Allegations that two popular Israeli singers were involved in a series of
statutory rapes that reportedly involves drugs and perhaps sex favors provided
by the minor to the singers’ cronies and hangers- on have dominated domestic
news in recent days.
Much of the public discourse has focused on the
police’s logic in issuing a gag order when anyone with Internet connection can
easily discover the names of the suspects.
No less worthy of discussion,
however, is the state of Israeli popular culture in the 21st century. That the
pop-rock culture of groupies, sex and drugs has been imported to our little
corner of the world and is ensconced in contemporary Israeli society is
undeniable; that we, the citizens of the State of Israel, confront such a
phenomenon with relative equanimity should give us pause to rethink Zionism’s
vision for the creation of a uniquely Hebrew culture.
Nearly all the
founding fathers were enamored with the cultural possibilities offered by a
Jewish state. A real potential existed for a truly modern Hebrew culture to
flourish once the Jewish people had re-assumed sovereignty in their historic
homeland and had adapted their ancient language to modernity.
as Micha Yosef Berdichevsky, a.k.a. Mikhah Yosef Bin-Gorion (1865-1921),
called for a radical break with the Jewish people’s Diaspora past. Central to
this approach was the rejection of “exile mentality,” whether the rabbinic
Judaism that had developed in Diaspora communities around the world in the
centuries following the destruction of the Second Temple, or the “sickness” that
characterized relations between the powerless, rootless, wandering Jews and the
Such was the dominant voice of Zionism in the first decades
after the creation of the state. David Ben-Gurion’s melting-pot approach to
aggressively socializing new immigrants, whether in the education system, the
IDF or the workplace, attempted to produce a “new Jew” and shape a proud Israeli
nation without all the neuroses of exile. That is not to say this form of
Zionism was not open to external cultural influences.
iconoclastic Eastern European socialist founders of Israel were surprisingly
puritanical. It was, after all, under Mapai’s leadership that The Beatles in
1965 were prevented from performing in Israel. Dr. Hanoch Rinot,
then-director general of the Education Ministry and a member of Kibbutz Ein
Harod, justified the decision in the following way: “This [The Beatles’
performance] is not a musical or artistic experience, rather a demonstration of
ecstatic sexuality that will lead to aggression and sexual arousal.”
there were other voices in Zionism, such as that of Ahad Ha’am (the nom de plume
of Asher Ginsberg (1856-1927), who claimed that the great goal of the Zionist
project was the renewal of Judaism and Jewish culture via a new and free
interpretation of tradition.
And this trend has been increasingly
dominant in recent decades, whether it be the influences of Jewish sources on
the lyrics of mainstream rock stars such as Berry Sakharof, Ehud Banai and Kobi
Oz, the increasing popularity of Sephardi liturgy (piyyut) put to music, the
prominence of Jewish themes in the films of Joseph Ceder and Rama Burshtein, or
the increased interest among secular Israelis in the study of traditional Jewish
sources in intellectually open environments.
Aping the insipid culture of
Reality TV – driven by the twin logic of low production costs and appeal to our
basest instincts – diverts us from our true cultural calling.
as Haravak (“The Bachelor”) debase and objectify women. We cannot help but
wonder how the young women who purportedly agreed to compromise their sexuality
in the case involving the Israeli singers were influenced by this
Attempts to censor or block outside cultural influences – such
as under Mapai’s rule – are not only futile, they are dangerous, because
ultimately no one can be entrusted with deciding what ideas should and should
not be given expression. But surely we should seek a culture resembling Ahad
Ha’am’s vision for a uniquely Jewish collective that is more than just a
Hebrew-language version of the Big Brother reality show.