Colin Shindler: The non-Jewish Jews who became the scholars of an ideological dreamworld.

Colin Shindler author of recently published “Israel and the European Left”, writes in the Jewish Chronicle :

During Jewish Book Week in February 1958, the great Marxist historian, Isaac Deutscher, gave a talk entitled “The Non-Jewish Jew”. It was later published and became required reading for the student revolutionaries of the 1960s. Deutscher tried to explain why some Jews embraced the revolutionary imperative and relegated their Jewishness to a secondary level.

As an ilui (child prodigy) of the yeshiva of Chrzanow in Poland, Deutscher supplanted God with Lenin and Trotsky at an early age. Although he moved beyond the Jewish community, he never renounced his Jewishness. He believed that non-Jewish Jews symbolised “the highest ideals of mankind” and that Jewish revolutionaries carried “the message of universal human emancipation”. He regarded such figures as optimists. And yet his father, the author of a book in Hebrew on Spinoza, disappeared in the hell of Auschwitz.

Deutscher argued that such Jews existed on the borderlines of various civilisations, religions and cultures. And from there on the margins, they were able to clearly analyse societies and events – and guide humanity into more benevolent channels.

His revolutionary heroes included the Talmudic heretic, Elisha Ben Abuya who was the teacher and friend, according to the midrash, of Rabbi Meir Baal Hanas. While his actual misdemeanours were never revealed, Ben Abuya was at pains to warn his close friend, Rabbi Meir not to transgress the Sabbath when he was unwittingly in danger of doing so. Why did Elisha do this if he was the advocate of heresy? Why did Rabbi Meir maintain his friendship with Elisha when the entire Jewish community had boycotted him? Such questions perplexed Deutscher, who identified with Ben Abuya and regarded him as the model for contemporary revolutionaries such as Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky. Yet this story and its mystery did point to the convoluted issues that faced non-Jewish Jews who had travelled outside the community yet culturally remained within. Such issues of national identity and internationalism affected many Jews on the European Left who were often marooned between identities.

Read the full article here.


You can also watch Colin talking about his book

2 Responses to “Colin Shindler: The non-Jewish Jews who became the scholars of an ideological dreamworld.”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “The idyllic vision of a future that may never arrive supersedes this.” Bet Dave Osler doesn’t like this essay any more than he liked Shindler’s book!

    It’s even more interesting to note that Deutscher wrote (in one of the essays in his selected essays – edited by his daughter Tamara – “The Non-Jewish Jew”) that if he had, in the 1930s and very early 1940s, warned more vigorously against the Nazis and their intentions as to the future of the Jews of Europe, a few more might have survived. In effect, he regretted his past endeavours in writing as one of Shindler’s “non-Jewish Jews”.

    THis does nothing but even more support to Shindler’s major thesis in his latest book.

    • Yehuda Erdman Says:

      A brilliant article, which as usual you have thoroughly researched and in the process managed to include some real gems. It is just amazing how much detail can be unearthed but it would be intriguing to know how long it took to research for the book. Would you care to give us some idea/

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