CCAR Journal Supplement
Apr. 12, 2007
 

WRESTLING WITH MODERN ZIONISM

At the first gathering of the ARZA Reform Zionist Think Tank in Israel, A. B. Yehoshua presented a powerful argument for the separation of religion and state, suggesting that Judaism and Israel no longer belong together. These adult study materials provided present Eric Yoffie and Michael Meyer’s response to Yehoshua and create an opportunity for our congregants to participate in a deeply important and troubling conversation about our connections to the land, people and state of Israel.

 

The discussion guides that follow can be used in a variety of settings, such as: 

  • Following Shabbat evening services as part of a structured study program or at oneg discussion tables
  • During Shabbat services in place of a sermon
  • As the text(s) for Shabbat Torah study programs
  • With religious school parents whose children are learning about Israel and Zionism
  • As a self guided study program for synagogue chavurot

 

Below, we present Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie’s outline of Yehoshua’s argument.  Following the introduction, you will find selections from Yehoshua’s article, and the responses from Rabbi Yoffie and Dr. Michael A. Meyer, with discussion questions. You may choose to use the introduction as a discussion starter, or to give a brief talk outlining the points raised by the authors.  The texts and questions can be distributed “as is,” or you may choose to re-organize the quotes and questions according to the needs of your students/congregants.

 

Introduction:

 

In the Spring 2007 Issue of the CCAR Journal, members and guests of the the ARZA Institute for Reform Zionism (formerly the Reform Zionist Think Tank) addressed the question of Reform Zionism.  What is Reform Zionism? How might it differ from other Zionist ideologies? How can or should Reform Jews contextualize and think about their relationship to Israel in an authentic and religious way? What are the outlines of the Reform Zionist narrative?

 

Israeli Author A.B. Yehoshua has spoken and written publicly many times espousing his provocative Zionist ideas.  In his essay, “The Zionist Revolution: Is it Continuing?” he comes to the conclusion that secular national Judaism and Jewish religion should be separated. In the CCAR Journal, Dr. Michael A. Meyer, the premier historian of Reform Judaism and the academic co-Chair of the Institute for Reform Zionism, and Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, each present a Reform Zionist response and to Yehoshua’s arguments.

Rabbi Yoffie presents a succinct outline of the major points that Yehoshua makes in his essay, and has reiterated in many of his speeches and writings: 

 

From:  “A Response to A.B. Yehoshua,” by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie,

CCAR Journal, Spring 2007

 

I suggest that the heart of his argument can be found in the following propositions:

 

·        The purpose of Zionism is to normalize the Jewish people.

·        The State of Israel will be the instrument of this normalization.  It will establish Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, give Jews their own language—Hebrew—as the language of the State, and open the State to every Jew wanting to be part of it.

·        The greatest obstacle to Jewish normalization in the Jewish State is the nature of Judaism itself—because Judaism is a unique combination of a distinctive nationalism and a distinctive religion.

 

And why are these problematic [for Yehoshua]?

 

·        Because belonging to a State must be unconditional, not dependent on any value system or set of beliefs.  Therefore, there will always be tension between religion and nation.

·        Because in the last 150 years, the secular Jew has emerged, and this secular Jew refuses to believe in the God of Israel and the Torah of Israel.

·        Because Israel has many citizens who are completely loyal but who are not Jews, such as Christian immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

·        Because Jewish religious groups are always in conflict among themselves, leading sometimes to tragic consequences, as we saw with the destruction of the Second Temple.”

 

 


Texts for Study

 

A Blessing for Torah Study

 

We suggest that you begin by reciting the b’racha for Torah Study:

Baruch ata Adonai, eloheinu melech ha'olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu la'asok b'divrei Torah.

Praised are You, Adonai, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made us holy with commandments and commanded us to engage in the study of Torah.

 

In a small group or with you chevrutah (study partner), read and comment on the texts and discuss the questions that follow.

 

From: “The Zionist Revolution: Is it Continuing?” by A. B. Yehoshua

I insist here on sticking to the true definition, minimalistic as it may be, of the concept “Zionism,”…Zionism is not a unified ideology but rather a commonly agreed upon platform representing different and even conflicting ideologies… All of the political parties participating in the Zionist Congresses, in their various hues and shades, were Zionist, not in their programs and platforms but in the common intention held by all of them to establish a Jewish political sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael which would be, by its basic principle, open to every Jew wishing to be a part thereof.” 

 

  1. Do you agree with Yehoshua’s definition that a Zionist is one who supports the establishment of a Jewish political sovereignty in the Biblical Land of Israel which is open to every Jew?
  2. How would you define Zionism? What is this definition informed by?
  3. Are you a Zionist by Yehoshua’s definition? Are you a Zionist according to your definition?

 

Golah/Galut גולה\גלות

 

Exile; the Jewish condition of being in Diaspora due to expulsions from the land of Israel.

“The golah [exile] is not a condition which has been forced upon the Jews by the nations, but rather a situation chosen by the Jews themselves.  Granted, a complicated, not easy, painful, dangerous choice, made in order to solve, or more correctly, to escape from the basic elementary conflict of Jewish identity created by that unique combination of a distinctive nationalism and a distinctive religion already beginning to emerge, in reality or in aspiration, in the Sinai Desert (possessed nonetheless of a visionary spirit and universal intentions).”

 

  1. Do you think that Jews today live in exile? What, in your opinion, is the difference between exile and Diaspora? Do you think of yourself as living in Exile or in Diaspora?
  2. Yehoshua indicates that historically Jews have chosen to live in Diaspora, rather than in Israel, because in his view, trying to combine nationalism with religion causes an identity conflict that cannot be resolved.  Do you think there is an inherent conflict in combining nationalism with religion? Why or why not?
  3. Later in his article, Yehoshua writes that Jewish nationality should be completely separated from Jewish religion, suggesting that secular nationalism is the Israeli way of being Jewish and Jewish religion the way of being Jewish in the Diaspora.  What do you think of this perspective? What are the implications of splitting Jewish nation/peoplehood from Jewish religion?

 

Two Reform Responses to Yehoshua:

 

On Jewish National Consciousness:

 

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie:

“Yes, Jewish peoplehood and Jewish religion are intimately related and inextricably intertwined.  And yes, this relationship is fraught with tension.  I suggest, however, that it is the precisely the interplay between the two – tension and all – that has maintained our existence for 3500 years.

 

“And in fact, separating the two makes no sense.  Indeed, the concept of the Jews being one people with a deep connection to the Land of Israel is not an ethnic or political idea.  It is a religious idea that was called into being at Sinai.  It is an idea rooted in covenant, in religious commitment, and faith.  Therefore, severing religion from peoplehood/nationalism is a logical impossibility.”

 

Dr. Michael A. Meyer:

"For us, Jewish nationality is subjective rather than objective.  We sense a national attachment to fellow Jews wherever they may be.  That sensitivity is a product not of birth but of nurture and education.  Moreover, our Jewish national consciousness cannot be severed from our religious sensibilities.  Jewish nationality without Jewish religion, like Jewish religion without Jewish nationality, represents an incomplete form of Jewish identity.  Christians living in Israel may be Israelis, but, though they be Hebrew speaking, they are not therefore Jews."

 

 

1.    Rabbi Yoffie suggests that Zionism and a connection to the Land of Israel is based on faith and religious commitment, not an ethnic or political idea.  What is your reaction to this?    

2.    What do you think of Dr. Meyer's assertion that Reform Jews "sense a national attachment to fellow Jews wherever they may be?"

3.    What informs your connection to a "Jewish national consciousness" or sense of "peoplehood?" Do you think that this sense can be divorced from your religiosity?

 

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie:

“As a Reform Jew, I believe in a diverse, pluralistic Judaism, but that is not the same as saying that Judaism can be stripped of its religious character and can become whatever you want it to be.  If Israelis lose all connection with Jewish religious practice and belief, and assume that simply living in Israel is enough to make them Jewish, there is every reason to believe that Israelis can and will assimilate, even if it takes them a bit longer than others to do so…

 

“Of course, if I am correct that religion and peoplehood/nationalism are inextricably interwoven, then the equation works the other way as well.  Judaism is also threatened by those who practice a Judaism of spirituality alone and who think that Judaism can somehow be denuded of its communal and national dimensions.  This means the Kabbalah-spouting Americans who care nothing for their community, and it means the universalistic do-gooders who want justice for everyone except for Israel.  And it also means those who immerse themselves in the minutiae of Jewish ritual while retreating behind ghetto walls— those who are so focused on every jot and tittle of the law that they banish from their heart the leaving and breathing concerns of their people and of the Jewish state.”

 

1.    Do you agree with Rabbi Yoffie that secular Israeli nationalism, devoid of religious practice and belief, would lead to assimilation?

2.    What are the threats posed by Yoffie's examples of Jewish spirituality devoid of a sense of peoplehood? Do you agree with his assertion?

 

Implications for Israel

 

Dr. Michael A. Meyer

"With regard to the Jewish religion, we favor its separation from the state but not from Jewish nationality.  Quite the contrary, we would like to see Jewish religion play a pervasive role in the culture of Jewish Israel.  We would simply want a rejection of religious coercion and the creation of conditions that allow for its pluralistic expression in a variety of theological and practical forms."

 

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

“Mr. Yehoshua has raised the issue of religious extremism.  He has suggested that religious conflict is endemic to Jewish life and – potentially, at least – is a serious threat to the Jewish state… And how do we resist extremism?  Not by arguing with extremists, who are not generally amenable to argument of any kind.  Rather, first, by affirming again and again that the State of Israel is a Jewish-democratic state, which means that it must have a secure Jewish majority and must be democratic in the commonly accepted meaning of that term; and second, by discouraging religious monopolies and welcoming diverse expressions of Judaism.”

 

1.    What do you think is the difference between separation of Judaism from state and of Judaism from nationality? Do you think, like Dr. Meyer, that Judaism can be both separate from the state, but integral to the culture and nationality of Israel?

2.    Do you think that Israel can be democratic and Jewish? Why? How? Is this naturally predicated on maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel?

 

Conclusion: From Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie

What, then, is our task?  Our immediate task is to be supportive of the Jewish State at this critical time, to rally the Jewish people to her side, and to fight anti-Semitism wherever it appears.

 

But our longer term task is to concern ourselves with the quality of Jewish life and civilization, both in Israel and throughout the Diaspora.

 

It is to advance the partnership of the Jewish people, and to insist that all Jews who care must view the Jewish people as a single entity, however diverse.

 

It is to accept the responsibility to renew Judaism for Jews everywhere, and to help Jews recover their belief in Judaism.  It is to help them recover too their commitment to Torah as the constitution of the Jewish people and the starting point for the building of a new Jewish future.

 

We have much to do, my friends.  Let us begin.

 

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