When I began writing my upcoming book, Judaism 3.0-Judaism’s transformation to Zionism (available from January 2), a decade ago, I thought I might be stating something that is obvious: Judaism is transforming as a result of the reestablishment of the Jewish state.
After all, when the Jewish nation-religion went into exile in the first century CE and no longer had the Temple as its anchor (Judaism 1.0), they adopted a new organizing principle, anchored in the internal glue of religiosity and external one of complete insularity. Now that those two glues have been dramatically eroded on the one hand, and the state of Israel was founded on the other, Judaism’s organizing principle is naturally shifting from its religious element (Rabbinic Judaism – Judaism 2.0) to its national element (Zionism – Judaism 3.0).
Over the last decade, I developed those ideas through position papers, articles and a think tank I established in New York composed of friends and acquaintances of all political, religious and national backgrounds (housed in the America-Israel Friendship League). The enthusiasm my ideas sparked – in agreement and disagreement alike – made me realize just how much passion is embedded in the simple question: Where is today’s Judaism?
I argue in my book that it is in Judaism 3.0, by delving into an analysis of trends in Israel and North American Jewry (together about 85% of today’s world Jewish population), as well as of the external environments that impact the state of Judaism: trends in America, global trends, and analysis of shifts in the way the world perceives the Jews – whether in love or in opposition.
Applying my years of research of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl – who remains one of the most understudied and misunderstood figures in Jewish history and philosophy – I show how the depth of his concepts are only now becoming reflected in the contemporary state of Judaism.
Indeed, the transformation of Judaism that Herzl seeded did not occur in Israel’s first 70 years, not only because transformations of this magnitude take a long time, but also due to insurmountable hurdles that sprung up during those years and delayed the transformation. Those included the artificial over-association Zionism had with secularism, Israel’s economic and survival hardships, the initial fierce objection to Zionism by haredi Orthodox Jews, American Jews’ fear of dual loyalty accusations, and overemphasis on the practical aspects of Zionism – immigration to Israel. All of those hurdles are now removed, and the path is clear to recognize that Judaism has transformed.
The transformation to Judaism 3.0 does not require any action, legislation, or halachic changes. It is happening in one’s consciousness, in one’s basic approach to Judaism. Recognizing it would be its fulfillment. Yet such recognition has practical implications as well, which are far-reaching. It would lead to a more genuine relationship of the world with the Jews, to Jewish clarity, to a greater sense of Jewish belongingness and pride, and a smoother path to peace.
Just as important, as demonstrated in the book, recognizing the transformation would go a long way in addressing today’s existential threats to Judaism.
These include the risk of the evaporation of North American Jewry, the threat of post-Zionism (which is the same as post-Judaism), and mostly, the rapidly spreading existential threat of Israel-bashing, which has replaced antisemitism as the vehicle of age-old opposition to Judaism.
Jew-hatred always existed, but it evolved as European and Jewish circumstances changed. In the Middle Ages, when Europe was religious, the opposition to Judaism was manifested in seemingly religious persecution. In the 19th century, when Europe became increasingly secular, it was manifested in ethnological hatred. This hatred was given a new name toward the end of the 19th century: antisemitism.
Today, European antisemitism is no longer an existential threat to Judaism. Given European evolution over the past decades, there is no longer the fierce institutionalized objection to Jews nor to the Jewish religion (Judaism 2.0). While there are certainly dangers to Jews as individuals, Jews as a whole do not face the state-sponsored opposition they did in the past. Yet at the same time, there is a rising and fierce European objection to Zionism (Judaism 3.0).
In other words, Europe has settled its account with Judaism 2.0 and now has a new conflict with Judaism 3.0, manifesting itself in a new form of opposition to Judaism: Israel-bashing.
Israel-bashing replaces antisemitism
Israel-bashing has rapidly morphed into a culture, fashion and code of conduct. The BDS coalition, which calls to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, is just a small part of it. While the hardcore of the Israel-bashing movement might still be on the fringe, its influence has been trickling into Europe’s mainstream and from there to the rest of the world. It is expressed, for example, in European criticism of Israel’s right to self-defense, in the intensity of European anger at the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and in its votes in a series of UNESCO resolutions that essentially denies Jewish ties to Jerusalem.
There are startling parallels between the evolution of the previous episode of European Jew-hatred – antisemitism – and the contemporary evolution of Israel-bashing.
Just like today, there was a debate during the early days of the antisemitism movement in the second half of the 19th century on where to draw the line between legitimate criticism of Jews and outright Jew-hatred.
No doubt, the emancipation of Jews in Europe had consequences: Jews were taking jobs from Europeans, they were amassing wealth, and were acting in the stock market in ways that damaged the interests of European miners and laborers. Some Jews no doubt engaged in antisocial behavior, and in manners that were contradictory to European culture. There were antisemites who had Jewish friends, and there were antisemites who sought to reform the Jews for the Jews’ own benefit.
Today as well, there is a recognition that much of the criticism of Israel is legitimate – whether one agrees with it or not. Similarly, those critical of Israel’s policies must be defended from allegations that they are motivated by hate. Yet one cannot ignore the contemporary European obsession with Israel. The dogmatic political opposition and blood libels (“massacre in Gaza”/“genocide in Palestine”) cannot just be dismissed as “criticism” of Israel, just like the 1886 popular antisemitic book Jewish France cannot simply be dismissed as criticism of Jews.
Israel-bashing is much stronger, well-financed, and integral to contemporary European culture and global society than the previous iteration of Jew-hatred – antisemitism – was in its early days. Indeed, antisemitism was a fringe movement in the late 19th century and had fewer resources and buy-in than today’s Israel-bashing. Tragically, 70 years since it appeared in Europe, antisemitism led to the Holocaust.
Remedy to Israel-bashing
The key to the Israel-bashing movement’s success is staying in Judaism 2.0 – solidifying that Judaism’s organizing principle is its religious aspect.
Hence, recognizing that Judaism has transformed would rob the Israel-bashers of their starting point: the premise that Judaism is merely a religion and therefore bashing Israel is not Jew-hatred.
It would clarify that Israel-bashing and Jew-bashing are one and the same.
Israel-bashing is not just limited to Europe, but it incubates there and spreads to Europe’s sphere of influence. European behavior provides the legitimacy for a global wide-scale Israel-bashing culture. That was the case throughout history, to a large extent due to the vast majority of Jews residing there. Europe was the arena in which the world met the Jews during the last 2,000 years, and `hence, that is where the opposition to the Jews was developed.
Today again, old European blood libels are applied to the contemporary state of Europeanism and Judaism. Human-rights concepts championed by Europe are used as the vehicle of opposition to the Jewish state.
For example, the eviction of eight Palestinian families in a property dispute in May was labeled by Israel-bashers as “ethnic cleansing,” and the defensive action against Hamas terrorists, who fired over 4,300 rockets into Israel, was labeled “genocide.” Social media enabled the anti-Israel poison to spread broad and deep. The ceasefire, after 11 days of war, put an end to the rockets coming from Gaza, but not to the anti-Israel hatred coming from the West. Contrary to popular view, the direction of much of the Israel-bashing hatred is from the West to the Arab world and not the other way around.
This too was the case historically. The blood libels that were a popular expression of European Jew-hatred when Europe was religious were not limited to Europe either. In 1840, Jews in Syria were accused of using human blood to prepare Passover matzah. The Damascus blood libel that shocked Syria and the Ottoman Empire at the time did not originate with the Arabs. It was orchestrated by French diplomats.
Europe brought this along with other anti-Jewish fables into the Middle East, where the took on local adaptations. Herzl identified the chronic nature of such opposition: “We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution. This is the case in every country, and will remain so, even in those highly civilized.”
And yet two events serve as historic disruptors of chronic European animosity toward the Jews:
– The American Revolution (establishment of new Zion), and
– The founding of the Jewish state (re-establishment of old Zion).
Disrupters to Jew-hatred
The American Revolution was a rebellion against deeply rooted European dogmas, giving Americans new freedoms that were unimaginable in Europe. This included the freedom from Europe’s chronic opposition to Judaism. Not only Jews were free in America, but so was Judaism.
This new attitude toward the Jews became more significant at the turn of the 20th century, as global power shifted from Europe to the United States. For the entirety of recorded history, Europe dominated world affairs and dictated global perspectives, including attitudes toward Jews. The rise of a new global power meant a disrupter to European opposition to Judaism.
While no longer the globally dominant factor today, Europe still wields disproportionate power over global affairs through multinational organizations that Europe funds and strongly influences. Those institutions’ touch points with Judaism are with Zionism, not with religious Judaism.
For example, the International Criminal Court is heavily funded by Europe and is housed in Europe. The court is not a threat to the Jewish religion, but it is certainly a threat to the Jewish nation. It has the capability to deliver paralyzing blows to Israel’s security, economy and society, such as by threatening to arrest Israeli government officials, military personnel, settlers – in short, all Israelis. This is not just a theoretical conspiracy theory about Europe targeting the Jews. This is an ongoing multi-year active investigation, funded by European taxpayers.
The second disrupter, the re-establishment of the Jewish state, redefined Europe’s relationship with the Jews. The European-Jewish relationship has never been that of co-equals. Jews were the miserable ones, a nation of refugees with no rights residing in the midst of Europe. In Europe’s defense, how could one possibly expect them to swiftly change this attitude toward the Jew? Herzl understood this human psychology: “There is no use in suddenly announcing in the newspaper that starting tomorrow, all people are equal,” he warned Otto von Bismarck, Germany’s first chancellor.
After Herzl’s time, the situation only got worse. The pending establishment of the State of Israel meant that the Jew might not only suddenly be equal but also suddenly be strong. This was too difficult to swallow for Europeans after centuries of indoctrination. Indeed, as the Jews were on a trajectory to establishing their own state, European animosity to Judaism intensified to horrific proportions.
The European-Israeli conflict is the world’s oldest feud, dating back to the Greek and Roman invasion of Judea and their relentless efforts to negate Judaism. Since then, there were periods of peace, or at least containment, but the feud always found its way back to confrontation.
This is the case of our times. After decades of peace, the European-Israeli relationship has cycled back to conflict yet again, in part due to the shift from a religious Europe to an atheist Europe. The Church’s hostility in the Middle Ages toward Judaism radically changed over the last centuries. Indeed, religious European Christians today embrace the strong Jew. But sadly, the strong Jew represents an insurmountable problem for the secular European whose religious point of reference is stuck in the Middle Ages. Such theological “arrested development” by European seculars influence their contemporary attitudes toward Judaism.
The astonishing success of the Jewish state in recent years makes this problem even worse. Perhaps a weak State of Israel could have been contained, but in the 21st century, as the Jew went from equal to strong to powerful, the 2,300-year-old European-Jewish conflict is once again escalating. The arena of this renewed escalation is clearly in the national aspect of Judaism – Zionism – and is only likely to accelerate.
Historically, European disdain for Jews was amplified whenever there were growing frustrations in Europe. During times of European flourishing, the Jews typically did well. When things went bad in Europe, the Jews were to blame.
Such was the case during the black death pandemic in the mid-1300s, when Jews were massacred in “response” to the plague. Such was the case after France’s humiliating defeat to Prussia in 1870, which led to the Dreyfus Affair, and such was the case in Germany’s humiliating defeat in World War I, which led to the Holocaust.
Since the end of World War II, Jews in Europe and around the world have been living in yet another Golden Age. But Europe’s fortunes are changing. A series of frustrations are emerging that will have an inevitable impact on Europe’s attitude toward Judaism.
First and foremost is Europe’s trench war against Islamic terrorism, which is still in its early stage, and is intertwined with the rise of European Islamophobia. Europe is not remotely prepared for the magnitude, cruelty and amorphous nature of this war. European fingers are already being pointed at the Jews, but this time it is specifically pointed at the Jewish state (Judaism 3.0).
There is a mainstream European view that the Israeli-Arab conflict is a cause of terrorism around the world: if we “address” the Israeli occupation, the logic goes, Europe would be safer. This ludicrous idea is not on the fringe but mentioned by European heads of states. Other European frustrations also funnel their way toward the State of Israel and hence help define Judaism from the outside.
Israel-bashing forces Jews into their Judaism
“Only antisemitism made Jews of us,” Herzl said. Indeed, when most Jews were in Europe, the antisemitism ideology developed in the 19th century in response to the Jews’ emancipation and success forced Jews into their Judaism.
Now that most Jews are in Israel, the same underlying hatred has followed them. By the 2020s, after a few years of brewing,
Israel-bashing ideology is spreading exponentially, morphing into a primary existential threat to all Jews, and forcing Jews into their Judaism through Zionism.
To be clear, Israel-bashing does not only affect Israelis. It is the currency of contemporary opposition to Judaism. Hence attempts to distance oneself from Israel or Zionism are futile. Herzl wrote about a friend who wished to convert in order to avoid antisemitism, that “when five thousand like him become baptized, the watchword would simply be changed to Dirty Converts.”
Indeed, leaving Judaism did not help in the past – not in the Holocaust and not in the Inquisition (on the contrary, it only placed those Jews under its jurisdiction).
And yet some insist on “defending” against the outdated existential threat to Judaism 2.0 – that of antisemitism – while participating in the onslaught against the Jewish state and Zionism.
The human tendency to focus on the threats of the past could be dangerous when new threats emerge. The mere recognition of the transformation to Judaism 3.0 will go a long way in defending against this looming existential threat to Judaism.
But it does so not just by robbing Israel-bashers of their prerequisite assumptions that Judaism is merely a religion, but also by strengthening all aspects of Judaism: tikkun olam (fixing the world) is more credible when Judaism is intertwined with Israel, the tikkun olam state that produces unimaginable innovations that save lives around the world and advance humanity.
Increased Jewish passion and pride augments other connections to Judaism one has, including through Jewish learning, tradition and faith. Indeed, recognizing the transformation would fuel vibrancy into the full spectrum of Judaism and fulfill Herzl’s vision: Zionism is the return to Judaism.
This article is based on an excerpt from the author’s book, Judaism 3.0 - Judaism’s transformation to Zionism, released on January 2 and launched in Jerusalem 10 days later. It is now available on Amazon for pre-orders. For more information, go to Judaism-Zionism.com.