Passover to Shavuot and the American-European divide

How the transition affects today’s geopolitics and the emerging divide between Americanism and Europeanism.

 AMERICAN REVOLUTION: ‘Washington crossing the Delaware on December 25–26, 1776,’ depicted in Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
AMERICAN REVOLUTION: ‘Washington crossing the Delaware on December 25–26, 1776,’ depicted in Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Jews in Israel and around the world have just completed seven weeks that hark back to events that defined humanity. Two months ago, the Jews marked the anniversary of the exodus from Egypt (Passover), and last week, the receiving of the Torah (Shavuot).

It all started rather simply. Right upon leaving Egypt, God gave the Jews a rather simple formula: “If you will harken to the voice of God your Lord, and will do that which is right in His eyes, and you will listen to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, all the diseases that I have put upon Egypt, I will not put upon you; for I am the Lord your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)

“If you will harken to the voice of God your Lord, and will do that which is right in His eyes, and you will listen to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, all the diseases that I have put upon Egypt, I will not put upon you; for I am the Lord your healer.”

Exodus 15:26

But the Hebrews failed to abide by those four conditions that would lead to healing. Perhaps it was too abstract for a new nation just coming out of enslavement. Therefore, the formula was replaced by a more tangible covenant between God and the nation, which served as the foundation of receiving the Torah – an event celebrated on Shavuot.

From then on, the primary question became: Are we compliant with the tangible commandments of the Torah (Shavuot), at the expense of the earlier abstract question: Are we doing God’s will (Passover)?

This God-based Jewish consciousness later spread to the world through Christianity and Islam, and so for more than 1,000 years, most of the world was in unison: The power is vested with God, and human leaders derive their power from Him.

 THE ICONIC photo of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl leaning over a hotel balcony in Basel, Switzerland, during a Zionist Congress, early 1900s.  (credit: Wikimedia Commons) THE ICONIC photo of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl leaning over a hotel balcony in Basel, Switzerland, during a Zionist Congress, early 1900s. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

This was the source of governance in Jewish communities, where rabbis acted as de-facto heads, in the Middle East with rulers who adopted Islam, and in Europe, which was now operating under the system of Divine-right monarchies. The notion that God appoints the kings predictably created buy-in and institutional knowledge that passed effectively throughout the generations of monarchs.

But then...

The American Revolution: From Divine-right-monarchy to Divine-right-republic

The American Revolution challenged the system of Divine-right-monarchies, not by disavowing the notion that the Divine provides the right, but by claiming that such Divine-right is no longer given to the monarchs but now rests with the people.

Similarly, when Herzl launched the Zionist revolution over a century later, saying that “God would not have preserved our nation for such a long time had there not been another purpose designated for us in the history of mankind,” he planted the seeds for a transformation of Judaism. In some sense, it can be euphemistically interpreted that Herzl was starting a process of a shift from Shavuot to Passover. From a Judaism anchored in following rules, to a purer expression of faith in God; from merely being the “chosen nation”, to a much more maximalistic objective that God outlined at the outset of the exodus: “Healing”.

Indeed, today, the vast majority of seculars in the Jewish state that Herzl envisioned fast on Yom Kippur and have a mezuza on their doors. The seculars’ violation of the Torah is not a reflection of rebelling against God, but of a choice not to abide. This is just like crossing the street on a red light is not a reflection of rebelling against the law, but of a choice not to abide. Most Israeli seculars believe in God, as they do in the rule of law.

And so, while in America, a Divine-right-republic, and in Israel, rooted in Herzl’s Zionism,  where there is a de-facto conceptual acceptance that the power is vested with God, the opposite process is occurring in Europe.

Europe: From Divine-right-monarchy to no Divine

Europe is on its long multi-step process of replacing the Divine-right monarchies: First by negation of the Divine-right, and then, through a move to what can be viewed as a non-Divine entity with some neo-monarchy elements – the European Union.

Both America and Europe rejected the Divine-right monarchy. America did so by rejecting the monarchy; Europe did so by rejecting the Divine.

Herzl was at the right place at the right time to witness this European shift. As the Paris correspondent of one of Europe’s most influential newspapers, the Neue Freie Presse, he spent four years at the French corridors of power, gaining front-row insight into the French Republic and its flows, which in turn allowed him to plant the seeds for a more perfect Europe in the Jewish State. (Zionism’s founder is an invaluable resource for today’s Europe as it charts its road for renewal, and the European Union should study his writings and philosophy).

Herzl’s cynicism of French democracy, which contributed to him being surveiled by French police, was perhaps an early indicator of the emerging 21st-century global divide between Americanism and Europeanism. Unlike in the United States and in Israel, where democracy is conceptually associated with faith in God, it is a function of a rebellion against God in the European model.

The French revolution, which is the source of today’s European democracies, was also a rebelling against the Divine. So much so that they even changed the 7-day week to 10 days, to disavow the idea that God created the world. Herzl mocked that attempt in layered insinuations.

HERZL IDENTIFIED a key ingredient integral to the democratic system: Corruption! He made a distinction between two types of corruption. One is monetary corruption, such as the exchange of money for political favors. This occurred during the Panama Scandals that engulfed France in the 1890s, and occurs today in endless cases of political bribery around the world.

But he observed that the magnitude of this tangible corruption pales in comparison to the abstract corruption that routinely occurs in parliament, which he labeled “the [stock] exchange of power.”

Monetary bribery, Herzl argued, leads to one act of damage – the corrupt action that was paid for. But in a “barter” transaction, where one pays for a desired action by taking another action himself – there are two acts of damage.

Absent a monarchy that has a long-term view and a family reputation to defend and preserve, political transactions in a democracy are derived by interests, and hence lead to build-in corruption.

Indeed, most acts of corruption in Herzl’s framework are “legal” – they fall within the laws, within which the politicians are trained to stay. And so, corruption, per this definition, not only goes unnoticed, but is also a necessary mechanism to move the political process forward. Herzl himself noted years later that he had used his position as a journalist to advance his own interests – the promotion of Zionism.

Yet perhaps, this is where the above-mentioned subtle shift from Shavuot (rules) back to Passover (God’s will) takes place. Such a shift, conceptually speaking, can only occur in divine-right democracies, such as the United States and Israel.

Is the only question “what is within the law (halachically ok)?” – or is it also “what is God’s will?”

Perhaps it is only ironic that in the first line of Herzl’s diaries – in the first line in that journey back home – Herzl makes a reference to Shavuot.  ■

The writer is author of Judaism 3.0 – Judaism’s transformation to Zionism. Judaism-Zionism.com