How the Secular Revolution Divided the Jews

Humanistic Jews and Other Jews – Winter 1988

The life of reason and dignity is called humanism. It is the philosophy that flows naturally from the Secular Revolution, shifting attention from the supernatural to the natural, from the divine lo the human. Two hundred years ago, it was a startling change.

In Western Europe and North America, the Secular Revolution removed the politi­cal disabilities from which Jews suffered. Secular citizenship in a secular state was now available. If Jews no longer desired to be Jewish, they did not have to become Christian. They could be comfortably unaffiliated.

As emancipation spread, the Jews found themselves in a world they had never before experienced. Religion and ethnicity were private matters. Indulging them was a mat­ter of personal choice.

Many Jews embraced the Secular Revolu­tion. Secularists and Jews shared common enemy. the -Christian-Church. Whatever weakened the church was good for both the humanists and the Jews.

The new world of science and capitalism opened up new opportunities. Jewish talent had found its ideal environment. All the sur­vival skills the Jews had acquired for defense in an agricultural milieu were now the very stuff out of which successful enter­prise was made. Pushiness, planning, mobility, and money management were the keys to wealth and prosperity. The new sec­ular world made the individual Jew freer and more powerful than at any time in the history of the Jewish people. But for Jewish identity, the change spelled trouble.

Humanism undermined all the old rea­sons for valuing and preserving Jewish identity. God was no longer personal or in­teresting. The afterlife was questionable. Supernatural power was the embarrassing product of superstition. Chosen peoplehood was a parochial arrogance. The rabbis knew less about the world than the new scholar class of scientists and academicians. And all of the new ideas were packaged in eco­nomic advantage and political equality.

In the new world of free enterprise and consumer choice the rabbis were at a disad­vantage. They were not accustomed to selling their product. The language of persua­sion was less familiar to them than the language of command. Competition was not a familiar game. Trained to enunciate faith, they did not know how to speak with the voice of reason. Familiar with people who practiced humility, they did not know how to deal with people who insisted on dignity.

Three Jewish responses emerged in the confrontation? The first “response was rejectionist. The Rejectionists despised the Secular Revolution and its consequences. They sought to keep rabbinic Judaism intact and to protect it from intrusion. The second response was ambivalent. The Ambivalents enjoyed both the new world and the old. They were unwilling to forego either the comforts of tradition or the benefits of secu­lar achievement. The third response was enthusiastic. The Enthusiasts welcomed the changes and encouraged them.

The Rejectionists

In both the Jewish and Christian worlds, and later in the Muslim world, large num­bers of people did not like what history had dished out to them. The new industrial society, with its cities and machines, with its family decline and personal freedom, was an ugly, cruel, and immoral place in which to live. A culture that mocked tradi­tion and made ancestors obsolete seemed to threaten the stability of the social order and to promote chaos.

Religious fundamentalists are a persist­ent minority in the modern world. They are very uncomfortable in the setting of science and the consumer culture. They denounce the present and hanker after the past.

But preserving the past in the present is different from maintaining the past in the past. The existence of a new rival establish­ment culture produces a siege mentality. Secularism is a successful “devil” and has put God on the defensive. Fundamentalism is different from the old life of faith and humility. It is always defending itself and assaulting its enemies.

Rabbinic Judaism in the contemporary milieu has to be different from what it was before — simply because so much of its time is spent avoiding the temptations of the sec­ular world. It needs to be more intolerant and less generous. Otherwise it will not survive.

The very word orthodoxy is a strident challenge. It means “the right way” — as opposed to all the “wrong” ways. Before the Secular Revolution, rabbinic Judaism was so pervasive that it simply was Judaism. It needed no qualifying adjectives.

The center of Jewish resistance to the Secular Revolution was Poland. The old Polish kingdom, including Lithuania and West Russia, contained the largest Jewish community in the world. Not only was it religiously separate from the Polish Catholic population, it was also ethnically distinct. Yiddish made Ashkenazic Jews a unique nation.

The Secular Revolution took a while to get to Poland. When it did arrive, it en­countered a Jewish world of poverty and small towns where rabbinical seminaries flourished and rabbinical scholarship was the test of status. Economic survival was still too precarious for secular conversions to occur easily.

Ironically, a movement that began in southern Poland in defiance of the rabbinic establishment became the most effective defender of tradition. The Hasidim found fault with Orthodoxy, not because it had too much faith and too much humility, but because it had too little. Starting in Podolia with an illiterate miracle worker, the Hasidic resistance spread like wildfire through Poland and West Russia. It was a religious revival with many faces. Ecstatic dancing, faith healing, and a renewed inter­est in the supernatural reflected its indict­ment of the Talmudic scholar class. In their poverty, the new devotees needed a more available God than the rabbis were willing to provide.

Although the Hasidim fought the rabbis, they did not reject rabbinic Judaism. They accepted the authority of the Halakha. They dreamed of the world to come. They ex­pected the Messiah. Their holy roller fren­zies were a supplement, not a substitute. Had the secular challenge not emerged, they might have separated themselves from official Orthodoxy. But the presence of the secular foe brought the two movements to­gether again.

The Hasidic movement was what the old- time religion needed. The boring God of Maimonides, the darling of the rabbinic intellectual establishment, was turned into a passionate dabbler in supernatural power, no longer distant and aloof. Humble trust in the protection of God and the Hasidic guru produced the “born-again” Jew, a person to whom divinity was an experience, not a routine.

Hasidism created the best form of reli­gious resistance to the secular age. In a sec­ular society where old hierarchies crumble, a God who behaves like a distant king of­fends the democratic sensibilities of the ambitious masses. The people of faith and humility want a God who is intimidating enough to be interesting but who is friendly enough to make them feel important.

The Misnagdim, the opponents of the Hasidim, also denounced the Secular Revo­lution. But they lacked the supernatural fer­vor and the democratic vocabulary to be convincing. Their rabbinic leadership had already been corrupted by “rational theol­ogy,” and they would ultimately find them­selves more comfortable talking to secular intellectuals than to ecstatic faith healers. In time, most of the children of the Misnagdim drifted away from Orthodoxy to more secu­lar outlooks. The Hasidim were more successful in hanging on to their descend­ants and in recruiting new devotees.

In 1912, the return of the Hasidim to the Orthodox fold was dramatized by the orga­nization of the Agudat Yisrael in Poland. This coalition (called simply the Aguda) was created to fight the overwhelming threat of the new secularism in Jewish life. The pro­gram of the Aguda was the defense of rab­binic Judaism against the agents of secular­ism. There was to be no compromise with the secular age.

From the very beginning, the fuel of the Aguda was Hasidic fervor. When the Holo­caust destroyed the Polish center of this “Rejectionist Front,” its refugees made their way to North America and Israel, where most Jews had embraced the lifestyle of the Secular Revolution. While the Misnaged refugees created protective islands of tradi­tion, ghettos within ghettos, some of the Hasidim turned to active missionizing in “enemy” territory. The Lubavitchers (fol­lowers of the Hasidic guru dynasty from Lubavitch in West Russia], in particular, went out recruiting among the young, the malcontent misfits of the secular age. They have experienced considerable success.

The Jewish Rejectionists of today are not the old decaying Misnaged scholars of former years. They are often very young people who have repudiated the secular commitments and interests of the Jewish establishment and its ambivalent verbal attachment to “tradition.” With Hasidic fervor, they have become militant and ag­gressive. And being children of secular edu­cation and secular skills, they combine their hostility to the world of humanism with a clever use of its techniques of promotion, advertising, and democratic persuasion.

The new recruits join for many reasons, personal and ideological. One of the main motivations is the ease with which rejectionism helps them deal with their Jewish identity. Stung by anti-Semitism, they see in the old piety a clear, visible, and public way to affirm their Jewish pride.

The major problem with the Rejectionists — other than an attempt to reject a world that they cannot fully disown — is their fierce internal competition. Scholars and recruits compete with each other for the status of superpietists. The internal world of yeshiva politics is a mean world of accusa­tion and counter-accusation, constant sur­veillance, and the fear of losing religious status. Any concession [to the secular enemy] is a form of treason. And self- righteousness becomes a favorite pastime.

The Ambivalents

The Ambivalents make up the Jewish establishment in North America. They come in two main varieties, Conservative and Reform. While they endorse the Secular Revolution in most of their daily activities, they reject its implications for Jewish iden­tity. They have one foot in the world of faith and humility and one foot in the world of reason and dignity. Since the two worlds are not compatible, they have difficulty finding a secure stance. It is often more comfortable just to stand on one foot for a while and then to shift to the other.

Ambivalents seek to avoid painful con­frontations. They wish to disown neither faith nor reason. They want to have both. They want the motivation system of faith and the information system of reason. They want the humility of prayer and the dignity of personal freedom.

The dividing line between conservatives and reformers is the issue of the Halakha, the rabbinic law. Conservatives want to keep it or, at least, pretend to keep it. Re­formers are willing to dispense with it.

Conservatives are broader than the offi­cial Conservative Movement. They include (in an ascending order of deviation) the Modern Orthodox, the self-proclaimed Con­servatives, and the Reconstructionists. All three praise the Halakha and wish to pre­serve it. If they contemplate changes, they want to find halakhic reasons for making them. While their stated philosophies may be very naturalistic and very secular, their recommended behavior is very traditional. They have a great need to preserve the appearance of rabbinic Judaism if not its substance.

All three are into worship. The form and content of their prayers are virtually identi­cal with the requirements of the traditional rabbis. All three are into the rabbinic dietary laws, the behavioral restrictions of the Sab­bath and the holidays, and the historic requirements for marriage and divorce.

Modern Orthodoxy

Modern Orthodoxy is the establishment Judaism of Western Europe. It is sedate and decorous. It is traditional and secular. Its leaders receive a good secular education and train in modern seminaries. Its mem­bers participate in all the professions of an urban society. Appearance-wise, they are indistinguishable from all the other citizens of the secular state. What is unique about their behavior is mainly evident in their homes and synagogues. These institutions become the focus of their traditional attach­ments. Since most of the unique behavior patterns of the rabbinic lifestyle are incon­gruous with secular existence, they are praised but rarely observed. Female segre­gation, ritual purity, and the dress code do not find any real community support and are not enforced by public opinion.

While it is important to the Modern Orthodox to be designated “Orthodox,” they are despised and denounced by the

Rejectionists. Separate seating for the sexes in the synagogue is hardly a substitute for traditional belief. An “orthodoxy” that avoids discussing divine rewards and punishments, the salvation of the Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, and the impor­tance of the world to come undermines the motivation of the Halakha and subverts the traditional justification for preserving Jew­ish identity. Proving that the dietary laws are good for health and hygiene {true or not) turns the argument into a rational conse­quential one and deprives the rabbinic tradi­tion of the supernatural context out of which it arose.

The Rejectionists are right. Modern Orthodoxy sometimes looks like Orthodoxy. But it tastes different. And most of its ad­herents are more comfortable spending time with their secular friends than with pious Hasidim.

Conservatism

The Conservative Movement, spawned in Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century, found its most comfortable home in North America.

Initially united with the reformers in an alliance against the Rejectionists, its leaders split early from the coalition on the issue of the Halakha. They adopted a pragmatic stance: free philosophic inquiry together with moderate ritual conformity. The mind would be reasonable, but the body would be traditional. Since most people settle for appearances, it was an appealing compro­mise. Secularized Jews could feel traditional without having to be assaulted by traditional ideas.

Musical instruments might be tried for Sabbath worship. The sexes might be mixed for synagogue services. Protestant style ser­mons might be added for public edification. But little was done to shatter the “look” of tradition. And nothing was done for which a Talmudic justification was not found.

As time makes innovation seem tradi­tional, creeping change never destroys the illusion. When the Conservatives ultimately ordain their women rabbis, they will dress them up in the symbols of the old male chauvinism and find a Talmudic quotation to justify their action.

The Conservative Movement in America has been the most successful of all the modern Jewish “denominations” because it allows the Jews to have their cake and eat it simultaneously. Since it deals primarily with appearances, it has difficulty dealing with the substance of belief and integrity. It gives all moral power to the Rejectionists who, at least, believe in what they do.

Reconstructionism

Reconstructionism is the third style of the Jewish Ambivalent. It arose out of Con­servative Judaism and is emotionally allied with it.

Mordecai Kaplan, who was the founder of the Reconstructionist Movement and its reigning guru, was a graduate and teacher of the Jewish Theological Seminary, the New York school for Conservative Judaism.

Kaplan tried to wed humanism and Halakha. He claimed that Judaism was not a specific combination of theological beliefs. It was a religious civilization and could accommodate many different systems of thought. He claimed that God could be rede­fined as the creative energy of the universe that enables individuals and communities to survive. And salvation was fulfillment in the here and now. Above all, he pleaded for the reconstruction of the Jewish community to allow for diversity in unity.

The unity for Kaplan was the folk, the Jewish people. And the sign of that unity was an adherence to the three folk sancta: God, Israel, and Torah — in other words, the Halakha, or a slightly amended reason­able facsimile of it. In the end, it was the same old Conservative package: act tradi­tional and think humanist; use all the words of faith and humility and make them mean reason and dignity. The official Reconstruc­tionist prayer book is hardly distinguishable from the Conservative one.

Reconstructionism differs from Conserv­atism in its refusal to endorse the idea of the Chosen People. For Kaplan, this concept was a violation of the humanistic respect for the value of all cultures and civilizations. But why bother to change one little item in the service when the whole concept of a worship experience where people talk to God for three hours is inconsistent with an impersonal deity? How can any reasonable person talk to creative energy?

If you want to combine Halakha and humanism, do not be fastidious. Nothing really fits anyway. In that respect, conven­tional Conservatism is superior to Recon­structionism. It never tried to be profound. It lets the absurdity stand because it is emo­tionally satisfying. Ambivalence should never insist on consistency.

Modern Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism are best described by the Yiddish phrase: nisht a hin, nisht a her — neither here nor there. They may work for some people. But they do not take reason and dignity seriously enough. A humanism that is dressed up to look like rabbinic Juda­ism is ashamed of what it is.

Reform

Reform — at least in the beginning — chose a bolder format. It broke with rab­binic Judaism and rejected the Halakha.

Living in Northern Europe, the early Reformers were influenced by Protestant culture. Some of them began to assault Orthodoxy with denunciations of Talmudic superstition and with appeals for a return to the purity of the Bible.

But the Bible, in many respects, was more “primitive” and less reasonable than the Talmud. And it was loaded with all kinds of laws about sacrifice, ritual purity, and dietary practices that the Reformers were eager to discard.

In the 1840s, there appeared a German duo of renegade rabbis, Abraham Geiger and Samuel Holdheim, who sought to find a justification for Jewish identity in the age of reason. Their new formulation took account of the consequences of the Secular Revolu­tion on Jewish life. In Western Europe, Jews had lost their national culture. Neither lan­guage nor folk customs separated them from other Europeans in their region. As for the Halakha, it had been discarded by many secularized Jews as a burdensome interfer­ence with social integration.

The Reform ideologues, for obvious rea­sons, discarded ethnicity and nationality as motivating values. They seemed to have no future. Personal Messiahs and supernatural rewards were also rejected. They offended reason. Rabbinic law was irrelevant. It rubbed against the higher values of secular existence.

The Reformers picked up on the tradi­tional idea of the Chosen People (which Kaplan was later to discard) and trans­formed it. The Jews were the divinely ap­pointed missionaries of ethical monothe­ism. The special job of the Jews was to be the role model advertisers of the one God.

Jewish history was a “progressive revela­tion” of the existence and nature of the

Supreme Being. While the Bible and Tal­mud were expressions of this revelation, they were imperfect and open to emenda­tion by future events. The age of reason was only one more step in the development of that disclosure. Ultimately, the nature of God would be totally revealed. The Messi­anic age of peace and love would follow. And the Jews could retire from their age-old job.

The Reform overhaul of the meaning and value of Jewish identity was bold and clear. Its only problem was that it was ludicrous. Why are Jewish monotheists more divinely- appointed than Muslim monotheists? How can any people designate themselves as ethical role models without ceasing to be exactly what they want to be? Self-righ­teousness is morally offensive. In what way does Jewish history reveal the existence of a nice single God? Jewish suffering suggests that he is either not so nice or that he is nice but limited. But, above all, what does ethical monotheism have to do with the age of rea­son or the Secular Revolution? Why would a bunch of Jewish “not-quite agnostics,” with a perfunctory formal belief in a perfunctory God, be chosen for such a missionary task? Yahveh must be as confused as his army of converters.

Reform Jews never took this formal ideol­ogy seriously. Like the Conservatives, they just limped along on the inertia of old iden­tities. And like the Conservatives, they pre­ferred the consolation of traditional en­dorsement.

Enter Prophetic Judaism. Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah sudden­ly emerged as Reform heroes. Since they were old, traditional, and Biblical, they were more understandable than Geiger’s “spirit of the age.” No matter that the prophets were devotees of ecstatic visions and supernatural intrusion. No matter that they were profoundly opposed to urbaniza­tion and the breakdown of the shepherd economy. No matter that their devotion to Yahveh was accompanied by a violent hos­tility to the worshipers of other gods. No matter that they were absolutely certain of the truth of their own personal revelation and intensely intolerant of disagreement. They had become the unlikely heroes of the age of reason. Yahveh would have had a fit.

The Reform Movement ended with slo­gans. Its formal ideology and its informal heroes had very little to do with Reform behavior. For a while, its Protestant format and its hostility to Jewish nationalism gave its adherents a form of social security. But they did not do very much to make Jewish identity interesting or worthwhile.

None of the Ambivalents had come up with a doctrine of Jewish identity that could match the power of the Rejectionist story. Since they sought their authority in Rejec­tionist literature and in Rejectionist heroes, they ended up with pale variations on Rejec­tionist themes.

The Ambivalents were ultimately res­cued by an experience they would have chosen to avoid and by a movement they did not invent.

A new secular anti-Semitism emerged in Europe that found less fault with Jewish belief than with Jews. The Jews were por­trayed as the “devils” of the modern world, the chosen people in reverse. Ironically, the anti-Semite found Jewish identity very sig­nificant, more significant than many Jews did.

Zionism was the movement and the ide­ology that grew up in response to anti- Semitism. Its founders were neither Rejectionists nor Ambivalents. Most of them were Enthusiasts for the secular age. Jewish secular nationalism was the child of the new world and initially aroused the hostility of all Rejectionists and many Ambivalents.

But it rescued the Ambivalents by giving them an attached fuel system for Jewish identity. All of the Ambivalents ultimately plugged into Zionist energy to keep their own sluggish enterprises going. Even Re­form, with its historic opposition to Jewish nationalism, ultimately succumbed.

The Enthusiasts

Rejectionists hated the Secular Revolu­tion. Ambivalents loved and hated it. But Enthusiasts loved it unashamedly.

Many Jewish Enthusiasts no longer found any value in Jewish identity. They just became secular. They had no reason to bother with their ethnic origins. Either the local form of nationalism or utopian universalism suited them perfectly. Most of them saw no purpose in turning Christian. Chris­tianity was as offensive to them as rabbinic Judaism. In a secular state, they could be comfortably French or German without having to pretend to be religious.

Ethical Culture

Some Enthusiasts, influenced by the Re­form Movement, came to believe that Jew­ishness was a voluntary religious identity. Since they no longer believed in the exis­tence of God or were not sure about his existence, they imagined that they were no longer Jews (even though their Gentile neighbors knew better). Eager to identify with a religion that was neither Jewish nor Christian, they were attracted to the new Ethical Culture.

The Ethical Movement does not identify itself as a Jewish movement, but many out­siders do. For many years, the overwhelm­ing majority of its members were Jews. And bourgeois Jewish secularists who were neither nationalistic nor Zionistic found a home there.

Founded in 1876 in New York City by Felix Adler, the son of a radical Reform rabbi, Ethical Culture was dominated for many years by the culture and style of the German Jewish elite. Adler maintained that Jewish identity was a religious identity dis­tinct from Ethical Culture.

Like Kant, he believed that the existence of God could be neither demonstrated nor disproved and that ethical laws did not derive from revealed religion. They came from the imperative of intuitive reason. God and prayer were excluded from his Sunday meetings. It was the kind of setting in which a secularist or an atheist would feel very comfortable.

The Ethical Movement was the result of the need of assimilated Western Jews to define themselves religiously for political safety. Cultural pluralism was anathema to the German Jewish bourgeoisie. Conversion to Christianity was intellectually unaccept­able and emotionally guilt-producing. Ethi­cal Culture was a suitable compromise, granting philosophic integrity and Jewish association. In New York City, it became an important presence in Jewish life.

The decline of the movement set in after the First World War. The aging and shrink­ing of the German Jewish population re­duced the possibilities of recruitment. Rus­sian Jewish secularists were not sufficiently bourgeois and did not need religious iden­tity for respectability. They turned to social­ism and Yiddish culture, preferring political and ethnic associations to religious ones. Above all, rising anti-Semitism and Hitler’s Holocaust drove many universalists back to Jewish identity.

Yiddish Nationalism

Most secular Jews who did not value their Jewish identity did not bother with any religious alternative. There were enough political, cultural, and academic communi­ties around to rescue them from isolation. And if they wanted to fight anti-Semitism, they could always send money to the Anti- Defamation League — or subscribe to some revolutionary ideology that promised to get rid of it.

For Enthusiasts who valued their Jewish identity, the new passion was Jewish na­tionalism. It seemed the reasonable alterna­tive to Jewish religion, rabbinic or other­wise. It could be both intensely Jewish and intensely secular.

The two requirements for a nation are language and territory. Before the Secular Revolution, Jews had defined themselves as a nation in exile. And their view of them­selves was reenforced by segregation and social ostracism. But secular emancipation provided them with the opportunity to be­come citizens of other nations. How could one be a loyal member of two nations at the same time? Being nationalistically German and religiously Jewish seemed feasible. But being nationalistically German and nation­alistically Jewish seemed to be an impossi­bility. The Reformers had gone to great pains to redefine the Jews as a religious denomination. And the Western Jews, them­selves, had abandoned their Yiddish linguis­tic uniqueness.

In Eastern Europe, where Jewish emanci­pation was retarded, Jews were a linguistic nation. But they were dispersed among the Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians. They had no territory of their own.

The Secular Revolution opened up secu­lar studies to the Jews. And secular studies made them more universalistic and cosmo­politan. But the new racial anti-Semitism [threw them back on] their Jewish identity. They had become universalists by training and ethnics by bigotry. They had to be Jew­ish whether they wanted to or not. Either they could bemoan their Jewish fate and devote their lives to regret, or they could choose to value their Jewish identity in a positive way. But in their new intellectual posture, they had difficulty finding univer­sal reasons for remaining particular.

Despite its many problems, Jewish na­tionalism took center stage in the secular Jewish world. There simply was no other alternative. Only the nation and the socialist revolution could arouse the same passions that God used to arouse. And the revolution was not that easy to arrange.

From the very beginning, Jewish nation­alists had difficulty staying together. While they all agreed that Jewish identity was a national identity (not a religious one), they did not agree on the recipe for nationhood.

Secular Jewish nationalists often had very little time to fight the old-time religion because they spent so much time fighting each other. Bourgeois Yiddishists hated Bundists. Bundists hated Zionists. And Zionists had no use for minority culture- niks. The nationalist disputes rivaled the arguments of the old fanatical religious sects. The vocabulary changed. But the self- righteousness remained.

The Yiddishists seemed to have the edge at the start. Although they excluded the Sephardic and Oriental Jewish world from their nation, although they were not com­pactly settled on a given piece of territory, although they were divided between capital­ists and socialists, secularists and tradition­alists, they represented a real living nation of six million Yiddish-speaking people. When Hebrew as a national language was a fantasy in the minds of a few idealists, Yiddish was the mother tongue of the Euro­pean Jewish masses. From Metz to Minsk, it gave a linguistic unity to the Ashkenazic Jewish world. Much more than Messianic fantasies, it gave national self-awareness. Obscured by religious ritual and religious segregation, it was revealed in its full glory when religion became less important.

Many secular Jews despised it. To social- climbers, it suggested centuries of degradation.

But the socialist devotees of the common man loved Yiddish — precisely because it was the language of the common man. They used it for books and newspapers. They refined it for prose and poetry. They even tried to make it a language of science.

Yiddish blossomed with popular fiction and poetry — the kind of literature with which the masses could identity. Writers, like Peretz and Sholem Aleichem, rescued Yiddish from anonymous folk tales and gave it the prestige of literary heroes.

The Yiddish diasporas in North America and Argentina became creative outposts of the motherland. Minority nationhood thrived in the streets of New York and Buenos Aires.

The major reason for the fall of Yiddish was Adolf Hitler. The Holocaust wiped out the “motherland.” The home base of secular Yiddish nationalism, with its schools, its theaters, and its political parties, ceased to exist. There was no vital population of Yid­dish speakers. Ironically, Yiddish survives most intensely, in both America and Israel, among the Orthodox enemies of the Secular Revolution who cultivate it as an expression of their hostility to secular Hebrew and Zionism.

Zionism

Modern Hebrew is an extraordinary achievement. It is no slowly evolving folk language that was elevated by scholars. It is a national speech that was invented by scholars and given to the masses.

When the revival of Hebrew as the popu­lar language began, there existed no com­munity of Hebrew speakers and no special territory where they lived. There were no intimate memories of parents and grand­parents speaking it. As the language of prayer and religious study, it had no secular roots that anybody could remember.

From the start, the Hebrew revival was an attempt to separate Jews from their Diaspora past. The odor of degradation and humiliation did not penetrate it. If anything, it smelled of Biblical victories and ancient independence. Its prestige in the Christian world increased its stature. And the fact that Sephardic Jews loved it too made it seem more universal than Yiddish.

The Hebrew revival is part of the most successful expression of secular Jewish nationalism. Zionism provided an indepen­dent national territory and a viable national language. Today, three million Jews speak Hebrew in a Jewish state.

Zionism was an expression of the Secular Revolution. The founders of Zionism were estranged from rabbinic Judaism, and they found little meaning in its liberal variations. They viewed their work as part of a Jewish revolution. Jews must repudiate the reli­gious notion that their fate is in the hands of God and that they must wait for salvation. The new Jews, the revolutionary Jews, must take their fate into their own hands and do what destiny has failed to do. The Jew of humility and humiliation must be replaced by the Jew of action and dignity.

The modern movement to establish an independent Jewish homeland has been the most successful Jewish enterprise in the twentieth century. The state of Israel has become the single most important institu­tion in Jewish life, uniting divided commu­nities and giving passion to Jewish identity.

The overwhelming majority of the orga­nizers of political Zionism were secular Jews who believed that the homeless condi­tion of the Jewish masses could only be alleviated by the establishment of a secular culture in a secular state. They found in Zionism an alternative to religion.

Most kibbutzim rejected religious behav­ior and religious authority. They sought to secularize Jewish holidays and life cycle ceremonies. Because they were self-con­tained communities united by a strong ide­ology, they succeeded in fashioning a secu­lar ceremonial alternative to traditional ritual. They stood in sharp contrast to urban humanists who were never really able to go beyond the negative rejection of religion to a positive secular identity.

Zionism, as a secular movement, ran into trouble. Many Ambivalents found much of it attractive. Anti-Semitism and the nostal­gia for Palestine made them overlook the non-religious thrust of its founders. Modern Orthodox and Conservative Jews, in par­ticular, liked its ethnic affirmation and be­gan to join it. After Hitler, even the Reform Jews repented their old hostility and swelled the ranks. God — without the Messiah — now became the engineer of Zionist redemption.

After the state of Israel was established, Oriental Jews, who had never really been exposed to the assault of the Secular Revolu­tion, poured into the country and changed its cultural complexion. The idea of Jewish identity without God — or any identity with­out God — was simply inconceivable. The government of a Jewish state could not be separated from rabbinic Judaism.

Ultimately, even the Rejectionists had to come to terms with the Jewish state. Al­though they despised a secular Jewish gov­ernment, they willingly accepted its finan­cial and political gifts. Rejectionist rabbis and their institutions received state aid. Marriage, divorce, and Jewish identity were put into the hands of clergymen who, fifty years before, would have been anti-Zionist.

As the Zionist state became less secular, the internal problems of a secular Jewish nationalism also began to surface. If Jewish identity is tied to language and territory, what is the status of secular Jews who do not speak Hebrew and who do not live in Israel? Radical Zionists, like Ben Gurion, maintained that Jewish existence was im­possible in the Diaspora. The logic of Jewish nationalism demanded that its adherents immigrate to Israel.

Diaspora nationalism had initially been sustained by Yiddish solidarity in the Ashkenazic world. In Israel, Yiddish was replaced by Hebrew. But in North America, Yiddish was replaced by English. Culturally and linguistically, North American Jews be­came part of the Anglo-Saxon world.

Another internal problem for secular Jews was the historical identification of Jew­ish secular commitment with socialism. Of course, there is no necessary connection between secularism and socialism. Non- theistic philosophies of life range from the arch-capitalism of Ayn Rand to the radical anarchism of Emma Goldman.

But for many Jews, secularism was an aspect of their socialist commitment. Dis­missing God went hand in hand with ele­vating the proletariat. Atheistic fervor was tied to revolutionary passion.

Jewish socialists were divided by many controversies. The policies of the Soviet government sparked an endless debate. The rise of Zionism posed the question of where the socialist paradise should be created. And chronic anti-Semitism undermined the ritual hope that proletarian self-awareness would replace Jewish identity.

Zionist socialism is the only surviving Jewish socialism with any constituency. But secularism and humanism have become less important themes for many of its adherents. Hostility to religion is less meaningful in an environment where religion is no longer hostile to either Zionism or socialism.

However, the identification remains. Many secular Jews shy away from secular connections because they see the bogeyman of Marxism behind them. In North Amer­ica, hosts of humanistic Jews are tied to con­ventional institutions of religion that are meaningless to them because they associate religion with capitalist respectability.

The most important internal problem secular Zionists face is the limitation of any nationalism. Once the language and the state are firmly established, they run by themselves. For the Zionist pioneers, Jewish nationalism was a “religion.” But for their children, it is a normal part of the local propaganda.

Some Zionists sought to give the Jewish state an ethical mission that transcended mere national survival. Instead of being monotheistic missionaries proclaiming the one God (a la the Reformers), the citizens of the Jewish state would be moral role models, teaching the rest of the world the basics of egalitarian behavior. Herzl envi­sioned the future state as a social utopia. Asher Ginsberg (Ahad Haam), the Russian Jewish intellectual who was opposed to political Zionism, spoke of ethical values that a Jewish cultural homeland would ex­press. The notion of the “Chosen People” seemed to be revived in secular clothing.

The problem with national missions is the number of competitors. The British, the French, the Russians, and the Americans have all dabbled, for a time, in special his­toric “assignments.” The “white man’s burden,” “manifest destiny,” and the “revo­lutionary homeland” were, and still are, popular slogans in the repertory of modern nationalism. Elevating one nation demotes all the others. It is an embarrassing parochi­alism — all in the name of universalism.

The second problem is behavior. It is easy to sign up for a mission. It is harder to carry it out. While some Israelis (like some English and some French) are worthy of imitation, others are quite ordinary. What intrigues the world about the Jewish state is not its ethical behavior. The military power of so small a nation fascinates the public.

An established nation does not need to value its national identity. It is simply there. The question is not: Why preserve it? The question is: How do we use it?

The Jewish Enthusiasts of the Secular Revolution who live in the Diaspora and who feel a need to work at their Jewish identity end up with the same frustration as the Ambivalents. Choosing to remain Jew­ish and choosing to become Jewish requires an approach to Jewishness that goes beyond a pale imitation of rabbinic Judaism and fantasies about Israel.

Zionism and Humanistic Judaism

Humanistic Judaism, An Anthology – Spring, 1986

The state of Israel.

No expression of Judaism can be com­plete unless it deals with this reality and with the political movement that spawned it.

Zionism is the most successful and the most dramatic Jewish movement of the twentieth century. It is also the most uni­versal. Theology and ritual divide Jews. But loyalty to the state of Israel unites them. Both the religious and the secular can be comfortable with Zionism. Although anti-Zionism was, at one time, powerful, it now condemns its devotees to the role of the peripheral and the pariah.

The roots of Zionism are both ancient and contemporary. Throughout Jewish history, the Bible, the Talmud, the Siddur, and the folk literature preserved the memory of a Jewish territorial nation. Jews living in lands other than Israel believed that they were residing in exile. They believed that, in the future, they would be rescued by the Messiah and would be returned to their homeland.

The modern source of Zionism was the sense of nationhood that Western Ashkenazic Jews experienced in Central and Eastern Europe. United by folk memories and the Yiddish language, the Russian and Polish Jews saw themselves as neither Russian nor Polish. They viewed themselves as national Jews, with a language and culture all their own. This ethnic self-awareness was reinforced by the rising power of nationalism in Europe. Germans, Hungarians, Ukrainians, and Romanians were beginning to feel more German, Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Romanian. One of the devices they used to create greater internal solidarity was to in­vent an external enemy. Anti-Semitism turned the Jews into the national enemy, excluded them, and made them, ironical­ly, feel more Jewish.

If the Jews were indeed a distinct na­tion, they required a territory of their own, like every other nation. Nostalgia and the desire for territorial roots offered no alter­native but Palestine.

Zionism, as a political ideology, comes in many varieties. Bourgeois Zionism wants Israel to be a free enterprise capital­ist state. Labor Zionism prefers a socialist Israel where the workers control. Reli­gious Zionism wants a Jewish state where God rules and where the constitution is the Torah.

But, regardless of the differences, most Zionists agree on ten principles.

  1.  The Jews are a nation. They are more than a religious group, more than a theolo­gical fraternity, more than a cultural enti­ty. Jews are Jewish in the same way that Frenchmen are French.
  2.  Every nation, including the Jewish nation, needs a territory all its own. A unique territory allows the nation to cultivate its own language, promote its own customs, and be the master of its own destiny.
  3.  For the past 2,000 years, Jews have been abnormal. Until 1948, they were a nation without a territory. They will be normal again when the majority of the Jews of the world return to their homeland.
  4.  Israel is the only feasible Jewish homeland. The personality of a nation cannot be separated from its memories and from the territory where it evolved.
  5.  Hebrew is the national language of the Jewish people. English is too univer­sal. Yiddish is too parochial. A unique language becomes the cultural bond of both secular and religious Jews.
  6.  Immigrating to Israel is more virtu­ous than staying in the Diaspora. If Jews refuse to move to Israel, there will be no viable Jewish state. Jewish life in a Jewish state is qualitatively better than Jewish life in the midst of a Gentile nation.
  7.  The establishment of a Jewish state will reduce anti-Semitism. If Gentiles can see Jews as members of a normal nation, they will no longer fear them. If Jews leave the countries where they arouse hostility, anti-Semites will have to find other scape­goats for their envy and hatred.
  8.  Jews who remain in the Diaspora will ultimately assimilate to the majority culture of their host nations. In a modern, urban, industrial, secular culture, assimi­lation is the gradual assumption of a new patriotism. Jews can remain Jews only where they can be Jewishly patriotic.
  9.  Israel is the viable solution to the problem of Jewish survival. In an age when ritual segregation is rejected by most Jews, territorial segregation is the only feasible means to ensure group integrity.
  10. For every Jew, his primary identity is his Jewish identity. He must be prepared to do first what is necessary to insure Jewish community survival. Aliyah (moving to Israel] is a primary mitzvah.

How does Humanistic Judaism relate to these ten principles?

The Humanistic Jew accepts the fact that the Jews are a nation. Like the Zionist, he makes a distinction between citizen­ship and nationality. It is quite reasonable to describe oneself as an American citizen of Jewish nationality. Because of the Jewish fear that such a statement may be construed by modern governments as an act of dual loyalty, the word people is usually substituted for the word nation. But, in essence, it means the same thing.

The Humanistic Jew accepts the fact that, in the past, a nation needed a specific territory in order to remain a nation. But, in the age of industrial technology, this re­quirement no longer applies. Today, the time it takes to fly from New York to Tel Aviv is far less than the time a traveler took to donkey from Jaffa to Jerusalem a century ago. In former times, isolation from a nation’s territory meant isolation and ultimate assimilation to the host culture. In modern times, both literacy and advanced communication and trans­portation make it possible for a dispersed nation to preserve its sense of community. The Greeks, the Armenians, and the Irish know that, as well as Jews.

The Humanistic Jew recognizes that many people regarded the Jew as peculiar and abnormal because he had no ter­ritorial base. But what was Jewishly ab­normal is now rapidly becoming humanly normal. In an age of labor mobility, an in­ternational nation is no longer bizarre. It is avant garde. Territorial nations are becoming territorial states. A territorial state is a political entity where people of different nationalities discover that they must share the same piece of land. The connections among the inhabitants are geographic and economic rather than ethnic. America is no longer an Anglo- Saxon nation. And Israel is one-third Arab.

The Humanistic Jew recognizes that Israel is the Jewish homeland. As the mother country of the Jewish nation, it is the appropriate headquarters and center of that international corporation. Memories cannot be manufactured. Like nations, they develop their power over long periods of time. New York may have more Jews than Jerusalem. But Jerusalem includes the armies of the faithful dead, not just the living.

The Humanistic Jew values the Hebrew language. Every viable ethnic community that is not racially distinct cultivates its own language. The greatest of all the Zionist achievements was the revival of the Hebrew language as the spoken tongue of the masses. Since Hebrew is not a world language like English, it requires for its survival a special territory where a majority of the inhabitants use it for their daily speech. One of the major reasons for the preservation of the state of Israel is the maintenance of Hebrew-speaking culture. With Israel as the Hebrew center, the language becomes available to the world Jewish community as a resource for com­munity expression.

The Humanistic Jew understands that Israel cannot accommodate the majority of the Jewish people. The reason is not only that Israel is too small; it is also that Israel cannot suitably employ the mem­bers of a nation, the overwhelming major­ity of whom now belong to the managerial class. Israel does not need more lawyers, accountants, and psychiatrists. She needs farmers, porters, and construction workers. Immigrating to Israel is a virtue if the immigrant’s talents will be fully utilized in that environment. To waste managerial potential is a waste not only for the world Jewish community but also for the human community.

The Humanistic Jew does not believe naively that the existence of the state of Israel will reduce anti-Semitism. In the Middle East, Zionism has increased anti- Jewish feeling. In Europe and America, loyalty to Israel reminds many people of the multiple attachments that they suspect all Jews have. Above all, Jews are hated because they are conspicuously successful in an urban industrial society — out of proportion to their numbers. A small Jewish state ironically depends for sur­vival on Jewish success in the Diaspora. Israel needs the very power out of which anti-Semitism grows.

The Humanistic Jew does not believe that living in the Diaspora means ultimate assimilation. Since Jewish communities are no longer isolated from each other and can maintain effective contact with the Israeli center, Jewish self-awareness has increased, not declined. Moreover, it is quite clear that all nations, even large territorial ones, are assimilating to a new culture. That culture is the world culture of science and technology, which has secularized most of our planet and created a world of shared work styles, shared pro­ducts, and shared values. In the past 20 years, the Oriental Jew in Israel has expe­rienced more assimilation than the Jew of New York. In future years, the differences among all nations will be reduced because of this shared culture. From the humanis­tic point of view, this shared cultural bond with all people is something good.

The Humanistic Jew is well aware of the fact that no small territorial state is the master of its own destiny. Even large states, like America, are heavily depen­dent on external resources. The fate of the Jews in Israel is not separable from the fate of the Jews in America. The key to Jewish continuity remains what it was before Zionism. The Jews should be as widely dispersed as possible, so that the destruction of one community will not result in the destruction of all.

The Humanistic Jew affirms the value of Jewish identity and works to express it within the setting of the Jewish commu­nity. But he chooses his human identity as his primary identity. A healthy Jewish community can be realized only if it sees itself as part of a larger community with its own needs and demands. Without this transcendent ideal, Zionism becomes chauvinism. Jews and Arabs can learn to share the same territory if they have the vi­sion to go beyond their national identities and to celebrate their shared human identity.

Humanistic Judaism and historic Zionism share some important convic­tions: the values of Jewish nationhood and of Hebrew culture. But Humanistic Judaism finds value in the reality of the Jews as a world people, an international nation.

Israel as the be-all and end-all of Jewish existence is too much. Israel as the cultural homeland of a planetary people is just fine.

Being Jewish Today — An American Perspective

Being Jewish Today, Spring 1984

Jewish identity is more than a definition. It is an experience.

Most of the usual definitions of the Jew have very little to do with Jewish experience today. They are propaganda pieces, designed to prove a point more than to reveal a reality.

Interfaith banquet definitions of the Jew express the need of many rabbis and lay people to prove that Jews are a religious denomination, a theological fraternity of like believers. Zionistic definitions of the Jew emphasize the importance of nation and culture to justify the creation of a Jewish state. And anti- Semitic perceptions of the Jew dwell on racial uniqueness, a convenient excuse to justify exclusion or extermination.

Even the familiar fallback position— “Jews are an enigma” — is a con­venient way to avoid examining our reality. It cloaks us in mystery: a preternatural puzzlement in a natural world

Defining what we are is not the province of propagandists with ideological vested interests. What we are depends on what history has made us. Being Jewish today in America is living the results of that history, whether or not those results conform to preferred labels.

A humanistic definition of Jewish identity, being empirical, starts with the Jewish experience and works up to the definition — not the other way around.

What is that experience — espe­cially in North America?

Being Jewish today means that no single set of ideas and values makes you Jewish. There is just too much variety. A group that includes theists and atheists, Lubavitchers and civil libertarians under the same label, with the acknowledg­ment of the outside world, is no ideological fraternity. Dealing with Jewish identity as a belief system is naive. When Jews are behaving normally, they rarely ask each other theological questions. Only when they are interrogated by the Gentile world do creedal presentations be­come important. Converts are forced to affirm convictions that born Jews are never asked to endorse.

Being Jewish today means that philosophic affinity transcends the Jewish connection. Many Jews feel a stronger bond of shared belief with non-Jews than they do with fellow-Jews. The secular Jew can communicate more easily with the secular Gentile than with the Hasidic Jew. And the Hasidic Jew can talk more easily about the Bible with a fundamentalist Christian than with a humanistic Jew. “A Jewish world view” is an illusion. In a world in which religious fanati­cism is on the rise, the Jewish community is becoming polarized. Because Orthodox segregationists share no major belief premises with secularized professionals, each group communicates better with its counterparts elsewhere than with each other. While liberal and fundamentalist Jews may agree on the value of Jewish identity, they agree on very little else.

Being Jewish today means that Jewish holidays are the major ex­pression of Jewish culture. Jewish languages are virtually non­existent in the English-speaking environment of North America. Yiddish is a nostalgic exercise, and Hebrew is an Israeli phenomenon. Ashkenazic delicatessen behavior is only uniquely Jewish when Jews are celebrating Jewish festivals. The holidays are the pragmatic heart of Jewish cultural activity in the Diaspora. Even part-time traditional Jews get more traditional when the festivals roll by. Rosh Hashana, Hanukka and Pesakh become the special signs of Jewish identity. They are the bonding activity which unites all Jews, whether traditional or secular. No other Jewish cultural enterprise has survival value in the American milieu.

Being Jewish today can be a signi­ficant experience even without formal religion and culture. In a world in which Jewish identity is important to non-Jews, Jews are always having to deal with their Jewishness. Anti-Semitism persists and provokes some Jews into reluc­tant confrontation. But it is the over­whelming presence of American Jews in American high culture that makes them a very visible and signi­ficant minority, even to friendly Gentiles. The importance of Jews makes Jewish identity important. Books, newspapers and periodicals deal with Jewish identity to such a degree that even the uninvolved Jew frequently is compelled to reassess his attitude to Jewishness. From Philip Roth to Norman Podhoretz, the American literary scene reserves a special place for Jewish anxiety.

Being Jewish today is often a name game. Cohens and Levis have to deal with their Jewish identity even if they choose to be Catholic. Kurt Svensen does not, even if he chooses to be Jewish. Names arouse expecta­tions. In an urban world of strangers, stereotypes become the only reason­able way to fend off chaos. The Katzmans and Finkels of America bear the expectations of their neighbors and of their fellow Jews. Intermarriage proves the point. Off­spring with Jewish last names have to deal with their Jewish identity. Children with alternative labels have other options. Internal belief is often less significant than appella­tive packaging.

Being Jewish today is living with intermarriage. With two out of five Jews marrying Gentiles, the varieties of Jews proliferate. Converted Jews, half-Jews and quarter-Jews dot the American social landscape and re­place the comfortable tightknit tribal solidarity of years past. Many Jews, typically American, straddle two or more ethnic origins. They simultaneously enjoy Ashkenazic grandmothers and Italian ones, Jewish cousins and Anglo-Saxon ones. The social isolation that Jew­ishness used to bring is replaced by an ethnic conviviality, characteris­tic of the American experience. Jewish establishment institutions are so geared to dealing with either- or situations that they are having great difficulty handling the mixtures.

Being Jewish today is an ex­perience of more funerals than baby namings. The birth rate of American Jews has very little to do with the reputed fertility of Hebrew women in the Exodus story. Ambition, educa­tion and female liberation have pro­duced the inevitable preference for small families or no families. The focus of Jewish attention is shifting from scarce children to profuse mid-life anxieties. “Passages” and the anxieties of personal fulfilment have now entered the programming of Jewish institutions with a ven­geance. Singles and the unattended old are important elements of com­munity caretaking and concern. The fanatic ultra-Orthodox segments of the Jewish world are bound to main­tain their clout — even with attrition — because they are the only Jews committed to reproduction. Liberal Jews are the ones who have the most reason to worry about maintaining their numbers.

Being Jewish today is always bumping into a discussion about the Holocaust. During the past ten years public awareness of the greatest of all Jewish disasters has spread. The media, university curricula and even presidential commissions have made millions of non-Jews aware of this twentieth century horror. The revival of Holocaust consciousness is coincident with another develop­ment. As Jews throughout America move into the neighborhoods and professions that signify success and power, they prefer to be seen as vulnerable outcasts and victims. In a time when commentators point to Jewish economic and political power, it seems safer to focus on our humiliation.

Being Jewish today is handling the anxiety of Jewish survival. Many Jews in America spend so much time worrying about the future of Jewish identity that they have very little energy left over to enjoy its present. Such worriers take all the fun out of Jewish programming. Unless the book or play, the talk or meditation deals with a uniquely Jewish theme (and how many are there?), the value of the event in a Jewish institution is questioned. Countless community centers and culture providers are intimidated into settling for second-rate pro­grams that demonstrate some vague Jewish connection. American syna­gogues and cultural institutions are less interesting than their members, who are quite universal in their interests and behavior. Israelis have it easier. They just do anything they want to, in Hebrew. Shakespeare in Tel Aviv is a Jewish event.

Being Jewish today means think­ing about Israel a lot. Zionism is the greatest Jewish passion of the twentieth century. Nothing Jewish excites Jews more than Israel. (Even the rabbis who regret this over­whelming attachment have come up with no real alternative; talking about spirituality seems a lackluster substitute.) Jews in America often know more about the internal poli­tics of the Knesset than about the deliberations in their own state legislatures. Political candidates who present themselves to Jewish audiences often find that the major issue of interest is their commitment to the strength and survival of the Jewish state. And Jews who talk about Israel with Gentiles frequently discover that these out­siders view the Israeli prime minister as “their” leader. As American Jews become less ethnic in their own behavior, their self- image and observed image are be­coming more nationalistic. As Israeli Jews — because of their birth rate — become a higher and higher percen­tage of world Jewry, this connection will grow more intense.

Being Jewish today in America is dealing with the guilt of making Jewish identity a secondary iden­tity. Most Jews have professional and recreational agendas that are far more powerful than the religious and ethnic attachments that con­tinue to be an important part of their lives. Since many of them were taught to view their Jewish loyalties as primary, they struggle to nego­tiate between official indoctrina­tion and the reality of their own behavior. The ideal solution would be to acknowledge that Jewish identity in America is indeed secondary, though valuable. But most of the Jewish public are not ready for such a confession. Their historic skills make them much more comfortable with guilt.

Being Jewish today is to feel a sense of extended family with other Jews. Underneath all the veneer of official pronouncements about shared beliefs and shared values is this consciousness of cousin kin­ship, shared history and shared danger. Neither a unique culture nor a unique religion defines the Jews of America in the broadest sense. Sentimental attachments, an awareness of residual hostility from outsiders, and a non-linguistic ethnic solidarity come closer to reality.

Israel Independence Day. It Came and Went.

TJH May 1977, vol. 14, no. 9.

Israel Independence Day. It came and went. 

Twenty-nine years of Jewish independence. 

How many more? 

David’s kingdom lasted for 400 years. The Maccabees’ dominion survived for 100. What about the Third State? 

I don’t know. All I know is that it is important for Israel to survive. The destruction of the Jewish state would undermine the existence of the Jewish nation as a world people. With the center dead, the periphery would be hard put to endure. 

Zionism has been the most successful Jewish response to the age of science and secularism. In an era when theological belief and ritual practice were no longer appropriate to individual survival, Zionism shifted the basis of Jewish identity from religious activity to Hebrew secular culture.  

The state of Israel is more than a refugee center for desperate Jews. It is a place where it is possible to be Jewish without being religious. The sign of Jewishness is not a set of outmoded theological statements and absurd ceremonial rites. It is the use of the Hebrew language, the celebration of national holidays, the creation of secular poetry, music and dance. Israeli culture is a viable alternative to Talmudic culture. It can be indulged full-time within Israel or part-time in the Diaspora. 

Unlike Yiddish secular culture (the national expression of Ashkenazi Jews), it has a territorial center where the national language can be used in everyday life. And unlike classical Reform Judaism it provides specific and concrete behavior-patterns instead of vague religious cliches. 

Israeli culture is not superior to other national cultures (After all, in a technological world personal lifestyles become International). But it is linguistically and aesthetically different. 

Hebrew culture is a twentieth century expression of the Jewish collective will to live. From the humanistic point of view, it adds one more ethnic style to the universal potpourri.  

But Hebrew culture will not live unless Israel lives. Israel will not live unless she makes peace with the Arabs.  

Israel has to make peace soon. The Jewishness of the Jewish state is at stake. If the present rate of Jewish emigration from Israel continues to increase because of inflation and war anxiety, and if the overwhelming numbers of Arabs in the occupied territories continue to remain within the unofficial boundaries of Israel, the Jewish state, by default, will turn into an Arab state. Like Detroit its ethnic character will be radically transformed.  

The time for making peace is now.  

Now the Arab world is deeply divided between the Arab Left and the Arab Right. The Arab Left is led by Gaddafi’s Libya, with its oil billions. The Arab Right is led by Khalid’s Saudi Arabia with its even greater wealth. Both sides despise and fear each other more than they despise and fear Israel.  

Now the Arab Left has suffered an enormous defeat. Syria has defected to the Right. the Palestine Liberation Organization was decisively defeated in Lebanon. Algeria and Iraq have suffered loss of face because of their failure to adequately support their Palestinian allies. 

Now all the Arab states on the borders of Israel belong to the Arab Right. For the first time in Israeli history, the governments of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are politically compatible and are able to act in unison.  

Now the Arab Right is willing to accept the reality of Israel and to recognize its political existence. This recognition is no Act of charity. The leaders of the Arab Right know that if they do not make peace with Israel, the continuing militancy will feed the terrorism which will enable the Left to underline the government of the Right.  

Now the Arab Right has tamed the Palestine Liberation Organization. Arafat and his allies are willing, because they have no other choice, to accept a truncated Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza federated with their old arch enemy, Hussein’s Jordan. This Jordan-Palestine state is the best ultimate deal the Israelis can achieve on their eastern frontier.  

Now Israel does not have to negotiate with the Soviet Union. The Russians hold no power base on the Israeli frontier. Syria still uses Soviet arms, but it has passed over to the American camp of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  

Now American public opinion is still strongly pro-Israel. Continued energy crises may make the American public more impatient with the Middle Eastern controversy.  

The public price of the Arab Right for peace is the return of the Israelis to the 1967 frontiers. The private price may be lower.  

The risk of peace without defensible frontiers is great. But, as Sadat appropriately point outs, the concept of defensible frontiers is Irrelevant in the age of missiles.  

The risk of continued war is even greater. If the failure of the peace initiative fails, new impetus will be given to the Arab Left. And the Arab Left is unequivocally committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.  

Israel needs courageous leadership now. The courage to make peace is sometimes more important than the courage to fight.  

The Rabbi Writes – The Relationship between Israel and American Jewry

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1989, Vol. XXVI, Number 10

Israel will be 41 years old this month. As the Jewishs state it has served the Jewish people well. The Diaspora has acquired both pride, culture and identity from its achievements. 

But all is not well.  Enormous problems confront Israel that often seem insoluble (sic).  The intifada, the Palestinian rebellions int eh West Bank and Gaza, is still strong after seventeen months.  Although its fury has somewhat abated, the Israeli reserves are still mobilized to suppress the uprising.  The cost of coping is high.  Military deficits, the wear and tear of unpopular police duty and the frustration with adverse world public opinion have taken their toll. 

The confrontation between the religious and the secular continues.  While the Who is a Jew? Issue has been temporarily defused, the fanaticism of the fundamentalists fuels new incidents.  Secularists are beginning to despair that they will ever be able to regain their primacy.  The new immigrants are mainly orthodox and their birth rate is high. 

Economic difficulties are everywhere.  Tourism has slumped because of the intifada.  Unemployment is on the rise.  There are insufficient funds to support the health and education programs that Israel needs.  In fact, the underfinanced school system is a disgrace to a Jewish state. 

The surge of Zionist idealism that gave Israel its special moral character at its inception has waned.  Old people have become cynical.  Young people have joined the ranks of the consumer culture.  Zionism has “normalized” the Jewish people to its disadvantaged (sic). 

One of the mor4e serious problems is the disintegration of the special relationship with American Jewry., the most powerful of Diaspora communities.  In the past American Jewish leaders were content to defer to the will of the Israeli government as an expression of Jewish solidarity.  The prestige of Israel was so high in Jewish eyes that this deference seemed natural.  Today rebellion is in the wings.  The connection is more abrasive. 

There are many signs of this new abrasiveness. 

American Jewish leaders have publicly expressed their reservations about Israeli government policies in the occupied territories.  Newspapers and the other media regularly report these disagreements.  In the past any conflict would have been kept secret.  The facade of unity would have been maintained. 

Advertisements by Jewish dissidents denouncing Israeli policy appear in major newspapers.  The signers are often leading intellectual and philanthropists who would formerly have never given their names or their money to such as assaultive exposure. 

Conferences of dissidents now attract thousands of participants.  Just recently, Michael Lerner, the found and the editor of the liberal magazine Tikkun (who will be speaking for us on May 22) held a major meeting of protest in New York.  He challenged the American Jewish leadership to listen to the dissenting voice in their constituency.  This challenge received wide publicity. 

Delegations of American Jewish leaders now travel to Israel to “lobby” the Knesset and the government.  During the Who is a Jew? controversy dozens of organizational heads took the time to go to Israel to express their indignation over proposed legislative changes.  Their protest was effective in undermining the conservative coalition with the orthodox. 

Many local welfare federations hage threatened to withhold their financial support from Israel unless the fundamentalists are restrained. Such threats would have been inconceivable in the past and would have been regarded as “betrayal”. 

American Jewish philanthropy has decided, independent of Israeli counsel and in direct opposition to Israeli policy, to raise millions of dollars for the absorption of thousands of ew Soviet Jewish immigrants by the United State.  The world Zionist Organization ad the Jewish Agency are fit to be tied.  They simply assumed that Israel would have prior claim to special funds raised for immigrant absorption. 

The recent unity conference called by Prime Minister Shamir in Jerusalem was less an expression of solidarity with the policies of the present administration than a show attempt to cover up the differences that everybody knows exist.  The drama of unity lacks the substance of agreement that would make it effective. 

Many factors have contributed to this new abrasiveness. 

Ever since the Lebanon War American Jews no longer see Israel through the reverential glasses of earlier years.  The “moral intimidation” power of Israel has seriously declined.  Israelis no longer appear, in American Jewish eyes to (sic) be as noble as they once were. 

 A modicum of disillusionment has set in. 

The growing power of the orthodox and their strident bid for political control have frightened many American Jews, most of whom are not orthodox.  It was easier for liberal and secular Jews to identify with the “old” Israel than with the present one. 

Adverse publicity concerning the Israeli handling of the intifada fills the American media and embarrasses American Jews.  Accustomed to seeing themselves as victims of oppression the Jews of the United States are very uncomfortable in the role of military repressor.  They are ambivalent.  While they are concerned about the future security of Israel, they want the bad publicity to stop. 

The Israelis have often behaved arrogantly, counting on American Jewish support without ever consulting with American Jews or eliciting their opinions.  While claiming to be the “voice” of the Jewish people, Israel reflects only its own electorate with no real input from Jewish constituencies in the Diaspora.  The insensitivity to American feeling in the Who is a Jew? issue is “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” 

The responses in the American community to this new dissent have varied. 

Many American Jews view it negatively.  They believe that public arguments give ammunition to our enemies, to all the antisemites who seek our destruction.  Families should not wash their “dirty laundry” in public they say (sic).  Freedom of speech yields to the need for survival. 

Many are enthusiastic.  They feel liberated from the fetters of an irrational control.  They maintain that open discussion will energize the Jewish people and lead to the new and creative solutions to problems.  They also maintain that the old leadership, attached to outmoded responses to problems, will never yield power unless publicly challenged. 

Others are simply ambivalent.  They agree with the protest.  But they are uncomfortable with Jews arguing with Jews in public.  They would prefer a quieter assault, although they are not quite sure how to engineer it. 

Which of these responses is the most valid? 

While many positive thighs can be said for solidarity it is no logger possible-either pragmatically or morally.  But dissent has to be responsible too-not simply a vehicle for a power-hungry new elite to replace a power-hungry old elite.[Text Wrapping Break] 

Four criteria ought to guide the relationship between Israel and American Jewry.                

  1. American Jews are the equals of Israeli Jews.  No special status of nobility attaches to living in the Jewish homeland. 
  1. The voice of the Jewish people is more than the voice of Israel.  When what Israel chooses to do affects the welfare of all Jews the leaders of the Diaspora must be consulted.  A regular forum or “congress” for the formulation of joint policies ought to be established. 
  1. The agenda of American Jews and Israelis are not necessarily identical.  Not every issue in Jewish life, including the disposition of Soviet immigrants, needs central control. 
  1. Publicity is no substitute for dialogue. 

Our relationship to Israel is entering a new phase.  We need guidelines. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, March 1988, Vol. XXV, Number 8

25 years ago, when the Birmingham Temple was established, the state of Israel was quite new, only 15 years old. New paragraph. It did not control the West Bank and Gaza. Its population was overwhelmingly Jewish. Its ruling Elite was overwhelmingly sector. It’s Orthodox Church few in number and politically insignificant. It’s government was liberal and open-minded. Is the Army was a Defense Force, not a police force. 

For American choose Israel was a utopian state were blond cortical cool sabra’s work the land and live the ascetic life of idealistic Pioneers. It was also the quote on Middle East who’s Brave Army has driven away Wicked Arab aggressors and whose citizens live with the memories of the Terrible Hulk cost. There was a pure moral or at Israel they had her many friends throughout the world acknowledged and admired. 

The times have changed. Israel of 1988 is not the Israel of 1963. Its population is almost half hour. Its ruling Elite pretends to be religious. Orthodox Fanatics are great number and politically powerful. It’s government is conservative and intransigent, and its Army has been turned into the police force to control civil disorder. 

American Jews are not as comfortable with the Israel 1988 with the Jewish state of the 60s. The recent riots in the West Bank and Gaza and the military regression repression of Arab descent – beatings and all I sent him medicine comfortable. Since December the news from Israel has become embarrassing. 

So how do Americans use deal with this discomfort? Do they publicly berate the government of Israel and cyst on a change of policy? Do they withdraw their financial support until the government assumes are more moral and less embarrassing pasture or, in the face of adverse public opinion, do they continue to defend and support the decisions of the rulers of Israel? 

The American Jews who counseled solidarity with Israeli government resent the following arguments. 

Number one who are we to judge Israelis on the safety of our American Haven? Israelis know best what is needed to preserve Law & Order. 

Number to Israel is not a perfect democracy. But it is far superior, in terms of personal freedom, than any Arab or Muslim state in the Middle East. Comparing Israel to America is inappropriate. Number three repression is unavoidable, since the Palestinian leadership will not recognize the right of the Tuesday to exist. You cannot negotiate with people who will not negotiate. 

Number for Israel has been at war with the Arabs in the Arab States since 1948. What is morally unacceptable in peacetime maybe come and unavoidable necessity of War. 

Number 5 Israel stands alone, with only the sport of the world Jewish people to Reliant. If America to the legions of anti-semites who seek Israel’s destruction. American Jews cannot allow the weakening of the Jewish State and the second Holocaust that would follow. 

How would we as human is to choose respond to these parking is? 

Number one the main reasons to Israeli government policy is from the Israelis himself. Thousands of years wheels of Israeli subject to the present progressive policy and have organized massive public protests. There is no single Israeli position. American Jews who support the opposition or supporting Israelis. If we judge the military repression adversely, we are only at going judgement of many citizens of Israel. 

Number to there is no doubt that is really democracy is far superior to any democracy that presently exists in the Middle East. But that democracy only applies to the Jews and Arabs of quote-unquote old is real. It does not apply to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza remain in a permit disenfranchised population. In occupied territories Palestinians are no better off than Kurds in Iraq. The government is military, not civil. New. number three it is true that the pill has not officially recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist. But, then, neither has a Jewish state recognized the right of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to have stated their own. The first will only happen if second does. The give-and-take must be neutral. 

Number for if it is true that the Israelis and the Palestinians artwork, and Palestinian terrorism is Justified as an instrument of War. One cannot be at War when it is convenient and at peace when it is not. New pier number 5 American Jews who speak out against the present policy and Military Prussian status quo means by the Shamir government are not seeking to weaken Israel. They’re seeking to strengthen it. And Israel, happy hour with will ultimately be destroyed by its own internal dissension. 

Only an Israeli government brave enough to negotiate the return West Bank and Gaza to Arab hands will rescue the Jewish State. Those who truly love is real I’m not afraid to speak unpleasant truth when they survive or there for a lot of it is at stake. 

In 1988 Israel still very close to the hearts of American Jews. But is no longer the infallible Paragon of Jewish virtue. It has problems. And it needs both financial and moral help to sell them.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, April 1994, Vol. XXX, Number 9

Thirty innocent victims died in a massacre.  They were not Jews.  They were Arabs killed by a Jew. 

The Hebron disaster is one of the tragic moments in the history of Zionism and the Jewish state. Banukh Goldstein, a Jewish religious fanatic and a follower of Meir Kahane, choose to shoot into a crowd of Muslim worshipers in the name of God.  In his self-righteous ardor he imagined that he was doing the will of the Lord and saving the Jewish people.  In reality he committed a moral outrage and produced irreparable damage to the Jeiwsh people and the Jewish state. 

The image of the suffering Jew, the image of Schindler’s List, has been replaced by the image of the murdering Jew.  The peace process between Istaelis and Palestinians has been halted.  The moderate leadership of the Arab world has been discredited in the eyes of many Arabs who had initially supported the Rabin-Arafat initiative.  The forces of Arab extremism have been strengthened.  A fragile optimism has been replaced by a deep gloom.  Only people who love war in the Middle East can rejoice.  

The Hebron disaster has highlighted many powerful realities.  It demonstrated the fragility of the whole peace process.  It now hangs on a thread which may break at any moment.  It exposed the vulnerability of Jewish and Arab moderates to the schemes of small numbers of extremists.  Above all, it revealed the danger of Jewish religious extremism. 

For so long, our focus was on the danger of Arab extremism and Arab fundamentalists.  Terror was something that Arabs did.  The victims were Jews, innocent men, women and children assaulted by Arab fanatics.  Ever since l967 Palestinian terrorism provided the moral justification for the Jewish resistance to making any concessions.  We had the moral high ground.  Arabs alone were murders (sic). 

But that illusion has now been shattered.  Yes, there is Arab religious extremism.  But there is also Jewish religious extremism.  And it is just as dangerous to the Jewish people. 

Jewish religious extremism is very old.  It is as old as the Messianic movements which began in Judea over two thousand years ago  The Jewish Messianists believed that they were the chosen people of God, that all other people were sinners and doomed, that the final Judgment Day was imminent, that in the final battle all the wicked would be punished, that the power of God would sustain the small band of the saved against their enemies.  Like the author of Deuteronomy 7 they envisioned a world purified of non-believers.  Only violence against the chosen people is morally wrong.  Violence against infidels is exactly what they deserve.  There are dozens of quotations from both the Bible and the Talmud, which reflect this mind-set.  They are an embarrassment to the Jews.  We generally choose to ignore them.  Christian and Muslim fanatics are  eirs to this legacy. 

While, for many Jews, Jewish persecution and suffering provided an emotional foundation for a morality of compassion and empathy with the suffering of others, for others the pain of antisemitism only reinforced hatred of the outside word, paranoia and dream of vengeance.  In the tight world of ultra Orthodoxy these dreams were strengthened by religious faith.  The one positive side to this self-righteousness was that these people were never successful, after the destruction of the Jewish state, in achieving political power. 

For most of these people, Zionism was anathema.  In their eyes the Zionists were secular Jews who had rejected divine help and divine guidance and who were seeking to establish a Jewish state without the Torah as the constitution.  Zionists were worse than Gentile non-believers because they were Jews who had abandoned the true faith and who were seeking to lure vulnerable Jews away from their ancestral faith.  Until 1967 they wanted nothing at all to do with the state of Israel or the Zionist enterprise. 

But the Six Day War changed everything.  The easy victory of the Israelis and the capture of the sacred sites of historic Judaism, from the Western Wall to the Cave of Machpelah, seemed like a divine miracle.  Many extremists made a turnaround, embraced the Jewish state, and vowed to keep its sacred soil forever in Jewish hands. 

After 1967 the “believers” of Brooklyn began to leave Mecca and to immigrate to Israel  They were entirely different from the Zionist pioneers.  They were fiercely Orthodox, Messianic in their thinking, and contemptuous of a modern liberal secular state.  They did not want to settle in secular Israel.  They wanted to settle in their own tight communities,, preferably in the West Bank where they could be near the ancient shrine of the Jewish People.  Many found their way to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall.  Others established their home near Shekhem (Neblus) or the Cave of Machpelah (Hebron).  They were indifferent to Arab hostility.  In a short while their initiative and courage would prod God to send his Messiah  The End of Days would come and the Jewish people would be glorified. 

Fanatic leaders like Rabbi Moshe Leinnger and fanatic movements like Gash Emunim arose and captured the imagination and devotion of the “believers.”  For those who are more extreme, the fiery words of Mier Kahane, calling for the expulsion of all Arabs from the Holy Land, were ˆsicˆ)welcomed. 

The Likud government of Menachim Begin and Yitshak Shamir paid for them to settle down in the midst of the Palestinians.  It gave them arms to defend themselves against attack and to intimidate their “enemies.”  Even though many of the leaders of the Likud were secular, they saw these religious extremists as allies in their determination to keep the West Bank. 

Secular Israelis and moderate religionists-discovered to their chagrin that there was now a determined minority of religious rightwingers who did not believe in a democratic and pluralistic state, who wanted to lead the nation into a murderous confrontation with the Palestinians.  Neither the intifada nor the possibility of a peace through compromise diminished their ardor.  All who were opposed to holding the West Bank through force were designated traitors 

In America these fanatics were supported by ambivalent American Jews, who felt guilty over their assimilation to Jewish culture and their unwillingness to immigrate to Israel.  Many American Jews who were neither religious nor Orthodox saw them as instruments of Jewish survival and determination.  The fanatics cultivated their ambivalence. 

What are we, the rational Jews who support a secular and democratic state, who embrace the historic Zionist vision, going to do about these extremists in our midst?  How are we, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people, a majority which repudiates religious fanaticism going to deal with this embarrassing internal plague?  What must the government and people of Israel do with this group of self-appointed prophets of God? 

The Hebron massacre makes a strong response necessary. 

In America we need to publicly repudiate their message and resist their entry into positions of power and authority in our community. 

In Israel our Jewish brothers and sisters need to outlaw, restrain, remove and deport all those who advocate violence against the Arabs.  At the minimum they need to disarm Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  Let the Israeli army protect both Jews and Arabs. 

The future of Israel and the Jewish people is (sic) at stake. 

Zionism and Humanistic Judaism

Humanistic Judaism, Spring_Summer 1979, Vol. VII, Number II

The state of Israel. 

No expression of Judaism can be complete unless it deals with this reality and with the political movement that spawned it. 

Zionism is the most successful and the most dramatic Jewish movement of the twentieth century. It is also the most universal. Theology and ritual divide Jews. But loyalty to the state of Israel unites them. The religious and the secular can be comfortable with Zionism. Although anti-Zionism was, at one time, powerful, it now condemns its devotees to the role of the peripheral and the pariah. 

Zionism, as a political movement, seeks to establish and to maintain a Jewish state in Israel. Zionism, as a cultural movement, strives to promote Hebrew speaking culture among Jews. 

The roots of Zionism are both ancient and contemporary. Throughout Jewish history the Bible, the Talmud, the Siddur and the folk literature preserved the memory of a Jewish territorial nation. Jews living in lands other than Israel believed that they were residing in Exile. They believed that, in the future, they would be rescued by the Messiah and would be returned to their homeland.  

The modern source of Zionism was a sense of nationhood which Western Ashkenazic Jews experienced in Central and Eastern Europe. United by folk memories and the Yiddish language, the Russian and Polish Jew saw himself as neither Russian nor Polish. He viewed himself as a national Jew, with a language and culture all his own. This ethnic self-awareness was reinforced by the rising power of nationalism in Europe. Germans, Hungarians, Ukrainians and Romanians were beginning to feel more German, Hungarian, Ukrainian and Romanian. One of the devices they used to create greater internal solidarity was to invent an external enemy. Antisemitism turned the Jews into the national enemy, excluded them, and made them, ironically, feel more Jewish. 

If the Jews were indeed a distinct nation, they required a territory of their own, like every other nation. Since the Europeans were not prepared to surrender a piece of their own national territories, the Jews would have to look elsewhere. Nostalgia and the desire for territorial roots offered no alternative but Palestine. Uganda was a possibility that no one ever took seriously. 

Since Zionism is a political ideology, it comes in many varieties. Bourgeois or General Zionism wants Israel to be a free enterprise capitalist state. Labor Zionism prefers a socialist Israel where the workers control. Revisionist Zionism, the choice of Menahem Began, advocates a Jewish nation that is well-trained in military virtue. Religious Zionism wants a Jewish state where God rules and where the constitution is the Torah. 

But, regardless of the differences, all Zionists agree on ten principles. 

1. The Jews are a nation. more than a religious group, more than a theological fraternity, more than a cultural entity. Jews are Jewish the same way that Frenchman are French. 

2.  Every nation, including the Jewish nation, needs a territory all its own. A unique territory allows the nation to cultivate its own language, promote its own customs, and be the master of its own destiny. 

3. For the past two thousand years Jews have been abnormal. Until 1948 they were a nation without a territory. They will only be normal again when the majority of the Jews of the world return to their homeland. 

4. Israel is the only feasible Jewish homeland. The personality of a nation cannot be separated from its memories, and from the territory where it evolved. 

5. Hebrew is the national language of the Jewish people. English is too universal. Jewish Yiddish is too parochial. A unique language becomes the cultural bond of both secular and religious Jews. 

6. immigrating to Israel is more virtuous than staying in the Diaspora. If Jews refuse to move to Israel, there will be no viable Jewish state. Jewish life in a Jewish state is qualitatively better than Jewish life in the midst of a Gentile nation. 

7. The establishment of a Jewish state will reduce antisemitism. If Gentiles can see Jews as members of a normal nation, they will no longer fear them. If Jews leave the countries where they arouse hostility, antisemites will have to find other scapegoats for their envy and hatred.  

8. Jews who remain in the Diaspora will ultimately assimilate to the majority culture of their host nations. Since modern urban industrial culture is essentially secular, assimilation involves no formal conversion. It is the gradual assumption of a new patriotism. Jews can only remain Jews where they can be Jewishly patriotic. 

9. Israel is the viable solution to the problem of Jewish survival. In an age when ritual segregation is rejected by most Jews, territorial segregation is the only feasible means to insure group Integrity. 

10. For every Jew, his primary identity is his Jewish identity. He must be prepared to do first what is necessary to insure Jewish community survival. Aliya (moving to Israel) is a primary mitsvah. 

How does Humanistic Judaism relate to these ten principles? 

The Humanistic Jew accepts the fact that the Jews are a nation. Like the Zionist, he makes a distinvtion between citizenship and nationality. It is quite reasonable to describe oneself as an American citizen of Jewish nationality. Because of the Jewish fear that such a statement may be construed by modern governments as an act of dual loyalty, the word ‘people’ is usually substituted for the word ‘nation’. But, in essence, it means the same thing.  

The Humanistic jew accepts the fact that, in the past, a nation needed a specific territory in order to remain a nation. But, in the age of industrial technology, this requirement no longer applies. Today the time it takes to fly from New York to Tel Aviv is far less than the time a traveller took to donkey from Jaffa to Jerusalem a century ago. In former times, isolation from a nation’s territory meant isolation and ultimate assimilation to the host culture. In modern times, both literacy and advanced communication and transportation make it possible for a dispersed nation to preserve its sense of community. The Greeks, the Armenjians and the Irish know that, as well as Jews. 

The Humanistic jew recognizes that many people regarded the Jew as peculiar and abnormal because he had no territorial base. But what was Jewishly abnormal is now rapidly becoming humanly normal. In the age of labor mobility an inaternation nation is no longer bizarre. It is avant gard (sic). Territorial nations are becoming territorial states. A territorial state is a political entity where people of different nationalities discover that they must share the same piece of land. The connections among the inhabitants are geographic and economic rather than ethnic. America is no longer an Anglo-saxon nation. And Israel is one-third Arab. 

The Humanistic Jew recognizes that Israel is the Jewish homeland. As the mother country of the Jewish nation it is the appropriate headquarters and center of that international corporation. Memories cannot be manufactured. Like nations, they develop their power over long periods of time. New Yrok may have more Jews than Jerusalem. But Jerusalem includes the armies of the faithful dead, not just the living. 

The Humanistic Jew values the Hebrew language. It is the unique Jewish alternative to traditional ritual. Every viable ethnic community that is not racially distinct cultivates its own language. The greatest of all the Zionist achievements was the revival of the Hebrew language as the spoken tongue of the masses. Since Hebrew is not a world language like English, it requires for its survival a special territory where a majority of the inhabitants use it for their daily speech. One of the major reasons for the preservation of the state of Israel is the maintenance of Hebrew speaking culture. With Israel as the Hebrew center, the language becomes available to the world Jewish community as a resource for community expression. 

The Humanistic Jew understands that Israel cannot accommodate the majority of the Jewish people. The reason is not only that Israel is too small, it is also that Israel cannot suitably employ the members of a nation, the overwhelming majority of whom now belong to the managerial class. The Jews of both America and Russia would have to lower their professional sights if they immigrated to Israel en masse. Israel does not need more lawyers, accountants and psychiatrists. She needs farmers, porters and construction workers. The only people willing to do this work are Oriental Jews (none of whom is available any more in the Diaspora) and Arabs. The continuing migration of Ashkenazic Jews from Israel is a continuing testimony to this reality. Immigrating to Israel is a virtue if the immigrant’s talents will be fully utilized in that environment. To waste managerial potential is a waste not only for the world Jewish community but also for the human community. 

The Humanistic Jew does not believe naively that the creation of the state of Israel will reduce antisemitism. In the Middle East, Zionism has increased anti-Jewish feeling. In Europe and America loyalty to Israel reminds many people of the multiple attachments that they suspect that all Jews have. Above all, Zionism does not strike at the heart of modern antisemitism. The very reason why most Jews cannot be accommodated by Israel is the very source of Anti-Jewish feeling. Jews are hated because they are conspicuously successful in an urban industrial society-out of proportion to their numbers. If all Jews would abandon the managerial and professional class and consent to become skilled peasants, Israel could provide for their needs and antisemitism would fade away. A small Jewish state ironically depends for survival on the power of Jewish success in the Diaspora. Israel needs the very power out of which antisemitism grows. 

The Humanistic Jew does not believe that living in the Diaspora means ultimate assimilation. Since Jewish communities are no longer isolated from each other and can maintain effective contact with the Israeli center, Jewish self-awareness has increased, not declined. Moreover, it is quite clear that all nations, even large territorial ones, are assimilating to a new culture. That culture is the world culture of science and technology, which has secularized most of our planet and created a world of shared work styles, shared products and shared values. In the past twenty years the Oriental Jew in Israel has experienced more assimilation than the Jew of New York. In future years, the differences among all nations will be reduced because of this shared culture. From the humanistic point of view, this shared cultural bond with all people is something good. 

The Humanistic Jew is well aware of the fact that no small territorial state is the master of its own destiny. Even large states, like America, are no longer independent because of their heavy dependence on external resources. The fate of the Jews in Israel is not separable from the fate of the Jews in America since Israel depends on America for its survival. The key to Jewish continuity remains what it was, even before Zionism. The Jews should be as widely dispersed as possible, so that the destruction of our community will not result in the destruction of all. 

The Humanistic Jew affirms the value of his Jewish identity and he works to express it within the setting of the Jewish community. But he chooses his human identity as his primary identity. A healthy Jewish community can only be realized if it sees itself as part of a larger community which has its own needs and demands. Without this transcendent ideal, Zionism becomes a cynical chauvinism. Jews and Arabs can learn to share the same territory if they have the vision to go beyond their national identity and to celebrate their shared human identity. Every intelligent person recognizes that he has more than one identity. 

Humanistic Judaism and historic Zionism share many convictions. The values of Jewish nationhood and of Hebrew culture are two common principles. 

But Humanistic Judaism finds value in the reality of the Jews as a world people and as an international nation. 

Israel as the be-all and end-all of Jewish existence is too much.Israel as the cultural homeland of a planetary people is just fine. 

Secular Judaism

Humanistic Judaism, Winter 1979, Vol. VII, Number I

The Workmen’s Circle-the Sholom Aleichem schools-the Peretz Shulen- the Jewish people’s Institute-The Farband-Kibbutz Artzi-  

These organizations have been around for a long time. Although they enjoy no formal unity, they do share an informal ideology which many call Secular Judaism. The word ‘secular’ expresses their strong resistance to all forms of organized religion. While some Secular Jews are avowed atheists and others are discreet agnostics or indifferent believers, all are united by their avoidance of prayer, worship and Rabbis. 

Many Secular Jews have joined humanistic congregations. Others have been hostile because they cannot comprehend how humanism and religion can be brought together. Still others have been ambivalent, availing themselves of the services of Humanistic rabbis without being able to fit them into their ideology. 

Secular Judaism used to be stronger than it is now. In the heyday of Yiddish culture it flourished among the Jewish young. Today it is an aging movement, sabotaged by the Holocaust and affluence and surviving on the fading memories of old revolutionary causes. Nevertheless, it remains an important force in the Jewish community which the Jewish establishment continues to ignore. While it is certainly as old as the Conservative movement and was at one time just as widespread, it has never conformed to the public relations (we love the Bible) image that the rulers of the Jews have wished to convey in America. 

Given the obvious humanist thrust of Secular Judaism, it is appropriate to ask the question: what is the connection of Humanistic Judaism to Secular Judaism? 

In order to answer the question, let me first describe the origins and principles of the Secular movement. There are six main sources of the Secular ideology. 

The first is the ethnic experience of the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe. The Jews began as a nation and until the French Revolution always conceived of themselves as a nation. Even in the Diaspora their fondest dream was the vision of national restoration in the land of Israel. Reinforced by distinct languages, unique work and religious segregation, the Jewish national experience persisted until modern times. While in Western Europe small numbers, linguistic assimilation, integration and formal citizenship persuaded many Jews to define themselves safely as only a religious group. In Eastern Europe the congestion of Jews in the settlements of Poland and Lithuania, where the economy was underdeveloped and the antisemitism was overt, the national experience persisted with great strength. In that environment atheistic Jews never doubted that they were Jewish. Nor did their Orthodox relatives ever question their Jewish identity. 

The second source of Secularism was the ethnic power of the Yiddish language. Before the French Revolution, Yiddish was the universal language of Ashkenazic Jewry. From the Rhine to the Dnieper, from Riga to Trieste, Yiddish was the linguistic bond that tied together most of the Jews of Europe. It was the most distinctive sign of their unique nationality and separation. In the nineteenth century, the new strength of Polish, Ukrainian and Russian nationalism with their strong anti-semitic edges made Yiddish the vehicle for Jewish self-assertion. The folk language despised by the rabbis was elevated into the vehicle for a new popular culture. Novels, drama and even science found their home in Yiddish. Eastern European Jews who despised the yoke of traditional Judaism could drop every traditional ritual and remain intensely Jewish by doing their secular things in Yiddish. To The commonsensical observer the Yiddish speaking atheist from Warsaw was far more Jewish than the god-loving Reform Jew from Berlin.  

The third source of secular Judaism was the Enlightenment. The fashion of science and reason which began in Western Europe and spread eastward profoundly affected the Jewish communities. Jews and rationalists shared a common enemy- the Christian establishment. The clerical power had to fall before the Jews would be free to participate in a scientific capitalistic culture. In general circles, the Enlightenment fostered secularism, a belief that a modern state did not need the assistance of supernatural powers or the clergy in order to serve its citizens. In Jewish circles the Enlightenment became the Haskalah, a movement which promoted scientific attitudes, secular studies, professional advancement and hostility to the Orthodox rabbinate. Secular Jews came to believe that organized religion, with its anti-scientific bias, was the enemy of human advancement and Jewish progress. 

The fourth source of Jewish Secularism was the message of Marxism. While the successful Jewish bourgeoisie of Western Europe were embarrassed by the revolutionary ideology of Karl Marx, many Jews in Eastern Europe, angered by poverty, antisemitism, underemployment of their intellectual skills and the passivity of their rabbinic leaders turned to Marxism. Regarding religion as the tool of the bourgeois establishment to justify the oppression of the working class, Jewish Marxists were militantly atheistic. Ironically, however, their provocative Yom Kippur eve dances and feasts, with their rich Yiddish intellectual debates, seemed more Jewish than the decorous Protestant style religious services of classical Reform. 

The fifth source of Secular Judaism was antisemitism itself. Although Marx proclaimed the international solidarity of the working class and implied that a Jewish proletarian was closer to a Russian worker than to his obvious Jewish relatives who ran businesses and spoke Yiddish, Jews found that Russian workers were as antisemitic as the Russian bourgeoisie. Stunned by this rejection but unwilling to abandon Marxism, thousands of Russian Jews reluctantly discovered that they were only comfortable doing their Marxism with other Jews. 

The last source of Jewish Secularism was Zionism. Responding to the emergence of the new antisemitism in Eastern and Western Europe, Zionism sought to solve the Jewish problem by making the Jews normal again, by turning them back into a territorial nation. The new antisemitism did not despise Jews because of their religion. It despised Jews because they were viewed as economic parasites and rootless intellectuals. Many Jewish secularists were drawn to Zionism because they were the victims of antisemitism also, and because they saw Palestine as a place where Jews could become a ‘normal’ nation rooted and close to the land. 

They did not wish to restore the old Israel. They wanted to create the new Israel, which would be a shining socialist beacon to the world. Most of the founders of the agricultural settlements in Palestine were fanatic secularists who wanted nothing at all to do with organized religion, but who wanted to express their Jewishness through Hebrew culture and Jewish nationality. 

Many of the immigrants who came to America after the Russian pogroms were not Orthodox (as their grandchildren often imagine). They were secular intellectuals, secular radicals and secular Zionists. They became the most creative element in American Yiddih culture. From the Jewish Daily Forward to the Second Avenue theaters they spawned a cultural life that required neither synagogues nor rabbis to make it Jewish. In fact, the passive traditional community fed off the enthusiasm they engendered. Secular achievement, much more than the Torah lifestyle, produced New York Judaism, the power of which radiated all over the world. The American Jewish Secular experience was reinforced by the vitality of Jewish Secular life in Poland, Russia and Palestine. The ideas of Ahad Haam, Simon Dubnow, Haim Zhetlovsky, Ber Borochov, Sholom Aleichem and dozens of others became the prestigious voice of this aggressive movement. Divided on a thousand issues, it was still able to challenge the traditional forces with a dynamic Jewish alternative. 

The principles of this challenge were never clearly articulated as a consistent shared ideology. But they were always implied in Secular behavior. 

Here they are. 

  1. The Jews are not a religious community. They are a nation. 
  1. The chief manifestation of Jewish nationality is a unique language. Left-wing Marxists claimed that it was Yiddish and Yiddish alone. Zionists (because they did not wish to exclude Oriental Jews and because they wished to affirm their connection with the ancient Jewish past) claimed that it was Yiddish temporarily but Hebrew ultimately. 
  1. Religion, which is the worship of God with all its attendant traditional rituals, is superstitious and harmful. Synagogues and rabbis keep Jews from devoting their energies to practical matters. 
  1. The Jewish tradition consists of both theology and ethics. While the theology is useless, many of the ethical values are still valid. They arise out of the Jewish experience. Although values like peace and justice are universal, Jews can best understand them by relating them to their own historic experience. 
  1. Jewish holidays did not start out as commands of God. They started out as nature festivals and community celebrations which were intended to bind the Jewish people together and to give them a sense of unity. They are not religious holidays. They are folk festivals. They can easily be reinterpreted to emphasize the importance of the Jewish people as opposed to the importance of God. 
  1. The Jewish people should be preserved and Jewish identity should be promoted because cultural diversity is better than world uniformity. 

These six principles are ideas which Humanistic Jews would be comfortable with-with a few reservations. 

Here are the reservations. 

  1. The Jews are indeed an international recognition. With the destruction of Eastern European Jewry, the drive of secular Jews to achieve this recognition was subverted. What remained was a regretful nostalgia for a world that no longer existed. Neither proletarian solidarity nor Yiddish sentimentalism are appropriate to the affluent Jewish bourgeoisie who are part of the managerial class. 
  1. Yiddish has died and Hebrew is the language of only one-fifth of the Jewish people. English is spoken by more Jews than any other language. While language is still an important sign of Jewish identity, it cannot be the most important sign. The celebration of national holidays and cooperation for mutual defense now replace them. 
  1. Religion is not essentially the worship of God. It is the way (as the Jewish sociologist Emile Durkheim pointed out) tribes and nations celebrate their immortality. The Jewish community transcends the life of any individual Jew and gives him continuity. A secular religion is not a contradiction in terms. It is (as the French humanist August Comte implied) simply describing in natural terms what tradition described in supernatural terms (by turning the community and its ancestors into God). 
  1. Jewish ethics require Jewish teachers. Secular Jews always relied on Yiddish linguists, renegade scholars and practical leaders to serve the teaching function Since they associated rabbis with religion, they could never conceive of a secular rabbi. This limitation has left them without professional leadership. The old informal ethical leadership has disappeared. And no real provision was made for the training of secular professionals who would serve as ethical guides, cultural scholars, creators of new materials, philosophical counselors and community leaders. Secular Judaism has to rely on inadequately trained leadership, which receives neither (sic) recognition from its own community, the Jewish community or the general public.  They need secular rabbis. 
  1. Since the Marxist debacle, secular Jews have lost their sense of being more than Jews, of belonging to a larger human community. Humanism is the religious celebration of the unity of the world community. Jewish holidays are necessary. But they are not enough. Secular Judaism has become parochial. It has lost the transcendent and universal thrust that the old May Day celebration had. As bourgeois and managerials Jews, Secular Jews have not yet figured out how to integrate their Jewishness with their humanistic loyalties. 
  1. Cultural diversity is important. But in the ‘global village’ national cultures tend to become less different and to conform to an emerging world culture of shared technology. Strident affirmations of national difference are less realistic than viewing national culture as an aesthetic option in certain areas of our lives. Otherwise our behavior will never fit our propaganda. 

Despite these reservations, Humanistic Judaism and Secular Judaism share unities that are far stronger than differences. 

We have every reason to cooperate and to help each other. 

The Future of Israel

Humanistic Judaism, Vol 27, No 3, Summer 1999

Netanyahu is out. Barak is in. What does it all mean? 

The Jewish state is fifty-one years old. For the first thirty years of its history it was governed by the socialism Ashkenazi elite that had founded the state. Members of this establishment dominated the government, the media, the army, the state industries, the labor unions, and the arts. They defined what it meant to be Israeli. The 1967 war brought them to the height of their power.  

In 1977 renegade Ashkenazim, led by Menahem Begin, came to power. They emerged from the same secular Eastern Europe background, but they repudiated socialism and embraced an expansionist nationalism. Their victory was made possible by cultivating the outsiders who hated the establishment: Ashkenazic Orthodox Jews, who were growing in number, and Sephardim, who by then constituted one-half of the Israeli population. The irony of the new government was that it was essentially a Sephardic protest movement led by secular Ashkenazim. 

The “protest” government stayed in power by cultivating every new group that hated or resented the old establishment. Almost one million resentful Russian immigrants were available for the picking. But the intifada, the Arab rebellion, undermined the credibility of the Likud, the party of Begin. The Labor establishment returned to power by promising peace. When the assassination of Rabin made the colorless Peres prime minister, the establishment lost again. The “protesters” returned under a new charismatic upstart leader, Bibi Netanyahu. 

The Netanyahu government was united by one compelling bond: hatred of the Labor establishment. This establishment had long since abandoned socialism and had become the heart of the wealthy bourgeois and professional class. Netanyahu cultivated this hatred, bringing together in one cabinet many parties with incompatible agendas and mutual hostilities. Secular Russians and the Sephardic Orthodoxy both hated Labor, but they also disliked each other. Netanyahu remained the Ashkenazic kingpin of a largely non-Ashkenazic constituency. 

In the end Netanyahu’s arrogance, sleaziness, and inept opportunism brought down his government. Abandoned by the Russians and die-hard Ashkenazi nationalists, he lost to Barak. The Labor establishment has returned to power, again with the promise of peace. But the Israel it will be governing is vastly different from the Israel it created. 

There is a prevailing misconception that the ascension of Barak to power will tame the Orthodox and will secure peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world. But the Barak government of necessity includes both Orthodox and nationalist leaders who are wary of the peace process. The stunning victory of Barak in the race for prime minister was not matched by an equally significant victory in the Knesset. The Labor party, like the Likud, lost votes. Many new, small parties have emerged. The establishment could have governed without the Orthodox and the nationalists only by accepting the support of the Arab parties. But the Jewish public would not make concessions to the Palestinians if there were Palestinians in the government. 

Barak’s problem is that Israel today is divided into six rival communities, none of which has a clear majority. There is the old Labor establishment filled with liberals, peaceniks, and civil rights advocates. Most of the well-known writers and intellectuals belong to this constituency. There is the rival Ashkenazic community of renegade nationalists who established the Likud party. There is the militant union of Ashkenazic Orthodox Israelis who represent the fanatic settlers of the West Bank. There is the Sephardic or Oriental community, now represented increasingly by the Sephardic Orthodox party called Shas, which received wide support in the recent election. There is the Russian community, which has developed its own political parties to defend its own interests. There is the Arab community, twenty percent of the Israeli population, which has created Arab parties to give it representation. The old system of two major parties is gone. Each constituency has its own little party to give voice to its demands and grievances. 

Barak needed to paste together enough constituencies to make his government viable. If he is going to make peace with the Arab world, he needs the support of a large majority. A narrow majority of secularists and Arabs would only trigger violent resistance. As long as the peace issue is the dominant one, the conflict between the religious and the secularists will have to wait for resolution. The secular establishment is no longer large enough to have its way. 

Peace will not be easy to achieve. While the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews are now in favor of territorial concessions, most of them do not want to concede very much. The current Palestinian entity in the West Bank consists of eight urban “doughut holes” surrounded by the Israeli army and militant settlers. Giving the whole West Bank to the emerging Palestinian state is unacceptable to most of the Israeli electorate. Giving any part of East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority is even more unacceptable. Making a deal with Syria is now popular. But abandoning the Lebanon enclave is less popular, and giving up the Golan Heights even less so. Without the surrender of the Golan Heights no peace with Syria is possible. The maximum concessions the Israelis are willing to make do not even touch the minimum demands of the Palestinians and other Arabs. 

There is no doubt that the recent election mobilized secular Jews with a greater passion than ever before. The hatred of Orthodox intrusion and coercion, aggravated by the continuous provocations, is very intense. While the Meretz party, the old secular voice, grew stronger, a new, more militant secular party called Shinui burst on the scene with six Knesset seats. Shinui, led by a famous and controversial antireligious television personality, is a sign that the formerly passive secular constituency is now prepared to resist. But a combined sixteen votes in the Knesset is less than what the Sephardic Orthodox have. Barak is confronted by a country that is on the whole ambivalent on the religious issue. Most Israelis hate the greedy fundamentalists, but they are not comfortable with secular militancy either. Even the Reform and Conservative movements, which are ironically viewed as secular in Israel, have not won wide support among the Israeli public. They tend to be seen as North American imports. 

The setting for all these controversies is the Israeli economic recovery. Market capitalism is triumphant. State enterprises are being privatized. The welfare state is shrinking. The American-style consumer culture has replaced socialist asceticism. The old textile industries are closing in the face of world competition. The new high-tech industries are thriving, laying a good foundation for Israel’s economic future. Israeli aggressiveness is enhanced by the new competitive environment and the rise in personal expectations. Israel has been normalized as a successful first-world country with an American edge. While poverty and unemployment linger among the Sephardim, the Ashkenazic establishment has enough money to plant trees in America. 

The future of Israel is considerably different from the vision of the secular kibbutzim. It has an ambiguous character. Israel is a Hebrew state with a large Arab minority. It is a Western nation with a large Eastern population. It is a secularized people with strong nostalgia for tradition. It is a consumer culture filled with fundamentalist protestors, symbolized by Planet Hollywood on the one hand and yeshivot on the other. Barak has to manage this ambiguity, not some theoretical body of liberal democrats. 

Humanistic Jews should be heartened by the Barak victory. The peace initiative will be resumed. The Orthodox will be restrained. Secularism is taking on a life of its own. But our expectations should be tempered by reality. There is no simple Israeli agenda. There are six of them, all of them mutually incompatible.