Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Why I’m Not a Zionist & Happy Birthday, Israel!


Tomorrow is Israel’s 61st birthday, Yom Ha’atzmaut. I love the country and only wish I could go more often. I can’t wait to bring my children there for their first visit. The culture of Judaism in Israel is healthier than here in the U.S., far less haunted by neurosis. I was reminded of that on a trip last year to meet with intelligent design supporters. The openness, not only among the Orthodox either, was gratifying.

I love the Israeli army. I remember once coming across a pair of young men guarding an intersection of narrow lanes in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City — a dark-skinned Ethiopian and a fair-skinned Ashkenazi Jew. For me, the visual image summarized the truth that Judaism is not a race. It’s an idea, or it is nothing.
Having said all that, I persist in the unfashionable non-Zionism that you’ll still find in some parts of the Orthodox Jewish community. Yet as I’ve written over at Jewcy, there are strong grounds for Christian Zionism.
Religious Zionism refers to the belief that God positively wished the Jews to return en masse to Israel and create a Jewish state there. My reason for doubting this to be true is the same reason given by the rabbi who more than any other inspired Modern Orthodox Judaism — Rav S.R. Hirsch. When the first rumblings of religious Zionist sentiment were being heard in Europe, he reminded fellow Jews that the Talmud teaches about the return to Israel that it mustn’t be accomplished by force before its time.


Why? Because Jews posses “a God-given destiny which…overshadows the existence of a state.” We went into exile not simply to punish us for sin but for a positive reason — to serve as a catalyst for spiritual enlightenment among the non-Jewish nations, in relationship to which Hirsch reminds us we have a religious obligation, no less than that, to be strong patriots.
Living in Israel, if you can do so, is a great merit. However, building a secular state there, while it serves practical Jewish and non-Jewish interests and while the land undoubtedly was given to us in perpetuity, is a different matter. One does not entail the other.
While I don’t see how Jews can view our mission in the wide world as having been already completed, allowing us to return all together to our land, seeing the Jewish mission as finished and complete makes perfect sense from a certain Christian viewpoint. In that view, our chief purpose on earth, providing the person of Jesus as humanity’s savior, was actually accomplished 2,000 years ago. It’s arguable that Christians invented modern Zionism.
So, job well done, Jews! Why not all go back and live in Israel? Or course, I can’t go along with that, precisely because I am Jew.
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posted April 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Interesting take…. but isn’t there a mitzva (commandment) for each and every Jew to live in Israel? It’s interesting to speculate about G-d’s hidden plan for Jewish exile, but I don’t think that lets individual Jews off the hook. And how do we know when Jews have “completed” their mission–whatever exactly that means–maybe they can keep at it just as well, in this global age, all gathered together in their homeland. And maybe, since they do tend to forget what their mission is when they’re in exile, that would be the only way….

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Your Name

posted April 29, 2009 at 9:05 am

The return to Israel was not accomplished by force. The land (which of course always belonged to the Jews) was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, which gave control to the Leauge of Nations after WWI, which gave control to the British for the purpose of reestablishing a strong Jewish presence in the Jewish homeland. The British, after WWII turned the question of what to do with the land over the the United Nations, which voted to give control over to the Jews. As such, there was no force involved in the the recreation of the State of Israel, soverignty over the land was GIVEN to us peacefully (although it has always belonged to us). The only force involved was the DEFENSE of that country, or does the author think that Jews should not be allowed to defened themselves? Should we dance and sing for joy as we are exterminated?

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Your Name

posted April 29, 2009 at 11:58 am

“Judaism is not a race. It’s an idea, or it is nothing.”
True, but seems to me is a very large and elaborate idea, like Quantum Field Theory or Nuclear Physics, only much bigger. I would guess that it takes at least a decade to learn just the basics, seven years just to read the Talmud at a page a day, four decades before even thinking about approaching Kaballah, and a lifetime of cyclical reading just to keep abreast of it, not to mention knowing several dialects of Hebrew plus at least Aramaic.
Because of this depth and richness, it overwhelmingly TENDS to be a hereditary idea, passed from parent to child, because adequate understanding requires a lifetime of constant steeping. Like music or foreign languages, it is an idea much more difficult to master in adulthood than over a whole lifetime. At least, that’s how it seems to me as an affectionate gentile.

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Brian Beckman

posted April 29, 2009 at 12:01 pm

That last comment was from me, not from “Your Name.” Interglitch, I guess.

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Christian Socialist

posted May 2, 2009 at 11:40 pm

I dont really understand why most Israeli citizens who support their fascist state, claim that killing and mass-murdering Palestinians and Arabs 60 years ago was legitimate deffense. When in truth the original land of the Israel fascist state, really belonged to Palestinians. And i don’t understand why most Israeli fascist jews who support their fascist killer state are so relativist-immoralists. They think that killing Palestine people is *right* from their own relatively immoral world view. But if Hamas and Hezbollah kills an Israeli Occupation Force, it is evil.

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posted May 4, 2009 at 1:58 pm

to Christian Socialist:
during the War of Independence, a ‘Palestinian’ was Jew, the Arabs were just that, Arabs. Arabs were not called ‘Palestinians’ until many years later (they didn’t even call themselves that – and have admitted that the identity was fabricated to aid in the murder of Jews and destruction of Israel). Israel is the only county in the mid east with freedom of religion/speech/press, the only country where homosexuals have rights, where women aren’t second class citizens at best, and the only conutry where even members of the government can call for the destruction of their country and not be arrested. How then, is it that Israel is fascist and the other countries (and the PA) are not? In addition, there was no mass murder of Arabs in 1948. People died, yes, but people die in war. That war was started by multiple Arab countries, Israel lost a full 1% of its population in that war (can you imagine 3 million Americans being killed in less than a year during a single war?), which was proudly proclaimed to be an effort to eradicate ALL JEWS from the land. As noted in an above comment, Arabs had not owned, or been soverign over that land for many centuries. So no, it didn’t belong to them. I’m not a relativist, I think death is tragic, no matter for who or the circumstances, but that includes the death of Jews.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 5:33 pm

False. Researching an undergrad paper circa 1993, I found references to Arab inhabitants of Palestine as “Palestinians” as early as 1911, in the Christian Arab paper Filastin, founded that year. And I didn’t even look that hard.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 9:38 pm

I think you should read the views of Israeli religious zionists before presenting the Zionist view in such simple terms. My understanding is that they argue that (as everyone agrees) settling the land is one of the 613 commandments, and there are also many other commandments that one can only do in the land, and we are supposed to try to do as many mitzvot as we can. So now that Israel exists, Jews should move to Israel to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the land, and other mitzvot. I accept that as a very good argument. The nice thing about Judaism today, though, is that it’s not centralized, so even if 50 Israeli batei din (religious courts) say it’s a positive obligation for every Jew to move to Israel, well you can find lots of others (including most American batei din, in all likelihood!) who would say, well yes maybe it’s good to go if you want to, but it’s not really a binding obligation.
There are different shades of Zionism. Zionism can refer to the belief that the state of Israel should exist. It can also refer to the belief that the return of the Jewish state has some religious significance (ie, it is an important step toward the messianic age.) I guess I’m a Zionist in this way, but I think everything has religious significance. Then it can refer to membership in the religious zionist or dati leumi community, or the kind of American Jews who send their kids to zionist summer camps.

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posted June 3, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Orthodox Judaism is definitely compatible with support a secular State of Israel. For one thing, historically there have been many important rabbis who have thought of nonobservant Jewish kingdoms as having been a divinely ordained and overall positive thing, even if they would have preferred observant kings. Also, see the teachings on Mashiach ben Yosef, the pre-Messiah coming before Mashiach ben David, who it is believed, will be secular. Jewish teachings have definitely put religious significance into a secular state and a secular leader.

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