I’ve written a few pieces recently advocating for an Israel based on Jewish values. I’ve also written advocating for separation of synagogue and state. Some have asked me how that could be:
My answer is very simple -I distinguish between Jewish culture and the Jewish religion.
The Jewish religion is Jewish law + the pantheon of Jewish religious texts, from Tanach, to midrash, to rabbinic law books, to philosophical writings by Jewish religious thinkers. So, a Passover observed according to Jewish law is a religious Passover.
What do I call Jewish culture?
I call it the holidays, stories, and values transmitted in Jewish texts (which I define as religious texts, from Tanach, to the Talmud, to rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history, and “secular” texts by Jewish writers about Jewish identity/society -including literature) that have been ritualized and embraced by communities of Jews for generations. So, a Passover where the guests eat matzah and discuss the Exodus, but have leavened cookies for dessert, is a cultural Passover, even though it is in direct violation of Jewish law.
I admit that this vision can get iffy: If certain communities have embraced an exclusionary vision of the concept of a “chosen nation” for centuries, what makes it more or less authentically “Jewish culture” than the Jewish tradition of “fixing the world” that I rely on to justify my left-wing values?
I guess this is where the second part of my Zionism fits in: I believe that Israel should be a Jewish, democratic state. This means we should focus on embracing the Jewish values that jive with modern democracy. Of course, I don’t think we should pretend that the other parts of our tradition don’t exist -but acknowledging a tradition’s existence is very different from trying to make it part of the current legal policy or political discourse.
I admit, the boundaries aren’t always clear. My own Zionist philosophy, like the Zionist state, is a work in progress -so thanks for sticking along for the ride, and listening (reading?) to me share my thoughts.