The Essen­tial Hay­im Greenberg

Mark A. Raider, ed.; Paul Mendes-Flohr, fwd.

  • Review
By – April 26, 2017

The Jews who arrived from East­ern Europe a cen­tu­ry or so ago were dis­tinc­tive in part because they brought their intel­lec­tu­als with them. Quick to bran­dish a man­i­festo or to found a new mag­a­zine, these schol­ars and polemi­cists had no trou­ble find­ing a read­er­ship avid for analy­ses of social­ism and Zion­ism, and for grasp­ing the con­nec­tions between polit­i­cal ideas and eth­i­cal ideals. No intel­lec­tu­al was more gift­ed at locat­ing the humane cen­ter of pub­lic issues than Hay­im Green­berg (18851953). Born in Kishinev, he reached the Unit­ed States in 1924, the very year that Con­gress sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly began clos­ing the gates to immi­grants. Exact­ly a decade lat­er, he began edit­ing the Labor Zion­ist month­ly Jew­ish Fron­tier, the jour­nal with which he was asso­ci­at­ed until his death. Although Green­berg assigned him­self the task of artic­u­lat­ing Jew­ish col­lec­tive demands, no one was less parochial in his curios­i­ty. Flu­ent in five lan­guages (Hebrew, Yid­dish, Russ­ian, Ger­man and Eng­lish), he exhib­it­ed the knack of rec­on­cil­ing uni­ver­sal­ism with par­tic­u­lar­ism. His own cos­mopoli­tan cul­ture blend­ed eas­i­ly with advanc­ing the cause of the belea­guered yishuv dur­ing the most con­se­quen­tial decades of mod­ern Jew­ish history.

Many of Greenberg’s essays were gath­ered half a cen­tu­ry ago in two vol­umes enti­tled The Inner Eye (1953, 1964), which have sunk into obliv­ion. Hap­pi­ly, the his­to­ri­an Mark A. Raider has retrieved the best of Greenberg’s work in a huge and hand­some book. It mer­its the atten­tion of any read­er curi­ous about the antecedents of the chal­lenges that both Israel and the Dias­po­ra face. Green­berg exem­pli­fied thought­ful engage­ment. He became a first respon­der to the unprece­dent­ed shocks of total­i­tar­i­an­ism, and to the thrilling reemer­gence of Jew­ish state­hood. He also addressed the peren­ni­al dilem­mas of hon­or­ing the claims of an ancient faith while cher­ish­ing the lib­er­ties that open soci­eties have dan­gled before this eth­no-reli­gious minor­i­ty. Raider began this admirable project of res­ur­rec­tion two decades ago, and the extent of his research shows; his con­sci­en­tious anno­ta­tions as well as his author­i­ta­tive intro­duc­tion are enor­mous­ly helpful.

The top­ics in The Essen­tial Hay­im Green­berg range from Sab­batai Zevi to David Ben-Guri­on; from the con­cept of cho­sen­ness to Leon Trot­sky. But An Answer to Gand­hi” (1939) deserves to be high­light­ed. Green­berg was not alone in rebut­ting the anti-Zion­ism that the hero of the Indi­an inde­pen­dence move­ment expressed; Mar­tin Buber also defend­ed Jew­ish claims to Pales­tine against Gand­hi. But Green­berg had long and con­spic­u­ous­ly wres­tled with the imped­i­ment of his own paci­fism, which col­lid­ed with the imper­a­tives of Jew­ish secu­ri­ty and sur­vival — and that inner strug­gle gives his essay its poignan­cy. He ful­ly sym­pa­thized with Gandhi’s anti-impe­ri­al­ist project that would achieve sov­er­eign­ty on the sub­con­ti­nent, even as Israel would be simul­ta­ne­ous­ly cre­at­ed thanks to its own resis­tance to British rule. But An Answer to Gand­hi” is as crisp a case as can be imag­ined for the sin­gu­lar­i­ty of Jew­ish nation­al aspi­ra­tions. In expos­ing the fol­ly of Gandhi’s advice that even Ger­man Jews should con­tin­ue to invoke their rights in the Third Reich, Green­berg demon­strat­ed in this essay — among many oth­ers in this anthol­o­gy — that polit­i­cal wis­dom is need­ed to cor­rect the most exalt­ed moral procla­ma­tions, and that the fierce advo­ca­cy of Jew­ish inter­est can be ren­dered quite com­pat­i­ble with com­mon sense.

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