Tag Archives: Israel peace

Towards Jewish-Muslim Dialogue by Trude Weiss-Rosmarin

Trude Weiss-Rosmarin (1908 – 1989) was a Orthodox Jewish-German-American writer, scholar, and feminist activist. She co-founded, with her husband, the School of the Jewish Woman in New York in 1933, and in 1939 founded the Jewish Spectator, a quarterly magazine, which she edited for 50 years. She was an influential critic of the Christian- Jewish dialogue. She was also a critic of Rabbi Steven Riskin’s first years at LSS, which she perceived as modernizing away from traditional synagogue practice.

One of her little discussed books is Towards Jewish-Muslim Dialogue (Sept 1967), written right after the Six Day War. The journal Tradition accepted that the victory was God’s hand in history, but we should avoid open messianism. In contrast, Weiss- Rosmarin was cautioning that victory does not occur on the battlefield but in the winning of the peace afterwards.

She affirmed that Israel is a successor to the ancient Jewish states in the Middle East, but bemoans how it is presenting itself as an outpost of the West. She considers as proof of this Western exclusivism the attitude of the European born elite toward the immigrants from Arab countries, treating them as the “second Israel” and judging them by Western mores. Israelis have to become integrated into the Arabic middle Eastern society around them.

A product of Europe and its civilization, Zionism was caught up in the notion of the superiority of Western, i.e., European civilization. This notion caused the Zionists – ad Jews as a whole – to look down upon the Arabs and their ancient culture in the manner the British looked down upon “colonials.” The Jews came to Palestine with the determination to make the country an outpost of Western civilization and to “civilize the Arab nations.” The unequivocal cultural identification of the Yishuv with the West and the failure to support Arab nationalism in its post-war struggles with the Allies disabused the Arabs of the hope, expressed by Feisal, that the “Jewish cousins” were cousins by Arab definition. (6-7)

If Zionist movement and Jews generally had been more humble in their encounter with Muslim civilization (and the “Second Israel”) and if they had not come to Palestine waving the flag of “Western civilization,” Israel might well have benefited from Arab tolerance and humaneness.(9)

If henceforth Jews will assign to Jewish-Muslim dialogue the importance that is its due, the Arabs, in whose nationalism religion is as important as it is in Jewish nationalism, will eventually-and perhaps sooner than cold-headed realists will dare expect-rediscover that the Jews are their cousins, descendants of Abraham’s eldest son, Ishmael, who was Isaac’s brother. (44)

If the young State of Israel is to survive and prosper it must become integrated into the Arab world and be accepted by its neighbors. The crucial challenge confronting Israel is how to conclude an alliance of peace with the Arab nations. We believe that with a complete reorientation, especially a muting of the insistent harping on the theme of “Israel is an outpost of Western civilization” the Arab nations would accept Israel on the basis of the kinship which unites Jews and Arabs. (40-41)

Weiss-Rosmarin advocates the return and revival of Hebrew and Israel to its Near-Eastern roots. A complete reorientation to see Judiasm as part of the Arab world.

If there is to be “dialogue” between Israel ad the Arab countries, Israel will have to project a new image of herself-the image of a Semitic brother-state in the midst of Semitic brother-states. Instead of proclaiming itself “the outpost of Western civilization,” Israel should emphasize that Hebrew is a Semitic language and a sister-language of Arabic. The setting of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud is not Europe but the Near East-its deserts and its fruitful regions. The biblical ideal of feminine beauty is not the Western dream. It is “the dark and comely beloved” of “Song of Songs,” who is swarthy as “the tents of Kedar” and –as Arab tents are to this day.(10)

Our prayers for the end of Exile and for the Return plead: “Renew our days as of old.” The renewal in the State of Israel should be a renewal of Jewishness in the traditional pattern of Hebrew civilization which was born, matured and produced its choicest fruit in the Middle East among kindred Semitic neighbors with kindred mores and, after the birth of Islam (622) in cross-fertilization and symbiosis with a kindred religious civilization. (11)

She cites the works of the Jewish Islamisists on the Judeo-Islamic similarities and synthesis. We lived together for more than a millennium. Islam is monotheism and law. We both have oral traditions and diverse schools of legal reasoning. But she adds her own observations on the similarities of the modern trajectories. We have the same problems of Madrasas and Yeshivot wanting to keep modernity and secular education out. Judaism and Islam both had secular nationalisms rise up to create modern states. She even paints a picture of common suffering.

The identity of Jewish and Muslim fate and suffering at the hands of Christians, during the Crusades and in Spain, has not received sufficient attention. It was a period of shared agony and confrontation with a common enemy. This deserves to be better known by Jews and Muslims. The shared fate of oppression and persecution under “Christianity triumphant” is a strong bond of Jewish-Muslim brotherhood. (30-31)

As practical steps, she calls for (1) American Jewish organizations to foster Jewish Muslim dialogue.(2) Jewish institutes of higher learning, especially the seminaries, should introduce courses on Islam and Arabic culture.  (The way Ignatz Goldziher and Jacob Barth, both observant Jews, taught respectively at the Budapest and Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminaries.) (3) Jewish Institutions should assign priority to hosting Muslim lecturers, the way they host Christian lecturers. (4) There should be adult education courses fostering Jewish Muslim dialogue. [42-43]

This was in 1967.

Update- Here is the full text from The Jewish Spectator

Trude Weiss-Rosmarin – Toward Jewish-Muslim Dialogue