Berlin, Jerusalem and dual loyalty

At the synod of Reform rabbis held at Frankfurt in 1845 Rabbi Samuel Holdheim rejected the idea of a personal messiah and political redemption in the Land of Israel.

Israeli passport [Illustrative] (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Israeli passport [Illustrative]
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
At the synod of Reform rabbis held at Frankfurt in 1845 Rabbi Samuel Holdheim rejected the idea of a personal messiah and political redemption in the Land of Israel.
“The hope for a national restoration contradicts our feeling for the fatherland,” Holdheim stated.
“Our nationality is now only expressed in religious concepts and institutions.” This rejection of the concept of Jews as a nation was rooted in two concepts. The first was the Reformers’ rejection of what seemed to be a primitive notion of a personal messiah and the resumption of sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem. This clashed with the Enlightenment ideas of a religion of reason and universal brotherhood. But the second reason for Holdheim’s statement is just as striking: this Reform rabbi wanted to avoid charges of dual loyalty. The Jewish commitment to sovereignty in Israel brought into question the allegiance of Jews to the Germanic state where they were striving to be citizens.
Messianic redemption in the Land of Israel contradicted loyalty to Germany as the fatherland. Therefore, the early Reformers rejected Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel out of fear of charges of dual loyalty. “Berlin is our Jerusalem!” was their clarion call.
With the rise of Zionism and creation of a Jewish state, the fear of charges of dual loyalty among Jews in the Diaspora increased.
No longer was the focus of dual loyalty a messianic redemption at the end of time. The idea of a Jewish state was now firmly in the realm of history. Support for Israel raised suspicions that Jews could not support a Jewish state without betraying their citizenship and the country they lived in the Diaspora. This suspicion was unfounded, especially in the United States. The fears in Germany of Jewish disloyalty to the German fatherland had little to do with dual loyalty and much more to do with Jew hatred and anti-Semitism.
German Jews were loyal to the fatherland. In World War I, 100,000 Jews served honorably in the Kaiser’s army. Jews fought for the fatherland – 12,000 Jews died in the war effort. How much more loyal could German Jews be to the state that emancipated them? Nevertheless, the rhetoric of most Germans after the war was that Jews “stabbed Germany in the back” and were responsible for the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty.
There was nothing that any German Jew could do to counter the libel of dual loyalty. Their patriotism counted for nothing.
The United States of America has had a “special relationship” of alliance with Israel for more than 50 years. There was no contradiction between being a good American and an American Zionist.
Most of the time, America and Israel saw eye to eye. Unfortunately, we are seeing the unraveling of this relationship. The Obama administration’s recent deal with Iran was a betrayal of Israel and a trigger to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. A nuclear Iran is the primary threat to Israel’s existence. Jewish political groups have been lobbying Congress to reject the deal with Iran. This is not an example of dual loyalty.
Iran is foremost a threat to the United States. Crowds in Tehran burn the American flag and shout for “Death to America.” The rejection of this treaty is in the political interest of both America and Israel. We have heard enough of “The Jewish Lobby” manipulating American foreign policy and being “Israel firsters.” Jewish political organizations are exercising their First Amendment rights and the exercise of free speech and free expression. If the executive branch of the American government is carrying out policies detrimental to the United States and Israel, there is no reason why the Israeli prime minister should turn down an invitation that was extended by the legislative branch to warn America of Iran’s support of terrorism and nuclear ambitions. If America is truly to have governing checks and balances, it is a libel to accuse Israel of interfering in American politics.
Charges of dual loyalty will never go away. But let us learn the lesson from Germany. For all their sacrifice for the German fatherland, the charges of disloyalty remained. Supporters of Israel who would never violate American law to serve a foreign nation should not be afraid of speaking out on behalf of the State of Israel.
The Obama administration’s attempts to derail the special relationship that began with president Kennedy will fail.
The author is a rabbi, writer and teacher living in Sunrise, Florida.