Steven Horowitz
Steven Horowitz

Nationalism vs. National-Religion

Nationalism is love of one’s country. National-religion is what Judaism is. The Jews are a people with a specific national-religion placed within a specific geographic locality, the Land of Israel. To love Israel is to love Judaism. To break with Israel is to break with Judaism. Judaism is meaningless without Israel, and Israel is meaningless without Judaism.

Secular Zionism is a rootless attempt at nationalism without Judaism. It claims that the geographic area of Zion exists exclusively as a permanent majority state of the Jews without any coherent theological connection. Can the people of Zion exist without Judaism? As a mere exercise in survival, perhaps. But for how long? As the danger to modern Zionism mounts (the nuclear proliferation of the Middle East), the secular survival stance could just as easily turn toward assimilation within other (more secure) secular and democratic nation states.

Secular Zionism was created to give the nation of the Jews safety outside the sovereignty of a spiritual G-d. However, it has never achieved its goal. As in the past seventy years, the future of modern Israel remains in doubt. On the other hand, Judaism has always claimed that the nation of the Jews is G-d centered and based within the Laws of Moses, the Torah. Judaism has a spiritual core within a specific legal and material framework — the Torah and the Land of Israel. Secular Zionism has an organized polity, an organized economy, and a superlative military force within a specific territory. But secular Zionism is the nationalism of a people free from the authority of Jewish scripture, yet living in Judaism’s specific geographic spiritual center. Hence, it is an enigma.

Without a religious core, secular Zionism became historically detached from the continuity of Judaism. Religious ultra-Orthodox Jews were alienated from a modern secular Israel. The return of the Jewish people to their “Holy Land” was supposed to be established miraculously, outside of the sins of history. Hence a similar enigma became true for religious Jews. Can a secular Jewish state (nationalism) exist without a link to its spiritual core (national-religion)? And what is the meaning of a “return to Zion” outside a strictly religious context? In other words, which Jews are living within the context of a coherent history, Rabbinic ultra-Orthodox Jews with their spiritual Messiah or secular Jews with their guns and army?

The answer to the question is that neither secular Zionists nor ultra-Orthodox Jews are living within a modern Jewish framework. There needs to be a synthesis of ultra-Orthodoxy and secular Zionism within the realization of the material and actualized form of the State of Israel. This synthesis can only be achieved through religious Messianic Zionism. In other words, to be an actualized modern Jew means that the historic return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel has been accomplished within a normal human geopolitical context but with a definitive spiritual theological blessing for a Messianic future. Israel might have been born of war by secular Zionists, but its destiny is to make a genuine, religious peace with all its Muslim neighbors. This destiny cannot happen without a deep changes within both religious communities, Jewish and Muslim. Conquest of the “Promised Land” by either community is anathema to the very design of the Creator for the future of a Messianic Age.

However, the military conquest of Israel/Palestine by the Jews cannot be sustained within a secular context alone. To continue to survive, Israel must have a coherent religious context. As long as the Muslims interpret their theological mission as the liberation of the land from the “Zionist entity”, a war footing will prevail among even the most peaceful religious Zionists. However, beyond survival alone, Israel must maintain historic continuity with its national-religious core.

The supreme goal of Judaism is peace under the sovereignty of G-d for the Middle East and the whole world. If the human race continues on its path of destruction — blind and extreme nationalism, nuclear proliferation, environmental degradation, and economic inequality with human marginalization — life on earth will continue to seriously erode. So-called victories under such circumstances become essentially meaningless. For Israel, the choice is between a “normal” geopolitical nationalism (like everyone else) or to integrate its national-religion (Judaism) into a new, post-Rabbinic, historic paradigm.

Israel, as the national-religious historical heir to diaspora Rabbinic Judaism, must unite all the tribes of Zion behind the vision of a future of peace. This means that the project of Messianic Zionism must take precedence over any specific interpretation of Torah. The project of peace comes before the chimera of an adherence to a specific interpretation. The Law has always been in a constant flux. Those who believe that they are in possession of ultimate truth also blind themselves from others with differing opinions.

In the end, all that we humans really know about the mystery of the Torah at Sinai is that all G-d’s children were made in the image of the Creator. Hence to kill one another is to kill G-d. The universality of all the nations of the world will only be achieved when war is eliminated from the face of the earth. For Israel, blind nationalism is a dead-end. However, for Judaism, a Messianic Zionism dedicated to peace becomes a universal mission to help save all humanity. Do we have any other choice? G-d is awaiting our decision.

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).