Divrei ben Abuya

In the Babylonian Talmud, Elisha ben Abuya was a great sage who lost his faith in God. So great was he that his and subsequent generations continued learning from him - to the extent that the authors of the Talmud needed to create a story that would serve to legitimise his teachings despite his apostasy. His lesson is a lesson for us all: that great stature is not contingent upon blind faith, nor high learning upon the observation of Torah precepts.

August 16, 2006

Putting My Cards on the Table


This is going to be a very difficult post to write. I realise that I am about to make myself very unpopular, but I am becoming fed up with the fact that everybody assumes that I, and countless other "diaspora" Jews, am something that I am not. It is time to come out of the closet and declare for one and all that I am not a Zionist. I am not even a Non-Zionist, whatever that is. If I have to be completely and dangerously honest, I am an anti-Zionist. I feel no connection to the State of Israel and I detest the fact that it is referred to in the media as the Jewish State. It is not a Jewish State, it is a Zionist State, and they are by no means the same thing.

I utilised the inverted commas above (in referring to myself as a "diaspora" Jew) because I do not believe in the existence of this curious phenomenon. A diaspora? Since when? Since 1948, to be perfectly honest, when the Israeli nation unofficially declared itself to be the centre of the Jewish world. It is not, nor has it ever been, the centre of the Jewish world. Palestine (in the classical sense), which is a great deal larger than the present political entity known as Israel, has always been a focal point for Jews around the world. There is nonetheless not so much as a single halakha that mandates living in Palestine. Why the sudden shift?

This is indeed a good question, for the Zionist movement was not born of the tragedy referred to as the Holocaust. Zionism was born of the emancipation, which is a most curious phenomenon for never in history have the Jews required it less. Indeed, Jews in South America and in Russia may desire the freedom granted to them in Israel today, but they would also no doubt relish the freedom that is granted Jews in Australia - a land of truly equal opportunity. Israel is, too, a land of equal opportunity, but only in the Orwellian sense. There, all are equal (although some are certainly more equal than others).

Israel is not only deserving of the epithet "apartheid state" for both their barbarous treatment of the Palestinians and for the second-class status awarded to Israeli Arabs, but they have effectively committed a cultural genocide against Jews from all around the world. No longer do the beautiful traditions of the Eastern Jews (the עדות מזרח) exist; no more the minhagim of the Yemenites, Moroccans, Iraqis, Syrians, Palestinians nor Ethiopians. All cultures have been equally erased and replaced by the single hegemonic culture of European Judaism.

In many respects, I do believe that the declaration of a state was the single worst thing to have happened to the Jewish people. It is a populist form of messianism, one that perceives salvation in the form of a secular political entity. The erstwhile conception that salvation lies with God and good deeds has become a relic of a bearded past. The old Jew, incinerated in Auschwitz, has been replaced by the new Jew: muscular and energetic, bearing an AK-47 and eking out a living in his ancestral home, while battling evils of Biblical proportion.

Is this a viable representation of life in Israel? Or is it merely a bastardisation of Biblical texts; a reappropriation of classical rabbinic dogma in a thoroughly secular light? I vote steadfastly for the latter and, while I do feel an emotional attachment to Israel, it rests solely upon the time that I have spent there. I have friends in Israel, and there are places that I truly love. I wish no harm to come upon it or its citizens, but that is as far as my feelings for it go. My ancestors are European and I am an Australian: can I really buy into the lie that Israel is my "homeland"?

Around the world, Israel has created an equation in the minds of intelligent people that Judaism = Zionism, and woe betide any fool who dares to publicly question Israel's actions! The one dogma held dear by secular Jews is that criticism of Israel is tantamount to anti-semitism (as though Israel bears the flame for Judaism around the world and sets the global standard) and a Jew who commits so heinous a crime is clearly a "self-hater". Well, here is one self-appreciating Jew who has nothing to do with Zionism.


At 11:10 PM , Anonymous Jen said...

Personally, I too have no connection to Israel besides the family and friends I have there, and the good memories. However, I find it difficult to truly hate what Israel is doing when there are so many people around to do it for me! Instead I find myself defending Israel because if I don't, who will? And an attack on Israel that ignores salient points and focuses entirely on its monstrous crimes is one that needs to be corrected no matter what my opinion is on the matter. Facts are facts.

At 5:51 AM , Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Let's just say that I am not with you on this one.

However I think I can understand where you are coming from in the sense that if I felt like everyone around me joined a club or a movement that I thought was really offbase I'd probably feel pretty horrified, especially if I was associated with that club seemingly by default.

At 9:54 AM , Blogger Simon Holloway said...

I think that's it, precisely.

In Australia we have three major Jewish organisations: the Australian Jewish News (AJN), the Board of Jewish Education (BJE) and the Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD). Together they hold a monopoly over our media, curricula and diplomatic representation, respectively.

All three of these organisations openly declare their unqualified and unconditional support for the Israeli government. As somebody who does not even place such trust in his own politicians this ideological fanaticism is disturbing.

I have nothing against Israel and, while I do feel that they made a royal mess of things this time around, I tend to come out in support. My support is conditional, however, and is not based upon some bizarre religious belief that this secular state occupying a piece of the historical Palestine happens to be my homeland.

At 1:25 AM , Anonymous Joel Nothman said...

Some of the things you say are only to an extent true, but that is, of course, what rhetoric is all about. The issues you take with the Zionist melting pot, for instance. Much European culture, too has been "lost", while much Eastern culture has similarly been maintained or otherwise influenced Israeli and global Jewish life. Your romanticising of their traditions as "beautiful" may merely be a case of the grass being greener on their side. This melting pot is therefore neither complete, nor is it unique to Israel. Australian culture, too, consumes within two generations most of those brought by its immigrants; the USA does much the same. Where it doesn't consume the culture it makes a new one, like that of the African American, or the Australian Jew (as you implicitly point out yourself). Really this depends on the attitude that the receiving society has towards multiculturalism, and yes, Israel has had a bad record of this in the past, but so have most migrant societies. But, I hear you argue, at least there are still Italians in Italy, Armenians in Armenia, and a few Lebanese Christians in Lebanon; where are the Jews in Yemen? or in Poland for that matter? We know little to say how long the Jews of the Middle East would have remained in their homes without the establishment of the State of Israel (but with the establishment of the Internet, presumably). In the end, the immigration of peoples and cultures is something that happens all the time, maybe especially to the Jews. We as academics must salvage what is otherwise lost; as people we must savour the richness that is gained.

At 2:08 PM , Blogger dilbert said...

I guess when you daven you don't say 'v'techezena eneinu b'shuvcha l'tzion' or 'v'liyerushalayim ircha tashuv' . Israel the state was born out of 2000 years of exile. we never stopped wanting to have a state, a land, a country. the enlightenment etc only made it possible.

Do you not believe that it is a mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael? That Hashem gave us the land? That he will bring us back to the land? You should have a tie to the land, if not the country. When you die and the angel asks you three questions(I forgot where the gemara is) one of them is 'did you hope for the mashiach?' You are a Jew first, a member of a nationality second.

At 2:46 PM , Blogger Simon Holloway said...

Your question in relation to what I say when I daven (which I do not do) is an interesting one. I might ask you the same question actually, seeing as you seem to believe that a return unto Zion has already been achieved.

At 2:44 AM , Anonymous Joel said...

The source I have has 5 questions, Dilbert (shabbat 71a):
אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו נשאת ונתת באמונה קבעת עתים לתורה עסקת בפו"ר צפית לישועה פלפלת בחכמה הבנת דבר מתוך דבר

But yes, I also was not certain about "There is nonetheless not so much as a single halakha that mandates living in Palestine." At least Ramban sees it as a mitzvat ase: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Living_Israel.html

At 2:48 AM , Anonymous Joel said...

Or is that 6 questions? I'm confused

At 7:54 AM , Blogger Simon Holloway said...

That's a curiously abridged site that you link to: people either mandate spending their lives in Palestine (like the Ramban who waited until he was 73) or they reject it on the grounds that it negates Biblical prophecy (such as Satmar, who largely made up the community of Mea Shearim, prior to the state). What of the mainstream opinion which states that, while living in Palestine may represent an ideal, the only halakhic requirement is that one not leave?

At 8:54 AM , Blogger evanstonjew said...

I don't agree with you.Even if you have objections to the actions of the state, it was done on behalf of Jews and ahavath yisroel alone should temper your rhetoric. Israel is a fact even if you never agreed to sign on. There are over 5 million Jews in some danger. This wholesale rejection is not justified even if you looked at everything only from the position of the Jewish people allowing no centrality to Israel.

I do admire your personal courage in speaking up.

At 10:40 AM , Blogger Billie Jean said...

I don't agree with you, Simon, but I understand where you're coming from.

It's almost like there's no middle ground. You can't just love Israel, or "Eretz Yisrael" rather, for itself and its cultural significance. The "Jewish lobby" has set things up so that you're with Israel or against it. Criticism is heresy.

Personally, I love Israel as a country. I want to live there and I feel happiest there. But I'm also hesitant about, not because of safety but because of the government and beaurocracy. The human rights issues that you mentioned are big ones. While I don't think the Ashkenazi government has succeeded in destroying Sefardi and Yemenite culture, I think they intended to and that's bad enough. And it's scary to think of living in a country where whoever can bribe the Bet Din, or judge of a civil court, will win a court case.

Will we go or not? I don't know. But if we do, it won't be a rushed decision, that's for sure.

At 6:37 AM , Anonymous Maya said...

Simon, unfortunately I am not as lucky as you. I have no where else to go. My family's graves are scattered around the world, and the way things are going, mine might be to.
It takes 7 hours to Cross all of Israel by car. There are about 7,000,000 people living here 6,000,000 of them are Jews. Israel is surrounded by 500,000,000 Muslim's, living in Muslim country's, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Sadia Rabia, Iran, Iraq,Syria, Sudan, Luv...
Your missing so many facts, you've made the easy choice your conscience is more important to you than my life. Never the less if your country ever decides to kill you, my brother, my partner, my friends and I, will be here in the Israel you failed to understand, with open arms.

At 7:10 PM , Blogger Berel Dov Lerner said...

Regarding Israel you write:
"I wish no harm to come upon it or its citizens, but that is as far as my feelings for it go."

I am pleased that you *wish* no harm comes to the State of Israel or its citizens. The question is what steps should or can be taken to make your wish a reality. Please remember: reality is complicated and sometimes unpleasant. This is a serious business - have you realy thought things through?

You write:
"Around the world, Israel has created an equation in the minds of intelligent people that Judaism = Zionism, and woe betide any fool who dares to publicly question Israel's actions!"

I don't think that this statement reflects reality. It is isn't Israel that has created the connection between Zionism and Judaism: this is a choice that has been made by the Jewish People. The fact is that the great majority of Jews in the world who are willing to get off their backsides and try to do something to promote Jewish culture and religion and the survival of the Jewish People support the Zionist project. The Jews who give a damn about Judaism get to decide what the Jewish agenda is - and they have overwhelmingly decided to support Israel. When a great mass of anti-Zionists build dayschools and synagogues, when they devote their lives to fighting assimilation and to promoting Jewish interests, they will call the shots. Until then, anti-Zionist Jews are welcome to voice their opinions - but they can hardly expect to define the reality of what Judaism is about in our times.

I also think that you are wrong regarding criticism of Israel.For instance: I have been following the campaign to block academic boycotts of Israel in the UK. Among those active in fighting the boycotts, it is accepted that OF COURSE everyone is opposed to Israel's occupation of the West Bank. I found it difficult to petitions against the boycotts because I was unwilling to go with the herd who feel they must piously condemn Israeli policies in order to prove themselves worthy to participate in polite conversation. It is my experience that people have no trouble at all criticizing Israeli policies - as long as they avoid portraying the State of Israel as some kind of iredeemable metaphysical evil rather than as an imperfect human institution that is trying to survive and flourish in difficult circumstances.

That's more than I have time for right now! So - have a good time.

At 5:18 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

אני לא מבין איך אפשר להיות יהודי לא ציוני. שהרי מגורים בארץ ישראל היא מצוות יסוד ביהדות. ועזיבת הארץ היא חטא חמור.

אני לא מבין איך יהודי , אחרי השואה עדיין מסוגל להאמין שיש קיום ליהודים בין הגויים בארצות נכר.
רדיפות יהודים היו כל ההסטוריה דווקא בארצות שהיהודים הצליחו בהן, גם בספרד של המאה ה-15 גם בגרמניה של המאה ה-19. ואם לעשות אינדוקציה, הרי שתור יהדות ארה'ב יגיע גם הוא-אחרי התמוטטות השלטון שם . גם הגויים באוסטרליה יום אחד יתעוררו ויגרשו, אם לא ירצחו את היהודים שם.
ואל תגיד "לנו זה לא יקרה" כי בדיוק ך אמרו היהודים בגרמניה כך בשנות השלושים של המאה העשרים.
וכאשר ההורים שלי ברחו מגרמניה בשנת 1938 אף מדינה לא היתה מוכנה לקלוט אותם. חוץ מהישוב היהודי הקטן של כמה עשרות אלפים של ציונים הארץ ישראל.
גם אתם תתקבלו כאן בזרועות פתוחות על ידי המדינה הציונית, כאשר יזרקו אתכם הגויים, אז למה לחכות? בואו עכשיו. הארץ טובה, ואנחנו בבית

At 10:32 AM , Anonymous Simon Holloway said...

תסליח לי אם העברית הישראלית שלי לא מספיק טובה לדבר על הענינים האלה איתך שותף. אני בעצם לא מסכים עם מה שאתה אומר. אני לא דתי אז אני לא מאמין שלגור בארץ מצווה. ואלו אם זאת היתה מצווה מזמן קדם אז זאת לא היתה דבר בגשמיות עד עכשיו. אנשים ממש מעטים עלו לישראל בעבר ואפילו עכשיו יש המון דתיים שאומרים שזה לא חובה

על השואה, אני מסכים שזאת היתה טרגדיה בלי ויכוח, אבל אני גם מאמין שאין לה השוואה בהיסטוריה. אומר לי על פוגרומים? על האינקוויזיציה הספרדית? יש פוגרומים נגד הרבה עדות (לא רק היהודים) והאינקוויזיציה הספרדית גם היתה מקרה יחידי בזמן שלה. האינקוויזיציה העיקרי באירופה לא היתה נגד היהודים בכלל, אלא נגד הנוצרים שלא הכירו את האפיפור ואת הדוקטרינה הקטולי

אולי תהיה עוד שואה או עוד אינקוויזיציה, או אפילו עוד פוגרומים או איזה אלימות נגד היהודים באוסטרליה. אני לא מאמין שהסיכוי הוא רב ואין לי סיבה כלל לעלות לארץ. אלו רציתי לעלות אז זה צריך להיות מהאהבה שלי ולא מהיראה. בכל יושר, יש יותר סיכוי לזה במקום שלך וקיום היהודים בישראל עכשיו פחות בטוח מקיומי בארץ שלי

אני מודה על הדיעה שלך ותודה על הקחת זמן לענות אותי. כל טוב


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