Meir Kahane

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Meir David Kahane (Kahane being a variation on Cohen or "priest") also known by the pseudonym Michael King, David Sinai, Hayim Yerushalmi, was born August 1, 1932 (29th of Tamuz) – and assassinated November 5, 1990 (18th of Heshvan 5750). He was an American Orthodox rabbi, leader, philosopher, visionary, scholar, political activist, fighter, hero, rabbi, writer, speaker, Rosh Yeshiva, father, grandfather, husband, teacher, author and statesman, and a sometime member of the Israeli Knesset. To others, he was a revolutionary, warrior, terrorist, and a seditionist. Clearly, he was a controversial and polarizing figure, to some a "visionary hero of the Jewish people" and to others a "criminal racist."

Kahane was known in the United States and Israel for his strong political and nationalist views, exemplified in his promotion of a theocratic "Greater Israel." He founded two controversial movements: the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in the United States and Kach, an Israeli political party. In 1988, Kach was declared a racist party by the Israeli government and banned from the Knesset, and, in 1994, following the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, the movement was outlawed completely. Kahane's Knesset career was ended by section 7a of Basic Laws of Israel (1958): "Prevention of Participation of Candidates List."

Kahane was assassinated by El Sayyid Nosair in New York City in 1990 after concluding a speech in a New York hotel. Nosair later stood trial as a co-conspirator of Shaikh Omar Abdel Rahman and received a life sentence plus 15 years imprisonment for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, conspiracy to use explosives against New York landmarks, and a plot to assassinate U.S. politicians. Eventually, Kahane's murder was ruled a part of the "seditious conspiracy," and Nosair was convicted of the killing.

Early life

Meir David Kahane was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1932 to an Orthodox Jewish family. His father, Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Kahane, was born in Safed, Israel, in 1905, and studied in yeshivas in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Later, he emigrated to the United States, where he served as rabbi of two congregations.

Meir Kahane received rabbinical ordination from the Mir Yeshiva in Brooklyn. He was fully conversant with the Talmud and Tanakh, and worked as a pulpit rabbi and teacher in the 1960s. During this period, he tutored Arlo Guthrie for his bar mitzvah.[1] Subsequently, he earned a law degree from the New York Law School.

As a teenager, he became an admirer of Zev Jabotinsky, a frequent guest in his parent's home, and joined the youth wing of Revisionist Zionism called Betar. He participated in protests against Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary who opposed the foundation of Israel on the grounds that Britain should recognize Arab aspirations for an independent state. Kahane also organized and launched public demonstrations in the United States against the Soviet Union's policy of persecuting Zionist activists and curbing Jewish emigration to Israel. He was active in the "Free Soviet (Russian) Jewry" movement and advocated policies designed to increase emigration of Russian Refuseniks to Israel.

From 1965 to 1968, under the name Michael King, Kahane worked for the FBI as an undercover agent inside the John Birch Society. [2]

Many of the poor and elderly living in New York's Jewish neighborhoods were being targeted by criminals. Kahane, realizing this, set out to change the image of Jews from "weak and vulnerable" to one of a "mighty fighter, who strikes back fiercely against tyrants." With this in mind, he founded the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in 1968, which was the beginning of his life work. The JDL employed controversial methods, often including actual violence or the threat of such. This exacerbated the already tense Black-Jewish relationship in New York City.

Focusing on the plight of Soviet Jewry, the JDL coined the phrases "Never again," and "every Jew a .22". This was intended to emphasize that the Jewish people would no longer passively ignore the plight of their foreign brothers. Though the goal of Kahane and the JDL might have been laudable, his actions were often criminal. He spent time in jail after being convicted of conspiring to make bombs. [3]

Kahane was also in contact with Joe Colombo, head of the Colombo Crime family, and was with him, in 1971, when Colombo was shot and killed by Gallo family assassins. Kahane confirmed his connections to these organized crime networks in an interview he gave to Playboy Magazine in 1972.

In the 1960s, Kahane was an editor of the largest Anglo-Jewish weekly, Brooklyn's The Jewish Press and was a regular correspondent for that paper until his death. He appeared often on American radio and television.


That the same man can be referred to as both a "visionary hero of the Jewish people" and as a "criminal racist," or "Kahanazi" testifies to the controversial nature of Rabbi Meir Kahane, his followers, and the various organizations that he founded. Although Kahane died in 1990, his legacy has been carried on by his family members, and disciples in pro-Kahane organizations such as Kach, Kahane Chai, and the Jewish Defense League. [4]

Kahane's ideology has come to be called Kahanism. Kahane adhered to the belief that Jewish law contains directions for how to run a Jewish state, and that these directions are directly applicable in the present day. He believed that a Jewish Democracy with non-Jewish citizens is contradictory because the non-Jewish citizens may someday become the majority and vote to make the state non-Jewish. He, among others, such as author Joan Peters, believed that a Palestinian people do not exist, regarding Palestinians as disparate and unrelated Arab clans with no distinct ethnic identity. Kahane claimed that no description of Palestinian Arabs as a distinct nationality can be found in any pre-20th century text and he frequently challenged his detractors to prove otherwise. He also claimed that historically, there are no examples of Arab Muslims living peacefully with other ethnic groups. Thus, Kahane proposed the forcible deportation of all Arabs from all lands controlled by the Israeli government. In his view, evicting most Palestinian Arab Muslims, even Israeli Arabs, was the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the Arab-Israeli conflict. When he served as a member of the Knesset he proposed a $40,000 compensation plan for the Arabs he proposed to evict.

Kahane also believed that Israel should limit citizenship to Jews and adopt Jewish law (Halakha) in public life. He advocated that the Israeli government pass theocratic laws such as banning the sale of pork, outlawing missionary activities in Israel, and a ban on all sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews. [5] Supporters say Kahane was protecting Torah values and the integrity of the Jewish nation. Detractors consider Kahane's views bigoted.


In the United States, the Jewish Defense League (JDL) engaged in terrorist activities, including the bombing of several buildings and the harassment of political and intellectual opponents of the JDL. Consequently, police pressure began to build upon Kahane, and, in 1971, he emigrated to Israel, which is known as "making aliyah."

Kahane quickly moved to establish the Kach party. In 1980, Kahane ran unsuccessfully for election to the Knesset. Later, in 1980, he served six months in prison following an administrative detention order against him, the details of which have not been disclosed publicly. According to Ehud Sprinzak, "the prevailing rumor was that a very provocative act of sabotage on the Temple Mount was planned by Kahane and a close associate of his, Baruch Green." [6]

In 1984, Kahane was elected to the Knesset (Israel's parliament). The Central Elections Committee had banned his candidacy on the grounds that Kach was a racist party, but the Israeli High Court determined that the Committee was not authorized to ban Kahane's candidacy. The high court suggested that the Knesset should pass a law that would authorize the exclusion of racist parties from future elections (the Anti-Racist Law of 1988).

Kahane refused to take the oath of office for the Knesset and insisted that a verse from Psalms be added to it, to indicate that when the national laws and Torah conflict, Torah law should have supremacy over the laws of the Knesset.

Kahane's legislative proposals focused on revoking the Israeli citizenship of non-Jews and banning Jewish-Gentile marriages or sexual relations, based on the code of Jewish law compiled by Maimonides, the Mishne Torah. In spite of the fact that Kahane's proposals were based on Torah law, none of Israel's religious parties or prominent rabbis publicly supported Kach legislation.

As his political career progressed, Kahane became increasingly isolated in the Knesset. His speeches, boycotted by Knesset members, were made to an empty parliament, except for the duty chairman and the transcriptionist. Kahane's legislative proposals and motions of no-confidence against the government were ignored or rejected by his fellow Knesset members. Kahane often called the other Knesset members "Hellenists" in Hebrew (a reference from Jewish religious texts describing ancient Jews who assimilated into Greek culture after Judea's occupation by Alexander the Great). In 1987, Rabbi Kahane opened a yeshiva, Yeshivat Haraayon Hayehudi, with funding from American supporters, for the teaching of "the Authentic Jewish Idea."

In 1985, the Knesset passed an amendment to Israel's Basic Law, barring "racist" candidates from election. The committee banned Kahane a second time, and he appealed to the Israeli High Court. This time the court found in favor of the committee, declaring Kahane to be unsuitable for election. Kahane asserted that polls showed the Kach Party was about to become the third largest party in Israel and this was the true reason that the party was banned.


In 1990, after concluding a speech in a Manhattan, New York hotel, Kahane was assassinated by El Sayyid Nosair. According to prosecutors, a man named Wadih el Hage purchased the .38 caliber revolver used by Nosair. El-Hage had been instructed by a man named Mahmud Abouhalima to buy the gun. Nosair was acquitted of murder because no witness had actually seen him pull the trigger, but he was convicted of gun possession charges.

Nosair later stood trial as a co-conspirator of Shaikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Both men received life sentences for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, conspiracy to use explosives against New York landmarks, and plotting to assassinate U.S. politicians. Nosair received life plus 15 years of imprisonment.[7] Since it was ruled that Kahane's murder was part of the "seditious conspiracy," Nosair was later convicted of killing Kahane. Nosair's relatives obtained funds to pay for his defense from Osama bin Laden.[8]

Political legacy

Graffiti in Herzliya: "כהנא צדק" ("Kahane was right")

Following Kahane's death, no charismatic leader emerged to replace him and Kahane's radical ideology declined in popularity among Israelis. However, two small Kahanist factions later emerged; one under the name of Kach and the other Kahane chai (Hebrew: כהנא חי, literally "Kahane lives on").

In 1994, following the massacre in the Ibrahim Mosque by Kach supporter Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli government declared both parties to be terrorist organizations. The U.S. State Department also added Kach and Kahane Chai to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Providing funds or material support to these organizations is a crime in both Israel and the United States. [9]

In late 2000, as the Al-Aqsa Intifada began, Kahane supporters spray-painted graffiti on hundreds of bus shelters and bridges all across Israel. The message on each target was identical, simply reading: "Kahane Was Right."

In 2005, an Israeli politician using the pseudonym, Obadiah Shoher, assembled a group of followers and claimed to be the true followers of Kahane. The group was named Samson Blinded, after Shoher's book, a compendium of Kahane's ideas entitled, Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict.

Son murdered

On December 31, 2000, Meir Kahane's son, Kahane Chai leader rabbi Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane, and his wife Talya were shot and murdered in their van as they were driving with their children from Jerusalem to their home in the Israeli settlement of Kfar Tapuach. Palestinian gunmen machine-gunned their van with more than 60 rounds. A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office in 2001 announced the arrest of three members of Force 17 who were allegedly involved in the attack. According to the statement, PLO activist Mahmoud Damra, also known as Abu Awad, was responsible for arming and training the three men, who were identified as Talal Ghassan, 37, a senior Force 17 member in Ramallah; Marzouk Abu Naim, 43; and Na'man Nofel.


  • (Partially under pseudonym Michael King; with Joseph Churba) The Jewish Stake in Vietnam, Crossroads, 1967
  • Never Again! A Program for Survival, Pyramid Books, 1972
  • Time to Go Home, Nash, 1972.
  • Letters from Prison, Jewish Identity Center, 1974
  • Our Challenge: The Chosen Land, Chilton, 1974
  • The Story of the Jewish Defense League, Chilton, 1975, 2nd edition, Institute for Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane, (Brooklyn, NY), 2000
  • Why Be Jewish? Intermarriage, Assimilation, and Alienation, Stein & Day, 1977
  • Listen, Vanessa, I Am a Zionist, Institute of the Authentic Jewish Idea, 1978
  • They Must Go, Grosset & Dunlop, 1981
  • Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews, Lyle Stuart, 1987
  • Israel: Revolution or Referendum, Barricade Books (Secaucus, NJ), 1990
  • Or ha-ra'yon, English title: The Jewish Idea, n.p. (Jerusalem), 1992, translated from the Hebrew by Raphael Blumberg, Institute for Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1996
  • On Jews and Judaism: Selected Articles 1961–1990, Institute for Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1993
  • Perush ha-Makabi: al Sefer Devarim, Institute for Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1993, 1995
  • Perush ha-Makabi: al Sefer Shemu'el u-Nevi'im rishonim, Institute for Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1994
  • Listen World, Listen Jew, 3rd edition, Institute for the Publication of the Writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane (Jerusalem), 1995
  • Kohen ve-navi: osef ma'amarim, ha-Makhon le-hotsa'at kitve ha-Rav Kahana (Jerusalem), 2000
  • Cuckooland, illustrated by Shulamith bar Itzhak (yet unpublished).

Also author of Numbers 23:9: "... lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations," I. Block, 1970s. Contributor—sometimes under pseudonym Michael King—to periodicals, including New York Times. Editor of Jewish Press, 1968.

For supplementary information and insights:

  • Kahane et le Kahanisme" by Shulamith Bar Itzhak.
  • Meir Kahane: Ideologue, Hero, Thinker by Daniel Breslauer. Lewiston/Queenston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1986.
  • The Boundaries of Liberty and Tolerance: The Struggle Against Kahanism in Israel by Raphael Cohen-Almagor. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1994.
  • The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane, from FBI Informant to Knesset Member by Robert I. Friedman. Brooklyn, NY: Lawrence Hill Books, 1990.
  • Heil Kahane by Yair Kotler. New York: Adama Books, 1986.
  • Israel’s Ayatollahs: Meir Kahane and the Far Right in Israel by Raphael Mergui and Phillipe Simonnot.
  • The Roots of Kahanism: Consciousness and Political Reality by Aviezer Ravitzky.
  • Kach and Meir Kahane: The Emergence of Jewish Quasi-Fascism by Ehud Sprinzak.


  1. Tom Tugend, A Jewish Visit to Guthrie’s Land Dec. 12, 2003, Jewish Journal. Retrieved January 24, 2007
  2. Raphael Mergui and Philippe Simonnot, Israel’s Ayatollahs: Meir Kahane and the Far Right in Israel (first published in French, in 1985) Kahane Official Site. Retrieved January 24, 2007
  3. David Shyovitz. [ Rabbi Meir Kahane (1932-1990) ] The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise: Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved January 24, 2007
  4. Shyovitz, Rabbi Meir Kahane The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise: Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved January 24, 2007
  5. June 12, 1981, Meir Kahane's Party to Run THE NEW YORK TIMES Retrieved January 24, 2007
  6. Ehud Sprinzak. Kach and Meir Kahane: The Emergence of Jewish Quasi-Fascism. (New York: Oxford University Press, USA. 1991)
  7. USA v. Omar Ahmad Ali Abdel-Rahman et al: 93-CR-181-KTD Terrorism Knowledge Base, Retrieved January 24, 2007
  8. Greg B. Smith, October 9, 2002, "Bin Laden bankrolled Kahane killer defense" New York Daily News
  9. May 2002, Kach and Kahane Chai United States Department of State. Retrieved January 24, 2007

Sources and Further Reading

  • Anderson, Bob, and Janelle Rohr. Janelle Israel: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1989. ISBN 0899084354 OCLC: 18380724
  • Breslauer, Daniel S., Meir Kahane, Ideologue, Hero, Thinker. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press, 1986, ISBN 0889462526 OCLC: 14166070
  • Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror In the Mind of God: the Global Rise of Religious Violence. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000, ISBN 0520223012 OCLC: 41355731
  • Kahane, Meir. The Story of the Jewish Defense League. Radnor, PA: Chilton Book Co., 1975, ISBN 0801962471 OCLC: 1218566
  • Kahane, Meir. Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews. Secaucus, NJ: L. Stuart, 1987, ISBN 0818404388 OCLC: 15427217
  • Mergui, Raphal, and Philippe Simonnot. Israel's Ayatollahs: Meir Kahane and The Far Right in Israel. London; Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Saqi Books, 1987, ISBN 086356142X - OCLC: 15792488
  • Mylroie, Laurie. Study of revenge: the first World Trade Center attack and Saddam Hussein's war against America. Washington, DC: AEI Press, 2001, ISBN 0844741698 OCLC: 48189317
  • Nimrod, Dan. The Jewish "jihad" against Kahane. Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Québec: Dawn, 1986, ISBN 0921401019 OCLC: 17943346
  • Shoher, Obadiah. Samson Blinded:: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict. ISBN-10: 1847282180
  • Sprinzak, Ehud. The Ascendance of Israel's Radical Right. New York: Oxford University Press, USA. 1991. ISBN 019505086X

External links

All links retrieved November 8, 2022.


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