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Can There Be Jews Without Zionism?

Zionism is as old as Judaism.

It began when God first spoke to Abraham and told him to leave his homeland for a land that God would show him. That same land would be promised to his great grandchildren, the children of Jacob, renamed Israel, for having struggled with the Lord.

Just as all Jews remain family, albeit grown into a nation, so too Israel remains our family, as well as our national, homeland. There is something in each of our deepest souls that is drawn to Israel like iron is attracted to a magnet. It takes a certain level of awareness, of one’s self, of one’s Jewish identity, to be able to express, as the great poet Yehuda HaLevi did, that almost subliminal yearning: “My heart is in the East but I am in the West.” However, when we get to Israel, for the first or twenty-first time, we find we feel as we feel no where else. We feel we are home on a level we may not be able to understand or explain.

That is one aspect, the spiritual aspect if you will, of what Zionism is and historically has been throughout the ages. The other has been the political aspiration of a people for its homeland as a place of security, freedom, and self-expression, the values our American forefathers expressed as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is an ancient aspiration, going back thousands of years as the Babylonian exiles sat by the banks of the rivers there and remembered Zion (Psalm 137).

The political and spiritual are intertwined, of course. The Maccabees successfully fought for, and gained, independence from the Seleucids in the second century BCE for the freedom to observe Jewish tradition. In their victory was a sense of God’s miraculous hand. According to the historian Elias Bickerman, without the Maccabees’ victory, Judaism and its monotheistic message (and with it the future of Christianity and Islam) would have been lost to the world.

As the centuries passed, an independent Jewish nation of Israel at peace with its neighbors has become one of the essential Jewish tests of messianic days. That is why, in 1967, with the liberation of the ancient Jewish Quarter from Jordanian occupation during the Six Day War, then-Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren penned the prayer for the State of Israel to include the messianic phrase that we are in the beginning of the time of our ultimate redemption. It is a redemption that does not deny other peoples the right to their own national identity, security, freedom and or self-realization. However, Zionism does demand those rights for Jews as a people among the other peoples of the world who demand, or enjoy, such rights for themselves.

Some, like Israel’s (largely ceremonial) President Moshe Katsav, want to limit full participation in the Zionist dream only to those he agrees with. Thankfully, others like Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in including the Conservative movement in his World Zionist Organization coalition, show the value of including everyone in the family around the table.

We here in the West would be foolish to think that we can survive as Jews without the lode stone of our ancestral home calling to us, inspiring us, grounding us. It is not only a question of how much more secure we Jews are, here and around the world, now that we again have a powerful state willing to protect Jews everywhere. It is a question of who we are and how we define and discover our true selves as we engage the opportunities and threats of the 21st century.



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Rachel

posted July 5, 2006 at 8:32 pm


This is a lovely post; thank you for it. I’d like to respond with a concern, if I may. My concern is that when we locate the place of our longing in a physical way, on a map, we may lose a little bit the ability to locate that longing beyond the map, in the Eternal Who is, amazingly, both immanent in and completely beyond place. I think one of the blessings of the Diaspora is that it enabled (or obligated) us to evolve beyond the place-centric sacrificial paradigm that was once our way of interacting with God. And I think there’s tremendous value in the fact that our relationship with God transcends place — even a place we love deeply. My fear is that when we focus on the political entity of Israel, and on the worldly redemption that the place might offer us, we don’t focus as well on the spiritual or metaphorical Israel, the symbol of our longing for connection with God, which has always been a part of our spiritual fabric. Shouldn’t our deepest longing be for God, rather than for any specific place in which we perceive God may be found? I do count myself a Zionist; I’m just a Zionist with some qualms about the way Diaspora Judaism relates to Israel. :-) I’d be curious to know whether any of this rings a bell for you.



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HASH(0x2163207c)

posted July 6, 2006 at 1:22 am


Shouldn’t our deepest longing be for God, rather than for any specific place in which we perceive God may be found? This is a beautiful thought. However, when reality sets in, I feel it would appear that Israel becomes a necessity for our survival. The world has been against Jews from time immemorial, whether Israel existed or not. Thus, Israel is indeed our only safe haven. No matter where we are, we need to long for G-d and to be like Him (meaning to try to attain his attributes of Holiness, kindness, etc). When the world does not see fit to let us live, we need a place that will be there to take us in. Even after WWII, the only reason my Holocaust surviving parents were allowed into the U.S. (both were the only survivors of their families) was because my mother had family living here to sponsor them and vouch for them!



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Marian

posted July 6, 2006 at 7:21 pm


I agree with Anonymous that Israel is necessary to the physical survival of the Jewish people. So is air. That doesn’t mean we find our spiritual center in this mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and miscellaneous pollutants we breathe. We just do our best to maintain the supply. The holiest thing on earth is the human soul, made in the divine image. I’m with Rachel on this one–one of the names of the Holy One is HaMakom–”the place.” G-d is the One in Whom everything else is located, the One to Whom all other places are relative. Even Israel.



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Santa Paws

posted July 10, 2006 at 12:06 am


We here in the West would be foolish to think that we can survive as Jews without the lode stone of our ancestral home calling to us, inspiring us, grounding us. It is not only a question of how much more secure we Jews are, here and around the world, now that we again have a powerful state willing to protect Jews everywhere. It is a question of who we are and how we define and discover our true selves as we engage the opportunities and threats of the 21st century. I cannot think of a more nonsensical statement than this paragraph. Indeed the Zionism that has become integral to all the major “movements” has alienated me and probably other born Jews from congregational affiliation. The only other faiths that have such a “lodestone” are Catholicism (Rome), Islam (Mecca, Medina) and possibly Mormanism (Utah). But any number of other faiths, including Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christian denominations are doing just fine without a geographic locus of devotion. The construct of a nation-state as a refuge from intolerance is an appealing notion, but think of other persecuted minorities. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Ba’hai, the Roma (“gypsies”) seem to survive without a political haven. Baptists in Russia push on in a religiously hostile environment, without longings to emigrate to Alabama. And so on.



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Joel

posted July 12, 2006 at 11:22 pm


The love for the Holy Land has nothing to do with Zionism. Zionism means the belief that there should be a Jewish state before the coming of the Messiah. This is heresy. If you believe in G-d and in the holiness of the Land of Israel, then you must be anti-zionist.



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mARCIA

posted August 4, 2006 at 7:13 am


I feel more than a bit silly writing my feelings in this blog along with so many eloquent rabbis, and others, because I was NOT brought up Jewish, but rather Christian – NO, not evangelical – the grand-daughter of a Unitarian Minister. I also attended Friends’ Meetings, where people of all faiths were totally accepted. Perhaps I am too much of an idealist. I believe that God is good….that every INTENTION of God is good. What humanity does is not necessarily a reflection of God’s intentions. I believe in the power of prayer, and EVERY SINGLE DAY I pray for peace in the Middle East. How that is achieved will no doubt be decided by some modern form of the Club of Rome, or the grandiloquent rabbis and leaders in Israel, and in Jewish communities all around the world. I believe, after having had a number of Jewish friends, that Israel is not only a VALID nation state, but an exemplary one. I fear for the future of all people of all religions and races, but feel that UNDERSTANDING each other could form the basis for lasting peace and acceptance. Too late, you say? Is it EVER too late to lose hope? I say NO, a RESOUNDING NO! May God bless you and keep you alive and well, and may we all gain the wisdom of learning God’s intentions. A well-meaning Christian friend of all Jewish people.



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Leslie

posted July 27, 2007 at 7:40 pm


We here in the West would be foolish to think that we can survive as Jews without the lode stone of our ancestral home calling to us, inspiring us, grounding us. It is not only a question of how much more secure we Jews are, here and around the world, now that we again have a powerful state willing to protect Jews everywhere. It is a question of who we are and how we define and discover our true selves as we engage the opportunities and threats of the 21st century.
As a modern American Reform Jew, the idea that the “question of who we are and how we define and discover our true selves” turns on our willingness to commit to Zionism is a truly terrifying thought. Contrary to Rabbi Grossman’s position, as Jews in the 21st century, we *must* develop an identity that enables us to “survive as Jews without the lode stone of our ancestral home” – our universal God enables us to exist apart from any particular place on this planet … we can find Adonai in any place in which we find ourselves, in the quality of the lives we lead with respect to our relationships with God, one another, our neighbors, and our planet.



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