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The First Tithe

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The First Tithe

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The First Tithe
Memoirs and Edifying Discourses of the Hebrew War for Freedom
By Dr. Israel Eldad
Translated with a foreword and notes by Zev Golan
Jabotinksy Institute in Israel, Tel Aviv: 2008
Distributed by Gefen Books
ISBN: 978-9-6541-6015-5

Reviewed by Boris Segel - February 25, 2009

Israel Eldad (1910-1996) was, and still is, a controversial figure. The fact that he played a significant role in the establishment of the modern State of Israel is not in question. Nor is there any question about the importance of his numerous books or the philosophical doctrines he developed. As well, all acknowledge that he was a patriot, and he never wavered in his support of Israel and the Jewish people. What is in question, however, is wether or not Israel Eldad was a terrorist? For you see, Israel Eldad was one of the commanders of the Lehi Underground (Lohamei Herut Israel - Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), which is perhaps best known as the Stern Group. This is a group that was labeled as a terrorist group by the British during the waning days of the British Mandate period in Palestine. Eldad also funcationed as the ideological mentor to the members of the Lehi.

In The First Tithe: Memoirs and Edifying Discourses of the Hebrew War for Freedom, Eldad speaks eloquently for himself, providing insights into his life, the development of his political and ideological philosophies, his involvement with Betar the Revisionist Zionist youth movement and his interactions, in Poland, with Menachem Begin and the Irgun, as well as his long and perilous journey to Israel, and his rise as a political leader. The bulk of the book, however, is concerned with a ten-year period from 1939-1949, and it details the factors that led to his becoming one of the three members of the Central Command of the Lehi Underground, and the activities that the Lehi carried out. Eldad chronicles the events that lead to the formation of this group, its ideology, the actions they carried out (including assassinations and bombings), and how they financed their activities, including resorting to robbing banks. The Lehi was a fierce and dedicated underground army, whose members were willing to do whatever it took to secure the Jewish homeland and to ensure the safety of its residents. This book also details the contribution and sacrifices that Eldad and his cohorts made during Israel's war for independence.

Born Israel Scheib, Eldad's life story is filled with so much adventure, intrigue, and danger that one could easily believe that he was a character created by a thriller writer par excellence. Eldad, however was a real man, and the events chronicled in this book are all too real. Although technically a memoir, The First Tithe also serves as a history book that provides a first hand account of the Stern Gang. It also offers a unique perspective on the establishment of the State of Israel. Within the pages of this book, you will meet a host of influential individuals who played a major role in Israel's early history, including Avraham Stern, Yitzhak Shamir, Vladimir Zev Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin, the poet Uri Zvi Greenberg, Natan Friedman, David Ben Gurion, and many more. Along the way this book also introduces you to other underground groups, including the Hagana and the Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL - National Military Organization).

Originally published in Hebrew under the title, Maaser Rishon, this book has been arcuately translated into English by Zev Golan, making this important text available to English readers for the first time. Golan also added an informative foreword to the book, as well as essential notes which were not included in the original manuscript.

The First Tithe was written with candor and keen insights into the political machinations surrounding Israel's fight for independence. This book is essential reading for anyone seeking to better understand Israel's past, as well as its present. What constitutes a terrorist, and when is it appropriate to take violent actions in the furtherance of a goal? This book may not provide a definite answer to this question, but it does help to explain the world view and mind set of the men and women who were willing to pursue such a controversial course of action to help ensure Israel's survival.

Eminently readable, unforgettable, and historically signifigant, I highly recommend The First Tithe to anyone with an interest in Israeli history, and who are interested in discovering how the political machinations surrounding Israel war of Independence set the stage for modern Israeli politics and current Zionist philosophies.

Note: Eldad was a prolific writer, who published numerous works in Hebrew. Unfortunately, very few of his books have been translated into English as of date. In fact, the only other book that I am aware of, which is currently in print in English translation, is The Jewish Revolution: Jewish Statehood, which was published by the Gefen Publishing House in 2007.

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