Abram Epstein

Israel’s Messianic Path to a Theocratic Autocracy

Messianism is a peculiar Jewish dogma currently causing the societal conflagration afflicting Israel. I shall not bury the headline: Such is the inherently self-exalting perception which is the doctrine of the rightwing members of Israel’s government, and more especially the entire group of Orthodox Haredi and Settler Jews supporting racist policies. These Torah misfits plainly brandish their misbegotten belief they have been chosen by God for an elect role to rule others. 

Messianism was originally a Biblical doctrine anointing the People as “Chosen” by God. The Covenant with Abraham and later with Isaac and Jacob, then with Moses, followed by David portrayed these ancestral forefathers as God’s representatives, His earthly stand-ins. If Hebrew religion has had anything truly unique about it, it has been Torah’s expressed intimacy between Adonai and His People, a nation commanded to follow precepts of morality for which the reward would be Divine protection, fertility of land and People, and a place to live, specifically alongside the Covenanted descendants of Ishmael, with whom intermarriage was permitted.

The idea of our being “Chosen” in its time, as “Am segulah,” should have raised that intimacy to the relationship of a “Bridal People”–with the Commandment: “You shall have no other gods…” (Very loving…) and forever inspired toward a greater appreciation of life’s blessings. But something these three millennia later has gone awry. And not just for us Jews.

Stand-ins for God just don’t seem to be satisfied with being human. Look what happened with the first Christians. Instead of confessing their sins to God as atonement, they created a requirement they confess to their clergy as “God stand-ins.” Even more striking, the Catholic church built a “God-approved-gate” to eternal salvation doctrinally arranged to be unlocked by a priest giving “last rites” of passage.

If this sounds like Christian messianism, with the priests (and so, the clerical hierarchy) having become stand-ins for Christ, exercising a pronounced form of religious autocracy–I only wish to suggest messianism is not only a Jewish problem. The Christians too have turned their dogma into a method of ruling their following by controlling salvation and immortality. Thus, the believer’s faith in messianic redemption, which is in the hands of the church, is transformed into political subservience. If you’re Catholic, you best be against Roe Vs. Wade.

Quite surprisingly, to me, at least, the apparent inherent link between messianism and autocracy has not been recognized. Even recently, in an otherwise insightful essay by Yossi Klein Halevi (Times of Israel, July 28), the author describes Religious Zionism as what he perhaps still believes was “one of the most noble movements in Zionism,” expressing dismay that it has not lived up to that earlier image. First, his reservations apparently began when Smotrich seemed to have “hijacked” the name for his political party–but then proved to have that movement’s full support in the government’s racist ideology. Surely, the following excerpt should clarify what I assert is the basis for Halevi’s misconception of Religious Zionism’s origin.

From a carefully documented study on the rise of the Settler Movement by Iain MacGillivray:

“The ideology behind Gush Emunim is based on a messianic mysticism of the late Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, Spiritual founder of Religious Zionism. Rabbi Kook presented the secular nationalist Zionist project in Israel as a means of providing the necessary steps towards the redemption of the Jewish people in Zion. The settlement of the West Bank was seen as a ‘god-ordained process of messianic redemption in which every Jew is oblige[d] to take part’ (Don‐Yehiya 1987, p. 220).”

Put plainly, The Zionist deformity known as “Religious Zionism,” anointed its political protagonists as the prophesied Elect in ushering in the Messianic Kingdom. The hegemony over Judea and Samaria, a destined building of a Third Temple where the Dome of the Rock is situated, and an end to any form of Arab equality in a representative democracy–are all on the agenda.

Intoxicated by a sense one is speaking for God, the depraved morality of those Jewish governmental power-brokers who claim the mantel of “messianic stand-ins” is evermore manifest in daily cruelty now exercised by the police toward protesting Israelis and most ruthlessly by Settlers and the IDF in West Bank pogroms, where murder of journalists, demolition of homes, and destruction of groves and land has been intentionally ignored by the Smotrich-Ben Gvir alliance.

If there is icing on this cake, the sharply diminished control of the judiciary over implementation of the messianic agenda now parades itself in the guise of a political policy. Behind Netanyahu’s smiling mask, are the hard, black and very cruel eyes of Kahane.

What’s the way back? There must be a change of heart in the voting electorate. “Chosen” to be special–just as other Peoples are special–but NOT chosen as superior and given God’s mandate to rule others.

As for a “Jewish State”

Israel can never cleanse herself of the messianism which led Zionism to become Gush Emunim’s political achievement, “Religious Zionism,” until she extricates herself from the inherent messianism attaching to a “Jewish State” which is seen to have a Biblical mandate to rule indigenous Arabs as second class citizens–or West Bank aliens. Excising the cancer of an oppressive, ongoing occupation and ending the creeping annexation are the absolutely necessary condition for the existence of a genuine Israeli democracy.

Until Israel is the United State of Jewish and Arab Homelands, Jewish messianism is on an inexorable march toward autocracy.

About the Author
Abram Epstein, a New Yorker, has served as Director of Education for several synagogues and actively participated in the Manhattan Educators’ Council. His graduate studies at New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center focused on ancient Near Eastern religion and Biblical Judaism. He is a recipient of the university’s prestigious Founders’ Award for Academic Accomplishment and has a screen credit as Historical Consultant for "The Seventh Sign" starring Demi Moore. His other books include, "The Historical Haggadah," "The Matthias Scroll," "A Documented Biography of Jesus Before Christianity," and most recently, "The Matthias Scroll–Select Second Edition." Abram invites communication on his FB page: "Abram Epstein" or "Abram's Historical Writing."
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