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on 27 August 2002
A fine, absorbing read by a great man, the late Professor Israel Shahak, who survived the Belsen Death Camp and lived for decades on the firing line in Israel, and who consistently made humane, rational, secular arguments that will appeal to cool-headed readers interested in the sadly never-ending conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which especially right now seems to increasingly preoccupy the rest of a concerned world. Shahak especially reminds me of the wonderfully sane writer Primo Levi, another survivor (of Auschwitz) like Shahak and also another great Citizen of the World. I also was reminded by this book of the humanist philosophy contained in so many of the stories of Italo Calvino (*Marcovaldo,* *Invisible Cities* especially), and of the Israeli character "Shuki" in Philip Roth's novel *The Counterlife.*. I found Gore Vidal's brief introduction here also fascinating.
Raise a glass to one of the last of the Old World humanists.
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on 24 July 2007
I was loaned this book by a friend of mine some years back. As i began reading the book, i was hooked. It contains some very valuable information. The kind of information that is normally held back and difficult for us to research, as it requires the ability to read and understand hewbrew. Which most can not do. I have read many of the so-called rebutals available all over the web, but it seems they do anything but present a reasonable rebutal. Many a times, they are even just filled with name-calling and wild baseless accusations against Israel Shahak (i think his credentials speak for themselves). And many a times the so-called rebutals just rely upon our ignorace of the hewbrew language and inability to research for ourselves. Besides, there are also many counter rebutals for the arguments that are generally presented. My advice is, you do the research yourself as far as you are capable of doing, and judge for yourself. Do not let others dictate to you what you should believe or hold to be true.

I have had the information verified be certain Jews of the orthodox community. The information is shocking and once one has read it, suddenly the basis for many of Israels policies will become clear. So much will begin to make sense. This is one of them books they do not want you to read.

If i remember correctly, i believe the book is also available online to read. Not sure though. You will just have to do a google search to see what you can find.

The book just to put it briefly, is a historical analysis of Jews throughout history and their roles. As well as a critical look at certain passages from the talmud (a commentary on the Torah). What it contains, and how certain passages have been interpreted. For example, the law regarding the permissability/impermissability of murdering a gentile. How this has effected Israeli policy. Letters written to Rabbis from soldiers asking regarding the Jewish position of killiing gentiles in war, including women and children, the answers given by Rabbis is also translated. The information is frightening. A real eye-opener!
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on 3 September 2009
Let's deal first with the hysterically negative things which are said about this book and about Israel Shahak. Firstly, attacking intolerance in Judaism does not make Shahak an antisemite. To label a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust an antisemite is an extremely offensive slur and one that is utterly baseless. Shahak was a humanist, an atheist and a committed human rights campaigner. The fact that he finds orthodox Judaism wanting should come as no surprise from someone of that philosophical background.

There is much that is interesting about the history of Judaism here and Shahak is right to offer explanations of material and contextual reasons why antisemitism exists rather than pander to a Zionist narrative of eternal suffering that demands the seperation of the Jews from non-Jews.

The problem with Shahak's analysis is that he is inconsistently materialist. Shahak will offer good materialist reasons for the occurence of antisemitism and pogroms, and explanation is not the same as condoning, yet he will not apply the same materialism to the analysis of why Israel behaves abominably on the human rights front: Shahak views Israel's poor human rights record as a product of Jewish theology and history rather than explaining it's material roots in the Zionist colonialist programme of the dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians and the racism that underpins that colonialist programme. Shahak blames Orthodox Judaism for the racism of Zionism and, as such, misses the target.

As such Shahak appears like someone from the 'religion is the root of all evil' camp and I find that approach unsatisfying.
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on 19 December 2003
Some people believe they have to set their own house in order before proceeding to pontificate to others about what they should do. Shahak is definitely one of them. He has many extremely interesting things to say about Judaism and Jewish history, and in case anybody was wandering, they are all derogatory. This comes as no surprise, since he belongs to the humanist tradition, and thus has little patience with organised religion. In common with most other humanists, he has very strong moral principles, and he holds up Jewish religion and Jewish history to them, and founds them wanting.
Sadly, in today's climate, few Jews are going to pick this book up to read it, while many Jew-baiters will seize on it. Still, a must read for all.
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on 13 March 2011
Shahak is erudite and scholarly. Being a survivor of the Holocaust it is simply not possible to dismiss and silence him as a Self Hating Jew or anti-semite etc... Indeed he was a full time chemical engineer writing his articles on history out of conviction not for political polemic but to castigate the Israel he loved but despaired about.

Disturbing features about Judaism emerge that demand attention from Jews. The Canonical 12 Century work of Moses Maimonides 'The Mishna Torah' is shockingly exposed as full of racism. An observant Jew must spit on the graves of the Goyim ( non-believers). Jewish doctors on the Sabbath will not work- saving a gentile is forbidden. Usury is for the benefit of the community. defrauding the community is a heinous sin, whereas maximal exploitation for maximum profits of the Gentiles is exhorted.

The effects of Maimonides negative stance over centuries can only be guessed at, but in Israel today it is clear the sharp end of Anti-Semitism is practiced by White European Settlers, ethnically cleansing the land of a despised and contemptible Semitic people. A non people, from a non-nation, existing in a non-land.

Shahaks words are excoriatingly painful for Jews and Israelis to listen to, but demand attention. It is clear the house is not in order suffering many severe consequences of thousand year old institutionalised bigotry. These issues desperately need resolving for the whole worlds sake. This book is profoundly important, disturbing and upsetting, but vital reading for Jews to examine the short comings of religious teachings to set Israel on a more humane and civilised trajectory.
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on 28 August 2008
As a Muslim and an Arab I was highly interested in this book for obvious reasons. I was interested in understanding the mindset of the Israelis, as opposed to all Jews, with a special interest in Orthodox settlers and political leaders.

I agree with those that called it an eye-opener in many aspects as it provides much information that was not previously known to me. The author has given a good argument backed by evidence and has added a great deal to my knowledge of Orthodox Judaism. However, I was highly disappointed by the point the book made; it seems that the point was merely to criticize the government and Orthodox Judaism, if that was what I was looking for I would just have to go to my grandmother that was literally kicked out of her house in Palestine 60 years ago and has not been allowed home since! She'd be able to criticize more passionately.

Shahak asserts (indirectly) that the current government in Israel will never grant the Palestinians a state or any type of autonomy due to religious reasons that date back 3000 years, but he fails to explain the connections rigorously enough and concentrates on the different views of whether Jewish doctors and midwives can treat non-Jews and how the Orthodox Jews in his village used to solve the problem of not being allowed to milk cows on the Sabbath! Hardly an important subject in this time and age and certainly not expected from an academic intellectual like him to ramble about it in 20% of the book!

He made many assertions, which I find plausible, but he failed to explain them; as an example, he claimed that in the Middle Ages the Jews were used by the Nobles of Europe and the weaker kings to control the peasants by collecting taxes and overseeing things for them, I understand why it is useful for the Jewish elite of the time and place, but I fail to see why those nobles need the Jews, why don't they hire their own people to the work for them? It doesn't seem beneficial, does it? It might have been, but he didn't explain how.

While much of this information was not known to me earlier, without its connection to more important issues such as the current behavior of settlers in the West Bank or the reactions of the Israeli government to the, now brain-dead, peace process, it would be of minor interest to me, at least.
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on 18 April 1998
In his most illuminating and disturbing book Professor Shahak takes the lid off previously hidden Orthodox Jewish beliefs and practices. He explains how these beliefs are at the heart of the Zionist adventure and constitute a major influence upon Israeli government policies and actions. We are made aware of the paradox of a largely secular state basing its raison d'etre and future direction upon biblical text. The depth of Orthodox Jewish antipathy toward the gentile, and especially toward Christianity (and Jesus) will come as an unsettling surprise to the many millions of American evangelical Christians who uncritically accept a fawning admiration of all things Israeli repeatedly displayed by the TV evangelists. Frightening, too, is the near-total control of most Jewish organizations now in the hands of Zionists; it is now almost impossible for a Jew to openly disassociate him or herself from, let alone be critical of, the state of Israel or the aims of Zionism. Whereas the critical gentile must be an 'anti-Semite' so must the critical Jew be 'self-hating'. Whatever your point of view on the situation in Israel, whatever your religion or philosophical perspective, however deeply you hold your convictions, you cannot fail to be challenged by this marvelous book.
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on 27 November 1999
This is a most disappointing book. What could havebeen an interesting critique of Rabbinic attitudes has been turned into an antisemitic diatribe. In the first place Shahak fails to distiguish between the tribal exclusiveness which was nearly universal in ancient and medieval times and the fanatical hatreds which have given rise to modern racism and the Holocaust. Historic religions including Christianity and Islam frequently discriminated against outsiders.From our current moral standpoint we must look beyond the racist sexist slavery condoning and homophobic attitudes of our predecessors.Failure to do so however does not make one a Nazi.Yet Shahak frequently refers to the Jews he dislikes most as Nazis.The late head of the Habad chasidim is characterised as their hereditery fuehrer.This is as ridiculous as it is offensive.In fact the Habad chasidim are a peaceful law abiding sect whose only real interest is to propagate their rather dotty ideas among other Jews.
If Shahak misinterprets orthodox attitudes to gentiles he also grossly overestimates their influence over secular Jews.The Israel-Arab conflict is seen by him as the working out of elemental forces in theJewish psyche rather than as a final phase in the expansion of Europe.Secular Jews according to him hate Arabs because they are completely under the inflence of the Rabbis.In fact however opinion polls in Israel show that secular Jews are less hostile to the Arabs than they are to the orthodox who Shahak thinks they are following. Shahak makes some small mistakes of detail such as the date of the first printig of Maimonides' code which was in 1475 not in1480.These however pale into insignificance beside his larger errors.Anachronisms are rampant.Rabbinic society is described as totalitarian.When Maimonides refers to Kushites(Nubians) this is translated by Shahak as black in order that Maimonides who had in all probability minimal contact with blacks can along with orthodox Jews eight centuries later who respect his memory be stigmatised as anti black. According to Shahak at the beginning of the third century there was a deal between theJews and the Roman empire handing control over Jewish communities worldwide to the Rabbis.No evidence is ever produced for such a deal.
Not surprisingly an author who can accuse Jews of hatred of gentiles and extreme hatred of peasants on the basis of the sayings of a few Rabbis taken out of context regards premodern antisemitism with a good deal of sympathy. Jews were part of the ruling class and progrms should be seen inthe same light as peasant or slave uprisings.He does not deny or condone the Holocaust but he does trivialise it by likening it continually to the Zionist activities in Palestine and to the persecution of other ethnic groups
Even his survey of Halachah by far the best part of the book loses by being missing out the most important authorities who contradict his thesis.
Jews are not immune to any gentile vices and as Shahak proves they can even be antisemites.Edward Said therefore does himself no credit by writing an introduction to this book.Interestingly enuough he states that Shahak has been shunned both by moderate Arabs and by the peace camp in Israel. After reading this book one understands why.
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