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Reviews: Jews and the Military: A History (2013), Derek J. Penslar

Jonathan Lewis

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jews and the Military: A History, Derek J. Penslar (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013), ISBN 978-0-691-13887-9, pp. xi + 360. £19.95. "The Jewish soldier in the diaspora deserves to be rescued from oblivion and subjected to serious historical study." Derek Penslar, who is the Professor of Jewish History at the University of Toronto and the Professor of Israel Studies at the University of Oxford, does so, in a sweeping tour de force of profound scholarship. His work ranges over Europe, the Middle East and North America from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. His thesis is a challenge to the classic Zionist ideology that diaspora life is incomplete and inauthentic and that, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert put it in an interview in 2008, only in Israel can Jews fight for their lives as Jews. He concludes: "In Israel, Jews completed the process of integration into the army and into the collective exercise of armed force that had begun in Europe a century and a half previously. In military affairs, as in so many other respects, Israel represents a continuation of the diaspora via other means" (pp. 2, 251, 262). The unique feature of this book is that it draws together Jewish military participation in many areas of the world over three centuries. So, inevitably, it deals lightly with subjects dealt with elsewhere in depth. The topic of Jews in the army of the Tsar, for example, which is the subject of entire books, is accorded seven pages. Professor Penslar's work balances depth, which is at points profound and based on his original research into, for example, the nineteenth-century French archives of career officers, against a literally global breadth. The introduction summarizes the work in a way which could almost be a book review in itself (p. 9). Soldiers are categorized as five types: the citizen soldier, who is the hallmark of the modern state without a regular draft, such as the usa and the uk; the uniformed civil servant, who is the career officer, especially the staff officer; the revolutionary, seeking to overthrow the current regime, in Europe from 1789 and in 1848 and the</page><page sequence="2">Jews and the Military: A History, Derek J. Penslar 171 proletarian revolutionaries of Eastern Europe from the i88os; the rebel in extremis, fighting fiercely and often suicidally against regimes such as Nazi occupation; the indigenized colonial - Euro-Americans, Afrikaners and the young people, overwhelmingly of European origin, who served in the militias of the Yishuv that in 1948 became the Israel Defence Force. Professor Penslar's first chapter, on "the Jewish soldier between memory and reality", discusses the experiences ofjews in Western, Central and Eastern Europe from self-protection in fortified synagogues, which occasionally housed cannons on the roof, through centuries of Jewish defensive paramilitary activity, to the harshness of enforced military service in Eastern Europe. The second, "fighting for rights: conscription and Jewish emancipation", develops the role of military service in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries' process of emancipation in Western and Central Europe, including the wars of German and Italian unification and in the United States during the American Civil War. Chapter 3, on the military as a Jewish occupation, presents the military as a vehicle and symbol of social mobility for Jews in Europe, especially France, Italy and Austria-Hungary. While the Dreyfus Affair has assumed notorious status, there were hundreds of Jewish officers in the French army and colonial service whose career afforded them a means of gaining social acceptance. The fourth chapter is entitled "When may we kill our brethren? Jews at War". It explores what became, until the Second World War, the ubiquitous tension for Jews serving in substantial numbers in the armies of Europe and North America between their patriotic inclinations and duty and their transnational attachments to Jews fighting in the ranks of their country's enemy. Rabbinic sermons wrestled with this dilemma, and the willingness ofjews to fight each other was heralded as the ultimate proof of their worthiness for equal rights. This dilemma became acute, and entered popular Jewish consciousness, during the First World War. Chapter 5, on the Jewish soldier of that war, "from participant to victim", examines the combat experience ofjews and the toll which the war inflicted on the hundreds and thousands ofjews who fought on its numerous fronts. In Germany, for example, Jews commemorated the Jewish dead after the war but found themselves inhibited from grieving publicly over wounded Jewish soldiers and veterans. Chapter 6, on "the world wars as Jewish wars", addresses the Jewish Legion of the First World War, international Jewish volunteerism in the Spanish Civil War, the global Jewish war effort during the Second World War, including the Jewish Brigade, and the massive global flow of Jewish</page><page sequence="3">172 REVIEWS manpower, war material and money to Palestine in 1948. It argues that, despite vast ideological differences between liberal patriotism, international communism and Zionism, Jewish participation shared some common assumptions and principles and regarded those conflicts as in some sense Jewish wars, in some of which Jews were volunteers or chose to fight within a Jewish unit. The final chapter, entitled "1948 as a Jewish World War", views the global struggle for a Jewish state as a continuation of, rather than a deviation from, earlier forms of Jewish military activity. It discusses the American programme of material support, and focuses on leading military figures such as the American Colonel David (Mickey) Marcus and the Canadian Major Benjamin Dunkelman who fought in Israel's War of Independence, and how their attempt to introduce into the infant Israeli army in 1948 the norms of democratic Western armies clashed with the culture of improvisation and charismatic leadership rather than military discipline which characterised the Yishuv. The book is replete with fascinating detail, as a few random examples from the second chapter will illustrate. The Hapsburg Empire, while imposing conscription, provided Jewish soldiers with uniforms which did not contain shatnez, the prohibited mixture of wool and linen (p. 41). In Eastern Europe, Jews armed with clubs chased away a press gang and armed troops were brought in to put down the demonstration (p. 46). In 1813 the Chief Rabbi of Silesia sent his yeshiuah students to the army, tell- ing them in his farewell blessing that "from the moment that you enter military service, you have to think only about king and country. Your religious duties cease" (p. 52). In nineteenth-century Europe, Jewish soldiers celebrated the Holy Days in uniform in camp. "A century before the praying Israeli soldier at Jerusalem's Western Wall, service rifle slung over his shoulder, became a beacon of psychic energy for diaspora Jews, the uniformed Jew at holiday services testified to the symbiotic relationship between religious and martial sentiment in modern Jewish culture" (p. 63). In any country Jewish military chaplains were a bellwether of Jewish acceptance within the army as a whole (p. 64), the UK and the usa leading the way (p. 66). By 1917 at least half of students in the military schools in Kiev and Odessa were Jews, foreshadowing the preponderance of Jews in the Soviet Army (p. 76). During the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902, at a time when barely two hundred Jews were serving in the UK's Territorial Army, more than a thousand volunteered to fight in South Africa, some motivated by a desire to rebut accusations that a shadowy conspiracy of Jewish financiers and</page><page sequence="4">Jews and the Military: A History, Derek J. Penslar 173 mine owners had dragged the UK into conflict with the Boer Republics (p- ii)- Professor Penslar's book treats Jews and the military, perhaps for the first time, as a coherent subject of study rather than a series of individual conflicts. It delves deeply into the literature, identified in fifty-three pages of densely packed footnotes and a large bibliography, which open a doorway to any aspect of the subject matter, together with an excellent index. To write a book on a single subject is challenge enough. To range across such a vast canvas of history and geography, through the prism of a coherent unity, is a remarkable achievement. Jonathan Lewis</page></plain_text>