One cannot be a Jew only “at heart”; one must be a Jew together with other Jews in history-making action. A people in control of its own life, capable of implementing Judaism by applying it to the whole of life, is a people in its own land. Judaism, as the religion of the deed, requires a people in its land. The people alone can realize Judaism; in the land of the people alone may it be fully realized. Abraham was not the founder of a church, but the father of a people. “And I will make of you a great nation,” God promises him at the beginning of his career, and he immediately directs Abraham “unto the land that I will show you.”
(Eliezer Berkovits, God, Man and History, pp. 139-140)
I spend way too much time on social media these days.
It’s maddening to read the filth and entitled lies of antisemites, who twist history, change reality, and deign to tell Jews what Judaism is all about. How many more times do we need to hear people argue that they have no problem with Jews, as long as those Jews are not Zionists? That sounds to me much like arguing that Muslims are fine as long as they don’t accept the Koran, or that Christians should be respected so long as they reject the divinity of Jesus. These statements are oxymoronic; they don’t mean anything. Accepting a religious group on condition that they reject that which is central to their beliefs is no different from rejecting the group outright. And asking Jews to renounce their ancestral homeland in exchange for acceptance is asking them to reject that which is essential to Judaism. It is equally cynical and hypocritical. It is, in fact, antisemitic.
(Let’s not get into the added dimension that reducing Judaism to a “religion” is simplistic and reductionist; attempting to shove Judaism and the Jewish People into preexisting conceptual boxes may be understandable, but it’s still objectionable.)
Some will inevitably reply that the Land of Israel is not, in fact, central to Judaism. Those people may argue that comparing Israel’s relevance to Judaism to that of Jesus to Christians or the Koran to Muslims is a false equivalence. But once again, they are falling into the same trap of instructing Jews about what they should believe, and about that with which they needn’t be bothered.
The great modern Jewish philosopher Franz Rosensweig, later echoed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, argued that the foundations of Jewish faith can be summarized as creation, revelation, and redemption. (I have thought about this quite a bit, and I respectfully disagree; I believe that there are four foundational principles, namely creation, providence, revelation, and redemption. But that’s a subject for a different article. Or a book.) Creation means that God has brought all existence into being; revelation represents His giving of the Torah; and redemption is seen in the long arc of history moving toward a just and Godly conclusion. That conclusion includes the return of the people of Israel to their homeland in the Land of Israel. Anyone who claims otherwise is either Jewishly illiterate or deliberately, wickedly ignorant.
So let’s be clear, once and for all: the belief that the Land of Israel was given to the Jewish People as an eternal inheritance is absolutely fundamental to Jewish thought.
Five days ago, in synagogues across the world, Jews read the eternal words of God to Moses, before the onset of the ten plagues that would end with the exodus of Israel from Egypt:
I remembered my covenant. Therefore, tell the Children of Israel that I am Hashem; and I will take them out from under the oppression of Egypt, and I will save them from its enslavement, and I will redeem them with an outstretched arm and with great judgment. I will take you to Myself as a nation, and I will be a God for you; and you will know that I am Hashem your God who is taking you out from under the oppression in Egypt. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as an inheritance; I am Hashem.
A very small percentage of Jews claim that the modern State of Israel has little to do with the foundational belief in the Jewish people’s association with its land. Yet all believing Jews, as well as the vast majority of our secular Jewish brethren, passionately assert that Israel is the ancestral land of the Jewish people, that our link to the land never was and never will be broken, and that the continued existence and thriving of Jews living in Israel is a fulfillment of our long historical journey, if not our divine covenantal destiny. Questions regarding the religious status of the modern State of Israel and its connection to the future Messianic redemption are essentially technical and academic; even Jews who doubt the place of the current State of Israel in Jewish theology or eschatology, fully accept that Jews living in and ruling the Holy Land is an essential aspect of normative Judaism. (The few who don’t on both the extreme left and right have as much to do with standard Jewish thought as the Westboro Baptist Church represents contemporary Protestant theology. When anti-Israel ideologues appear next to these unrepresentative extremists in order to refute charges of antisemitism, they are unwittingly – and at times, hilariously – undermining the very point they think that they’re making.)
The next time you hear someone argue that they are anti-Israel rather than antisemitic, or that they are willing to tolerate Jews as long as those Jews don’t tolerate Israel, remind yourself that the Jewish People and its Land are fundamentally inextricable. People who argue otherwise should either be pitied for their cluelessness, or condemned for their temerity to tell Jews what they should and should not believe.
Indeed, separating Israel from Judaism is nothing less than gaslighting on a national scale.