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Study and Theory/

Exile, Brenner and Alterman

In 1910, as part of analyzing the uniqueness of Bialik and Tchernichovsky in Hebrew literature, Brenner wrote the following words, based on a critique of Jewish existence in the diaspora, and the statement that exile is a condition in which man still hopes to restore independence in his homeland. Therefore, the Jewish People at this time is not in a diaspora rather in a ghetto, and in the ghetto it is useless and unsustainable. The solution is to leave the ghetto, in favor of productive life on land of our own in the Land of Israel; to abolish the exile and return to the natural state of a people working on its own land.


Out of the Depths / Y.H. Brenner

Remember, People of Israel, not what they did to us, but rather what we are.  See no greatness in our history; do not see greatness where it doesn’t exist.  Don’t start from the second destruction; the rotting began before that, before the temple was destroyed. Exiled and scattered to the four corners of the earth, neither plowing nor planting nor harvesting, we were always, always... The exile, our entire history, is not just an affliction and a disaster; rather, it is mainly the sin of our ancestors and ourselves; crime of generations and our own crime; punishment and guilt combined! All nations, whatever they are, whatever their spirit – nevertheless, they have created themselves, sinned for themselves; lived, worked, died and came back to life, all for themselves.  They are flesh and blood, but also human beings.  Their countries, their cities, their size, their fields, their factories, their treasures, their libraries – all are the fruit of their work, their labor, their ancestors’ and their own, or yesterday and today... And they have! They have culture! They have a grip on life – they have greatness! Learn from them! Mimic them! For we, sons of this great old people, what are we and what are our lives worth? What have we created? We have been pimps, pimps of capital and pimps of the spirit! What have we been dealing in for most of our lives? The study of our own [legal] defense? What action have we taken? We were always acted upon and influenced! We have always been, despite our foolish pride, no more than an instrument, merely fulfilling known functions.  Our history is the long history of a lazy servant who receives and eats and is flogged with straps...

But not over the wickedness of others shall we gnash our teeth...

Our own nature – can we voice any respect for it? Enough then with making general accusations; enough blaming the entire world! Since the days of Yavne and even before that, we have been alien wanderers, landless and workless; we were pimps, dependent on others, while at the same time angering the others, and no wonder that those others hate us? Is it any wonder that the Gypsies of the world have become anathema in the eyes of the entire world? And is it any wonder that at the end of all ends we have reached a crisis with no more strength? Now, when Europe has no further use for us! No wonder, that after two millennia of wandering in futile pursuits, we stand depleted and impoverished, both materially and spiritually, as if born just yesterday...

Here is our people, ten million strong, in all its exiles and pursuits, on whose agenda is not a question of converting its religion rather its very survival, a question of elementary survival and culture; the fate of our entire people suspended in mid-air while bearing its historical sin: Lack of territory and lack of productive work... If we have any chance of reform, it is not in the revival of prophesy or finding new content for the old study hall (beit midrash); rather only, and I mean only, on the land – working and learning the ways of nations that live, truly live, the heirs of Greece and Rome...


We are not the sons of the diaspora rather sons of the ghetto, and if there is any possibility of ceasing to be such, it can only be through buying land and working on it, real work. It is only if we cease to be idlers, then I hope we can be as all the other nations.


The ghetto – this is a place where basic work is not performed and cannot be performed by us; hence, we are not connected to it, and we cannot be connected to it; hence, it cannot be our homeland, hence we cannot but feel like strangers in it, because all from it are righteous; hence, spectacles such as pogroms are not uncommon, something unusual, something unnatural... Rather, quite the contrary...


We will not be saved from the curse of the ghetto until the best and most gifted among us do not themselves take up a spade and a plow...


And if there is yet hope of the curse of the ghetto ever being lifted, even just a little, and for just a small part of our nation, this will not be possible without a fundamental revolution in our lives, in our character, by creating Jewish work on land that belongs to us...


The role of the Jewish settlement (Yishuv) in the Land of Israel is to educate free Jews, men of work...


This is our mission, our ‘main issue’, this is the core and crux.  That’s it.


Now, during the Second World War, over 30 years after Brenner’s statement, in the Seventh Column written in the Davar daily socialist newspaper, Nathan Alterman reminds us that continued Jewish existence in the diaspora still recurs, needing the historical meeting of Haman and Mordechai.


General Haman / Nathan Alterman


The Nazi General Haman surrenders at Babruysk


A bluish night,



Shtab. Commandant Piotr Shuysky.

The guard stood at attention

and called, well-trained:

Prisoner, come forward!

Haman then appears.


A general enters,

shabbily clothed.

He sees: The interrogator sits facing him.

The protocol pages are illuminated by a light bulb.

To the right of the interrogator –

a young officer.


The interrogator asks questions as marked.

They are answered by

General Haman.

But he does not turn to him; rather, he looks as if bound

only at the young officer in front of him.


Then suddenly the prisoner grips the chair,

and says: What is this officer’s name?

I believe we have met before, a long time ago...

If I recall, there has already been some matter between us...

So said General Haman.


And so responds the interrogator,

Piotr Shuysky:

You’re imagining things.

The officer is a lad from Bubruysk,

his name will mean nothing to you. But why not...

His name is

Second Lieutenant Mordechai Estherson.


General Haman wrinkled his forehead :

Mordechai? Mordechai?... Not familiar... Not understood...


Then Mordechai tells the interrogator as follows:

Yes, you know very well. I am not a mystic, brother.

But listen! I didn’t know what the secret meant...

I too felt that we have met long ago.

I see a depth of space and times

And this man and I are there – face to face!...

I am not a mystic, no! But cold shivers...

Please forgive, my friend, and continue the interrogation.


Then the interrogator replied, with humor: Okay, my friend.

You must have met before

In a previous life...


Said mockingly, Commandant

Piotr Shuysky.

And the night enshrouded them,



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