Interview: Meir Kahane

Interviewer: Some Jewish leaders have charged that your readiness to resort to violence contradicts the principles of Judaism.

Kahane: When some so-called leader gets up and emotes about what is Jewish and what is not Jewish, it pains me, because I can�t stand ignorance. If he owned an insurance business, I wouldn�t have the chutzpah to argue with him about insurance. So let him not tell me, a rabbi, what is Jewish. Gandhi, a pacifist, was not a Jew. Moses was a Jew - and he smote the Egyptians.

Interviewer:
Just how far are you willing to go in the use of violence?

Kahane:
As far as necessary. If an American Nazi Party leader posed a clear and present danger to American Jews, then not to assassinate such a person would be one of the most immoral courses I could imagine. I only wish that someone had assassinated Adolf Hitler in 1923.
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Interviewer: In the process of anti-Russian protests in this country, J.D.L. members have broken American laws. How do you excuse that?

Kahane: We respect the right and the obligation of the American Government to prosecute us and send us to jail. No one gripes about that.
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Interviewer: But doesn�t democracy grant someone the right to say he�ll put you into an oven?

Kahane:
You can�t make that kind of a statement in a vacuum. The Nazi who says it tries to get enough people�s minds changed so that he�ll really be able to do it. Maybe he doesn�t  have enough power now, but what about five years from now? You know, we have a tremendous thing about love in this country. Everybody has to love everybody. Well, I believe there is a certain importance to hate. One has to hate injustice. You can�t just say, �I�m not for it.�; you�ve got to burn it out of the human condition. I believe there is an objective standard of what is good and what is evil. Nobody can tell me that, given his place and time, Eichmann was not evil - and evil has to be stopped.
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Kahane: What we�re dealing with is a change in Judaism that has been taking place not only in this country but in the materialistic West in general: All forms of life become things to be enjoyed. What kind of car do we decide to buy? We go out and shop for it. What kind of Judaism do we want? We go out and shop for it. Nobody built a Conservative temple because of ideology; they built it because they wanted something a little more modern, a little easier. When it filtered down to people that the Conservative rabbi would let ride to synagogue instead of walk, that�s what created a Conservative temple. There�s no ideology to any of it.

Interviewer:
Are you saying that the kind of Judaism widely practiced in this country isn�t really Judaism at all?

Kahane: Right. It may be nonviolent principles of Tolstoy; it may be the liberal principles of Americans for Democratic Action; but it�s not Judaism. Like it or not, Judaism has very definite concepts, very rigid concepts. It�s never been easy to be a Jew; through the ages, he was ruled by laws, regulations, customs whose basic purpose was to discipline him as a human being - because one cannot achieve a sense of morals and ethics unless one has the ability to do without, to sacrifice. Our laws and customs are too difficult for the average person. For him, Judaism becomes a question  of what�s more convenient, and the parents who choose this bagel-and-lox Judaism are paying the price. Their children, who see through this sham, aren�t willing to keep even the bagels and lox. They�ve lost any logical reason for staying Jewish. When a Reform rabbi talks about the morals of Judaism and the ethics of Judaism, I think that�s wonderful; I�m all for morals and ethics, only what he�s talking about isn�t particularly Jewish.
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Interviewer: Are the radical activities of your young followers consistent with Jewish law?

Kahane: That�s what we�re trying for. When a young Jew who has never felt very much for his Jewish past participates in one of our protests, he experiences for the first time the feeling that he�s doing something for Jews. It�s the first step back to Judaism.

Interviewer:
Is it realistic to expect young Jews in this society to return to Orthodox Judaism?

Kahane: J.D.L. isn�t a religious organization. We�re not interested in drawing them back to Orthodox Judaism. We want to get rid of their ignorance about what Judaism is, and then if they choose to practice it, fine. My own belief is that if a boy is given an opportunity to know what Judaism really is, not the absurdity that he�s fed in his Hebrew school, he will understand its tremendous concept and perhaps practice it a bit more. He should have the right to reject Judaism; he should have freedom of choice. The kind of Judaism he�s been given here in America leaves him no choice but to reject it.
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Kahane:
If people knew my feelings on most domestic issues, they�d be mightily shocked. I�m a lot more left of center than they are. I believe very strongly in Government intervention in social policy; it�s outrageous that we don�t have more. But I dislike it heartily when people ask, �Are you a liberal or a conservative?� It�s about time Jews stopped being knee-jerk liberals or knee-jerk conservatives or just plain knee-jerk people.

Interviewer:
But aren�t you promoting a kind of knee-jerk Jewishness J.D.L. seems to see every issue exclusively from a Jewish point of view.

Kahane: Right.

Interviewer:
Well, isn�t that knee-jerk Jewishness? Isn�t there something odd about your calling on the Jewish people, who have won admiration for their universal outlook, to revert to a kind of tribal separatism?

Kahane: Universality is beautiful, no question about it. Universality is beautiful when each and every group has a deep respect for itself and can deal with other groups on mutually respectful terms. Then we can move together. Isaiah speaks of �the end of days,� a time when all the nations will worship together. That�s certainly the ultimate goal for Jews. But the prophets also speak of the need for Jews to observe the Sabbath, observe the laws. The way to reach universality is to make of yourself an individual with pride in self; then you can extend your hand with confidence to other people and say, �I am what I am and you are what you are. Now let�s walk together to the common end.�

a candid conversation with the militant leader of the jewish defense league
October, 1972
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