by Michael Benazon
Have you ever wondered why, despite the controversial nature of contemporary Zionism, we hear so little criticism of it from the rabbis? It would appear from Professor Yakov Rabkin’s latest book that there is no shortage of criticism, just the lack of a common language between the rabbis and the media.
Rabkin has set out to demonstrate that a substantial number of rabbis have always had much to say about Zionism, the state of Israel and their relation to Judaism. He is admirably qualified to bring traditional Jewish attitudes to the attention of a wide public. Born and educated in the Soviet Union, he has taught Jewish and Soviet history at the University of Montreal for many years. He is also an Orthodox Jew with a wide range of contacts in Canada, the United States, Europe and North Africa, and he has sojourned for long periods in Israel studying, researching and talking with people from the religious and secular communities.
Au nom de la Torah has been well received in France, Morocco, Switzerland and French Quebec. Curiously, the book has not been noticed in English Canada. It is to be hoped that this will change with the appearance of an English edition, scheduled for the fall.
Readers interested in the tangled Middle East conundrum will want to know how traditional Jewish thinkers regarded and continue to view the Zionist enterprise. But Au nom de la Torah is not simply a survey of such views. Rabkin organizes Jewish commentary on Zionism into a number of categories and makes it available to academic scholars who might not be aware of its depth and complexity, while at the same time he enables the ultra-Orthodox writers to come to grips with the way academics deal with the subject.