Activist Rabbi Hertzberg Dies at 84
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Arthur Hertzberg who was a prominent American Rabbi, scholar, and activist, died yesterday at the age of 84. Rabbi Hertzberg was the polish born immigrant son of Hasidic Jews. He opted for the modernizing conservative movement of Judaism. He was a historian of the Jewish experience. His book, The French Enlightenment and the Jews, traced the origins of modern antisemitism to the philosopher Voltaire, whose vision of a rational modern Europe had no place for people he considered antagonistic to progress.
Hertzberg wrote about Zionism, and was both a Zionist and a frequent critic of Israeli policies. He supported a Palestine state when other Jewish leaders did not. He once said, Unless there is a solution, which gives the Palestinian Arab a stake in the region, which is not worth destroying, you are not going to have peace. A comprise solution, as he told WHYY's Fresh Air, would inevitably be a secular solution.
ARTHUR HERTZBERG (Rabbi, American Activist): If our justification for being there is that God sent us, then the Arab justification, the Islamic justification, is that the Koran has said, that any land to which the Koran spread is inalienable, is (unintelligible) Islam. If you are in a religious quarrel, you cannot compromise. The only compromises that can be made are compromises which are made, in secular terms, by secular politicians.
SIEGEL: Rabbi Hertzberg marched with Martin Luther King. He served as President of the American Jewish Congress. He taught at NYU, at Dartmouth, and at many other universities; and he seem to relish a public posture somewhere between contrary and prophetic. When he wrote a book about American Jews, he insisted, to readers who might have harbored much loftier opinions of their forbearers, that the Jewish immigrants who came here in the late 19th century, were the poorest and least-educated Jews of Europe. And that fact, he said still colors the life of the community.
Rabbi HERTZBERG: American Jewish life is totally organized, to this very day, pragmatically. It's a problem solving community, which operates on ethnic togetherness and anti-antisemitism. It is a community, which is led to this very day, without any particular regard for the continuity of Jewish culture. I have served within the structures of the American Jewish community, it's organizational structures, for probably 40 or 50 years. You can run the American Jewish community without having read a single page of Maimonides.
Nothing ideological in the American Jewish community was conceived in America, it was all conceived in Europe.
SIEGEL: Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg speaking on this program in 1989. He died yesterday, at the age of 84.
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