Jewish Journal

Zionism and ‘The Jewish Body’

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 13, 2009 | 3:20 pm

Heard enough about the scrawny, weak-limbed Jew? (Not all of us can be Scot Mendelson.) Well the latest book from Schocken’s Jewish Encounters series is called “The Jewish Body,” and it focuses on the way the Jewish body has been seen throughout history and how Zionism transformed it.

From Haaretz:

If there is a thread that organizes all these themes, it is this: The world made the Jews weak, so weak for so long that even they became convinced that the only strength they would ever have would be mental. ... They came to mistrust the physical. ... But two great events of the twentieth century − one the worst thing that ever happened to the Jews and the other the best − turned the tables on Jewish weakness forever. Strength prevailed, because the very best powers of the Jewish mind became allied to a new physical strength, rising out of the ashes and blood of six million murders.

“The Jews tried mind alone for eighteen hundred years; that led to defenselessness, contempt, isolation, pogroms and finally mass murder…. The world has been, is, and will be a very dangerous place for Jews. They tried weakness - oh, how they tried; indeed, they were better versed in it than anyone else on earth. Strength is better.”


The remarkable alchemy of early Zionism was not that it turned mice into lions or made Schwartzes into Schwarzeneggers; rather, the birth of the state served as evidence that a nation without Schwarzeneggers could still prevail. And it did this, largely, through the yiddisher kop, by placing an emphasis on brains over brawn. For a kid like me, raised in America, the biggest surprise upon enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces was not the powerful build of my fellow soldiers, but the way their puny stature disappointingly resembled my own. The average reserve company brings together pot-bellied, bad-backed chain-smokers into a deft fighting unit. The IDF is a brains-over-brawn outfit, and much the same can be said about all of Israel and its high-tech driven economy.

Read the rest of the review here.

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