Thursday, October 06, 2005

Personal Morals and Social Values

There is an inherent difference between personal morals and external values, with the main difference, as I see it, being the internal nature of personal morals and the external nature of social values. A person's morals, as far as is popular to consider it today, are nobody's business but the individual's. For example, a person's sexual viewpoints and behavior are his or hers alone, for he or she is the master of his or her own destiny. Social values, on the other hand, are external, and should be everybody's business because the world is truly affected by the maintenance (or dissolution) of ethical social and political mechanics. What is not realized from time to time is that, what to one is an attack on corrupted social values, to another is a rescue from corrupted personal morals.

For example, to us living here in America, the attempt to end the genocide occuring in Sudan as we speak is an expression of the desire to bring social justice, but to them, to the people living (and dying) through it, those who are personally experiencing it, their own extermination is indicative of people that don't care, which signifies the hatred between one person and another. It is easy to believe that a problem occuring overseas is political, stripped of personal content, but the people living it are inescapably aware of the individualistic nature of that hatred.

To offer another example, it is easy for someone fighting against the genocide in Sudan to believe that rape is a political tool, but the victim does not rationalize the political nature of the act, nor does the perpetuaor, for their experience tells them that they are being violated, or are violating another, in one of the worst ways that a person can. What is one person's public war is another person's personal war.

Both of these concepts are inherent to the Torah, and indeed, the entire Torah stands on them. For example, the commandments are both personal and communal in nature, and in fact, they are delivered with the distinguishing lines already removed; it is truly wondrous that no distinction is made between their importance to both the individual and to the community, and to another degree, the entire world.

The prophets directed their potent words towards the corrupted. "Hear this, you who devour the needy, decimating the poor of the land, saying, 'When will the month pass, so that we can sell grain; the Sabbatical Year, so we can open the stores of grain; reduce the ephah (a unit of measurement) and increase the shekel (the monetary unit), and distort the scales of deceit, to purchase the poor with silver and the destitute for shoes; and we will sell the refuse of grain?'" (Amos 8:4-7)

When the Torah was given, long before the time of the prophets, the commandments referring to communal civility were set down. "If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him -- proselyte or resident -- so that he can live with you. Do not take from him interest and increase; and you shall fear your G-d -- and let your brother live with you. Do not give your money for interest, and do not give your food for increase." (Leviticus 25:35-38)

The prophets also criticized people for their personal short-comings, "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and in their own view, understanding. Woe to those who are mighty in drinking wine and are men of accomplishment in pouring liquor. The acquit the wicked one because of a bribe, and strip the righteous one of his innocence." (Isaiah 5:21-23)

So what the heck am I trying to say? As human beings, it is not enough to be inspired by a desire for social justice but to be lacking in personal morals. Conversely, it is also not enough to be personally moral but to lack a desire for social justice. Both are necessary components for a holistic understanding of what it means to be good, to be G-dly.

If we peer accurately enough into society, past the layers, we see the breakdown of the borders that separate private and public morality, and we see just how strongly the two are interwoven. At a certain point the distinguishing lines between public morality (i.e., social justice) and private morality (i.e., drug use) become the same thing. In reality, there is no particular difference between morality or immorality in regards to what sphere of society that particular thing is relegated to; compassion is compassion across the board, whether it is directed towards the self, another person, or an entire group of people. In the same exact way, hatred is also hatred across the board, whether it's directed at the self, another, or a whole group of people. Morality is transcendent, affecting all of society simultaneously wherever it exists, and so is immorality.

If we are people that are truly dedicated to improvement of the human condition, known in the Torah as "Tikkun Olam," repair of the world, it can only be accomplished through simultaneous personal and public maintenance.

The most important thing to realize is that the Torah and the prophets do not make these bold assertions simply out of the kindness of their hearts, but rather, personal and public morality and ethics are expressions of G-dliness. Amos describes that there will be a day where people will desire G-dliness more than they desire food, "Behold, days are coming -- the word of the L-rd Hashem/Elokim -- when I will send hunger into the land; not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the words of Hashem." (Amos 8:11-12) The verse from Leviticus previously quoted finishes off by saying, "I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be G-d unto you." (Leviticus 25:38) Isaiah also says, "Woe to those who arise early in the morning to pursue liquor, who stay up late at night while wine inflames them. There are harp and lyre and drum and flute, and wine at their drinking parties; but they wuld nto contemplate the deed of Hashem, and would not look at the work of His hands." (Isaiah 5:11-13) Morality is not divorced from G-dliness, in fact, it is His command.
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.