Amos Oz – You Owe Us An Apology…writes Rabbi Laibl Wolf

May 15, 2014 by Rabbi Laibl Wolf
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When is a Jew like a Nazi? When Amos Oz says so. History is replete with famous people making buffoons of themselves. But buffoonery would be an inappropriate description of this Israeli novelist’s tragic faux pas. Insensitivity to the point of callousness would be a better characterization.

Amos Oz

Amos Oz

Why would a Jew call another Jew something akin to a Nazi as Amoz Oz did this week? Jewish spiritual teachings based in Kabbala and explicated in Chabad Hassidic writings explain that words are the basic building blocks of relationship and connectedness. When we speak, we reveal ourselves. Thoughts are silent – internal communication – the relationship we enjoy (or suffer) within ourselves. When voice translates thought into words, two people touch through the breath of sound. Words become part of the other – and the listener is forever changed, albeit very subtly.

That’s why we speak – to bridge the distance and create closeness. But words can also do the opposite. They can disconnect and separate. Angry words, cutting words, hurtful words, distort relationships and build a barrier of mind and emotion. That is why the famous spiritual leader, the Chofetz Chayyim (Rabbi Israel Kagan, 1838 -1933) advised the practice of silence – because we can never truly foretell the impact of our words.

Words are vehicles powered by the fuel of emotion. We speak what we feel. We also speak what we think, but without feelings, the words would remain ‘still-birthed’, without seeing the light of day. One has to generate emotional motivation to open the mouth and stretch the vocal cords. And the direction the prevailing winds of emotion blow will determine whether the words are ones of empathy and compassion, or coldness and insensitivity.

Amos Oz chose ‘coldness and insensitivity’. Of course he is a famous author so he has special ‘dispensation’ to hurt others, no? Is that not the double standard we apply to great ‘artists’ – and surely nomination for Nobel Prizes must be a sure sign of greatness, no?

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

Rabbi Laibl Wolf

The answer is an emphatic ‘no’ – both to the supposed ‘greatness’ through nomination for prizes, as well as the ‘artistic license to kill’ – through words. There should be no double standards when it comes to sensitivity to others and the human pre-requisite for compassion. To call graffiti ‘artists’ “neo-nazis” because you don’t like what they say or do is truly shocking. In the short space of one generation we have become dulled to the excruciating pain of the six million Kedoshim, our dead heros, and to many millions of ‘living dead’, all victims of the barbarian and murderous Nazi killing machine. But when a Jew, and a supposed student of human nature and celebrated author, succumbs to verbal barbarism, this merely demonstrates how fallible the ’famous’ can be.

There is no excuse whatsoever for Amos Oz’s horrific misstatement. Yes, no doubt his emotions got the better of him. (This is not the place to speculate about those emotions: hatred of ‘hilltop’ youth, self-hating embarrassment of ‘what the world will say’ about politically-pointed graffiti, intense dislike for those who fight for a strong and Biblically endowed Israel, personal inner conflict about Jewish identity). But these emotions drove him to call his fellow Jew by the worst possible contemporary epithet. And attempting to ‘soften’ the blow through the technical use of the delicate precursor of ‘neo’ does not negate the word Nazi that follows. It just makes it ‘clever’ and reveals ‘mens rea’, and doubles as a protective ruse akin to legalistic fine-print.

Amoz Oz, you owe the Jewish world a huge apology – perhaps the world at large. Your words will not be prized as noble.


Rabbi Laibl Wolf is Dean of Spiritgrow – The Josef Kryss Center, Australia


3 Responses to “Amos Oz – You Owe Us An Apology…writes Rabbi Laibl Wolf”
  1. Liat nagar says:

    I would have liked to see a fuller record, or the context in which Oz used this ridiculous accusation or simile, included in Rabbi Wolf’s article. Not in order to possibly excuse it, simply to have full elaboration. You can’t fully consider something in all its impact without that kind of disclosure, and therefore can’t make a judgement even if you want to.
    As it is, I can only wonder at the motivations and thoughts of Amos Oz at this point in time. I have many of his books, and the later writings struggle to maintain the verve and more sincere insights and passion that informed the earlier ones. Artifice can always be seen in the written word, more so actually than in the spoken word. Writers can never get away with internal dishonesty.

  2. Otto Waldmann says:

    Rabbi, I admire your compassionate words, I admire the breath given to you to utter the words that must be known. And thus we have resolved the notion that silence has any merit when retorts are compulsory !!!
    One is not immersed in the study of the Word Supreme to keep it to himself, it should be the chochma carved above the gates at the exit of one’s Yeshiva, I suppose….
    Amos Oz has aged into the acquired identity of Groisse Moishe and, as such, is not quite happy that the entire world has not morphed into the shape he has “ordained” in his hydrocephalic self conceit. He is as relevant as the chair he is occupying at the round tables of tachles where REALITY is determined for the future of Israel……And it is, perhaps, his well determined/selected absence in that reality forum that pisses him off so bad . As yeish Elohim and there is respective justice, I am not at all worried and not at all surprised to see him spitting chips in the irrational, neurotic manner he does it. Actually, it amuses me.

  3. Jeff Gould says:

    I wouldn’t be too troubled about what Oz says or writes these days. I read some of his early writing years ago which was fairly ok I suppose but, of late read his latest stuff which has put me off from reading any more forever more, I consider it’s not worth the paper it’s on.

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