“Zion will be redeemed with Law and its
captives with righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27. Haftorah of Shabbat
As we approach the 1937th
year since the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, Israel
is still struggling with its own the identity and raison
de’ etre. Modern Zionism and the birth of the State
of Israel were driven by the dream of a Jewish homeland.
But what now? Are we facing the death of Modern Zionism?
What dream today drives the future? This week’s article
addresses the critical need for a vision for the future
Modern Zionism was born
in the late 19th century. Its dream was establishing a homeland
for the Jewish people.
By no means was this a simple process, nor did the meaning
of Zionism ever achieve a consensus. Many arguments, pro
and con, with broad variations of each, were debated then
and continue to rage today. Labor, socialist, revisionist,
political, agrarian, synthetic, utopian, nationalist, cultural,
religious – are among the different shapes Zionism
took on. And anti-Zionism too comes in various colors. [Yes,
almost as many Jews that exist are the opinions they have
on the meaning of Zionism!]
Even the Jewish return to a homeland was fraught with controversy.
Some considered it a way to undermine Jewish proliferation,
others saw it as a throwback to the past (and that the new
“Zion” is America), and yet others felt that
it was defying G-d.
But regardless of the
varied opinions, from one extreme to the other, the fact remains that today
there is a State of Israel with over 5 million Jews.
Today the question must
be asked: Once the homeland has been established, what now? What dream carries
Israel forward into the future?
Truth be told, this question
was not ignored, perhaps in other terms, by some 19th century Jewish
thinkers. Some say that Zev Jabotinsky was concerned with the long term picture
when he argued for a more philosophical Zionist vision than that of the Labor
To a greater extent Echad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg),
and one of his strong proponents, Martin Buber, rejected
what they regarded as the over-emphasis of political Zionism
on statehood, at the expense of the revival of Hebrew culture.
Instead of Herzl’s brand of nationalistic political
Zionism, they favored a Zionism based on the fundamental
moral and spiritual values of Judaism. Zionism was to be
part of the Jewish path to refine and bring about redemption
of the world through establishment of truth and justice
in all of the institutions and activities of the Jewish
settlement in Israel. In this way Zionism could contribute
to human civilization as a whole and avoid self-centered
nationalism. Buber, in an essay titled
and the Other National Concepts, argues strongly
that the real meaning of “Zion” is a spiritual
one – one bound with G-d and the sanctity of life.
“The secularizing trend in Zionism was directed against
the mystery of Zion too. A people like other peoples, a land like other lands,
a national movement like other national movements--this was and still is reclaimed
as the postulate of common sense against every kind of "mysticism."
And from this standpoint, the age-long belief that the successful reunion
of this people with this land is inseparably bound up with a command and a
condition was attacked. No more is necessary--so the watchword runs--than
that the Jewish people should be granted the free development of all its powers
in its own country like any other people…
“The certainty of the
generations of Israel testifies that this view is inadequate. The idea of
Zion is rooted in deeper regions of the earth and rises into loftier regions
of the air, and neither its deep roots nor its lofty heights, neither its
memory of the past nor its ideal for the future, both of the selfsame texture,
may be repudiated. If Israel renounces the mystery, it renounces the heart
of reality itself. National forms without the eternal purpose from which they
have arisen signify the end of Israel's specific fruitfulness. The free development
of the latent power of the nation without a supreme value to give it purpose
and direction does not mean regeneration, but the mere sport of a common self-deception
behind which spiritual death lurks in ambush. If Israel desires less than
it is intended to fulfill, than it will even fail to achieve the lesser goal.”
And mind you, this coming
from Martin Buber, someone not known for his religious piety.
Albert Einstein echoed this in his words: “My awareness
of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish State, with
borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I
am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain.”
But even if these thinkers
anticipated the problem of just focusing on the political and nationalistic
dimension and not on the spiritual, the issue was never resolved.
One would have thought
that the religious Zionists or even the religious non-Zionists (or anti-Zionists)
would come to fill the void by offering a vision and direction for the future
of the country and its people.
Much of the “religious
camp” has either become marginalized, politicized or has insulated itself
from having any influence. However this could be analyzed (and there are surely
many strong opinions on the matter), the bottom line is that Israel is polarized
by a deep rift and distrust between the religious and the secular, with no
real hope in sight. Even if there are those that have a vision to offer it
is not capturing the imagination and attention of the masses – as say, the
call for a homeland did in the 19th and 20th century.
Perhaps this is due to the approach of the religious right – one seen as condescending
and dogmatic, judgmental and divisive, political and self-serving.
Indeed, the primary reason that Israel was never able to
adopt a formal constitution (and instead has their “Eleven Basic Laws” as
they’re called) is because of a conflict over what constitutes fundamental
law within Israeli society. Many religious Jews hold that the only real constitution
for a Jewish state is the Torah and Jewish law (Halacha). They not only see
no need for a modern secular constitution, but even see in such a document
a threat to the supremacy of the Torah and the constitutional tradition associated
with it that has developed over thousands of years to serve the Jewish people
in their land and in the Diaspora. The secular majority wants the state to
be strictly secular (as in the slogan “a state of chok (civil law), not a
state of halacha”). With all the attempts of reconciliation, the issue remains
deadlocked, and the heart of the polarization.
So the big looming question
arises: What is the identity and vision for Israel today?
Simplistically, one can
argue that Israel’s objective is to attract more Jews from all over the world
to come settle there, while also drawing tourists. But is this enough to sustain
Like all big questions,
especially those that have gathered dust over time, the only way to achieve
any clarity is to get to the root of the issue.
Now, of course, we can
begin to argue what the root is, and develop a new series of theoretical variations
on the “new future Zionism”…
Instead, let us get to
the root, as we do with all roots: Not by imposing our own positions and making
noble (or feeble) attempts to forecast the future. But by traveling back in
time and retracing the steps to the genesis of the word Zion and its original
The reason we grieve these
days over the Temple’s destruction 1937 years ago is not due to an obsession
with the past, with pain or with self-righteous indulgence. It is because
the Holy Temple (Beit Hamikdash) standing in Jerusalem represented the center
– the spiritual vortex of Jewish life, and of all life. “Build me a sanctuary and I will rest among you,” says G-d. The Temple was a manifestation
of the Divine presence on Earth – the very essence and purpose of all existence.
The Temple’s destruction
therefore, is not a small matter and not isolated to one particular point
in history. It affects us all and in all times. We therefore remember its
destruction and even throughout the year we pray facing Jerusalem and the
site of the Holy Temple, whose holiness remains intact. The “Shechinah” (the
Divine presence) on the Temple mount – “did not shift from its place,” i.e.
it underwent no change due to the destruction, Maimonides writes.
Jerusalem – sometimes
called Zion – is synonymous with spirit, with the Divine. It is the heart
and soul of Jewish life and all life.
The name Zion actually
means “sign.” It is a sign and symbol of the Divine presence. Indeed, the
same one word Zion refers at times to the city, to the Jewish people and to
Torah and mitzvot, signifying the inseparable bond between the three, the
land, the people and their Divine mandate.
The enduring mission of
Zion is as its name states: To be a shining example of spiritual light. Without
Zion’s spiritual dimension all forms of Zionism – labor, socialist, revisionist,
political, agrarian, synthetic, utopian, nationalist, cultural, religious
– lack a soul. And without their soul they are rendered as short-term solutions,
no better than any instrument whose shelf life is only as long as its utilitarian
History, as usual, can
be our best educator. Study the rise and fall of empires. Why is it that mighty,
wealthy, even cultured empires did not endure? Empires have fallen because
they outgrew their purpose, lost their direction, broke apart due to different
variations of the purpose or never had a purpose in the first place.
True, some empires abruptly
ended due to natural disasters, war or other circumstantial factors. But even
those would have ultimately ended, regardless of the circumstances, as testified
by the long history of all other empires.
The Jewish people survived
it all and are still here because their mission never ended and they never
outgrew it. The mission of the Jewish people from the beginning and until
this very day was to civilize, refine and spiritualize the world in which
we live; to be a “light unto nations,” a living example of the highest standards
of values and ethics; a living example of what it means to be Divine, to live
a life of a human created in the Divine Image.
For the Jews therefore
their homeland, culture, language, politics and economy are all merely instruments
to fulfill their mission. If the mission is compromised or forgotten, all
the vehicles lose their soul and cannot sustain the people.
This is what has happened
to Israel today. There may have been a time when the dream of a Jewish homeland
was strong enough to hold a people together, to bring them together, to create
a political state. But now that we have a homeland, a government, an economy,
an army – a full spectrumed political infrastructure – what is now the vision
and the goals?
Religious Zionism and
religious anti-Zionism argue whether the homeland can be created without its
soul. The religious Zionists claim that even if it’s far from optimal, better
begin with a secular state then not, and then work toward having the state
evolve into a religious/spiritual one. The anti-Zionists assert that the two
are incompatible: Without its religious soul the state cannot survive.
Even more radical anti-Zionists
insist that we cannot impose even a spiritual State as long as we are in Exile
(Golut) and G-d has not redeemed us. Only G-d can establish a functional State
Regardless of your position,
one thing is for sure: A country cannot survive without a mission. Especially
one in a state of war.
Whatever one's opinion
about the appropriateness of the Torah as the constitution of a modern state,
we cannot ignore the fact that it was considered the constitution of ancient
Israel and so treated by the Jewish people in the past. Indeed, the Jewish
people are the first society to embrace a constitution, beginning with the
Ten Commandments and extending to the entire corpus of Torah law, as a result
of which civilization was brought to the world.
One may not want to accept
this definition of the Jewish mission; that is an individual’s prerogative.
But then you are compelled to come up with an alternative enduring mission
Every business needs a
mission statement. Every nation, country and people needs a purpose. If the
purpose is a short-lived one than the entity will follow right along. An instrument
cannot outlive its mission.
The United States is an
interesting study in contrast. As a country the USA has now been standing
for 229 years, only growing stronger, with no reason to believe that it will
not go on as a superpower for years to come. By contrast, other empires have
stood for lesser periods.
Some argue that the success of the USA is due to its eternal
mission statement declared in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these
Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed
by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Even if one were to assert
that America has no mission, and neither do most countries if not all, these
countries are not living among millions of enemies that are poised to pounce
at any moment. The white man in America has taken care of that – they have
already killed all the Indians.
Israel however does live
among 250-300 million Arabs and Muslims, who oppose Israel’s very existence.
In a state of war no country can survive without clear purpose. Israel can
therefore not afford to have no mission today.
Modern Zionism once had
a dream; the dream of a homeland. Now that the dream has been realized (at
the standards of those dreamers), what is the dream today? And without a dream
today does it signal the death of Modern Zionism?
It’s always easier to identify a mission through your enemies;
To fight against a something or someone instead of fighting
for a cause. Hitler mastered that art well when he
mobilized his German countrymen against Jews and other “contaminating”
It was relatively easier
to define Zionism in the late 19th century, with raging anti-Semitism
(dramatically highlighted by the Dreyfus Affair), and widespread pogroms.
The enemy helped define the need for a homeland.
Today, with the need not
so tangible, the task is much harder. Add into the equation the years of built-up
distrust and all the stereotypes associated with religion, and you can imagine
the enormity of the challenge.
But challenged we are to “redeem Zion” and
Challenged we are to define
the long-term mission of Israel for today and tomorrow.
And the prophet Isaiah tells us how: “Zion will be
redeemed with Law and its captives with righteousness.”
Law is education. Torah study. Righteousness includes all
acts of charity and altruism.
Grass roots need to launch
a massive educational campaign – driven not by politics or any particular
segment of the population, but by soul and compassion – that awakens the public
to the true meaning of a “homeland.”
Not just as a place of
shelter, sunbathing and partying. Not as place to rest a weary body. But as
a place where your soul feels at home.
We need to educate ourselves and our children and friends
to the meaning of a soul; How to recognize its voice and
its mission; How to actualize it in real life; And how to
illuminate the world around us in its spirit.
The mission is that Jews rise to their prominence as a
light onto nations.
As Isaiah continues: “It shall come to pass in the last
days, that the mountain of G-d’s house shall be established on top of the
mountains and all the nations shall flow unto it. And many nations shall go
and say, let us go up to the mountain of G-d and we will teach us of his ways
and we will walk in his paths, for from Zion shall go forth the Torah; and
the word of G-d from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations and they
shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war
any more” (Isaiah 2:2-4).