Portrait of Natan Hofshi (artwork © Gil Dekel)by Gil Dekel.

Natan Hofshi was a visionary man, a Zionist, a vegetarian, organic farmer, and amongst the first pacifists in Israel as far as the 1920’s.

From reading his writings and talking to his children and people who knew him, an unusual case surfaces: Hofshi was a Zionist (i.e. believing that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people), who lived in times of wars over Israel – and still preached for pacifism and anti-militarism. How can his anti-militarist views coexist with his Zionist belief, in times of wars between Jews and Arabs over the same land?

It is evident that Hofshi was an intellectual. Even while living in Poland, where he was born, he mastered a few languages: Hebrew, Polish, Russian, German and Yiddish. When he immigrated to Israel he learned some English and Arabic. It is even said that he was the mentor of the renowned Moshe Dayan [1] (the two were good neighbours in Nahalal, the first co-operative settlement in Israel). Hofshi, who used to work his small organic farm during the days, would rise at three o’clock in the mornings to read and write. [2]

Hofshi was heavily criticised for writing against the violence carried by some Jews against the Arabs, yet he was aware – and also wrote – against the violence carried by some Arabs against the Jewish people. [3] A thorough study of his writings reveals that he had a humanistic-idea, an alternative solution to prevent the bloodsheds. For him, there was an opportunity to promote peace through educational process in schools, which will take a while to complete, but which will eventually produce the foundations for peace, prosperity, and security – without the need to harm or proclaim wars.

Portrait of Natan Hofshi (artwork © Gil Dekel)

Portrait of Natan Hofshi (artwork © Gil Dekel).

Hofshi was born in 1889 in the city of Wolbrom (Poland, not far from the German Border) and was educated in a Jewish school (‘Heder’). His fascination with Zionism was negatively viewed by his peers in Wolbrom, and was considered forbidden (‘Mukze’) as most people believed they should not immigrate to Israel before the Messiah (Saviour) comes to lead them. Hofshi had to read Zionist newspapers and books of modern education in secrecy. Against all odds he held to his aspiration to learn and emigrate, even though his finances in Poland were good at that time [4] and Israel meant poverty. Hofshi did not just dream, but also act – he organized small groups and get-togethers in hides with a few friends who studied and planned their emigration.

When he emigrated at the age of 20, in 1909, he was welcomed in the port of Yaffo by a representative who took him to Haym-Baruch hotel in Neve-shalom Street. There, a few doubtful people asked him if he has any money left in his pocket, and if so, he better catch the next ship sailing to Russia, and not stay in Israel where there was poverty, hard labour, and not enough jobs. At that same moment someone offered him a bunch of grapes. Hofshi recalls wondering how these people can talk about leaving a country, which produces such wonderful fruits.

Hofshi argued that the Jewish community was losing its identity as it started to seek amenities and comforts paid for by bonds, dividends and guarantees from the banks, instead of the productivity of one’s labour. Any person, he said, can live happily from what they produce, or what their lands yields, instead of relying on loans from the banks. “We need a real ‘working company’, not an Ltd one” he wrote in 1937. [5]

According to his ideology (which he demonstrated in his way of living), it was the private person and their responsibility over their actions, which are the tools to bring about conditions for peace and prosperity. Peace and prosperity, as a default, will nullify a need for wars. Hofshi explained that each person has to check themselves to see if they follow one simple rule, which the sage Hillel the Elder proclaimed: ‘Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.’

But how can this rule allow for Zionism alongside pacifism?

According to Hofshi, pacifism and anti-militarism are not weakness or blind submission to violence carried by others. Pacifism which is based on ‘Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself’ is a way of life that leads communities to success through relationships of respect, listening and understanding. Acceptance of the other, and rejections of the desire to control or occupy, will nullify fear among people, and as such, no person will be scared of the other and no nation will seek to harm another. Wars will be prevented.

Hofshi explains in a question: How can ‘innocent’ workers go day by day to their posts in Skoda factory in the Czechoslovakia which produces arms, thinking this is just a ‘job’ to provide for them? After all, this job is a war enterprise, and the killing-tools that are produced there will lead to wars and calamities, which may hurt the Czech people themselves, as indeed has happened during the Second World War. [6]

When the individual person asks themselves if s/he does anything that can support war, or which inflict on others that which s/he hates, then comes the true pacifist ideology that Hofshi promoted: preventing the conditions that lead to wars. War can be prevented by accepting the rights of any human-being on this planet. In order to promote peace we need schools that teach ‘That which you hate, do not inflict on your neighbour’ in any subject taught in the classrooms (history, philosophy, math, science, arts):

“Instead of history of mutual massacres of brothers, which is called ‘wars’; instead of the glorification and fame inflicted on the heroes of such manslaughters, with which the books of history poison our children with – we wish to see books that appal the mass murders, those in the past and the present day […]” [7]

We need to stop scare our children about other nations, and instead develop a scare-free and fear-free pacifist system. This pacifist process will not occur over night; rather it is a slow laborious course that requires a respect-admiring education system. All people are born in the image of God and life, and so war is a horrible butchery which never leads to victory. Glorification of a ‘military victory’ is blindness caused by the thick pillars of smoke of wars which darken man’s sight. Such blindness nullified man’s vision to see the place of fellow-men in the global human-family, and so, conditions for the next war are created.

Hofshi proposes to teach our youngsters that there is enough land on the planet to accommodate all people. There is also a way to live together in the same land, and since there are enough resources, no one needs to take from the other. With that in mind, people will not seek to harm others, and neighbouring countries would not conspire to take over. [8]

But what if at this moment, in reality, a nation faces enemies that come to harm it, in a world where the ‘fittest survives’?

Indeed, young people came to Hofshi during the Second World War, to ask his advice on whether or not to join the fighting forces. Hofshi writes that he never advised against it, rather said that if they ask, it means they have doubts about being pacifists and so they should join the army. “There was not even one person that I advised against it; I only said: since you ask – you should recruit.” [9] It seems that Hofshi himself was spared the hard challenge of being a pacifist and a Zionist who is also called to serve and protect his country in times of war. During the 1940’s Hofshi was advanced in age, and was not asked to join.

It should be noted that when he first immigrated to Israel, Hofshi worked as a guard in the villages, and then he did carried a gun. Around 1912 in the village of Gan-Shmuel Hofshi felt “as if I made a bond with the ‘Nagant’ [Russian rifle] which was always set ready to fire. But deep inside the thoughts never stopped! Is it not possible to go about it differently! Will the sword forever blaze a trail!” [10]

Then he realised that violence leads only to one thing – further violence, and cannot guide the two nations to a mutual rise that respects the 2000-year old right of the Jewish people on Israel, as well as the 1300-year old right of the Arabs who live on that same land. Hofshi explained that there is enough place and resources to support all people, and he suggested to transform the military industry into agricultural industry. Similar ideas were later proposed by Barbara Marx Hubbard and Neale Donald Walsch.

While Hofshi quoted Gandhi who said that violence is the weapon of the weak people [11] – still he never ignored existing situations of conflict. Hofshi explained that if a man is forced to hold arms he should do so with grave sorrow, and not with joy or glorification of violence and war. There is a fundamental difference between the incitement of war, and the sorrow of inevitability.

Bibliography (in Hebrew):

[1] יששכר, חדווה. (אין תאריך). תמליל רשת א’ תוכנית: בדיבור ישיר. (שודר 24 פברואר 2004). פורסם באתר הוצאת ספרים ע”ש י”ל מאגנס. נדלה ביום 23 יולי 2012.

[2] בן דרור, לאה, ודקל, גיל. (2012). ראיון עם לאה בן-דרור, ביתו של נתן חפשי. מראיין: גיל, נינו של נתן. נדלה ביום 23 יולי 2012.

[3] חפשי, נתן. (1965). בלב ונפש: במאבק על עם ואדם. הוצאת ידידים, תל-אביב. עמוד 174. נדלה ביום 23 יולי 2012.

[4] אנגלשטיין, יחיאל מאיר. ‘מאורעות ואירועים’ מתוך גשורי (בוקנר), מאיר שמעוני (עורך). 1962. וולברום עירנו. הוצאת ארגון יוצאי וואלבראם בישראל: תל-אביב. עמוד 252. נדלה ביום 23 יולי 2012.

[5] חפשי, נתן. (1965). בלב ונפש: במאבק על עם ואדם. הוצאת ידידים, תל-אביב. עמוד 76. נדלה ביום 23 יולי 2012.

[6] שָׁם, עמוד 76. ראו גם עמוד 274.

[7] שָׁם, עמוד 329.

[8] שָׁם, עמוד 288.

[9] שָׁם, עמוד 219.

[10] שָׁם, עמוד 35.

[11] שָׁם, עמוד 251.

3 Aug 2012.
© Gil Dekel (great-grandson of Natan).