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December 31, 1982 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1982-12-31

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48 Friday, December 31, 1982


Drama in Life of Judah Magnes in 'Dissenter in Zion'

Judah L. Magnes began
his career as a Reform rabbi
in Israel. He was the or-
ganizer of the New York
Kehilla and therefore had a
great role in the formation
of the community councils
which have since assumed
importance in the organized
life of American Jewry.
He was among the ear-
liest Zionists in Reform
Jewish ranks and was
among their most effective
propagandists. He was the
first president of the He-
brew University in
He was both lecturer and

And he pioneered as a
peacenik in Israel, and he
would have been in the
front ranks of the Israel
Peace Now movement.

With Henrietta Szold and
Martin Buber he was an
early advocate of the bi-
national state in Palestine,
in the joint quest with Szold
and Buber for an accord
with the Arabs based on
concessions that would have
reduced Jewish statehood
and the sovereignty that
was attained as the state of
The numerous delinea-
tions applied to him re-
sulted in what the reviewer
terms as the drama in the
life of this eminent person-
ality who might, in modern
terms, also be described as a
It should also be noted
that he was a fund-raising
campaigner. On the last of
his several visits in Detroit
in the 1930s, he addressed a
group of prominent people
at the old Phoenix Club on
John R. on behalf of the
American Jewish Joint Dis-
tribution Committee.


Practically all of the
Magnes involvements
gradually led him into
controversies. The great
Zionist became the
movement's challenger.
His leadership in the
kehilla led to a resigna-
tion marked by some
obstructive reasons. His
presidency. of the He-
brew University was not
without discord. He was
the antagonist of both


Chaim Weizmann and
Albert Einstein and there
were some exchanges
that were far from cor-

The backgrounds and the
historical records tracing
these occurrences, based on
Dr. Magnes' writings, are
told in detail in "Dissenter
in Zion" (Harvard Univer-
sity Press).
Edited, with an introduc-
tion, by Prof. of American
Studies at the Hebrew Uni-
versity Arthur A. Goren,
there is frankness and the
authoritative aspect that
elevates this volunie to
great value in tracing many
aspects of Zionist history
and the era in pre-Israel
Palestine during which the
subject of this study played
an important role.
Magnes' pacifism also
submitted him to condem-
nations during World War
II. His activities in Pales-
. tine, where he settled in
1922, until his death in
1948, were the subjects of
wide disputes in which
many of the world Jewish
leaders were involved.

It is as "a moral gadfly"
that Prof. Goren de-
scribes Magnes in his
conflicts with the Zionist
leaders who included
Chaim Weizmann, Louis
D. Brandeis, Louis
Lipsky, David Ben-
Gurion and many others.


dermining the Zionist
negotiating position.

Perhaps the showdown
came upon the adoption
of the Biltmore Platform
for statehood, in 1942.
Then Magnes, in associa-
tion with Henrietta Szold,
Moshe Smilansky, Mar-
tin Buber and others,
formed the peace party
called Ichud. It marked
the opposition of what
was termed Zionist
maximalism and aimed at
a program of bi-

The Hebrew University
presidency evoked added
heated controversy involv-
ing Magnes as well as
Weizmann and Einstein.
Felix Warburg's "munifi-
cent gift" in 1924 assured
the opening of the Hebrew
Notable in the analysis of University. "The call" to
Magnes' major interests this great endeavor, as the
were his leanings toward Goren-edited volume as-
cultural Zionism. He as- serts, had two voices. "War-
serted as early as 1904 in burg, who insisted Magnes
the annual publication of head the university, and
Hebrew Union College, Weizmann, vexed over los-
where he was teaching ing control of so central an
Bible at the time, in a com- instrument of nation-
ment on the poetic works of - building." Here is how the
Chaim Nachman Bialik, personality conflict is de-
that "the Jewish cultural scribed:
renaissance was a fact."
"The result was. fre-
Perhaps the Magnes quently a stand-off between
criticism of Zionist policies contending parties, con-
were already fully ex- flicts in which vast energies
pressed in his letter or res- were expanded in the ma-
ignation from the Pro- neuverings of headstrong
visional Executive Commit- men. In this situation
tee for General Zionist Af- Magnes, with Warburg's
fairs, addressed to Bran- wavering support, faced
deis, Sept. 2, 1915, when his Weizmann, who leaned on
emphasis was on the ap- the prestige of a fickle Eins-
proach to Zionist aspira- tein.
"Magnes staved off re-
tions by way of securing
efforts to dislodge
from the Turkish govern-
ment the right to free immi- him. From 1926 to 1935
gration and the develop- Einstein periodically res-
ment of the Jewish cultural igned or threatened to re-
aims. It was clear in that sign as chairman of the
letter that he was refrain- university's academic
ing from any effort to speak council unless Magnes
of statehood or to anticipate was stripped of all aca-
demic functions. The

Later, resorting to dip-
lomatic contacts which he
described as "personal"
when dealing with indi-
vidual Arabs and British
and American officials,
Weizmann accused him of
irresponsibility and un-

chancellor, Einstein
charged, was aca-
demically unfit to direct a
great scientific institu-

"However, Magnes con-
tinued to 'rule,' as his critics
put it. Much about the uni-
versity was improvised,

they claimed; some aca-
demic appointments pro-
voked bitter criticism; ad-
vancement was ponder-
ously slow. All this Magnes
readily admitted to the
committee of inquiry that
investigated conditions at
the university in the fall
and winter of 1933.
"I am the person who is
responsible in the last
analysis for that which is
bad here and that which is
good. here," he told the
committee in an angry
interview. 'I have been re-
sponsible because there has
been no one else upon whom
responsibility all these
years could be fastened.'
"The report resulted in a
reorganization of the uni-
versity, and Magnes was
`kicked upstairs,' as he put
it, to the honorary position
of president. Nevertheless,
in the years of his
presidency, from 1935 to his
death, his presence was felt.
To the public he remained
the titular head of the uni-
versity speaking in the
name of the intellectual
center of world Jewry."

Inevitably, Magnes
clashed with another
giant in Jewish leader-
ship, Stephen S. Wise.

At the outset, Prof. Goren
states that Magnes eclipsed
Wise in leadership, and he
points out: "When Stephen
Wise came to New York and
founded the Free Syna-
gogue, opinion was divided
as to which of the two was
the premier preacher." So
popular was the young
Judah L. Magnes.
There is this interesting
reference to Magnes'
pacifism and the differing
views of Stephen Wise by
Prof. Goren:
"The war hysteria per-
vaded Jewish community
life no less than it did
American life. Stephen
Wise, a pacifist until
America declared war,
chided Magnes for his anti-
war activities, accusing him
of 'aiding the cause of peace
for the sake of Pax Ger-
manica.' In the fall of 1917
Brandeis proposed postpon-
ing the convening of the
American Jewish Congress
lest it be 'captured by the
pacifists under the leader-
ship of Magnes.' "

The Magnes role was
more than controversial:
it involved many ele-
ments and certainly the
Arabs whose collabora-
tion Magnes was seeking
and which he apparently
never attained. While the
Goren,edited volume
does not contain it, un-
doubtedly because
Magnes was not in corre-
spondence with Jacob
Fishman, one of the most
distinguished Yiddish
editors in the mid-
century, the following
news story that was re-
leased by the now de-
funct Independent
Jewish Press Service,
dated Feb. 11, 1944, is of
considerable interest:

"Jacob Fishman, veteran
Yiddish editor and Jewish
Morning Journal colum-
nist, discussed the most re-

cent plan of Dr. J.L.
Magnes, president of the
Hebrew University, 'to ap-
pease the Arabs.'
"Dr. Magnes, in a letter to
the London Economist, pro-
posed that another half-
million Jews be admitted
into Palestine so that they
balance- the million Arabs
and then Palestine be con-
stituted as a bi-national
state and included in a Lev-
ant Federation.
"The Arab newspaper
Falstin, published in Jaffa,
has replied to this sugges-
tion by stating that the
`Arabs do not need the ad-
vice or plans or others.'

"Mr. Fishman, analyz-
ing Dr. Magnes'
arguments, says: 'What
will happen if the Arabs,
through their high birth
rates, will increase over
the Jews, even after Dr.
Magnes will have estab-
lished his parity? And
what will happen if
thousands of unfortunate
Jews will seek admission
into Palestine even after
Magnes's 'quota' will
have been fulfilled? Does
Dr. Magnes intend to in-
troduce his own White
Paper? ...

" 'And how will he create
the magic called bi-national
state? Were it even possible
to constitute a government
on a parity basis, it would
only mean a paralysis of all
progress, because the
Arabs will not allow any

measure that might in the
least favor the Jews, and the
Jews will certainly not
permit the Arabs to domi-
nate them. A majority is
needed for all decisions, and
if that is not attained then
the government suspends
its functions.' "
Dr. Judah L. Magnes was
much more than a controv-
ersial figure as described in
the important Harvard
University Press volume.
He represented a viewpoint
that caused much concern
and it was the subject of
Jewish disputes in many
spheres, including the
He had leadership qual-
ities, and he was unhesitant
to differ and to dispute.
The ideologies involved
will serve as subject for
serious discussion for a long
time to come, because, as
"Dissenter in Zion," Magnes
fanned both animosity as
well as the ideological in
Jewish life which fre-
quently reassert as chal-
lenges to Jewish leadership.

c ±;



World Zionist Congress Resolution

Delegates to the 30th World
Zionist Congress adopted
the following consensus
resolution by the special
"good-will" subcommittee:
"The-. Congress reaffirms
that the right of the Jewish
people to Eretz Yisrael is
"The 30th World Zionist
Congress meeting in
Jerusalem, the capital of Is-
rael, reaffirms the full iden-
tification of the Jewish
people with the state of Is-
rael and the vision which
guides it. A central prupose
of the Zionist Movement is
of an over-
all and lasting peace with
her neighbors by the inde-
pendent, democratic state of
Israel, which guarantees
full and equal rights to all
citizens without distinction
of religion or nationality.

road to peace. The Congress
further states that no Arab
state will be established
west of the River Jordan.

"The Congress calls upon
all nations to bar any activi-
ties of the PLO within their
borders. Any recognition of
this criminal organization
is an assault upon human
conscience, moral-principles
and political wisdom. The
Congress urges states,
organizations and indi-
viduals not to give aid and
comfort to this terrorist

"The Zionist Movement
and the Jewish people
support the state of Israel
in its goal of achieving
security and peace. The
Jewish people will con-
tinue to identify with the
Jewish state which ful-
fills the yearnings of gen-
erations and the _vision of
national redemption.

"The Congress hails
the IDF for its achieve-
ments in Operation
Peace for Galilee. In ac-
cordance with our
Jewish tradition, the
Congress expresses its
deep sorrow over the loss
of all innocent lives. The
Congress expresses its
profound sorrow at the
loss of the heroic soldiers
of the IDF who fell in the
Operation Peace for
Galilee and extends sin-
cere condolences to the
families of the fallen. The
Congress extends warm-
est hope for the complete
recovery of the wounded.

"The Congress congratu-
lates the government of Is-
rael for concluding a peace
treaty with Egypt and calls
upon other Arab govern-
ments to enter into direct
negotiations with Israel,
without preconditions,
aimed at signing peace
treaties. The Congress rec-
ognizes that the Camp
David process is the proper

"The Congress calls for
the establishment of a last-
ing and viable peace based
on secure and defensible
borders, a peace that will
allow growth, blossoming
and creativity of all the na-
tions in the- area.
"The Congress reaffirms
that settlement constitutes
a central expression of the
Zionist idea."

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