Yeshayahu Leibowitz

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Yeshayahu Leibowitz

Yeshayahu Leibowitz (29 January 190318 August 1994) was an Israeli public intellectual; professor of biochemistry, organic chemistry, and neurophysiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and a polymath known for his outspoken opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion, and politics.


"The Territories" (1968)[edit]

  • [W]ithout an agreement imposed from the outside, our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without the prospect of ultimate resolution.
  • Our security has been diminished rather than enhanced as a result of the conquests in this war.
  • Our real problem is not the territory but rather the population of about a million and a half Arabs who live in it and over whom we will need to impose our rule.  Inclusion of these Arabs (in addition to the half a million who are citizens of the state) in the area under our rule will effect the liquidation of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and bring about catastrophe for the Jewish people as a whole; it will undermine the social structure that we have created in the state and cause the corruption of individuals, both Jew and Arab.
  • Rule over the occupied territories would have social repercussions.  After a few years there would be no Jewish workers or Jewish farmers.  The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police.  A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech, and democratic institutions.  The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the state of Israel.  The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other.  There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people's army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.

    Out of concern for the Jewish people and its state we have no choice but to withdraw from the territories and their population of one and a half million Arabs.

  • As for the "religious" arguments for the annexation of the territories—these are only an expression, subconsciously or perhaps even overtly hypocritical, of the transformation of the Jewish religion into a camouflage for Israeli nationalism.  Counterfeit religion identifies national interests with the service of God and imputes to the state—which is only an instrument serving human needs—supreme value from a religious standpoint.
  • Not every "return to Zion" is a religiously significant achievement: one sort of return which may be described in the words of the prophet: "When you returned you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination" (Jeremiah 2:7).

"Judaism, Human Values and the Jewish State" (1995)[edit]

  • Most characteristic of the Halakhah is its lack of pathos.
  • Only a religion addressed to life's prose, a religion of the dull routine of daily activity, is worthy of the name.
  • The religion of halakhic practice is the religion of life itself.
  • The formulation "ways to faith" could be interpreted as implying that faith is a conclusion a person may come to after pondering certain facts about the world-facts about history, nature, or consciousness. If that were the case, one could lead a person to this conclusion by presenting these facts to him and pointing out their implications. I, however, do not regard religious faith as a conclusion. It is rather an evaluative decision that one makes, and, like all evaluations, it does not result from any information one has acquired, but is a commitment to which one binds himself. In other words, faith is not a form of cognition; it is a conative element of consciousness.
  • From a religious point of view the triadic classification of being as nature, spirit, and God has no validity. There is only the dyad: nature, which includes the human spirit, and God. The only way man can break the bonds of nature is by cleaving to God; by acting in compliance with the divine will rather than in accordance with the human will.
  • The essence of Jewish faith is consistent with no embodiment other than the system of halakhic praxis.
  • Only the prayer which one prays as the observance of a Mitzvah is religiously significant. The spontaneous prayer ("when he is overwhelmed and pours out his complaint before God") a man prays of his own accord is, of course, halakhically permissible, but, like the performance of any act which has not been prescribed, its religious value is limited. As a religious act it is even faulty, since he who prays to satisfy his needs sets himself up as an end, as though God were a means for promotion of his welfare.
  • Emancipation from the bondage of nature can only be brought about by the religion of Mitzvoth

Interview about fascism in Israel[edit]

Leibowitz: Since the 6 day war, Israel is no longer a democracy. Israel deprives two million people of civil and political rights.

Interviewer: Do you think so?

Leibowitz: I think that depriving two million people of civil and political rights is not an opinion but a reality. That is what the state wants.

Interviewer: To wonder if Israel is a democracy is sterile?

Leibowitz: It is a sterile question. It is willfully that the state deprives these two million people of civil and political rights. South Africa was not a democracy either. But the people are governed by a very great statesman whose name should go down in history, de Klerk, who in stages but quite rapidly is indeed giving the population including the blacks, all the civil and, it would seem, political rights. This is happening today through the world in practically all countries that are considered enlightened. But the State of Israel is the only dictatorship that exists today in the enlightened world. So it is not a coincidence that Israel is the only state in the world, in the enlightened world, in which the president of the Supreme Court was capable of saying that torture could be used in order to make Arab prisoners talk. Everyone knows full well that everywhere in the world those in the power use torture, but it is illegal. All the states in the Western world abolished it in the 18th century, even before the French revolution. 200 years ago. they abolished the use of torture during police interrogations, all the western countries, even Tsarist Russia. But the State of Israel represents the backwardness of a state body. in which there is a monster who exercises the functions of president of a Supreme Court only to say that the use of torture is permitted when it is necessary in the interests of the state. That shows that a Nazi-like mentality, because it is a Nazi mentality, also exists in our country. That is a fact. Admittedly you can find it anywhere. No human group is safe from such a character But the fact is that in the Israeli legal system neither the judges nor the lawyers challenged this man. That says a great deal about the Nazi mentality that is dominant here.

Quotes about Yeshayahu Leibowitz[edit]

  • Leibowitz regarded Judaism as a religious and historical phenomenon, which is characterized by a recognition of the duty to serve God in performing mitzvot.  The service of God according to binding halakhic norms must be "for its own sake" (li-shemah), and its purpose is not designed to achieve personal perfection or to improve society.  Religion is thus not a means toward any specific end.  Judaism is for Leibowitz not humanism, or a sentiment or a bundle of memories.  Jews have the obligation to take upon themselves the yoke of Torah and mitzvot.  Leibowitz's standpoint is thus neither anthropocentric or ethnocentric, but theocentric.
  • Leibowitz had a very negative view of Christianity as well as of modern Jewish thinkers like Rosenzweig and Buber, who showed intellectual and religious interest in Christianity.  In contrast to scholars and thinkers like David Flusser, who investigated the Jewish roots of Christianity, Leibowitz wrote that the very concept of a "Judeo-Christian heritage" is a square circle.  A synthesis or symbiosis is impossible; Christianity is for Leibowitz the adversary of Judaism.  In his view, Christianity is the heir who does not want to admit that the testator is still alive.  Judaism and Christianity cannot coexist, because Christianity claims that it is true Judaism, and is interested in the liquidation of Judaism as the religion of Torah and mitzvot.
  • In his essays, Leibowitz produced sharp and thought-provoking insights on many subjects such as the nature of holiness, chosenness, Messianism, prayer, redemption, and general and personal providence.  His consistent and provocative thought gave him a prominent position in contemporary Jewish thought, especially in Israel.  His thinking, even when contested, is stimulating and powerful and invites or even forces people to respond by formulating their own views.
  • Leibowitz argued vehemently for two positions: that holding any state as a value in itself was inherently fascist and that sanctifying any piece of land, including Israel, was a form of idolatry.  Very soon after the Six-Day War, Leibowitz predicted that if Israel didn't withdraw immediately from the occupied territories, all of the state's energy would be tied up in ruling another people against its will.
  • The theme of this book is encapsulated in its portrayal of one of my heroes—or, I should say, my newest hero, since I had no knowledge of him before reading Blumenthal's work: his name is Yeshayahu Leibowitz.  The Israeli polymath, who fled Germany in 1933 and emigrated to Palestine where he taught brain physiology at Tel Aviv University, starting teaching philosophy at the age of 72 (!), was an Orthodox Jewish scholar who edited the Encyclopedia Hebraica—and a hardcore libertarian only a little less radical than Murray Rothbard, whom he resembles in style and mannerisms to an amazing degree.
    • Justin Raimondo on Goliath, (13 December 2013)

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