Monday, May 29, 2006

Is Zionism antithetical to authentic Jewish identity?

In an op-ed piece, Shahar Ilan of Haaretz newspaper sets forth the "Who Is a Jew" problem in all of its magnitude. Here is the opening paragraph of his piece:

"Can a person who does not believe in God, does not observe the Sabbath, does not send his children to religious schools and does not put on tefillin (phylacteries) be a good Jew? Certainly. Even an excellent Jew. It is reasonable to assume that most of the Jewish state's most prominent leaders fit this definition. Can such a person become a Jew? Not from the perspective of the rabbinical courts, to whom the state has given the keys to joining the Jewish people."

One can hardly blame a secular Jew for believing that being a good Jew has nothing to do with believing in G-d or Mitzvah observance, when his paragons of Jewish virtue, in service of their people, are far from paradigms of traditional Tzidkus. An excellent Jew can be a violator of Yom Kippur and Bris Millah, as long as he has contributed to the State of Israel. Do you have to be a Jew to be an excellent Jew? Well, sorta, according to R' Shahar. You'll have to undergo some kind of conversion process. What does it entail?

"The main condition for secular conversion should be proof of a genuine and sincere desire to join the Jewish people. The following should be taken into account: immigration to Israel, service in the Israel Defense Forces, contribution to the Jewish state, fluency in Hebrew and integration into Jewish society, community and culture. The accepted argument against this list of criteria is that these are characteristics of Israeliness, not of Jewishness. That is not precise. These are characteristics of Jewish Israeliness."

Yes, the twisting gyrations of utter confusion as to what the Jewish identity of a secular Israeli entails, beyond just being an Israeli, are painful to behold.

More from R' Shahar:

"This need has become more intense as a result of the rabbinical establishment's total failure to cope with the conversion challenge posed by immigration from the former Soviet Union. Some 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants have moved to Israel in the last 15 years. It is reasonable to assume that most of them were prepared to convert to Judaism when they arrived. Some are still ready to do so. However, the rabbinate converted only a few thousand. The immigrants, most of whom are totally secular, are an inseparable part of Jewish society. The time has come for the secular majority to allow them to join the Jewish people as well, and to do so in its own way."

"Leaders of the Orthodox denomination argue that their control over conversion is crucial for national unity. This argument has long been irrelevant. The ultra-Orthodox are not prepared to let their children marry the children of secular people, while the secular willingly accept the children of non-Jewish immigrants."

Oh, L-rd! The secular willingly accept the children of the non-Jewish immigrants! What kind of monstrous perversion has been created here! Perhaps the primary benefit of a Jewish State was the prevention of intermarriage, and now that's going down the tubes too! And, since these are the plain and simple facts, why not just jettison the Orthodox hegemony and "convert" these people into Israelis? The dream of the Zionist elders, of reshaping the identity of a Jew as an inhabitant of, and a socio-cultural participant in, Medinat Yisrael, has found a home.

"When the secular allow the rabbis to control conversion, it is as though they are acknowledging that the rabbis really do know better than they do who is a Jew. This is an unreasonable situation, especially for the fair number of secular people convinced that their Jewishness, and not the extremism of the ultra-Orthodox or the Zionist ultra-Orthodox ("hardal"), is the real, true, up-to-date and relevant continuation of Judaism. If secular people are the real continuation of the continuum of Jewish existence, then they have a responsibility toward those who are knocking on the door of their nation. They must not forfeit conversion."

In the 58 years since the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, this is an issue that has never been resolved.And these suggestions, while radical, would seem to make sense in the context of the determination of a collective identity for the Israeli Nation.

Anyone want to attempt a response to R' Shahar, to explain why his identity as a Jew should be defined by anything other than his Israeliness?

The tragic breakdown in cognizance of what being Jewish means, has been, and, in the age of "Judicial Activism" under Aharon Barak, looms even larger as, a giant shadow of doubt cast on the viability of the experiment of an inherently paradoxical secular Jewish State.


Blogger chardal said...

Anyone want to attempt a response to R' Shahar, to explain why his identity as a Jew should be defined by anything other than his Israeliness?

How 'bout this? :)

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Tal Benschar said...


This is the precise reason why R. Chaim Brisker and the Brisker Rov were so adamantly against Zionism: it is nothing less than an attempt to change the identity of the Jewish people from the nation of the Torah to just another nation among the nations. This is the same point made by Shahar from a different POV.

The short answer to Shahar is: fine, define yourself as "Israeli." Just stop committing fraud and claiming that that is a succession to the Jewish nation. The two identities are as unalike as a, well, I'll let you come up with the metaphor.

Of course, what Shahar and all the other secular Zionists cannot explain is why the Zionist settlement is not the greatest land swindle in history. If you reject the Bible and its authority, how can you then turn around and claim it as your mandate to a piece of land?

2:31 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

If you reject the Bible and its authority, how can you then turn around and claim it as your mandate to a piece of land?

"Mah Zot Omeret? Magi'a Li!"

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Tal Benschar said...


3:12 PM  
Blogger Lukos613 said...

let's discuss ways to go to the root of the problem and fix the brainwashed minds of these secular israelis and turn the actually jewish ones into Israeli Jews instead of Jewish Israelis.

8:06 PM  
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