Menachem Begin, The Battle for Israel’s Soul

050914_mishmash-bookBy Daniel Gordis
Schocken, 320 pages

Daniel Gordis calls Menachem Begin “the most Jewish of Israel’s prime ministers” and a leader now much missed.

“I wrote this book to find out why,” said Gordis, also a rabbi and senior vice president at Shalem College in Jerusalem. How could “someone so polarizing, so controversial … appear today as the soul not only of Israel’s best self, but as a living fusion on Jewish consciousness and aspiration?”

The answer, said the author, is “bound up with his unabashed, utter devotion to the Jewish people.”

In “Menachem Begin,” Gordis examines that devotion’s linkage with belief in Jewish dignity — no more subservience — in democracy and in adherence to law, advocated by a slight man who could impress with speech, charm with warmth and madden with stubborn-seeming consistency.

Some new esteem may come from later leaders’ behaviors, including the bribery conviction of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As detailed in this easy-reading biography, Begin lived honestly and modestly, giving his Nobel Prize money to a foundation for disadvantaged students.

“There was something about him,” said Gordis, “that led the powerless to believe he cared for them, not as a matter of policy or political wisdom, but as a matter of instinct.”

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