Israeli Novelist A.B. Yehoshua Dubs Diaspora Dwellers ‘Partial’ Jews

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Renowned Israeli novelist, essayist, and playwright A.B. Yehoshua has again made waves in Israeli society by reiterating his view that Jews living outside of the State of Israel are incomplete in their Jewishness.Famed Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua ignited controversy this past week when he called Jews living outside Israel “partial” in their religious commitments.

Yehoshua claimed that living and contributing to the State of Israel is an integral responsibility for any Jew, and suggested that Diaspora Jews were lacking in their faith as a result of their residence in the exile. According to the celebrated writer, who earned the Israel Prize for Hebrew literature in 1995, evidence of the import of the inextricable link between Israel and a Jewish identity can be found in the liturgy of practicing Jews, where references to “Israel” abound and the appellation of “Jew” is astonishingly absent. For this reason, Yehoshua asserted that his residence in Israel and his faithfulness to the Jewish tradition gave him a more complete Jewish status than that of his exiled brethren.

“They are partial Jews while I am a complete Jew,” Yehoshua said at the Land of Israel Museum on March 16. “In no way are we the same thing –we are total and they are partial; we are Israeli and also Jewish.”

The author said this dissonance on the religious end from Diaspora Jewry had struck a personal chord.

“In recent years, my friends and I have needed to defend Israel against the matter of the state, as if it is merely an issue of citizenship, while Israel is the authentic, deep concept of the Jewish people,” he explained. “In no siddur is there a mention of the word ‘Jew’ but only ‘Israeli’. The name of our country and the territory is Land of Israel – and it is about this deep matter that we must defend against a Jewish offensive.”

Born in 1936 to a family of Sephardic heritage, Yehoshua served as a paratrooper in the IDF during his formative years. After studying literature and philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yehoshua began his writing career and produced a number of novels about Israel that would earn him the respect and admiration of readers in Israel and abroad. He has taught in France, Israel, and at some preeminent institutions in the U.S.

According to multiple news sources, this is not the first time that Yehoshua has made incendiary remarks about Diaspora Jewry. At a centennial dinner honoring the founding of the American Jewish committee in 2006 in Washington, D.C., he remarked about how living in Israel was a necessary component of connecting with one’s Jewish identity and experiencing Judaism. This comment elicited anger from American Jews, who felt that the prominent writer was unjustifiably raising questions on their religious expression.

When speaking in Paris at a conference sponsored by supporters in 2008, Yehoshua was no less sparring in his words.

“I am a total Jew because I live in Israel, but you in France are partial Jews, though one is not better or worse than the other,” he allegedly said.
[Editor’s note: We at the Jewish Voice are more amused than offended that a secular Jew, albeit a learned one, would presume to lecture his religious contemporaries on what constitutes true, “complete” Jewish observance. Considering the statistical likelihood of Torah-observant Diaspora Jews successfully transmitting a Jewish identity to their descendants, versus that of devoutly secular Israelis shedding their Jewish identity completely within a generation or two of leaving the homeland, we think it’s clear which has the more deeply ingrained (i.e. “complete”) Jewish identity.

Arguing based on the fact that being “Israeli” is the true basis of Jewish identity because “Israeli” (“Israelite,” in English) is the common nomenclature of scripture, and not “Jew,” is like saying that the Palestinian Arabs are the original inhabitants of the Land of Israel because they call themselves by the name of an unrelated indigenous Canaanite people.

The heart and soul of Jewishness is found in the Torah, not in the dictionary.]