Israel versus Judaism



"LET US BE AS THE NATIONS" (Ezekiel 20, 32)

This truth of the specific, indefinable nature of the Jewish People, its Torah, the Holy Land, the Holy Language used to be self-evident to every single Jew throughout the years of the existence of the Jewish people. It is true that in the course of the centuries of our history, there have been individuals or groups, sometimes very large groups, who threw off the ”burden” of the Torah and its commandments, either merely to satisfy their appetites or more deliberately. Yet all these, or at least the majority of them, never disputed this basic principle. They were all aware of the fact that there could only be one answer to the questions : “What is thine occupation and whence comest thou? What is thy country and of what people art thou?” This answer is: “I am a Hebrew and I fear the L-rd” (Jonah 1, 8-9). Even those who abandoned the Torah, could make only one out of two assertions : Either they would maintain that, in their opinion, Jews should stop being Jews, or they would claim, though unjustifiably and often fraudulently, that their view was also in conformity with the Torah but was based on a different interpretation of it.

Even the Sadducees (Tzedukim), and, during a later period, the Karaites claimed that they were observing the Torah according to its true meaning.

The notorious sect of the followers of Shabetai Zvi, the false Messiah of the 17th century, claimed that theirs was the path of the Torah, a claim which they tried to substantiate by all manner of “quotations” from the Talmud, the Zohar, etc. On the other hand, groups like the German assimilationists of the 19th century who claimed that they were “Germans of Mosaic faith”, made it clear that they wanted to be considered not as “Jews” but as true sons of the German nation who observe certain Israelite religious traditions.

A member of that group, a writer by the name of Kompert, even went so far as to claim that all European Jews were indeed Germans. In an essay written in a German-Jewish periodical (I think it was the “Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums” but I am not quite sure), he wrote a sentence of approximately the following content (quoted from memory): "...And you, o lonesome wanderer, if, on your long voyage, you come to the gates of a Ghetto in some remote village stop a while and reflect: “Hier wohnen Deutsche” (Germans are living here). Their language is an ancient German dialect, and if they use Hebrew terms during scholarly discussions, they do not thereby differ basically from other Germans who use Greek or Latin words for the same object...

All these sects and groups could not and dared not deny the basic fact that “our people is a people only by virtue of its Torah”. Hence they realized that there could be no abandonment of Torah without abandoning the people, and that there was no other “Judaism” or “Jewishness” but Torah Until Zionism arrived.

“Zionism”, of course, is merely a name given to that movement incidentally, several years after its foundation.

(Another curious coincidence is that the man who coined the term, Dr. Nathan Birnbaum, later left the Zionist movement and became one of its most embittered opponents on the orthodox side.) This cleverly chosen name contributed largely towards the spread of the movement among the masses of simple Jews as well as towards the increase of confusion which persists until this very day, as we shall later explain. For the moment, it is enough to emphasize that, as every reasonable person will understand, there is nothing in a name; a name means nothing and testifies to nothing. Some of the saddest people are called “Simcha” or “Joy”, and some of the most quarrelsome are called “Shalom” or Frederic. A name is merely coincidental. Those who decided to adopt the name of “Zionism” for their movement, might just as easily have preferred to be called “Neturei Karta” (Guardians of the City, meaning, of course, the Holy City); and, in that case, those who are now known under the name of “Neturei Karta”, might just as well, and perhaps with more justification, have called themselves “Zionists” (all the more so since they were practically all born and reared between the walls of Zion). Even under those hypothetical circumstances, the names would have meant neither more nor less than they mean today. The essence of Zionism, as has been explained earlier, is not “Zion”. The land of Israel constitutes but a means, a part,and not a basis of Zionism. The essence of Zionism is “Jewish Nationalism”. The Nationalist movement in the world at large arose some time prior to the advent of Zionism. Before that, “national consciousness” had hardly been known among the nations in its more modern form. It was a commonly accepted practice, to quote but one example, for a country to crown a king who was a native of, or, as we would say today, whose national origin was derived from another country e.g. Spain was ruled up to 1930 by the House of Habsburg i.e. Austrians, Roumania by the Hohenzollerns i.e. Germans, etc.

Nationalism in its modern form first arose partly as a result of and later in reaction to Napoleon's ambition toconquer the world, and to subjugate the nations under the flag of the French Empire. The nations, which had been imbued and influenced at the same time with the ideals of "liberté, égalité, fraternité" as proclaimed by the French revolution and subsequently by the same Napoleon, revolted against the Emperor's ambitions. It was during that period that figures like Andreas Hofer of Austria, or other heroes of allegedly nationalist character, became prominent.

Within Jewry, the first waves of Nationalism arose only about half a century later. During the days of Napoleon, the soil was not yet ripe for it, particularly in Eastern Europe, where the Torah view that “our people is a people only by virtue of its Torah” was still deep-rooted. It was only after the advent of assimilation in Western Europe and the “Haskalah” in Eastern Europe, both of which resulted from an inability to withstand the temptations arising from the spirit of emancipation; only when, under the influence of these movements, observance of and adherence to the Torah had been considerably weakened among many Jews, could Zionism come into existence. What new ideas did Jewish Nationalism bring?

Its argument was that Jews should become a nation “as all nations”, that Yisroel which had hitherto been in the heart and mind of every Jew a unique entity, a specific creation of the Almighty, should adopt a new identity and become “a nation”, according to the interpretation of that concept among the “nations of the world”.

At this point, it might be worth while to examine the various interpretations given to the term “nation” by the various non-Jewish cultures, mainly those of Western Europe, since it was within the cultural sphere of Western Europe that Zionism arose.

Chambers' Encyclopaedia (Oxford University Press) has the following definition : Nation is a collective name signifying a certain form of aggregation of individuals, a group of people possessed of certain distinctive characteristics, real or imaginative, united by certain special ties, sentimental, political or both.

The New English Dictionary edited by Sir James A. H. Murray (Oxford, Clarendon Press) has the following definition : An extensive aggregate of persons so closely associated with each other by common descent, language or history as to form a distinct race or people usually organized as a separate political state and occupying a definite country. In early examples, the racial idea was usually stronger than the political. In recent use, the notion of political unity and integrity is present.

The American Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary, published by the Encyclopaedia Britannica, has the following definition:

"An aggregation of people of common origin and language". The definition of “nation” according to the French Encyclopaedia of Larousse is as follows:"Réunion d'hommes habitant le même territoire et ayant une origine et une langue commune ou des intérêts longtemps communs"(Assembly of people living on the same territory and having a common origin and a common language or common interests of long standing.)

Most of these definitions do not apply to the Jewish people. There is, of course, a “common origin”, just as there is the “common origin” of mankind as a whole, Adam and Eve. The “common origin” of the Jewish people genetically began 20 generations after the creation of the world, but in truth “the (Divine) thought of (creating) the Jewish people preceded everything else” (Midrash, see above). Before heaven and earth had been created, it had already occurred, so to speak, to the Almighty to create Israel as His people, and, according to the rule in Jewish religious philosophy, the final deed is first in thought.

The greatest men in Jewish history had the blood of other races in their veins. David, the King of Israel, had a Moabite ancestress (Ruth). Rabbi Akiba, the hallowed saint and sage, was a descendant of Siserah; Shemaya and Avtalion, the great teachers and leaders in Jerusalem of the Second Temple were descendants of Sanherib, King of Assyria (see Gittin 57b, Sanhedrin 96b). Even Haman's descendants were teachers of Torah in Bnei Brak (ibid)As for territory, the Jewish People, as mentioned above, had become a people long before it had entered and conquered the territory of Palestine: even thereafter it remained on that territory for only a small portion of its history; and even during that brief period it maintained a sovereign state for only a still shorter span of time.

As for Hebrew, it was the spoken language of the Jewish people only during a comparatively short era. The Torah itself was given, according to our sages (Sabbath 88b, see also Sota 32a), in 70 languages. Furthermore, it is a well-know fact that even part of the Scriptures (parts of Daniel and Ezra, one verse in Jeremiah and two words in the Chumash) is in Aramaic, which was also the language of the major part of both Talmuds, the Midrashim, the Book of Zohar, etc. The majority of the writings of Maimonides, including his “Guide for the Perplexed” (Dalalat el-Kha'irin), his Commentary on the Mishna, and some of the works of Rabbi Judah Halevy, such as the Kuzari (Kitab el-hijja wa-ddalil fi nasr ed-din el-halil), Rabbenu Jonah (Marvan ibn Jannah), Rabbenu Behaye Bahya Ibn Pakudah) including his “Duties of the Hearts” (Faraid el-qulub), Rabbi Saadya Gaon (Sa'adya el- Fayyumi), including his “Emunoth Ve-deoth” (see above) were written in Arabic, for the simple reason that that was the spoken language of the Jews of their countries. Rashi explains some difficult or technical words in the French of his day and Rabbi Obadia of Bertinoro in Italian or Arabic, etc., etc.

As for “common history” this could, of course, mean only a common history of recent centuries. A common history that ceased to be common two thousand years ago, may be shared by many nations of our day who are at the present time quite distinct nations, if not enemies. During the first centuries of the Common Era, when our “common history” ended, the majority of the European Nations of our day had not even begun to exist as such. There was no common history, or even any outward “special ties” between the Jews of Yemen and those of Italy or Russia.

There were not even “common interests”; more often than not the interests of the various Jewish communities were, or could have been, conflicting. During the first World War, Jews on the Allied side certainly wished the Allies to win, while the Jews of Austria, for example, sincerely prayed for a victory of Kaiser Franz Josef.

Neither the definitions quoted above, nor any other definition of the concept of “nation”, as accepted among the non-Jewish nations of the world, can therefore apply to the Jewish People. It is none of these factors that renders Yisroel into a “People”, although, as explained above, all the parallel concepts in Judaism (Holy land, Holy tongue, etc.) have a sanctity of their own. They all have their place only and exclusively within the framework of Torah. Outside that framework, they lose their entire meaning, as in the example of the “Ethrog after Succoth” quoted above.

The nationalist movement came to transform Israel's identity and render it into “a nation like all other nation” with a “national language”, a “fatherland”, etc. Some orthodox thinkers of our generation have therefore definite Zionism as “national assimilation”, i.e. a trend favouring the assimilation of the people as a whole to other nations as opposed to “individual assimilation” as practised and preached by assimilationists in Western Europe or America, who sought the assimilation of the individual Jew to his non-Jewish environment. Even this definition is not quite exact. As national assimilation one could classify, for example, the trend of the Soviet rulers to transform all peoples within their sphere of political influence into “People's Democracies” along the Russian pattern, including even such people who differ basically in their characteristic traits and in their mentality from the Russian way of life, such as the Czechs, or East Germans, whose culture Russia strives to “Russify”, though maintaining and even furthering their national languages, etc. What Zionism has done to the Jewish People, however, is far more than that : it is not merely a transition from one culture to the other, but a complete change of identity, a forcible transformation from “This People I have created for Myself” into “a nation as all the nations”. To use the language of Rabbi Juda Halevy in his “Kuzari”, this would be equivalent to attempting to force human to walk on all four extremities and to live an animal life, while at the same time proclaiming that this was the way of genuine “humanity”. In other words, the new idea implemented by Zionism consisted of a change of definition of the Jewish People. Its definition from Mount Sinai until Zionism had been TORAH; henceforth it became national affiliation. It is obvious that this view which is the real substance of Zionism, is diametrically opposed to the view of the Torah, regardless of whether or not Zionism happens to be “religious”.

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