Nearly two decades after his murder, Meir Kahane’s wife has written a biography of the controversial rabbi and rabble-rouser – or rather its first volume. Her love and admiration still burning strong, Libby Kahane is convinced her husband got a bum rap.
Rabbi Meir Kahane
His Life and Thought − Volume One: 1932-1975, by Libby Kahane, Lambda Publishers, 762 pages, $45
In Friedman’s thoroughly sourced telling, Kahane comes off as something of a rake: a serial adulterer who used his frequent absences from home to carry on affairs with a series of women. Friedman describes how, when he was still a young man, Kahane went so far as to set a wedding date with one mistress, who jumped off the Queensboro Bridge when she finally learned that he was already married.
It is perhaps a wonder, then, that Libby Kahane has spent the past decade researching and writing a back-breaking panegyric to the first 43 years of her husband’s life, a 762-page doorstop entitled "Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought, Volume One: 1932-1975." Based on Meir Kahane’s own writings and speeches, along with recently conducted interviews and other sources, the book focuses on his political activities, from his early years as a leader in right-wing youth movements through his first unsuccessful bid for a Knesset seat.
Let’s get the formalities out of the way. You should not read this book. It’s altogether too long, lacks serious analysis, is excessively footnoted, and ignores important unflattering details. Most unforgivably, it somehow succeeds in making the story of one of the most fascinating Jewish figures of the past century a terribly boring one.
It’s worth asking what Libby Kahane thought she was doing. In the book’s introduction, she says the study is intended as a resource for future historians. "While no author can be completely objective about his subject," she writes, "I believe that my twenty-seven years as a reference librarian … gave me expertise and experience in the methods of careful research and proper documentation that make this book an accurate, authoritative study." The attempt to claim the status of the dispassionate investigator, is, of course, ridiculous, given that she was married to her subject for 44 years. It’s rather unlikely that future historians will take the work as "authoritative." As a research librarian, the author must surely know this. So why did she really write the book?
I called Libby Kahane at her home in Jerusalem (she includes the number, oddly, on the biography’s last page) to press her on the point. She told me the project came out of a desire to correct what she saw as a flawed perception of her husband as a "crazy fanatic."