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Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2004-09-03

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

I used to enjoy reading the writings of that great, nominally Jewish intellectual, Arthur Koestler. 

He was born in Budapest in 1905. In 1922 he studied at the University of Vienna and became attracted to the Zionist movement.  He worked with the revisionist Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky and left for Palestine in 1926 without completing his degree. First he worked as a farm labourer and then as a Jerusalem-based correspondent for German newspapers. In 1929 he was transferred to Paris, a year later to Berlin.

From 1932 to 1938 Koestler was a member of the German Communist Party, but left the party during the Moscow trials. During the Spanish Civil War he was captured by the Franco forces and was sentenced to death. Rescued by the British Foreign Office, he moved to England. His novel ‘Darkness at Noon’ in 1940, reflected his break with the Communist Party and it was followed by his best selling critiques of Marxism, ‘The Yogi and the Commissar’ in 1945 and ‘The God That Failed’ in 1949. During 1945 he officially renounced his Jewish identity.

In 1958 and 1959 he travelled to India and Japan to discover whether the East could offer a spiritual aid to the West. He did not find what he was looking for and reported on his failure in ‘The Lotus and the Robot’ in 1960. His great books such as ‘The Ghost in the Machine’ covered wide spans of European intellectual thought and presented them simply and accurately to the lay reader. He was a lifelong advocate of euthanasia. In 1983, terminally ill, Koestler, together with his healthy wife, committed suicide.

Amongst his ephemeral writings was a soon forgotten book called ‘The Thirteenth Tribe’ which I suspect he wrote as a bit of a laugh. In it he argued that modern Jews were descended not from the Twelve Tribes, sons of Jacob, bearers of the biblical and talmudic culture that centred around Judea and Jerusalem, but from a ‘thirteenth’ tribe of Caucasians who converted to Judaism in the eighth century called the Khazars, who then migrated northward into Russia and Poland. This cockamamie nonsense has been seized upon by Palestinian revisionists to argue that the Jews of today are a European alien imposition on the Middle East with no historical roots there at all. No doubt French Muslims will one day argue that the Gauls never existed either.

We know quite a bit about the Khazars. Ibn Shaprut the tenth century Jewish Grand Vizier of the Muslim Caliph of Spain who lived in Cordoba was in correspondence with them. Benjamin of Tudela visited them and of course Yehuda Halevy wrote his great philosophical work ‘The Kuzari’ based on the process whereby the King of the Khazars chose Judaism over Islam and Christianity. Slowly, after a few centuries, a combination of Slavs and Turks destroyed the Khazar empire and absorbed its remnants. One might argue that the Georgians or the South Ossettians may have Khazar blood in their veins with a degree of possibility. But to suggest that the Jews of Russia came from the Khazars is laughable rubbish.

We also know how the Jews of Western Europe were driven eastwards at the start of the second millennium by repeated expulsion and oppression. We know how they were initially welcomed into Poland by Boleslav the Pious in the thirteenth century and even more so by his successor Casimir the Great. They spread north to Lithuania and south into the Ukraine. This does not mean that there were not Jews of different origins who moved up into Russia from the Ottoman Empire and around the Black Sea. Indeed there were Sepharadi and even Kaarite communities in Northern Europe too. But just consider the dominant Jewish language of Eastern Europe, Yiddish. Its Germanic linguistic base proves the dominant cultural migration came originally from Western Europe eastwards. Similarly, the Spanish base of Ladino proves that Jews lived in Spain.

Of course the love of Zion has been neither the invention of Hitler as some Arabists argue nor the creation of Eastern European Zionists. Two thousand years ago the dominant Jewish community was in Babylon, and from there spread through Egypt and then on into Spain. The Jerusalem community had strongest ties with Rome, and that is why Italy maintained customs closest to those of the Land of Israel. Yemenite Jewry had a long uninterrupted cultural history, as did the Jews of Bokhara and no one has (yet) ever suggested that their ties to Zion over the past two and a half thousand years had any connection to the Russian Khazars.

Which all goes to prove that even the greatest of minds can have blackouts, and just because a famous writer says something this doesn’t make it true. Everyone has an agenda. The argument is now being peddled by all sorts of revisionist Middle Eastern so-called historians (read people who will twist anything to suit their agenda) that really the Jews never ever were in Israel, or whatever name it was known by in the past. It is old hat that Christianity was keen to prove that they were the ‘new’ or ‘real’ Israel. Indeed Mohammad was a dab hand at rewriting history his way. Now others are playing the same game. But once again it proves the extent to which our enemies will grasp at the flimsiest of straws to try to deny our historical legitimacy.

Shabbat Shalom

Jeremy