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U.S. Educator Criticizes Ben Gurion’s Stand on Post-biblical Hebrew

Israel Prime Minister David Ben Gurion was criticized here last night for his emphasis on the role of the Bible in Judaism with little regard for post-Biblical Hebrew sources. The criticism was voiced at a public lecture delivered here by Dr. Abraham Katsh, chairman of the Department of Hebrew Culture and Education at New York University.

“Such an approach is almost tantamount to Karaism,” Prof. Katsh said. “Actually the Jew can understand his Scripture only in the light of the post-Biblical commentators and philosophers,” he insisted.

The New York educator also criticized American Zionists for not being “alert” to the cultural opportunities presented by the creation of Israel. “Had they been alert,” he said, “they might have undertaken an intensive campaign to stress the importance of the Hebrew language, which, rooted in our very being, was and is the primary link between Israel and world Jewry.

“In Europe,” Dr. Katsh pointed out, “it is customary for people to speak three or four languages; why not encourage every Jew in America to regard Hebrew as a spiritual sine qua non. The Hebrew language served as a cord of unity and as a bond of common identify during the long and dark periods of the Diaspora. Today it has taken on a new lease on life and has become the medium of expression aid thought of the most heterogeneous community in the world; the study of the Hebrew language here may contribute to making American Jewry not only a consumer but also a creator of Hebrew cultural values.

“We must proceed to introduce courses in Hebrew and on Israel in our public high schools, colleges, and universities on a large scale,” he continued. “Not only the Jew but the non-Jew, too, must become aware of the fact that Hebrew is no longer a dead language, essential only for an understanding of the Bible in the original, but a living tongue, the language of a living, pulsating people.”

Dr. Katsh said that “Mr. Ben Gurion’s remarks unfortunately did not evidence great concern for the sentiments of American Jews, most of whom will regard his demands as impossible. Halutziyut of the type the Prime Minister demands could be fostered only under the compulsive conditions prevailing in Eastern Europe. As far as America is concerned, it must be entirely of a voluntary nature. American Jews can only be drawn–not driven–to Israel.”

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