What’s in a (Hebrew) Name?

Have you heard of Benzion Milelkowsky, son of Rabbi Nathan Milelkowsky? Probably not. He was born in Warsaw in 1910 and arrived with his parents in Palestine in 1920. He studied at the David Yellin Teachers College in Jerusalem and became fervently involved with the Revisionist Zionist movement led by Zeev Jabotinsky. Unlike his rabbinical father, Benzion was a secular Jew.

He was editor of the anti-British Revisionist newspaper BETAR, published in Jerusalem, until it was closed down by the British mandatory authorities. From there, Milelkowsky began working on the JEWISH ENCYCLOPEDIA until 1940 when he left Palestine to become Jabotinsky’s personal secretary in the United States.

Shortly after Jabotinsky’s death, Benzion went to Philadelphia where he studied at Dropsie College, receiving his Ph.D, in Jewish medieval studies. His doctoral thesis dealt with the life of the Spanish rabbi, Isaac Abrabanel, who in the 15th century questioned the conversions of Jews to Christianity. The Anusim or New Christians, he believed, were not forced to convert but did so as a means of assimilating into Spanish culture and society. Those Jews who refused to convert were put to the sword by Torquemador’s Inquisitors in 1492.

Recognized as a brilliant scholar of Jewish history, he did not succeed however in getting an academic position in an Israeli university. Some believe it was due to his strong Revisionist beliefs.

Milelkowsky’s published history of the Marranos in Spain was considered highly controversial and many scholars disputed his claims. But it is regarded as one of the great histories of Jewish life in medieval Spain.

While in the United States he worked tirelessly on behalf of the Revisionist Zionist movement. He advocated the transfer of Arabs out of Palestine. He opposed the British mandatory government and openly supported opponents of Ben-Gurion’s labor party. And his dream was for a Greater Israel… a nation of Jews without an Arab population. This dream was widely shared by thousands of Israeli Jews. Political parties with members serving in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, still work fervently to make the dream a reality.

In 2009 in an interview with Maariv newspaper, Milelkowsky strongly declared that violence was the essence of the Arab character and that no matter what compromises could be suggested, the Arab mentality would refuse all. He was strongly of the opinion that Arabs only want war and violence because it is in the nature of their very existence, as history had proved.

From 1971-1975 he was professor of Jewish Studies, with an emphasis on Medieval Spanish Jewry, at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He was later appointed chairman of the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies.

Upon his return to Israel, he became the editor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica and published and lectured widely until his death at age 102. For his scholarly contributions to Spanish-Jewish history, Milelkowsky was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Spanish University of Valladolid.

Following the death of his wife Zilia, he was succeeded by his three sons Binyamin, Yonatan (killed in the Entebbe rescue attempt) and Iddo.

So what’s in a name? If you have not guessed it by now, Milelkowsky changed his name into a Hebrew one, following a tradition set by earlier immigrants to Israel and by all subsequent political leaders in the State of Israel.

His Hebrew name became Netanyahu. He was the father of our current prime minister, Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu. So… what’s in a name?

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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