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Virtual Talmud

Israeli and American Jews are now scratching their heads over the war in Lebanon. Oh, how quickly political tides change. Just a few weeks ago, everyone was standing squarely behind Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert; today everyone is calling for his resignation.

Only time will tell if this war will have any positive consequences in deterring Hezbollah. What does seem certain, however, is that the Zionist myth of the muscular Jew–a myth promulgated just as much by American Jews–has been severely challenged. Unfortunately, the war in Lebanon has shown that right now muscles and military might will not solve Israel’s problems. No matter what Israel will do–short of dropping a nuclear bomb–terrorism will continue to infect the Middle East.

The story of muscular Judaism–that Jews possess a physical superiority–was first proposed by Max Nordau. In response to 2,000 years of Jews being beaten up by the world, Nordau suggested that the Jewish body needed to be regenerated from its decrepit European state. Jews were a strong people who could fight and play sports as well as any gentile.

This view was adopted many in Israel and continues to affect the nation’s psyche. In recent years, Prof. Daniel Boyarin and others have called this myth into question asking, is muscular Judaism really Jewish? Following those such as the Austrian liberal Rabbi Adolf Jellnik, Boyarin in his work “Unheroic Conduct” suggests that in contrast to the muscular Jew, traditionally the Jewish body was described and understood as being something far more feminine and non-militaristic. In contrast to the ancient heroes Bar Kochba and the Macabees, Boyarin sees the Talmudic scholar as the ideal Jew.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the muscular Jew myth is the extent to which it has been embraced by American Jews. I always find it unbelievable how American Jews who have never served one day in any army, have never even picked up a gun in their lives, have never even seen a battlefield are the first to promote going to war against the Arabs. Where do they get such arrogance?

I wonder if there would be so many criticizing Israel’s actions had Israel won the war in Lebanon and toppled Hezbollah. However, the bottom line is that Israel was unable to destroy Hezbollah, proving that military might may not be the most productive way to deal with its regional problems.

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