Monday, December 04, 2006

A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism -

Claimer: I just know the anti-Zionists will love this one, so here's some fire for the fodder or some food for thought.

This is an excerpt from the book holding the aforementioned title, written by Yakov M. Rabkin.

"The pious Jews who publicly criticize Zionism believe that they are obliged to do so for two imperious reasons spelled out in Jewish tradition. The first of these is to prevent desecration of the name of G-d. And since the State of Israel often claims to be acting on behalf of all the world's Jews, and even in the name of Judaism, these Jews feel they must explain to the public, primarly to non-Jews, the falsehood of this pretension. The second commandment is to preserve human life. By exposing the Judaic rejection of Zionism, they hope to protect Jews from the outrage they believe the State of Israel has generated among the nations of the world. They work to prevent turning the world's Jews into hostages of Israeli policies and their consequences. They insist that the State of Israel be known as the 'Zionist State' and not the 'Jewish State.'"

A bit about the nature of my commentary, it is primarily about the content of this excerpt (Judaic anti-Zionism) and not about the author. Preventing the desecration of G-d's Name and preserving human life are absolutely two Torah commandments for which a Jew needs to strive, but that is not my kasha (dispute) with the Orthodox Jews who oppose Zionism in the aforementioned manners. Rather, I would say that if they feel the need to reject Zionism in order to prevent a desecration of G-d's Name, then rather than by expressing an absolute rejection to the ideal of Zionism, they can attempt to change the course of politics within the country of Israel. They would not be Orthodox lone rangers in doing this, there are plenty of Torah-following Orthodox Jews whom believe in Zionism. Their quip with it is similar to that of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews but they don't come to the unnatural conclusion that Israel should cease to exist due to its imperfections. I would argue that their method of Torah Zionists is equally sound, or more, than the Torah anti-Zionist way of going about things. Further, perhaps anti-Zionist Torah Jews should realize that their viewpoints and actions are also a desecration of G-d's Name to the very Gentile world they seek to influence. The reason for this is that those Gentiles whom have taken it upon themselves to be the enemies of Israel love nothing more than a Jew who confirms their every sick and twisted belief about the Jews' non-right to live and be in Israel.

Looking at it on a Biblical level, since the anti-Zionist Torah Jews see themselves as upholding the Jewish tradition, can we imagine the Prophets and Forefathers and mothers of the Torah rejecting the need and obligation of Jews to return to the Land of Israel? I can understand the resistance of these Orthodox Jews, but I would also understand if they did everything in their power to question Israeli policies rather than questioning its existence. If they want to be harbingers of Torah for the Jews, they need to suggest the right things for the State of Israel, not its destruction, which is what the Palestinians do. Can we imagine the Prophets giving a rat's foot about what Assyria, Babylon, Rome, or Egypt had to say about the Jews' return to Israel? Why should a Jew care at all about what the nations of the world have to say about our return to our Land?

Another excerpt (the following paragraph):

"This attempt to dissociate the destiny of the Jewish people from the fate of the State of Israel belongs to a much broader set of issues that extends well beyond the limit of Jewish history. Defining identity as distinct from state institutions is a constant concern of millions of human beings. The Jews have demonstrated that a people can preserve its identity over the course of more than two millennia without a state of its own and in conditions often threatening its very physical survival. Has the emergence of Zionism and the State of Israel so transformed the Jewish people as to bring its unique history to an end? Could it be that Israel, in the light of Jewish tradition, is not at all Jewish?"

The glorification and romantification of two thousand years of galus (exile) is hardly an optimistic and beneficial argument. The culture created in the Jewish mind resulting from that two thousand year period of exile as a minority in other countries has forced Jews to bend over backwards just to survive. In effect, the Jewish culture created through this forging process was to learn to be flexible and outrageously disciplined and incredibly durable, but to claim that this is the essence of the Jews' "unique history" is not proper. It would be like saying that a person whom has learned to fight with one hand tied behind his back, in the event he was able to untie his second hand, should continue to fight with one hand because he developed a "unique" fighting style. I am an optimist, but a fighting style with one hand is not a style, it's an adaptation to a disability and it's nothing about which to boast.

How can I go about painting a picture of what it was like before this exile, how it should be now, and how it will be after Redemption? I am of the school of thought that one can only understand something in light of something which he already understands (or is able to see), and so what modern-day example can I give to best illustrate the Jewish Torah ideal? Islam. If we want to get some semblance of what the pre- and post-Redemption days will be like, when we have the Temple, we can look at Islam. Muslims have complete and unrestricted control of their holiest site, the Qaba in Mecca (which is aided by its relative geographical isolation in the southwestern tip of the Saudi Arabian Peninsula). The Qaba more or less acts as would our Temple in the sense that it would be the focal point of our religious devotion and our connection to G-d. I am not sure that a caliphate rests in Mecca from where all Muslim jurisprudence is decided, which is what would occur in the Temple in Jerusalem with the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin. The analogy is clearly imperfect but the fact remains that Islam has acheived (through power and political coercion) what Judaism (and the entire world) will be rewarded through the achievement of Mitzvah's and G-d's Mercy. *I will soon write a blog about Muslim messianism and its relationship to Jewish Redemption.

The survival with which G-d has blessed us in the past two thousand years is permeated with our success in surviving with less than half of our spiritual resources available to us. We didn't have the Temple, we didn't have Israel, and we didn't have the full Presence of the Shekhina. Surviving in such circumstances is definitely a source of pride but to seek to recreate those circumstances just because we have become cozily accustomed to them is ridiculous, from the heart of the Torah perspective! Why should suffering be the hallmark of our existence?! Why should flourishing as the alternative to misery be the pillar of Judaism?! Do the Gentiles behave and think in this manner? Do the Christians who support Israel think like us? Do our Muslim "neighbors" and "cousins" behave like us? Why are we the only ones that act this way?! What is our problem?! That is something that we need to utterly reject.

It’s a bit humorous that Rabkin sides with Jewish Orthodoxy when it comes to criticism of the State of Israel but would probably reject Orthodoxy’s views on how he should live his life in a secular Jewish state. Does he realize that the Orthodox Jews whom criticize the Jewish state (maybe even its existence) also criticize the secular Jew’s decision not to follow Torah Law? Where does he come off agreeing with them when they disapprove of the way he lives his life? Their reason for criticizing Zionism is a world apart from his reason for criticizing it; religious and secular criticism of Zionism are different creatures.

Religious opposition to Zionism has its degrees of truth, for Zionism in and of itself, speaks in the name of Judaism when it is not synonymous with Judaism. However, complete religious rejection of Zionism based on our pre-Messianic state does not necessarily have to exist because our knowledge of how redemption will unfold is unknown to every single Jew. There is nobody that can give a precise answer, despite the hints and clues that our Torah gives us, as to how Redemption will play out. It is a Torah fact that everything that occurs is a part of G-d’s plan; if anti-Zionist religious Jews can believe that the Holocaust was an act of G-d, then why can’t they believe that the Zionism that led to the creation of the State of Israel also is an act of G-d? Surely the fruits of the State of Israel are both better and have higher potential for goodness and truth than did the Holocaust, i.e., which nearly brought about our utter destruction.

Zionism does not threaten traditional Jewish views, such as the Coming of the Messiah, with destruction, because we cannot claim a monopoly over the knowledge of how Redemption will occur. If we could, then the Torah would have told us straight out what needs to occur and how precisely, but it does not. Therefore, the belief that the State of Israel is an obstruction to Redemption and a destroyer of Judaism borders on dogmatic belief. Negating religious anti-Zionism is not sufficient in making an argument. Rather, it very well could be that in some way unpredictable to the mind of man, that Zionism, i.e., the State of Israel, will bring about Messianic Redemption. For one, Zionism and love of Israel brought me closer to observance of the Torah to the point where I became an observant Jew and continues to do so. It is almost masochistic to insist on the self-denying monasticism from our holy sites and Land. Somewhere near the extreme of total and utter faith in G-d, causing one to reject all worldly steps towards Israel, is a G-dless extreme seemingly lacking in all emuna (trust in G-d). There is a tendency for Zionism to have an effect on unobservant Jews potentially bringing them back to Judaism. Until the anti-Zionist Orthodox find a better way to bring far-off Jews back to the Torah, they either need to shut their mouths or get with the program. And G-d forbid, the last thing they should do, the aveira (sin) of aveirot, to kiss the grotesque and bloody cheek of Mahmoud Ahmedinajad, as did the Chief Rabbi of Neturei Karta just this week. One of my rabbi's at my yeshiva called him a "rasha," which means "a completely evil man." This cordial treatment of the man who wants to kill the Jews was a chilul Hashem (desanctification of G-d's Name) and I question that man's sanity.

Back to the topic, since we do not know how Redemption will occur, we cannot have many grievances against what religious and spiritual opportunities Zionism and being able to live in the State of Israel opens up for religious Jews; there are clear potentials for spirituality and religiosity in Israel that are not available in other countries. For example, kashrut is difficult to find in many places, to the point where observant Jews learn how to function as if with one hand tied behind their back. Further, their knowledge of being the minority among Gentiles creates a degree of isolation, a sort of “hiding.” For a Jew living among Gentiles, life is basically lived out under a glass ceiling. In Israel, the potential for spirituality is higher and more fluent than it is in the lands of galut, and even though the culture of the State of Israel needs serious improvements, a religious Jew is able to reach newer heights and levels in Israel that he was unable to in other places, also by the mere fact of his being in Israel and around other Jews, and in such proximity to his holiest sites, even if the Arabs prevent him from having freedom of movement. It is as if some Orthodox Jews, those whom oppose Zionism, prefer a life of surviving among destruction than actually turning a new leaf and embracing what could potentially be a very positive religious and spiritual benefit for the Jewish People, in some unpredictable way bringing out the Coming of the Messiah and ultimate Redemption. Their attitudes are proof that even religious people, as noble, respectable, loving of Torah, and pious they are, and who are making the world a better place by attempting to clear it of secularism, can still be victim to an almost 2000 year-old mentality that a patient, enduring, and ghetto-fashioned disciplinary style unmoved by G-d-given initiative will in and of itself, and only it, bring about Messianic Redemption.