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  • Amram Blau: The World of Neturei Karta’s Leader by Kimmy Caplan
  • Menachem Keren-Kratz (bio)
Kimmy Caplan. Amram Blau: The World of Neturei Karta’s Leader (Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi and Ben Gurion University of the Negev, 2017). 588 pp. (in Hebrew).

Neturei Karta is the most radical Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) group both in Israel and abroad. Even after the Holocaust it steadfastly objected to the establishment of the state of Israel and to this day, seventy years later, its members still refuse to recognize Israel’s sovereignty. In recent decades, the group has attracted universal condemnation after its members held public meetings and demonstrated alongside Israel’s worst enemies such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the leaders of Iran. Neturei Karta has even gone so far as to participate in events that promote both antisemitism and Holocaust denial.

Amram Blau founded Neturei Karta in the late 1930s and led it until his death in 1974. During that period, through a never-ending series of provocations, Blau became one of the most familiar albeit controversial Haredi figures in Israel and was portrayed by the Israeli press as a fanatical rebel, an unruly rascal, and an eccentric disowned even by most of Haredi society. When the story of his intention to marry Ruth Ben-David broke in the mid-1960s, Blau’s image underwent a surprising new twist. It turned out that the elderly man with the penetrating gaze and traditional Jerusalemite garb, who sported long, white ear locks and beard, was determined to thwart all attempts to prevent him from marrying the mysterious, attractive and some twenty years younger French convert to Judaism. Kimmy Caplan’s book reviews the extraordinary life of Amram Blau and the early history of the Neturei Karta group he established.

Caplan’s academic interest in Blau is not new. In a previous article, which became a chapter in this book, he relates the Blau—Ben-David marriage scandal (Iyunim Be-Tekumat Israel, vol. 20 [2010]). In another article, he cites Blau’s ideology of “rings of isolation” as a fundamental principle of radical Haredi society (Zion, 76:2 [2011]). Caplan’s early acquaintance with the topic and his outstanding storytelling skills have enabled him to take a long series of isolated events and human [End Page 223] interactions and to weave a fascinating and dramatic story full of twists and turns, yet totally committed to the highest academic standards.

The almost 600-page long book contains an introduction and ten chapters, each ending with a short summary. The introduction and the first chapter deal with several theoretical issues, among them the challenge of writing this type of biography, a review of the sources on which it is based, and an analysis of the characteristics of the radical Haredi society in Jerusalem. The other chapters are arranged in chronological order. The second chapter begins with a short history of Amram Blau’s family and an account of the years following his birth in 1900,1 while the tenth and last chapter deals with his passing in 1974 and the ideological and social legacy he bequeathed to his successors. Each chapter contains hundreds of footnotes, attesting to the abundant sources that support the narrative.

Although the book focuses on Blau, he is not the only protagonist. Alongside him, Caplan introduces a long list of individuals, some better known than others, who crossed paths with Blau. They include public figures and laymen; men and women; observant and secular people; some who questioned Blau’s ideology and others who consulted him or sought his help. Each chapter is built upon a series of separate episodes, arranged in chronological order. Each event is described in meticulous detail, as Caplan draws on numerous sources that include the Haredi and the general Israeli press, as well as archival documents. His main source is an extraordinary collection of original documents and Blau’s correspondence held in the archives of the Boston University Library.

The wealth of detail in these documents enables Caplan to offer the reader an intimate glimpse into Blau’s life. While the book focuses on Blau’s public activities, it also allows the reader to peek behind the...


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pp. 223-229
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