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Feb-18-2014 00:04printcomments

The Spirit of Judah L. Magnes Lives On

Magnes was a leader in the World War I pacifist movement and was “one of the most widely recognized voices of 20th Century American Reform Judaism”.

Judah L. Magnes
Judah L. Magnes

(CHICAGO) - A New York Times column, A Conflict of Faith:  Devoted to Jewish Observance, but at Odds With Israel,” opens with an interview with Orthodox Jewish scholar Charles H. Manekin.

In his column, Mark Oppenheimer describes Professor Manekin as a “rarity”, an apt description because in addition to his academic tasks, Manekin writes a hard-hitting blog, which he calls, The Magnes Zionist., named for:

    Judah L. Magnes, an American rabbi who, until his death in 1948, argued that a Jewish return to the Middle East did not require a nation-state.

Wikipedia recalls Judah Leon Magnes (1877 – 1948) (pictured above), as “a prominent Reform rabbi in both the United States and the British Mandate of Palestine”.

Magnes was a leader in the World War I pacifist movement and was “one of the most widely recognized voices of 20th Century American Reform Judaism”.

The spirit of Rabbi Magnes lives on in the work of Professor Manekin, who shares his “at odd with Israel” tab with a small group of observant Orthodox Jews interviewed by Mark Oppenheimer.

Observant Jews

Four who were interviewed are pictured above in a Times compilation. They are from left, Daniel Boyarin of Berkeley, Corey Robin of Brooklyn College, Rabbi Alissa Wise and Professor Manekin of the University of Maryland.

To paraphrase the urgent question from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Who are these people?”

The University of Maryland Department of Philosophy web site offers this description of Professor Manekin:

    “The focus of Manekin’s research has been Aristotelian and humanist logic in Hebrew, the philosophy of Levi Gersonides, and the free will problem in Jewish philosophy.”

What makes Manekin a “rarity” is that he is both an observant Orthodox Jew and an outspoken critic of Israel. The Times:

    There is no question that Charles H. Manekin is a rarity. Not because he is an Orthodox Jew who keeps the Sabbath, refraining from driving, turning on lights, even riding in elevators on Saturdays. Rather, this philosophy professor at the University of Maryland is rare because he believes that his Orthodox faith calls him to take stands against Israel.

Manekin, 61, became Orthodox in college and an Israeli citizen in the 1980s. In an interview with the Times, “he denounced Israel’s ‘excessive reliance’ on military force, its treatment of Arab citizens and its occupation of the West Bank.”

There is more on Professor Manekin as a modern-day Judah L. Magnes:

    Although not a member of the American Studies Association, he was pleased when the group voted in December not to collaborate with Israeli academic institutions — the “academic boycott.”

    He is “sympathetic” to B.D.S., as the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel is known.

    “As a religious Jew,” he said, “I am especially disturbed by the daily injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians.”

The day after the Times‘ story appeared, Manekin responded in The Magnes Zionist:

    Marc (cq) Oppenheimer wrote a nice piece in his Beliefs column in the New York Times for which I was interviewed. The piece features Stefan Krieger, Corey Robin, Rabbi Alissa Wise, Danny Boyarin, Noam Pianko, and me.

    The headline given to it was “A Conflict of Faith: Devoted to Jewish Observance, but at Odds With Israel.”

    In my case that’s a bit misleading. I do have a conflict, but not between Jewish observance and Israel. I have a conflict because I am an Israeli; I live in a country that I believe is fundamentally flawed, despite the wonderful things it also possesses.

    In my blog I only talk about the flaws, but that’s because they are fundamental. Perhaps I will post one day a list of my favorite things about Israel (hint: You wont’ find most of them in Ari Shavit’s new book.) [link added]

    The piece says my religion leads me “to oppose Israel.” That’s ambiguous; it could mean “oppose Israel’s policies” (yes) or “oppose how the Jewish state was envisioned and came into being” (yes), or “oppose the very idea of a Jewish state” (that depends).

    No, I am not opposed to any Jewish state. As my colleague, Jerome Slater, has said, I don’t have a problem with a Jewish state – it’s this Jewish state I have a problem with.

Menekin called his May 12, 2008 posting, written during the 2008 presidential campaign, Leon Uris’ Influence on Barack Obama. Here is his opening:

    Jeffrey (“You-Can-Dump-On-Israel-As-Long-As-You-Are-A-Liberal-Zionist-Like-Me”) Goldberg has an interview with Obama in Atlantic.Com that will trouble Obama supporters who are under the illusion that the US can still be an honest broker in the Middle East.

    On the same day when my Shabbas-minyan-mate Joe Lieberman wonders out loud why a Hamas spokesman welcomes an Obama presidency, a wary Goldberg goads Obama into expressing his undying admiration for the Jewish state.

    Goldberg: You’ve talked about the role of Jews in the development of your thinking.

    Obama: I always joke that my intellectual formation was through Jewish scholars and writers, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Whether it was theologians or Philip Roth who helped shape my sensibility, or some of the more popular writers like Leon Uris.

    So when I became more politically conscious, my starting point when I think about the Middle East is this enormous emotional attachment and sympathy for Israel, mindful of its history, mindful of the hardship and pain and suffering that the Jewish people have undergone, but also mindful of the incredible opportunity that is presented when people finally return to a land and are able to try to excavate their best traditions and their best selves.

    And obviously it’s something that has great resonance with the African-American experience.”

Manekin adds this cogent observation on the power of the Israel Lobby (written, it is important to keep in mind, in 2008):

    In that paragraph [from Obama], and in the entire interview, you see why Walt and Mearsheimer’s thesis of an Israel Lobby is so, well, irrelevant. There is an Israel Lobby in America, and it is called America (minus some leftwing churches and Muslims).

There is much more in the Times column on observant Orthodox Jews who care enough to testify against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

These courageous Jews demonstrate an “inosculation” of their Jewish Orthodoxy with their prophetic disavowal of Israel’s conduct

In case you were wondering, the Alpha Dictionary defines “inosculation”:

    “To connect to, to connect with, to open into, as a blood vessel might inosculate with another. 2. To interpenetrate, to join so as to be a part of, to grow or be tightly intertwined, as some areas of philosophy inosculate with mathematics.

The small band of Observant Jews identified by the Times, are willing to stand against Israel’s embrace of injustice.  The time has come for the rest of us to join them in their struggle and inosculate our politics with our faith.



Journalism was Jim Wall’s undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. An ordained United Methodist clergy person; he and his wife, Mary Eleanor, are the parents of three sons, and the grandparents of four grandchildren. They live in Elmhurst, Illinois.

Jim served for two years on active duty in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF (inactive) reserve. While serving with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years, starting in 1972. Time magazine wrote about the new editor, who arrived at the Christian Century determined to turn the magazine into a hard-hitting news publication. The inspiration for Wall Writings comes from that mindset and from many other sources that have influenced Jim’s writings over the years, including politics, cinema, media, American culture, and the political struggles in the Middle East. Jim has made more than 20 trips to that region as a journalist, during which he covered such events as Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem, and the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. He has interviewed, and written about, journalists, religious leaders, political leaders and private citizens in the region. You can write to Jim Wall at Visit Jim's Website: Wall Writings


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