Thursday, December 20, 2007

A lament on Jewish passivity: a Kibbutznik take on a Hebrew Chronicle of the Chmielnicki massacres

The Sefer Yeven Metzulah was written by Rabbi Natan Nata Hanover, a survivor of the Chmielnicki-led massacres of Jews in Poland and Ukraine in 1648-1649 [1]which came to be known as גזירות ת"ח ות"ט.

This edition (pictured) was published in Tel Aviv in 1966 by the Socialist Zionist ha-kibbutz ha-meuchad publishing house. In the introduction to this edition, the poet Yaakov Fichman expounds upon the nature of this work and the rich literary style employed by its author . The last paragraph of the introduction- in particular- caught my eye as it sheds light on the thinking of the Kibbutzniks 'of old' and the frustration and anger that reverberated even to that day over the passivity and meekness displayed by Jews in 'exile' (culminating in the Holocaust). It also helps explain the resentment many Eastern European Jews developed toward a leadership (particularly a religious leadership) they felt had acted cowardly and betrayed them [2].

Bear in mind that this was written one year before the outbreak of the Six Day War in 1967.

(Translation is mine):

When reading this book one can not help but draw a parallel between the events of that time and our current situation. Bearing in mind that the Jewish concentrations were at quite a distance of each other and transportation was difficult- how encouraging is the fact that all the Jewish communities, both near and far spared no effort in sending assistance to the stricken Jews and redeeming their captives. The Jewish heart feels the pain of his distant brothers and is filled with kindness and mercy towards them. At the same time, the epic tragedy of all this lies in the fact that the Jews (in the affected lands) hesitated to fight back and wreak vengeance upon their enemies -even when they had the chance to do so. Typical of this was the behavior of the Jews of Tulcyn. When the Jews of that town realized that they had been double crossed by the Poles (who were ostensibly their "allies") they sought to avenge themselves (first) on the Polish noblemen for betraying them. At that point, the Rosh Yeshiva stood up and loudly proclaimed ''o hearken to me brothers and sisters, we are in exile among the nations, if you will strike the noblemen, all the kings of edom will hear and they will then seek revenge by attacking our brothers in their lands, g-d forbid. Therefore, if it is decreed from heaven (that we die), we shall accept it gladly, with joy''.

Fichman continues:

This was the galut mentality (הפסכילוגיה הגלותית) that reigned at the time and -which for 300 years -we are trying to uproot but -to our great shame and regret- we have not met with success. To this day, this mentality is still among us, this "tradition'"of stretching out our collective throats to the knife- which serves to inflame the blood lust of our enemies. Even in our day, when we have the opportunity to assert ourselves and we need not hesitate and be unsure, or to ask for whom to live and whom to die, we still have not matured as a nation with self respect. We have only produced a small number of people who were willing to stand up while the rest of the nation sat back. They are still waiting for others to rescue them. They have not yet come to realization that the future of Israel and their very lives depend on the readiness and willingness to sacrifice, both in body and in spirit [3].


[1]. For more background on the Chmielnicki massacres see Graetz

[2]. For more on this, see Steg's comment to my post here and my response. See also what inspired Chaim Potok's fictional 'Am Kedoshim society'. Conversely, see Hungarian Rabbi Michael Weissmandel's scathing criticism of the Zionist leadership of his time for abandoning the Jews of Europe to their fate ('Ten questions to the Zionists') where he states: We must depose the atheist-Zionist "statesmen" from their role as Jewish leaders, and return to the faithful leadership of our sages.

[3]. ספר יון מצולה להרב נתן נטע הנובר. הוצאת הקיבוץ המאוחד תשכ"ו. 13-14

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At Friday, December 21, 2007 1:49:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you happen to know if Yaven Metzulah is available online anywhere? I know there's an english transaltion out there also. ( I think it has the word "abyss" in the title , but not sure).


At Sunday, December 23, 2007 2:44:00 AM, Blogger Joels W. said...


but it's only a limited preview.


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