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Bibi— Son of Benzion

The Netanyahu legacy.

Aug 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 44 • By MEIR Y. SOLOVEICHIK
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For Benzion Netanayahu, Spanish Jewry’s complacency, and their embrace of a convenient narrative, reveals “man’s natural reluctance to draw radical conclusions which imply uprooting oneself from a comfortable spot.” Just as German Jews “failed to foresee Hitler’s rise to power at any time during the period preceding that rise, so the Jews of Spain failed to notice, even a few years before the expulsion, the mountainous wave which was approaching to overwhelm them.” The failure by one of the greatest communities in Jewish Diaspora history to sense this threat was “nothing short of proverbial.” 

Now, the son of this scholar leads the Jewish state and must decide how seriously to take the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric of Iranian leaders, as they seek the ability to build a weapon of which the ancient and medieval enemies of Jerusalem and of the Jews could only have dreamed. 

As it happens, Benjamin Netanyahu has written with reverence of his father’s scholarship, and of its underlying lesson. The Tisha B’av expulsion from Spain, as he sees it, is an eternal warning to Jews that one of the great threats to their wellbeing is their own complacency. Several months ago, he chose to close his eulogy at his father’s funeral by referring to the latter’s academic work: 

Your books clearly show that you were not only endowed with an ability to see the shape of the future, but also to uncover the secrets of the past, and of course there is a connection between the two. Many times, you told me that he who cannot understand the past, cannot understand the future, and he who cannot understand the present, how can he discover what the future will hold? 

You always told me that a necessary component for any living body​—​and a nation is a living body​—​is the ability to identify a danger in time, a quality that was lost to our people in exile; that is what you said. You taught me, Father, to look at reality head on, to understand what it holds and to come to the necessary conclusions. 

It was this Tisha B’av, the first without his father, that Netanyahu stood with Mitt Romney and warned his nation, and the world, that after centuries of persecution Jews had learned to take anti-Semites at their word. How Netanyahu will choose to deal with the Iranian threat is unclear. Yet one thing is certain: He will have his father and his father’s lifework in mind as he makes his choice.

Meir Y. Soloveichik is director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan.

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