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Other Schools

Other - Beit Berl College - Yehiam Sorek, who teaches history at Beit Berl College, finds a murdering war criminal and enemy of mankind - Bar Kochva!

to see the full original article, go here

The lunatic that stole Zionism

By Yehiam Sorek
19/05/2003

"He was a hero / He called for freedom / All the people loved him / Bar Kochva the hero," children at kindergarten used to - and still do - sing on Lag Ba'omer. The kids cling to the image of Bar Kochva, the intrepid warrior, the hero of the war of freedom against the Romans. Hero? Freedom fighter? Is this indeed the case?

The problematic figure of Bar Kosiva (Bar Kochva) pervades rabbinic literature, treasure troves of coins and his letters and is alluded to in Roman, Byzantine and Christian epistles. He may even be viewing us, through our imagination, from within the layers of archaeological findings in the Judean Desert. But after a time, he sank into the obscurity of history and not a single mention of him can be found anywhere in the literature of the Middle Ages or in the extensive responsa from Western and Central Europe.

And then suddenly, as if by magic, the figure of Bar Kochva is resurrected in the late 19th century and turned into a thrilling and compelling idol. How did this come about?

Bar Kochva, more than any other mythological figure (like Samson) or movement (like the Maccabees) became a symbol, the hammer of the Jewish national movement, Zionism, feeding the imagination of writers, poets, artists, essayists, intellectuals and even Zionist sports activists - note the Bar Kochva team in Berlin, 1898 - under the common denominator of being a truly Zionist character. This was not unlike the mythological figures that were brought back to life in German and Slavic Romanticism.

Bar Kochva was venerated, became the Zionist totem, and in the Eretz Israel experience, throughout all the waves of immigration and the wars of the "good guys" against the "bad guys", he was fleshed out and became idolized. Turned into an anchor of the education system, he became an object of adoration for the young. It is futile to try and convince those who have glorified Bar Kochva, that the Jewish leadership after the Great Revolt decided - and rightfully so - to learn to live with Roman rule and formulate a moderate pragmatic policy, and by doing so rehabilitate their battered society, moving it onward. Try and convince those that glorified Bar Kochva, how the Jewish leadership opposed - and quite rightly so - any expression of rebellion, including that of Bar Kochva himself.

Try and convince them of the terrible cruelty reflected in his letters; or try and convince them how the rebel placed the crown of leadership on his own head, without permission or authority, and how he turned the members of the Sanhedrin and the genuine leadership into hostages in the district under his control, Betar. Try and convince those that have glorified Bar Kochva that he imagined himself to be the rebel Messiah, that this deranged and delusional rebel drew the courage from somewhere to rise up against the grinding and predatory Roman force, and brought down a terrible catastrophe on the head of Judean society because of his almost personal pretensions.

Not all these facts were known to those that sanctified the Jewish national concept when they turned Bar Kochva into the idol of the Zionist renaissance, and even if they had their doubts about his personality, they closed their eyes, because the ancient, heroic rebel sells Zionism very well. They sought to fan the flames of the tribal bonfire with ethnocentrism, and to draw from Jewish mythology a fighter of the kind that challenged the greatest superpower of ancient times, and by his power-driven, crude, insolent and selfish light to educate the children of Israel to emulate him. They seemed to be advocating: Fight the bad guys (the nations of the world, the Turks, the British, the Arabs) to win what you seek, and damn the price.

That is how Bar Kochva, among the other myths and symbols, was turned into yet another quasi-militaristic element that elevates any physical action to attain "sacred" goals.

Sadly, Bar Kochva became a brand name, a national legend, which served national-Zionist goals. He was internalized and absorbed into the national bloodstream, took on the same sanctity as the other myths - and anyone that tries to pose questions about the commander of the revolt, his character and path, is perceived as a saboteur, a vandal. Will this national phase obscure the historical truth?

Dr. Sorek is a historian in the Beit Berl and Seminar Hakibbutzim colleges.