The Biblical Origins of the National Idea
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 The story of the relationship, real and imagined, between the biblical land of Israel and the modern state of Israel, would make a wonderful book--but this extended apology for the perceived faults of modern Jewish nationalism isn't it. Erlich, formerly an academician (English/City College, CUNY) and now a psychotherapist in Seattle, presents Jewish history and thought as a seamless thread that runs from ancient Mesopotamia to today's Tel Aviv. The contrary idea, the denial of connections between ancient and modern Jewish ideals, has become fashionable in some anti-Zionist circles; but Erlich's unsophisticated counterargument is equally untenable. His central thesis is that ``the Bible treats nationalism as a literary idea that is able to serve as a summation of the intellectual life.'' Therefore modern Israel, as the inheritor of this tradition, can only be understood as a manifestation of intellectual tradition. Here we enter a rarefied realm in which all of biblical history, and subsequent Jewish history, is read as striving for the abstract and the imaginative--a thousand years of Jewish life as a long meeting of PEN. And the psychotherapeutic enters here as well. For the Bible, ``literary'' culture not only promotes a culture of literacy and the imagination (is that why there were all of those wonderful American Jewish novelists?), it also encourages mental health. Commenting on the covenant in the Book of Leviticus, which threatens ``terror and consumption and burning ague'' on those who worship other gods, Erlich states that ``the modern reader may mistake this for hellfire. But the emphasis is not on terror but on creating both individual and national health of mind.'' The real kicker here is the book's closing chapter, a defense of the West Bank settlers and an attack on their critics. It is also a counterattack against Edward Said's The Question of Palestine (1979): Contrary to Jewish nationalism, Erlich argues, Palestinian nationalism is intellectually hollow. Not that we wouldn't benefit from a sustained, intelligent response to Said's polemic. But again, Erlich's own intellectually hollow polemic isn't it.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1995
ISBN: 0-02-902352-1
Page count: 250pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1994


NonfictionHERZL'S VISION by Shlomo Avineri
by Shlomo Avineri