Jews and the Military

Jews and the Military: A History

Derek J. Penslar
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Jews and the Military
    Book Description:

    Jews and the Military is the first comprehensive and comparative look at Jews' involvement in the military and their attitudes toward war from the 1600s until the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Derek Penslar shows that although Jews have often been described as people who shun the army, in fact they have frequently been willing, even eager, to do military service, and only a minuscule minority have been pacifists. Penslar demonstrates that Israel's military ethos did not emerge from a vacuum and that long before the state's establishment, Jews had a vested interest in military affairs.

    Spanning Europe, North America, and the Middle East, Penslar discusses the myths and realities of Jewish draft dodging, how Jews reacted to facing their coreligionists in battle, the careers of Jewish officers and their reception in the Jewish community, the effects of World War I on Jewish veterans, and Jewish participation in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Penslar culminates with a study of Israel's War of Independence as a Jewish world war, which drew on the military expertise and financial support of a mobilized, global Jewish community. He considers how military service was a central issue in debates about Jewish emancipation and a primary indicator of the position of Jews in any given society.

    Deconstructing old stereotypes, Jews and the Military radically transforms our understanding of Jews' historic relationship to war and military power.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4857-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    At a Toronto synagogue some years ago I gave a talk on Jewish soldiers in modern armies. I began the talk by asking members of the audience how many of them had served in the military or had close relatives—fathers, brothers, uncles, grandfathers—who did the same. There were a few elderly veterans of the Second World War, and several who had served in Korea. People spoke of grandfathers who had fought for the German kaiser or the Russian tsar, or of fathers who had flown for the Royal Air Force, or of sons and daughters currently deployed in...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Jewish Soldier between Memory and Reality
    (pp. 17-34)

    Jews in the contemporary world have a remarkably static and homogeneous collective memory of their historic relationship with armed force. The memory’s origins lie in the historical consciousness, transmitted by public institutions and popular culture, in which the Holocaust and the state of Israel have assumed iconic status. As Jay Winter has noted, memory is rarely fixed, stable, and unidirectionally transmitted; institutions such as schools can instill memory but not impose it.¹ In most of the Jewish world since World War II, however, there has been little resistance to a classic Zionist narrative that lionizes the military prowess of the...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Fighting for Rights: Conscription and Jewish Emancipation
    (pp. 35-82)

    Two types of armed force characterized Europe’s “long nineteenth century,” the period from the French Revolution to World War I. Armies of conscripts fought to preserve or enhance the power of the sovereign, while revolutionaries strove to create a new political order. Conscripts fought for states; revolutionaries struggled for stateless nations or oppressed classes. Soldiers in standing armies had long outnumbered rebels, and the disparity between the two increased as armies grew in size and sophistication over the course of the 1800s. In previous centuries, battles were led by aristocratic warriors, and the fighting masses were paid professional soldiers and...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Military as a Jewish Occupation
    (pp. 83-120)

    In her classic book The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt claimed that in premodern times European Jews enjoyed a special and beneficial relationship with the state. This relationship centered on the waging of war. Jewish financiers, known in central Europe as Court Jews, provided rulers with the means to fight against their rivals by lending them money, paying them up front for the right to collect taxes and fees, and supplying armies with horses, food, and uniforms. In the nineteenth century, however, these Jews were replaced by state bureaucracies that began to collect taxes directly from the people and set...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR When May We Kill Our Brethren? Jews at War
    (pp. 121-165)

    During World War I, Emile Zaidan, editor of the Cairo-based newspaper Al-Hilal, offered a fascinating observation about the military behavior of European Jews:

    The Israelites are distinguished from among the rest of the peoples by their preservation of their nationality and their customs and practices, despite the passage of time and their subordination to different states. Israelitism is simultaneously a religion [d’in] and a nationality [jinsiyya], unlike Christianity and Islam. So if we are surprised by fighting between Christian and Christian in this war, we are all the more shocked by fighting between Jew and Jew.¹

    Like other Arab writers...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Jewish Soldier of World War I: From Participant to Victim
    (pp. 166-194)

    In 1924, the German-Jewish physician Felix Theilhaber published a book celebrating Jewish flying aces of World War I. The book’s cover features a photograph of a Fokker fighter aircraft with a swastika painted onto its fuselage (figure 5.1). The plane had been flown during the war by one Fritz Beckhardt, a highly decorated flyer who, Theilhaber assures the reader, had no idea that the swastika, an ancient and ubiquitous symbol, would be appropriated after the war by the National Socialists for their nefarious purposes.¹ By putting the swastika-adorned airplane on the cover of a book about Jewish valor, Theilhaber was...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The World Wars as Jewish Wars
    (pp. 195-224)

    The Jewish soldier in the First World War served his country and suffered as a citizen, but he also fought to demonstrate Jewish valor, and he suffered as a Jew. Throughout the world, the war intensified Jews’ commitments to causes that clearly served Jewish collective interests, even though those causes could radically oppose each other. This chapter demonstrates the effect of the mobilization of ideas and manpower on the Zionist movement during the two world wars as well as a smaller international conflict that adumbrated World War II. During World War I, the Zionist movement sponsored the formation of Jewish...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN 1948 as a Jewish World War
    (pp. 225-253)

    The Israeli-Palestinian conflict emerges from and constantly returns to 1948. For over twenty-five years, ever since Israel’s archives made sources from 1948 available for historical research, scholars have striven to understand why Israel emerged victorious in its war against the Palestinians and Israel’s neighboring Arab states. There is a broad consensus among scholars that Israel enjoyed relative military strength compared with its Arab foes. Although far smaller in population and land mass than the array of Arab states, Israel was able to field more soldiers, its army was better trained and had higher morale, and, although at a material disadvantage...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 254-262)

    In April of 2008, Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert told an American journalist:

    Jews are not safer in Israel than they are in other parts of the world, but there is only one place that Jews can fight for their lives as Jews, and that is here. They can fight as Americans, they can fight as Australians—but as individuals. Jews were persecuted, Jews were attacked, Jews were suppressed. But they could never defend themselves as Jews.¹

    Strikingly, Olmert admits that the Zionist goal of creating a safe haven for persecuted Jewry has been a failure. Yet he maintains the...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 263-316)
    (pp. 317-336)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 337-360)