In Plain Language: The Jewish war on Zionism

In all the protests that came our way... the sign in the crowd which frightened me most was the one which proclaimed “Zionists are not Jews.”

Burning Israeli flag 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Burning Israeli flag 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It was a “you had to be there” experience – the kind you couldn’t invent even if you wanted to. Israel’s Chief of Staff, Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz, was at the Western Wall, attending a private function. He decided that he would take a few moments to stand at the Wall and recite several prayers at this holiest of places. The rabbi of the Kotel, Shmuel Rabinowitz, greeted Gantz enthusiastically and handed him a siddur, randomly pulled from a stack of prayer books sitting on one of the tables.
As Gantz thumbed through the pages, he was horrified to see that both the Prayer for the State of Israel and the Prayer for the Wellbeing of the IDF Soldiers had been crossed out, a line running through their entire text.
Rabinowitz, shocked and embarrassed that someone would desecrate a prayer book and resort to such vandalism, apologized profusely and handed Gantz another, unmarred siddur.
But the general refused to take it. “I will read from this siddur,” he said, holding the original. “No one is going to obliterate either the State of Israel or its proud defenders.” Just as Gantz “read between the lines” there at the Kotel, it is time for us to do the same and acknowledge, sadly and shamefully, that it is not only the anti-Semites of the world who have proclaimed war against Zionism; it is also a large and growing segment of our own Jewish People.
The assault on Zionism attacks from both directions. On the Left, “liberal” professors of the Noam Chomsky variety and their followers – both inside and outside the country – continually spew hatred of the Zionist state, accusing it of being repressive and reactionary, conceived in sin and dedicated in practice to oppressing the “true” owners of the land, the “poor” Palestinians. Each year, more and more secular Israelis dodge the draft and avoid military service. Indeed, whole websites exist purely for the purpose of enabling young men and women to trick the authorities into exempting them from the army.
And of course, at the other end of the spectrum are large segments of the ultra-religious Right who, by doctrine, refuse even to perform national service, let alone bear arms for the country. No matter what provisions the IDF may create to facilitate the entrance of haredi men into the army, from glatt-kosher food to fully segregated units, most of the target audience will entertain no thought whatsoever of serving. Families sending their sons to military service will be ostracized, potential shidduchim will be broken. And those who – perish the thought – openly display an Israeli flag or celebrate Independence Day may even be drummed out of the neighborhood.
In all the protests and counter-protests that came our way in living color from Beit Shemesh, the sign in the crowd which frightened me most was the one which proclaimed “Zionists are not Jews.”
As Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, current president of the Rabbinical Council of America, observed during his recent trip to Israel, “Aside from the obvious security matters impacting Israel, the divisiveness over Zionism is the single-largest issue threatening to tear apart the fabric of Israeli society.”
One of the flashpoints in this national debate, as Gantz bitterly learned, is the Prayer for Israel and its corollary, the Prayer for the IDF. I have written before that I am particularly disappointed – angry might be a better word – that the majority of Orthodox synagogues worldwide refuse to utter a short prayer asking God to safeguard our soldiers.
Even in Diaspora synagogues where congregants wax poetic over the beneficence of their host governments – be it the United States, England or even Russia – they stop short when it comes to blessing the holy defenders of the Jewish People and invoking the Almighty’s watchfulness over them.
IN RESPONSE to my call to congregants to include this prayer in their liturgy, I received many letters. The one from a man on America’s east coast was perhaps most truthful. “Dear Rabbi,” it read, “we in our shul have nothing against the; we wish them well. And, no matter what anyone may write you, there is certainly no Halachic impediment to saying such prayers. But the reason we do not, and will not, say them is because we do not wish to connect to any official arm of the Zionist government that is in power today in Israel. As that government does not operate strictly by Torah law, we want as little to do with it as possible.”
Never before in history has an ideology been so mocked and maligned by those who benefit so much from it.
My reaction to my friends in the religious community is twofold. First, since when does a system have to be perfect before we support it? Was there ever a Jewish commonwealth that faithfully adhered to God’s every word? Was not King Solomon – who built the Holy Temple – bitterly chastised by God for his excesses of government and courtship of alien culture? Did God not promise to wrest control of the whole of Israel from Solomon, waiting to do so only until his son took power, out of deference to King David? And what of the second Beit Hamikdash and the Israel of its tenure? Was it, too, not destroyed and our people sent into exile because of the way they treated one another? How perfect and “Torah-true” was that commonwealth? The fact is, Zionism, admittedly, is far from perfect; its flaws and its foibles are laid out each day in the press for all to see. We are still very much a work in progress. But look at the wondrous achievements we have made! Despite all the odds, all the dire predictions, all the massive, hostile forces set against us, we have created a nation that ranks among the world’s finest. On a material level, our cities, our national institutions, our economy, our army are the envy of all those around us. And on the spiritual level, we have spearheaded the renaissance of Jewish learning post-Shoah to a level unparalleled in our history.
Which brings me to my second counter-argument: How can a Jew of faith possibly omit God from the Zionist equation? If, as the Talmud teaches, “no one so much as cuts his finger in the world below unless it is so ordained in the world above,” does it stand to reason that the majority of the world’s Jews could have been ingathered here in just three generations, that we could have won seven wars of survival, that we could have made the desert bloom, without the help and blessing of the Almighty? Is there any greater heresy than denying God’s active role in all this? It seems abundantly clear to me that the forces of the IDF – who stand as a wall between all our families, homes and yeshivot, and those who would destroy them – are messengers of God sent to protect us, and who, at the very least, deserve our praise and our prayers.
In just a few days we will celebrate Purim, a holiday that revolves almost completely around the issue of the sovereignty of Israel.
On several occasions, Ahasuerus – whom the rabbis depict as no less a Jew-hater than Haman – tells Esther that she may have anything she desires, “up to half the kingdom.”
The Talmud explains this unusual phrase to refer to the granting of permission to the Jews to rebuild our Temple, an act that would re-establish our sovereignty in the land. Just as our enemies do today, the Persian potentate was willing to let us perform our rituals, recite our prayers and even speak our own language, so long as we remained subjugated under his rule.
That is one reason why, by tradition, Purim is the only major holiday on which we do not recite the Hallel prayer; for only when we are sovereign citizens in our own land can we truly praise the Lord. Indeed, the only justification for even including Purim in our list of festivals at all derives from the tradition that Esther and Ahasuerus’s son, Darius II, will come to power and grant his Jewish subjects the right to return to Israel and rebuild the Beit Hamikdash.
To all the post-Zionists, non-Zionists and even anti-Zionists out there – should you deign to read this message – I urge you to recoil from the thought of building a state within a state. If there are problems in our country, in our system, use your energy and conviction to be part of the solution and make this a better nation, a holier nation, a more moral and just nation.
Remember: As problematic as life in the modern State of Israel sometimes can be, living in freedom and independence – with the ability to chart our own course – is one giant step closer to redemption, and a whole lot better than the alternative.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana;