Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Prophets and Losses – Zionists and non-Jewish Jews

Following publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, that celebrated Jewish member of the Church of England Benjamin Disraeli (his father had him baptised at age 12) famously observed: "Is man an ape or an angel? My Lord, I am on the side of the angels." Now, I’m neither theologian nor scientist, but despite Stephen Hawking’s rejection of the role of a Deity in Creation, I’m on the side of the Deity, and I enjoyed an article by Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth, in the London Times last week, countering Professor Hawking's athiestic dogma:

“There is a difference between science and religion. Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation.... The Bible is relatively uninterested in how the Universe came into being. It devotes a mere 34 verses to the subject. It takes 15 times as much space to describe how the Israelites constructed a sanctuary in the desert. The Bible is not proto-science, pseudo-science or myth masquerading as science. It is interested in other questions entirely. Who are we? Why are we here? How then shall we live? It is to answer those questions, not scientific ones, that we seek to know the mind of God.... But there is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live. Science masquerading as religion is as unseemly as religion masquerading as science. I will continue to believe that God who created one or an infinity of universes in love and forgiveness continues to ask us to create, to love and to forgive. “
It's a commonplace that many Jews who have more or less divorced themselves from formal identification with Judaism or membership of a synagogue still retain an admiration for the prophetic tradition. The poet Heinrich Heine, who like so many Jews facing discrimination in the nineteenth-century converted to Christianity on the grounds that, as he put it, baptism was “a ticket of admission to European culture”, nevertheless remained attached in his heart to his people, “who have given the world a God and a moral system” and re-avowed Judaism as he approached the end of his life. Although neither steeped in Judaism nor in the concept of Jewish peoplehood, the great French historian Marc Bloch, shot by the Gestapo in 1944, wrote in 1941: “I was born a Jew, and that I have never entertained any thoughts of either denying it or of being tempted to do so. In a world afflicted with the most atrocious barbarity, is not the generous tradition of the Hebrew prophets, which Christianity - in its purest form - has adopted in order to expand upon, one of our best reasons to live, to believe and to struggle?”

The prophetic tradition has provided the inspiration for many a Jewish political radical. So many prophetic passages appear to question the established order. “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies”, railed Amos, who was perhaps more than any other prophet concerned with the exploitation of the poor. “I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring sackcloth upon all loins .... For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof, because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes.” And of course there are frequent calls for justice, which many have seen as a blueprint for radicalism or socialism – and even, I'm chagrined to relate, for a rejection of the Zionist idea that is itself enshrined in scripture. “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow,” entreated Isaiah. Warned Jeremiah: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment and righteousness, for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” Micah’s words are so commonly invoked that they have become almost a cliché: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Although, to many of the radicals who use Micah’s words, God appears to be an optional extra.)

Then, of course, there are the deracinated Jews who like Karl Marx regard all religion, Judaism included, as anachronistic and irrational. In the late nineteenth-century people of their ilk used to like to taunt shul-goers on Yom Kippur in the East End of London by holding a ball on that day and eating pig's meat. Many such individuals exemplify what Isaac Deutscher termed in a renowned essay published in 1958 “The non-Jewish Jew”, a Jew who feels no special affinity for other Jews and denies a separate destiny for Jews as a group distinct from the rest of humankind. The following words (1916) of Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg, whom Deutscher cites as a “non-Jewish-Jew” along with Marx, Trotsky and certain others, encapsulates the type perfectly:
“Why do you come to me with your particular Jewish sorrows? I feel equally close to the wretched victims of the rubber plantations in Putumayo, or to the Negroes in Africa .... ...I have no separate corner in my heart for the ghetto: I feel at home in the entire world wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.”
Such “non-Jewish Jews” – I prefer to term them such rather than “self-hating Jews”, a chutzpadik term since who can read another’s mind?  – fill the ranks of today’s anti-Zionist movement.  They are the spiritual (for want of a better word!) heirs to Tony Cliff, born Yigael Gluckstein in Ottoman Palestine shortly before the British took over; he moved to Britain and founded the International Socialist Party, which later published the newspaper Socialist Worker that is so implacably and obnoxiously opposed to Israel’s existence.

How immeasurably nobler and  how inspirational is the testament of the Franco-Swiss Jew Edmond Fleg, who following a period of estrangement returned to his roots, penning in 1927 these moving words to his hypothetical future grandchild.  (Writing two decades before the foundation of the Jewish State, he is, of course, using "Israel" to denote the Jewish People:
'But you – will you feel yourself a Jew, my child? People say to me, "You are a Jew because you were born a Jew; you neither willed it nor can change it." Will this explanation satisfy you if, though born a Jew, you no longer feel one? When I was twenty I too had no lot, nor part in Israel; I was persuaded that Israel would disappear, and that in twenty years' time people would no longer speak of her. Twenty years have passed, and another twelve, and I have become a Jew again – so obviously that I am asked, "Why are you a Jew?"
Since the beginning of the Dreyfus Affair the Jewish question had seemed to me a reality; now it appeared tragic: "What is Judaism? – A danger, they say, for the society to which you belong. What danger?... But first, am I still a Jew?... I have abandoned the Jewish religion.... You are a Jew all the same.... How?... Why?... What ought I to do?... Must I kill myself because I am a Jew?"
At moments I envied the strong and narrow faith of my ancestors. Penned in their ghettos by contempt and hatred, they at least knew why. But I knew nothing. How could I learn?
Of Israel I was entirely ignorant. And I regretted all the years I had spent in the study of philosophy, of Germanic philology, and of comparative literature. I ought to have learned Hebrew, to have studied my race, its origins, its beliefs, its role in history, its place among the human groups of today; I ought to have attached myself, through my race, to something that would be myself and more than myself, and to have continued, through her, something that others had begun and that others after me would continue.
And I told myself that if I made some other use of my life, if I devoted myself to some other study, if later I founded a family without being able to bequeath to my children some ancestral ideal, I should always experience an obscure remorse, the vague feeling of having failed in a duty. And I remembered my dead father, I reproached myself with not having understood that Jewish wisdom of which he talked to me and which lived in him - and with no longer finding, by my own fault, anything in common between Israel's past and my own empty soul.
It was then that, for the first time, I heard of Zionism. You cannot imagine what a light that was, my child! Remember that, at the period of which I am writing, this word Zionism had never yet been spoken in my presence. The anti-Semites accused the Jews of forming a nation within nations; but the Jews, or at any rate those whom I came across, denied it. And now here were the Jews declaring: "We are a people like other peoples; we have a country just as others have. Give us back our country."
I made inquiries. The Zionist idea, it appeared, had its origins far back in the days of the ancient prophets; the Bible promised the Jews of the dispersion that they should return to the Holy Land; during the whole of the Middle Ages only their faith in this promise kept them alive; in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such great spirits as Maurice de Saxe, the Prince de Ligne, and Napoleon had caught a glimpse of the philanthropic, political, economic, religious, and moral advantages which a resettlement of the Jews in Palestine might offer; since 1873 colonies had been founded there and were developing; and now a new apostle, Theodor Herzl, was calling upon the Jews of the whole world to found the Jewish State. Was this the solution for which I was looking? It explained so many things. If the Jews really formed but a single nation, one began to understand why they were considered Jews even when they ceased to practice their religion, and it became credible, too, that a nation which had welcomed them should be able to accuse them of not always being devoted to its national interests. Then the Zionist idea moved me by its sublimity; I admired in these Jews, and would have wished to be able to admire in myself, this fidelity to the ancestral soil which still lived after two thousand years, and I trembled with emotion as I pictured the universal exodus which would bring them home, from their many exiles, to the unity that they had reconquered.
The Third Zionist Congress was about to open at Basel. I decided to attend it. My knowledge of German enabled me to follow the debates pretty closely.  I listened to it all; but, with even greater interest, I looked about me. What Jewish contrasts! A pale-faced Pole with high cheekbones, a German in spectacles, a Russian looking like an angel, a bearded Persian, a clean-shaven American, an Egyptian in a fez, and, over there, that black phantom, towering up in his immense caftan, with his fur cap and pale curls falling from his temples. And in the presence of all these strange faces, the inevitable happened; I felt myself a Jew, very much a Jew ....
What then, for me, was Zionism? It could enthrall me, it enthralls me still, this great miracle of Israel which concerns the whole of Israel: three million Jews will speak Hebrew, will live Hebrew on Hebrew soil! But, for the twelve million Jews who remain scattered throughout the world, for them and for me, the tragic question remained: What is Judaism? What ought a Jew to do? How be a Jew? Why be a Jew?
I am a Jew because the faith of Israel demands of me no abdication of the mind. I am a Jew because the faith of Israel requires of me all the devotion of my heart. I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes. I am a Jew because the word of Israel is the oldest and the newest. I am a Jew because the promise of Israel is the universal promise. I am a Jew because, for Israel, the world is not created: men are completing it. I am a Jew because, for Israel, Man is not created: men are creating him. I am a Jew because, above the nations and Israel, Israel places Man and his Unity.  I am a Jew because, above Man, image of the Divine Unity, Israel places the Divine Unity, and its divinity.'


  1. Thanks for writing this piece. Touching read.

  2. I'm pleased to receive feedback, especially like yours, eze.
    From time to time it's so rewarding to dip into the archives.


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