Pat Harrington interviews Rabbi Beck

This interview between Rabbi Beck and Patrick Harrington was first conducted in 1991. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Third Way but we have decided to republish the interview as a means to advance understanding and because we have great respect for Rabbi Beck.

Rabbi Moshe Dov Beck, a leading rabbi in the Orthodox Jewish anti-Zionist movement in the United States, who has written many volumes on the issue of Zionism and is a well-known public speaker on the subject. He was born in Hungary and survived the Holocaust by hiding for a year in a bunker, while his mother and siblings were all killed. After the war he moved to Jerusalem and married into a family of Palestinian Jews who had lived there for many generations. Later he left the Holy Land due to the rise of the Zionist state.

Q – Could you first explain what Neturei Karta is?

A – Neturei Karta was not founded as an official organization. Neturei Karta is a general name which the world has given to those who are opposed to Zionism. In order to understand this topic, we have to understand what Judaism is and what Zionism is. Those Jews throughout the world who oppose Zionism have been given the name Neturei Karta.

Q – What for you then is the definition and essential nature of a Jew?

A – The definition of Judaism is that Jews have received the Torah from Mount Sinai. They handed over the Torah from one generation to the next. This is the only possible definition of Judaism. There is no other definition.

Q – So then, a Jew essentially is one who upholds the given Law? The Torah?

A – One hundred per cent!

Q – What is your attitude to the Reform Movement?

A – The Reform Movement has left Ultimate Truth.

Q – How would you define Zionism?

A – Zionism is a relatively new movement which is based upon a heretical denial of Judaism. It has succeeded in recent years in being able to fool a large section of the Jewish community into following its ways.

Q – In what way would you say that Zionism is heretical?

A – An adequate answer to this question would take a lot of time. I will attempt to answer briefly. It should be clear that a truly adequate answer would take a long time.

Zionism is heresy. If we examine the deeds and the actions of the Zionists we can see that they are an irreligious group which attempts to enforce irreligiousity upon all those who come in contact with them. For example, their courts of law are based upon non-Torah sources. Practically speaking, we see that they are irreligious and they force irreligiousity although it must be noted that in Israel one finds a Ministry of Religion and one also encounters people who refer to themselves as ‘religious Zionists’. This fact should not blind us to the central fact that the purpose of Zionism and its essential character was to deny religion and to go away from religion. The fact that there are signs of religion in the Zionist government is simply a tactic which they use. It is an appendage to their true self which is anti-religion.

As we see in the writings of the Zionists themselves, their purpose was to construct a new image of the Jewish people – to create a new Jewish people. Their goal was to change a people who were constituted on the basis of faith and Torah and to substitute for that a people who are free from both faith and Torah. This does not necessarily mean that they would actively try to destroy religion but merely by saying that religion is a matter of personal conscience – that each person can decide for themselves whether or not to obey the religion?

That religion becomes a private affair. By so saying this, they have destroyed the intrinsic character of the Jewish people, that character being an acceptance of Torah.

We find that they refer in their writings to ‘freedom’ and ‘tolerance’ so that their State or in their conception of the Jewish people a Jew would have a right to accept or reject religion. In fact in the history of the Zionist State we see an active attempt to destroy religion.

Q – In what way have they tried actively to destroy religion In Israel today?

A – The hatred towards religion and towards religious Jews extends from one end of the country to the other. If we examine the history of the Israeli State we see that each group of immigrants that was brought in from countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Iraq and Iran and today Russia, the government conducts an active campaign to wean them away from the practice of religion. At times it is a violent campaign. Those that tried to stop this government attempt were at times killed. That happened in certain cases. It was not a standard policy. The standard policy was to take Jews away from Judaism. As a witness to that we see that many organizations that were founded with the express purpose of preventing the government and the Zionists from pulling Jews away from Judaism. New immigrants have been especially susceptible to what they were trying to do. The existence of these several organizations, not necessarily Neturei Karta, but several organizations that were working to prevent the Zionist attempt to destroy Judaism is proof to what the Zionists were trying to do.

Q – What then is the Zionist opinion of what a Jew is if they have gone away from the definition of someone who accepts the Torah and practices its precepts?

A – The true definition of a Jew is faith and Torah. Zionism says it is nationalism.

Q – On what do they base this claim to nationalism?

A – In truth they had no basis and they themselves said that they were originating something new. Were it not for certain elements of the religious community that attempted through various devious means to confuse the minds of people it would have been clear that it was completely baseless as far as authentic Jewish sources were concerned.

Q – If the Zionist State does not base its legal system on religious foundations, on what kind of principle does it base its legal system? Is it some kind of Social Contract idea?

A – Irreligious conceptions of what a State should be.

Q – I have read that the Haskala are seen as the precursors of Zionism by Neturei Karta. Could you explain and expand on that Point?

A – Until now we have been concerned with the practical evil effects of Zionism. I would now like to move over to the more philosophical or the ideological underpinnings of that. The Jewish people are based on an internal conception of who they are. That internal conception is faith. That faith which stretches back to Mount Sinai. There is nothing else amongst Jews. The only thing that Jews have is their faith.

The basis of Jewish faith is an inner feeling of godliness. All conceptions of Jewish peoplehood should be based on a sense of God and godliness. The notion of a State or and army of anything of that sort which is not rooted in a traditional religious conception of godliness is a denial of everything that Jews are supposed to be. It is a naturalistic or a materialistic approach to the Jewish people. It is a denial of Jewish peoplehood. For example, the Torah commands us that our eating and drinking or going about our physical daily activities must be permeated by godliness.

To suggest that Jewish people can engage in a purely naturalistic, deterministic understanding of themselves is to deny the basic central qualities of the Jewish people which are spiritual. Zionism did not only deny the central nature of Judaism which is entirely spiritual but it is also an attempt to change that essential nature by saying that the Jews are not in their core a spiritual people but merely a material people.

The Haskala or ‘Enlightenment’ suggested that there was something else of value to the Jewish people besides the spiritual. By so doing it denied this principle we have been emphasizing all along. A Jew who believes the Thirteen Principles of the Jewish faith which were codified by Maimonides and which have a long history of being the thirteen essential dogmas of the Jewish religion, is considered a part of the community of Israel. A person who denies those thirteen principles has placed himself outside that community.

Q – Who were the main thinkers involved with the Enlightenment tradition and in what period did they put forth such views?

A – The first one that we can mention was Moses Mendelsohn approximately two hundred years ago. This was a time when the jaws were first emerging from a period of persecution and ghettoisatlon. When they left the ghettoes they thought that the freedom that they sere now getting could also become a freedom from religion, from the Torah.

The basic problem with the Enlightenment was that there was an element of perfection arid self-improvement that was not spiritual. Therefore the emphasis that Jews should study secular wisdom, secular knowledge was a fundamental principle of the Enlightenment. Now the problem with that was not the study itself for there had always been Jews who had studied ‘worldly wisdom’. The point was that they were saying that this ‘worldly wisdom’ was a missing element, that there was something missing in Torah and in a spiritual conception of a Jew. For a Jew to think that there is perfection outside of godliness is heresy. The Enlightenment began by saying that there is something other than spiritual perfection. The tie-in with Zionism now becomes clear in that the Enlightenment was emphasizing that man’s perfection is Man.

Zionism is the same thing, not by saying that the perfection of man is study or enlightenment but by saying that the perfection of man lies in national salvation. Both of these are manmade suggestions that there are other forms of perfection and fulfillment besides the spiritual. What Zionism said was not so much that the Torah should not be observed but that true value lay in nationalism. The Torah could be an appendage to nationalism but that ‘the real’ essential fulfillment of Judaism was nationalism.

Q – How far were the Zionist thinkers influenced by the nationalist climate in Europe at that time?

A – It is not a question of influence, it was precisely the same process taking place. At that period in time there was a tremendous sense of self-determination. The Zionists mistakenly compared themselves to these other nations that were then involved in self-determination and nationalism.

The fact that we note that there are some Torah observing Jews that do adhere to Zionism can be explained by the fact that the Zionist denial of who the Jew is not necessarily a physical, technical denial but at times a spiritual denial, so that by postulating that there is something for a Jew other than fulfillment in the Torah but by not trying to uproot It, Zionism was capable of conning a certain number of observant Jews. The thing was not necessarily manifest In action By saying that there is fulfillment for Jews in nationalism they were denying the basic foundation of Judaism. Since they were not doing this in action they were capable of deceiving Torah observers as well.

Q – In the early stages, how far was Zionism a majority view within the Jewish community in the different European countries?

A – The basic principle of Zionism was that Jews should abandon their traditional thought patterns which were spiritual and adopt completely new ones. It is conceivable that large sections of the Jewish people could continue to observe the Torah and yet become infected with the Zionist notion that there is something else beside Torah. I want to keep hammering away at this point that although a Jew can remain observant, in his heart-of-hearts he will have abandoned Torah because he will have given something else to value.

For a Jew there can be nothing else of value. Conceivably one could go on being observant and one could think that one has the proper dogmas and yet have missed this basic point. Historically it did not happen and it would not have been possible for Zionism to grow amongst these segments of the Jewish people that were devoted to Torah and the traditional ways. It could not have grown. It could not have started out.

At the time that the ‘Jewish State’ was established that new establishment was a violation of the Three Talmudic Oaths which prohibited the Jewish people from forcefully ending their exile. Even before the State came into fruition, the mere thought that this was something that Jewish people should engage in was already a denial of the basics of faith. At the time when Zionism began the Torah leaders of the Jewish community opposed Zionism with fiery opposition. This was with the exception of a handful who for whatever reason went along with it. Because those leaders understood the way that it denied the essential spiritual nature of the Jewish people, it was almost unanimous and forthright opposition. After both world wars and poverty and suffering which Jewish people underwent, people began to become confused and began to feel that there might be salvation through this means.

Q – What is the nature of the relationship of anti-Semitism in the development of Zionism?

A – I cannot explain the root of anti-Semitism because I am Jewish. Zionism itself is the greatest enemy of the Jewish people. It has caused untold suffering to the Jewish people. The extent that Zionism caused anti-Semitism is a secondary point. The major point is that Zionism has created havoc amongst the Jews themselves.

Besides the fact that Zionism is a spiritual threat to the Jewish people, the early Zionists actually wrote that it would be profitable for the Jewish people to have anti-Semitism. They wrote that we should actually try to encourage anti-Semitism to force the Jews to opt for Zionism. This is the connection. Anti-Semites in Europe actually took Zionist writings which emphasized Jewish ‘differentness’ and used these writings as an excuse for their anti-Semitism. There was a practical connection as well as the spiritual connection.


” the early Zionists actually wrote that it would be profitable for the Jewish people to have anti-Semitism. They wrote that we should actually try to encourage anti-Semitism to force the Jews to opt for Zionism – Rabbi Moshe Dov Beck “

There is no doubt that the sufferings which the Jewish people endure are spiritual sufferings that God imposes on them for various sins. One of the punishments for transgressing the Three Oaths mentioned above that the Jews were to be sworn By God not to rebel against the nations and visit to re-establish their nationhood by military might – was that God said that he would allow the Jews to be slaughtered. He would allow their flesh, so speak, to become open to anyone to attack them, so certainly there was a connection in that sense between anti-Semitism, Nazi persecution etc. Because Jews having transgressed these oaths thereby left themselves to such persecution.


Q – How far did anti-Semitism In Europe contribute to the change in the attitude of the majority of the Jewish population towards Zionism and lead them to see Zionism as some sort of solution?

A – Certainly the suffering endured by these people between 1940 and 1945 was capable of confusing them. It led them to believe that their salvation might be obtained through naturalistic means. Here we can see the difference between the Zionist conception of Judaism and the Torah conception of Judaism. The Zionist conception would say. ‘The reason that we suffered between 1940 end 1945 was because we were incapable of defending ourselves properly, we had not gotten our act together, we were weak and we should be strong.’ Whereas the Torah conception would say, ‘People have suffered because of their sins. It is art act of Divine Providence. Search out these sins which have caused that Suffering’, here we see a very distinct difference in the reactions of traditional Jews and Zionists.

Q – Why was Zionism appealing to a section of the Jewish population if they were inculcated with respect for the Torah? What led them towards Zionism?

The combination of the suffering and the fact that at certain points in history the Evil Powers in the world become powerful enough to be able to snatch certain souls. There are certain points in history where spiritual uncleanliness is capable of triumph. The War also has to be emphasized. The tremendous destruction of the Jewish people made people, even those who were brought up in a Torah environment, susceptible to this. They were looking for something to prevent this from happening again. A certain percentage of the strong personalities who had led the prewar generation had been killed during the war. A lot of the truly learned Torah leadership no longer existed.

Q – What then should be the attitude of a Jew towards Zionism and the State of Israel?

A – There must be utter and total disdainful rejection of Zionism and the Zionist State.

Q – If the Jews are not to have a homeland or nation-state of their own and if they cannot further that state through material means what should Jewish attitudes be towards the countries that they are living within?

A – Not only what the Jewish response should be but what is the fact the traditional response of Torah Jews today is a response of total loyalty to the countries in which they find themselves, total patriotism to the countries in which they find themselves because this is in fact the commandment of God and the commandment of the Torah that Jews should behave in that way.

Q – Why then do some feel that there is a tradition of that not being communicated to the [Jewish] people in many lands? In European countries that doesn’t seem to have been communicated.

A – Those ‘quiet Jews’ who are obedient to the Torah and to God have this position. Unfortunately they are not loud and the louder Jews have made this impression [of disloyalty] and anti-Semites are predisposed to take these ‘loud Jews’ and to emphasize them and not to emphasize the silent masses.

Q – Essentially then the Zionist nationalism is based on a denial of the essential nature of what a Jew is in the religious conception? It’s a strange sort of nationalism that denies the actual thing that defines a nation in the first place! This is very difficult for Europeans to understand, so perhaps you could enlarge on that point. The second point is if they are on the one hand using a religious definition as they seem to be basing many of their arguments to be a nation on an implied acceptance of religion, this is perhaps one of the factors which creates anti-Semitism because people see a strange connection, They think ‘what is this definition? Is there some racial element to it? Not stated, but which is implicit because they are not going for the religious but asserting the right to be seen as a notion and people have it in their minds, ‘What is the underlying principle? is it a racial thing?

A – The essential nature of Judaism or nationalism?

Q – Firstly I’m asking whether Judaism and Zionism are essentially contradictory. Is it denial of the very thing that defines a Jew and how can gentiles understand that?

A – We can understand this singularly strong notion that a people by denying their very essence constitute themselves as a people by understanding that the Zionists themselves are to be viewed as the lowest element among the people. We’re not talking about a middle element or an upper element amongst a people beginning a movement. We’re talking about those who deny Judaism, people who throughout the history of the movement have been willing to use Jewish blood as the oil to grease the tires of their movement.

They’ve always been willing to kill and be killed Jews and other peoples.

We’re talking about a lower element, so the fact that a lower element sought a definition which was a denial of the essentials of Judaism is not surprising at all.

Not only are they lower element among the people but the fact that tray were able to construct this apparatus of a State was very alluring and although it was based upon the denial of Judaism, the attractive apparatus of statehood was successful in blinding the eyes of people.

Regarding the previous point about Zionism and anti-Semitism. Firstly, anti-Semitism, amongst Jews, was always regarded as punishment from God for our sins. Anti-Semitism appears to be an, irrational thing so clearly this is proof that it is providential. It’s from God – a punishment from God for our sins. Secondly, Zionists did do things which clearly incited anti-Semitism. immoral things, aggressive things in opposition to England like killing soldiers and similarly now with the Palestinians.

(Interjection from colleague of Rabbi Beck) I’m from Palestine you know?

I was born in Jerusalem, many generations of my family lived in Jerusalem and lived together with Arabs in peace. Hatred from the Arabs began in response to Zionism at that lime.

Q – What is the origin of anti-Zionism within Neturei Karta and of the name ‘Neturei Karta’?

A – There was a lime in the 1920s in which Zionist agitation had led to a tremendous degree of Arab anti-Semitism. There was a point in which it was almost impossible to walk out in tile streets of Jerusalem – the Arabs were that interested in killing or injuring any Jew they saw. At that time the anti Zionist Jews decided that the proper response to this Arab violence and hatred was to go to a printer and print up a brief Talmudic passage which follows:

“When Resh Lakish [who was one of the Talmudic sages] came to a town he asked. ‘Who are the guardians of the city?’ The people replied, “The showman, the military. Resh Lakish said. ‘They’re the guardians of the city? They’re the destroyers of the city! The true guardians of the city are the pious people who are engaged in prayer’. The name ‘Neturei Karta’ means ‘guardians of live city’, ‘Neturei’ means ‘guardian’. ‘Karta’ means ‘city’.

They wanted in the Twenties to take this Talmudic passage, have it printed and plastered on the walls of Jerusalem without any commentary at all. Just this one passage. They went from printer to printer and they were unable to find anybody at that time who would print this passage that would be put up on the walls. At that time the response was always, ‘we’ve got to fight’, so all the printers were unable to print this passage until they finally found one somewhere.

The response of the Zionists was so negative towards this passage that it became adopted as their [anti-Zionists’] symbolic passage and hence the name ‘Neturei Karta’. Rabbi Blau who was one of the founders and chief ideologues of this movement actually told me this story. He was one of those who continued on with the anti-Zionist tradition from that time.

Q – Explain the attitude of Neturei Karta to the Palestinian people. How would it be possible for Jewish people to live within Israel and conduct their religious duties and prayers and so on and have reverence for the Holy Sites but also have a relationship with the Palestinian people without having a State?

A – Since authentic Jewish people are opposed to the notion of a State altogether, there would be no problem whatsoever in Jews living in the area of Israel and Palestine. For hundreds of years there were Jewish communities of Prayer and study in the area that the State of Israel rules today. Those communities lived in complete peace with the surrounding Arabs. Not only in Israel, but also throughout the Arab world, traditionally Jews and Arabs lived together in peace. There were other lands where there was conflict. The Arab lands were completely peaceful for the Jews. That was the way it was in Palestine and that could continue in the future. There would be communities of Jews that would be interested in prayers and study and that could be under a Palestinian State in absolute peace and harmony – as it has always traditionally been in Jerusalem and other cities in Israel.

(Interjection from colleague of Rabbi Beck) The hatred between Jews and Arabs in Palestine was caused by Zionism. This did not exist beforehand. I cart testify to this myself. My grandfather lived peacefully with Arabs 150 years before the Zionist movement. After this the whole problem was created by the Zionist movement. We lived in a neighbourhood that was full of Arabs. We would borrow things from each other and there was no problem whatsoever.

Q – Does the Neturei Karta co-operate with any Palestinian groups?

A – I want to emphasize that we are not limiting ‘Natural Karta’ to one organization. We are describing the tendency of authentic Jewry to fight against and oppose Zionism. We don’t want to limit it to one group or name. Their approach is friendliness to all peoples of the world. What they can say is there should not be a ‘Jewish State’. Exactly what the parameters of the alternative should be is not their business. That’s not their role to say. For example if two lawyers are working on separate cases, one lawyer should go about advancing his own case. Whoever it belongs to should work out who it belongs to Clearly the Zionist State is wrong. What the alternative should be is not my place to advocate. Jewish people who oppose Zionism have traditionally participated together with the Palestinians in protests against Zionist atrocities and so forth. We are sympathetic to them and their suffering.

We recognize their right to rule. If we examine this in a simply proper and ethical way they are the legitimate rulers of the country. So if pressed to answer what is our political position it is that they are the rightful rulers of the Country. It clearly belongs to them. The gentlemanly approach would be to have it given back to them, but exactly to whom, to what faction, what group does not concern me. It is clear to me that if it had not been for Zionism the Palestinian people would never have been opposed to religious Jewish settlements in the area known today as the State of Israel.

Q – Explain the relevance of the three Talmudic oaths?

A – The only possible approach to the problem of the State of Israel which could result in a solution which would not involve suffering and blood spilled by Jews and others would be the abandonment of the State. Clearly it appears that this is something that they are not going to do. The problem – the cause of the suffering is Zionism and the Zionists.

It is important to emphasise tie distinction between a Zionist and the conflict between the Jewish faith and Zionism. Zionism is the cause of the hatred between Jews and Arabs.

The Three Oaths are as follows – Firstly that Jewish people should not rebel against the nations of the world; Secondly that they should not engage in any actions which will accelerate the coming of the End of Days and the Third is that they should not go as a mass group to Israel. These are the Three Oaths that were placed upon the Jewish people. Obviously Zionism is in direct conflict with these Three Oaths.

Q – What essential message would you like to give to non-Jewish Europeans in how they should respond to the various things you trade said?

A – As a message to European peoples, I emphasize that Judaism is defined as a religion – a spiritual affair based upon faith and the Torah. This is the sole interest of the Jewish people – to pursue their spiritual life and their spiritual destiny. They are in no way a politically aggressive people, they have no devices or intentions upon any other people.

I ask that European peoples do not confuse and attribute to the Jewish people the actions of Zionists. These actions are rejected with utter disdain by the Jewish people. Traditional Jewish people are enraged by the theft of the term “Israel” by the Zionists. Non-Jews should realize that this was a theft. The Zionists stole this name and there is no connection whatsoever between the actions of the Zionists and traditional Jewish people. European peoples should view these as two separate groups and not attribute the thoughts of one to the other.

Thank You.

Associated documents

Interview with Rabbi Beck

Interview with Rabbi Beck of Neturei Karta By Pat Harrington

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