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A Letter from Yeshayahu Leibowitz to Isaiah Berlin

Israel Channel 8 has been broadcasting a three-part documentary on Yeshayahu Leibowitz. Hopefully they will post the series online when it is finished. The introduction to the second part began with a few words about the relationship between Leibowitz and Isaiah Berlin. Apparently both of them studied Hebrew with the same tutor in Riga. Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, read from a letter that Berlin sent to Leibowitz’s widow after his death. Berlin’s letter included quotes from a letter that Leibowitz had sent Berlin some years earlier. Below are the contents of Leibowitz’s letter.

I have the feeling that you think I’m some kind of liberal intellectual, even Tolstoya, or even perhaps a pacifist. Certainly not. I am nothing of the kind. I believe in wars, if they are absolutely necessary. My reasons for being in Israel are very simple. It is in my opinion where God wished us to be, and I wanted to be a citizen of a Jewish state, preferably democratic. But even regrettably undemocratic if the majority insisted on this. What I do not want is to live in a state which contains and governs and oppresses Arabs. This is rank imperialism and odious to me. I want a state of Jews, governed by Jews, for Jews. Let there be minorities, but do not let them be maltreated, and despised and hated in the way in which we seem to hate Arabs and they us.

One Response to “A Letter from Yeshayahu Leibowitz to Isaiah Berlin”

  1. 1
    Joe Wolfson:

    Shkoyach. But I don’t really believe it. What YL liked more than anything was to be a contrarian and so, on the odd occasion that he found someone on the left of him to talk to – such as IL, he touts his own traditional Zionist qualities. Of the hundreds of pages of YL I’ve read I have never seen anywhere else notions of Zionism being gift from God, nor that he would stay in an undemocratic Israel. If the interesting Q for Rav Kook is ‘what would he have done had he lived to see the Shoah’ the equivalent IMO for Leibowitz is ‘would he still live in Israel of 2013’?

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