Ysoscher Katz

My Three Zionist Ani Mamins

Good yom tov, and happy birthday to Israel on its 76th birthday!
As we prepare to once again celebrate the birth of Medinat Israel, allow me to to share the three pillars on which my Zionism rests.
1) Love is the flipside of hate. I was raised in radically anti-Zionist Satmar community where I was taught to hate Israel with a passion, so when I cleansed myself from that contaminating hatred and got rid of it, that space got filled with its opposite, a passionate love for the state. I am consequently a “farbrente” (yiddish for fiery) Zionist who is madly in love with Israel and its people. Personal and professional circumstances prevent us from making aliyah but it is a source of deep pain for me and my wife. We feel strongly that we belong there, at the cradle where the Jewish story grows, evolves and blossoms, not here in chutz le’aretz. Sadly, the realities of life prevent us from living the way we spiritually crave and emotionally desire. Atzuv me’od!
2) My Zionism, however, is cultural, not territorial. The size of the country, therefore, does not matter to me that much; a few kilometers more, a few kilometers less, is not of major significance. For me, the source of its unique sacredness is the people, not the land. There is immense kedusha (holiness) in the rebirth of a sovereign Jewish state which serves as an incubator for creative types, some of whom are secular and some who are religious. Those creatives in turn produce uniquely Jewish art, music, theater, cinema and of course Torah. The creativity is generated by the people who inhabit the land, not by the land per se. The physical space is merely a vessel in which a sacred people can create various types of conduits for sacredness and transcendence. (Isn’t that what art does, invoke feelings of kedusha and otherworldliness?)
Since the primary source of kedusha for me is Israel’s immense creativity, Tel Aviv, where much of this creativity is created, is in my eyes Jerusalem’s sister capital. My Israel has two primary cities, not one. Jerusalem is the religious capital because of its connection to our glorious past, and Tel Aviv is its cultural capital because of its acclaimed present.
The notion of parallel capitals is not a figment of my imagination, it, in fact, has precedent in our tradition. Over the years, people have identified various locales as Jerusalem’s sister capital, places like Jericho, Tiberias, or Miron. (Happy to share the mekorot upon request.) Today, that place is Tel Aviv. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are therefore modern Israel’s twin capitals.
The notion of dual capitals corresponds nicely with Rambam’s duality about the mitzvah of Ahavat Ha’shem.
Maimonides offers two disparate sources for coming to love God; 1) keeping God’s Torah, and 2) contemplating the miracles of nature. In other words, there are two aspects of God we crave to cleave to: God encountered in the profound (Torah and mitzvot) and God that we experience in the mundane (nature, beauty, etc.). Jerusalem and Tel Aviv satisfy that duality for me. One goes to Jerusalem to encounter God the lawgiver, and to Tel Aviv to be in the presence of the divinity one finds in nature, people, and artistic creativity. According to Maimonides we need both. One without the other is incomplete.
3) Our love for Israel, however, should not blind us to the challenges Jewish sovereignty has wrought; whether it’s the plight of the Palestinians, the recent attempts to undermine the rule of law, or the degree to which certain people whose religious charge is to make love Torah and Judaism instead have become the embodiment of what the Rabbis call “masniei Hashem“, those who engender in others a profound hatred for God and God’s Torah. They, unfortunately, are role modeling a Judaism that turns off more people than it turns on.
Sof davar: Given the complexity of the contemporary manifestation of Jewish sovereignty, our charge is to learn how to hold on to competing emotions simultaneously: on the one hand, a deep and abiding love for the state and its people, but at the same time to also remember that there is much that is imperfect and needs to be rectified–by each and every one of us. We all need to play our part in ridding this beautiful place of its political and spiritual blemishes. לא עלינו המלאכה לגמור אבל אין אנו בני חורין להיבטל ממנה. We might not fix everything but we still have to do our utmost.
As for the practicalities:
I am looking forward to tomorrow’s celebrations, including saying Hallel with a bracha (preceding blessing) .
“How come,” you ask. Well, two things:
a) I am convinced by those who pasken that way.
b) Even if they’re wrong, what is going to happen? You really think that I will be punished in the world to come for adding to my davening a few additional chapters of praise to HKBH? I highly doubt that. (Don’t bother mentioning the classical texts on this issue. I am aware of them and still think that my claim is valid. It is halakhically okay to say hallel once in a while even if it perhaps is not obligatory. If you are really interested, I’d be happy to find time to discuss those sources with you offline.)
May the endless cycles of violence end, and may Israel and the brokenness of ALL its inhabitants be healed and permanently fixed. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: May the blood and carnage end, and may HKBH wipe the tears from all our faces.
Yom ha’atzmaot samaiach!
About the Author
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is Chair of the Talmud department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He received ordination in 1986 from Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, dayan of UTA Satmer. Rabbi Katz studied in Brisk and in Yeshivat Beit Yosef, Navaradok for more ten years, and is a graduate of the HaSha'ar Program for Jewish Educators, Rabbi Katz taught at the Ma'ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and SAR High School, and gave a popular daf yomi class in Brooklyn for more than eight years.
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