To the Editor:

In his review of The Idea of the Jewish State [January], Elie Kedourie addresses himself to my “conceptual framework” instead of dealing in the usual way with the material organized within the framework. As I place more stress on this part of my work than is often done, and Mr. Kedourie is the first critic to pay me the compliment of taking it so seriously, I should like to clear up certain points where I believe he misconstrues my approach.

The subject of my book was the way in which Zionist political ideas were formulated vis-à-vis outsiders. The main assumption was that this had to be done differently when the outsiders were Jews—that is, persons with whom all Zionists shared a “consensus”—than when they were non-Jews—that is, persons with whom not all Zionists shared a consensus. Mr. Kedourie finds my use of the term “consensus” obscure, and observes that I did not define it in the book.

To define “consensus” fully would require a monograph. In The Idea of the Jewish State, I relied on a reference (given on page 483—note 7 to the appendix) and tried to make my meaning clear by using the word consistently in one of its more rigorous meanings rather than loosely in all its connotations. On examining Mr. Kedourie’s critical points, I find he has nowhere tried to show that my usage is ambiguous. All his criticism amounts to the same objection that on a series of subjects I assumed that a Jewish consensus (favorable to Zionism) existed, while he thinks this is the point to be proved. He arrives at these conclusions in part by consistently using (and imputing to me) an implicit definition of “consensus” different from my own, and in part by imputing to me a view of the Jewish acceptance of Zionism which I do not hold.

I do not mean by “consensus” agreement by two or more persons on common values which is prior to their uniting in a social relationship. I mean by it the agreement on common values by two or more persons who are united in a social relationship before any point at issue arises and who will remain united whether or not they settle the particular issue. In such a situation the common values which define the consensus are subject to wide variations. Mr. Kedourie, in arguing against me on the basis of the first definition, naturally raises a number of false issues and misconstrues my position.

Thus I did not say anywhere, as Mr. Kedourie suggests, that the Enlightenment and the Emancipation destroyed the Jewish consensus and that it “is now reestablished—focusing, however, . . . on Zionism and the State of Israel.” About the Enlightenment and Emancipation I said that, in their wake, “Jews discarded some of the values and practices that had always constituted the framework of Jewish unity. . . . In spite of this, the Jewish consensus showed itself sufficiently strong and sufficiently flexible so that these aberrant tendencies were contained within the bounds of Jewish unity.” About Zionism I said that its immediate effect was to provoke ideological division, but that the Zionists remained within a common consensus with their opponents. The common premise of this consensus was not Zionism, as Mr. Kedourie interprets my view, but “the unspoken belief (of both Zionists and non-Zionists) that however defined or constituted, whether as a religious or ethnic community, the Jews throughout the world shared a common heritage and destiny, and their problems were a single responsibility.”

When I speak of the repudiation of non-Zionist ideologues by the communal consensus after World War I, or World War II for that matter, there is no reason whatever to prove, as Mr. Kedourie would have me do, that “Zionism represented a consensus in Jewry.” It is enough to point out, as I did, that Jewish communities voted against their non-Zionist leaders. The consensus was not upon the acceptance of Zionism but upon repudiation of certain specific aspects of anti-Zionism.

Mr. Kedourie also questions my use of the term “sovereignty.” He defines his own usage specifically, in this case: “Sovereignty is the capacity to perform sovereign acts.” Whether adopting what looks like a tautology would have made me “readily understood” or not, this is at any rate a different usage from mine. As the passage Mr. Kedourie chose to illustrate my meaning is somewhat out of context, I should like to close this letter by quoting my own definition from the book:

No precisely defined technical meaning is assigned to ‘sovereignty’ in this volume. . . . Of course, ‘sovereignty’ often refers in this discussion, as in more technical works, to the right and capacity (of a state) to establish and define all subordinate authorities and jurisdictions in a given territory . . . and to be independent of other sovereignties. . . . To indicate this particular usage, we sometimes employ expressions, like ‘political sovereignty’ . . . More often, however, “sovereignty.” in this volume has the vaguer, more general meaning of the right and capacity (of a people) to be master of its own historic destiny.

I do not, of course, claim any precision for this usage. But the complex of ideas and values indicated by the term “sovereignty,” so used, were the core of the Zionist political idea.

Ben Halpern
Brookline, Massachusetts

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