Jewish Cultural Nationalism: Origins and Influences (Routledge Jewish Studies Series)

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Routledge Jewish Studies Series

Bloomington, IN iuporder indiana. Join our email list. The depth of hostility and ferocity of violence among Jews and Greeks in the first and second centuries CE was unusual in the history of inter-ethnic relations in the empire Goodman 12ff. The reasons are not hard to find. Hellenism and Judaism were powerful rival civilizations, the first to adopt the simplified alphabet at the start of the first millennium BCE and to develop sacred literary cultures Homer and the Bible with longlasting universal appeal.

Their cultures were to some extent mutually intolerant.

Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy

Greek and Jewish communities co-existed uneasily in many of the major cities of the Roman empire, including Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, with sporadic outbreaks of violence. Rome adopted Hellenism and, as Rostovtzeff —18 points out, the empire became increasingly Hellenized in the years just before the 66—70 CE war. Greek civilization, art, and literature were again regarded even by the Romans as the civilization, the art, the literature. Nero was the first to proclaim urbi et orbi the new gospel and to act on it. Hellenistic ex-slaves freedmen , whose sympathies in the Greek—Jewish rivalry were naturally with fellow-Greeks, had at crucial moments powers equal to, if not greater than, the emperors themselves Duff Egregious misrule of Judaea and maltreatment of diaspora Jews primarily in Rome and Alexandria became most bitter and violent when freedmen had most power in Rome Aberbach and Aberbach This was the environment in which the war of 66—70 CE broke out.

Judaism was a somewhat unwilling rival to imperial culture. Most diaspora Jews in the Roman empire — the majority of the world Jewish population — accepted Roman rule and assimilated to some extent into the culture of the empire. But whether they liked it or not, they had a powerful, attractive religious Aberbac These demographic and cultural changes evidently caused alarm and hatred in the empire, especially among anti-Jewish Hellenists in Rome, where Jewish influence in the imperial court also reached its height in the years leading up the 66 CE revolt Feldman True, the empire had many concerns other than the Jews.

Also, although tension was always there, Roman—Jewish relations were sometimes good, and diaspora Jews were in most cases protected by Roman authorities. Still, Rome had more trouble with the Jews than with any other people in its empire. In the long run, negative elements — mutual suspicion and hostility leading to war and Jewish defeat — won out. The roots of Judaeophobia in the Roman empire — and, indeed, as a significant historical phenomenon — may be found in the early years of Roman rule, after the conquest of Judaea in 63 BCE.

As in fifteenth century Spain or in the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik revolution, Judaism was perceived, whether in fact or exaggeratedly, as a potential danger to the unity of the ruling power. Of all the peoples in the Roman empire, only the Jews, because of their religion, felt strongly about keeping their distinctiveness Roberts Consequently, until CE, the Jews were in an almost constant mood of revolt Stern To some pagans, Judaism offered a welcome humanist antidote to the brutality of Roman culture.

Weber —20 explains the attraction of Judaism in the Roman empire to proselytes. What was most appealing were the conception of God which appeared as grandiose and majestic, the radical elimination of the cult of deities and idols felt to be insincere, and, above all, Jewish ethics appearing as pure and vigorous, and besides the plain and clear promises for the future, hence rational elements.

According to Smallwood , the high moral code of Judaism was politically a subversive force in the Roman empire because it was inseparably tied to messianic nationalism. In particular, Parthia was dangerous to Rome as it aimed to emulate the ancient Persians and conquer the Roman-held east Mediterranean territory. It had better cavalry than Rome and inflicted two of the worst military disasters in Roman history, against Aberbac The Palestinian Jews thus became vulnerable to Roman suspicion of divided loyalty and guilt by association.

Rome in any case did not like peoples that were half in and half out of the empire. The conquest of Britain was undertaken partly to bring the Celts of Gaul and of Britain under Roman rule. The international character of Judaism was out of Roman control, and this inadvertently made Judaism a natural focal point for dissidence in the empire, expressed partly in the large number of proselytes, sympathizers, and adherents to Jewish customs in the empire.

Rome naturally reacted with hostility. To some Greco-Romans, the reduction of the power and attraction of Jewish political identity and the proselytizing messianic fervour which drove it was a long-term sine qua non for the survival of the empire. In the case of the Jews and Judaism, official religious tolerance in the empire could sometimes be inimical to Roman interests. Rome dealt with the problem prior to 66 CE not by officially changing its policy of tolerance but through what might be called an elective affinity for misrule and provocation, persecution and anarchy in Judaea and, occasionally, the diaspora.

In the context of the history of Roman provincial administration, the rule of Judaea was exceptionally poor Grant , especially as Roman administration generally improved under imperial rule by comparison with the corruption of the last century of the republic Roberts Procuratorial policy must have had the approval or at least the tacit consent of the government in Rome. The treatment of the Jews, though generally localized and temporary, had no parallel in Roman treatment of its minorities. It was calculated to weaken the prestige and influence which the Jews and Judaism were perceived as having.

The extraordinary military force deployed by Rome against the Jews, which included large numbers of Greeks from Hellenistic cities in Palestine, is an indication of the importance which Rome attached to the Jewish threat Millar The ban on Jewish proselytization by Hadrian was an implicit admission of the dynamic attraction of Judaism as a rival culture, and the closure of Jerusalem to Jews and the de-judaization of Judaea after the Bar-Kokhba revolt of —35 CE acknowledged the symbolic power of this territory as a unifying force of Jewish nationalism inimical to Rome Mendels Aberbach , Smallwood and Gager , among others, describe Judaeophobia as part of the background to the Great Revolt of 66—70 CE.

Greek involvement in the Jewish Aberbac The consequent explosion of Hebrew literature — partly under the influence of Hellenism — led to an enhanced sense of Jewish national— religious identity which has survived to the present. The trauma of defeat, though lasting, was offset somewhat by changing sociological conditions in the Roman empire of the second century CE which aided recovery.

The wars against Rome ended the Jewish internecine conflict that had erupted in civil war during the Great Revolt of 66—70 CE. Rome achieved a form of social electrolysis: it virtually destroyed the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots, and by defeating the Jews helped split Christianity off from Judaism. Rome also made imperial Graeco-Roman culture unpalatable to many Jews — leaving only Pharisaic Judaism and its leaders, the rabbis. In much the same way, exile has been the nursery of modern nationalisms such as that of the Irish.

The massive exile which followed the famines of the s left hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women in the major cities of Britain, North America and Australia dreaming of a homeland, and committed to carrying a burden which few enough on native grounds still bothered to shoulder: an idea of Ireland. Kiberd 2 Perhaps partly for this reason, most of the greatest Irish literature was written outside Ireland. Similarly, Hebrew literature after the Roman—Jewish wars and, indeed, until modern times evolved and was edited in exile from Judaea.

It may be a universal truth, Salman Rushdie 12 suggests, that various forms of exile can stimulate remarkable creativity. The writer who is out-of-country and even out-of-language may experience this loss in an intensified form. This may enable him to speak properly and concretely on a subject of universal significance and appeal.

The failed Jewish revolts brought the secondary gain of an international community united in trauma and prepared the way for the culturally revolutionary age of the Tannaim. War, like exile, is often associated with periods of cultural creativity. For example, Hebrew prophecy flourished between the eighth and sixth Aberbac The birth of tragedy in the drama of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides fifth century BCE came in an age dominated by major wars, first between Greece and Persia, then between Athens and Sparta, in the Peloponnesian wars.

In the fifth to third centuries BCE, the literature of Confucianism emerged amid constant civil war in China. In the High Renaissance c. Many of the artistic achievements of the Romantic movement — the poetry of Goethe and Wordsworth, the music of Beethoven and Schubert — were created under the impact of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. The growth of Jewish legal and homiletic traditions was facilitated by conditions in the Roman empire in the late second century CE, by the Pax Romana, the waning of Roman imperialism, and improvements in the economy of Galilee and in Roman—Jewish relations.

Much Roman animosity towards Jews was evidently transferred to Christianity, which unlike Judaism was not a religio licita. The originality of the Tannaim might be linked to their muted, ambivalent relationship with the dominant imperial culture. Hellenism permeated Jewish urban life. The cultural ambience of Hebrew literature was largely Greek, literary and archaeological evidence has shown Lieberman ; Hengel No Greek writings have survived from any of the Tannaim. Their lingua franca was Aramaic. There is little evidence that they knew Homer, but some of them possibly spoke Greek better than Hebrew as Greek was more widely used.

The limited immersion in Greek culture — their use of Greek vocabulary, Greek rhetorical devices, and Greek styles and motifs in their architecture as well as their unprecedented emphasis on the importance of education and law — might be interpreted as a sign of admiration towards a rival culture. At the same time, the Jews inevitably associated Greco-Roman culture with their military defeats. Once Jewish political-messianic nationalism was broken by the Roman army in the —35 CE war and the Hadrianic persecution, the Jews were let alone, to remake their religious culture and develop the Hebrew language and literature as they wanted, independently of imperial culture.

In some ways, Aberbac In general, a tendency to retreat from Greco-Roman civilization had existed among Jews prior to the Roman—Jewish wars, notably in the monastic sect of Qumran. However, Hebrew literature of the tannaitic period and after expresses what Millar describes as a wholesale retreat from Hellenism, representing what was becoming the Jewish mainstream, to the consolation of what was perceived as uniquely Jewish.

It was unstained by enemy use. There is much artistry in tannaitic literature but little of the overt aestheticism associated with Greek culture. Defeat evidently led to a revulsion among many Jews towards Greek culture cf. They spurred some Jews to develop their educational system and homiletic tradition and to edit oral teachings to ensure these would not be lost. In this way, Jewish cultural nationalism, with Hebrew literature at its core, became vital to Jewish survival. It kept alive the possibility, however faint, of a political awakening. The achievement of the Tannaim is ironically among the legacies of Rome.

Hebrew flourished in the volcanic ash of defeat, spreading roots of Talmud and midrash, of halakhah and aggadah. Defeat converted an untolerated Jewish militant messianism, challenging the empire, into a tolerated cultural nationalism. It drove the Jews into their own Hebrew cultural identity, forcing unity, distinctiveness and a form of divorce from the imperial system. Jewish cultural nationalism after 70 CE had its chief impetus in the reconstitution of Judaism around the synagogue.

This meant sermons by rabbis and imaginative development of aggadic as well as halakhic thought. While the Mishnah was the most lasting achievement of the Tannaim, tannaitic midrash set a similarly high standard of excellence in its originality, insight and stylistic felicity which later midrash rarely equalled. Though midrash evolved for at least a millennium after the tannaitic period, at times with much beauty and charm, its basic form and content did not change substantially de Lange ; much of it is at best an echo of tannaitic midrash.

A re-examination of the Roman—Jewish wars and the ways in which defeat entered the national consciousness and cultural fabric of the Jews, is more than an academic exercise. It gives insight into modern nationalism born of defeat and humiliation, which in the absence of a creative outlet could lead to frustration, spite, bitterness, depression, rage and the lust for revenge. Tannaitic writings are eminently dignified and, at times, beautiful and moving. They are a reminder that defeat can sometimes be a more powerful, longlasting spur to national identity Aberbac They also show how a defeated minority can learn from the dominant culture and enrich its own.

History suggests that victors do not always know what they want and who they are; the defeated often do. Victory may lead to ultimate failure to adapt effectively to social change. Defeat and subjugation, in contrast, can promote sensitivity and caution and be a covertly subversive adaptive force. Power is not confined to the ruling body but may be found in various forms also among the subjugated. The many nations which sprang up with the fall of the Soviet empire are proof of the power of nationalism among defeated peoples.

Its chief aim — as among the Poles in and , the Irish in , or the Hungarians in — was to assert defiance and national pride. In their cultural nationalism, the Tannaim preserved a different form of national freedom, with survival at its heart. After a period of attempted assimilation into Arabic culture, particularly in Spain, the high point of medieval Jewish nationalism was reached in the poetry of Judah Halevi c.

Zion, will you not ask about your captives? They ask for you, the last of your flock. Zion, ha-lo tishali Aberbac It was conspicuous for non-theological elements, influenced by contemporaneous Arabic poetry with its various genres: love poetry, including homosexual poetry, poetry of friendship, wine songs, war poetry, and so on.

This was the outstanding Hebrew poetry between the end of the biblical age and modern times. Most of it belongs to the narrow period — when the Umayyad empire fell apart and Christian Europe began to overtake Islam, militarily, economically and culturally. During this period, Hebrew poets not only adopted Arabic versification; they seem to some extent also to have been influenced by a secular lifestyle associated mainly with court culture, while at the same time keeping strictly to Jewish tradition and, in fact, also writing poems for the synagogue liturgy.

How did Jewish literature move from its relatively assimilationist stance in the early eleventh century to nationalist longing by the early twelfth century? In the eleventh century there was a decisive historical shift in the global balance of power. Islam weakened as Christian Europe became stronger.

The Islamic empire, which included most of the Mediterranean area, had split into three caliphates, the Abbasid, Fatimid and Umayyad, the main unifying feature of which was cultural, in particular the use of Arabic. The eleventh century began with the collapse of the Umayyad caliphate. It ended with the conquest of Muslimheld Sicily and the east Mediterranean, including Palestine, by the Crusaders.

Fanatical Berber Muslims invaded from North Africa. Gradually, the Christians reconquered Spain from the north. These upheavals were disastrous for the Jews and, as is often the case in Jewish history, stimulated renewed longing for the land of Israel. This age of imperial collapse and failed recovery in Muslim Spain was marked by two distinct periods: 1 civil war among the splinter-kingdoms; 2 Berber invasions from North Africa. In the second period there were also two outstanding Hebrew poets: Moses Ibn Ezra c. With Halevi, post-biblical Hebrew poetry reached its artistic peak prior to modern times.

The poetry of Hanagid and Gabirol is set against the fall of the Cordoba caliphate, while the poetry of Ibn Ezra and Halevi has for its background the Berber invasions of and This explosion of creativity came from a society torn apart by internecine war and the spasmodic drive south by the armies of Christian Spain, yet culturally the most advanced in the Middle Ages.

Its relatively secular, pluralistic outlook might be seen as a harbinger of the modern age. Nevertheless, the poets themselves might have been surprised to learn that later generations saw theirs as a golden age. Their own experience was war, chaos, Aberbac Fall of Cordoba. Exile of Samuel Hanagid from Cordoba, his birthplace, to Malaga. Maimonides and his family, resident in Cordoba, are forced into exile. Jewish nationalism fructified in this volcanic soil. From the time of the Arab conquests of the seventh and early eighth centuries until the thirteenth century, the world Jewish population was still largely concentrated in the Middle East, chiefly in Babylonia under Abbasid rule.

Economic decline and political instability, and the shift of the power centre of the Arab world from Baghdad to Cairo in the Fatimid empire, led many Jews to emigrate from Babylonia to North Africa or to Spain. Spain, conquered by Muslims in , was the frontier not just of Islam but also of the known world. Its large empty spaces and fertile land and its geographical position offered much opportunity within an Arabic culture familiar and congenial to most Jews. The hardships endured by the Babylonian Jews, driving them to emigrate, are the subject of an undated liturgical poem by the last great religious leader of Babylonian Jewry, Hai Gaon, who died in having lived for a century.

Hai Gaon gives a bitter account of the precarious state of the Jews who, he writes, had survived countless sorrows only to escape no sorrow before death. This the people that never were, eaten away, scattered, despoiled. Babylonia trounced them, Media knocked them out, Greece swallowed them, Islam did not vomit them. Why make their yoke heavier? Powerless, what can they endure? Achen sar mar ha-mavet At the start of the Golden Age, when these lines were written, most Jews spoke Arabic, which had replaced Aramaic as their lingua franca.

Conditions in Spain encouraged assimilation, not longing for Zion. Jewish immigrants to Spain easily fitted in, especially as the country was a frontier with many new immigrants.

The similarities between Islam and Judaism also helped in the acculturation of Jews in exile: both religions being monotheisms which teach salvation through obedience to divine commandments as revealed to a supreme prophet; both are based on religious jurisprudence interpreted by scholars and judges; both emphasize the importance of dietary laws and communal worship. With their ancient, sharply defined religious culture, the Jews went on, in fact, to have a disproportionate influence at a time when Spain, with its highly diverse population, was struggling towards national self-definition.

Through its impact upon Europe and its empires overseas, this culture later became a seminal force in the making of modern civilization. Judaism, which was nowhere a state religion except in the land of the Khazars in the ninth to tenth centuries , was the more adaptable under Islamic and, later, Christian rule.

Hebrew poetry expressed the cultural synthesis for which Jews aspired in the Muslim world. But as for daily usage in Jewish life, Arabic went much the same way as Greek in the Roman empire and German in Christian Europe: all were instruments of failed assimilation.

Jewish attempts to identify with the culture, however superior, of a hostile people have invariably led to disillusionment. In the long term, the Jews preserved only Hebrew as the language of their national memory and hope. Hebrew poetry in Muslim Spain was forged by the tension between the drive for acculturation and the inferior position of the Jews in Muslim society.

Until modern times, Bernard Lewis has written , the Jews under Islamic rule were generally subjected to countless harassments and petty humiliations, to mockery, insult and chronic insecurity; they paid higher taxes than Muslims; they suffered severely restrictive laws of inheritance; they could not carry arms; there were limitations on the animals they could ride, the buildings they could build Aberbac In the tenth and eleventh centuries, until the Berber invasions, these disabilities were not felt as acutely in Muslim Spain as elsewhere.

In fact, there were advantages in being Jewish in Andalusia at this time. It quickly became the most powerful, richest and most culturally advanced country in tenth century Europe. Its capital, Cordoba, was one of the largest cites of the time with an estimated quarter million inhabitants. Yet they were concentrated in the cities, at the hub of the social, economic and political life of Muslim Spain. The creation of an independent caliphate in Spain led to the independence of its Jewish population from the declining Babylonian religious authority.

Consequently, they were readier than in the past to take part in the life of the wider society, to experiment culturally. A sign of this new freedom was their use, for the first time, of secular forms and genres in Hebrew verse. The literature created by Jews in this period in some respects brings to mind the assimilationist Haskalah literature in the early and mid-nineteenth century. While this literature rarely suggests a burning desire to return to the land of Israel before the advent of the Messiah, it is a continual reminder of the latent nationalist power of Hebrew.

Nevertheless, Spain at the start of the Golden Age had unusually propitious conditions for minorities. Most of the Spanish Christian population were recent converts to Islam Glick To ensure their sense of belonging and their loyalty, the Muslim rulers found it expedient to build a universalist Arab culture, rather than a narrow Islamic religious one.

The court, not the mosque, was the centre of this culture. The splendid court of Cordoba and, later, the courts of the splinter-kingdoms, created opportunities for Jewish courtiers. Imitating their Arab colleagues, they became patrons of Hebrew poets. The importance of courts and of patronage in the Golden Age may be seen in the fact that when the courts vanished and patronage ceased, Hebrew and Arabic poetry declined.

The Golden Age of Hebrew poetry emerged in the context of the ethnic and religious diversity and conflicts of Hispano-Arab society and its socioreligious problems Wasserstein ; Brann 3. A further bar to nationalism in Muslim Spain was that the Jews comprised an essential part of the middle class.

There was hardly a profession in which Jews were not active. Because of their considerable trading links, their cosmopolitanism and knowledge of languages, the Jews were invaluable as translators, courtiers and diplomats. Their talents were also a rich source of revenue. The shift of power in Andalusia in the tenth century from the aristocratic elite to the middle class Aberbac Hebrew poetry expressed Jewish pride and self-confidence stemming from social and economic success and political power.

The cooperation and social harmony between them was virtually unique in the Middle Ages and unrepeated in modern times. These conditions were not conducive to Jewish nationalism. They encouraged Jews to think of the diaspora as home rather than return to the land of Israel. The cultural background of the Golden Age How then did Jewish nationalism emerge among the Spanish Jews and in their poetry?

As usual in Jewish cultural history, the forces of change were gradual. Medieval Hebrew poetry had a long, complex socio-linguistic germination. A number of factors in addition to those given above were of special importance in promoting a national literature, stimulating cultural imitation and competition, and in heightening sensitivity to the Hebrew language and sharpening its usage. They forced Jewish exegetes, many of whom wrote Hebrew poetry, to study closely the vocabulary and grammar of the Bible in order to refute the Christians and achieve a clear interpretation of the Hebrew text.

The Karaites, a fundamentalist Jewish sect, denied the sacred character of the Oral Law and of post-biblical Hebrew, insisting instead that authentic Judaism was confined to the literal truth of the Five Books of Moses. The proliferation since the late-Roman period of synagogues led to an increasing demand for original Hebrew liturgical poetry which entered the Jewish prayer book siddur , the earliest editions of which were edited in the eighth or ninth centuries Reif All the great medieval Hebrew poets wrote for the synagogue as well as for secular reading.

The Golden Age was part of a flourishing of Jewish literature — legal, homiletical, polemical, exegetical, philological, as well as liturgical — in the years — Baron VII It was also part of a great surge in European literary activity resulting from a revolution in book manufacturing. Paper reached the Islamic empire by the end of the eighth century. Within two centuries, Spain became a world centre of the manufacture of paper and the production of books. The explosion in the use of Arabic and the growth of Islamic court culture in which Arabic was used in the eighth and ninth centuries led to an enrichment of the Arabic language and a high valuation of correct grammar, stylistic excellence and beautiful calligraphy.

Baron observes: Perhaps in no period in human history did preoccupation with the correctness and purity of the spoken and written language become such a deep concern of the educated classes as during the Islamic Renaissance. As the first fully bilingual group of Jewish writers, the Hebrew poets of Muslim Spain were well-acquainted with Arabic and the Koran, though as infidels they were discouraged from writing Arabic. In any case, they were convinced that Hebrew was superior to all languages as it was more ancient and beautiful and, above all, the language in which God had revealed himself in the Bible.

They revolted against the eastern style of Hebrew poetry associated with Saadia Gaon, with its over-abundant, enigmatic talmudic and midrashic allusions. Instead, they favoured clear biblical language. Their poetry was further influenced by the rediscovery of ancient Greek learning, with its emphasis on philosophy and rhetoric. This resurrection led to a marked increase in the vocabulary and intellectual depth of Arabic language and thought, which Hebrew writers who were often the translators from Arabic to Latin adopted in Hebrew. Poetry, the court and Islam The pre-eminent importance attached to poetry in the Islamic empire was the single main catalyst for Hebrew poetry, which was enriched immeasurably in imitation of and competition with Arabic poetry.

This influence was not mutual, however: non-Jewish Arabic readers did not usually read Hebrew, and Hebrew poetry was apparently not translated into Arabic. Still, the high status of Hebrew poetry among the Spanish Jews at this time was probably unique in Jewish history. Court life brought into being the professional Hebrew poet, employed by Jewish courtiers such as the physician and statesman Hasdai Ibn Shaprut c. Imitating his Arab colleagues, Ibn Shaprut became the patron of scholars and poets. Neither had outstanding poetic gifts. Yet, ben Labrat revolutionized Aberbac He was also the first to criticize the artificiality of forcing Hebrew verse into Arabic prosody and the blasphemy of using the Holy Tongue for secular purposes.

This criticism reached its bitterest expression in the writings of Judah Halevi. The Golden Age ironically began and ended with blasts at its own artistic bases. However, the criticism of Hebrew poetry was also imitative, as the Arabs, too, frequently voiced similar complaints against Arabic poetry of the Cordoba caliphate. This poetry was often felt to reflect the artificiality and corruption of court life, the abuse of artists as functionaries flattering their patrons, sycophantically toeing the party line.

In its imitation of Islamic aesthetic norms, this poetry represents a movement among the Iberian Jews towards greater assimilation and an evident lack of interest in active Jewish nationalism. Yet the very fact that Spanish Jewish poets wrote in Hebrew — even with the aim of acculturation under Islam — inadvertently had a national significance.

The attractiveness of Jewish nationalism increased when the Ummayad empire fell and splinter kingdoms replaced it in the first half of the eleventh century. This upheaval galvanized both Hebrew and Arabic literature. The technical and thematic revolution of the tenth century was now harnessed to a radical change in psychological outlook and sensibility. For a brief period, both literatures created poetry of exceptional artistic quality, if not genius. In Hebrew, this change led ultimately back to Zion.

The Jews had mastered the dominant high culture of the early Middle Ages and gained entree into the highest social and political circles at the zenith of the Umayyad caliphate. Now they realized that their position under Muslim rule in Spain was untenable. Precisely at this moment — in the first half of the eleventh century — the Jews reached the high point of their political power and cultural achievement between the destruction of the Second Temple and modern times.

Why was this so? One explanation is that the Jews, as part of a society in chaos, were liberated for a while from the normal social shackles of being Jewish in the medieval world. The Hebrew poet was, to an extent, temporarily free of social constraint and able to use advances in Hebrew poetry to find an original poetic voice. It freed the individual poet, Muslim and Jew, to explore personal emotion as a subject worthy of poetry Monroe This liberation prepared the way for the deeply personal poetry of Halevi, including his laments for Zion.

The social anarchy described in the poetry of Hanagid and Gabirol belongs specifically to the eleventh century. The following lines by Gabirol, though typically they echo a biblical passage Micah , could not describe tenth century Andalusia, when the caliphate was strong. They are a grim picture of the chaos, civil strife and despair which prevailed in Andalusia after the caliphate fell apart. Man has no joy on earth: Slave murders master.

Servant girls attack their queen. Daughter does the same. Friend, the best remedy I know — madness. Ve-lev navuv The social stratification in Muslim Spain, already greatly weakened in the tenth century, was largely swept aside. The splinter-kingdoms, battling among themselves, sought allies — Jews and Christians alike — where they could find them.

As a result, Jews were allowed to take part in Islamic society to a degree unprecedented in Islamic history and unrepeated since. In this chaotic state of transition, Arabic poets such as Ibn Hazm — and Ibn Zaidun —71 and their contemporary Hebrew poets Hanagid and Gabirol, created a body of poetry extraordinary in its emphasis upon the individual sensibility as well as its technical mastery. The following lines by Ibn Hazm, for example, strike a new note in Arabic poetry: I am seen as a youth desperate with love, my heart broken, my spirit troubled.

By whom? Men glance at me and know, but on closer look are left in doubt. I am like clear handwriting, meaning obscure, like a dove cooing every which way in its little forest, delighting the ear with its melody, its meaning untapped. A girl once loved me, I surprised her with a kiss: That kiss was my only life, however long my life is. His poems of lost love recreate a world that has vanished but are at the same time deeply personal.

And the garden smiled. A day like the lost pleasure time we thieved our nights away as fortune slept. Flowers caught our eye, bent with dew as if in tears for my sleeplessness. Hanagid had an exceptionally varied and interesting life and career, though what is known of his life can be summed up in a few lines. As well as being the first major Hebrew poet of the Golden Age, he was also an important rabbi, the leader of the Granada Jewish community, ultimately first citizen of Granada as vizier from and minister of war from , commander of the Berber Muslim army for nearly two decades of almost constant war.

He reportedly never lost a battle. This siege lasted for several years until the Umayyad capital fell in Exiled from his native city, Hanagid was an eyewitness of the appalling effects of the fall of the caliphate and the civil wars which followed. His rise to power in Granada was, paradoxically, made possible by the very fact of his being Jewish. Jewish nationalism in any political sense evidently meant little to him: his immediate wholehearted loyalty was to the kingdom of Granada, and this was also in the interests of the Jewish community. The Spanish Jews, representing the economic strength of the middle class, helped create a precarious stability in the balance of power between the Berber rulers and the Arab aristocratic elite.

When Hanagid saw how the neighbouring Christian powers began what amounted to a protection racket by which the fragile Muslim kingdoms obtained military aid against their Muslim rivals, Hanagid called for the renewal of his people as he cursed the Christians in impeccable metre and rhyme. Evil queen, cease your reign! Reign instead, hated Jews, long asleep on bed of pain. The toughness and directness of some of his war poetry had not appeared in Hebrew since the Bible and were not to appear again until the twentieth century, when most Hebrew poets have also been soldiers.

Indeed, self-consciousness is one of the main barriers to spontaneous meeting. Buber explains the inability to grasp otherness as perceptual inadequacy that is fostered as a defensive mechanism in an attempt to not be held responsible to what is addressing one. Only when the other is accorded reality are we held accountable to him; only when we accord ourselves a genuine existence are we held accountable to ourselves. Both are necessary for dialogue, and both require courageous confirmation of oneself and the other.

In Buber's examples of non-dialogue, the twin modes of distance and relation lose balance and connectivity, and one pole overshadows the other, collapsing the distinction between them. For example, mysticism absorption in the all turns into narcissism a retreat into myself , and collectivism absorption in the crowd turns into lack of engagement with individuals a retreat into individualism. This throws the self back into the attitude of solitude that Buber sought to escape. In his book Eclipse of God , Martin Buber explains that philosophy usually begins with a wrong set of premises: that an isolated, inquiring mind experiences a separate, exterior world, and that the absolute is found in universals.

He prefers the religious, which in contrast, is founded on relation, and means the covenant of the absolute with the particular. Religion addresses whole being, while philosophy, like science, fragments being. In distinction from the one, unlimited source, this manifold is limited, but has the choice and responsibility to effect the unification yihud of creation. In addition to defining Hasidism by its quest for unity, Buber contrasts the Hasidic insistence on the ongoing redemption of the world with the Christian belief that redemption has already occurred through Jesus Christ.

No original sin can prohibit man from being able to turn to God.

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However, Buber is not an unqualified voluntarist. As in his political essays, he describes himself as a realistic meliorist. One cannot simply will redemption. Man hallows creation by being himself and working in his own sphere. There is no need to be other, or to reach beyond the human. The legends and anecdotes of the historic zaddikim Hasidic spiritual and community leaders that Buber recorded depict persons who exemplify the hallowing of the everyday through the dedication of the whole person.

If hallowing is successful, the everyday is the religious, and there is no split between the political, social or religious spheres. Some commentators, such as Paul Mendes-Flohr and Maurice Friedman, view this as a turn away from his earlier preoccupation with mysticism in texts such as Ecstatic Confessions and Daniel: Dialogues on Realization Drawing on Hasidic thought, he argues that creation is not an obstacle on the way to God, but the way itself. Principles require acting in a prescribed way, but the uniqueness of each situation and encounter requires each to be approached anew.

He could not blindly accept laws but felt compelled to ask continually if a particular law was addressing him in his particular situation. While rejecting the universality of particular laws, this expresses a meta-principle of dialogical readiness. In general Buber had little historical or scholarly interest in Hasidism. He took Hasidism to be less a historical movement than a paradigmatic mode of communal renewal and was engaged by the dynamic meaning of the anecdotes and the actions they pointed to. However, God can be known only in his relation to man, not apart from it.

Thus, it is not accurate to say that God changes throughout the texts, but that the theophany, the human experience of God, changes. Consequently, Buber characterizes his approach as tradition criticism, which emphasizes experiential truth and uncovers historical themes, in contrast to source criticism, which seeks to verify the accuracy of texts. Rather than smoothing over difficult or unclear passages, he preferred to leave them rough.

One important method was to identify keywords Leitworte and study the linguistic relationship between the parts of the text, uncovering the repetition of word stems and same or similar sounding words. Buber also tried to ward against Platonizing tendencies by shifting from static and impersonal terms to active and personal terms.

Buber made two important distinctions between forms of faith in his religious studies. In the prophetic attitude one draws oneself together so that one can contribute to history, but in the apocalyptic attitude one fatalistically resigns oneself. While he had great respect for Jesus as a man, Buber did not believe that Jesus took himself to be divine. Buber accuses Paul and John of transforming myth, which is historically and biographically situated, into gnosis, and replacing faith as trust and openness to encounter with faith in an image.

The primary goal of history is genuine community, which is characterized by an inner disposition toward a life in common. Buber critiques collectivization for creating groups by atomizing individuals and cutting them off from one another. Genuine community, in contrast, is a group bound by common experiences with the disposition and persistent readiness to enter into relation with any other member, each of whom is confirmed as a differentiated being. He argues that this is best achieved in village communes such as the Israeli kibbutzim. The political principle, exemplified in the socialism of Marx and Lenin, tends towards centralization of power, sacrificing society for the government in the service of an abstract, universal utopianism.

In contrast, influenced by his close friend, anarchist Gustav Landauer, Buber postulates a social principle in which the government serves to promote community. Rather than ever-increasing centralization, he argues in favor of federalism and the maximum decentralization compatible with given social conditions, which would be an ever-shifting demarcation line of freedom.

Seeking to retrieve a positive notion of utopianism, Buber characterizes genuine utopian socialism as the ongoing realization of the latent potential for community in a concrete place. Rather than seeking to impose an abstract ideal, he argues that genuine community grows organically out of the topical and temporal needs of a given situation and people.

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Rejecting economic determinism for voluntarism, he insists that socialism is possible to the extent that people will a revitalization of communal life. Similarly, his Zionism is not based on the notion of a final state of redemption but an immediately attainable goal to be worked for. This shifts the notion of utopian socialism from idealization to actualization and equality. Despite his support of the communal life of the kibbutzim, Buber decried European methods of colonization and argued that the kibbutzim would only be genuine communities if they were not closed off from the world.

Unlike nationalism, which sees the nation as an end in itself, he hoped Israel would be more than a nation and would usher in a new mode of being. The settlers must learn to live with Arabs in a vital peace, not merely next to them in a pseudo-peace that he feared was just a prelude to war.

As time went on, Buber became increasingly critical of Israel, stating that he feared a victory for the Jews over the Arabs would mean a defeat for Zionism. Politics inserts itself into every aspect of life, breeding mistrust. When everything becomes politicized, imagined conflict disguises itself as real, tragic conflict. Buber viewed Ben-Gurion as representative of this politicizing tendency. Nevertheless, Buber remained optimistic, believing that the greater the crisis the greater the possibility for an elemental reversal and rebirth of the individual and society. He argued that violence does not lead to freedom or rebirth but only renewed decline, and deplored revolutions whose means were not in alignment with their end. Afraid that capital punishment would only create martyrs and stymie dialogue, he protested the sentencing of both Jewish and Arab militants and called the execution of Nazi Adolf Eichmann a grave mistake.

However, he insisted that he was not a pacifist and that, sometimes, just wars must be fought. In the face of total loss of rights, mass murder and forced oblivion, no such testimony was possible and satyagraha was ineffective see Pointing the Way and The Letters of Martin Buber: A Life of Dialogue. Against the progressive tone of the conference, Buber argued that the opposite of compulsion and discipline is communion, not freedom. The student is neither entirely active, so that the educator can merely free his or her creative powers, nor is the student purely passive, so that the educator merely pours in content.

Rather, in their encounter, the educative forces of the instructor meet the released instinct of the student. The possibility for such communion rests on mutual trust. The student trusts in the educator, while the educator trusts that the student will take the opportunity to fully develop herself. In contrast to the propagandist, the true educator influences but does not interfere. This is not a desire to change the other, but rather to let what is right take seed and grow in an appropriate form.

Hence they have a dialogical relationship, but not one of equal reciprocity. If the instructor is to do the job it cannot be a relationship between equals. Buber explains that one cannot prepare students for every situation, but one can guide them to a general understanding of their position and then prepare them to confront every situation with courage and maturity. This is character or whole person education. One educates for courage by nourishing trust through the trustworthiness of the educator. Hence the presence and character of the educator is more important than the content of what is actually taught.

Buber acknowledges that teachers face a tension between acting spontaneously and acting with intention. They cannot plan for dialogue or trust, but they can strive to leave themselves open for them. This entails setting groups with different world-views before each other and educating, not for tolerance, but for solidarity. Buber argues that how one believes is more important than what one believes.

Teachers must develop their students to ask themselves on what their world-view stands, and what they are doing with it. Sarah Scott Email: scots newschool. Martin Buber — Martin Buber was a prominent twentieth century philosopher, religious thinker, political activist and educator. Philosophical Anthropology a. Religious Writings a. Hasidic Judaism In his book Eclipse of God , Martin Buber explains that philosophy usually begins with a wrong set of premises: that an isolated, inquiring mind experiences a separate, exterior world, and that the absolute is found in universals.

References and Further Reading a.

In This Article

Philosophic Interrogations. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Questions by more than 50 major thinkers and Buber's responses. Martin Buber Werkausgabe. Nahum N. Glatzer and Paul Mendes-Flohr. Richard and Clara Winston and Harry Zohn. Syracuse, N. The Martin Buber Reader. Asher Biemann. New York: Macmillan,