TORAH-JUDAISM AND THE STATE OF ISRAELBY
WHAT IS 'THE JEWISH PEOPLE'?
“Klal Yisroel”, “Knesseth Yisroel” or whatever name we may call that entity which is commonly known as “the Jewish People” is according to the views of Judaism something that cannot be defined. (When we use the phrase “Jewish People”, we do so only for the sake of convenience and brevity in spite of the fact that, as we shall try to prove, this name is essentially inappropriate.) The very idea of definition automatically requires as a preliminary condition that the object to be defined form part of some distinct group or species. Every definition is necessarily divided into two parts: it identifies the group or species to which the object belongs, and only subsequently, indicates of the specific individual character by which the object is distinct within such a group or species. (When defining a “chair”, for example, we first have to say that it is a piece of “furniture” (i.e. it belongs to the group of “furniture” and then that it is used as a seat-meaning that it is thereby different from other components of that group).
The concepts of “nation”, “people”, “religion” are basically non-Jewish. They form part of the non-Jewish pattern of thought and apply only to a non-Jewish background. (The fact that in modern Hebrew these ideas are being translated by certain parallel words from the Scriptures or the Talmud does not, of course, mean that such was their original meaning). “Klal Yisroel” does not, in truth, constitute a “nation” in the accepted sense of the word. Nor is it merely a “different nation” as compared with other nations; the attribute of “nation” or “national unit” in its accepted meaning in the non-Jewish world does not apply to “Klal Yisroel” at all. According to Jewish belief, the Jewish People constitutes a species of its own : “This People I have created for Myself” (Isaiah 43, 21), “the people that Thou hast acquired” (Ex. 15, 16) i.e. a special, separate act of Creation by the Almighty. “The thought of creating the Jewish People preceded every other thought” of the Almighty when creating the Universe according to the teaching of Rabbi Samuel bar Isaac (Bereshith Raba 1, 5). The Jewish people, as pointed out by the same Midrash, is “Thy congregation which Thou hast acquired of old”(Ps. 74, 2).
The Jewish People, Rabbi Judah Halevy (the famous medieval poet and philosopher) explains in his “Kuzari”, constitutes a separate entity, a species unique in Creation, differing from nations in the same manner as man differs from the beast or the beast from the plant. Chassidism (Likutei Amorim-Tanya, by Rabbi Shneur Zalmen of Lady, chapter 2) mentions the “second soul of the Jews” and explains, that although Jews are physically similar to all other men, yet they are endowned with a “second soul” that renders them a separate species.
Likewise, the Zohar says (Vol. III, 73a): Three levels are joined with one another: G-d, the Torah and the Jewish People. G-d, Torah and Yisroel are one unit.
It is the Torah that constitutes the People. It was only at the giving of the Torah that G-d spoke to His people (Deut. 27, 9) : “This day thou art became a people”, or, to use the words of the Talmud (Hullin 101b), “they were not called “Children of Israel” before coming to Mount Sinai”. The great Rabbi Saadya Gaon in his “Kitab el-imanat wa-I i'tiqadat” (Emunoth Vedeoth) formulated the famous principle : “Our people is a people only by virtue of its Torah”. Without Torah, the Jewish people is not only wanting and defective but ceases to be. The Torah is its soul, its identity. Thus, according to the view of the Torah, Judaism without Torah does not exist. Again, according to the view of the Torah, neither the Torah itself nor the Jewish people are the result of historical development but the original and final purpose of Creation. Every Jewish child learning his “Chumash” will certainly forever remember the first “Rashi” -i.e. Rashi's comment on the first verse of Genesis a quotation from the Midrash explaining the word “Bereshith” in the beginning in which he says : "For the sake of Torah which is called “beginning” *and for the sake of the Jewish people that is called “beginning”,** “G-d created the heaven and the earth”.