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Israel Shahak

Israel Shahak (April 28, 1933 - July 2, 2001) was a Professor of Chemistry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and an outspoken critic of the Israeli government and of Israeli society in general. He was born in Warsaw, Poland, survived the Belsen concentration camp, and emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1945, shortly before the establishment of the State of Israel. A critic of Zionism and a supporter of a Palestinian state, he wrote many influential books which argue that Israeli law and society contained entrenched attitudes of Jewish supremacy.

In the 1970s, he began publishing translations of the Hebrew press into English, arguing that the English-language editions of these newspapers were being intentionally distorted for Western audiences. In 1993 he authored Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years (ISBN 0745308198), in which he argued that traditional Orthodox Judaism was a chauvinistic religion, and that this chauvinism had been carried over into many aspects of contemporary Israeli society.

In the first chapter of Jewish History, Shahak described the following incident. Critics of Shakah hold that it is a fabrication.

...I had personally witnessed an ultra-religious Jew refuse to allow his phone to be used on the Sabbath in order to call an ambulance for a non-Jew who happened to have collapsed in his Jerusalem neighbourhood. Instead of simply publishing the incident in the press, I asked for a meeting which is composed of rabbis nominated by the State of Israel. I asked them whether such behavior was consistent with their interpretation of the Jewish religion. They answered that the Jew in question had behaved correctly, indeed piously, and backed their statement by referring me to a passage in an authoritative compendium of Talmudic laws, written in this century. I reported the incident to the main Hebrew daily, Ha'aretz, whose publication of the story caused a media scandal. The results of the scandal were, for me, rather negative. Neither the Israeli, nor the diaspora, rabbinical authorities ever reversed their ruling that a Jew should not violate the Sabbath in order to save the life of a Gentile. They added much sanctimonious twaddle to the effect that if the consequence of such an act puts Jews in danger, the violation of the Sabbath is permitted, for their sake...

Other books of Shahak's include Open Secrets: Israel's Nuclear and Foreign Policies (1997; ISBN 0745311512), and Jewish Fundamentalism In Israel (1999; ISBN 0745312764). All of these books have been the subject of great controversy. He has been accused of lying about Jewish law and of fabricating the specific incident above, and his writings have been compared to blood libels. (See A Modern Blood Libel, linked below)

Rabbis from all the Jewish denominations (Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism) have stated that Shahak's claims about Jewish law are merely the opinions of a handful of fanatics.

The Anti-Defamation League's report on The Talmud and Anti-Semitism, which cites Shahak's Jewish History as one of it's sources of anti-Semitic texts, states "In distorting the normative meaning of rabbinic texts, anti-Talmud writers frequently remove passages from their textual and historical context....Those who attack the Talmud frequently cit ancient rabbinic sources without noting subsequent developments in Jewish thought....Are the polemicists Anti-Semites? This is a charged term that should not be used lightly, but the answer, by and large, is yes. Now and then a polemicist of this type may have been bon Jewish, but their systematic distortion of the ancient texts, always in the direction of portrarying Judaism negatively, their lack of interest in good-faith efforts to understand contemporary Judaism from contemporary Jews, and their dimissal of any voices opposing their own, suggests that their goal in reading ancient rabbinic literature is to produce the Frankenstein version of Judaism that they invariable claim to have uncovered." (See report linked below)

His writings have become very popular among left-wing intellectuals like Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and Christopher Hitchens, as well as among anti-Semites.

He died in Israel, of complications from his diabetes.

External Links

ADL Report on The Talmud and anti-Semitism (http://www.adl.org/presrele/asus_12/the_talmud.pdf)



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