I was recently present at a panel discussion on the subject of religious pluralism in Israel. Two members of the Knesset addressed the audience. MK Yithak “Buji” Herzog (Labor) articulated a clear position for the State of Israel that put religious pluralism front and center. He posited that no single group holds a monopoly on Jewish tradition and on truth.
Minister Miki Eitan (Likud) also articulated a position. Sadly, his approach was that Israel, as both a Jewish and a democratic state, must preserve THE true religious traditions. His mistake was in thinking that the Orthodoxy he votes to fund (while denying funding to the non-Orthodox streams) holds some sort of monopoly on truth. His parochial views are an anathema to Israel and a distortion of Judaism. They uphold prejudice against women and fail to make room for a revitalization of Judaism in our homeland.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the great Zionist thinker, wrote “The old shall be renewed and the new shall be sanctified.” Rav Kook understood that a room full of holy books from centuries gone by would not be enough to inspire the Jewish people in our new State. He believed with a passion that innovation was a sacred obligation. The old must be revitalized and the new, he insisted, was to be seen as holy and sacred. This is a lesson lost on Minister Eitan and so many others who falsely view themselves as preservers of THE tradition.
As Israel celebrates Yom HaAtzmaut there is much reason to rejoice. The Masorti Movement is a Religious Zionist Movement. This too was lost on Minister Eitan who, as many Israelis do, confused the word “Dati” (religious) with the word “Orthodox.” I am a Masorti rabbi. I am Dati. I am a religious Zionist. Indeed, the Masorti Movement is the sole religious stream that never had serious elements which questioned the legitimacy of Zionism.
Zionism does NOT mean occupying the maximum amount of territory possible. It does not mean controlling the fate of another people.
It does mean the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Israel – but that is a necessary and insufficient understanding of its meaning. Herzl never saw the establishment of a Jewish homeland as the sole goal of Zionism. Herzl understood, just as Rav Kook understood with regard to Jewish tradition, that Zionism is an ongoing process. It demands a continuing commitment to the building of our vision for the Jewish State. That vision entails a State that is deeply committed to providing a safe haven for its citizens and for all Jews. But it also must be a State that strives to be a beacon to others – a “Light unto the nations.” It must strive for justice, tolerance, and for peace.”
Herzl wrote, “It is true that we aspire to our ancient land. But what we want in that ancient land is a new blossoming of the Jewish spirit. "
As we celebrate our independence we remember those who perished to help achieve this dream. We do so on the day before Yom HaAtzmaut. We know that we cannot achieve our vision without pain and sacrifice.
Indeed the Masorti Movement in Israel exists to help build the very spirit about which Herzl spoke. Israel is a county with a vital economy, wonderful universities, and a strong army. It has taken decades to achieve this.
Let us, the committed Zionists, fulfill the visions of both Herzl and Rav Kook. Let us strive to renew and revitalize Judaism. Let us make it available to those who are searching to come home. And let us do so in a democratic country that eschews the “tyranny of the minority” that Miki Eitan has embraced.
Herzl called Zionism “a moral, lawful, humanitarian movement.” Let us commit to keeping this vision ever vital.