Israel and the New Judaism

Modern religious Zionism has morphed into triumphalism. With such a transition, any hope for an integrated and sovereign Jewish nation at the very center of the Muslim world remains wishful thinking. But the concept of a successful and peaceful outcome for Israel, situated where it sits geographically, is at the core of all Jewish theological conjecture, including religious Zionism. The question becomes: Is there a way forward, a way to peacefully integrate?

Zionism was a secular revolt against traditional Judaism, which emphasized a spiritual return to a land, long lost to the reality of a material Jewish sovereignty. Zionism was and is about political power and the application of diplomatic strength through an astounding national unity in accordance with international law. The problem was (and still is) that many of Israel’s neighbors never did recognize the legitimacy of either the League of Nations Mandate system or the United Nation’s partition of Palestine into separate states. From 1947-1967, Arab and Muslim hostility peaked, as the armies of many nations threatened Israel’s Jews with a second Holocaust. The nadir of traditional Judaism occurred within this tumultuous period of time — from the aftermath of the actual Holocaust to the eve of the Six Day War. Zionism, as a necessary revolt, was nearly universal within all Jewish communities. This was especially true from 1947-1949 and in June of 1967.

The Jewish people worldwide lived through an existential angst in the weeks leading up to the June War for the second time in a short generation. An angst, unappreciated by most of the world now, but nonetheless as real as a heartbeat for all those old enough to remember. The defeat of Israel would have meant the utter defeat of all Judaism, and even Jewish history, in the very soul of nearly all Jews. Israel had been God’s miracle in the horrific aftermath of the German Holocaust and genocide of Europe’s Jews. This annihilation would have extended to the entire Jewish world if the Nazis had been victorious during WWII. The Germans had many allies in nearly all regions of the world. The loss of the Six Million was without precedent, even for the Jewish people who had suffered so much pain, over so many centuries as a stateless minority within a Diaspora of alternating circumstances. Israel was, and hopefully still is, the millennial hope of a people with a tragic past, yet the Divine Promise for a Redemptive future.

So many had anticipated defeat in 1967, yet out of the ashes of war came a resounding Jewish victory. A victory that turned Israel from a rump state into a defensible one. 1967 was an even greater miracle than 1948 because of the quickness of the war and the capturing of Jerusalem and the Western Wall. Yet after nearly fifty years, the religious basis for peace, through an understanding of that victory within a theological construction, has eluded the Jewish world both in Israel and the diaspora. If such a victory was a part of a Divine plan, where is the peace that is supposed to accompany it?

Meanwhile, the secular world of Israeli politics and diaspora assimilation has lost much of its unity of purpose, and in some cases even its feel for Israel itself. This is certainly true in the United States among left-liberal assimilated Jews without a solid grounding in either history or Judaism. But even in Israel, the secular right-wing and left-wing squabbles are vacuous in relation to the deep religious understanding necessary for peace with the Muslim world. The defeat of Arab Islamic armies at the hands of a tiny Jewish state has placed Israel’s neighbors in a religious quandary. Yet for peace to blossom, it will be up to the victor to extend the religious justification for such a victory. Such a justification will need to be accepted as just, within a new religious reality for both Islam and Judaism.

However, unity appears a long way off. Jewish unity has now succumbed to division and fragmentation. The same is true in the Muslim world, only far more extreme. Religious Zionism has failed because it has not ushered in an age of Redemptive Peace but rather the negative ethos of a Divine sanction for a triumphant conqueror. Israel is perceived as a conqueror because Israel’s religious Zionists act like conquerors, with a deed of Divine sanction. But does the correct rendering of the Covenant of Abraham exclude the posterity of Ishmael? I believe not! Until such a new rendering is ordained throughout mosque and synagogue alike, whereupon Jews and Muslims can rejoice in their joint inheritance and stewardship of a Land that belongs to God, confusion will still reign and chaos will still ensue. Unfortunately, brothers will still fight brothers, and the truth of His divine plan as given to all the children of Abraham, through the Covenant, will remain blocked.

Traditional Judaism never anticipated Zionism. But secular Zionism became successful in the real world of international politics and then war. However, such a Zionism cannot lead to a future of peace with its neighbors. Secular Zionism simply lacks the religious context necessary to be applied in a geographical region where religion reigns supreme. This does not mean that religious leaders have to be in charge of government institutions. But it does mean that religious leaders must find the hidden theological keys to unlock the divine mystery of history, upon which the future of all the people of the region depend. This can only be accomplished through the new Judaism of religious Zionism. Traditional Judaism has no answers for why God chose a hundred-year war to return the Jewish people to the Promised Land. But such is the case. In Israel today, most traditional Jews have become pragmatic with regard to their religion. They understand that God has a reality more rooted in actual history than the pure spiritualism of past diaspora ages. But without peace, are nuclear weapons for many nations very far off?

For flexible traditional Jews, God has proven that the spiritual Zionism of an older form of Judaism has been an inaccurate rendering of actual events. However, Israel’s final victory has not been achieved because true peace with its Muslim neighbors has not been established. God has promised Israel real peace with its neighbors. Traditional Jews can and should pray for peace, but until religious Zionists actually make the peace — within a theological context that both Muslims and Jews can accept as Divine Will — the true light from Jerusalem will remain shrouded in the darkness of war, weapons proliferation and innocent death. This is a reality that secular Zionists believe they can overcome, but they haven’t and they can’t. Only a deep and abiding religious understanding rooted in Torah and Koran can show the way forward. Social justice, human rights and democratic norms have a distinct place within a religious context, but only the proper applications of Divine Scripture are the heavenly keys to true peace and understanding. The choice is ours, both Muslim and Jew, to work toward those heavenly keys. Let the Torah’s Covenant of Abraham and the Koran’s Sura 5 verse 21 be our guides. I pray that we choose wisely.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).