Response to Myth and Metaphor
It is not irrelevant nor is it fair to respond to the mirage of childish bickering that just frustrated the last half hour of my day without mentioning the more than obvious biases of the writers involved in their respective fields. Harold Fisch, a professor of English Literature at Leeds University and soon after at Bar-Ilan University, writes a detailed analysis of what he refers to as the Myth and Metaphor of the various approaches to Zionism in his book titled The Zionist Revolution. In this analysis Fisch attempts to break down several approaches to the myth and metaphor of Zionism to give the reader a sense of broader knowledge and a feeling that the field is generally covered in this article. He inevitably presents forth the opinion that he holds of highest regard last and most obviously, due to his literary nature, third in line after those of Aaron David Gordon and HaRav Avraham Yizchak Hakohen Kook respectively.
The problem with Fisch’s analysis of Gordon and his metaphor of Zionism is that the passages that he selected to quote do not at all confine themselves to the commentary he addressed to them. In this selected passage Gordon speaks of;
“a living organism which performs its various functions naturally..our natural soil from which we have been uprooted..The heart of our people is herefor here is the mainspring of our life..Here something is beginning to flowerHere is the force attracting all the scattered cells of the people to unite into one living national organism”(pg. 56).
Fisch’s misplaced claim comes directly following this quote when he claims that Gordon desires “a kind of new religion to replace the old religion of Judaism”. Fisch continues on the following page and claims that the religion he speaks of is “one distinct from that of the Law and the prophets. From the biblical point of view we may say that we have here a resurgence of something like the worship of the Bealim, the gods of the earth”. From the passage presented by Fisch we don’t see any such existence. Gordon, like Rav Kook, and many other contemporaries in this field, is devoted to the ideals of restoration to our roots and the “mystical” future that the Holy Land holds for its people when they will return to her. This concept is very much a part of the Jewish religion and can be seen in the well know verse “Return to me and I will return to you”, referring to G-d’s promise to his people that he will return to them once they take the initiative to return to him.
Furthermore, Fisch goes on to question Gordon’s whole belief system when he says “For Gordon it is hardly possible to speak of a commanding G-d”. Once more, based on the passages brought forth by Fisch it is not at all a warranted claim. His basis is that Gordon believes that “divine inspiration flows into us when we become part of the cosmic life of Nature”. This idea follows the well known concept that Nature, being the Land of Israel, will accept us once again when we take the initiative to return to it, and than inevitably we will once again merit receiving the inspiration of the divine . Nature and its connection to the Land of Israel can also be seen later when Gordon speaks of Nature as the “womb which we desire to return” to. It seems that Gordon almost exclusively refers to the Land of Israel as Nature, perhaps because to him the Land of Israel signifies an encompassing idea of Nature and therefore feels no need to differentiate between the two. It seems that Fisch is either not understanding the depths of the ideas that Gordon brings forth or has simply chosen to present to the reader misleading passages from Gordon’s writings.
When Fisch attempts to analyze Rav Kook’s approach to Zionism he falls in the formidable trap that every other “distinguished” writer falls into when trying to analyze Rav Kook’s philosophy on nearly any issue. The problem at hand is that Rav Kook speaks in a language foreign to those who do not study under his direct auspices, or from his distinctly chosen (by him) predecessors, for a significant period of time, and therefore sets a trap for all those who wish to analyze him and his writings without doing so. This depth that I speak of is apparent in the writings of the Maharal and the Ramchal as well. The core of Fisch’s misunderstanding can be seen where he writes;
“While Rabbi Kook placed all emphasis on the words Arise and shine, for thy light is come’, history has actually borne stronger witness to the continuation of that verse: For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples.’ Isaiah, though holding firmly to the ultimate positives of his messianic faith, had, it seems, a far keener perception than rabbi Kook of the dialectical elements involved in his prophecy. His last words do not speak of joy and fulfillment but of eschatological disaster, of a world decimated by divine anger, by the undying worm and the unquenchable fire”.
The first mistake Fisch makes is that he drastically underestimates Rav Kook’s understanding of evil and its’ prevalent status in this world. When one accustoms themselves with Rav Kook’s complete writings (even on the simplest levels of depth) a very thorough understanding of evil in this world can be grasped. However, because in Rav Kook’s writings, Fisch has trouble finding anticipation for the Holocaust which came after his death, he goes on to claim that his eye is not keen enough to comprehend such evil.
Fisch also fails to take into consideration the distinctively exceptional position Rav Kook was in. He fails to take into consideration that everything that Rav Kook says, needs to be taken in context to when he says it, why he is saying it, and most importantly to whom he is speaking. Rav Kook very often in his distinct position felt compelled to infuse hope or light’ into the nation’s eyes and hearts. In order to do this it was very necessary that he speak of the light’ more than he speak of the darkness’ that dooms the end of Isaiah. The comparison to Isaiah all together is so literarily out of context it shocks me that Fisch would let himself fall so out of line just to paint the picture a little more to his liking.
Fisch’s major complaint of Rav Kook was that he contains an element of “over-simplification”.
“This will help to explain Rabbi Kook’s remarkably pacific attitude towards the deep divisions within Zionism in his time, in particular between the religious and the militantly secular elements. He naturally condemned the latter and called upon them to acknowledge the true Torah vision as that which gives meaning to Zionism, but he was unwilling to acknowledge the radical nature of the threat posed by secular Zionism”.
Fisch does a great job defining what it is that Rav Kook sees as the connection between Zionism and religion however miserably fails to identify his acknowledgement of the threat posed by the secular Zionists. Rav Kook in his compiled work titled The Letters of Rav Kook speaks directly of the issue at hand. He prophesizes that secular Zionism will rid of itself. It will do so due to its empty nature that it is void of depth and meaning, namely what he refers to in the former part of Fisch’s passage- the true Torah vision. It was these misunderstandings that forced Rav Kook into the Agudah, and it is these misunderstandings that continue to separate those who study his Torah from the disciples that he himself entrusted his sacred word in, and those who study from the ones that so arrogantly and ignorantly claim to have an equal understanding of his teachings.
Fisch inevitably brings forth the view which so obviously spells out his bias, and needs very little attention. He addresses Martin Buber’s writings to be those most similar to his. Although he does not say it explicitly, it is more than obvious to the reader that his agenda is to show that the “dialogue” is the superior approach to those that he referred to earlier. He shamefully misleads the reader by characterizing weaknesses of Buber’s approach only to show that the weaknesses are really strengths (very similar to what a teacher would do for a pride student when recommending them to higher institution and being asked the inevitable question of what the student’s weaknesses are). He emphasizes the dialogue’ as if on a literary mission- a mission that doesn’t interest me.
Unfortunately, not much more can be said for the equally unfaithful Yigal Elam in his review (or more fittingly tedious run-on) of Fisch’s work. As Fisch justly points out in his retort to Elam’s criticism, Elam’s bias and agenda are clear and unfaithful to the issue. He misdirects his attention to Fisch and his faithfulness to Rav Kook when Fisch so obviously holds a strong alliance with Buber and more importantly dialogue as he himself retorted back to Elam in his response.