Oftentimes, in the course of my reading, my mind latches onto a word that occupies my thoughts for days on end. This week, that word is havlagah. Havlagah is Hebrew, הַבלָגָה, for "restraint." Google Translate defines havlagah as "restraint, forbearance, holding in, suppression, containing oneself." The principle of HaHavlagah, "The Restraint," in the sense of non-retaliation, stood at the heart of a passive defense policy practiced by the Jewish Agency and the paramilitary Jewish defense force, Haganah, toward Arab attacks, in late 1930s-period Palestine.
I have been training in krav maga, קרב מגע, the Israeli self-defense method that advocates active counter-attack in response to a physical threat. Literally, krav maga means "contact-combat," or, in the comparable English sense, "hand-to-hand combat." krav maga is physical and intimate. Krav Maga is in-the-groin and in-your-face. The philosophy of krav maga is the opposite of hahavlagah. Lacking a safe alternative, when an individual is threatened with physical injury, or worse, his or her response ought to be immediate and forceful counter-attack. The goal of krav kaga is to neutralize the threat. In other words, to disable the attacker; to render the attacker "combat-ineffective." How to do this? Expressly not by practicing havlagah.
So, where did I first encounter this word, havlagah? In Lone Wolf, the massive, two-volume biography of Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky, written by Shmuel Katz. "Jabo," as he was known, was a remarkable man. The simultaneously beloved and reviled founder and leader of Revisionist Zionism, Jabo was also a widely read journalist, a novelist, a poet, an orator, a polemicist, and the father of the Eastern European Jewish youth movement called Betar. The name Betar is actually an acronym for Bris Josef Trumpeldor (trust me). Trumpeldor was the Russian-Jewish leader of the Zionist Mule Corps, which supplied and fought with British forces at Galipoli, against Turkish forces, during WWI. As with Jabotinsky, Trumpeldor has his own mythology for his exploits. I have read that more streets in Israel are named for Trumpeldor than for any other Jewish hero. Except, perhaps, for Jabotinsky.
Are you still with me? Didn't think so. Perhaps, if I bring this closer to home, you will see where I am coming from.
Jabo grew up in late-19th Century Odessa, the Black Sea port city in the Ukraine. So did my paternal great grandfather; my father's paternal grandfather. Jabo and my great grandfather were contemporaries, more or less. My great grandfather emigrated to America in the early 1880s, a time of pogroms. Parenthetically, my paternal great grandmother emigrated from Belorussia to America in 1905, another time of pogroms. Post WWI, Jabo was influential in the grass roots movement of Jewish self defense during the resurgence of physically violent anti-semitism in Eastern Europe, and then, the rise of Nazism, in Germany. The origins of Krav Maga trace to this period and this geography in Jewish History. As I have said, the philosophy of krav maga is the opposite of havlagah. Something to think about, over a glezel tei, with a shtickle halva.