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A Jewish Hero Grows Up in Brooklyn


Rabbi Meir Kahane

At about the same time Meir started this teaching job, his name was removed from The Jewish Press masthead. Rabbi Klass wrote an editorial explaining that although Meir would no longer be the associate editor, he would continue his column:

“Rabbi Meir Kahane has decided to devote his entire day to studying in the yeshiva…. We take pride in the fact that a young rabbi, at a great personal sacrifice, has decided to devote his life to learning. Let us hope that others follow his example and make greater efforts to devote more of their time to the study of Torah…. We look forward to his growing into a scholar and leader of Israel.”

In November, Meir addressed the young adults of the West Side Institutional Synagogue’s Sinai League on “Is Modern Orthodoxy Really Orthodox?” This theme recurred in his writings and lectures. For him there could be no compromises in Judaism, be they Reform, Conservative, or “modern Orthodox.” A Jew must observe ALL the laws of the Torah. Seeking to reach “the American Jew who has strayed from the fold,” Meir wrote:

“In our struggle to preserve him for Torah and mitzvahs, we must understand what and who [the secular American Jew] is…. What motivates him in his religious feelings…? The image, the image of the American Jew, this is what we must define…. [But] as important as it is for us to understand the American Jew, it is of equal importance to comprehend exactly what HIS image is of us. What does he think when he hears the term Orthodoxy?

Orthodoxy was mistakenly associated with outdated rituals, he said, but it can be presented in a positive way.

“Distorted, we lament: wrong, misunderstood, the product of ignorance, but there it stands; our image in their eyes. Is all lost then? Most emphatically not…. Firstly, young [people] are idealistic. They search for idealism in a society that turns them into craven materialists. They hunger for truth and sacrifice…. We are the ones that can offer it….

“What is necessary is to establish a specially trained group of young Orthodox men and women with the proper traditional background, with a strong secular academic knowledge, and with … rapport with the typical young American Jew. People with … a deep knowledge of Torah. People who can at the same time discuss Plato and Keynes and Faraday and Marx as well. People who can prove themselves adept at the laws of Shabbos and dialectical materialism and the standings of the American League. People who can win the respect and admiration of the American Jew, who can force him to say, “It IS possible to be an Orthodox Jew in 1962!”

Meir was, unwittingly, describing himself. He indeed brought many Jews back to Judaism. In a similar vein, “To Our Non-Orthodox Readers” proclaimed:

“The non-observant Jew knows. Deep in his heart he knows. He knows that the path [he treads] is a false one, that the Judaism he professes is a mockery…. His moment of truth lies within him. His is the power to call it into being. Let him but dig deeply into his Jewish resources and draw from them the traditional Jewish qualities of courage, determination and sacrifice. Let him seek out the traditional rabbi who will hold the lamp as he wends his way home….”

A Rabbi like Meir Kahane. May the Almighty avenge his murder, and may his memory be for a blessing.

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Jewish Press


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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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