Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why Choose Zionism?

Why Choose Zionism?

A debate on the interpretation of a Talmudic source explains the Neturei Karta viewpoint, but the Zionist interpretation is that of the majority. The halakhic rationale for religious Zionism is as true today as it ever was. Toulouse as a prototype.
From Andrew Hersh
“Zionism goes completely against Judaism.”

“Real Jews are not Zionist.”

“Just take a look at Neturei Karta.  Those are real Jews, observing it to the fullest.”

These are all quotes that you can expect to hear from an anti-Israel advocate (yes, I believe in a distinction between anti-Israel advocates and pro-Palestinian advocates – the former hates Israel more than they care for Palestinians and reject all peace).  But are they right?

Well of course not.  If a few Jews are anti-Zionist, then they must be the real, legitimate ones?  It’s ridiculous.
Almost every single Jew – religious or secular – is inherently Zionist, whether their name is Rav Kook or their name is Theodore Herzl.  These are facts – and the numbers are enough to speak for themselves.  If nearly every Jew believes in this, then who are you to claim to be an expert in Judaism and go around calling an extremist fringe minority the real Jew?

There are two types of this very tiny minority – the ultra ultra-Orthodox group, and the ultra ultra-secular group.

Let’s start with the ultra ultra-Orthodox group.  They are commonly referred to as Neturei Karta.  These people have to be blocked off by NYPD police at the Israeli Day Parade in the spring, because they are crazy.  These people will happily hug Ahmadinejad, as their leader Rabbi Weiss did. 

Still sound so Jewish?  And they’re the role models and real Jews?  These people should be ashamed every day for the chilul Hashem they commit, or desecrating G-d’s name, which is scorned upon in Judaism.
Indeed, these are some of the fullest adherents to Jewish law.  But you know, most other ultra-Orthodox, or ultra ultra-Orthodox groups, are really Zionist, but define it differently.  Take, for example, the Baal Shem Tov, or Besht, who is a very famous rabbi who dedicated his life to fighting against gossip and rumors.  He sent many of his followers to go settle in Palestine (I refer to the geographic area until 1948 as Palestine).  Or how about the Vilna Gaon, a famous rabbi, who encourages his followers to go settle the land in Palestine?
These are just a few examples of the many.  In short, most ultra-Orthodox groups and sects are Zionist.  The Neturei Karta group number about 5,000-6,000, so it is ridiculous to generalize them and elevate them.  And do they have chutzpah – protesting against Israel while being defended by its soldiers.

And what about the ultra ultra secular Jews?  Many of them didn’t grow up in households that were Jewish, have no understanding of what Judaism is at all, etc.  To them, they’re just Jewish by matrilineal descent, and other than that,  they’re really not that Jewish, and they’d probably prefer it that way. 

Having grown up with not even a slight connection to Israel or Judaism, they view Israel as a “political burden” and are brainwashed by anti-Israel advocates.  So it’s easier for their life if they just oppose the only country they’ll be able to flee to if massacres against them break out (indeed, Hitler didn’t care one bit how religious or secular a Jew was).  Do I even need to say why this can’t represent real Jews?

And Theodore Herzl?  He was an extremely secular Jew – as most Jews in Western Europe during the 1800’s were.  Yet whenever someone discusses the history of Zionism, everyone shouts, “Herzl Herzl Herzl.”  Why?  That’s simple.  Following the Dreyfuss Affair, he realized anti-Semitism wouldn’t disappear as a result of the Emancipation, and founded political Zionism.

Now notice how I said political Zionism.  Does that mean there are other forms of Zionism? Well of course.  This is why I am bothered when people say “Herzl Herzl Herzl”  Before Herzl, there were plenty of Zionists.  Take, for example, Rabbi Alkali (1798-1878), who said that Jewish colonies in Palestine were a necessary prelude to the Redempetion (the Mashiach/Messiah).  And what else did Rabbi Alkali say?  Secular action was needed. 

Or consider Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer (1795-1974).  Rabbi Kalischer stated that the salvation of the Jews could take place by natural means, and not through miracles, and encouraged Jewish immigration at all costs, especially from Russia, where pogroms in the Pale of Settlement were rampant.  It was Rabbi Kalischer who was a spiritual leader of the Russian movement, Hovevei Zion, or Lovers of Zion. 
And yes, many secular people supported this too.

Or consider Rabbi Samuel Mohilever, who convinced Baron Edmund de Rothschild to support the settlement of Jews in Palestine and the legal purchasing of land in Palestine.  Rothschild was totally secular – yet he too supported Zionism, even before Herzl. 

Or consider Rav Kook (1865-1935), who believed that Zionism was part of the divine process of redemption that would lead to the coming of the Messiah.

Or how about Rabbi Jacob Reines (1839-1915), the founder of the Mizrachi movement, which has seats in the Knesset today?  Rabbi Reines was the founder of modern religious Zionism, and believed that the idea of Zionism was good and should be encouraged.

And of course, there were the secular Jews too, such as the members of the Russian group BILU, or Baron Edmund de Rothschild, or Theodore Herzl.  Nearly every Jew had supported Zionism by 1900, and the same holds true for today.

So the question remains – why does Neturei Karta reject it? 

It’s actually quite simple.  The Talmud, in Tractate Ketubot, learns that there were three oaths between the Jews, G-d, and the nations of the world, called "Shlosh Hashvuot":. 
  1. The Jews would not go to Israel by mass or by force.
  2. The Jews would not rebel against the nations of the world.
  3. The nations of the world would not oppress/persecute the Jews.
It is this last one's interpretation that is so crucial to understanding the religious Zionist viewpoint.  Most Jews interpreted the oath as being mutual – if one is broken, the others are broken and since the nations certainly oppressed and persecuted the Jews, the Jews could effect a return to Israel on their own.  Neturei Karta, however, believes that the oaths are independent – even if one is broken, the others are still in effect.
Right after the Spanish Inquisition, this teaching in the Talmud was debated once again.  Jews from Spain had nowhere to go, and wanted to know if they would be allowed to go to Israel.  Many said yes, while some said no.  The ones said yes stated that the Spaniards persecuted and oppressed them, and this canceled the other aspects of the treaty.  After all, would it make sense for the Jews to continue to endure suffering, to be killed, and to assimilate?

This teaching in the Talmud also applied to blood libels, Crusades, pogroms, Cossacks, expulsions, inquisitions, ghettos, Dreyfus Affair…

Since the third part of the treaty was broken – and quite severely – the Jews had every right to ascend to Israel by mass. 

So when an anti-Israel advocate brings up this old argument, you know what to respond:  Anti-Israel advocates are entitled to their opinions.  I’m entitled to mine. It has a Talmudic basis.