post high school yeshiva”.
    i find the phenomenon of the modern orthodoxy and their embrace of settler nationalism to be interesting, in comparison to the ultra orthodox who have reacted to modernity with a type of rejection that does not appeal to the modern orthodox.

  4. JeffB on September 30, 2017, 7:38 am

    Compared to that, Christianity was a mere shadow. This was paganism at its brightest, most splendid side; the most alien values to those of the Judeo-Christian world; and I would have one day to be cured of my Spartan obsession. But when it comes to that hoary clash, the one we celebrate on Hanukkah, between Judaism and Hellenic culture, I am firmly in the Grecian camp. And years later, when I began to write, I titled my first essay, “I’m a Proud Hellenic.”

    Agree with you. I’ve had the same thoughts myself about Hanukkah. The wrong side won and had the Hellenistic Jews won the Jews (and really Judaism) would have been much better off had it turned out the other way. I also had the romantic attachment to the Hellenized inclusive Judaisms that existed from the time of the Maccabees to the Bar Kochba revolt. So I can relate to you there. In books like Enoch you see what could have been. But likely that faith would have died out like the cults of Cybele and Isis.

    Not much to say other than “me too”.

    • Mooser on September 30, 2017, 11:17 am

      “Compared to that, Christianity was a mere shadow.”

      So those ephemeral Christians couldn’t throw any shade on Jewish lives, that’s for sure.

      • Eva Smagacz on October 1, 2017, 7:12 pm


        By that, I think he means Spartanism, so that the paragraph should be read:

        “Compared to Spartanism, Christianity was a mere shadow” 34/40

      • Mooser on October 2, 2017, 11:28 am

        Uh, uh, not for me. I know what those Spartans used to do.

  5. Mooser on September 30, 2017, 11:23 am

    A brocheh tzu Columbus!!!

  6. lonely rico on September 30, 2017, 3:43 pm

    > JeffB

    The wrong side won and had the Hellenistic Jews won the Jews (and really Judaism) would have been much better off …

    And when anti-Zionism wins and Palestine
    becomes a state for all it’s citizens,
    we will all be much better off.

    The end of Zionism is the fervent wish of a majority of the world’s population.

    • MHughes976 on September 30, 2017, 5:42 pm

      I fully agree, rico, that the end of the era of exclusion and disfranchisement in Palestine and the arrival of equal rights for all will make the whole world better off. But I don’t think that the majority of the human race has any clear wish for Zionism to come to an end. There is a huge international consensus outside the Muslim world for the 2ss, I think, ie ‘liberal Zionism’ in our terms. There is puzzlement why it hasn’t happened, since it’s so obviously the right thing and a sort of impatience with the ‘extremists on both sides’ who must be to blame. The evidence, I think, is in the oft-stated attitudes of the leadership in the West and the absence of any clear dissent in mainstream Western public opinion or in any really powerful force In the international arena. The likes of us are still moral outsiders.

      • pabelmont on October 1, 2017, 11:03 am

        “The west” meaning the political and business elites, are the same folks who ignored the Japanese atrocities during the 1930s when imperial (and colonial!) Japan took over Korea, Manchuria, and much of China with a brutality not seen unless in the time of the Nazis and (to a lesser but still notable extent) the Nazis’ follow-up team, the Zionists (as to whom I refer to the murder of Egyptian surrendering soldiers in the Sinai war, the events of the early Nakba (1947-50), and generally to the history of settler colonialism by pre-Israel and Israel).

        “The West” doesn’t care about people. Human rights is a slogan to be trotted out when convenient (or at least to be ignored, as in I/P, when niot convenient).

        Let us hope the people of the world will understand about Zionism; but their governments already know all there is to know and ignore it, just as most American politicians do.

        For an interesting read on the horrors of Japan in China, read “Nanjing Never Cries” by Hong Zheng (interestingly, an MIT professor and theoretical physicist/mathematician) who felt that the story of Japan in China needed had for too long been ignored.

    • MHughes976 on September 30, 2017, 5:48 pm

      And as to the massive power of Christian Zionist propaganda, people might like to look at the current article by Mark Chancey at ‘The Bible and Interpretation’ about the Museum of the Bible about to open, despite some serious scandals, in Washington and its major connection with propaganda tourism in Israel.

    • JeffB on September 30, 2017, 8:04 pm

      @lonely rico

      This is one of the areas where I disagree with BDSers a lot. I doubt it will happen. But even if we assume it does. happen it would be horrific.

      We’ve seen a few states die recently. Libya’s death sent extremists and weapons all over Africa that the region the death toll is still rising from and we don’t have a handle on the scope. Iraq’s death has been rough and over the last 5 years just blew out Syria. Yemin’s collapse has resulted in a horrific civil war. Colonial Chad’s death really got going around 1940 when France was distracted with Germany. The country still hasn’t stabilized and the last round of fighting in 2010 sent 200,000 new refugees fleeing.

      The IDF can easily hold its territory. For it to die either there has to be wars which have degraded it tremendously or the state has to have weakened enough that the army shatters. Israel unlike Ottoman Palestine is the top regional power. It has both tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, with a 2nd strike capability. It has an advanced pharmaceutical industry (so likely biological and chemical weapons). It has a first world air force. I can’t imagine what a state that powerful collapsing looks like in terms of bloodshed. It could be 100m dead when you talk about degrading the IDF to the extent that it can’t hold Palestine with or without a nuclear exchange. In terms of shattering. Consider what 40k experienced Sunni warriors who formed the core of ISIS meant. Now imagine the IDF breaking into militias and spreading violence through the region like what happened in Libya but with nukes and subs as Jews align themselves with whatever faction will take them in a desperate fight for new homes.

      We have not had countries this powerful collapse since World War 1. No one benefits from that. I don’t think your get your wish, but your wish for a sudden collapse of the Zionist state is a nightmare for the people you want to help. One can imagine a gradual reform and gradual democratization where Israel becomes a state for all its citizens.

      So no “we all will not be much better off” if Zionism ends. And I don’t think the majority of the world wants the end of Zionism if they understood what it meant.

      • Talkback on October 1, 2017, 8:07 am

        JeffB: “And I don’t think the majority of the world wants the end of Zionism if they understood what it meant.”

        The see what it means, despite your futile attempts to spin what they should understand.

      • pabelmont on October 1, 2017, 11:25 am

        I don’t believe that anyone thinks of the end-of-Zionism as a military defeat, or even any sort of military engagement.

        BDS doesn’t call for war. It calls for boycott and sanctions. It also calls for divestment which might have a very mild tendency to dissuade companies from doing business with Israel. (The ability of Palestinians to sue corporations in USA courts under the Alien Tort Statute for monetary damages due to e.g. illegal occupation practices — see: ) might have a greater impact.

        I suppose that a lot of soft-hearted or frightened Israeli Jews might emigrate from Israel, leaving a much smaller Jewish population consisting of hard-hearted warriors; and the USA would carry on as usual. But if BDS won a bit more support from governments, then trade-sanctions might eventuate which would persuade even the Israeli hard-hearters to relent, toward either a real 2SS or some kind of 1SS (more or less democratic and heavily Palestinian I should think).

      • Citizen on October 1, 2017, 11:36 am

        re your conclusionary paragraph, I guess you mean “The Samson Option”?

      • JeffB on October 1, 2017, 6:12 pm


        your conclusionary paragraph, I guess you mean “The Samson Option”?

        The Samson option is a doctrine that in a major conventional war where Israel was losing control of their territory to enemy forces they would utilize a first strike. I explicitly talked about nuclear exchange. Not sure what you mean by last paragraph. You talk about a state as powerful as Israel going down for the count, yes there could be multiple nuclear exchanges over a period of decades or an intense exchange involving dozens if not hundreds of missiles in a few days or less.

        States die bloody horrible deaths.

      • JeffB on October 1, 2017, 6:39 pm


        I don’t believe that anyone thinks of the end-of-Zionism as a military defeat, or even any sort of military engagement.

        I don’t agree. The rhetoric around BDS is genocidal not reformist, the most obvious example being how Jews arrived in Palestine many generations ago. The goals of BDS are the types that come from military defeat: clearing multiple Jewish cities and towns of their entire population, Israel abandoning huge swaths of annexed and populated territory, losing control of its border and flooding its civilization with an alien hostile population… These are the sorts of results that states experience when they have collapsed. The definition of a healthy functioning state is that it is able to stop those sorts of things from happening.

        Now I will agree that while BDS calls for Israel to accept the result it only would if it lost multiple major wars (and perhaps not even then) the actual call is phrased as support for some sort of mild sanctions. There are exceptions. To pick an example people on MW have certainly called for a sanctions regime that would lead to “complete economic collapse”. No idea how that would be accomplished, but if we assume it could… the carrying capacity of the land of Israel is only about 850k-1.4m people without modern farming techniques and there is a population of about 10.5m people on that land currently. You do the math, what does a call for the “complete collapse of the economy” really mean were that to actually happen? If Israel cannot get nitrogen into the soil in ways that require a functioning modern economy (or access through trade to its products) in 3 years 90% of the population has migrated or is dead. That’s arithmetic. What do you think Israel would be willing to do to avoid that fate? A call for total economic collapse is a call for war, just being cute.

        One can talk about mild sanctions or one can talk about the kind of pressure that completely destroys a modern highly functioning state. You can’t talk about mild sanctions destroying a highly functioning state. Israel is not going to accept terms under treat of mild sanctions that it rejected multiple times under threat of war.

        You want to talk about “ending Zionism” you talking something like 100m dead. You want to talk about pressuring Israel for moderate reforms then you we can talk mild sanctions.

        I think Norman Finkelstein is absolutely right (and I don’t say that much) in this video:

        But if BDS won a bit more support from governments, then trade-sanctions might eventuate which would persuade even the Israeli hard-hearters to relent, toward either a real 2SS or some kind of 1SS (more or less democratic and heavily Palestinian I should think).

        Certainly trade sanctions might lead to a slightly better offer than Olmart’s. But nothing like the BDS demands. Why would Israelis agree to live in a Palestinian state rather than just deal with and attempt to circumvent trade-sanctions? How does that make sense?


        Note to Mooser since you keep bring this point up. Yes if 100m die in a series of wars the Arabs bounce back and the Jews don’t. I do get the difference in societal depth.

      • pabelmont on October 1, 2017, 7:23 pm

        Further to the question of international action against Israel. so far from anyone making war on Israel, they all love Isrfael, which supplies all the nasties with arms!

        We came here because we’ve had enough of officials in the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs granting arms sale licenses to their friends, knowing that in a few years they may join them [in becoming arms dealers].

        We came here because we’ve had enough of the fact that in almost any place where war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide were committed
        there was use of Israeli arms, Israeli training and Israeli expertise.

        You can’t keep the Israeli public silent. The Israeli public are not stupid.

        People who lived under the military juntas in Argentina and Chile saw Israel Galil rifles.

        The pilots who flew arms to Rwanda during the genocide have testified on that…We have a tape about this.

        People who were in Bosnia during the war, they saw shells with Israeli information on them.

        And now we’re speaking of Burma.

        Neither censorship nor gag orders can delete what has been published. While in Israel all is kept in secret, the head of the junta in Burma posted on his Facebook page, about his visit to Israel, to a navy base, an air force base, all the major military industries.

        He wrote that he had signed arms and training deals with Israel that he had purchased from Israel, Super-Dvora MK3 ships. Battleships, which have also been used in Sri Lanka, for war crimes.

        And last summer he posted that the head of the Israeli Security Exports Agency visited Burma, one of the most secretive people in Israel, yet the head of the junta posted his photo from the visit.

        And later, an Israeli company, on whose board the former head of Israeli Police, Shlomo Aharonishki serves, published about sales to Burma of special CornerShot rifles and training, and posted photos of training in built-up areas

        And after all this, when things are out in the open, and this information has not been published by leftists, who are easily mocked in Israel when what they reveal is inconvenient…The info has been published by those who are themselves involved in the deals.

        And the State is not ashamed to file an ex-parte request for a gag order as to things which had already been published…asking for a gag order as to a previous open court hearing, as if those who attended and heard these scandalous things can simply forget what they heard.

        This cannot go on. This must stop.

        Today it’s Burma, tomorrow it’s Burundi.
        This has been going on for several years in the South Sudanese civil war.

        We mustn’t remain silent, this is being done in our name.
        And as long as this goes on, we are responsible.

        This is done in the name of Israeli citizens, and it’s also harming Jewish communities abroad, which are expected to defend Israel every day.

        Yesterday an event to mark 50 years of Israeli control of the [Occupied] Territories took place in Gush Etzion [West Bank]

        On that day the Supreme Court issued a gag order, and I got a court decision on Israeli arms sales to Burma.
        They have no shame. The Burmese Ambassador to Israel is one of the international representatives who came to the Occupation ceremony.

        How come no one was furious? How come people didn’t walk out?

        Two things must happen here. The [Israeli] left must reject all the generals who speak of peace in our town squares, and then destroy peace clandestinely in other countries.

        And the right must tell the Prime Minister: We don’t want supportive votes at the UN in exchange for providing arms used for genocide, rape, disappearance and the murder of children.

        This must stop now.

        From announcing a secret (by gag order) decision of Israel’s supreme court in a case regarding sales of arms to the Burmese Junta.

      • Talkback on October 2, 2017, 9:16 am

        JeffB: “The rhetoric around BDS is genocidal not reformist …”

        Of course. To call for the implementation of international and human rights law and the right to equality for everyone who has the right to live in historical Palestine whether he or she is Jewish or not would be “genocidal” to every Apartheid regime. Allthough genocide means something else. But being a Hasbara troll you even confuse the deportation of illegal immigrants/settlers as genocide. Maybe you have genocidal fantasies when it comes to Jews.

        JeffB: “… clearing multiple […] cities and towns of their entire population … and flooding its civilization with an alien hostile population …”

        You are confusing BDS with Zionists, JeffB. You always do.

      • Mooser on October 2, 2017, 11:31 am

        ” Yes if 100m die in a series of wars the Arabs bounce back and the Jews don’t. I do get the difference in societal depth”

        But hey, what the hell. If we all can’t be perfect Jews like “Jeff b” we might as well die.
        It’ll prove you right.

  7. Stephen Shenfield on October 1, 2017, 8:23 am

    Elias J. Bickerman (“The Jews in the Greek Age”) provides some evidence that ancient Jews were aware of Sparta and had great admiration for its customs and military prowess.

  8. MHughes976 on October 1, 2017, 12:09 pm

    Or see my ‘An Israeli Sparta – from Finkelstein to Hecataeus’ kindly published here on January 29, 2014.

  9. Maghlawatan on October 1, 2017, 3:34 pm

    Gurwitz is a legend. I think he must have had great parents . All the dissidents have.

    The history of the Christian treatment of Jews is grotesque. Zionism brought that attitude to the Middle East. Zionist kids are poisoned with hatred. It is such a mess.
    Judaism without decency is worthless.

  10. echinococcus on October 2, 2017, 11:02 am

    “Jeff” reminded me of something that was familiar in the years before the Internet: the loudspeakers in public places. They would drone on and on, carrying inept official propaganda, especially anywhere with military dictatorships –Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey… This was continuing the loudspeakers in public places under German occupation, which had been continually giving off Nazifascist propaganda until 1945.

    Already before 1945, these public loudspeakers conditioned rents –the further from loudspeakers, the higher the rent. People had gotten used to chatting in their drawing rooms under the continuous noise from the propaganda loudspeaker. Just as we are trying to discuss among us while the Jeffs and Nathans and other critters are continually blaring in, courtesy of Philip Weiss.

    One difference, though: the loudspeaker could not hear you talking to your family in your living room and butt in on every conversation.

  11. NorthCascadian on October 2, 2017, 4:14 pm

    As I read this several important individuals flashed in my mind. Benidict Spinoza, Mordechai Vanunu, Roy Tov, Gilad Atzmon…. now Yossi Gurvitz This list is growing.

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