Many years prior to the crisis in the kibbutz movement, David Maletz wrote of an individual’s sorrow and loneliness in a society that preaches sharing and collectivization. “Maletz’s prominent status as one of the founders of Kibbutz Ein Harod did not overshadow his humanism and even made him more sensitive to the voice of the individual,” according to Professor Avi Sagi. Today, more than ever, Maletz’s writings – which raise numerous questions and shatter many dichotomies – are essential to the Israeli-Jewish discourse.
“Is it not strange that in life, which is built on partnership in human endeavor and therefore, in theory, on friendship and human bonding, a man’s heart is not attracted to that of his fellow?” This incisive observation on the loneliness of the individual in the kibbutz movement was made by David Maletz, a writer, as well as a farmer and educator, who lived from 1899 to 1981. Many of Maletz’s literary heroes were marginal figures who experienced alienation from kibbutz society and suffered from the sheer weight of the collective ethos. It was in fact Maletz, a well-known and respected figure and one of the founders of Kibbutz Ein Harod, who sought to provide a voice to the marginal individuals in both his literary and academic works. His status did not overshadow his humanism but rather made him more sensitive to the voice of the individual. David Maletz understood that the core of any culture and any society is the individual.
As a spiritual follower of A.B. Gordon and Martin Buber, he knew that social reform rests on a reform of the heart. In his words: “All of our social efforts and aspirations, everything we are doing in Israel in order to improve and rejuvenate the life of the Hebrew people – all these are in their essential nature, in their absolute value to man, nothing less than the enhancement of man’s internal life, the enrichment of his personality and the provision of a reason to live.”
David Maletz as a young man.
Source: Man in the Galilee, Beit Yigal Allon
In both his literary works and in his academic articles, Maletz repeatedly made the claim that the kibbutz’s formal egalitarianism leads to alienation, and that there is an artificial component within the foundation of the emerging Hebrew culture since it does not deal with man’s fundamental existential questions. Already in the 1940s, Maletz inveighed against the damage to the family unit. In his opinion, the family is the individual’s “safe haven”, his “refuge”, where he can escape the alienation of modern life. For him, depreciating the value of the individual and the family unit cannot but harm the tapestry of human life and of the culture as a whole.
In books such as Maagalot and HaShaar HaNa’ul, Maletz describes the complex reality being created in the kibbutz, the gap between the life on the surface, which is dominated by solid rhetoric and practices, and the desires, horror and socio-cultural deterioration hidden below the surface. His heroes live on the margins and are symbolic of the ailments and lack of discipline Maletz identified under the healthy Sabra exterior.
Many kibbutzniks who long for the renewal of Jewish culture view Maletz as a visionary and see in his works a major literary and cultural voice. One of the manifestations of Maletz’s unique views is his position on the significance of the new Hebrew culture. As a follower of Brenner on the one hand and of Buber and Gordon on the other, Maletz recognized the two main alternatives they offered for the meaning of this culture and the society being created. On the one hand is the approach of Brenner, according to which culture and society are shaped by man out of concern for his immanent existence. According to Brenner, culture has no transcendental source – hadn’t the “old God” been dead a long time? On the other hand is Buber (and Gordon alongside him), who believed that real culture is created as a response to the divine and as part of an awareness of reality.
Maletz’s philosophy stretched between these two extremes. It is founded on the recognition of the mystery of existence and constitutes a barrier against nihilism and the destruction of meaning. Life is deep and beyond understanding, and man must view life with a sense of holiness. Maletz accepted Gordon’s position, according to which the search for meaning and a perception of the inherent mystery of life leads man to the recognition of the greatness of existence, of its exalted nature. This feeling is the force at work in existence itself. It leads man to the recognition of the infinite fullness of existence, the absolute value of what there is. From here is derived the primary importance attributed by Maletz to the personality which is able to experience the fullness of existence. In his words: “The rich, deep personality – in which is the very purpose and reason for life. The personality in which inspiration resides, which is able to perceive the thin and wondrous sounds that escape from under the hand of life with great stealth – it and only it gives life its fullness…only that thin and wondrous trembling of the soul, which is like a musical string that trembles towards the hand that plucks it, only these – and what they lead to, such as the soul-searching and spiritual crisis in our generation’s culture – give life its content.”
For man to stand in the presence of the mystery of existence is not comforting; on the contrary, it involves experiencing what Maletz called “the beautiful, uplifting, fruitful sorrow”. The understanding that reality is mysterious, infinite and cannot be based on the absolutely immanent or the absolutely transcendental constitutes the foundation for the centrality of the human havrutah, the group.
Maletz points to the desire for transcendence as the foundation for the kibbutz’s reworking of the Jewish Festivals. He rejects the viewpoint that the cultural effort invested in designing these ceremonies is a manifestation of “purely folkloristic entertainment”. In his eyes, the design of these ceremonies expresses the “strength of the group, of the community that works together and jointly weaves the tapestry of day-to-day life. Indeed, it is the spirit of partnership that confers human holiness on the six days of work and elevates the Sabbath and the Festivals.”
Maletz devoted a great deal of thought, both in his literary writings and in his educational endeavors, to the cultural transformation of the Jewish Festivals. In his writings, there is a repeated effort to separate between the secret and the traditional way, which tries to explain the Festivals using the divine existence. Maletz criticizes the new form of the Festival using the analogy of a camera which is used to identify fakeness and pretense: “Indeed, it is similar to a bride’s first kiss, which the photographer looks at proudly – Ah, what a wonderful picture.” Life seen through a photograph is orderly and organized according to rational formats of awareness.
In contrast to the “awareness” that is expressed in a known order, Maletz presents the awareness expressed through experience which makes it possible to become aware of the secret, of what is beyond, without deciphering it. From this point of view – of preserving what is secret and not quite reaching the peak of the mountain (which is a Chinese approach) – Maletz seeks to understand the Jewish cultural project being implemented in Israel. Maletz well understands the temptation of a religious interpretation of the Jewish Festivals, which derives from the human desire to decipher the secret and to translate it into a relationship between man and God. However, instead of surrendering to the temptation, he seeks to direct the lust for the secret towards human existence and to create a realm of holiness using the Sabbath and the Jewish Festivals that does not destroy the secret.
Maletz’s philosophy forms the basis for the archive of Jewish Festivals at Kibbutz Beit HaShita and the kibbutz movement’s Renewal of Judaism project. However, his work is also relevant to those outside the kibbutz movement. Now more than ever, Maletz’s voice is essential to the contemporary Jewish-Israeli discourse. His work shatters dichotomies, presents us, his readers, with questions and directs us inward. That is the power of his writing – it creates a process of deep contemplation, a new viewpoint of oneself and one’s surroundings.
David Maletz’s literary works include: Ma’agalot (Tel Aviv 1945), Hatahtim BaDereh (Tel Aviv 1947), HaShar Hanaul (Tel Aviv 1959), LeDarko HaTenua (Tel Aviv 1976), Shnai Sipurim Ve’Ehad (Tel Aviv 1981 which includes two stories by Maletz and one by his wife Ruhama Hazanov who was an educator). His best-known writings have been collected in Misaviv La’Ikar (Tel Aviv 1970).
Professor Avi Sagi is a Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and heads the Program for the Study of Exegesis and Culture. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at Bar Ilan University. His book, The Human Journey to Meaning: A Romantic-Philosophical Study of Literary Works, was published by Bar Ilan Publications in 2009.