Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Wrestling with an Angel

Wrestling with an Angel: Power, Morality, and Jewish Identity

Translated from the Hebrew by Michael Swirsky
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Wrestling with an Angel
    Book Description:

    By regaining for the Jewish people the capacity to deploy force, Zionism posed moral dilemmas for the Jews that for many generations, living in exile, they had not had to confront. The return to full political life and the use of military force involved a profound revolution in the Jewish identity and aroused deep and painful misgivings. This thought-provoking book examines how the forging of a new moral stance on the use of force has affected Jewish identity in the Land of Israel and throughout the world.Drawing on historiography, philosophy, social commentary, ideological tracts, and belles lettres, Ehud Luz explores the ways that Zionist attitudes toward sovereignty were shaped by their Judaic heritage, in particular the prophetic literature and the halakhic (legal) tradition, which stressed the sanctity of human life and the strict prohibition against the shedding of innocent blood. Luz argues that despite secularization, Jewish tradition continues to influence the political life and national ethos of the Jews, and that the Jewish religious tradition is an important, sometimes even decisive factor in the way that political and cultural issues in Israel are resolved.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12929-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Identity and National Ethos
    (pp. 1-16)

    Nations see themselves as differing from one another in their ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Each has its own ethos, which it imagines to be unique. While I do not believe there is such a thing as “national character”—peoples change so drastically in the course of their histories—the notion is nonetheless not an entirely arbitrary one insofar as a people’s present code of behavior bears the earmarks of a long-established cultural heritage. To use Schelling’s well-known formulation, a nation’s mythology is its fate. In this sense, and not deterministically, the history of a people reveals its character...

  5. Part One: The Will to Power

    • 1 Power, Freedom, and Political Independence in Jewish Thought
      (pp. 19-28)

      Orthodox and non-Orthodox scholars disagree about Judaism’s attitude toward the creation of a Jewish state. There are those who minimize the importance of political independence in the Judaic scheme of values, while others see it as central, indeed, as a prerequisite for the fulfillment of the Torah.¹ The historian Simon Dubnow regarded the ancient Jewish commonwealth as merely a passing phase in the historical development of the Jewish people.² Heinrich Graetz, on the other hand, in his early workThe Structure of Jewish History,maintains that “the religious and the political are twin axes on which Jewish life turns,” and...

    • 2 Shame, Guilt, and Suffering in Jewish Culture until Modern Times
      (pp. 29-41)

      Shame and guilt are two feelings that have a considerable effect on our moral decision-making, that predispose us to moral action. Their psychological effect is evident in that vague realm we refer to as “moral sensitivity,” the cultivation of which is seen by society as one of the central purposes of education. These two feelings, which are among the underpinnings of every culture, play an important role in socialization: the internalization of social norms that promote self-restraint, obedience to the law, and identification with particular codes of behavior.¹ Psychology and sociology disagree as to whether there is any empirical basis...

    • 3 The Shame of Exile and the Zionist Recovery of Jewish Dignity
      (pp. 42-65)

      The image of the Jew as a weakling, unable to resist the violence that was his lot in exile, had long been a standard antisemitic stereotype. Jewish nationalist thinkers, both Zionist and non-Zionist, maintained that a passive acceptance of violence not only brought more violence but also distorted the moral image of the Jew because his impotence was tantamount to a renunciation of the freedom in which all human dignity is grounded. For the novelist Yosef Hayim Brenner (1881–1921), Jewish life in the Diaspora was repulsive and “pathological”: “We are disgraced and ridiculed because we are weak, and as...

    • 4 “The Remnant of Israel”
      (pp. 66-90)

      In the previous chapter, I discussed one of the most powerful motives for the radical change in the self-image of the modern Jew and for the emergence of the Zionist ethos of power: the feeling of shame and the passionate desire to recover Jewish dignity. In this chapter, I shall discuss another motive, which I call “the sense of ending.” In Jewish tradition, the wordketz(end) has a double meaning: it can be an ending, a final destruction, but also a new beginning, a redemption. This double meaning played an important role in the discourse of the pioneers who...

    • 5 The Wager in Greenberg’s The Ways of the River
      (pp. 91-102)

      The Holocaust confirmed the Zionists’ prediction of destruction for the Diaspora and gave a new relevance to the notion of the “remnant of Israel” that had figured so prominently in their wager. The Holocaust also greatly reinforced, for Zionists, the ethos of power and its corollary, the aspiration to political sovereignty. An authentic reflection of such thinking is to be found in the poetic cycleThe Ways of the River,by Uri Tzvi Greenberg, most of which was written during and immediately after the Holocaust.¹ This work is one of the most profound, important expressions of Zionist “theology.” Indeed, it...

    • 6 Messianism and Realism
      (pp. 103-112)

      It is often said that Zionism represented a “return to history.” Generally, what is meant is that it rejected the religious conception of history that had been regnant until the beginning of the modern era and adopted a secular one: Jewish history was now to be understood as a product of “natural” forces, like the history of other nations, and not, uniquely, as the working of divine providence. This was one of the implications of the idea of “normalization,” at which Zionism aimed. Yet the latter retained an umbilical connection to the messianic, otherworldly strand in traditional Judaism. And because...

  6. Part Two: The Moral Price of Sovereignty

    • 7 Criticism of the Idea of Sovereignty in Non-Zionist Thought
      (pp. 115-141)

      The role of sovereignty in the Jewish scheme of values became a live question only in the modern period, in response to the challenges of emancipation and Zionism. Along with the issue of Halakha, this has been the main question dividing Jews in the twentieth century. It has been a debate not merely over strategies of Jewish survival, but over the very meaning of Judaism. To understand the issue, we must look at the notion of sovereignty in modern thought in general.

      The aspiration to autonomy as expressed in sovereignty is one of the hallmarks of modern secularism. The philosopher...

    • 8 Sovereignty and Jewish Commitment after the Holocaust in the Thought of Emil Fackenheim, George Steiner, and Irving Greenberg
      (pp. 142-162)

      The Holocaust has strengthened among many Jews the sense of being the survivors, a “saving remnant,” with all the responsibility that implies for remembering past generations, remaining loyal to them. Forgetfulness means betrayal and disloyalty: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning” (Ps 137:5). In Jewish tradition, the demand to remember is at the heart of a covenant between the people and its God that carries moral and religious imperatives. Memory thus plays an active moral role of the highest order: to remember is to be aroused to do what we should be doing....

  7. Part Three: Power and Jewish Identity in Israeli Public Discourse

    • 9 Sovereignty and Power in Zionist Debate during the Mandate Period
      (pp. 165-197)

      Until the 1930s, most Zionists in Palestine as well as in the Diaspora believed that the Zionist vision of creating a Jewish majority in the country could be realized without resorting to the wholesale use of military force and without injuring the rights of the Arab population. They believed that the purity of their movement’s intentions would spare it the brutality and violence that so often accompany nationalist struggles for independence. This belief was nurtured both by the prophetic view of history that had had such a strong influence upon Zionist thinking and by the humane ideals of European liberalism...

    • 10 Reacting to Arab Terror
      (pp. 198-220)

      The basic rule of what is called “combat morality,” that which serves as the basis of international law, requires that a clear distinction be drawn between combatants and noncombatants. Yet it seems there has never been, in all of history, a war in which this rule was not broken. The harming of civilians in wartime is without doubt one of the most difficult and complicated of moral questions. This is particularly true when the struggle is against an enemy who makes use of terror against one’s civilian population while using his own civilian population, sometimes against its will, for cover,...

    • 11 Halakha and Morality in Religious Zionism after the Six-Day War
      (pp. 221-237)

      During the century of its existence, religious Zionism has undergone a profound change in its attitude to politics and power. It has gone from advocating strong restraints against the use of power for political ends to sanctioning warfare as a means of redeeming humankind, from open-minded universalism to a narrow parochialism that sees Jewish morality as being utterly different from that of the gentiles and the championing of Jewish sovereignty over the whole Land of Israel as the test of Zionist, and even Jewish loyalty. For the movement’s first thinkers, national redemption was linked to universal redemption. It was not...

    • 12 Persecuted or Persecutor?
      (pp. 238-246)

      The protracted conflict with the Palestinians forces the Jews of Israel to come to terms with their past. In an almost paradoxical way, they draw contradictory conclusions from it. Long-term exposure to degradation, violence, and the danger of annihilation in the Diaspora, and the ongoing existential threat to the state from the Muslim world have tended to foster the view that military power is the only way to ensure survival. Over time, Israelis have developed an image of themselves as victims and targets of aggression, an image that has deep roots in Jewish history. But the long history of Jewish...

    • 13 Challenging the Zionist Ethos
      (pp. 247-273)

      Hagshama,practical realization, is one of the key terms in modern Hebrew literature and Zionist thought beginning with the period of the Second Aliya (1904–18), particularly in the writings of the labor movement. In the years following the Balfour Declaration (1917), hagshama became a watch-word for both the religious and the nonreligious pioneering youth movements. It was a term that conveyed the essence of Zionist resolve and activism, the effort to give life to the spirit and concrete expression to an age-old dream.

      Philosophically speaking, hagshama signifies the desire to meld opposites, thevita contemplativaand thevita activa....

  8. Conclusion: Politics in Israel as a Test of Judaism
    (pp. 274-282)

    We have seen that the reference to “Jewish ethics,” which alludes to the sense of chosenness, has been very common in the Zionist political discourse. In the controversies over how to carry on the struggle with the Palestinian Arabs, beginning with the debate over “self-restraint” in the late 1930s, the question has arisen again and again of whether to adopt the enemy’s norms of combat or conduct ourselves according to the more restrictive, traditional Jewish morality. Clearly, it is a certain sense of Jewish identity that gives rise to these moral concerns.

    But since the Yom Kippur War of 1973,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 283-314)
  10. References
    (pp. 315-338)
  11. Index
    (pp. 339-350)