Zionism: By the book (Torah) or the people (haAm)?

The debate in Israel, and carried into the galut, revolves around the legitimacy of the state. Over the centuries tradition maintained that Jews wait patiently for deliverance by God’s anointed moshiach. After seventeen hundred years of persecution a new wind seemed to sweep the West, and the “Enlightenment” brought with it the promise of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, including Jews. And almost immediately the emancipation of Jews violence erupted and the backlash set in. Pogroms continued in the East; anti-Jewish riots in the West. In Rome the pope had a Jewish child taken from his parents to be raised Catholic; in Paris antisemitic riots accompanied the Dreyfus Affair.

Those who felt most the attraction to, the promise of emancipation and acceptance were those also who most powerfully felt the betrayal. Two Jews attracted by assimilation, the Russian physician Leo Pinsker, and the Viennese journalist Theodore Herzl separately concluded that so long as Jews remained in the Diaspora, so long would they provide victim to Christian rage at moments of social stress. Anti-Jewish stereotypes are too embedded in western culture, ever available at such moments to leave “the Jew” in peace.

Of course nobody in the nineteenth century, not even the advocates of a Jewish national home to serve as refuge, could have anticipated a Final Solution to the Jewish Problem just a few decades in the future.

The following exchange is the most recent between a an advocate of a strong Rabbinate and myself. Our discussion was inspired by the recent JPost editorial, Rabbi Weiss and the Chief Rabbinate.

VJ, growing impatient with my side of our discussion:

You’re a post Zionist. Zionism is based on authentic Judaism. Any other definition isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Its in the book (Torah).”

 DT: I understand your approach to “Zionism,” VJ. However, the post-Shoah State of Israel was a secular achievement, is outside the stream of your, “Zionism is based on authentic Judaism.” The last test of your more “traditional” definition occurred in the first century. That test resulted in the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of Herod’s temple and the expulsion of the Jews and beginning of the Galut.

When I write that Orthodoxy generally (there were exceptions, such as Rav Kook) opposed Political Zionism I mean no disrespect. According to your reading of Torah G-d’s moshiach is necessary to deliver His Malchut haShamaim. Rightly or not it was precisely those Jews who most who were most deceived by the promise of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, secular Jews such as Pinsker and Herzl, who were most sensitive to the superficiality of the “promise” of “emancipation.” And understood the consequences of that failed “promise.”

Of course there was no way to anticipate the breadth and enormity of the threat, that the Jewish Problem under secularism would lead to such as the Final Solution.

And it is at this point that we are more distant, that indicates the unlikeliness of our agreeing. Because I, as Pinsker, view our survival as unlikely based on our history in Galus since the onset of Christianity. I  am absolutely convinced that Christendom’s compulsive need to  “solve” its imaginary “problem” continues.

The Final Solution failed ONLY because Germany lost a war the American president and British prime minister both described as doubting the outcome of the war as late as 1942-3. Had Hitler won, the Jewish Problem would have been solved. That it remains unsolved means its solution is yet in the future.

And the Zionist mission of secular- built Israel is to assure that the Jewish People, without discrimination regarding religious affiliation (since Germany, and Spain five hundred years earlier, defined “Jew” by “blood” and not by religious adherence) have a refuge, and that at least a remnant of our people survive to maintain a future.

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.
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