Thursday, October 06, 2005

Zionism or Judaism?

What is Zionism? Zionism is the Jewish aspiration for Israel to be a sovereign state, and seeing that "Zion" is the Torah's name for Jerusalem, the capital of that state is that very city. Zionism has its roots in the very Torah itself considering that the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem were the center of Jewish existence since the beginning of the very religion itself. All throughout the days of the prophets, a period of some several hundred years, the land of Israel and Jerusalem were central to the Jewish religion, beliefs, life, and aspirations for the improvement of this world. It is believed that the site where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son Isaac was the future site of the Temple in Jerusalem, a belief that the Muslims adopted except that they replaced Isaac with Ishmael, whom they consider to be their specific progenitor. Some people try to divorce (modern-day) Israel from Judaism, but such a venture is ultimately fruitless because without Judaism, there would never have been a political movement that we call "Zionism."

Consider this; if Judaism hadn't existed, the motivation and rallying point that created the State of Israel would also have not existed. Judaism served as the ideology, although manifested in a secular form, to supplant Israel. So the question then becomes, does Judaism motivate Zionism or does Zionism motivate Judaism?

Personally, for me, for a large portion of my life, Zionism and "Israelism" were my master stati, the prime identity by which I defined myself. This should not be taken to mean that I dislike Israel (the use of the term "Israelism) because I love that place, its people, its flag, and its meaning with the essence of my heart, but what in the last 56 years has become defined as "Israeli culture," without my knowledge, kept me away from reaching the glowing truth of Judaism itself, that is, the code of the Torah. Nevertheless, it is Zionism and love of (the country) Israel itself that, in my own "exile" in America, when we left Israel when I was five years old, kept me grounded.

In Israel, Zionism, a truly beautiful thing, defines you as a Jew. When you see the brilliant and pure white laid as a background to the blue lines and Star of David in the center, the heart of every Israeli skips inside the ribcage, and a sigh leaves their lungs. I remember when I was young, before we left Israel, a celebration for Yom Ha'atzma'ut, Israeli Independence Day, with the fireworks flying into the sky and all over the land, flags, flags. I never wanted to leave that place; the flag of Israel made me the happiest child in the world, it is connected to my very concept of innocence and belonging.

The love that I had for the flag of Israel would have developed into a love for the country that I only could have pretended to understand from age five on living in America. In a desperate attempt to retain that identity as an Israeli when suddenly Israel was not around me anymore, I tried to cling to it as tightly as I could. To me, as an Israeli, Israel defined me, even living in America, so one could imagine that to Jews living in Israel, Judaism is a secondary identity to being Israeli. The common declaration from Israeli's is that they don't need to be "be Jewish," meaning "live Jewish" because Israel is a Jewish country and Judaism is everywhere. True enough, but even in Israel, a society made up of normal human beings, Judaism serves as a general culture that the country understands to be the norm, and a person never has to exert effort in order to maintain a cultural norm, to really feel it in his or her bones. Culture is nice and pleasant and sweet, but it doesn't offer a human being what he or she really needs in life, as far as we are referring to the existential. Culture is an appearance, a mist that hangs over a society, a symbol that stands for and represents certain things, and it is so common place that the individuals in the society, if they do not live with a true analysis of the internal mechanics that make them up, the symbols of culture become essentially useless.

This is not at all to say that Jewish cultural symbols are useless, for they are not; on the contrary, they are incredibly deep and beautiful things, deeply tied to our history, and I love them, but when they become relegated to the sphere of culture, their meaning becomes fashionable, like pop culture, and they cease to define the individual and the society anymore. All of this is indicative that, although culture is nice and unites people, its functions are limited, for it does not have the communal and familial cohesive power and the ability to spiritually kindle an individual and connect him or her to G-d that a true belief in G-d, i.e., religion, does. And since culture itself is not relegated to any specific or particular meanings or assertions about history, groups, or individuals, it can be changed and reformed time and time again, being pliable, allowing people to change their culture time and time again, to morph it and shape it to whatever they want, which allows a society to become whatever it wants. At a point in time, the pliable nature of culture allows a society to become a thing that it does not want to become, and ultimately, every single individual will feel the effects of this pliabililty.

We would have to conclude that Judaism motivated (and motivates) Zionism and not the other way around, because from where would Zionism have received its momentum if it wasn't for Judaism? However, the argument can be made that Zionism was in fact divorced from the Torah's view on Israel because it was motivated by secular and nationalist, and essentially G-dless ideologies, even if they were meshed with beliefs that were deeply rooted in the Torah.

In conjunction with this, some people have the idea that it is the very nationalism of Zionism that indicates its inherent corruption. I am referring to your run-of-the-mill anti-nationalists; anarchist-types that believe in the inherent corruption of the state unit. Many of those people target Zionism, and it is no wonder that they do so on the basis of nationalism since they oppose nationalism as a whole anyway. However, their attempt to make their criticism of Zionism appear to be a general resentment of nationalism is shallow; there is something about Israel itself that they reject, its affiliation with Jewish identity. But it is Jewish identity and sovereignty that they oppose, and since the people, religion, and land have always been inseparable, their way of erecting a wall between Judaism and Zionism is by trying to demonstrate that Zionism is antithetical to Judaism. There are Orthodox Jews who also make that case, but the tone and intent is entirely different, for they do so from a standpoint of observance of the Torah and not atheistic anarchy.

In reality, however, there is a problem with this line of thinking because the Jewish religion was never divorced from the land of Israel, and therefore, nationalism, i.e., the peoples' inherent connection with the land, is one of the most central themes of Judaism. If the Torah is the soul, the spiritual component of the covenant between the Jews and G-d, then Israel and Jerusalem are the physical component, the body. For one of these types of people (anarchists) to criticize Israel on the basis of it being connected to land in the 21st century is exactly the same, if we can imagine this for a second, as a person in the 10th, 9th, or 8th century Before Common Era denying the Jews' right to the land of Israel; surely there were people then, perhaps Assyrians or another group of people, whom thought that way.

Another interesting point is the motive of the people who deny the Jews' right to Israel. Basically, one can sheepishly make the claim that those people don't actually dislike Jews, as the advocates of anti-Israelism themselves make. The more pragmatic realization would be that it's not that they necessarily dislike Jews, but that they do not feel it right in their heart that Jews be allowed to flourish with any measure of independence or sovereignty. In other words, this type of person might make the case that he or she has no problem with Jews settling in America, or some other country for example, but their negation of Jews living in their own country is an idea that promotes resistance.

Back to the topic, does Judaism draw from Zionism or does Zionism draw from Judaism? It is incoherent to say that Judaism, as a religion, draws from Zionism (the movement that began in the 19th century) because rather than the Torah being seen through the scope of Zionism and all the beliefs and ideals that came with it, Zionists saw their struggles through the scope of the Torah, even if they were not necessarily religious. Rather, it is that Zionism, in the general sense of the word meaning the more than 3,000 year old alliance of Judaism and Israel, that is a part and parcel of the Jewish religion and spirituality, unremovable from it, like water from orange juice. It is the people that insist that Judaism and Zionism can and should be divorced from each other that actually wish to see a breakdown of the Jewish identity that would spread to all elements of being a Jew; culture, association, language, and yes, religion.

What we have to realize is that the people that make cases that attempt to draw a thick line between Judaism and Israel, and that advocate the separation of these two elements and appeal to Jewish sensitivities in order to accept their ideas, actually want to see the Jewish body and soul disintegrate. It is the this that all Jews everywhere have to unite against in a sweeping display to one another and to G-d of one of the most important commandments in the Torah; (if such a thing can be said) love of your fellow Jew.

*Abstractly, we can label the historic religious Jewish connection to the land of Israel "Zionism" if we wanted, which is how I am referring to it here; it did not have a name until 1897. However, we must be mindful of the difference between what our minds understand to be "Modern Zionism" and the Torah's notion of ge'ulah, redemption, our physical and spiritual restoration.

1 comment:

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