Avi Nofech
"democracy and free trade are the only way to peace"

Labor Zionism and the Talmud oppose each other

National-Religious movement differs from the original Zionist movement in this: the original kibbutznik founders of Israel came to Palestine to work on the land by themselves. But the National-Religious make the Palestinian Arabs work for them, in the industrial parks next to the settlements.

This critically important difference clarifies the role of the Talmud for Jews. Talmud teaches Jews how to live and how to do business in a country where most people are not Jewish. The Talmud is deeply opposed to the Labour Zionism of Israel’s founders, for whom Jewish majority country, and Jews doing the manual work by themselves, were the key to Israel’s independence.

It was not by chance that early Zionism of one hundred years ago was opposed by the Rabbis. The reason they opposed going to Palestine to build a Jewish country was not only the need to wait for the Mashiach. It was more, the whole Jewish way of life more than a century ago in the Diaspora was directed by Jewish learning, and Jewish learning, in the form of Talmud, prepared young Jewish boys for life and for business in the world where people who till the land and smelt the iron are not Jews.

Judea and Samaria, where the Jewish minority rules over the Arab majority, is the exact opposite of early Israel. it is like comparing France where the French people live, to French Algeria, where French people ruled.

The difference between the National Religious movement and the earlier Labor Zionism is the same as the difference between the First Aliyah and the Second Aliyah. People of the First Aliyah bought orange groves and hired Arab workers to work there. They believed that them being owners makes them masters of the land. They were not concerned that Arabs being their employees ensures Jews will remain a minority. At that time in history majority was not as important as it is now, because both the Russian Empire where the Jews of First Aliyah came from, and the Ottoman Empire they came to, were non-democratic.

The Second Aliyah on the contrary made its aim to create a Jewish majority, and for this Jews had to do the work by themselves. They laid a basis for Israel of the years 1948-1967, where the Jews were an 80% majority.

But Judea and Samaria are not going to ever become a Jewish majority land, because the intention from the beginning was not to make the Jews till the land there. The intention was to hire Arabs to do the work, and it came naturally to the religious Jews of the Whole Land of Israel movement. They simply followed the path of traditional Jewish learning: be the head and not the tail, hire Arabs to do the work, and in your free time learn the Torah. This traditional Jewish way of life, inspired by the Talmud, ensures Jews will remain a minority in Judea and Samaria, even if nothing changes politically.

But the world does change politically, and people in countries like Canada learn this at school, in what is called Post-Colonial Studies. Kids who take the social class at a Canadian high school easily understand that the situation in Judea and Samaria cannot last forever. It will inevitably be gone with the wind, and Post-Colonial Studies teach where exactly will this wind blow from.

All this must sound like “leftist” ramblings for Israelis who went to Israeli school, because Israeli school teaches nothing of the kind. I intentionally put the word “leftist” in quotation marks, because neither the Canadian Conservatives nor the Canadian Liberals are leftists, even by a long stretch.

I realise that explaining is not going to help. Change comes not from explaining, it comes when big events happen. Big events happening takes time. People can think and talk of historical events far faster that it takes for historical events to unfold.

Now, how do I know about the role of the Talmud in the life of other Jews? I saw the Jewish learning of Israelis in a religious moshav. Their learning was centered on the Torah and the holidays, which follow the cycle of people living on the land and doing agricultural work. I also saw the Jewish learning of people living in the Diaspora and doing business. The learning of their children (boys) centered on the Talmud, teaching how to interact with other people, Jews and non-Jews.

What is going to happen to Judea and Samaria? It seems that the Talmud explains what is happening there now, and post-colonial studies hint at what will happen later.

About the Author
I went to graduate school at the Hebrew University and since then worked as a lecturer in Canada and in Israel.