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Study and Theory/

Berl Katzanelson

Foreword to the Book of Heroism

Foreword to the “Book of Herosim” Tevet 5701, 1941.

The power of forgetfulness is great and is forgotten in Jewish history. Many persecutions are carried out, many pyres are made, many fears of despots are maintained, and the fate of the defeated is done... and what cannot be achieved by the long arm of the external censorship was attached to the internal censorship. Has even one line from the books of the zealots reached us? The revelations of Jewish heroism that were not victorious were sentenced to be deleted. The fate of the defeated! Could any Jewish child study Samson and Gideon, David and his heroes, the heroism of the “straight book”, however even the heroism of the rebelling Hasmoneans did not succeed in being safeguarded in an original Hebrew book and its memory has been diminished to fragmented rumours and rolled up into the miracle of the jar of oil. And all the heroism after the destruction, any attempt to dismantle slavery-exiles, all the numerous victims of courageous soldiers who did not reconcile with the kingdom of malice – have been rejected from the memory, reduced to blurred acts and vague expressions, and they have been archived like dried flowers in the folds of legends.
And only with the tidings of Zionism was a new light kindled for Jewish heroism defeated and rejected. The forgotten sons of Masada who were repulsed by a foreign language, Rabbi Akiva was revealed to us not only as an old man sitting in a gathering but rather as a prophet of the uprising, and Bar Kozibah returned and was known to the people as Bar Kochba.
The giant figures of Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kochba (who were free of the contradictions between Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai and the zealots) symbolize the two aspects of Israeli heroism after the destruction – the heroism of the holy spirit and the heroism of the distant arm – which sometimes flow together ande sometimes separately.
Victories, similar to those of the Hasmoneans, did not happen to the people of Masada, of Shamaya and her brothers, of Bar Kochba and the rest of the rebels who established Israel, on the land and its environs, one after the other, for hundreds of years after the destruction. The light of the victorious heroism is sown in the figures of the Hasmoneans: “Heroes against the weak, and many against the few, and defilers against the purists, and evil against the just”. Is there a greater victory anthem than this? Tragic defeated glory envelops the sons of Masada: “We were the first to take arms to them [the Romans], and we were the last to fight is clear and known to us that tomorrow will come our end, however we have the right to choose a heroes death...our wives will die before they become defiled, our sons shall die before they taste the taste of slavery....”
That is the fate of Jewish heroism after the destruction. Actually there is no difference between the fate of the rebels in the Galilee and the fate of the defenders of Tulchyn, who stood against Mohammad and they entrenched themselves against the Crusaders, defying the Roman Empire and giving their lives for their faith. For all these their fate was known from the outset. Their heroism was tragic and not the tragedy such as of Samson and Saul, who although they fell they were permitted to be consoled that their victory is not far away. The Jewish heroism since the destruction is a heroism without any possibility of victory, a heroism of believers whereby G-d covered His face from them, and whether they stood by their faith or their devotion. Tortured heroism, who know what is anticipated in the duel with the many and the defilers and the evil ones, and they go towards him. Heroism of an enemy-nation, who also one to the other, looking inwards, so as not to be beaten in the chambers of the heart, and not to misbehave in conscience. The special prayer for sanctification of G-d’s name (there is such a prayer!) does not request refuge and saviour and even not an easing of torments, but rather sanctification and purification and the strength to maintain the attempt: “You know the conscience of my heart”.
Jewish heroism after the destruction only achieved one recompense: to be reconciled with yourself. Heroism without accountings, heroism without payment in this life, heroism solely due to internal necessity.
However Jewish heroism is interwoven in the bond of everlasting life of the nation. And even if it is not recorded in books it is engraved in the depths of our souls. The basis of heroism is the very heart of the Israeli secret of existence.  The life of Israel could not be revived, whether attacking religions, whether defeated kingdoms, whether enemy statuses, in revolutions, always in the jaws of danger, without heroism. If not for this stubborn heroism would we have the strength to anticipate a victory one of these days?
And the heart asks: what is the fate of Jewish heroism with the renewal of the life in the homeland? Will we be granted here a renewal of the Hasmonean heroism, which was rewarded not only by its conscience, but also by its victory?
“From generation to generation no purer blood was spilt than that of the ploughmen of Tel Hai”, however we are not carrying the rebels and not the insanity of the Inquisition, but ploughmen and defenders are dying in Israel.  The grief of their death is the grief of Saul and Jonathan who founded the freedom of Israel. In their lives and in their deaths they say to us: be consoled, be consoled my people.

Berl Katzanelxon, in the foreword to the “Book of Herosim” – an anthology dealing with Jewish heroism throughout the generations, laments the self censorship that Judaism carried out in exile and the revelations of heroism after the destruction – heroism that has no external recompense but rather solely self integrity. And in the old land of Israel there is hope for a renewal of the heroism of the Hasmoneans, whose recompense was not only in conscience but rather also victory. The ploughmen and the defenders who die in Israel are not despairing rebels or victims of the Inquisition, but rather the founders of the freedom of Israel.

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