The Meta Idea Of Israel

There is probably no more cliché way to open a speech or article about Israel than to say something like “These past few weeks and months have been difficult ones for Israel.” It’s cliché because one would be hard-pressed to think of a time when that was not true. Rarely are we afforded a time to focus on the glories of Israel, which are many, and not the problems that seem to plague it from all angles and directions.

What has been particularly frustrating in recent news from Israel is that the problems have largely been generated from within. Here in the Diaspora, the much-discussed (and ultimately aborted) Ministry of Absorption ad campaign that targeted expat Israelis offended large swaths of the American Jewish community, for good and understandable reasons. And as soon as that unhappy chapter faded into the background, the ugly battles between a small cohort of the Ultra-Orthodox community and Israeli citizens both religious and secular burst unhappily onto the scene. In Jerusalem and, more flagrantly, in Beit Shemesh, women have been increasingly marginalized, and victimized.

It does neither the Jewish community of America, nor the State of Israel, any good to pretend that these contentious issues are innocuous. They surely are not.

In addition to the harm that they cause to the fragile fabric of Israeli society from within, they also serve to further alienate already marginally connected Jews outside of Israel from the Jewish state. With each news report of a young girl being spit on, or a woman being forced to sit in the back of a bus, or the implication advanced by an Israeli government ministry that Diaspora Jewish life is a wasteland and destined for extinction, the challenge of preaching and teaching the importance of the State of Israel becomes just that much harder.

But what is even more distressing is that, side by side with these essentially internal Israeli difficulties, the external situation is as threatening as ever, if not more so.

Iran persists with its nuclear ambitions, and continues to commit itself to Israel’s destruction. Egypt is slowly but surely moving towards a government headed by Islamic fundamentalists who might sever the peace treaty with Israel, threatening the strategic equation that has served Israel well for decades. Syria is in crisis. Jordan’s government is, at best, fragile. There is a serious chance that Israel’s geopolitical situation could take a serious turn for the worse within a few short weeks or months. And against this troublesome reality, we deal with spitting Jews and shortsighted government bureaucrats…

All of which brings me to the idea of a “meta” commitment to Israel.

A meta commitment to Israel is one that exists on a transcendent level. It is immune to the political or religious slings and arrows of any particular moment, or government.

In the strictest, religious sense of the word, a meta commitment to Israel is kadosh… it is holy. The great medieval commentator Rashi translated the word kadosh as “separate,” implying that holiness is attained through separation. The Jewish marriage ceremony is called “kiddushin” because it sets the relationship of a husband and wife apart from all others.

So it is with a meta commitment to Israel. It, too, is separate and apart. No matter what else is going on in our relationship with Israel, no matter how disappointed or annoyed we might be with any particular decision, policy or situation there, a meta commitment allows no loss of sight as to what is the forest, and what are the trees. Israel’s existence and security are not merely holy to us. They are sacrosanct. And we dare not forget that.

The issue of how one expresses a truly loving and steady commitment to the State of Israel has long been a hot button topic in the Jewish community of North America, but never more than now. From both personal and professional experience, I would maintain that a marriage where the partners never argue- even passionately- is not a healthy relationship. The more you love someone, the more invested you are, and the more you care. There have to be arguments.

I would maintain that the same is true of our relationship with Israel.

It is simply not natural, given the powerful investment we have in each other’s welfare in so many ways and on so many levels, that we would not have moments where serious disagreements emerge between us. I’m not talking about issues of national security, or military operations. We have no right to offer gratuitous comments on Israel’s security considerations, unless our children or we are fighting in the IDF.

But there are other issues.

As a religious leader in the non-Orthodox community, I openly admit to a long-running frustration with Israel over issues of religious pluralism, and how religion and state interact there. Like so many of my colleagues engaged in this issue, I firmly believe- as a true lover of Israel- that challenging Israel to find a healthier and more diverse to celebrate Judaism is not as much a criticism as it is a desperate effort to help Israel surmount one of her biggest problems. And yet there are those who would admonish me, and my colleagues, to be still, because of the aforementioned threats is Israel’s security…

For me, the hallmark of a mature relationship with Israel is the capacity to maintain both dimension of the relationship simultaneously. The meta commitment is the meta commitment, and nothing will sway me from it. I feel as if the depth of that commitment flows from my appreciation of Jewish history, and a profound understanding of what it means to live in a time when Jewish sovereignty is not a dream, but a reality. How different Jewish history would have been in the last century had that been the case before 1948…

But I will not surrender the right- even the obligation- to respectfully but firmly challenge Israel when the situation warrants. Friends and even lovers do that, all in the name of strengthening a relationship. If the love is true, it is all for the better.

And the love- and respect- can only grow.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.