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A review of Shlomo Sand's books
by Joseph Gatt
2019-01-02 11:14:03
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A few notes, in no particular order. Reactions after reading Shlomo Sand's “the invention of the Jewish people” and “the invention of the land of Israel.”

-Both books are approximately 300 pages and divided in 5 chapters, which makes for an easy read for Jewish history buffs, not too tedious, not too many big words, easy to digest.

scho01_400-Both books have a large following among anti-Semites. I'm not worried about anti-Semites reading and digesting these two books, as they are of the dry nature dealing with dry aspects of Jewish history and world history. Both books are essays, not exactly pamphlets, and would put many people to sleep. I doubt that many people have finished both books and understood them. In my opinion you need to be very well versed in Jewish history to assimilate the books, that is either you have received a Jewish education or you have studied Judaism in depth to understand the books.

-In “the invention of the Jewish people.” the premise is that Judaism, modern Judaism, has adopted a narrative according to which Jews left Israel to wander around Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, and that today's Jews are the descendents of Abraham and Sarah. Shlomo Sand argues that this premise is false, it is not possible that today's Jews be the descendents of Abraham and Sarah, and that over the years there have been massive conversions in North Africa, in Yemen and in Khazaria.

-Shlomo Sand argues further that the descendents of Abraham and Sarah stayed in Israel and that today's Arab Palestinians are the descendents of Abraham and Sarah, but they converted to Islam.

-In “the invention of the land of Israel” Shlomo Sand argues that after the exile of Jews from Israel in 70 AD, there had been no known attempt to return to Israel or reunite the world's Jews in a homeland until the late 19th century. He explains, in great detail, that the Bible does not mention Jews returning to Israel, that the Talmud does not mention a return to Israel, that every subsequent great scholar of Judaism never mentioned recreating a Jewish homeland in Israel. Shlomo Sand argues that the Zionist movement in the late 19th century practiced historical revisionism by making it sound like the Jews had always wanted to return to Israel. Shlomo Sand argues that the phrase “next year in Jerusalem” actually uses Jerusalem as a metaphor for spritual purity rather than a geographical location, that is “next year in Jerusalem” being next year with no sins.

-There's a lot more to the books, which I recommend if you are a Jewish studies buff, which I don't recommend if you wear a Keffieh and “Free Palestine” t-shirt because they will bore you to death.

-Now to my opinion on Shlomo Sand's books. First big, big, big criticism I have of his books is the partial and selective rendition of history. In my opinion, as a serious historian, Shlomo Sand should have mentioned some anthropologic aspects of Jewish life in exile, that the Jews tended to be craftsmen who lived in isolation of the feudal societies within which they resided. Furthermore, Sand should have mentioned that Jews had autonomy almost everywhere they resided, and were not subjects of local legal systems, but subjects of rabinical legal systems. That is if you committed a crime in Spain, you would face a Jewish trial, not a Spanish trial. Shlomo Sand makes it sound like Jews were loose communities, who prozelitized and mixed with local rather well.

-In both books, Shlomo Sand does not discuss the notion of “galut” or exile. Exile is discussed widely in diaspora Jewish literature, and if you say exile, you probably intend to return to the homeland. I hope Sand is not one of those scholars who argues that exile is a Zionist invention.
-In a big mistake, Sand argues that Eastern European Ashkenazim are actually a mixture of Slavic and Turkic people, not Semitic people. First, Sand does not mention that many Eastern European Jews moved from Western Europe during the plagues. As a linguist myself, you can't adopt Yiddish if your first language is a Slavic language. Those who moved to Eastern Europe were a Yiddish speaking folk.  Furthermore, as Alexis de Toqueville noted, up until the 19th century, most of Europe's communities were “closed” communities, that is you were born in a community, you stayed there and you died there. Toqueville was surprised that American communities were “open” communities where you could be born in a community, move to another, and be adopted by yet another community.

-In a point that made me scratch my head, Sand mentions that the Jewish king of Khazaria gave his daughter to marriage with a non-Jewish European prince. This is common among the Catholic monarchies or Christian monarchies of Europe, but a Jewish king probably wouldn't give his daughter to a non-Jew. As duly noted with Kahina the Jewish Berber queen, the myth is full of question marks: a Jewish priestess (women were not allowed to be priests) with an Artemis of Venus type of symbolism: beautiful, carnal, sensual, married several men, and quite a fighter.

-I could go on and on, but the main thing that bothered me was the selective take on history. The implications also bothered me. I respect that Shlomo Sand is the proponent of an “Israeli” identity devoid of Jewish roots, although I disagree with his views. That is Sand wants Israel to be “the land of the Israelis” rather than the land of the Jews. He wants a halt to the law of return and wants non-Jews to feel completely at home in Israel, especially with regards to family law where religious law applies. In sum a secular state, French style. Sand mentions that he lives in France and probably appreciated how the French completely tried to erase their Catholic heritage from any textbook. Erasing Judaism from Israeli textbooks? I don't think it's a great idea, considering the history and politics of the Jewish state.

-Bonus: How does Shlomo Sand explain Psalm 137:

1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?
5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
7 Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

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