Remembering Meir Kahane
The founder of the violent Jewish Defense League was born Aug. 1, 1932
(29th of Tamuz) and murdered Nov. 5, 1990 (18th of Heshvan 5750).
He is the subject
of book Robert Friedman's book "The False Prophet." Stephen
True, the cast of characters immediately around Kahane who people his
primary creations, the Kach party in Israel and the earlier Jewish Defense
League (JDL) in America, are the incompetent, demented rejects and misfits
you would expect in groups which shoot and firebomb those with whom
they disagree, frequently killing and maiming innocent bystanders in
the process. Blind hate is not terribly complex and ultimately not very
As with any terrorist group, however, it is not the principals themselves
but the environment in which they develop and thrive, the direct and
indirect source of support, which get--or should get--our attention.
And in this respect, The False Prophet is a well written, worthy effort.
It is also repeatedly, purely shocking.
In December 1969, Israeli Knesset member and Gahal Party official Geula
Cohen travels to New York to convince Kahane that the focus of JDL’s
violence in America should not be blacks and their organizations, but
the officials and facilities of the Soviet Union, which represses Jewish
activists at home. Over the next two years, a small covert group of
Israelis plans, directs and funds a campaign of bombings and shootings
in the U.S. and Europe, culminating in the firebombing of concert impresario
Sol Hurok’s office in Manhattan, in which a 27-year-old female secretary
is killed. The members of the directorate of this operation, who move
frequently between Israel and Kahane’s headquarters in New York, include
Cohen, Tehiya Party Official Pessach Mor, future Prime Minister Yitzhak
Shamir, and several top officers of Mossad.
In May 1973, Kahane, from Israel, writes an associate in New York that...
“if we can’t get someone to shoot a Russian diplomat (anyone), we are
Jewish pigs and deserve what we get.” In another letter he instructs
a high school-aged female and JDL member to arrange for her teacher
to invite a Soviet diplomat to her school to speak so that a JDL hit
team could assassinate him. She is to phone the press afterward to take
credit, “if no innocent person is killed.” The Israeli military intercept
these and other similar letters, and Kahane is subsequently arrested
and convicted in Israel for conspiring to commit acts of violence in
a foreign country. He is released with a suspended sentence. U.S. authorities
take the matter more seriously, and revoke Kahane’s probation stemming
from an earlier felony conviction for manufacturing fire bombs. Kahane’s
attorney produces as character witnesses the chief of the cancer division
of a New York hospital, a prominent local rabbi and several persons
flown from Israel at the expense of (then) Herut Party chief Menachem
Friedman names the names in this book, of people who have assisted
and continue to assist Kahane’s acts of mindless violence. And they
are names you will recognize. They are entertainers who assisted with
rallies, the intelligence communities in two countries (in the early
days) and American industrialists who have provided Kahane’s various
little groups with their operating funds.
Even more surprising are those who violate the canons of their own
professions to help Kahane on his way—judges in both Israel and America
who continue to issue suspended sentences for conviction after conviction,
fellow orthodox rabbis who take no internal action against a self-admitted
adulterer, IRS officials who do not revoke the tax-exempt status of
front organizations used openly to raise funds for the political campaigns
of the Kach Party, and most galling of all to me, newspaper editors
(notably the New York Times) who alter the texts of articles to protect
Friedman traces Kahane’s gradual descent into paranoia and his fascination
with ever more extreme forms of violence and instruments of political
action. By the mid-1980s, Kahane was openly calling for the “liquidation”
of liberal Jews in columns written for a New York Jewish publication,
and was giving speeches in Israel in which he referred ominously to
the need to take care of the Arabs “once and for all.” The JDL had by
this time become too tame, too “liberal” for Kahane’s taste. What was
needed, he told his inner circle, was a network of small covert cells
which were trained in assassination.
But it is not Friedman’s exposure of Kahane’s actions of dementia which
have landed him in trouble with many reviewers in the “mainstream” press.
It is those names, and that support from that same mainstream, particularly
in Israel and in the American Jewish community, so carefully detailed
in the book.
One does not complete a reading of The False Prophet without wondering
why Kahane is shown such tolerance, and whether, if his cause were American
nationalism, or Irish or Puerto Rican or any other than what it is,
he would be allowed to walk the streets a free man.
Rabbi Kahane had a big platform in the New York Orthodox Jewish paper
The Jewish Press. In its December 9, 2005 issue, it prints a couple of
glowing tributes to Kahane. Yeshiva University graduate Elliot
Unfortunately, fifteen years and more than 1,300 Jewish deaths later,
Israelis still seem to lack Kahane`s sense of urgency. Rather than take
action, they utter the inane phrase "It will be good" like an incantation
that will magically transform their reality. Is such complacency in
order? Or has the time perhaps come for Israelis to reexamine Kahane`s
ideas in light of all that’s occurred since his death — and, at long
last, do something?
Shelle Benveniste, South Florida Editor, writes in The Jewish Press 12/9/05:
"Rabbi Meir Kahane...was a talmid chacham [scholar], erudite and
one heck of a tough Jew."
Meir Kahane was a false prophet. Like Jacob
Frank and Sabbatai
Zevi, he led Jews astray. That much of what he proposed (such as imprisonment
for Jews who swam in Israeli beaches with non-Jews) was sanctioned by
Torah law shows how deep the moral problems are in Jewish law.
Kahane was a sexual predator (not with children). He preyed on vulnerable
women. One (model Gloria Jean D'Argenio) with whom he was having an adulterous
affair (and promised to marry, only to back out a few days before the
wedding) threw herself off a bridge and died in 1966. The New York Times
covered up the story.
Kahane prowled the streets for prostitutes. His knowledge of Talmud was
shallow. He had no patience for sitting and studying texts. He was a rabblerouser.
His spiritual descendents include mass murderer Baruch
Goldstein and agitator Irv
In my experience of Orthodox Judaism, from talking to people to reading
pamphlets and books, those who comment favorably on Kahane outnumber those
who speak against Kahane by about five-to-one. This reflects a growing
tribalism in Orthodox Judaism, the abandonment of universalistic ethics,
and a hatred of the Gentile world.
Schick writes 12/16/05:
A more serious issue raised by Ford is the pro-Kahane articles and
columns that appear in the Orthodox Jewish media. While those who like
Kahane write to support him, people like me, who have a negative view
toward his extreme ideology, tend to express our opposition by generally
calling for pragmatism and moderation and attacking those with extreme
views, rather than attacking Kahane himself. That may lead to a sense
that almost all of us have positive sentiments toward Kahane, when in
reality there is a reluctance - justified or not - by moderates to personally
go after a man who was murdered by the same terrorists who implemented
the first World Trade Center attack.
I do disagree with Ford that support for Kahane relates to "hatred
of the outside world." Again, most of Kahane's supporters are modern
Orthodox, who, overall, are more likely to be engaged in the "outside
world" than charedim. I believe support for Kahane has much more to
do with hatred for Arabs than with hatred of all outsiders.
In his book The
False Prophet, Robert I. Friedman
It struck me on that first encounter [December 1979] that Kahane was
a man obsessed with sex and violence. He chattered incessantly about
Arab men sleeping with Jewish women. (Pg 1)
According to a 1986 survey conducted for the American Jewish Committee
by Professor Steven M. Cohen, 14 percent of American Jews professed
strong sympathy for Kahane, a proportion that rose to 30 percent among
the 500,000-strong Orthodox community. (Pg 6)
Some of the myths surrounding Kahane were born during his interlude
at Abraham Lincoln [High School]. He would later claim to worshipful
members of the JDL that he had been a 10,000-meter track star there,
that he had perfected a deadly, right-handed hook shot for its basketball
team, and had palled around with the baseball team's star pitcher, Sandy
Koufax, who went on to become a celebrated major league player for the
Los Angeles Dodgers. In truth, though he was quicky and wiry, none of
Kahane's school friends remember him going out for anything more physically
demanding than the school choir. (Pg 31)
Although Kahane had a succession of girl friends in high school and
college, "he talked about women with such contempt, it was incredible!"
said [Irwin] Fleminger [a member of Betar, a "right-wing, pro-Israel,
activist youth group"], who later married one of Kahane's college
flames. "The contempt was a dominant part of his personality. Women
who had relationships with him were increasingly frustrated, unless
they were totally masochistic. He treated women like they didn't exist
as people, like they were just a collection of body parts -- not all
of which he liked." (Pg 41)
His Talmud skills were no better developed than when he was at BTA
[Brooklyn Talmudic Academy]. "He knew nothing of the Talmud when
he came to Mirrer," said Rabbi Marcel Blitz, who went to Mirrer
with Kahane, and who today lives in Baltimore where he is a fervent
Kach [a right-wing Israeli party outlawed for racism] supporter. "The
teachers used to scream at him, curse him, and insult him in Yiddish.
They called him a dummy!"
...Kahane was no better at studying law than the Talmud. After he graduated
from [New York Law School] in 1957, he flunked his only attempt to pass
the New York State bar exam... (Pg 46)
Kahane married Libby Blum in 1956. Within a few years, Kahane's marital
infidelities would create a deep and lasting rift between the Kahane
family and Libby's father, Jacob Blum, a former investigator for the
New York State Department of Welfare. (Pg 47)
...Kahane develop[ed] a father-son relationship with Rabbi Sholom Klass,
[The Brooklyn Daily's] publisher. In the coming years, Kahane would
help transform the paper, which had consisted largely of legal advertisements,
into a powerful Orthodox Jewish weekly, renamed The Jewish Press. With
a circulation of nearly 200,000, the paper became...a platform for Kahane
to build the JDL and later the Kach movement. (Pg 51)
[In 1963]...Kahane, the self-proclaimed descendent of twenty-eight
generations of rabbis, was cruising for shiksas in East Side singles
bars, ordering martinis, and infiltrating domestic extremist groups
for the FBI. (Pg 57)
Although the July Fourth Movement never had enough money to pay its
modest bills, Kahane and Churba always seemed to have plenty of cash
for restaurants, booze, and women. In fact, much of the money that the
two men raised during their partnership apparently went to support their
lavish lifestyles. "They were uninhibited in bars," said [Robert]
Brown [an NYU activist in the right-wing organization], who accompanied
them on many of their cruising expeditions through the singles bars
that then proliferated on Manhattan's Upper East Side. "They liked
to drink. They loved beautiful women. Kahane lusted after them. We'd
get drunk in bars and pick up girls. We were all interested in getting
laid. [Joseph] Churba acted a little stiff around women, but Kahane
was on fire. He had no problem going to bed with any woman as long as
she was good-looking."
Brown recalls that Kahane was on good terms with the landlady of an
East Side high-rise, who tipped him off when new women moved into the
building. On one of his frequent visits, the landlady told Kahane that
two stewardesses had just moved into a fourth floor apartment. Kahane
and Brown dashed upstairs and rang the buzzer. "The door opened,"
said Brown, "and [Kahane] just came crashing through. He was very
funny. He began to joke about being a city health inspector. Before
I knew it, he had dates with both girls. He had great movies on girls
he didn't know."
On night that Kahane spent in Manhattan, he told [his wife] Libby that
he was in Washington on secret government business. (Pg 70-71)
In June 1966, while living as Michael King, Rabbi Kahane met a twenty-one-year-old
woman named Gloria Jean D'Argenio in a Second Avenue bar... Kahane fell
in love with her.
...Kahane proposed marriage. He set the date for August 1, 1966 --
his birthday. He never told her his real name, nor that he was a rabbi
with a wife and four children in Queens.
Two days before their wedding, Kahane ended the affair with a "Dear
Jane" letter. He confessed that he was married, though he never
admitted his true identity.
D'Argenio jumped from the Queensboro Bridge 135-feet into the East
She was pregnant (possibly with Kahane's child). (Pg 71-72)
Even before Kahane became the dominant editorial voice of the paper,
The Jewish Press treated its readers to outlandish stories about gentile
men's insatiable lust for Jewish women and Syrian poison gas attacks
on Israel that never took place.
The support that the Klass clan provided Kahane was more than just
a street-corner soapbox. The Jewish Press gave him entree into tens
of thousands of Jewish living rooms every week, where he played on the
fears that Jews have carried with them for two thousand years. Klass
stuck with Kahane no matter how outrageous his conduct, no matter how
many world-renowned Orthodox Jewish leaders told him to dump the militant
rabbi. That is, until the day Klass had to choose between the principal
cause that he advocated and his pocketbook. (Pg 86-87)
In 1969 Klass announced that he was willing to fire Kahane if the city
gave him a new building to house his newspaper. (Pg 103)
After [Kahane's secretary Renee] Brown complained to friends in the
JDL that Kahane had jilted her for another woman, the rabbi dismissed
her and hired Geri Alperin -- an attractive, busty, outgiong twenty-nine-year-old
Manhattanite who was a JDL hanger-on.
The JDL's inner cicle tried to ignore reports about Kahane's philandering.
...Kahane spent the July 4th weekend in New York with Gerri Alperin
-- trying to summon up the courage to leave his wife. (Pg 192)
...[JDL] realized that they could not account for as much as a dime
of the millions that they had raised on his behalf. Gerri had confided
in Trony [Rosenblatt] that Kahane had bought her expensive jewelry,
paid rent on her Manhattan apartment, shuttled her back and forth to
Israel, and had run up thousands of dollars in phone calls to her home.
He even had her install a private phone line exclusively for their conversations.
"We realized that all this money was coming from funds Kahane had
diverted from the JDL," said [Bonnie] Pechter. "How could
JDL have no money, while Alperin is getting expensive pear necklaces,
designer nightgowns, and who knows what else?"
Some Jewish religious scholars [Rabbi Moshe Segal, Rabbi Israel Hess]
have quietly argued that there is nothing wrong with using genocide
to eradicate the "Arab problem."
Jan. 6, 2009:
Nearly two decades after his murder, Meir Kahane's
wife has written a biography of the controversial rabbi and rabble-rouser
- or rather its first volume. Her love and admiration still burning strong,
Libby Kahane is convinced her husband got a bum rap.
Rabbi Meir Kahane
His Life and Thought − Volume One: 1932-1975, by Libby Kahane, Lambda
Publishers, 762 pages, $45
In Friedman's thoroughly sourced telling, Kahane comes
off as something of a rake: a serial adulterer who used his frequent absences
from home to carry on affairs with a series of women. Friedman describes
how, when he was still a young man, Kahane went so far as to set a wedding
date with one mistress, who jumped off the Queensboro Bridge when she
finally learned that he was already married.
It is perhaps a wonder, then, that Libby Kahane has spent the past decade
researching and writing a back-breaking panegyric to the first 43 years
of her husband's life, a 762-page doorstop entitled "Rabbi Meir Kahane:
His Life and Thought, Volume One: 1932-1975." Based on Meir Kahane's
own writings and speeches, along with recently conducted interviews and
other sources, the book focuses on his political activities, from his
early years as a leader in right-wing youth movements through his first
unsuccessful bid for a Knesset seat.
Let's get the formalities out of the way. You should not read this book.
It's altogether too long, lacks serious analysis, is excessively footnoted,
and ignores important unflattering details. Most unforgivably, it somehow
succeeds in making the story of one of the most fascinating Jewish figures
of the past century a terribly boring one.
It's worth asking what Libby Kahane thought she was doing. In the book's
introduction, she says the study is intended as a resource for future
historians. "While no author can be completely objective about his
subject," she writes, "I believe that my twenty-seven years
as a reference librarian ... gave me expertise and experience in the methods
of careful research and proper documentation that make this book an accurate,
authoritative study." The attempt to claim the status of the dispassionate
investigator, is, of course, ridiculous, given that she was married to
her subject for 44 years. It's rather unlikely that future historians
will take the work as "authoritative." As a research librarian,
the author must surely know this. So why did she really write the book?
I called Libby Kahane at her home in Jerusalem (she includes the number,
oddly, on the biography's last page) to press her on the point. She told
me the project came out of a desire to correct what she saw as a flawed
perception of her husband as a "crazy fanatic."