Judaism as the meaning of the Jewish state

A state, especially one that is trying to be a nation-state, a national homeland for a people, needs an organizing principle, a set of ideals, an ideology, a purpose — whatever you think it is, some kind of philosophical reason for being. Otherwise there is no reason to live there if you can go somewhere else. And in the developed world, going somewhere else is more of an option than ever before.

Israel’s worst enemies have powerful ideologies — Islamism and Palestinian nationalism/irredentism.

Even the US, a secular state with a very diverse population has such principles, embodied in its Constitution and Declaration of Independence. They are one reason that the nation survived, in united form, its terrible Civil War, and why — one hopes — it will survive the forces trying to pull it apart today.

Despite being the nation-state of the Jewish people, the state of Israel does not have a set of basic unifying principles. There isn’t a single Zionism, and for some Israelis, any form of Zionism at all is looked at as a combination of ignorance and gullibility.

The early struggle to define the state was won by the secular left-wing Zionists of whom Ben-Gurion was an example. Unfortunately that segment was seduced by and ultimately subsumed in the peace movement, a movement based on a pathologically false view of reality, and encouraged by the worst enemies of the Jewish people. Its collision with the bitter truths of the real Middle East has left in their camp only those who have rejected Zionism, the academics and Ha’aretz columnists who are simply anti-state.

The remnants of political vitality are found today on the Right, especially the nationalistic-religious segment. For example, here is how Naftali Bennett explained it, in a fascinating interview with Ari Shavit of Ha’aretz:

Zionism arose thanks to secularism … The dogmatic religious establishment in the Diaspora was not capable of initiating Zionism without [Theodor] Herzl’s secular involvement. But secular Zionism was an existential Zionism that saw the state of the Jews as a refuge state.

A state that is 64 years old cannot continue to exist on the ethos of a refuge state, on security alone. After all, if this were the reason for our existence, there are many places that are safer for Jews – like Melbourne, Australia, or New Jersey. They don’t send children to the army there, and missiles aren’t flying there. Therefore, the time has come to move from the existential Zionism that you come from to a Jewish Zionism. It is necessary to base our national life on a Jewish basis, and it is necessary to give the state a Jewish coloration.

I don’t support religious coercion, but I do believe that Judaism is our ‘why’: Judaism is the reason for our existence and the justification for our existence, and the meaning of our existence.

This isn’t an easy sell to secular Israelis. For many of them, ‘Judaism’ is a corrupt functionary that tells them that they aren’t Jewish enough to get married in a Jewish state, or a haredi who maintains a large family on welfare, doesn’t do army service and spits at secular women.

The ideal is a tolerant Jewish state which is nevertheless fully Jewish. This will have to come from those, like Bennett, who see themselves as observant, and not from the liberal side of Judaism, which has embraced pluralism to the point of accepting a universalist ideology that does not “distinguish between Israel and the Nations.”

Is it possible? I am not sure, but I think it’s essential to our survival.

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One Response to “Judaism as the meaning of the Jewish state”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Does one have to have a strong ideology to want to live in the place one has grown up in? Aren’t there many Israelis who live here simply because it is their home, the place they have grown up, where their family is, the world they know best? Or is that kind of ‘normal being in a place’ not good enough for living in a place which is continually threatened?
    I don’t know.
    I think it is encouraging that a strong reasonable voice like Bennet’s has emerged. It seems to me that he could one day be Prime Minister of Israel.

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