The Precedent of Rabbi Meir Kahane

Recently, I listened to a radio show from the late 80s where callers had the opportunity to question Rabbi Meir Kahane and his controversial political views. Rabbi Kahane was the founder of the Jewish Defense League in the United States and was later a member of Knesset from 1984 to 1988 representing his Kach party. The callers ranged from great admirers of the rabbi’s views to those who felt the rabbi was the most horrible racist imaginable.

Rabbi Kahane fielded all of the questions in a dignified manner and explained that for two reasons he was not a racist. The first reason was that he acknowledged that he would welcome any Arab to the Jewish faith if he sincerely wished to convert and abide by Jewish law. And the second reason was that any Arab who was willing to pledge his allegiance to the State of Israel and abide by the seven Noachide Laws, was not only welcome to stay, but he would also be entitled to own land in Israel. He would be considered a “Ger Toshav,” or resident convert as described in the Torah.

Rabbi Kahane continued to explain that a true racist would never allow anyone from that very group he hated, to ever become part of his ranks. Would a Jew who wished to join the Klu Klux Klan ever be admitted if he or she showed sincere intent to follow the principles outlined by that organization? The rabbi insisted that he was not a racist. He did not hate Arabs. He loved Jews.

Nevertheless, after the 1984 elections, there was a ruling that the Kach party was racist and they were forbidden from running in the 1988 elections. Rabbi Kahane was tragically assassinated in 1990 and he remained an enigma. There are still many that remember him in a positive light and his numerous books continue to be read and continue to inspire.

I was privileged to have a relationship with Rabbi Kahane as a colleague and friend. In the early 80s, I was one of a few rabbis who invited the rabbi to speak in their congregations. He was my Shabbat guest on two different occasions and I had the opportunity to get to know the man from up close. He was a great Torah scholar with a great sense of humor.

On one occasion, we were driving to a speaking engagement when a woman on the radio called to complain that there never was a rabbi present to give the blessing over her son’s Little League baseball season. It was always a priest or minister, but never a rabbi. Rabbi Kahane said that if he were answering the question, he would have simply said that rabbis don’t bless games that involve stealing!

It is difficult to try to analyze why Rabbi Kahane did things as he did. Some maintain that he was disappointed when his hero, Menachem Begin, made a peace treaty with Egypt where the entire Sinai Peninsula was handed over in the name of peace. This may have caused the rabbi to throw diplomacy out the window. He often said provocative things without explaining himself. He said what he felt and was very insulting to those that he disagreed with. Certainly, antagonizing people did not help his cause but he didn’t seem to mind the image that he had built for himself.

In 1985, after I had moved to Israel, I had a meeting with the rabbi. I pleaded with him to change his approach, as he was not being perceived as a Torah scholar, but as a racist. It was not easy for me to make my point because I was more than 20 years younger and the rabbi felt confident that he was doing what was right.

Nevertheless, he listened and invited me to travel with him on a short speaking tour to San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. I was to introduce him before his talks with the hope that he could be portrayed in a more positive light. I spoke of the rabbi’s secular degrees and how everything he did was in line with Torah principles. There were those who expressed appreciation at learning about another side of Rabbi Kahane, but my efforts failed. The rabbi told me that it was important that he keep his “macho” image for his voters in the Machane Yehuda marketplace.

It seems that a combination of the threat of his popularity and his bluntness where the flaws of society were attacked head on, led to the banning of Rabbi Meir Kahane from the Knesset. If it were merely his racist views, why was Rechavam Ze’evi, Ghandi, allowed to form a party based on transferring Arabs out of Israel? One message to be learned is the importance of being well-mannered and being able to express one’s views in a sophisticated, respectful manner.

Regardless of why all of this happened, a precedent was established with the banning of the Kach Party from the Knesset. If the views expressed by that political party, that did not call for the annihilation of a people, and did not celebrate when innocent people were brutally murdered, and was willing to coexist as long as there was respect for the law of the land, and yet, they were considered racist, it only follows that the same should be true for others sharing such views.

If there is any justice in this country, then the Kahane decision should be viewed as a precedent for future cases. If Arab parties or their political leaders refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist and encourage terrorism, isn’t it a no-brainer that these individuals and parties should also be banned? We cannot allow such a double standard and miscarriage of justice.

Whether you liked Rabbi Meir Kahane or not, he was incredibly devoted to the Jewish people. If one reads his biography, painstakingly put together by his devoted wife, Libby, one sees the sacrifices he made because he wanted to see Israel strong. The one thing that could still be done, in the name of decency and consistency, is to use his case as the yardstick in handling those wishing to weaken and destroy us. A precedent is a precedent.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.