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The Rabbi Writes

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, December 1988, Vol. XXVI, Number 5

Hanukkah time 1988 is crisis time for the state of Israel – and massive anxiety time for the Jews of the world who support it. 

As far as world opinion is concerned, the Jews have become the persecuting Greeks. And the Palestinian Arabs have become the Maccabees fighting for their freedom. The roles have been reversed. 

Israelis are confronted with overwhelming problems. The intifada rebellion of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza continues. The PLO has accepted UN resolution 242 (with its implicit recognition of the right of the state of Israel to exist) has renounced terrorism, has proclaimed a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, and has called for an international conference where issues can be resolved. The militant orthodox continue to grow in number and power and are threatening to “steal” the state from the secularists who established it. And world public opinion, which overwhelmingly supported Israel before 1967 is increasingly turning against the Jewish state and isolating it. 

The happy vision of the Zionist pioneers has turned into a nightmare. 

Now all these crises have been aggravated by the recent Knesset election. The dovish Labor party and its leftist allies have been defeated at the polls. The ultra-orthodox religious parties have substantially increased their representation and are energized by victory. The right-wing extremist parties (despite the taming of Meir Kahane’s Kach) have recruited more supporters and stand confident against concessions. 

It is quite clear that any future government will have to be a coalition government, since neither of the two major parties commands a majority. If the conservative Likud unites with the religious parties, repression of the Palestinians will become more severe and Israeli Jews will be forced to endure more and more theocratic intrusion. If the Likud unites with Labor again, Labor will lose the power to push for territorial concessions and will be compromised by association. 

At this time it is very important that both Israelis and we, as American Jews, accept the realities at this crisis. American Jews need to accept the following facts. 

1. The Israel of 1988 is very different from the Israel of 1948. The secular, liberal, Ashkenazic state of David Ben Gurion is gone. It has been replaced by a nation that is gradually becoming more religious, more conservative and more Sephardic than ever before. The forces in Jewish life that had repudiated Zionism are now the arbiters of its fate. 

2. Israel public opinion is deeply divided. On both the peace and religion issues extremist opinions are on the rise. It is often difficult for Israelis to talk to each other about politics and stay cool. Each group simply withdraws into its own corner. The old centrist consensus is collapsing. 

3. The intifada is beginning to concern Israeli society. Repression tends to elevate military virtues and to lessen concerns for civil liberties. HaHate and paranoia become respectable.And a wartime survival mentality takes over public discussion and makes compromise difficult. 

4. The youth of Israel is growing more conservative. Occupation duties, with his confrontation with rebels and rock-throwers, has turned young soldiers bitter and resentful. Dovish and  liberal sentiments are hard to retain when you are dealing with violent rejection and hostility. 

Israeli Jews need to face the following realities. 

1. American Jewry, the most powerful Diaspora support of the Jewish state, is finding it more and more difficult to identify with Israeli government policies. If a Likud regime yields to the Orthodox political parties and revises the Law of Return to turn over the determination of Jewish identity to Orthodox rabbis, then Israel will lose the effective support of American Jews, both (sic) Conservative, reform and secular. 

2. Israel cannot hang on to the West Bank and Gaza without destroying itself. A state that will ultimately have an Arab majority will not be a Jewish state. Nor will it be able to tolerate democracy. Nor will it be able to provide security for its Jewish citizens. A hostile population of violent Palestinians cannot be repressed without the terror that will cost Israel the support of the West. And without the support of the West she cannot survive. 

3. The only Palestinian Authority that Israel can negotiate with is the PLO. No other authority presently exists. And the PLO has won much of world public opinion by its dramatic concession. If the PLO is willing to recognize the right of the state of Israel to exist (even though it is only implicit) and to renounce terrorism, on what moral ground will the Israelis resist talking? Talking does not mean giving up Jerusalem or surrendering all of the West Bank and Gaza. After all (sic) final boundaries are a matter for negotiation. But it doe imply that Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to some kind of state of their own. 

The beliefs that peace can come without territorial concessions and without talking to the PLO is a dangerous illusion. An isolated theocratic Israel, feeding on fundamentalist passions, will arrange for war and national suicide. To avoid this catastrophe requires courageous statesmen. It also requires bold public pressure by the Israeli government by Diaspora Jewry and by Western governments, to respond positively to the Palestinian initiative. 

Without peace the stranglehold of the militant Orthodox will never be broken.  

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. 

Israel: How It Has Changed

Humanistic Judaism, Vol 26, No 3, Summer 1998

Israel is fifty years old. In some respects it is the same state as in 1948. In many respects it is very different. 

There is an ethnic difference. Zionism was created by Ashkenazic Jews to solve the problem of European anti-Semitism. The first Zionist immigrants were Russian Jews. Until 1949 the new arrivals were overwhelmingly European. Like most European Ashkenazim, they had experienced the capitalist revolution and its secular aftermath. In 1949 new immigrants from the Eastern world began to arrive, the beginning of a large wave of Jewish immigrants from the Muslim world. They were the substitutes for the Russian Jews who could not come and the American Jews who would not come. Since they were dark and racially distinct from Ashkenazic Jews, they faced racial bigotry on the part of their European brothers and sisters. The pioneers and the new immigrants did not mix. Contempt and resentment kept them separate. In time the barriers broke down. Intermarriage grew. A blending of Ashkenazic and Eastern Jews began. Today that blending is turning into a new Jewish ethnicity. A unique Israeli gene pool is emerging. In time Ashkenazim and Sephardim will be absorbed into this new creation. Within fifty years most Israelis will be darker than Europeans and lighter than Iraqis and Moroccans. 

How else is Israel different? There is the economic difference. The Zionist pioneers who claimed the land and built the cities were overwhelmingly socialists. Some were romantic socialists, and some were Marxist socialists, but they were strong believers in collectivist economies. The kibbutz is a popular example of their creativity and success. At the beginning socialism worked. There were no grand capitalist investors. The labor unions had to develop their own industries, representing both management and workers. In time these industries became public, state-subsidized enterprises. 

But economic reality intervened. Socialism cannot produce a dynamic economy. The United States and Western Europe were setting the pace. The strengthening of the American alliance sealed the fate of socialist Israel. The Labor Party, the leftist party of the Ashkenazic pioneers, abandoned its socialist program and opened the economy to capitalist development. When the opposition Likud came to power in 1977, the capitalist culture arrived. Money and pleasure became Israeli goals, and the dichotomy between winners and losers sharpened. In time, even the welfare system was assaulted. Ironically, the chief beneficiaries of the new economy are the Ashkenazic elite, the supporters of the Labor party and the Russian immigrants who have tuned into high technology. The chief losers are the underskilled Sephardim, who are supporters of the Likud. Their patriotic agenda and their economic agenda do not coincide. Today, Israel is a first-world economic power with a big foot in the burgeoning high-tech industries. The agricultural sector is shrinking. The kibbutzim are turning into private corporations, which are becoming an intrinsic part of the Israeli way of life. 

How else is Israel different? There is a religious difference. The Zionist founders were overwhelmingly secular. They saw religion as a reactionary force inhibiting the progressive development of Jewish nationalism. The hostility to Zionism in most of the Orthodox world reinforced the Zionist disdain of religion. Zionists saw Hebrew nationalism as a vital alternative to religious identity. The first leaders of the Jewish state openly flouted Orthodox law and avoided yarmulkes as though they were the Arab enemy. The Six Day War changed everything. The victory won the allegiance of many Orthodox Jews, especially because the Israeli army had conquered the West Bank. This territory contained most of the holy sites of traditional Judaism, the most important of which was East Jerusalem. In time Orthodox immigration increased. The Lubavitcher rebbe publicly supported the Jewish state. A vast array of new yeshivas arose. Orthodox settlers organized new settlements in the West Bank. Aggressive missionary activity recruited thousands of Sephardim to fundamentalism and religious militancy. An alliance of convenience between Likud and Orthodoxy in the Knesset produced state subsidies for the yeshiva world and state support for religious intrusion. Yarmulkes were “in.” The state schools and the army were opened to Orthdodox indoctrination. 

The secular resistance to this development was paralyzed by smugness and the continuing diversion of war with the Arabs. A new majority was arising in Israel, an odd combination of ambivalent secularists, aggressive Orthodox, disgruntled Russian Jews, and angry Sephardim. Whatever religious opposition to Orthodoxy existed was ineffective. Reform and Conservative were dismissed as American imports. The only new grassroots religious development, the spirituality movement with its Judaism connection, had no political agenda. The Orthodox sector, reinforced by a mind-boggling birth rate, grows stronger and more demanding. Even if Netanyahu should fall from power, any subsequent government, even a Labor one, would have to make peace with the Orthodox. More and more of the Israeli urban environment and more and more of Israeli life is being religionized. Secular Jews are on the defensive. 

How else is Israel different? There is a military difference. The Israeli army is not what it used to be. Its former strength lay in pioneer idealism and a bold officer corps. This elite officer corps was drawn from the kibbutzim and other agricultural settlements. This source of leadership is now fading away. The present army rests on pampered recruits from the urban consumer culture.Their idealism and openness to sacrifice are no greater than those of their counterparts in America and Western Europe. Today, thousands of soldiers are Orthodox. The kippa has become a familiar part of military dress. The political agenda of Orthodox recruits is different from that of the old officer corps. The unity of the army is compromised by religious fanaticism. The Orthodox assassin of Rabin was a patriotic soldier. One of the reasons that the collapse of the peace process is dangerous is that the Israeli army is not prepared for another major war. 

What are the implications of all those changes for Israel’s future? 

If war does not come, Israel will emerge as a significant economic power. The sector of the economy that is high-tech will flourish, fueled by Israeli brainpower. There will be a continuing internal war between the secular and the religious. Many secularists will abandon Jerusalem for more secular Tel Aviv and Haifa. Political considerations will make it difficult for secularists to expel Orthodox influence from the centers of power. The new blending of Western and Eastern Jews will be less hostile to Orthodox intrusion than the old Ashkenazic establishment. Reform and Conservatism will remain on the periphery. New Age spirituality will flourish. 

Given the new majority, a true peace with the Arab world is unlikely. Israel will remain isolated in its region. It will function as a European island in a Muslim sea, defended by its continuing alliance with the United States and with enemies of the Arab world, such as Turkey and India. The next fifty years will be both similar to and very different from the first and fifty years. 

Perspective: Zionism – Peoplehood, Not Religion

Humanistic Judaism, Summer, Volume 10, No. 2, 1982

There are many Jewish roots of Jewish humanism.

As a non-establishment Jewish tradition, humanism has been embraced by many Jews throughout Jewish history. But not until the age of science and the secular state did Jewish humanists feel free to announce themselves publicly. In the last two centuries, humanism has become an open viable alternative in Jewish life.

The most successful movement of the twentieth century was a humanistic one. We call it the Zionist Movement.

In the narrow sense, Zionism is about the establishment of an independent Jewish state and the return of the Jews to Hebrew speaking Israel. But, in the broader sense, Zionism is a new way of affirming Jewish existence in the Diaspora as well.

Against the Reformers who claimed that the Jews were only a religious denomination, against the Orthodox who maintained that Jewish identity was inseparable from piety, The Zionist pioneers proclaimed loudly and clearly that the Jews were a secular people- a nation without territory, but nevertheless a nation.

Zionism is the boldest attempt in modern times to take the definition of Jewishness away from the religious establishment and to create a new sense of Jewish self-awareness. The socialist Yiddishist movement in Eastern Europe was less successful and was ultimately destroyed in the trauma of the Holocaust.

There are two kinds of Zionism. The first is ‘theoretical’ Zionism. It found no value in the Diaspora and hoped for its disappearance. The second is ‘pragmatic’ Zionism. It’s drove for the Jewish state. But it accepted the reality that most Jews, even though they valued the Israel connection, would choose to live outside of Israel. For the pragmatist of the test of Zionism is not merely aliyah but also the affirmation of Jewish nationhood and Jewish peoplehood.

A people is a disbursed nation. A nation is a community of individuals, Families, clans and tribes who share a sense of common ancestry and who feel unique because of the unique language or culture. Most nations have a territorial base which they call their homeland. Most independent states are attached to a nation. But some states, like Belgium, Canada and the Soviet Union, are collections of nations. And others, like the United States, feature ethnic loyalties in addition to the dominant Anglosaxon culture.

For a long while we Jews had no independent territorial homeland. We had no secular rulers. We gave a little attention to secular culture. The Zionist pioneers created the revolution that altered this reality. They gave us an independent territorial homeland. They trained secular rulers. They produced a secular Hebrew culture.

In order to understand that our humanistic Jewish roots we have to understand the history of Zionism, its problems, it’s achievements in its failures.

NATIONALISM

We Jews have always experienced ourselves as a nation. The authors of the Bible in the Talmud saw us that way.Our friends and enemies never doubted our ethnicity. Even our religious leaders taught us to pray for a national restoration. No force in Jewish or Gentile life before the emergence of the reform movement ever viewed the Jews as merely a religious phenomenon.

Jewish nationhood was continuous. Even when our ancestors departed the land of his real, they did not lose their sense of national identity. Their dispersed communities were ethnic enclaves. Their religious leaders were also national leaders.

Modern Zionism was the expression of the liberation and renewal of the Ashkenazic Jewish nation in Central and Eastern Europe. This Yiddish speaking people lived with Germans, Poles, Russians and Ukrainians. They shared governments with their neighbors. But they saw themselves as distinct and separate.

In the nineteenth century, in the age of the Enlightenment and secular Emancipation, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe substituted territorial nationalism for religion as their reigning passion. The Germans, Hungarians and Russians unified their peoples. The Romanians liberated part of their nation. And the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Ukrainians and Lithuanians strove to expel foreign oppressors.

The Jews were also cut up in this nationalistic fervor. But they suffered a major deficiency. All the territory they inhabited was claimed by other nations. And their smaller numbers and dispersion prevented them from claiming their share of land. Had Ashkenazic Jewry been able to establish an independent European territorial center, the Zionist Movement, as we know it, would never have emerged.

But Jewish nationalism was assaulted by many hostile forces. Racial antisemitism was the worst. Unlike religious hatred it’s focused on the ethnicity of the Jew. Birth, not belief, became the criterion for identifying the enemy. The Jews became ethnic intruders who were threatening the racial integrity of their host nation by their mere presence. Antisemitism became a convenient nationalistic tool for mobilizing the masses to display the patriotic fervor.

When Theodore Herzl published The Jewish State in 1986, a territorial haven for Jews, Away from Europe, had become a necessity. Palestine was the obvious alternative.

The land needed to be found. The state needed to be created. But the nation, the Jewish nation, already existed.

ROMANTICISM

Modern humanism divided early into two camps. In the first camp were the Rationalists. They valued human reason and envisioned a new social order dominated by science, emotional moderation and cosmopolitan taste. Voltaire, Paine and Comte were their heroes. In the second camp were the Romantics. They valued human will and imagined a New World of personal freedom and passionate autonomy in which creativity would replace tradition as the guide to living. Goethe and Nietzsche were their heroes.

Both Rationalists and Romantics were opposed to the old religious order. But they disliked it for different reasons. For the Rationalists it was superstitious. For the Romantics it was authoritarian.

Jewish humanists who were disciples of the Enlightenment and who emphasized the rational and the universal found both religion and nationalism boring. But Jewish humanists who admired Nietzche and his boldness of spirit found nationalism romantic. The task of rescuing oppressed people, taking charge of one’s own destiny against overwhelming odds, and creating a new state was an appealing arrogance and an exciting act of will. Micah Berdichevski, One of the first Zionist writers, articulated this mood when he proposed to reject the passivity of Diaspora history.

Romantic humanism, much more than its Rationalist counterpart, was the parent of the Zionist spirit. Zionism, as Ben Gurion pointed out, was a ‘revolution’ in Jewish attitude and Jewish emotion. It was the  herald of the ‘new Jew’ who abandoned passive piety for boldness, daring and courage and who also rejected rational arguments for caution and practicality. As Herzl implied, “If we want something hard enough, it will be no dream.”

Peoplehood and romanticism have been part of the Jewish experience for a long time. Zionism dramatized them.

PROBLEMS

From the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise Zionists disagreed one with the other. These arguments reflected the difficulty of translating the ideal of romantic peoplehood into a practical project.

If Palestine is not available as a Jewish homeland, will Uganda do? After all, the task is one of rescuing the nation, not a particular piece of sacred territory.

Does the territorial Jewish nation need to be independent? Would a secular Jewish cultural center be more feasible and less cumbersome?

What shall be the language of the Jewish state? Yiddish is the living language of the living people. Hebrew is shared by the Sephardim. But it is only the language of scholars.

What shall be the economic structure of the new state? Is capitalism compatible with humanism?

Can religion be separated from Jewish peoplehood and Jewish nationhood? Is a secular state possible for Jews?

How shall Jews defend themselves against their Arab enemies? Is the development of military virtue consistent with humanistic ideals?

Do the Arabs of Palestine have a right to be a nation in their own land? Is a binational state desirable and possible in Israel?

Should a Jewish state be morally superior to other states, and ethical example to other nations? Or are the Jews entitled to normality?

The conflicting answers to these questions continue to divide the secular Zionist world. And the ultimate acceptance of the Zionist enterprise by religious and Orthodox elements has added even more controversy to the debate.

In the midst of these continuing arguments Zionism has scored some incredible success. It has reconstituted 3 million Jews as a territorial nation. It has established an independent Jewish state capable of defending its own survival. It has revived a ‘dead’ scholarly language and made Hebrew the language of the Israeli masses. It has experimented in new forms of social experimentation and has produced the only free socialist communes in the world. It has brought together the Ashkenazic and Sephardic parts of the Jewish people into a single national effort. It has made Israel the center of Jewish life in the Diaspora and the most compelling Jewish concern of the Jewish world.

But, from the humanistic point of view, it has failed in other areas. It has failed to create a secular Jewish state where religious and non-religious liberty is guaranteed.It has failed to Grant equal rights and equal privileges to the Arabs who reside within its borders. It has failed to provide peace and security for the Jews who chose to be Israelis. Above all, it has failed to define a successful relationship of equality with the Diaspora. Although Israel is the only territorial state in the world created by its own Diaspora, and although its significance derived from its connection with world Jewry, secular Israelis still regard Diaspora life as an inferior Jewish existence.

SIGNIFICANCE

As one of the important roots of a viable Jewish humanism and in the face of all its problems, successes and failures- what is the significance of zionism to a humanistic outlook?

Zionism is the most effective expression, in modern times, that we Jews are more than a religion. We are a people and an ethnic culture.

Zionism is the most dramatic manifestation of the humanist revolution in Jewish life- the refusal of Jews to be the passive victims of fate- and the determination of Jews to take their own destiny into their own hands and to shape it to their needs.

Zionism is the most creative force in Jewish life today for the development of a secular Jewish culture. The revival of a secular Hebrew and the ceremonial life of the secular kibbutz are important alternatives to the religious ritual of establishment tradition.

Zionism is the most powerful present commitment for mobilizing the world Jewish community. Israel has become the cultural center of an international people and is the unifying focus of the Diaspora.

Humanistic Judaism and a pragmatic Zionism go hand-in-hand. Jewish humanists can help to keep Zionism secular. Zionism can help to keep a humanistic Judaism Jewish.