THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL
FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAISM

AND JEWISH-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE

 

                                                 TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

                                                                 Introduction

 

Rev. David Neuhaus, S.J., “Second Colloquium of Jesuits in Jewish-Christian Dialogue”

 

                                                          Welcome Addresses

 

Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., “Address to the Participants”

 

Rabbi David Rosen, “Welcome to Jerusalem”

 

Rev. Arij Roest Crollius, “A Word of Welcome”

 

                                                                      Papers

 

PART I:  THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAISM AND FOR JEWISH-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE

 

Rabbi David Hartman, “Israel: the Rebirth of a People”

 

Rabbi René-Samuel Sirat, “I Dream of Jerusalem”

 

 

PART II: THE CHALLENGE OF MODERNITY FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAISM IN ISRAEL

 

Prof. Aviezer Ravitzky, “Messianism and Zionism in Modern Jewish Identity”

 

Prof.  Naomi Chazan, “The Relationship between Religion and State in Israel”

 

 

PART III: THE CHALLENGE OF PEACE AND JUSTICE FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAISM IN ISRAEL

 

Ms. Sharon Blass, “The Vision of the Land and the Settler Movement”

 

Dr. Veronika Cohen, “Reflections of a Peace Activist”

 

 

PART IV: THE CHALLENGE OF PLURALISM FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAISM IN ISRAEL

 


Fr. Rafiq Khoury, “The Palestinian People as a Theological Issue”

 

Mr. Moussa Abou Ramadan, “The Palestinian Minority in the State of Israel”

 

Rabbi Michael Marmur, “Jewish Pluralism: Responses to the Challenge of Modernity”

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Colloquium of Jesuits in Jewish-Christian Dialogue

 

David Neuhaus, S.J.

 

The 34th General Congregation’s Decree 5 had called for the expansion of the Jesuit apostolate of the Jerusalem community of the Pontifical Biblical Institute to explore “programs in interreligious dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims, along with their continuing work of Biblical and spiritual renewal.”  The Great Jubilee of 2000 was seen as a fitting occasion to give this decree special expression.  I was asked by Tom Fitzpatrick, superior of the house, and by Tom Michel, Secretary for Interreligious Dialogue, to prepare three of these events: the Second Colloquium of Jesuits in Jewish-Christian Dialogue, a session for scholastics titled “The Vitality of Contemporary Judaism” and another session for scholastics titled “The Vitality of Contemporary Islam.”  In this volume, we present the talks delivered at the Colloquium held on 27 June - 2 July 2000.  As most of the papers were transcribed from tapes of oral presentations, we take responsibility for any errors or misstatements.

 

The Colloquium on Jewish-Christian Dialogue followed a first meeting of Jesuits involved in the dialogue, held in Krakow, Poland, in December 1998.  Whereas that meeting had focused on the history of anti-Semitism and the influence of the Holocaust on the dialogue as well as on the Jesuit role in the history of Jewish-Christian relations, the Jerusalem meeting took as its theme “The Significance of the State of Israel for Contemporary Judaism and for the Jewish-Christian Dialogue.”

 

The intention was to hear contemporary Jewish thinkers and activists reflect on the challenges to the Jewish religious tradition presented by the State of Israel.  Judaism as we know it developed as the religion of a consistently minority Jewish community after the first and second centuries.  The establishment of a state and the creation of a Jewish majority in Israel have stood at center stage in the life of the Jewish community this century.  These events have powerfully impacted Jewish self-identity and, by extension, the dialogue between Jews and Christians.  Since Palestinian Christians and Muslims are an inescapable part of interreligious dialogue in Israel, we also invited representatives of these communities to present their own views on the challenge of ethnic and religious pluralism for Jews in Israel.  

 

33 Jesuits (11 from Western Europe, 10 from North America, 3 from Eastern Europe, 2 from the Near East, 3 from Asia, 2 from Australia, 1 from Latin America), 19 of whom had been at the Krakow meeting, participated in the Jerusalem colloquium.  The days of the colloquium were spent listening to Jews reflect on this theme and discussing among ourselves the implications of the presentation for our own involvement in the dialogue.  Each session consisted of an address by a local speaker, a period of discussion with the speaker, and then a session of reflection among ourselves after the speaker had left.  This format facilitated different levels of exchange and encouraged active participation by all.

 

The Colloquium was opened by addresses of welcome.  The first was delivered by Rabbi David Rosen, Director of the Anti-Defamation League Israel Office, who is also president of the International Council of Christians and Jews and had formerly served as Chief Rabbi of Ireland. Fr. Thomas Michel, Secretary for Interreligious Dialogue of the Society, read an address from Father General, in which Fr.  Kolvenbach encouraged the participants “to take up this demanding and emotionally intense topic.”  Fr. Arij Roest Crollius of the Center for Judaic Studies at the Gregorian University, Rome also offered a word of welcome.

 

The opening session was followed by an opening Mass at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem celebrated by the Patriarch, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah.  Patriarch Sabbah enunciated the perspective of the local Church, almost entirely Palestinian in composition, concerning Jewish-Christian dialogue.  The Patriarch spoke of the mystery of Jerusalem lived by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and reviewed elements of the history of the Holy City and the way that followers of these religions have related to one another down through the centuries.  He stated his conviction that “God wanted this land to be a land of dialogue among religions,” but noted the difficulty for all of achieving objectivity in their assessments of social and political realities.  His Beatitude expressed concern that in countries of the West, Jewish-Christian dialogue is too often used to legitimate the political situation in Israel and Palestine.

 

The first working day of the colloquium began with a session held at the Shalom Hartman Institute, an institution for the formation of Jewish educators and a vibrant center of study of intra-Jewish and interreligious dialogue.  Rabbi David Hartman, founder and head of the Institute, delivered a keynote address in which he stressed that the main challenge to contem­po­rary Christians is the recognition of the vitality of the Jewish people as a nation reborn on their own land and within their own state.  He dwelt on the relationship between Zionism and Judaism, focusing on the ways in which Jewish life in Israel needs to reformulate Jewish self-identity, the Jewish tradition and Jewish relationships with others.  In a passionate conclusion Hartman insisted that Christian theologians “make (the State of) Israel the theological challenge, and not Auschwitz.”

 

That afternoon, Rabbi René-Samuel Sirat, UNESCO Chair for the Reciprocal Knowledge of the Religions of the Book and Peace Education, former Chief-Rabbi of France, and veteran participant in interreligious dialogue, addressed the colloquium. Commenting on various points raised in the medieval Jewish classic, the Kuzari by Rabbi Judah HaLevi, Sirat posited the Jewish return to Jerusalem as the peak of Jewish history, ending with a profound prayer for peace in Jerusalem.

 

The next day was devoted to the theme, “The Challenge of Modernity for Contemporary Judaism in Israel.”  The morning session centered on a presentation by Prof. Aviezer Ravitzky, Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew University and a leading activist in Meimad, the moderate religious party.  Ravitzky focused on the messianic theme in Judaism and in modern Zionism.  His highly informative presentation outlined the diametrically opposed religious attitudes to the State of Israel, showing the great diversity within Judaism in regard to the reality of a modern state.

 

In the afternoon we were addressed by Prof. Naomi Chazan, member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and Deputy Speaker for the liberal and left-leaning Meretz Party.  Chazan, a Professor of Political Science at Hebrew University, spoke with great warmth and humor and detailed the wrenching dilemmas of the mix of religion and politics in the State of Israel.  She made an impassioned plea for the separation of religion and state, recognizing though that this would necessarily entail a fundamental reformulation of central Zionist foundational narratives relating to Jewish identity and history.

 

The following day concentrated on “The Challenge of Peace and Justice for Contemporary Judaism in Israel.”  The morning session was addressed by Ms. Sharon Blass, an Orthodox Jew from the West Bank settlement of Newe Tzuf, wife of the local rabbi and mother of eight children.  She had been spokesperson for the Judea, Samaria and Gaza Council, the most important organization representing the Settler Movement.  In this capacity she had acted as  spokesperson for the settlers at the Madrid Conference between Israelis and Arabs in 1991.  Ms. Blass was unapologetic in her defense of what the settlers consider their God-given right to settle anywhere in the biblical Land of Israel.  She presented with great logic and precision the religious thinking of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and his son Rabbi Yehuda Zwi Kook who the settlers regard as founders of their ideology of religious attachment to the whole Land of Israel.

 

That afternoon, Dr. Veronika Cohen of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and her husband, Dr. Yisrael Elliot Cohen of the Center for Research and Documentation of East European Jewry and the Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism addressed the participants.  The Cohens are firmly committed Orthodox Jewish peace activists.  Yisrael introduced the issue of the search for justice and peace in the Jewish tradition, and then Veronika read sections from the autobiographical account of her own peace activities in dialogue with Palestinians.  Profoundly impressive was her narrative of the loneliness of a committed peace activist within the Jewish religious community.

 

The final day of discussions was devoted to the theme“The Challenge of Pluralism for Contemporary Judaism in Israel.”  The morning session was divided into two presentations, one by a Christian Palestinian and the other by a Muslim Palestinian.  Msgr. Rafiq Khoury, Responsible for Religious Education in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, an accomplished theologian and author, and editor of the local theological review, Al-Liqa’ (The Encounter), addressed the group first. . Msgr. Khoury’s presentation was thought-provoking and challenging for all involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue in the West.  He said: “Jewish-Christian dialogue …cannot be formulated without including the Palestinians and their historical experiences in the past and the present.  Taking the Palestinian reality into account helps the dialogue not to become an ideology in the service of a political project.”

 

The next speaker was Mr. Moussa Abou-Ramadan of the Faculty of Law at the University of Haifa and the University of Aix-en-Provence / Marseille III.  Mr. Abou-Ramadan focused on the legal aspects of discrimination against “non-Jews” in the state of Israel.  The basis of his presentation was the problematic claim that the State of Israel is both Jewish and democratic.

 

The final presentation was given that afternoon by Reform Rabbi Michael Marmur, Dean of Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. The Rabbi approached the problem of pluralism among Jews as arising from the diverse responses among Jews to the challenges posed by modernity. His presentation outlined the broad sweep of the historical context of intra-Jewish relations in the state of Israel today.

 

The presentations were all followed by a lively question-answer period in which all the speakers engaged in forthright and courageous dialogue with the participants. A highlight of the colloquium was the discussion sessions in which the Jesuits reconvened alone to thrash out among themselves issues raised by the speakers.  These sessions displayed both the great diversity of opinions within the group (often connected with the diversity of contexts in which the Jesuit participants live and work), as well as the establishment of an open dialogue among Jesuits on these issues.

 

The session ended with a eucharistic celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  This was a time to give thanks for what the participants had learned and shared.  It was also a time to hope that the learning and sharing would continue as Jesuits continue the journey towards deeper dialogue with their Jewish brothers and sisters.


ADDRESS TO THE PARTICIPANTS:

Second Colloquium of Jesuits in Jewish-Christian Dialogue

 

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J.

 

I greet you at the opening of the second colloquium of Jesuits involved in Jewish-Christian relations.  It is now almost two years since the first international Congress was held in Krakow, Poland.  Just as the deliberations of the first congress were shaped by the silent witness to inhumanity of the nearby death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, so also the Jerusalem venue of your second congress underlines the importance of the theme you are about to study: “The Significance of the State of Israel for Contemporary Judaism and Jewish-Christian Dialogue.”

 

The program of the colloquium indicates that you will be meeting with and hearing from a wide variety of approaches to the self-understanding of modern Judaism.  The challenges of modernity, peace with justice, and pluralism in the state of Israel are key issues which demand reflection and clarification by Israeli Jews and their co-believers around the world.  They are the basic foundations of societal relations which conscientious people expect to find in all modern societies.  The opportunity to learn how Israeli Jews are seeking to meet the demands of modernity, to construct a lasting peace which necessarily requires the establishment of justice for all, and to respond to the complex intercultural and interreligious problems involved in creating a truly pluralistic nation will not only enable you to learn more deeply about the spiritual and human resources of the Jewish tradition, but will enrich Jewish-Christian dialogue considered within its contemporary context.

 

I am happy to see that in the program, time has been devoted to hearing the views of the minority peoples in Israel, Palestinian Muslims and our fellow Christians.  In every modern state, the just and equal treatment of minorities must always remain a basic indicator of the extent to which that nation has realized its ideals and put into practice its declared values.  The plight of Palestinian Christians as a “minority within a minority” which has led so many to leave their homeland and seek a better life elsewhere must not be ignored in your discussions.

 

I applaud your willingness to take on this demanding and emotionally intense topic.  My prayers will be with you during these days that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will grant you the wisdom and fellow-feeling necessary to evaluate and integrate the great amount of serious input to which you will be exposed.  I pray that you emerge from this colloquium with a deeper understanding of modern Judaism, of the meaning of the state of Israel for contemporary Jewish thought, and of the challenges posed to interreligious dialogue today by the demands of modernity, the quest for peace, the requirements of justice, and the preconditions for achieving genuine mutual appreciation.  Nothing less is to be expected among God-fearing believers who share a long religious tradition in common to the extent they can greet one another as elder and younger brother.  Peace be with you all!


WELCOME TO JERUSALEM

 

Rabbi David Rosen

 

I am delighted to be able to offer this word of welcome for a number of reasons.  First of all, it is an honor to be able to address your illustrious gathering.  I feel not only honored but also delighted because of my personal associations with your community.  In fact, I can say that some of my best friends are Jesuits.  In fact, with the two gentlemen on either side of me (Arij Roest Crollius and Tom Michel) I go back quite a way.  With Tom, when he used to be at the Holy See’s Council for Interreligious Dialogue, I used to enjoy exchanging views here and there.  With Arij, we had a wonderful collaboration a few years back, which was very historic, and fits in with David Neuhaus’ kind introduction to me, and I will link that up in a moment.

 

It was a very historic moment, just after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel.  Some of you know that I was honored to be one of the negotiators.  We had here, just then, a very impressive Jewish-Christian conference.  This conference was historic for many reasons.  It was probably the largest and most diverse gathering of Christian leaders that Jerusalem has ever seen.  We were honored with the presence of five cardinals, among them Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Martini, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leaders and moderators of various Protestant denominations.  It was historic in terms of its content, historic also in a way that at that time we may not have appreciated.

 

I suffered bit at that time because of the concerted opposition from the ultra-Orthodox community here in Israel and from its rabbinic leadership, which put pressure upon mainstream rabbinic leadership not to participate in this gathering, even though the main participants were Orthodox rabbis.  What that reflected was where my colleagues in the official Orthodox rabbinate were at that particular moment.  It is only now that we can see how far we have come since that event and how significant that event was.

 

Even though there was an attempt to undermine this event, I think it was the beginning of new thinking within the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate, which is some distance behind us Orthodox rabbis in the Western world (and we might be a way behind our non-Orthodox colleagues).  Those more rooted in their particularity find it more difficult to affirm universality.  I think the challenge is to find a balance between the two, but where one is firmly entrenched it is often at the expense of the other.

 

This conference, to which Arij made such an important contribution, is directly connected with what David mentioned, the enormously important historic event of John Paul II’s visit to the Holy Land, for which I think, we must all, in our different ways, give much thanks to the Almighty, for its incredible success on so many different levels.  I am particularly concerned here with its connection to your deliberations, that is, its impact on Catholic-Jewish relations and Christian-Jewish relations at large.

 

We need to remember that the large majority of Israelis, even those who describe themselves as secular, do not live within a Christian world.  They never meet modern Christians - more than 90% of modern Israelis never encounter modern Christians.  When they travel abroad they meet non-Jews as non-Jews and not as modern Christians.  Therefore, the overwhelming images of Christians are culled from the pre-modern past.  Sometimes that past is not so far away.  The perception of Christianity in modern Israeli society is fundamentally negative.  Therefore, the work that I am involved in here, in the Anti-Defamation League, is not only focused on the importance of developing dialogue in order to fight prejudice and bigotry and to promote a common ethical agenda, but is also born out of a religious and theological conviction that God is saying something to us in this relationship between Jews and Christians.  Thus there is, I believe, a religious imperative for each of us to deepen that relationship in order to understand what God is saying to us.

 

This understanding of mine comes out of my privileged position of being involved in this work over a period of time.  It grows out of a life in which I have never felt threatened.  Even when I was rabbi in South Africa and I was attacked, I knew that this was because of my political positions and that it was not my Jewishness that was under siege.  Therefore, if you like, I had the luxury to develop this relationship.  In the years that I have known David Neuhaus we have been involved in a number of activities together which have allowed me to develop my understanding of the nature of this relationship.  But, for the majority of my colleagues, it is not obvious.  There are question marks about why we should encounter Christians on the assumption that the past has been overwhelmingly negative.  It has been amazing to see the impact of the papal visit when John Paul II came here.  It marked my colleagues and certainly marked Israeli society at large. 

 

There are two metaphors I like to use.  One is of having had our ears boxed throughout the centuries.  Our ears have been boxed by many factors, but not least of all by the Christian teaching of contempt.  Our ears have been boxed so often that our hearing has been damaged.  Even though a new tune is being sung and sounded, it is very difficult to be able to hear it.  You require a healing atmosphere for those eardrums to be healed in order to hear the new sound.  But in fact, we are neither in a Christian context nor in a healing context, when one thinks of the regional conflict.  Most of us are damaged in terms of our hearing.

 

But that is the great power of the visual image.  Because even if we cannot hear, our sight is not damaged and we can see images which, because of our impaired hearing, cannot be otherwise internalized.  I think that this was important also in 1986 in the Papal visit to the Synagogue in Rome.  Many of the things that John Paul said, he had said before, but people had not heard them because they had not “seen” them.  The power of the visual image is enormous and this was especially so on this papal visit.  Images of the Pope at Yad Va-Shem and his profound solidarity with Jewish suffering, in the sense that this is his own suffering, underlined the stories of his relationships with those he had saved.  The image of the Pope at the Western Wall in reverence of Jewish tradition, his sense of identification with it, this too was very powerful.  The power of these images came across far beyond my own expectations. 

 

Here I come to the second metaphor that I want to use.  This metaphor is one which depicts the relations between Jews and Christians as a garden which for centuries has been overrun by brambles and thorns and even lurking monsters.  In the course of the last 35 years we have transformed this garden into a glorious garden filled with beautiful vegetation and delight in terms of the new era of relationships.  But it is a walled garden with big doors.  Therefore most Jews still think that behind those doors there is still an overgrown garden, full of brambles and undergrowth and in which lurk those monsters.  The papal visit enabled those doors to be opened and gave Israeli Jewish society a vision of that garden.  Hearing the references to the “dearly beloved older brother,” “the covenant never abrogated”, which for those of us who labor in the garden is not new, but which most Israeli Jews had never heard before, one should realize that this came as an extreme revelation to most Israeli Jews. 

 

Since that historic meeting in 1994, and now, after the papal visit, the participation of establishment Orthodox rabbis in interfaith dialogue meetings is almost taken as given.  I have just come from a Palestinian-Israeli, Christian-Muslim-Jewish dialogue in Milan with official participation of the Waqf, of the Patriarchate and one of the Chief Rabbis.  Then there is another congress organized by the United Nations in which the other Chief Rabbi will participate.  In September there is a congress sponsored by San Egidio in which the first of the Chief Rabbis, Bakshi-Doron, will again participate.  The Rabbi of Haifa has become a regular participant in the dialogue.

 

There are many other names as well, and so now I have many colleagues in this area and no longer feel alone.  Once I used to be alone but now participation in interfaith dialogue has become normative and, I think, this is a real testimony to where we are now.  Many of you here have made your own special contribution to this project which reached a climax with the papal visit and which has contributed enormously to the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. 

 

Now I have almost taken up all my time without addressing my real mandate but I hope my words have been of some value.  Now let me briefly address the mandate.  If I were to describe the ultimate significance of the papal visit, I would say that it was the state receptions.  They were not as powerful in their image value as the visit to Yad Va-Shem and the Western Well, but the Church has been dealing with the significance of the Jews, of Judaism and of the Shoah for the past 35 years, since Nostra Aetate.

 

This was, however, the first-ever papal visit to the State of Israel.  It was very different from the visit by Paul VI in 1964, which was seen in retrospect by many Israelis as a slap in the face.  Thus, what this visit signified was the transformation of the Church’s attitude regarding the Jewish state and the relationship of the people to the Land.  Political Zionism was something very much opposed by the Holy See in the initial stages.  Semi-official publications like your own Civiltà Cattolica, continued to rail against Zionism right into the 1950s.  The transformation underlines the fact that there is no problem with the return of the Jews to their Land and establishing in it their independent life.  For us, this was the end of our long Exile, which itself was not a sign of being cursed but rather a progression through survival and testimony of God’s unlimited love, which sustained us until we returned to the Land.  I do not need to tell you that the Land is a central category in Jewish self-understanding.  The normative context for the survival of the People is right here in the Land.

 

There were those Jews from the right wing and from the left wing (for lack of better terms) who opposed the return to the Land, but I would say that these positions have been triumphed over by Zionism.  The Reform Movement has its world center in Israel and the ultra-Orthodox cannot even survive without funding from the Israeli state and have had to get involved in the political process here, signifying a triumph of Zionism.

 

This week, here in Israel, we read from the Book of Numbers, the passage dealing with the spies and the fact that the majority of the spies rejected the Land.  But the two exceptions to the rejection, Joshua and Caleb, try to convince the people otherwise and say: “The Land is very good indeed”.  The rabbis connect this with the first time the expression “very good indeed” appears for the first time, and that is, of course, in the Book of Genesis, in the Creation narrative.  This leads the rabbis to speak of the intrinsic goodness of Creation and of the Land for the People.  There is the midrash which states that when God placed Adam and Eve in the world, He said to them: “Take care of My creation.  Do not pollute it and destroy it.”  Therefore it is up to us human beings to ensure that the goodness expresses itself and does not become a vehicle for pollution and destruction. 

 

That was the challenge here in Israel, a challenge in which, to a certain degree, we failed.  Unfortunately, a certain type of religious Zionism has fallen into the trap of what you call “prophetic dispensationalism,” the understanding that everything that happens falls under a divine mandate.  This meant that some see all political events as mandated by God and are thus blinded to seeing the other as neighbor.  That is what happened in the wake of the Six Day War and subsequently with the drive, especially among religious Zionists, to found the settler movement.  Imbued with the positive value of the Land, they turned a means into an end in order to justify the unjustifiable.  That is the challenge with which we have had to contend.  Emerging from the crucible, we have discovered the positive value of the Land but we are sorely distressed by its abuse as it has become an end in itself.

 

This has led to a number of reactions including the founding of the religious peace movement.  I myself was privileged to participate in the founding of an organization called Rabbis for Human Rights, where we continue to address the issue of human rights’ abuses in the Territories where there is the Palestinian population.  The flack I get about this is less because I care about Arab human rights and more because I work with Conservative and Reform rabbis.  Finally, we are moving into a new era.  The carpet is being pulled out from under the feet of our religious nationalist maximalists.  Territorial compromise is an inevitability.  The peace process will inexorably triumph, either with largesse, finesse and good will, or it will take a little longer, with additional pain, and God-forbid, more bloodshed.  Paradoxically, it will be the compromise over the Land which will restore the healthy role of the Land in the Jewish spiritual economy.  This will enable the Land to be a noble means and not be a destructive end.


A Word of Welcome

 

Arij Roest Crollius, S.J.

 

This word under the heading of welcome to Jerusalem is in the name of the preparatory group - Tom Michel, David Neuhaus and the undersigned.  There are three realities I would like to mention to characterize this colloquium: the place, the timing and the perspective.

 

The place, ha-makom, is Jerusalem, reality and vision.  Encounter of the monotheistic, historic religions.  Challenge, promise and dream of justice, of peace.

 

The timing, 2000, for the Catholic Church and for many others is Jubilee.  In the wake of the pilgrimage of John-Paul II.  The pilgrimage was not a journey to the past, but an encounter with today’s realities, the reality of the peoples living in this country and in this region.  Jubilee also means a call to justice. 

 

The perspective is the new millennium.  The hesitant perception of standing on the brink of a new era.  Different civilizations.  A new global society.  The process of globalization is tugging at the very roots of our corporate and personal identities.  We may end up with more pluralism than we care for. 

 

The program of these days follows upon the recommendations of the first congress in Krakow.  Krakow took place under the sign of a purification of memory.  This program has been conceived in the light of the challenges of peace and justice here and now.  In order to assist and guide us in this adventure a number of qualified persons have been invited, spearheaded by Rabbi David Rosen. 

 

I would like to say a special word of gratitude and appreciation to David Neuhaus for the impressive program he has placed before us.  I also offer a vote of thanks to the entire staff of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem and particularly to its superior, Father Tom Fitzpatrick.  We look forward to a fruitful and pleasant stay in this house.



THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL

 FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAISM

 AND FOR JEWISH-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE

 

Rabbi David Hartman

 

I am delighted to address this meeting of Jesuits.  My claim to fame is that I studied with the Jesuits at Fordham.  I studied with such Jesuits as Hildebrand, Quentin Lauer, and my own teacher, who changed my life, Robert C.  Pollock.  Those were very important years, from 1955 to 1960.  When I was told that a group of Jesuits wanted to come to Jerusalem, I felt like I was renewing old ties. 

 

I gave the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Memorial Lecture just before I had to prepare this lecture.  Cardinal George in Chicago asked me to respond to the question: Why is Israel so important for the Jews? Oh my God, I responded, I just got a call to talk on that same issue, and I immediately shifted my talk to the theme: The theological significance of Israel.  This talk was then published in pamphlet form. 

 

Most of my theological and philosophical thinking has dealt with the transformation of Judaism and the Jewish people in the light of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem and its impact not only on Jewish-Christian but also on Jewish-Muslim dialogue.  When the Pope was in Jerusalem and I was asked to respond to the visit on Israeli television, the thing everyone was concerned about was what the Pope would say when he went to Yad Va-Shem.  I said that that was a totally mistaken perception of the significance of the visit.  I felt that this did not interest me, confessions of guilt do not create good futures.  They imprison you in the past.  The important thing for me in Jewish-Christian encounter is not what Christianity thinks about the Holocaust, I find that a very painful subject.  I remember when I was at Fordham, I asked Robert C. Pollock what he thought about this experience.  He responded, “David, you have to think about the crucifixion.”  I said to him, “Robert, that does not satisfy me.”  Not only does that answer not satisfy me, it terrifies me.  If Christianity needs the crucified Jew in order to think about the crucified God, then I think Christianity ought to change its fundamental theology. 

 

For me the importance of the Pope’s visit was that he walked in Jerusalem.  He walked through the streets of Jerusalem or rode in his car, and he saw people walking, eating, driving their cars.  For me that was the most significant moment.  To acknowledge the return of a living people to its Biblical foundations, that for me was a transformative moment in Christian theology.

 

In Augustine’s City of God (Book 18), the whole problematic of how you deal with the Jewish people is discussed.  This was central for Augustine and for the Church Fathers who were dealing with foundational memories.  How you deal with foundational memories, how you remember and change them, is central.  When people try to define themselves initially they tend to make enormously triumphalist claims.  Early Christianity, in the light of the whole Roman world, had to see itself not as a new religion, because new religions were suspect in the ancient world.  Thus we find a great debate in early Christianity: are we something new, or are we a continuation of Judaism?

 

Christians rightly understood that they would have no credibility if they did not make the claim that they were an ancient religion with Biblical roots.  Early Christianity thus saw itself as the New Israel, the deepest realization of the message of Judaism.  It was then important to show the prophetic foundations of the Christian claim.  Therefore, Augustine writes that it is crucial to do two things with the Jewish people: a) they have to suffer because they did not accept the new dispensation and message in Jesus, and b) they have to be alive because they have to be a witness to the Bible.  They are the living witness to the Bible and if Jews are not around, we lose that witness.  That witness is crucial for the Christian claim.  Thus the Jews were treated terribly throughout the Middle Ages, but they were not killed.  They were even protected by the Church because they were needed to bear witness to the Biblical foundations of Christianity. 

 

For me, even if certain Augustine scholars feel proud of him, I am not moved.  As a modern thinker, I am not happy with that Christian understanding of Judaism.  I am not here to be a witness to Christian claims.  As I often say to Christian theologians who come to Israel, “If you want to talk to me because you want to discover your Christian foundations, find another person!  If you want to talk to me because you want to build a new future, then I am happy to meet you.”  I am not here to be a witness to your original claims.  I am here so that you can build an honest, authentic, moral future.  We are your burden.  At the degree to which Judaism is confronted at a significant level, does Christianity have a future.  Without that you are morally bankrupt, in my view.  Therefore the Pope’s visit was a profound religious experience.  What he said was: homelessness is no longer a category of self-understanding in the Christian perception of the Jewish people.  The Jews are no more a homeless people; they do not carry the sin of the rejection of Jesus.  They have returned home. 

 

When Christian pilgrims would come to Jerusalem, they used to read Robert Wilkin’s very important work on the Promised Land.  They would visit the site of the destruction of the Temple.  For them it symbolized the end of the Law and the emergence of a new way of understanding God and relating to God.  It was a spiritual experience to see destruction.  When Emperor Julian wanted to restore civic Roman religion, he saw the only way to weaken Christianity which, according to him, was crippling the whole Roman national structure, was to rebuild the Temple.  In that way the foundations of the Christian claim would be undermined.

 

I always have this fantasy: What would have happened had he succeeded? What if he had rebuilt the Temple (especially in light of the craziness going on now)? You see the Mosque on the Temple Mount and that too is part of a legacy of triumphalism.  You even look at the Old City and you get claustrophobia.  Each one is trying to squeeze the other out.  Each one needs the other for the foundation of one’s own self-understanding.  Jerusalem is a symbol of affirmation through negation.  I am because I reject you.  I am because I have inherited you.

 

That is fundamentally what Jerusalem symbolized in its pilgrimage wars throughout history.  It was not a city of peace but rather a city of triumphalist claims.  Since God is One, those who mediate claims must be one and therefore there is an exclusive truth which mediates the whole spiritual drama of history.  This is the fundamental assertion that defines Islam and defines Christianity.  Judaism could not assert itself although it made some of those claims as well (read Maimonides and my books on Maimonides).   Maimonides makes the claim (and Rosenzweig picks it up) that Christianity is in the midst of history and the Jews are at the end of history.  We are the fulfillment of history and you are on your way towards Judaism.

 

I came on aliyah to Israel.  What moved me to come here?  I had been a rabbi for 18-19 years and had a nice life in North America.  I was in Montreal before I came.  I was successful, I was making a good living.  I taught philosophy at McGill.  I was building a vital Jewish community in Montreal, Canada.  I was considered one of the Golden Boys of Orthodoxy.  I was a strange golden boy, though, learned but too open.  Fordham had been a transformative experience for me.  I found that after meeting Jesuits and after meeting Robert C.  Pollock, I prayed better.  I prayed in a better way, and I prayed for my teachers at the Yeshiva.  That experience shattered all my truth claims.

 

I allowed experience into my theological thinking.  I no longer said: I have theological thinking so what is my experience or what can I allow myself to experience or feel? Here I was with a serious Catholic intellectual community.  I felt very comfortable wearing my kippah (skullcap) there.  People asked why I went there.  I responded that I went there because in that milieu I did not have to apologize for using the word ‘God.’  Charles Taylor, a dear friend, a philosopher in Canada, would always use some technical term to refer to God.  I said to him: “Chuck, why do you not just say ‘God’?”  “David,” he replied, “you know I spent so many years at Oxford.  There it is not an acceptable term.  Significant Other, Transcendent Principle.  Part of my own religious crisis was that I allowed reality to touch me without first asking: “What do my theological categories allow?” Reality was embraced.  I could not deny what I experienced for five years at Fordham.  For me it was religiously transformative.  Those walks with Pollock for hours around the Fordham campus were totally transformative.

 

One of the students, a lovely young Catholic woman, said to me, “I told my mother that there is this young rabbi who is studying in our class.”  Her mother’s response was, “A Pharisee?”  I did not understand what she meant so I started reading the New Testament.  Who were these Pharisees? Then I discovered that I had a new identity.  What the student discovered was that she had to forget her categories of Pharisees, legalism etc. and had to meet a living Jew who was not embarrassed to be a witness to his Jewishness.  It was not easy for many of them (generally, I am not an easy person to swallow).

 

I too did not perceive the Catholic Church from reading Karl Rahner or others, but perceived it through my living experience at Fordham.  This was the influence of Pollock on myself, through his teaching of American philosophy.  James and Dewey were transformative for me because they allowed experience to shape one’s self-understanding of the world.  The German thinkers like Hegel put the world together through concepts.  This is the tragedy even of European existentialism, which develops a philosophy of the concrete which makes the concrete abstract.  It is extremely important to forget our categories and allow reality into our thinking. 

 

Your visit in Israel means just that too.  Do not visit the Holy Places.  That is not what Israel is about.  Visit the maternity ward at the Sha’arei Tsedek Hospital.  See living Jewish babies being born.  Go to the restaurants in Emek Refa’im.  They are eating all the time!  They are eating, just eating, bearing witness to the hungers of the body.  That is what Jerusalem is about, the return of the body to Jewish spirituality.  Eating is a very important part of it all.  You have to see what happens at a supermarket on Friday, just before Shabbat.  You would think that there was a hunger going on.  The amounts of food being bought and the line-up are amazing religious experiences.

 

The Jews are a hungry people.  I learned that as a rabbi.  After the fast of the Day of Atonement, I thought that people would leave in quiet contrition after spending twenty-four hours in prayer.  There was instead a stampede, as though they had not eaten for a month.  When somebody wants to convert to Judaism, one of the conditions is to accept the Jewish people as one’s own people.  “Your people are my people; your God is my God,” as Ruth said.  The most important theo­logical challenge in conversion to Judaism is to embrace the history of the Jewish people.  I used to say to potential converts: “Come to my synagogue on Shabbat and go to the kiddush (the reception after the prayer) and see how they eat.  Then, if you still want to join the Jewish people, I am ready to accept you.”

 

I say this to you because you get it wrong if you want to visit the Chief-Rabbi or see the Western Wall; that is not what Jerusalem is about.  Jerusalem is about the rebirth of a people.  Jerusalem is about a decision of Zionism not to wait for the Messiah.  I have written extensively on how I see Zionism as, on one level, a revolt against Jewish tradition and, on another level, as a renewal of Biblical covenantal theology.  That dialectic is fundamental for the understanding of Israel.  You will then see in what way this dialectic affects the future of the Jewish-Christian dialogue. 

 

The fundamental category of my thinking is covenantal.  In covenant we see a major change in God’s self-understanding of Himself.  (I always have difficult in the modern world speaking of God because I do not know how to refer to God in a non-gender language).  In the beginning of the Biblical story, God is really moved by what He thinks that He can do.  He is very impressed with the fact that He can create a universe.  “And God saw that it was good.”  That is like a celebration of God’s achievement.  As you read Genesis 1, you get the feeling of a self-satisfied God.  You do not have a tragic moment there.  He says, and it is.  Nothing inhibits His will.  Reality expresses His will totally.  He is totally powerful.

 

But He made one mistake, He created human-beings, that was His great, tragic downfall.  He said: “I am going to create humans in my image because I want them to mediate the world for Me.”  This is very important in the creation story, the individual mediates God in the world.  The individual is the incarnate God.  This changes as we move to the Book of Exodus where Israel as a community becomes the incarnate God.  Israel is the incarnate God when God moves from the cosmic God to the God of history and the drama moves from the individual to the nation.  Israel was born when history becomes a central concern of God.  In the beginning God creates the Garden of Eden, thinking that He has innocent people for whom He can create the conditions of their life.  God thinks, “I will give them everything and I just want them to acknowledge Me.  But do not eat from this Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because I do not want you to be too sophisticated.”

 

God is in love with innocence.  The Tree of Knowledge would make you reflective, analytical, self-aware and you see that Adam and Eve become self-conscious of their bodies and sexuality in the first act of rebellion.  Therefore God banishes them from the Garden of Eden.  He does not banish the idea, though, that He could create the conditions of history that somehow mediate His will.  God is on a very deep ego-trip in the beginning.  There is a certain psychological narcissism on the part of God (excuse the metaphor), and as He seeks to be Omnipotent He rages. 

 

As much as He celebrated and enjoyed the creation of the world, He celebrates its destruction too.  The generation of the Flood is the testimony to the failure of human beings to be like God wants them to be.  God does not know what to do about the situation.  The children of the mighty are fornicating with the children of the earth!  What is going on?  This is not what I had in mind! When it is not what I had in mind, the only way I can deal with it is to destroy it.  The strangest verse in the Bible is the one following Noah’s exit from the Ark, as he makes a sacrifice, and God smelling the sacrifice is moved by it.  Then God makes a promise: “No longer will I curse the earth because of man.”  God discovers something, “The passion of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  This statement of primary narcissism is the foundation of the human condition.  This is the reality of the human.  It takes a long while to break out of the “I” in order to see the other.

 

But the story does not go so well after that either.  Yet God has realized something, that He  should not have wreaked this destruction.  God wakes up.  God is learning what the creation is about.  He is allowing reality into His understanding of what He Himself has made.  He has romantic images of life, and then He has to discover that it is not what He thought.  God has to learn the power of human selfishness, of human sin, and how you deal with this.

 

The story gets worse still at the Tower of Babel.  God wanted a world that was unified.  The Bible begins with unity.  This unity gets broken by God.  Adam and Eve are one but then the enmity begins.  Conflict and separation takes place.  Man is one with nature and then breaks that.  The world is one, the initial story being one of unity and harmony.

 

Harmony fails because it is not an achievement of human beings but a gift of grace.  A gift of grace cannot be an effective force unless it is deeply a human achievement.  This is the meaning of the election of Israel.  Abraham enters into history when God realizes that he needs a human partner in history to mediate His covenantal ideal in a vision of what the world should be.  “In order to mediate the Kingdom, to mediate My presence, I need a human partner.”  Abraham represents the awareness of God that only by bringing the human into an active responsibility can God’s vision of being a Creator God be realized.  The Creator God then discovers the idea that every parent and every teacher knows, you can not do it yourself! If the human does not collaborate with You, You cannot put the world together alone.  God discovers His vulnerability.  God discovers His need for human beings (to use the language of Abraham Joshua Heschel).  In my language, I talk of the dependency of God.  God’s interdependency, rather than His self-sufficiency, becomes a crucial ontological category.

 

This is the way that God of the Bible breaks with Aristotle.  In Greek philosophy, God needing anything outside of Himself is a sign of imperfection.  But the Biblical notion of perfection is not to be frightened of dependencies.  God loves, He rages, He needs.  This category of interdependency is essential to understand the Bible.  Maimonides had to write a whole Guide to the Perplexed in order to make the God of Moses friendlier to the God of Aristotle.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam were all caught up with the Greek notion of Perfection in medieval times, which does not fit into the Biblical story.  The passion of God, the suffering of God, the loving of God, were alien to the Greek sensibility.  Thus they had to develop all kinds of negative theology, which implied that the Bible must never be understood as saying exactly what it says and Biblical language goes through an enormous transformation.

 

Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed is meant to rewrite the significance of Biblical language.  Despite the fact that I spent my entire early career studying Maimonides, I shelved the concept of the power of God due to the influence of Professor Yohanan Moffs, eminent Biblical scholar at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who insisted on the humanity of God.  Shaul Lieberman, one of the greatest Talmudists of the twentieth century, said once, “The most tragic figure of the Bible is God.”  God wants so much to be loved and it just does not work out.  He wants so much to be proud of His creation and it just does not seem to be working. 

 

Abraham represents the first stage of God’s self-limiting principle.  The self-limiting, omnipotent God discovers the covenant.  You can use Kabbalistic language of tsimtsum (God’s self-restriction) but I do not need it.  The whole covenantal relationship is grounded in self-limitation.  If you do not make room for the other, there is no relationship.  Covenant is God making room for the other.  The other emerges in a fullness in the first stages of Biblical theology.

 

This theme of the covenant moves on into rabbinic Judaism where it gets expanded to a new level.  The new level is where revelation is no longer necessary.  In the Bible, wherever there is a problem of law, Moses asks God for a solution.  Revelation then proceeds as God interprets His own book, resolving questions of Law.  God interprets His own Revelation, allowing for human freedom.  He puts the choice of Life or Death before man and says: “Choose!”   The Biblical notion of human autonomy is expressed in the moral struggle.  God admits that He cannot program man to become moral.  “You have to choose life!” In the rabbinic tradition, I claim, God limits Himself not only in terms of morality but even limits Himself in terms of His interpretation of His own Revelation.

 

You all know the famous story in Baba Metzia 59b (Talmud) of a difficult case of Jewish law.  Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was arguing with the rabbis and he said: “If I am right, then let the walls begin to fall.”   Then, in the house of the academy the walls began to fall.  The rabbis hollered at the walls: “Why are you interfering in an argument between scholars!”  The walls, not knowing what to do, remained bent.  Rabbi Eliezer then called on the waters to prove that he was right.  Then the waters began to flow backwards.  Again, the rabbis were not impressed.  The waters are hinting that something is being said, that something is coming from on High saying “Rabbi Eliezer got it right; please follow him.”  But the rabbis are not buying into this.  Finally, Rabbi Eliezer says: “God, they are such an obdurate group, will You please tell them that I am right!”  A voice was then heard saying: “The Law is with Eliezer ben Hyrcanus.”  Direct revelation is heard again.  But Rabbi Yehoshua stands up and in a Promethean move says, “God, Torah is not in heaven.  You have written in the Torah: After the majority, you should rule.  The majority does not agree with Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus.  Sorry, You should not come into the Academy when we are learning.  When we are arguing Your Torah, You stay out.”

 

Often, after publishing my first book, I wanted to follow everybody who bought and tell them how to read  it.  This is the message to God.  You gave the Torah to human beings and now they have to make sense of it in terms of their own comprehension.  We are not supposed to study the Torah through the mind of God but through the mind of humans.  It is humans who have to mediate the word of God.  “Torah is not in the heavens.”

 

The covenant has gone further.  Humans now not only have the freedom to choose, but they also have the responsibility for creating Torah.  The Oral Tradition is that we are now creators of revelation.  We define what happened at Sinai.  I am deeply Orthodox in the foundational moment.  God said every word and Moses wrote it down.  God said every word and Moses is simply the recording secretary.  But that is not the issue in the long run.  I do not live by what happened at Sinai.  I live according to what the interpretative community explained Sinai to mean.  I do not live according to what happened at Sinai, but rather according to what happens in the academies of learning today.  In this Jews and Catholics are very close.  We do not live by the Protestant immediacy of God’s word, but rather by the interpretative community.  For you it is the Church and for us it is the living community that is learning Torah.  The community is now the mediator of revelation.  The interpretative community makes revelation an open-ended textured framework.  It is not fixed.  Orthodox Judaism was never fundamentalist.  One never read the Bible to know what God wanted.  What God wanted was mediated by the living interpretative community.  The Pharisees created a living word of God mediated by human beings.  That is the rabbinic tradition. 

 

However, there is one thing that is still in the hands of God, that is, history.  Everything concerning Israel in history was to be decided by God.  Therefore the paradigmatic model was messianism.  The paradigm of what was to happen to Israel in Exile was to be patterned after the Exodus from Egypt experience.  Passover was to be the paradigm.  The blessing of the Passover night is: “Just as You redeemed us from Egypt, so will You redeem us from our Exile.”  The intervention in history would be a similar divine vertical movement into history as happened at the Exodus.  Zionism decided that Exile is not a metaphysical category but a political category to be handled by human beings.

 

Israel’s homelessness and vulnerability in history is a human act.  It is not because of sin that we are exiled.  Rather we must understand Exile and homelessness as empirical facts to be understood by Realpolitik.  The only way that this will change is if we enter into Realpolitik.  If we want to go back to Israel, it is not sufficient to pray in the synagogue, sit on packed valises waiting for the Messiah to come and say “Next year in Jerusalem” at the Passover seder.  Jews had lived with profound hope, praying for Jerusalem.  They prayed for rain in Jerusalem even when they were in Poland.  People would say that they were praying for rain in the wrong season.  They would reply that there was rain needed for the farmers in Galilee.  “But there are no farmers in Galilee!”  They were praying on the basis of what the Land of Israel required even when no one was here.

 

Israel was always the focus of where they were.  They never left Jerusalem; they never left the Land.  The Land symbolized, on a very profound level, that God had elected them as a nation.  Election and Land are intimately connected.  The Land symbolizes the home of a people.  God wants to be mediated not only in an individual but in the life of a community.  “I will be sanctified in history.  Therefore Israel and the Land are my witnesses.”  The prophets emerge in the Land when Israel fails in its witness dimension.  We are a nation, we are a people, we are not just individuals.

 

This is the fundamental importance of the leap of the we, not the Plotinian leap of the alone to the alone.  You cannot understand Judaism unless you understand that the we is constitutive of self-understanding.  God elected a people and a people stands at Sinai.  A people entered the covenant.  Abraham points to a people and not single individuals.  This is where Christianity and Islam parted company with Judaism.  For us, Abraham is the pointer to covenantal election of the people.  Abraham was not the symbol of faith.  Abraham was the symbol of God’s concern to be in history.

 

The Law is then a necessity for the polis.  You cannot have collective living unless you have the Law.  Law is the structure that makes possible communal living.  Law is what makes the living community of Israel the witness to God in history. 

 

The problem now seems to be that we decided to come home in a place where no one wants us.  In Heschel’s Israel: An Echo of Eternity, he says that the Land is a testimony of the people who never lose faith in the Biblical self-understanding of the people.  It is the Bible coming home alive again.  The metaphor of the revolt constituted by Zionism in relation to traditional Judaism is like the child saying to his father: “Pa, I am tired of living in this house and I am tired of everything you stand for.”  He then goes to the door, bangs on it and forgets to leave.  That is modern Zionism.  You bang on the door, that is Tel Aviv.  We banged on the door and we forgot to leave.

 

The Land does not allow us to be secular.  The Land forces us to live in dialogue with our Biblical foundations.  The Land restores memory and makes us aware of ourselves as a nation.  The Land asks us: “What are you doing here? What is your history?”  Therefore the Bible is the central organizational text of the country.  You cannot make sense of being here without it.  How do we deal with this theologically?  That is the big issue.

 

Initially secular kibbutzim took God’s name out of the Bible because they did not know how to deal with it.  But how can you take His name out of the Bible?  It is there!  You simply have to confront the fact that God is involved in your history! What does that mean? Why was He not involved with us in Auschwitz? Did He suddenly wake up? Did He fall asleep in 1943? There is a whole dialectic between Auschwitz and rebirth that is so pregnant.  How do you handle Israel and yet not ignore the Holocaust? You have to have a theology of the Holocaust if you are going to make sense religiously of returning to Israel.  That is just an example of the fact that the Land itself saved the Jewish people from secularization.  The establishment of the State of Israel prevents the full normal secularization of the Jewish people, holds in check the desire to be like all the nations of the world, to be at home in the world, not to be burdened by God’s elective principles.  Living here does not allow that to happen.

 

That is why I chose to come here.  As a successful rabbi in America, I realized that religion is a purely individualistic experience.  The problem of the individual experience in America is the obsession with the I.  But the I is not a category of Judaism.  The category of Judaism is the We.  The thing that restores the we is Israel.  Israel gives a sense of we.  The important thing in terms of Jewish-Christian relations is to understand this obsession with Jerusalem.  Why Jerusalem? Jerusalem is the catalyst because it has been part of our story for three thousand years.  It is the return to our home.  We have been mourners of Jerusalem all our life.  Now we are celebrating Jerusalem.  When you would visit someone who was mourning the loss of a beloved one, you would say: “May God comfort you among the mourners of Jerusalem.”  When you went to a wedding, a glass would be broken symbolizing that we are still a fragmented people, not in our home.  The blessings recited over the bride and groom include a phrase: “Again we will hear in Jerusalem the voice of a bride and a groom.”  The bride was Israel and the groom was God.

 

When you are celebrating, your celebration is not complete until there is joy in the streets of Jerusalem.  This was the ethos that defined our experience for two thousand years, shaped each day by the liturgy, shaped each day by our grace after meals.  In the prayer, you thank God for food and then you thank Him for the Land and the covenant.  You pray in every prayer that God will restore Jerusalem and return to her.  The whole power of Jerusalem is not to deny my memory, not to deny my historical sense of self-understanding.

 

This is the problem of Yasser Arafat.  I told Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian philosopher: “I do not want Arafat to tell me about 242 or other UN resolutions.  I only want him to say: ‘Jews have come home.’”  In their thinking we are here because of the Holocaust.  That is why I fight against linking the Holocaust with the foundation of the State of Israel. 

 

We are here a people reborn.  The most powerful image is that of Ezekiel, of the bones rising up.  We are a people reborn from the graves of Auschwitz.  I refuse to talk to Christians who feel guilty at Yad VaShem.  I will speak to you in the maternity wards of Shaarei Tsedek Hospital.  Can you meet me here as a people alive again, not a wandering people bearing witness in the Augustinian sense?  I do not want your pity.  I do not want to take you to Yad VaShem to hear your mea culpa.  You, as Jesuits, do not have to deal with Auschwitz but with Jerusalem where the Jewish people is alive.  Make Israel your theological challenge, not Auschwitz.

 

How does Christianity deal with a Jewish people that is no longer being punished as wanderers because of their rejection of Jesus?  We did not reject Jesus; we loved Moses.  Get that into your heads! Anyone who says that Jesus symbolizes the fact that Moses was a passing episode, we said was a false teacher, because Moses is alive.  Torah is alive! We do not feel like we are dead! I do not need inheritors.  I live according to my way; you live according to yours.  You have a long powerful story; live it out.  You do not need me as a punching bag to define who you are.  Christianity has something powerful to offer humanity and you do not need Jews to suffer in order for you to feel alive.

 

For me the meaning of our return to Jerusalem is not that God is going to be revealed through the exclusive truth of Judaism.  Jerusalem is the symbol of God’s election of particularity, not of the universal.  It is not Hegel’s concrete universal.  That would be a great mistake.  Israel is one story, but it is not the only story.  But one must be true to one’s memory and history if one is to have an identity.  Therefore the return of Judaism to Jerusalem is the affirmation of radical diversity to mediate the living God in history.  It corrects the mistake of the exclusive truth idea that dominated western civilization.

 

Why is it so important for me to welcome you here today? It is because your voice has to be heard in the world.  You must be true to your memories and your stories.  The issue you have to face is: Does your story block out my story?  I know my story is not the only one but I try to remain true to it, to the story I received from my mother and father.  I tell it in the most vital way possible, I write books, and I talk, sometimes in a too lengthy way.  I do not aim for the universal.  I have no need of a Jewish theology of Christianity (that was Rosenzweig’s and Buber’s insanity).  I tell the Jewish story, the story of the living covenant.  Jews in Jerusalem are the elect people who have come home to correct the horrors of history.  But we must understand that this is one story.  The Infinite God is celebrated through richness and diversity, He needs many melodies, not just one.  He needs both Shlomo Carlebach niggunim and the Mass, both Gregorian chant and Yom Kippur, circumcision of the heart and circumcision of the flesh.  That is why we seem to have got it wrong in history.  We must learn to celebrate each other’s joy and not be threatened by it.


THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL

FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAISM

AND FOR JEWISH-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE

 

Rabbi René-Samuel Sirat

 

I address myself to you as brothers and I would like to begin with the reading of Psalm 87.

Psalm of Korah. Psalm. Canticle.

1 With its foundations on the holy mountains,

2 Yahweh loves his city, he prefers the gates of Zion to any dwelling-place in Jacob.

3 He speaks of glory for you, city of God.

4 ‘I number Rahab and Babylon among those that acknowledge me; look at Tyre,

                   Philistia, Ethiopia, so and so was born there.’

5 But of Zion it will be said, ‘Every one was born there,’ her guarantee is the Most High.

6 Yahweh in his register of peoples will note against each, ‘Born there,’

7 Princes no less than native-born; all make their home in you.

 

It might seem surprising that a rabbi living in the Diaspora comes to Jerusalem in order to speak of the indelible link of the Jewish people to its homeland.  I can certainly appeal to Philo of Alexandria, thinker of the first century, and I cite him: “It should be noted that the Jews wherever they live, in Europe or in Asia, in the towns or the villages, consider as metropolis the Holy City in which is situated the Temple of the God Most-High.  They consider their respective homeland the regions that were given to them, to their fathers, their grandfathers and great grandfathers and to where their more distant ancestors were born and raised.  This is true even for those who arrived in their present villages as part of the founding colonizers.”  Philo bears witness to the love a Jew bears to both fatherland and motherland, to the land of his ancestors as well as the one in which he is born.

 

The Jewish thinker who expressed this nostalgia most profoundly and with the highest degree of pathos was undoubtedly Judah HaLevi (12th century).  In a magnificent masterpiece in which the poet proposes a philosophical and theological debate, imagining the King of the Khazars (a people living in the corner of Russia whose king converted to Judaism) consults a Christian and a Muslim philosopher and finally one from “the despised people” too, a Jew.  He asks the rabbi to tell him about the fundamental principles of Judaism (cf. The Kuzari).  After a long development, the rabbi insists on the link between the children of Israel and the Land of Israel.

 

The rabbi, interrupted by the King of the Khazars with a question, responds:  “You have read how the patriarchs endeavored to live in the Land whilst it was in the hands of the pagans, how they yearned for it, and had their bones carried into it, as did Jacob and Joseph.  Moses prayed to see it, and when this was denied to him, he considered this a misfortune.  Thereupon it was shown to him from the summit of Pisgah, which was to him an act of grace.  Persians, Indians, Greeks and the children of other nations begged to be allowed to offer up sacrifices, and to be prayed for in the Holy Temple.  They spent their wealth in the place, though they believed in other laws not recognized by the Torah.  They honor it to this day although the manifest Divine Presence no longer appears there.  ALL NATIONS make pilgrimages to it, long for it, excepting we ourselves because we are punished and in disgrace. All the rabbis tell of its qualities but that would take too long to relate.”

 

The King of the Khazars said: “Let me hear a few of their observations.”  The rabbi responded, “… It is better to live in the Holy Land, even in a town mostly inhabited by the heathen, than abroad in a town chiefly peopled by Israelites.  He who dwells in the Holy Land is compared to someone who has a God, whilst he who dwells abroad is compared to one who has no God.  Thus says David, “For they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, ‘Go serve other gods’” (1 Samuel 26:19).  This means that he who dwells abroad is as if he served strange gods. …

 

Another saying is: “To be buried in Palestine is as if buried beneath the altar.”  (I will come back to this idea that is taken from the Babylonian Talmud, in the Ketubot tractate, 111.)  They praise him who is in the Land more than him who is carried to the Land dead.  This is expressed thus: “He who embraces it when alive is not like him who does so after he is dead.  They say concerning him who could have lived there but did not do so, and only ordered his body to be carried there after he was dead, “While you lived you made My inheritance an abomination, but in death you came to contaminate my country” (Jeremiah 2:7).

 

The King of the Khazars then said: “If this is so, then you fall short of the duty laid down in your law, by not endeavoring to reach that place, and making it your abode in life and death, although you say: ‘Have mercy on Zion because it is the house of our life’ [Blessing after the reading from the Prophets, Shabbat morning], and you believe that the Divine Presence will return there.  And had it no other preference than that the Divine Presence dwelt there five hundred years, this is sufficient reason for men’s souls to retire there and find purification there, as happens near the abodes of the pious and the prophets.  Is it not the ‘gate of heaven’?

 

All nations agree on this point.  Christians believe that the souls are gathered there and then lifted up to heaven.  Islam teaches that it is the place of ascent, and that prophets are caused to ascend from there to heaven, and, further, that it is the place of gathering on the day of Resurrection.  Everybody turns to it in prayer and visits it in pilgrimage.  Your bowing and kneeling in the direction of it is either mere appearance or thoughtless worship.  Yet your first forefathers chose it as an abode in preference to their birth-place and lived there as strangers, rather than as citizens in their own country.  This they did even at a time when the Divine Presence was yet visible, but the country was full of promiscuity, impurity, and idolatry.  Your fathers however had no other desire than to remain in it.”

 

The rabbi responded: “This is a severe reproach,” (In fact, the Arabic should be translated, “You deeply embarrass me.”  As you know, the Kuzari was written in Arabic), “O King of the Khazars. It is the sin that kept the divine promise with regard to the Second Temple, that is, ‘Sing and rejoice O daughter of Zion (Zachariah 2:10) from being fulfilled.  Divine Providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first, if they had all willingly consented to return.  But only a part was ready to do so, whilst the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery, and unwilling to leave their homes and their affairs.  An allusion to them might be found in the enigmatic words of Solomon: ‘I sleep, but my heart wakes’ (Song of Songs 5:2-4).  He designates the exile by sleep, and the continuance of prophecy among them by the wakefulness of the heart.  ‘It is the voice of my beloved that knocks’ means God’s call to return...If we say, ‘Worship at His holy hill – worship at His footstool – He who restores His glory to Zion’ (Psalm 99:9.5) and other words, this is but like the chattering of the starling and the nightingale. We do not realize what we say by this sentence, nor others, as you rightly observe, O King of the Khazars.”

I would like to come back to the astonishing Talmudic text from the tractate of Ketubot, which was cited by Judah HaLevi.  Judah HaLevi, in this response to the King of the Khazars, is reprimanding all those who, since the time of the Second Temple, did not fulfill this basic commandment of the return to Zion.  You will remember that the point of the citation was that the Jew who lives in the Land is like one who worships God whereas the Jew who lives outside the Land is as one who has no God.   Is it possible today to affirm such a statement, that the Jew who lives outside the Land of Israel is comparable to an idol worshiper?  The worship of the true God can only be fully carried out on the Land of Israel.  The number of laws which refer specifically to the Land make it impossible to fulfill the Law outside the Land.  Remember how the expression “when you come to your Land” is repeated when God reveals the laws to Moses in the desert.

 

These laws refer, of course, only to Jews whereas non-Jews are only obligated to observe the seven Noahid laws: not to worship idols, not to blaspheme, not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery and incest, to submit to the jurisdiction of the tribunals and not to eat flesh from a living beast.  The non-Jew is not, therefore, obligated to stay in the Holy Land.  These Noahid laws can be applied everywhere and are not specific to the Holy Land.

 

Thus, the Jew, especially the one who is able, who does not reside in the Holy Land, is considered atheist.  He is showing that he has no God as he refuses to fulfill his part of the promise made to Abraham by God and fulfilled by Abraham in relation to his God.  “He believed in God and it was considered to him as a righteousness.”  The Talmud adds, certainly astonished by its own audacity, that he is similar to an idol worshiper.  Let us take an example.  Passover, the Feast of Spring in the month of Abib, celebrates the fruits of the Holy Land.  According to certain exegetes, the fulfillment of the commandments outside the Land does not constitute the fulfillment of the word of God.   Thus the submission to the commandments outside of the Land has purely an educational function.  The Jews, who have lived for so long outside their Land, will be able to celebrate the feasts when they eventually come back to live in their Land because they have preciously preserved the memory of the commandments throughout history.  This is the essential quality of the Jew and has enabled him to survive despite the wide spread hatred, as noted by Psalm 83 which speaks of the virtue of hope. 

 

The Land is vital to the life of the Jew, comparable only to the vitality for the life of the Jew of the Torah.  It can be illustrated by the parable attributed to Rabbi Akiba.  The fox advises the fish to leave the water in order to live on firm ground.  The fish responds: “You pretend to be a cunning creature but I will not fall into your trap.”  We too must be wary of all kinds of predators.  In addition, we must feel great unease when we are out of our natural element.  The vital place of the Jew is the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel.  It is not coincidental that the Bible uses an extremely rare term, morasha (heritage) in order to describe the link between the Jew and the Land on the one hand, and the link between the Jew and the Torah on the other.  In Exodus 6:8 it is written: “I give you the Land as a morasha (heritage).”  One of the exegetes commented: “One should not read morasha, that is, “heritage,” but rather mo’orasa (betrothed).  The Land of Israel is the perpetual betrothed of the People of Israel.   At the end of Deuteronomy (33:4): “Moses enjoined a law on us, Jacob comes into its morasha (inheritance).”  There again the exegete comments that morasha should be read mo’orasa.  Again, the Torah is the perpetual betrothed of Israel as was constantly pointed out by the prophets.  In other words, the Torah of Israel, the Land of Israel and the People of Israel are one.  The absolute unity of the three also represents a unity; they are synonymous.

Since you have asked me to address you, I might be so bold as to presume that my role as a Jew living in the Diaspora is not totally without interest.  Similarly, the rabbis were not oblivious to the fact that we are not the only ones to love the Land.  I would like to cite a commentary derived from Sifre, which is very ancient, contemporaneous with the Mishna.  It is taken from the passage “This is the blessing,” the last passage of the book of Deuteronomy 33.  It takes its point of origin in a verse from Jeremiah (3:19): “I give to you a land of delights, an admirable heritage.”  The rabbis comment that a land of delights is one to which all the kings and all the rulers come to construct their palaces.  Every king and every ruler wants to reside in the Land of Israel, saying that everything they have done for their own glory is without interest.

 

The Bible teaches us that Joshua vanquished 31 kings.  Were there really 31 kings reigning in the Land of Israel at his time?  It is explained that at that time it was a bit like in Rome today, every king had a home there without which he regarded his life as without importance.  What is explained on the material level is also true on the spiritual level.  Everyone who lives here in Jerusalem has his place in the sun and carries within himself a cure.

 

Let us remember the prayer of King Solomon on the day of the dedication of the Temple: “And the foreigner too, not belonging to Your people Israel, if he comes from a distant country for the sake of Your name and of Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, if he comes and prays in this Temple - hear from heaven where Your home is, and grant his prayer, so that all the peoples of the earth may come to know Your name, and, like your people Israel, revere you and know that Your name is given to the Temple I have built” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33).  The pagan sailors, miraculously saved from the storm, in the Book of Jonah, come to Jerusalem in order to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to the one God whom they now venerate as their own.

 

For the final and conclusive point of my presentation I would like to refer to André Neher, born in 1913, one of the great Jewish thinkers of our time.  In the deepest part of the Jewish consciousness, nothing evokes better the theme of that which is irreplaceable than the earthly Jerusalem, the unique Holy City.  Ten centuries later, Christianity founded another Eternal City at Rome.  The Islamic consciousness, seven centuries later, constructed its Holy Cities at Mecca and Medina.  Modern culture erected other centers at Paris, Moscow, New York and Peking.  Only the Jews have refused to accept another center.  They have refused to replace Jerusalem even if a city of ruins and dust.  For twenty centuries, Jerusalem was the only horizon of the Wandering Jew.  Every year at Passover, the Jew repeated the yearning to return until in the 19th century Zionism translated this into a political activism.  It is in this sense that a Jewish Jerusalem cannot be negotiated.  But that is not to say that it is impossible to conceive of a Palestinian sovereignty over the Christian and Muslim Holy Sites. This might be the only way that Jerusalem might one day live up to its etymological meaning: City of Peace.

 

To conclude,

I dream of a Jerusalem which lives up to its appellation, Jerusalem, the Holy City. Yeroushalayim. Ourshalim. Al-Quds.  Sanctity must exclude all manifestations of violence.  This means that I can go to the market in Mahane Yehuda without fear of terrorist attacks.  Christians can go unhindered to the churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  Muslims can come from Ramallah or Hebron on Fridays to pray in the Mosques of the Haram al-Sharif.  That one can go and pray without security checks, unfortunately necessary in the present situation.

 

I dream of a Jerusalem, City of Truth.  Yerushalayim Ir ha-Emet.  Ourshalim al-Haqq.  There politicians give their word and offer guarantees which are kept and respected.  There all the sons of Abraham will be recognized as such.

 

I dream of a Jerusalem, City of Fraternity.  There all men and women will experience the links of brotherhood as they are all children of Adam.

 

I dream of Jerusalem, City of Peace.  There peace is appreciated as the most precious of resources and reflects what is lived as a day to day reality.

 

I dream of Jerusalem, City of Liberty.  There each one feels free to live according to their conscience, as long as they do not infringe on the liberty of their neighbor.  There all citizens are respected and respect one another.

 

I dream of Jerusalem, City of Equality.  There the stranger living among you suffers no prejudice.  All have the same rights.  The stranger is loved like your own self, for you too were strangers in the Land of Egypt.

 

This is the messianic dream.  This is where the lion lies down with the lamb.  The lion does not become a lamb, he stays a lion but he eats grass like the lamb.  This is the peace for which we must all pray.


THE CHALLENGE OF MODERNITY

FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAISM IN ISRAEL

 

Prof. Aviezer Ravitzky

 

Messianism is a fundamental component of Judaism, but right from the outset I want to distinguish between Jewish and Christian Messianism.  As you know, there is a certain sect of Hassidism, the Lubavitchers, who have made the claim that their own rabbi was the Messiah.  Now some might say, what is the difference between Judaism and Christianity, it is only a difference in name.  The Christians say that the Messiah was named Jesus whereas these Lubavitcher hassidim say that his name was Menahem Mendel.

 

I would like to make this point clear by insisting on the difference between Jewish and Christian Messianism.  First of all, Jewish Messianism is future-oriented.  Secondly, Jewish Messianism does not insist on the personal incarnation of a Messiah.  What is more important is the idea of a Messianic age.  I will now outline some fundamental characteristics of Jewish Messianism:

 

There is only one coming.  The debate between the one and only coming of the Messiah, or two comings, a first and a second, touches not only the particular personality of Jesus.  The difference here between Judaism and Christianity is deeper.  If you tell a Jew that the Messiah has already come, his immediate response will be, “So why do I read in the newspaper that there are still wars in the world? Why are people still killing each other?  Why is there still hunger in Biafra?”  I suppose some Christians would answer: “He came in the past to redeem us spiritually; he will come again in the future to redeem us sociologically, historically and politically.  He came in the past to redeem us individually, if we believe in him; he will come in the future to redeem us collectively, nationally.”

 

In Jewish tradition such distinctions cannot be made.  In Judaism there is only one redemption because the spiritual and the socio-political redemptions are one and the same.  It is inherent to Judaism that you do not distinguish between flesh and spirit.  One cannot say, according to a Jewish perspective, that the Church is the Chosen People in spirit and the Jews are the Chosen People in flesh.  Such distinctions between flesh and spirit are not made in Judaism.  We believe that the spiritually Chosen People is also the permanent Chosen People in the flesh.  Similarly, we cannot distinguish between a spiritual coming of the Messiah and the political-historical coming of the Messiah; these are one and the same.

 

There can be no distinction between my individual redemption and the redemption of all Jews and all humanity.  Therefore a Jew cannot accept a Messiah who came and did not redeem history.  I am not making a truth claim but am, rather, trying to analytically distinguish between two phenomena.  This is true as well with respect to the Old and New Testaments.  For Jews, there is only one Sinai.  Any future interpretation or even revelation is already inherent in the one Sinai revelation.  Any future revelation can never be superior to Sinai but must be consistent with the Sinai revelation.  One revelation, one redemption, one creation – this is fundamental.

 

If you take these three most important theological concepts - creation, revelation, redemption - their unicity is underlined.  There is one creation and no future creation.  There is one revelation and any future revelation is not superior but rather interpretative.  The Talmud can interpret the Written Torah but it cannot claim to be a new Torah or a New Testament or a new Law.  The same is true with regard to Messianism; there is one coming and there is no second coming.  So, you will excuse me if I am a little cynical about the claims of the Lubavitcher Hassidim because I believe it does not fit Judaism. 

 

Once I met with the head of the Mormon University in Jerusalem.  He did not want to discuss theology with me because they have made a firm commitment not to proselytize in Israel.  They stick to this very honestly.  Nonetheless, after some time, it became clear to him that I was not likely to be converted and so he began to talk.  Finally, when it came to the Messiah, I proposed that it not be necessary to argue about whether the Messiah we were both waiting for was coming for the first time or the second time.  We could simply ask him whether this was his first coming or his second coming when he finally arrived.

 

When it comes to some of the Lubavitchers who claim that their dead rabbi will return as the Messiah king, the question about a first or second coming is no longer sufficient.  Instead we will have to ask for his name, is he named Jesus or Menahem, the name of the Lubavitcher rabbi.  So I would have to reject the claim I made to the rector of the Mormon university.  Seriously, I hope it is clear that we are speaking about one time, one coming of the Messiah. 

 

There is a national emphasis to the messianic idea.  The Messiah is supposed to redeem the nation, the Jewish people, and after that he will redeem humanity, the whole human race.  If you stop a Jew in the street and ask him or her: “When the Messiah comes, what is he going to do?”  I think that the first answer will be, “He will bring us back from Exile, he will re-establish the Davidic dynasty.”  An Orthodox Jew might say that he will re-establish the Temple.  What will happen after that? Then the nations of the world will also accept him, he will redeem humanity and fulfill the prophecies of the end of days, according to Isaiah, everybody will cut their swords into ploughshares, all humanity will be monotheist, etc.  But all of this takes place only later.  This emphasis is national and at least until 52 years ago focused predominantly on the return from the Exile of a people subjugated to the nations.  The people that is in exile, spiritually and physically, is supposed to be redeemed.  As a consequence of that, the world will be redeemed.

 

Finally, and here I am not sure that it is a very clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism, the idea of Messianism expresses some kind of discomfort with present reality.  If everything were okay, one would not expect a Messiah to come.  It is exactly because the newspapers are what they are, that you read what you read, that you believe that you need a change in reality.  You consider this present world to be an unredeemed world.  As a Jew, you consider history to be linear and not circular.  History began at some definite point in the past, Creation or Exodus or Sinai -  cosmologically Creation, historically Exodus and spiritually Sinai, and history is going towards a definite point in the future, the Messianic era.

 

In Greek philosophy, one often speaks about the circular rather than the linear development of history.  The circular patterns of day-night-day or spring-summer-autumn-winter-spring or child-adult-elder-death-child are seen as the model for the unfolding of the events of history too.  I do not need to tell you that for Aristotle, history does not have that much significance, what needs to be understood according to his perspective is that we are part of an eternal circle.  I believe that in the Bible the development is linear.

 

Let me give you an interesting example, the book of Qohelet (Ecclesiastes).  There is a great debate in Biblical studies regarding this book.  Some argue that it was written in the Greek period and that it is not particularly Jewish.  At the center of this claim is the argument that its perception of history is circular.  Everyone knows the famous section where the author describes the seemingly circular progression of generation after generation.  According to my previous generalizations, these exegetes should be correct.  But in fact this is not the case.  If you take a Greek book, the description of the cosmos as subject to the circular proceeding of history is an advantage, we take part thereby in eternity.  But for the author of Qohelet, if you really believe that it is circular, then all is “vanity.”  If it is circular then it is vanity, whereas the linear perspective is the correct one.  This is what I want to define as the Biblical and the Jewish perspective.  Messianism is the end point of this linear presentation of history.

 

Now I will move to the contemporary scene.  It should be clear from this outline of Messianism that as soon as the Zionist movement established itself in 1897 at the First Zionist Congress, the question of Messianism arose.  Some people were working, by human efforts, to bring the Jewish people to the Holy Land, thus working to end our historical situation of Exile.  Secondly, the plan was to settle the Jews in the Land.  Thirdly, the aim was to establish a state or a kingdom, meaning political independence.

 

Any claim that this project is indifferent to classical Jewish Messianism is thus difficult to maintain.  One the one hand, you might say that the Zionist project is illegitimate because you are trying to bring the Messiah by human effort.  Instead of praying, you want to develop settlements and agriculture.  On the other hand, you might say that these are the first birth pangs of the Messianic age.  This approach would argue that this is not a Jewish but divine initiative and Zionism is simply a Jewish response to this divine initiative.  The attempt to claim that Zionism and Messianism had nothing to do with each other was very difficult, even though there were some rabbis who made such a claim.

 

Those of you who are familiar with religious Zionism might be surprised to find out that the founder of religious Zionism, Rabbi Y.  Reines, tried to make such a distinction between Zionism and Messianism.  He claimed that Zionism had nothing to do with Messianism and therefore he could be a Zionist.  If someone tried to bring the Messiah by human effort, through agriculture or construction, Reines would not follow him.  The Messiah is supposed to come by our spiritual and religious efforts alone.  For Reines, the Zionists were simply trying to improve the situation of the Jews.  They are trying to establish the Third Commonwealth.  Just as the First Commonwealth founded by Joshua and David was not a Messianic commonwealth, nor was the Second Commonwealth founded by Ezra and Nehemiah, so too are the Zionists trying to build the Third Commonwealth.

 

Even if they are not the same thing, Zionism and Messianism undeniably play on the same football field even if with different rules.  Messianism foresees the ingathering of the exiles, Zionism sets out to bring this about.  One of the clearest signs of the arrival of Messianic times is that the Land of Israel begins to give its fruits to the Jewish people again.  This is termed the “revealed end” (which is also the name of my book).  In the Talmud, the “revealed end” means that the Land of Israel is giving its fruits to the people again.  This can be understood as the conquest of the desert, something promoted by secular Zionism.  We know that even secular Zionism speaks in very similar terms about “redeeming the land.”

 

So it is difficult to distinguish clearly and conceptually between these two “ideologies.”  In the Talmud, there is a saying that one of the main differences between the Messianic era and the present era is that now we are subjugated to the nations.  In the future, when the Messiah comes, we will be liberated.  Zionism tries to establish political independence and sovereignty for the Jewish people. So regarding the historical aspect of Messianism, matters are intermingled. 

 

Yet, would it not be true to say that one can play on the same keyboard but according to very different notes?  Traditional Messianism determines that the Messiah will come when we repent.  Zionism, paradoxically, has taken place in the most secular of eras for Judaism since, perhaps, the time of the prophets.  It was the prophets who castigated the Jewish people for their falling away from religion.  So, a redemption without repentance!  Divine activity or human activity?  Messianism is supposed to be divine activity, but Zionism is most definitely human activity.

 

The question of the relation between Messianism and Zionism has become central to 20th Century Jewish thought.  It would be very difficult to say that it is irrelevant.  Let us try and look at the thought of two groups who represent two poles in this thought spectrum.  On the one hand there is the ultra-Orthodox group, Neturei Karta (Guardians of the City), a component of the Jerusalem Eda Haredit (Ultra-Orthodox community), with some yeshivot (religious seminaries) in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak (outside Tel Aviv).  For them Zionism is an anti-Messianic phenomenon, in your terminology, an anti-Christ.  Zionism is demonic.  It constitutes the betrayal of the Jewish people in its classical commitment to God, to the future Messiah, to the promises of the prophets, and to the uniqueness of the Jewish people.

 

Let us try to understand them because I believe that they propose a coherent and important Jewish theology.  I do not agree with them but I would be very sad if they were to vanish.  I believe they make Jewish theology much richer and I also need them so that I am not obliged to put all my cards on the State of Israel despite the fact that I am committed, that I have, unfortu­nately, had to serve in the army, and, unfortunately too, my son serves in the army and I have three grandchildren here whom I educate to be Zionists.  Yet, I do not want to put all the Jewish cards on one contemporary, historical phenomenon, even though I love it, the State of Israel.

 

What do Neturei Karta claim?  Our exile is not an accident.  It is rather the manifestation of our commitment to God.  God gave historical and political activity to the nations of the world.  It is, thus, legitimate for them to be political, historical and cultural entities.  Jews are responsible for something else – a spiritual vocation.  There is a story about the head of the yeshiva in Volozhin, in Eastern Europe, at the end of the 19th Century.  At the end of the fast of Yom Kippur, all the students of the yeshiva went to eat.  But the rabbi, head of the yeshiva, did not go to eat.  Instead he would go to the study hall and study for one or two hours.  After he had finished studying, then he would go and eat.  The students asked him: “Rabbi, why do you go to the study hall and you do not go to eat?” He answered, “In this very hour there is a danger that all the Jews, all over the world, are eating and nobody is studying Torah.  If nobody studies Torah, even for one minute, the cosmos will collapse.  The study of the Torah is the spiritual pillar of the world.”

 

The point of the story is that the Rabbi of Volozhin saw himself as a kind of Hercules, holding up the cosmos for an hour or two until the students have eaten and return to their study, when he will be replaced.  If you take this Jewish idea to its extreme, then the Jews need to go on studying Torah.  If you are not engaging in eating then how much more true is it that you are not engaged in political activity.  Only when the Messiah comes will the Davidic dynasty be re-established in a divine way.  By the fact that you are passive, that you sit back and pray and study Torah and are not involved in Gentile activities of politics and history, you manifest your belief in the future coming of the Messiah and the manifestation and fulfillment of the divine promises.

 

Among the Gentiles there is an historical causality that is based on physical cause – physical outcome: you have a strong army, you have a strong state, for example.  The Jews were taken out of this causality.  For them there is a spiritual cause and then a physical outcome.  “If God does not build the house, the builders work in vain; if God does not guard the city, the guardians guard in vain”.  You are not supposed to have an army because Jews, by definition, are to be kept by God.  Thus this type of perspective sees that through Zionism, Judaism is committing suicide by this kind of effort.

 

In addition, it is written in the prayer book, “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.”  Our land was destroyed not because our army was not strong enough but because of our sins.  We will return to the Land when we have overcome our sins and not when we have a strong army.  Some of the anti-Zionists would even say that the Holocaust was a collective punishment of the Jewish people for the sin of Zionism.  It is difficult for me to even say this, but I want you to understand that there is not only an opposition to Zionism but a demonization of Zionism.  This view sees in the Zionist choice of Jerusalem a Satanic choice previewed by the Book of Zachariah, in which it is written that not only God chooses Jerusalem, but Satan as well.

 

This idea will be well known to those who know the Christian writings of the Crusader period where Christians were pitted against Muslims for rule in Jerusalem.  The battle for Jerusalem was not only physical but metaphysical.  In our particular battle it is not Islam being demonized but Zionism.  I do not like this formulation but they do preserve the classical idea that Judaism is primarily spirituality.  Only God will redeem us and Zionism is the attempt to reconstruct the Tower of Babel and take the place of God in heaven.

 

The second pole is represented by the great Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who died in 1935, and by his more radical disciple (and son) Rabbi Zwi Yehudah Kook, who died in 1980.  Their disciples are the spiritual leadership of Gush Emunim (the settler movement) and some more moderate religious Zionists.  According to this view, Zionism is not a Jewish initiative but a Jewish response to God.  You have two groups: firstly, the secular Zionist pioneers who hear the divine call: Go up to the Land, but they do not know who is calling them because they are secular.  The other group is the ultra-Orthodox, who know who is calling because they are Orthodox, but they do not hear the call because they are not Zionists.  We, religious Zionists, know who is calling and we hear the call “Go up.”  The process by which apart of the remnant of the Jewish people return to the Land is the beginning of the Messianic age.

 

For the radicals, the beginning of the end means that God has decided now to redeem us.  This will lead to the final repentance and ultimate redemption of the Jewish people.  It is paradoxical that the beginning of the End is initiated by a physical, secular means.  In the Jerusalem Talmud it is mentioned that the redemption of Israel takes place like the showing of the Morning Star.  In the beginning you see something, but not very clearly.  This is comparable to saying that with these modest and even irreligious beginnings, redemption is coming.

 

If I take you out at 4.30 in the morning and say to you that these beginnings of light will lead to the whole cosmos being lit up, you might answer that that is impossible as these first rays are hardly light at all.  I answer that you do not know how to look.  All you need is the first rays, as this will lead on to the end, which is full sunlight.  The belief is that with the settlement of the land, a certain beginning is set in motion, which will undoubtedly succeed.

 

These are the two poles.  Not all Jews are radicals.  Many Orthodox Jews will tell you that Zionism has nothing to do with Messianism.  They will say that they are neither Zionist nor anti-Zionist.  If the State of Israel will help us establish more academies of learning and study more Torah, then the State of Israel is good.  The State of Israel is seen as a means not as a goal, as the goal is the study of Torah.  They do not endow the State of Israel with any inherent religious meaning.  Moderate religious Zionists accept that the State of Israel is the rebirth of the Third Jewish Commonwealth.  They do not foreclose on its religious significance, though, and say that they hope that it will lead to the redemption of the Jewish people (although it might not).  They maintain that the State is positive because it aims to bring the Jewish people home even if it is not capable of bringing redemption to its fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah.


THE CHALLENGE OF MODERNITY

FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDSISM IN ISRAEL

 

Prof. Naomi Chazan

 

I suppose that I am here for two reasons: firstly, I am a woman and you have not yet had a woman and you want to show that you have nothing against them [Laughter].  Secondly, I am supposed to give a secular viewpoint.  Now I may not be up to the task.  If I am not up to the task in my introductory remarks, then press me and I may be up to the task as I proceed.  The reason I may not be up to the task is that I am probably the most traditional of the members of Knesset (Israeli parliament) who are supposed to represent the secular viewpoint.  I am, in fact, mildly traditional.  I am a member of a Reform synagogue.  For many years, I kept Shabbat except for smoking, as I cannot stop smoking for more than two hours.  It is not good for my health.  I am neither atheist nor agnostic.  In fact, if I were to give myself a compliment now, I am one of the foremost champions of the separation of religion and state in Israel.  In that respect, I represent a very large number of Israelis who would like to see that happen. 

 

Let me start with a problem, show you where the roots of the problem lie, and then tell you how we are trying to rectify the problem from a non-Orthodox viewpoint, that being the best way to put it.  The problem is that Israeli is one of the few democratic countries in the world where there is no separation of religion and state.  The lack of separation of church and state creates an inordinate number of problems for many Israelis.  Many Israelis do not accept Orthodox dogma.

 

In fact, and I want to be emphatic about this, mainstream Zionism was a double revolution.  It identified the Jewish people as a people and set at its aim the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in Israel, which was accomplished with creation of the State of Israel in 1948.  But mainstream Zionism was also a personal revolution, a revolution against the shackles of Eastern European tradition.  The key figures in the Zionist movement were thoroughly secular.  As a matter of fact, sometimes they were purposely secular.

 

That might mean that they would sit and eat a cheeseburger (mixing meat and milk) just to feel that they were Zionists.  As founders of the State and the second generation (which is getting older every day), we were brought up to think that being a modern Israeli meant doing all those things that you did not do in the Diaspora.  The two main things you did not do in the Diaspora were farm and fight.  Agriculture and the military became important elements in the myth of the modern Israeli.  If the modern Israeli happens to be blond and wear extremely short shorts (I am not joking) and a hat against the sun (rather than a skullcap), then you have the perfect image.  If you think of the leadership from David Ben Gurion through Yitshak Rabin, this was the model of the person one was supposed to be. 

 

The only reason that there was an accommodation at the beginning of the State with some religious elements was to achieve some kind of political peace.  There is a branch of Zionism that is religious (you heard about that this morning from Avi Ravitzky), but what we are talking about here is the deal that was struck with the religious elements which has since become known as the status quo.  The status quo dealt with four issues.  The first issue was that Shabbat would be the day of rest.  The second part of the deal was that religious Zionists would have a separate stream of education, thus religious state schools would have autonomy to do what they wanted.  Thirdly, cheeseburgers would not be served in public places, or, in simple English, the rules of kashrut would be upheld in all public institutions.  Fourthly, 400 hundred religious boys would be exempted from the military each year in order to pursue higher religious studies.  That is the status quo, but there is nothing more dynamic than a status quo in the Middle East.

 

Behind this was an agreement that all personal law was to be placed in the hands of religious authorities.  For Christians that meant ecclesiastical courts, for Muslims shari’a courts, and for Jews the Chief Rabbinate.  Personal law covers marriage, divorce, birth, death and conversion.  These matters are not in the hands of the State but in the hands of the religious authorities.

 

What does this establish? In retrospect, and in my opinion, it leads to two major outcomes.  Firstly, on the level of identification with the Jewish religion, it established a referent which was Orthodox.  Anybody who did not follow or identify with the Orthodox interpretation of Judaism was secular.  This is incredible in terms of the implications for Jewish identity in the State of Israel.  Secondly, and this is far more profound, with the agreement on the status quo, Israel forfeited any serious discussion on the nature of the relationship between Judaism and the State of Israel.  The reason was that there was a deal, and when there is a deal you do not have to come to terms and grapple with the most fundamental question of our existence in this country. 

 

Since the 1950s, this totally ambivalent and ambiguous situation has occurred.  Israeli society has grown ten times in this same period, from hundreds of thousands to millions.  Within this population one can say that at least 70% of Israelis do not identify themselves with Orthodoxy.  Because they do not identify themselves with the Orthodox, they would be identified in this kind of system as secular.  But they are not really all secular.  A minimal categorization would have to include five groups: ultra-Orthodox (heavily divided), Orthodox, traditional, secular, and anti-religious.  That is a rough categorization.  Any discussion that talks of religious-secular issues is incorrectly framed and incorrectly termed.  We are not talking about two categories but at least about five.  Nobody wants to deal with that though because it is too sophisticated. 

 

I want to make an important differentiation here There is a fundamental difference between separation between religion and state and separation between religion and politics.  Most of the rhetoric in Israel has focused on the separation between religion and politics.  This is virtually impossible in democratic societies, yet it is easier to talk about separation of religion and politics than to talk about the separation of religion and state.  The separation of religion and state means that the power controlled by the Orthodox needs to be reassumed by the state.  The implications are much broader.  I do not love religious parties, and they have been particularly nasty to me lately.  (I nearly had a heart attack on Tuesday because one of the religious Members of Knesset called me an anti-Semite).  I have no problem with them pushing for religious interests, this happens in all countries in Western Europe, and even in the United States some of the most fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats touch on religion.  But I do have a tremendous problem with the lack of separation between religion and state.

 

One direct result of this lack of separation is that more and more Israelis who are formally Jewish formally have been alienated from Jewish religion.  The State of Israel has been bad for Jews who want to be Jewish.  This is a very serious statement; in fact it is an accusation, which can be proven by experiences over the years. 

 

Last week, a Conservative synagogue in Jerusalem was torched and a good portion of the sanctuary gutted.  Although the Torah scrolls were saved, most of the furnishings were burned.  There was a debate in the Knesset about the burning of the synagogue.  Three ultra-Orthodox Members of the Knesset got up and said, in one form or another, outrageous things about Conservative and Reform Jews.  They made comments like, “We condemn the burning of a building where some people claim prayers were taking place.”  They were not able to pronounce the word synagogue in their condemnation of the violence that led to the burning of the building which was, in fact, a Conservative synagogue.

 

What got me going was that another ultra-Orthodox member said that anyone who would support women praying in full Jewish regalia at the Western Wall was also capable of burning down their own building as a provocation.  I remained mild and got up and said that today was one of the saddest days I could think of in the State of Israel because here were anti-Semitic remarks made by Jews against other Jews.  At which point one of the speakers retorted, “How can you say that, you are an anti-Semite!” What I replied is that if what had just been said had been said anywhere else in the world, it would have united all Israelis against those comments.  I added that I would not countenance such remarks being made in the Knesset.  By this time neither his voice nor mine were calm.  This gives you a sense of the depth of divisions on religious issues in Israel. 

 

Over the years, in the State of Israel, the degree of religious adherence has become a social division.  In other words, religion is not just a question of belief but a question of social categorization.  Israel is the only Jewish community in the world where religion is not qualitative, but first and foremost quantitative.  That means that you are either “more” or “less.”  The ultra-Orthodox, even though they are heavily divided, have different rabbis, and do not speak to one another, will relate to one another as opposed to the Orthodox, who have their own social and political circles.  Likewise, traditional Jews (and many of these support the Shas political party) and secular Jews (who include Conservative and Reform Jews) also are separate social categories.  The secular, extreme anti-religious also tend to form their own social groups.  There are almost no channels of communication among these groups.  The division is therefore both on the societal level as well as between religion and state. 

 

This leads to two central issues at the heart of the problem.  Firstly, the lack of a separation between religion and state in Israel has undermined the bases of democracy.  This is a democratic problem.  In every democracy that I know there is some line that divides the private from the public sphere.  Where the line exists differs from country to country but there is no country which is democratic and where this line between private and public spheres does not exist.  In Israel, this line does not exist. 

 

Because it does not exist, we face two major ramifications that are problematic.  Firstly, Israel is exposed to violations of human rights because of this lack of separation between religion and state.  I am talking about fundamental human rights.  For example, there are 400,000 Israelis who cannot marry in this country.  They cannot marry in Israel because, according to Judaism, intermarriage is impossible except under very unusual circumstances.  They are not considered to be Jewish by Israeli religious authorities (they are called “dubious Jews”), most of them having coming over the past decade from the former Soviet Union.  They are denied the fundamental human right of falling in love and getting married and establishing a family, etc.

 

The lack of basic human rights as a result of the lack of separation between religion and state is a consistent problem and I could regale you with many examples of this.  A woman called me up and told me that she has a problem with divorce and that she wanted to see me.  She was 64 years old and had been trying to get a divorce from her husband for the past 41 years.  This was a well-known case, the Don Yahyia case.  She asked for my help, explaining that her husband had left her when she was twenty-three years old but that the husband refused to divorce her.  She said that her whole life had been spent trying to get a divorce.  The rabbinical authorities had tried to compel him to give a divorce but he had refused.  He had even been imprisoned and three years after the conversation with her, he died in jail.  But this woman, through all these years, could not remarry because according to Jewish law because if she did, without a divorce, her children from the second marriage would be “bastards” who would not be able to marry other Jews.  When her husband eventually died, the Chief Rabbinate forced her to sit shiv’a (the seven days’ period of traditional mourning) for the husband who had refused to give her a divorce for over 40 years.  She called me up then and said: “At least now I am free.”  So you see, I am talking about the most basic human rights.

 

Secondly, there is a problem of coercion, in other words, the intrusion of the state into areas of private life, which, in most democratic states, are beyond the jurisdiction of the state.  The two great democratic revolutions, the American Revolution and the French Revolution, were, with all due respect to the gentlemen here present, anti-clerical revolutions.  They demanded freedom from religion and freedom of religion as a basic right.  Institutions were established in order to protect this right, not in an anti-religious sense, but rather in the sense that the state did not have the right to coerce.

 

In Israel, the danger of religious coercion is made even more pressing because of the power of the religious parties.  This opens up a whole range of incidents which some of you are familiar with: lack of transportation on Shabbat and holidays, businesses and places of entertainment not open on Shabbat and holidays, stringent coercion regarding dress codes, etc.  Thus, we can see that the problem of religion and state results in an issue of religious coercion.  The most ridiculous problem in this line this past year concerned the transportation of the turbines on Shabbat.  The turbines could not be moved without paralyzing the whole country except on a Saturday.  One party left the coalition because of their moving on Shabbat.  There were demonstrations all over.  In fact, the first two sections of the turbines were moved without anybody noticing.  It was only with the third section that somebody woke up, giving the Israeli politicians something to talk about in August, when there is little to talk about in general. 

 

The second root problem relates to the basic issue of defining Judaism and Jewish identity.  In many circles, as a result of the status quo, there was a general reluctance to talk about the issue of Jewish identity.  During the years of the state, and unlike Judaism abroad, Judaism here stagnated.  I would even say that Judaism in Israel became boring.  One of the amazing things is that it is difficult to think of a great Jewish philosopher, with the exception of Prof.  Yesha’ayahu Leibowitz, who lived in Israel.  Israel has not produced Jewish philosophers or foremost thinkers of Judaism.  These thinkers are produced primarily today in the United States.  There they have created vibrant schools of thought, something that has not happened here.

 

Here there has been confusion between Jewish religion and the Orthodox Jewish establishment.  They have been melded into one; the representatives of Judaism have been the Orthodox Jewish institutions.  It is for this reason that there has arisen here a rather anti-religious current of thought that prefers to define Judaism according to history or culture.  The element of belief has taken a backseat.  There has been more and more of a split in Israel between the Jewish religion and Jews who do not feel religiously Orthodox.  Whereas Jewish pluralism has been a sign of Judaism over the centuries, this has not been the case in Israel.  What I am saying is that the creation of the State of Israel has been bad for Judaism.  It has been a move backwards rather than forwards. 

 

Let me now tell you a story that combines these two root problems that have to be dealt with.  My son went to one of the most progressive schools in Jerusalem, one of the few schools where you have Orthodox and non-Orthodox children together.  When he was in third grade, he came home and he said to me, “There is no God.”  I replied, “ That is very interesting.  Now tell me, on what basis have you come to this astounding conclusion that there is no God.”  He explained to me that in his class, where there was only one Orthodox child, Yoav.  There had been a fight between Yoav and another child, Amnon.  Amnon had said there was no God and Yoav insisted there was and this led to a fistfight.  The teacher stopped the fight and brought the children in to discuss the issue of whether there was a God or not.  But the discussion led to no solution as to whether was a God or not and so they had a vote.  I said “What? You had a vote about whether there was a God or not? And what was the result?” He gravely explained that the result was 23 against the existence of God, one for the existence of God and one abstention.

 

In fact it was my son who abstained because he was not convinced of the arguments of either side.  So I asked him why now he thought there was no God.  He said that there was no God because the majority had decided that there was not one.  This is the only time that I decided to go and see my son’s teacher.  I knocked on her door and confronted her, “Did you hold a vote on the existence of God?”  “Yes,” she answered, “we are a democracy.”  I was horrified.  Democracies do not hold votes about such subjects, in fact they do not even allow for the introduction of such subjects into the public sphere.  Secondly, I explained to her about the tyranny of a majority; that I had a child at home who was not sure but because the majority had decided so, he now held the view that there was no God.  If one talks about the democracy of a majority, one has to also talk about the rights of the minority.  Thirdly, the children in that class will probably never want to go near a synagogue for the rest of their young lives.  This is part of a systematic alienation of young children from the Jewish religion.  She huffed and puffed at me but apparently the next day she tried to have a revision of the vote.  Anyway, I gave up and started giving my son private lessons on democracy.  This little anecdote should give you some sense of the problematic relationship between Jewish religion and Jewish identity on the one hand, and democracy and democracy in Israel on the other. 

 

You see the problem, now what can we do about it? I do not think that you can solve these problems unless there is a separation of religion and state in Israel.  I am more and more convinced that this is essential for the viability of Israel and for the viability of Jewish life in Israel.  The separation of religion and state can be done in one of two ways in this country.  By the way, if this is followed through in matters relating to marriage and divorce, then all else follows by definition.  One way is the total separation of religion and state, which means the superiority of civil law on all matters, including matters relating to personal status.  In practical terms that means that, for example, a marriage has to be registered within a civil framework and that civil framework gives it its legal authority.  The second way, which is a mite different from the first, is to open a second channel.  This means that people will have freedom of choice; those who want religious marriage can have it and those who do not have the freedom to choose another way.  What stands behind the two-channel way is also a separation of religion and state. 

What is essential to both ways is the equality of all streams of Judaism in Israel.  85% of the Jewish world is non-Orthodox.  We seem to be paying for the rest of the world though.  It is incredible that a totally secular American Jew might tell me that Israel should be Orthodox.  But I will not agree that I pay the price of assuring that that American Jew has his path to heaven is assured.  If there is to be any public expression of Judaism, it should take into account all the streams: ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Liberal, Secular, Humanist, etc.  We need to envisage the separation of religion and state and this has to come with a double barreled insistence that the state should not intrude on matters of religion as well as well as recognizing some kind of religious tension in Israel in order to reinvigorate Judaism.


The Challenge of Peace and Justice for Contemporary Judaism in Israel

 

Sharon Blass

 

This is the first time that I address a group of this kind, although I have had some experience in talking with groups outside of Israel who are interested in hearing about things from our perspective.  What I would like to do here, if I might flatter myself, is give a philosophical background to the subject, and then move to a more practical explanation of what all this might entail.  I will not use the word “political” because, to be candid with you, we have never seen ourselves as “politically motivated,” ironic as that might sound to you.  Within the context of life in Israel, you will already have discovered that there is nothing that is not considered political: going to the market, which team you root for, everything seems to divide along party lines.  That is a basic element of life here, but it does not change the fact that our motivations for action and what lies behind them have never been political.  Therefore, you will find that it is impossible to characterize politically the people engaged in settler activity or their supporters.  They are divided among a large spectrum of political parties.

 

I will begin my presentation now by trying to respond to the first question I was asked to relate to, that is, “How has the establishment of the State of Israel challenged traditional notions of Jewish life?”  When I saw that question, I knew that I would start with that.  I feel it necessary to explain to you that the underpinnings of traditional Jewish life were never meant to be community-oriented, they were always supposed to be nation-based.  This is despite the fact that those of us who read history might read that of the Jewish people and conclude that this is the history of a people without a land.  Thus, when they come into a land, they would have to reorganize and rethink their position. 

 

However, it is important for you to understand that for the Jewish people the Exile was an aberration.  It was a corruption of real life as far as we were concerned.  One might ask how an aberration in national life could last 2000 years.  In order to try and explain this I think it useful to quote a contemporary Jewish thinker, Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, who is con­sid­ered the leading voice to articulate Jewish thought concerning the revival of the nation of Israel in its homeland.  He was active before the establishment of the state of Israel and died in 1935. 

What he writes is a vision of what would be rather than a descriptive analysis of what was happening.  He could see that there was already a return of the nation of Israel to the Land, for all kinds of motivations, some of them hard to explain in purely practical terms.   After two thousand years, something was set in motion which managed to grab so many people from so many different places with so many different cultures who joined up with the Jews who were already living here.  The latter were a rather “tattered crew” who had failed to bring things forward.

 

I think that Rabbi Kook is a good person to begin with in order to understand the processes that were set in motion.  Rabbi Kook is perceived as that modern Jewish thinker who mobilized traditional thought, the Kabbalah, the Maharal, Maimonides and all the other great Jewish philosophers, and rephrased it in contemporary language.  To this he added an historical dialectic by which he explained the dialectic of the Jewish people in history as a movement towards progress. 

 

Within this context, Rabbi Kook explains that the Exile was an aberration.  It was divinely ordained to rectify certain imperfections within the Jewish people.  I am, of course, simplifying matters here.  There had been a duality in the world, expressed explicitly in idolatry and paganism which the Jewish people were supposed to rectify.  In order to avoid themselves being contaminated by that kind of duality which insisted on a separation between material and spiritual, which is not a Jewish idea, the material national existence of the Jewish people had to be shattered.  This was to prevent their reaching a level of materialism which would overshadow the spirituality.  This might, God forbid, bring them into a sympathetic accord with the idolaters. 

Jewish life, in its high points, has always been national.  It is the Exodus event which forged the Jewish people into a nation.  They were born in this Exodus whereas before there had been only narratives about Patriarchs and individual tribes.  The next landmark in the life of the nation was receiving the Torah at Sinai, this too understood as a national event.  These two events make up two of the three important Jewish festivals (Passover and Shavuot).  The individual persons in the Exodus and at Sinai merged into a nation and found their vocation within the national one.  The other great events are also national: the establishment of the monarchy, the building of the Temple.  Even the exiles, both times, and the destruction of the two Temples, which were the focus of national and religious life, were national events. 

 

The Exiles are understood as divinely ordained events which happened in order to purify us of the materialism that we had been falling into.  At the time of the First Temple, there were some who had fallen into idolatry.  By the time of the Second Temple, idolatry was no longer the problem, but there were other problems.  Spirituality had not penetrated fully into the ranks of the people.  Therefore, there was a need to be sent into Exile to break the materialism through the destruction of national institutions.  Everything had to become spiritual.

 

The study of the Jewish people in Exile is supposed to show that the Jews were a very spiritual nation.  In fact, the extent of the spiritualization was imposed on Jews.  They were often prohibited from engaging in the professions and crafts which would give them practical and material experience and direct contact with tools and material instruments.  They were often prevented from having any contact with land.  We see this as from coming from God.  This was a necessary measure to prevent us from becoming too land_bound.  For the two thousand years of Exile that followed, our lives were extremely spiritual.  We became a people living a foot off the ground.  Jews were often limited to dealing with money and power mediation, and neither of those are truly real things.  In this analysis, I follow that of Rabbi Kook when he first came to the Land of Israel at the beginning of the 20th Century.

 

Rabbi Kook saw a process set in motion as small groups, mainly religious groups, began to return to the Land.  They were mainly motivated by Biblical prophecies which spoke of the return of the Jews to the Land, when they would return to rebuild the Land, plant vineyards, and the promise that they would not be uprooted again.  For example, one of the important sources that motivated a group of students of the well known Gaon of Vilna, a seminal thinker, was a verse in the Talmud discussed by various rabbis at the time of the writing of the Mishna.  The rabbis ask, “When will you know that redemption has come?” The answer is derived from Scripture: “When the Land of Israel gives forth its fruit.”  The rabbis comment on this saying that there is no clearer sign of the beginning of the redemption than that the Land begins to give forth its fruit.  This is a divine sign and not a matter of irrigation or agricultural techniques.

 

Over the centuries, rabbis would in fact send people to the Land to find out what the state of agriculture was like.  This was not just to know if you could make a living in the Land but to know whether the time had come or not.  As a nation, we were very aware that we were living in Exile.  We were also aware that if God did not ordain it, we would not be coming back.  Nowadays, children in Israel, who take the State of Israel for granted, ask, “How is it that for 2000 years the Jews did not come back? Was there no one who was a real Zionist in those days?”

 

They need to understand that the time had not yet come.  We were like the generation of the desert to whom God addressed the word, “You will not enter the Land because of your lack of faith.”  The desert generation tried to overcome this by putting their heads together, repented their lack of faith and they said that they would now go up by force to the Land.  But their faith was not good and so they were all killed, immediately set upon by the nations in the Land who understood that this was not God’s will.  Throughout Jewish history this event has been understood as their attempting to go up to the Land of Israel as a nation before the time had come.  This idea of “the time” is central to Jewish thought and to what we are doing here.  Has the time now come?

 

Throughout history there were individuals who came, and some of our greatest rabbis and spiritual leaders did get to the Land of Israel throughout the period of Exile.  There were those who never left, of course.  They were a broken people, broken also economically, and they clung to the land because it was a Holy Land, not because they thought that they could accomplish something on a national scale.

 

The realization that began in the 1700s was a result of the fact that groups began returning from the Holy Land saying that they saw signs that the times were almost ripe for a return.  More and more groups began coming to establish individual settlements in the Land of Israel.  It is interesting to note that all were religious at this time.  Although Zionism is perceived, and perhaps rightly so when one focuses on its ism, as a secular movement, the motivation behind it was undoubtedly religious.  The original pioneers who arrived in the 1700s established themselves in the cities, called countries because they appeared as unconnected points on the map: Jerusalem, Tiberius, Hebron and Safed.  These cities had had continuous Jewish presence but these newcomers began to found new institutions.  In less populated areas there was the attempt to establish agricultural settlements.

 

The understanding was that the time was ripe and the possibility was there.  Before this time it was physically and politically impossible for the Jews to come as a group to the Land of Israel.  Before this time it was understood from reading the Prophets that there was a covenant between God and the people, covertly mentioned in the prophetic writings, that the Jewish people would not try to go up to the Land and establish a presence.  The covenant was that the Jews would not go up on their part, and that God would not destroy the Jewish presence completely.  God would allow the Jews to persevere with some kind of physical existence and certainly a spiritual and religious existence.

 

Many understand the Holocaust as a clear sign that that covenant had run out.  It was not that either side had broken the covenant but that it had simply run out and that a new era had dawned.  Not only philosophers and thinkers but any simple person who could read the newspaper now realized that the covenant whereby God would not allow the Jews to be destroyed in their Exile had run out.  During the Holocaust a nation arose that did seek to destroy the Jewish people entirely and so Jews were able to understand that they were certainly no longer bound not to go up to the Land of Israel.  This is mentioned in the prophets in very esoteric ways and is interpreted by Jewish philosophers.

 

The establishment of the State of Israel close upon the end of the Holocaust period is, to our mind, no coincidence even if it cannot be fully explained by the reaction of the international community to what had happened.  It is far deeper than politics playing a role or the United Nations making a deal.  Even if it worked out that way on the pragmatic level, as it had to, it stemmed from a deeper level in history.  In fact the Exile had simply run out, it had fulfilled whatever purpose it had to fulfill.  Now we had reached the next stage which was to re_establish national life in the Land of Israel.  One can say that the establishment of the State of Israel was not a challenge to Jewish thought but it was rather a coming of age.  It was in fact the end of an aberrant period in Jewish history and the coming into a period of normalcy to which the Jewish people had aspired.

 

The bulk of our philosophical and religious heritage (Bible, Talmud, commentators, etc.) would understand that the establishment of the State of Israel was a rectification which we were meant to do with our own hands and with God’s help.  This is not the attitude of those who say we should wait passively for God to bring it to us fully created, nor is it the attitude of those who say we should do it completely ourselves because we are like everyone else, but an attitude somewhere in the middle: we do it with our own hands, with God’s blessing.

 

Now I can put into this construct the idea of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel.  We see settlement not as a break with the past but as a continuation.  We see it in the line of processes that had run their course, time being ripe and time being expressed to us by events.  This is an expression of what man is privileged to glimpse as the Divine Will.  History is playing out the Divine Will in a way that can be grasped by the human mind.  The establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the Jewish people to the Land marks the end of the period of rectification of the fault for which we had been sent into Exile _ the excessive materialism and the failure to understand the unity of body and spirit.  Now the mission is to unite body and soul within the Jewish nation.  Unification of body and soul comes in national life.  This is expressed in the unification of the people with its land and with its ethical code and involves the observance of the Law we were given as well as observance of the spirit of the Law that we were given. 

 

In 1967, when Israel, through no fault of its own, was forced into a war, a no-choice war, and we were attacked on all fronts by the Arab nations surrounding us, we came into possession of Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights, parts of Jerusalem, Gaza and Sinai.  The settlement movement then saw itself as those who recognized the enormity of the times.  They were the ones who said that they could not turn their backs on what had happened and let things go on as they had been.  They saw themselves as entrusted with a mission to settle, to build, to plant, to establish industry, to promote productive activity in connection with a place.

 

The innovative spirit behind this was the revival of the Jewish people.  The idea was to make the body of the people whole and healthy.  The idea was of course also to actualize a spiritual life.  This has to be done within the Land of Israel, within the entire Land of Israel, which is that mandated to us by God and recorded in the Bible.  We see the Bible as an integrated whole.  Just as the Bible commands “Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill,” so it is written: “To Abraham I give this land, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and to you also.”  We see ourselves as a group representing the spirit of the People of Israel as it has existed through the ages, from the Patriarchs, to Moses, to the Prophets.  We see ourselves in this line.  When we began, there were many who said, “Give it up, you will make problems for us, and there is no chance that the international community will accept it.”  But these were pragmatic and political arguments, not spiritual reasons against the enterprise.  The arguments in the Jewish community, inside and outside Israel, were not that this is a morally wrong thing to do.

 

I am sure that you have been hearing other arguments as well, for example, that there are conflicting claims to the Land of Israel.  As I have been asked to present my point of view, I will be unequivocal and I am sure that this will arouse a lively discussion.  I will present this position unequivocally so that you will know what motivates us and what we are doing.  Instead of being diplomatic, I will be candid although I cannot be comprehensive.  If I say that we do not see ourselves as political but rather as inspired by a long tradition of Jewish thought, prophecy and religion, that would not be giving the whole story, but I will try to speak as candidly as possible and put some of this story on the table.

 

The people actively involved in settlement activity and those who support them represent about half of the population (Jewish population in Israel).  In the breakdown of the political parties we are speaking about easily half the parties.  If we take out the political aspect (i.e., if we say, “Do not worry what everyone else is going to say”), I can make that percentage jump very high, even if that is not the way we vote.  We vote according to what we think is feasible and how we will fit into the international community. 

 

Those who settle and those who support them do not recognize two conflicting legitimate claims to the Land of Israel.  We recognize that there are other claims but we take the word “legitimate” out.  Our belief is that there is only one legitimate claim to the Land of Israel.  That legitimate claim is presented by the Jewish people, not the Jewish people of my generation or of my children's generation, but a claim given by God as recorded in the Bible, as repeated to our forefathers and throughout the generations, as brought down in Jewish writings even in the period of Exile.  These writings affirm that the Land of Israel is an integral part of Jewish existence.  They affirm that the Land of Israel, the People of Israel and the Torah of Israel are one integral unity and cannot be separated.  Any attempt to separate them is to damage an integrity that is divinely ordained.

 

This integrity was entrusted with a mission in the world as a nation.  In fact, the Jewish people are not really striving for normalcy, they are striving for holiness.  This is what we were commanded, to be a holy nation, a nation of priests.  “Priests” is not exactly the word, rather it is people who are dedicated to a holy mission.  “Normal” does not always fit in with that.  We feel that the striving within the People of Israel, here in the Land as well as in the Diaspora, is a natural result of 2000 years of Exile.  52 years of national independence cannot correct the 2000 years that went before them.  Therefore our lack of immediate success is something about which we are patient.  We see the ups and downs but we see them as part of a process and we know there is an end to this.  The end is the replanting of the Jewish people in the Land.  This is mentioned in the Bible, in the Prophets, and this realizes the integrity that I have mentioned.

 

We see signs of this all happening.  The restoration of parts of the Land of Israel in 1967 was not an act of our own initiative.  The war of no_choice was forced on us for survival.  The result was that parts of our homeland were restored to us.  Those who study the Six Day War have a hard time explaining how we, so ill_prepared and so surrounded, could bring about such results.  One American general I spoke to said it was not difficult to explain; one only needs to understand that every single bullet fired by an Israeli hit a target.  That is one way of denying miraculous explanations but even that falls very short of the mark.

 

The physical aspect of the restoration of the Land was followed immediately by a spiritual aspect.  If you examine the Jewish settlement centers in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, you find the development of a spirituality and a scholarship.  There is hardly a settlement there that does not have its own institution of learning.  There is no community that has not seen in the individual members a personal re_awakening, a renewed interest in religion.  Many people affirm that they became more interested in religion when they moved to a community of this kind.  They sensed the stirrings of a need to find out why they were where they were, whatever the reasons for having moved there in the first place.

 

In other parts of the Land of Israel, people came to escape persecution, or came to find a better life, or came to escape poverty, or because they had nowhere else to go, and certain generations came because they were fleeing bourgeois life.  In these settlements, the original motivation was no longer sufficient and they search for a deeper spiritual reason for being there.  I have seen this happen around me and can bear witness to this more serious approach to religion and spiritual issues.

 

I would like to end with two points.  When we talk about the term “peace and justice” in Judaism we need to say that peace, the word shalom in Hebrew, also mean “entirety.”  Our rabbis have explained that this word means a harmony of all pieces, when every ingredient and component is in its proper place.  This implies for us that every nation must find its place.  Thus we believe that true peace will come when the People of Israel are in their proper place.  We do not believe that this comes at the expense of anyone else, as a nation does not find its proper place by pushing another out.  It finds its place by finding its own place.  We take our guide from the Bible concerning where our place is.  We believe that this small Land of Israel is the proper place for this nation to find its place and develop itself both physically and spiritually.

 

Justice is explained in Jewish tradition as everyone getting what is coming to them.  “Charity” is intimately linked to this, tsedek (justice) and tsedaka (charity), and is explained as giving to the other what you are supposed to give them.  This is not so much because of the need of the other as because you are required to give.  I tell you this because we believe that the People of Israel in the Land of Israel is in fact good for the world.  We perceive this to be a step towards international peace.  The nation called to be a holy nation will be in its place, where they will be able to do what they are supposed to do.  Justice will be fulfilled when each nation gets what is coming to them.  I am not speaking from the political context but am linking this to the underpinnings of Jewish thought.  I am basing myself on the Bible, on the Prophets but I am sure that in your questions you will bring me down to earth with the politics of it.


REFLECTIONS OF A PEACE ACTIVIST

 

Dr. Veronika Cohen

 

For exactly a decade, from 1987 to 1997, I have been intensely involved in peace activities in Israel and in Palestinian-Israeli dialogue.  “Was your husband also active in peace efforts?”, someone asked me recently.  “He was active, I was hyperactive,” I replied.  It seems nothing short of a miracle that neither my professional nor my family life suffered as a result of my “hyperactivity.”

 

I know that initially got involved to save my own soul, to work through my pain and shame at the way we Israelis were behaving toward the Palestinians.  I had been troubled by Israel’s role of occupier from the very first days following the Six-Day War of 1967 when, at the time, I lived in North America.  One of the major reasons for our moving to Israel in 1979 was our desire to be part of the struggle against the growing nationalism and racism in Israel.

 

For a while I felt that I was doing something useful by participating in demonstrations, writing letters to newspapers, paying membership dues to peace organizations - after a while that feeling wore off.  I felt increasingly that what I was doing was meaningless, while at the same time I was more and more overwhelmed by reports of wanton Israeli brutality.

 

Two news items stand out in particular: a photograph of a Palestinian mother holding her dead child in her arms after a bombing of refugee camps in Lebanon by the Israel Defense Force and an article describing our treatment of political prisoners who were forced to sit naked on broken glass.  I might have fallen apart and gone crazy.  I remember walking down the street and crying the day after I read that article about the broken glass.  I might have insisted that our family uproot itself and return to North America, where we had come from eight years earlier, drawn by the challenge of taking part in shaping Jewish and Israeli destiny.  Instead, I threw myself into a joint Israeli-Palestinian project, ostensibly to save some olive trees, most certainly to save my sanity.

 

This was occupational therapy at its best.  I met people with whom I shared the most basic and sustaining values. We set ourselves reachable goals.  We worked ourselves into absolute exhaustion, leaving no energy for national shame or sorrow.  Most importantly, we finally were working together with Palestinians.  The idea of working together with Palestinians to solve our joint problems had apparently not occurred to anyone within the mainstream Zionist left.  For someone who has never spent time in Israel it ray be difficult to imagine how two nations can live an intertwined existence yet never meet.

 

During most of the past 30 years Palestinians did almost all heavy physical labor within the borders of Israel.  They built our houses and roads, planted and harvested our food, collected our garbage, and cleaned our streets.  Yet they were invisible to us.  They travel on their own buses. Their children study in separate schools.  Even in Jerusalem, the supposedly unified city, there are no mixed neighborhoods.  The more fortunate Palestinians who have Israeli national insurance can use our hospitals, which are among the few places where Israelis and Palestinians meet. Palestinians from the West Bank can be found in universities around the world, but - to my knowledge - there is only one such student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

 

Israelis who employed Palestinians from the West Bank as gardeners or cleaners or who traveled to nearby Palestinian towns to hunt for bargains or for Saturday shopping sprees had at least a minimal acquaintance with Palestinians.  Few saw these contacts as opportunities for listening to Palestinians’ viewpoints or for exploring together a more decent, human way of coexisting.

 

Through our work on saving some olive trees, we became friends with Hassan.  He invited us to his home.  For the first time, we were invited guests in a Palestinian home in a Palestinian village.  The exotically different landscape, which almost no Israelis other than soldiers entered, was located less than ten miles from our house.  Hassan and his family then accepted our invitation to visit us during the holiday of Sukkot.  I knew all this was not going to solve any real problems, not end the cruelty of the occupation.  It was just a painkiller that allowed me to continue to function.

 

Then historical events began to parallel my own awakening.  It seemed that at about the same time that I could no long bear the cruelty of being an occupier, the Palestinians could no longer bear the enslavement of their occupation.  “How did the Intifada start?” one of the Israeli teenagers asked at a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue.  Before any of the Palestinians could answer, another Israeli broke in “Wait, I think I know how it happened.  It was always inside you and it grew and grew until it was more than you could contain and it burst out of you!”

 

It was an extraordinary time.  I was no longer engaged in occupational therapy.  I was riding the wave of the unbelievable confluence between what was happening in my mind and what was going on “out there.”  There was a realistic possibility for change, to rid ourselves of the roles of occupier end occupied, of the tyranny of a zero-sum game, and to begin to see each other as natural allies for forging a different future.

 

I was driven by a panicky sense that this opportunity for change was temporary.  If we were to make use of it, we had to race against time.  I not only worked day and night, I shamelessly begged and badgered family and friends to work at the same tempo.  No opportunity to meet should be missed; every encounter that could reduce hatred and encourage trust was a sacred obligation.  As on Yom Kippur when we envision the gates of mercy closing during the Neilah prayer before sundown at the end of the holy fast day, I knew these historical/political gates of mercy would close too.

 

Only time and history will tell whether any lasting changes took place during Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in this pest decade.  One thing we learned early on is that it is not enough to engage in an activity (as we referred to demonstrations, protests, and consciousness raising actions).  When it was over, no matter how late at night, no matter how tired we were, we had to sit down and write up the event or experience and get our story to all the journalists to had not been there.  An unreported event, in effect, had no existence.  Now, at the end of the day, I feel again the imperative to report for those who were not there, or were there but have forgotten.

 

The following stories comprise an account of my own odyssey as a Jewish Israeli woman with a religious faith closer to the voices of prophetic demands for justice than to rabbinic prescriptions.  It is also the story of the Palestinians whose lives became personally intertwined with mine.  These are stories that unflinchingly report cruelties and dilemmas, but also explore the meeting points, the healthy instincts, the goodness that human beings may exhibit under the most trying circumstances.

In a world inundated with information, our consciousness of historical events is shaped by “sound bytes.”  Nevertheless, believe the real forces that shape history are the evolving processes within human beings.

 

 

Shabbat in Beit Sahour

 

Would you walk into an Arab village?  Would you take your small child with you? Would you go off into the house of your Arab host alone, away from your fellow Israelis?  Would you let your child wander off unsupervised?  Could you close your eyes rather than stand vigilantly over your sleeping child, to drift off into a restful sleep, not just any rest but the rest of the Sabbath?

 

Seventy Israelis did this in the spring of 1989.  At the height of the intifada we spent Shabbat in Beit Sahour.  Most of us were religiously observant but some secular Israelis joined in, including Knesset member Ron Cohen, who came with his wife and two children.  This was perhaps the most innovative of all our large-scale public activities.  We hoped that it would challenge the deep-seated fear that Israelis - on the left of the political spectrum, as well as on the right - feel about contact with Palestinians.

 

An immense amount of planning went into the activity.  Hillel, Judith - a founding member of the Belt Sahour dialogue group - and I spent weeks working on every aspect of the activity.  We had to do everything in the strictest secrecy since the army would prevent the activity from taking place if they found out about it.  We knew Hillel’s phone was tapped[1] and suspected that Judith*s and mine were as well.  This meant we had to invite possible participants in person rather than over the phone.  Inviting the press was even more complicated.  Not only could we not invite them over the phone but we could not invite journalists who would have to ask permission from their editors to cover the story.  The latter might well check with the army and that would put an end to our effort.

 

Hillel came up with an ingenious plan.  We would invite in person a few Israeli journalists whom we knew well, as well as one photographer.  They would come and stay for the full 24 hours and write up their stories without prior agreement from their editors that the stories would be published.  We would choose one foreign television station that would be willing to sneak into the village with us.  A general press release would be issued on our behalf by Peace Now (which agreed to co-sponsor the activity) on Saturday morning - more than 12 hours after the activity had begun.  Then those of us who were religiously observant might not be forced by the Israeli army to leave Beit Sahour because of the religious prohibition against travel on the Sabbath.

 

Hillel, who is secular, and I had argued long and hard during the weeks of planning about how Shabbat was to be celebrated.  It was important to me that we not approach it primarily from the point of view of restrictions (though, naturally, religious participants would not be put in situations where they would have to violate the sabbath).  Even more crucially, I wanted us to celebrate Shabbat in all its beauty, with prayer, with singing, with special foods, and - most importantly - in fellowship.

 

One of the issues we had to discuss was how we would balance the need for Shabbat observance with the need for publicizing the event.  Certain events, I insisted, could not be photographed: Friday night candle lighting and all prayers would be off-limits for cameras.

 

The day before the activity Hillel showed up at my house after meeting with the press liaison at Peace Now.  I don*t recall ever seeing him so dejected.  He was ready to call off the planned activity.  The person at Peace Now assured him that no journalist would waste his Saturday covering this activity.  It was a meaningless project with no political message, not newsworthy in her opinion.  Still, she agreed to make the phone calls and send out the press releases as we requested.

 

Was she right? Were we deluding ourselves into thinking that this was Big News?  I argued that the reaction at Peace Now proved how important the activity was for reaching the Israeli left (which in those days had little contact with Palestinians other than political contacts with a few leaders). 

 

I felt sure that the reception we would get at the foreign TV station would be quite different.  We had chosen one of the major American networks because I had become friendly with Carol, their Jerusalem bureau chief, who had decided to do a special report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a woman*s perspective and had asked me to participate in her program.  Hillel and I explained to her about the activity and offered her the chance for an exclusive, to be the only TV station to cover the event on Friday night.  She was polite but not interested.  However, as we were leaving, she had a second thought.  This would be an ideal situation for filming me in action. She thought that the scene of me lighting Friday night candles would be especially poignant.

 

Now my heatedly-fought arguments with Hillel became meaningless.  Carol announced that her network would come and cover the event only if they could film me without any limitations, whenever she felt it fit her story.  Otherwise, they would not come.  I had to make a decision on the spot.

 

Friday night candle lighting, unlike most Jewish religious rituals, is not a communal act .  It is a private moment.  That split-second between the six days of creation and the day of rest is special time.  When I concentrate all my being, I can conjure up thoughts of the world as it was on the first Shabbat  - PERFECT!  It is a time I like to share only with my immediate family, occasionally with very close friends.

 

That is also the moment when I feel most connected to the generations of women in my family who preceded me, especially my mother.  She was the most truly religious person I have known and believed that one serves the Creator by fighting for justice and by one*s daily behavior toward other human beings.  She had little patience for Orthodox religious practice, yet observed one religious ceremony with obsessive punctuality.  Friday night candles had to be lit on time.  For as long as I can remember, Friday night was the most wonderful, joyous time of the week.  It began at the exact moment when the sun began to set and my mother covered her face to say the blessing over the candles.

My grandmother and great-grandmother I know only from my mother*s stories.  My grandmother raised my mother and her brother alone.  My grandfather, beaten by poverty and failure, left them rather than hang around uselessly.  My grandmother worked as a seamstress in people*s homes, then continued to sew at home late into the night.  But on Friday night there was no sewing, no work.  On the table was a white tablecloth, tasty food, and candles, which were meticulously lit on time. My great-grandmother, I was told, was gentle and kind.  Her soul left this world peacefully after she lit her Sabbath candles.  Filming Friday night candle lighting involved both issues of religious law and invasion of my privacy.  I certainly did not consider it a photo opportunity.

 

Carol wanted an answer.  She had to make out the schedule for her crew.  “Yes or no?”  Would I agree to her conditions?  We had an important message and there didn’t appear to be any other way of conveying it.  Our relations to the Palestinians did not have to be one of enmity.  It was possible for us to work together as allies to try to solve the problems of our region.  The Shabbat we were about to share together was a celebration of this partnership.  Despite my reservations, the answer had to be “Yes.” 

 

While Hillel made the practical arrangements with Carol, I was still in a haze from battling with my conscience.  As we left, Carol softened a bit and said “We don*t have to actually interview you on the Sabbath, we can do that later in the studio.”

 

The TV crew took the back road with us so that we could bypass the army.  As soon as I got off the bus, they began filming.  I was filmed clambering over retaining walls with a backpack and a bouquet of flowers.  I handed my flowers to a Palestinian woman.  The cameraman was worried: the sun was at the wrong angle.  I had to take back my flowers and try again.

 

Carol was taking in the scene.  Finally, the magic of what was happening touched her.  Instead of urging the cameraman to catch me at just the right angle with my flowers, she sent him scurrying to capture some unbelievable sights: Israeli parents handing their toddler over the wall to a Palestinian as they climbed over.  Palestinian teenagers rushing to help an elderly couple with their suitcases; handshakes and, in cases when friends were meeting, hugs.  Carol realized that what was happening here was indeed newsworthy.

 

Candle lighting was, of course, filmed.  The camera, however, was unobtrusively out of our line of vision.  It took me a long time to have the courage to look at that footage.  When I did, several months later, I was amazed.  The camera had captured something very beautiful: a dozen Jewish women lighting candles that illuminated the darkness while other Israelis and Palestinians formed a tight ring around them, their faces reflecting respect, or perhaps awe.  I was reassured.  I can*t believe that I did anything wrong by agreeing to have a television crew film that scene.

 

That evening Carol sent her footage for immediate release.  The next day she was back, along with most other foreign television crews.  Peace Now issued our press release as we had asked.  Our presence in Beit Sahour was announced on Israeli radio on the 10 a.m. news.  Within an hour an unbelievable number of journalists, photographers, and TV crews, as well as the army were trailing after us.

 

Why was it originally assumed that this was not news?  And why the change of heart?  Was our message so strange that the journalists could not grasp it until they saw it?  Did the others come because Carol told her colleagues that something worthwhile was happening in Beit Sahour?

 

What started out as a non-event ended up getting a great deal of coverage.  All the Israeli dailies ran long articles about our activity.  Israeli TV gave it a very respectable amount of coverage on the evening news.  We slowly worked up credibility with the press.  Over time we built up a network of press contacts, journalists who knew and respected our work though, I must say, the struggle to get across the essence of our message got no easier over the years.

 

For each of us, Israelis and Palestinians, that Shabbat in Beit Sahour was a powerful experience. Each seemed to be touched deeply in a way unique to his needs.  For many, it was the first sustained conversation with “the Other.”  Even for left-wing Knesset member Ron Cohen, this may have been a rare opportunity to get in touch with people “on the Palestinian street.”  For many of the Israelis and Palestinians, worried about their children*s growing extremism born of fear and hatred, it was the ease with which the children played together, mysteriously circumventing language barriers, that mattered most.

 

For Mazen, a Palestinian from Belt Sahour and one of the founding members of our dialogue group, this was a chance for an important discussion with his young son.  As he was being tucked in by his father for the night, the child suddenly remembered that he had been misled:

                “How come the Israelis didn’t come? You said they would.”

“What do you mean?” Mazen replied in puzzlement.  “You played with Israeli children the whole evening.”

                “They were NOT Israelis.”

                “Sure they were.”

                “Oh, yeah?  Then where were their guns?”

The experience of this day gave a father the rare opportunity to introduce his son, at an impressionable age, to non-gun toting Israelis.

 

The sight of our teen-age children in earnest discussion (conducted in English) and of typical teen-age friendships beginning in a totally atypical setting, was wondrous to behold.  “Mom, this is Shira.  Can she sleep over?”

 

One of my needs was, and still is, for reconciliation with my religious tradition, with the symbols of Jewish religious life and communal observance.  I had become a focus of media attention because I was such an anomaly: a peace activist who is religiously observant.  The press could not make sense of this contradiction.  I could explain to dozens of journalists that I was a peace activist not in spite of my religious beliefs but because of them.  I could say this repeatedly.  I read my words printed in interviews and heard them captured on television, yet each time it was as if I was starting from the beginning again and speaking in some foreign tongue.

 

One day a secular friend brought me a book of responsa, answers provided by rabbis to guide those who had sought their advice (the tradition of responsa is centuries old).  These responsa had been written for the children of Israeli settlers living amidst Palestinians.  The purpose of the book was to root out any “squeamishness” or decency that would make the children uncomfortable with the way their elders treated Palestinians.  The book quoted copiously from the medieval authority Maimonides, as well as other sources.  In this brochure, I first came across the concept of din rodef - the idea that you may or should kill someone you believe wishes to harm you or the Jewish people.  This obscure law was cited by some influential rabbis in the period before the murder of Prime Minister Rabin and became a household word when his assassin used it to justify his action.

 

“This is your religion, you know,” my secular friend said.  “This is one interpretation,” I replied “and a sick one at that.”  I gave the brochure to religious peace activists and asked that one of the several scholars in their midst write a response to the response.  I waited a long time and then stopped waiting.  My friend, either because she was my friend or because she was more a realist than I, never asked about the rebuttal that was going to appear any day.

 

Over time, the sheer accumulated evidence against my interpretation of Judaism wore me down.  Too many times I had seen:

-               prayer shawls wrapped around men who could kill Arabs in cold blood,

-               the Torah scroll being lifted high on hilltops freshly stolen from their rightful owners,

- modestly dressed Orthodox women pushing baby carriages in front of them as they entered houses whose owners had been forced to leave,

- dancing, which I had always associated with celebrating the Torah, our spiritual heritage, now celebrating conquest of the land.

I too came to feel that to be a religious peace activist was an anomaly, one that I could not make sense of.

 

But in Beit Sahour on that Shabbat all the symbols of my religion heralded peace.  For one day we had a taste of the world to come - Jewish women pushed their baby carriages in and out of Arab houses where they were welcome guests, the Torah scroll was housed in a new building whose Palestinian owner had not yet moved in and who had made it available to us for communal prayer and meals.  The army, which had arrived to forcibly remove us, was kept at bay.  The soldiers were persuaded to respect our religious beliefs and allow us to stay until the end of Shabbat.

 

In the mouth of my fellow religious peaceniks, the language of the Torah spoke with the voice of the Prophets, demanding justice.  The sound of talk and laughter among the adults and children playing outside blended into a Shabbat song.  “Eternity had uttered a day - a day that I could enter at peace with my community.

 

 

That Soul Shall Be Cut Off

 

On Passover even moderately observant Jews become strict about keeping kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws.  The single-minded dedication to cleaning one’s house and ridding it of every crumb of hamets (bread or other leavened products) goes way beyond the bounds of common sense.  Perfectly rational people tackle this activity as if their life depended on it.  I had often wondered what deep-seated dread possessed our collective unconscious to make us this frantic about observing every minutia.  It is only in the last few years that I have come to appreciate the full significance of the punishment with which we are threatened in the Torah for non-compliance with the laws related to Passover: “Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whosoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15).  The threat of being cut off from the community, the loss of belonging, that is the source of our deep-seated dread.

Passover season, 1989.  A week before the holiday.  I had a free day and my daughter and son were home - an ideal time to start cleaning.  At four o*clock I was slated to meet in Jerusalem with the Beit Sahour dialogue group.  Until then, the day was ours.

 

An hour into scrubbing and cleaning the phone rang.  It was Jalal from Beit Sahour.  Was he calling to cancel the dialogue?  The urgency in his voice made me motion the kids to turn off the record player and I grabbed paper and pencil.  What he said made me sick with dread and revulsion.  In the village of Nahalin, maybe 40 minutes away, Israeli border policemen were perpetrating a massacre. At this moment people were bleeding to death from their wounds as the border police unit controlling the village refused to allow their evacuation to hospital.  Someone had risked his life, sneaking via back toads to reach Beit Sahour, to call for help.  The people in Beit Sahour knew of no way to help them other than to ask their Israeli friends to find some way to intervene.  It was now up to us.

 

Whom to contact first?  My daughter and son took the list of journalists I kept by the phone for all eventualities and went to a neighbor*s house to call them.  I called the Red Cross, Amnesty International in London, and fellow activists in Jerusalem who knew the American consul or European consuls and Knesset members.  In the end what saved the seriously wounded people was the arrival of a regular army unit, which behaved quite differently from the border police.

 

Our dialogue meeting took place as planned.  I arrived before the Beit Sahourians and filled in the Israelis about the events in Nahalin.  Jalal had told me nine people were killed and more than one hundred wounded, about thirty of them seriously.  Liora - one of the original Israeli members of the dialogue, an ardent Zionist seriously dedicated to peace and decency - was trembling as I talked: “We must do something.  We can*t go on like this  - a vigil, a hunger strike, civil disobedience.  We can*t remain silent or stay with our low-key, law-abiding activities.”

 

We turned on the radio to listen to the news.  There we heard that in Nahalin five people were killed and a dozen injured.  Within minutes the people from Beit Sahour arrived.  Our Israeli hostess Sidra welcomed them.  Their presence was a testimony to what had already been achieved in our dialogue.  We trusted each other, relied on each other, and even in moments of tragedy continued our meetings.

 

They began to relate what had happened in Nahalin but were soon interrupted by Liora, who attacked them: “There were only five people killed and a dozen injured.  Why do you people insist on absurd fabrications, exaggerations.  If you can lie to us like that after a year of dialogue, maybe our trust in you is misplaced.”

 

The people from Beit Sahour treated her words with immense forbearance, attributing her outburst to the shame she felt for her people.  I couldn’t understand what happened to her.  I was looking for a logical explanation.  Was the murder of nine people a cause for civil disobedience but the murder of five just an unfortunate incident?  I was in a rage - even on such a day of horror she had to turn the tables and make the Palestinians look like the villains.

 

Only years later did I begin to understand what perhaps had gone on in her mind that day.  Her instinct of self-preservation must have set off a warning alarm: “Your identity, your sense of who you are is inseparably bound up with your community.  If you go too far in your empathy for your victim, you begin to question the fundamental values of your own community.  Can you face the loneliness to which this questioning might lead?”  She latched onto the discrepancy between the acts as reported by the Palestinians versus those in an Israeli report as an excuse for retreating back to the fold of her community.

 

Two years later I watched a Palestinian friend behave much the same way.  During the Gulf War he spoke critically about Palestinian support for Saddam Hussein.  Other Palestinians were outraged to hear his words.  Suddenly he backtracked and declared that their reading of the situation made more sense than his own.  I saw this man, so honest in his thinking and unafraid of criticizing Palestinian actions or the Palestinian leadership, suddenly censoring himself.  He must have felt, like Liora, the danger of becoming an “internal exile,” of isolating himself from his community.

 

A few days after the massacre, I was asked to join Hillel and Avraham Gal, an Israeli lawyer, to document what had happened in Natalin.  On our first visit we saw bullet holes in walls, windows, and water tanks.  We heard tales of harassment, taunts, and sexual innuendoes to which the border police unit had subjected the villagers and repeated threats that they would kill people before their service in the village was up.  We saw the bloody rocks and earth, where the first victim, a 15-year-old boy, was killed.  I met his mother.  All I could do was to cry with her.  Then I went home and scrubbed another corner in my house.

 

We had to return to Nahalin to prepare a systematic account of the injuries in order to formally challenge the army’s claim of “a dozen hurt.”  We were to learn that, mercifully, there really were “only” five people killed, but more than a hundred had been wounded.

 

The date set for the next trip was the day before Passover - the day traditionally reserved by Orthodox Jews to be the climax of a month of cleaning.  I tried to finish off almost everything before we set off in the early afternoon, leaving only a short list of last-minute chores for my kids.  I promised we would finish the rest when I got back

 

I came home late - after a soul-wrenching afternoon.  Hillel, the lawyer, a businessman from Bethlehem, and I had arrived to a hostile reception in Nahalin.  Yousef, a Palestinian graduate student at the Hebrew University who came from Nahalin, acted as our guide and translator.  Standing in the soccer field, we were surrounded by angry people who saw no point in our documenting the facts.  That would not bring back anyone to life.  As for getting a fair hearing from the Israeli public and bringing the perpetrators of the massacre to justice, they didn’t believe that such a thing was possible.

 

Then Omar, the brother of the fifteen year-old victim, appeared.  He and his family did think it was important to get the facts straight and let the world know what had happened.  He owed it to his younger brother*s memory.  No one wanted to argue with him.

 

We were taken from house to house to make our grim account.  As the only woman in our group, I was the only one allowed to enter the homes of female victims.  There I looked at and then described as precisely as I could, one horrific wound after another.  There were so many wounded  - from young girls to old women.  Some had been injured as bullets came flying through windows or ricocheted off walls, others had been shot when they threw themselves on their children to protect them when border policemen burst into their homes.  A young mother in an advanced state of pregnancy showed me her calf with a bullet still embedded in it.

I met a 15 year-old girl with a serious lung injury who had run out to help her friend Walid.  The suffering in her eyes was harder to look at than any of the wounds.  She had run into a hail of bullets.  “Weren’t you afraid to run out with all the bullets flying around you?”  “No, when I went out I wasn’t scared because I didn’t yet know that he was dead.”  She had bent over him just in time to escape death.  The bullet that might have pierced her lung only grazed it.  Her uncle managed to get her to the hospital and that saved her life.  He was wounded in the process.

 

In respect for the villagers who were fasting until nightfall during the season of Ramadan, we went trudging from house to house, drenched in sweat and misery, and parched with thirst.  Only as darkness felt did we stop and accept the drink that was offered us.  I recalled the anti-Vietnam war poster with the picture of a devastated village.  It said, “This was done in your name.”  What was done in Nahalin was done in my name.

 

When I got home, I felt guilt of a different kind.  With my husband away, once again doing reserve duty, too much of the responsibility of Passover preparations had been left to my daughter and son, though they understood the situation and did not complain.  The last bits of non-Passover food were set out as supper and we sat down to eat.  The phone rang: it was Anita, Hillel*s wife.  She told me that in Jebel Mukaber, the Palestinian village next to us, the men were being rounded up and, apparently, beaten.  Hillel was already on his way there.  Could I call Israelis who had participated in dialogues there and then go myself?

 

I made the calls and found a lawyer who was willing to go with us.  I grabbed some food to eat on the way, and ran.  A group of Israelis had already arrived.  We went over to the fence around a field on the edge of town, where the men sat with hands clasped about their heads. We yelled: “We*re here. We*re watching.” Later we found out that our presence had stopped the beating.

 

Suddenly we herd gunshots from inside the village itself.  Reckless in our grief and anger after our day in Nahalin, Hillel and I felt we had to drive into Jebel Mukaber.  Maybe by being present, we could stop a bloodbath.  We didn’t want to return later to document wounds and count the dead, as we had in Nahalin.  That night no one was killed.  We drove around the village for a while, then ran into the border police.  Hillel was arrested but our lawyer talked the police out of charging him.  When I got home, it was after midnight.  My son was asleep.  My daughter was standing in the middle of the living room with a last bucket of water to wash away all traces of hamets sloshing around her.  We finished the job together.

 

I asked: “Have you done bdikat hamets (the ceremonial search for leaven, which involves purposely hiding some bread and finding it by candle-light)”?  She hadn’t.  We woke up her brother, who participated for a few minutes before going back to sleep.  The two of us finished the ceremony.  My daughter was crying.  I apologized for leaving her with much more than her share of the work, but that’s not why she was crying.  “I don*t think you care about Passover any more.”  I tried to comfort her.  When she went to sleep, I set about looking for interesting readings to add to our Passover seder. following our family*s custom to make a booklet of additional texts, commentaries, pictures, and activities each year to add to the standard Haggadah.

 

I cared.  I cared about preparing our home for a seder for my husband who, I hoped, would spend the holiday with us rather than on his army base; for my children, for my parents, and for our friends.  Beyond that?  Maybe my daughter understood what was happening to me sooner than I did.  Israeli Independence Day came not long after that.  Even at the best of times (and this was not the best of times), I am quite uncomfortable with nationalism, patriotism, and all kinds of flag-waving.  This year I was at a loss as to what to do.  Where does a religious person go when in utter confusion?  To synagogue.  So I went to our synagogue.  I was in familiar, comforting territory, good friends were sitting around me.  On Independence Day our congregation follows the custom of the religious kibbutz movement, reciting Hallel, psalms of thanksgiving.  Joyful, familiar melodies sung by the whole congregation surrounded me.

 

As I sat there relaxed, at ease, my guard down in the midst of this extended communal family, with no warning and unbidden, a recent news report began to invade my consciousness.  Yitzhak Rabin, as Defense Minister, had given orders to break the bones of Palestinians.  One particular commander in the Beita area fulfilled these orders with exceptional zeal, breaking the arms and legs of men arrested for whatever reason.  To drown out their screams of pain, he ordered the radio to be turned on full blast.  I tried to drive that scene out of my mind but the louder the congregation sang, the more clearly I heard the screams of the beaten Palestinians.

 

After the service Liora, who had been acting offended and distant towards me since the last dialogue, came over to greet me with a hug.  “I’m so glad you*re here.  To tell you the truth, I was really afraid you wouldn’t come.”  There didn*t seem to be any point in explaining to her what I had just experienced.  I was glad to be on good terms with her so I smiled and returned the hug.

 

Even if I had wanted to, I could not have explained to her what was happening to me.  I did not yet realize that as surely as if I had eaten bread on Passover, my soul was slowly being cut off from my people.  Perhaps it was because I sensed that my people was being cut off from its soul.

 

The next day I was walking with a friend, a secular peace activist.  We passed families celebrating Independence Day with picnics on the grass.  She looked at the scene wistfully: “Someday, when the Palestinians have a country of their own, I want to sit like that on the grass with my friends and feel that I belong.”

 

Recapitulation

 

Members of our dialogue group retell heart-warming stories of cooperation, about a sukkat shalom, a tabernacle of peace erected on Mount Gerizim by Israelis and Palestinians, about joint marches for peace, large activities in towns and villages and refugee camps, meetings of Palestinian and Israeli university students, our Shabbat in Beit Sahour, the Prayer for Peace, picking olives together, sharing family joys and sorrows, and about deep trust and real friendship.  Then we are reproached: “How come we never heard about this?”  “You did hear.  It was in the papers, it was on TV, on radio.  You*ve heard and then forgotten about these events, just as you*ve forgotten the capitals of countries which no longer exist and stories of volcanic eruptions in far-off places you never planned to visit.”  We bring out our scrapbook of articles, a respectably thick file.  See, here are the newspaper reports.  You can*t have missed them all.”

 

Sometimes, it seems that these articles are no more than pathetic mementos of an exciting journey to nowhere.  I know enough about cognitive psychology to understand why people don*t remember.  I also know enough about history to refuse to give up.  We can’t relegate human encounters or breakthroughs to silence or to a scrapbook in a filing cabinet.  They must be allowed to influence history at least as much as sordid accounts of hate and violence.

 

In the terrible days that followed the opening of the tunnel under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers found themselves besieged at Joseph*s tomb in Nablus.  Two soldiers, who were badly wounded, needed to bc evacuated, but the other soldiers could not take the chance of driving an ambulance through the angry crowd.  Suddenly, the Palestinian head of security in Nablus approached with an improvised white flag.  Heedless of the danger of walking up on the cornered and tightened soldiers, he approached and offered safe conduct to the wounded men.  With no alternative, the soldiers took the chance and accepted.  The wounded soldiers* lives were saved.

 

This Palestinian, Samih al-Kanaan, was a member of our Nablus dialogue group.  When interviewed, he spoke about how his participation in the dialogue group was what had prompted him to act as he did.

 

When I am asked whether I believe our dialogue with Palestinians has had any concrete results, I can always point to the above incident.  The Talmud says: “He who saves one human life it is as if he has saved the whole world.”  We*ve apparently done that, so, yes, our dialogue has saved the whole world.  In reality, of course, we*d like much more than to save the world in a symbolic sense. We want to forestall further bloodshed so ominously lurking on the horizon for both peoples.

 

My effort to retell forgotten stories of goodness, of caring, of cooperation, is a small attempt to remind the world that enmity and bloodshed between Palestinians and Israelis are not inevitable. Though these stories don’t fit the conventional mind-set, perhaps by an effort of the will they can be attached to something healthy, optimistic in the mind, to the still small voice of the Divine.


THE CHALLENGE OF PLURALISM FOR FOR CONTEMPORARY

           JUDAISM IN ISRAEL:

a Christian Palestinian point of view

 

Fr.  Rafiq Khoury

 

When I was asked to present a Christian Palestinian point of view on the theme of this colloquium, an image that came spontaneously to my mind is that of the children approaching Jesus.  According to the Gospel of Mark (10:13-16), the disciples were around Jesus with their set of mental categories and were enjoying his divine teachings, when the children came forward as disturbing intruders.  The reaction of the disciples was to turn away these troublemakers.  But Jesus was indignant, warmly welcomed the children, and even put them at the center of attention and at the center of his teaching.  The Gospel adds: “Then he put his arms around them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing” (Mark 10:16), which may signify that he integrated them into the history of salvation, defying the narrowness of mind of his disciples and inviting them to a more comprehensive look at the Kingdom of God.  We can say that it is a case where a forgotten presence becomes a disturbing one before it becomes a healing presence.

 

You may guess that my reading of this text is not innocent.  In fact, I have always believed that the Palestinian people is the forgotten element in the Jewish-Christian dialogue concerning, among other issues, the theological significance of the state of Israel.  It is forgotten, or rather ignored, because it is disturbing.  Can the disturbing element become a healing one?  That is my question to you today.

 

My reflection consists in three points:

1.             The context of Jewish-Christian dialogue

2.                Theology and political projects

3.             The Palestinian people as a theological issue

 

I present these three points in a very simple, even chaotic and superficial way.  This is the first time that I have the opportunity to speak about this issue before such a distinguished audience.  My speech is an expression of my anger and wounds rather than a deepened theological reflection.  The superficiality of my presentation is an invitation to understanding.

 

1.             The context of Jewish-Christian dialogue

Jewish-Christian dialogue, with its theological ramifications, as it is today and as it has developed especially since the Second World War, is the result of the Western experience in its relations with the Jews.  This Western experience and context deeply conditioned the theology and practice of Jewish-Christian dialogue.  We can focus on the main elements of this experience and context.  First of all, we have to mention the persecution of the Jews in Europe, a persecution which took on an ideological character known by the name of Anti-Semitism.

 

Christians of the West were unfortunately part of it, ideologically and practically, in one way or another.  Anti-Semitism constitutes one of the most perverse distortions in the human mind with tragic consequences for the Jewish people.  Its culmination in modern history produced the Shoa, which remains, to say the least, a shameful event in human history.  In this context emerged the Zionist movement with its political aims, which led to the foundation of the state of Israel, which constitutes the new and the most important reality for the Jewish people in modern times.

Out of that context of Western culture and history, Jewish-Christian dialogue was born and developed and was deeply and decisively conditioned by this historical context. This Jewish-Christian dialogue dealt mainly with the issues of election, promises, land, covenant, salvation and so on.  In these circles of Jewish-Christian dialogue, a theology was developed which we can call “the theology of Israel.”  Unfortunately, Jewish-­Christian dialogue remains a Western reality located in the Western cultural context.  I believe that it will remain debatable so long as it remains confined within these restrictive limits.

 

Jewish-Christian dialogue was born and developed in an unhealthy context.  Western Christians felt guilty towards the Jewish people.  They live obsessed by guilt for what they inflicted on the Jews and feel that it is their duty to repair the damage they have historically done to Jews.  For this reason, they conduct this dialogue with feelings of guilt, if not a psychological guilt complex, which gives one the impression that this dialogue is guided more by psychological than by theological motivations.  The danger is that these psychological motivations put very strong pressure on the theological issues of this dialogue and lead to unacceptable consequences.

 

When we remain in the sphere of psychological feelings, it is easy to pass from anti-Semitism to philo-Semitism, and from philo-Semitism to anti-Semitism with the same danger of distortions.  In both cases, the Jewish people is presented as a special people, for the best and for the worst.  This special character of the Jewish people prevents one from applying to them the common criteria of the human reason and behavior.

 

This is a very dangerous tendency.  In that atmosphere, one can easily fall into a mythology which disfigures realities and communities.  We have the feeling that the Jewish-Christian dialogue was used to resolve the problems of Western Christians with themselves, remaining hostages of an unconscious whose consequences are both unforeseeable and dangerous.  When we remain in the psychological sphere, the road is open to myths, taboos, unknown forces, and unconscious motivations which lead to alienation and to alienating thought, when in fact only the truth is liberating.

 

Reflection on the significance of the state of Israel is one of the issues where the psychological conditions the theological and is distorted by it.  Israel is a special state for a special people in a special history.  As such, the rules of common judgment don’t apply to it.  The way is open to remain ignorant of the injustices this state can commit and the great injustice on which it is built.

 

You can imagine that this theological thought was and still is very problematic for Christian Palestinians causing fears, anger and anguish.  When Palestinians are confronted with this sort of theological reflection, they deal with it according to their own experience and memory.  This memory and their experience are full of images of dispersion, expulsion, oppression.

 

The memory of the Palestinian people is deeply traumatized by the consequences that the creation of the state of Israel had on their lives, much more deeply than the Western world can imagine.  They were brutally expelled from their homeland, where they had lived from immemorial times, dispossessed of the primary means of livelihood, disrupted socially, culturally, economically, politically and humanly, and were thrown to the periphery of their country in extreme misery.

 

Amidst all that, they are told by a certain theology that the state of Israel is prophesied by the Word of God in the Bible, that we have to accept it as the will of God, a God faithful to His promises.  As a result, we are told that in one way or another we must accept willingly the annihilation of our people in the name of the will of God.  Naturally, the anguished question which comes constantly to our mind is “Who is this God  who stands beside the oppressors against the oppressed?”

 

You can imagine the deep inner trouble experienced in the face of this sort of theologizing.  But we are powerless.  We were caught suddenly in a theological situation for which we were not prepared.  It is only in the last few years that the beginnings of theological reflection have taken place in the Christian Palestinian community on these issues, but theirs remain voices in the desert, leaving us to our frustration, inner revolt and anger.

 

2.                Theology and political projects

When a theology, in a direct or indirect way, justifies a political project or a political ideology, we can expect disasters.  History is full of the victims of this sort of theology.  The history of Western (but not only Western) thought offers many examples.  It is not always easy to draw a distinction between the ideological and the theological.  This danger applies to Zionism and its realization in the state of Israel.  I believe that the theology that deals with this issue in circles of Jewish-Christian dialogue has not been sufficiently aware of the danger.  It put its potential and its power into justifying the creation of the state of Israel as a continuity of the divine promises, sometimes in a triumphalistic and unbearable way, where Herzl, Ben-­Gurion and Dayan were presented as new Moses figures leading the people to the Promised Land and thus bringing about the new Exodus of the Jewish people in modern times.

 

Naturally the Christian Palestinians are embarrassed, and more than embarrassed they are scandalized, especially when they see that they are totally ignored by such a theology or mentioned only as a human rights case.  It is clear to them that such a theology cannot be but oppressive, a theology at the service of the oppressor.

 

For us Palestinians, the creation of the state of Israel is a political enterprise, sustained by a political ideology and imposed by a brutal military force with the help of the Western powers at the expense of the Palestinian people.  I would like to add that this political project was achieved according to the most classical colonial system.  The Palestinians can add also that they don’t even accept the definition of Israel as a normal state with which we have to deal according to international law, because the injustice and destruction carried out against our people are the result of this very normal state and of the international law, in addition to the Israeli laws, which are at the service of power.

 

3.             The Palestinian people as a theological issue

The reality of the Palestinian people in this land is not incidental.  The Palestinians are a fundamental component of the identity of the Holy Land and the Holy Land is a fundamental component of their identity.  This reality has been almost completely ignored by the theological considerations of Jewish-Christian dialogue, in agreement with the famous slogan of the Zionist movement: “A people without land to a land without people.”  It is time to remedy that ignorance and regard the Palestinians, not only as a human rights issue, but as a theological issue.  The Palestinians are a part of the history of salvation in the geography of salvation.

 

Jewish-Christian dialogue, with its theological insights, cannot be formulated without including the Palestinians and their historical experiences in the past and in the present.  Taking this reality into account helps prevent theology from becoming an ideology at the service of a political project.  In this way, the ignored presence will be disruptive before becoming the healing ele­ment of this theology.  The children approaching Jesus can inspire our reflections in this regard.

 

If that is the case, this theology will have to deal with many questions.  What is theological meaning of the destruction of 400 Palestinian villages during the 1948 conquest?  What does the expulsion of one million Palestinians to the periphery of their homeland to give place to the new Jewish immigrants mean in terms of theological reflection?  What is the theological significance of the use of all forms of oppression against the Palestinians during thirty years of occupation?  What is an idolatrous approach to the land?  Is the land more important than God and human beings? What  is the meaning of oppression in the history of salvation?  We can go on indefinitely with such questions.

 

You notice that we started to deal with the significance of the state of Israel for contemporary Judaism and Jewish-Christian dialogue, and we finished with the question of the significance of the Palestinian people.  I believe that a reflection about the significance of the state of Israel is meaningless without a deep reflection on the significance of the Palestinian people.  It is an essential part of this reflection.  Jewish-Christian dialogue cannot be a dialogue of good will so long as this question is not explicitly debated.  It is a question of credibility and intellectual integrity.  The Jewish Exodus is inseparable from the Palestinian Exodus, each conditioning the other and liberating each other from a narrow vision.

 

Here we must ask whether the religious categories of the Old Testament are helpful to deal with these questions, especially when they are isolated from the whole vision of the history of salvation. The concept of the “stranger,” for example.  Can we adopt it as it is as a category to deal with the significance of the Palestinians in the Holy Land?  Can we reflect on it without the light of the New Testament and in the spirit of Jesus?  In Jewish-Christian dialogue, an idea that is always repeated is that God is faithful to His promises.  For me as a Christian, the faithfulness of God to his promises has a proper name: Jesus Christ.  Jesus was born under the law to make the law explode from inside to become more comprehensive, inclusive and universal, with a special concern for the oppressed.

 

What I mean by all this is that the history of salvation is not static, but rather a dynamic history.  We cannot isolate a certain chapter (the land, the promises...) from the rest, fix it as the definitive category and apply in selective fashion to the realities of today.  To do this would be to ignore the whole dynamic of the history of salvation (including its peak, Jesus Christ), but such is often the case in the circles of Jewish-Christian dialogue.  I believe such to be an unacceptable sort of theological revisionism, a type of theological reflection used as an instrument of oppression.

 

Conclusion

 

What is the political and theological significance of the state of Israel for a Palestinian Christian? My answer is “None.”  None so long as the Palestinian tragedy is not taken into account, politically and theologically, as an essential part of this meaning.  I beg your pardon for this radical point of view. In fact, I didn’t come here in a spirit of compromise, but in a spirit of challenge.  Challenging is sometimes more helpful than compromising.  It is up to you to accept the challenge, to ignore it or to make it, by considering it intelligently, ineffective.  Thank you.


THE PALESTINIAN MINORITY IN THE STATE OF ISRAEL

 

Moussa Abou Ramadan

 

According to its resolution 181, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the report of the ad hoc commission responsible for the Palestinian question which partitioned mandatory Palestine into three zones: one constituting an Arab state, another constituting a Jewish state, and the third zone, including Jerusalem, having a special status.  The Jews accepted this plan, the Arabs refused it.  After this, the Zionists began to empty the territory of its Arab population.  The exodus of Palestinian Arabs began, and the war of May 1948, which took place between the State of Israel and the Arab countries, accelerated this exodus.  This is the origin of the problem of the Palestinian refugees but it is also the origin of the birth of the Palestinian minority which, before these events, had been a majority.  The new Palestinian minority constituted a disorganized and destabilized society in shock at its transformation into a minority.  This minority was further subject to Israeli military rule which limited the movement of Arab citizens within the State of Israel and which was a means to divide up Arab society and expropriate their land.  This military rule lasted until 1966.

 

Two aspects influenced the Palestinian minority in Israel.  On the one hand, the fact that Israel was a Jewish state both from a legal and an ideological point of view and, on the other hand, that Israel was in conflict with the Palestinian people which had been expelled from its land and also with the Arab world as a whole.  The Palestinian minority has been considered a fifth column.  Israel’s occupation of the rest of mandatory Palestine in a so-called war of defense in 1967 had as an effect the rediscovery by the Palestinians in Israel of their Palestinian culture and identity.  It also resulted in the aggravation of the security situation with the intensification of the Palestinian resistance, which in turn negatively affected the status of the Palestinians inside the State of Israel.  It is the judicial status of this minority that we would like to examine here as a challenge to the so-called pluralism of the State of Israel.

 

Discrimination can take on one of two forms.  Either it is inscribed in a judicial text, constitution, law, or decision, or it is not authorized by the laws of the state in question.  In the first case one speaks of legal discrimination, in the second case one speaks of de facto discrimination.  Here I will focus only on the former.

 

That which characterizes the Israeli judicial system is that it incorporates within itself discriminatory judicial principles, although the principle of equality is proclaimed in numerous texts.  Alongside an implicit discrimination, there is an official discrimination.

 

One can classify this legal discrimination into three categories:

 

Categories of discrimination

 

First and foremost, there is discrimination which can be found within the basic laws of the State (which exist in place of a constitution as there is no constitution in Israel).  Such discrimination is inscribed in basic laws like the one guaranteeing the dignity and the liberty of the human person or the one dealing with professional liberty.  What is at stake here is a discrimination in terms of a limitation of rights which consecrate the bases of constitutional discrimination.  This shows that it is not enough to have a constitution or basic laws in order to be a state of law.

Article 8 of the basic law on the dignity and liberty of the human person says: “The rights which derive from the present basic law cannot be prejudiced except by a law which conforms to the values of the State of Israel as adopted for valid purposes and limited by strict necessity.”  The values of the State of Israel were formulated in Article 1 of the law which lays out the values of the State of Israel as “a Jewish and democratic state.”  The question is: Can a state be Jewish and democratic when only a part of its citizens are, in fact, Jewish?

 

Within the framework of the basic laws, one must also mention Article 7 of the basic law concerning the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) which determines that “a list of candidates cannot

participate in elections to the Knesset if among its aims or its actions, expressly or implicitly, it:

                1. negates the existence of the State of Israel as the State of the Jewish people,

                2. negates the democratic character of the State,

                3. incites to racial hatred.

A decision of the Israeli Supreme Court interpreted this article as forbidding any party which aims at total equality between Jews and Arabs from putting forward candidates for elections.

 

The second category consists of ordinary laws, for example budgetary laws, which exercise  discrimination, for example, in the allotment of resources for the different confessional communities.  The allotment to the Jewish community surpasses very substantially the other communities in the budgetary laws.  The Jewish community receives about 98% of the budget, whereas the remaining 2% goes to the other communities.  The Geneva Human Rights’ Committee formulated objections to this practice:

The Committee is concerned by the preference given the Jewish religion in the allocation of funding for religions bodies, to the detriment of Muslims, Christians, Druze and other religious groups.  The Committee recommends that regulations and criteria for funding be published and applied to all religious groups on an equal basis.[2]

 

This absence of resources impedes the preservation of the holy places, e.g. mosques and cemeteries, for the Islamic community.  For Christians, the situation is even more serious as there is no budget whatsoever from the State for the ecclesiastical court system and these courts are simply ignored in the budgetary allocations.  I am not dealing here with the major budgetary inequality in housing, education, medical care and local development which is not directly regulated by legislation.

 

Another example of blatant legal discrimination is the Law of Return which determines, in its first article: “Every Jew has the right to immigrate to Israel.”  This law is the source of two kinds of discrimination.  The first kind is in the preference of Jew over Palestinian Arab concerning the “return” to Israel/Palestine.  Palestinians expelled in 1948 can not rejoin the Palestinian citizens of the State of Israel whereas Jews in Israel can see that Jews from all over the world have automatic access to immigration rights and rights of citizenship in Israel by the simple fact of being Jewish.  There are also other consequences which result from this Law of Return which concern the acquisition of citizenship, giving the new immigrant many privileges, housing, tax exemptions, job preferences etc.

 

One can add here the discrimination which exists on the level of national symbols.  The national anthem, the national flag and the insignia of the State are profoundly associated with Zionist ideology.  The Zionist organisms have a specific judicial status in Israel and have certain powers.  Of course, these organisms operate uniquely for Jewish benefit.

 

A third category of discrimination is constituted by that discrimination which results from the intimate connection between the State and the Jewish religion.  For example, the law concerning the Chief-Rabbinate which installs a Rabbinical Council provides services which do not exist for the other communities.  This institution enjoys financing from the State and local govern­ment.  There is a whole framework to ensure kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) which also limits the freedom of members of other religious communities not subject to the same restrictions as Jews.

 

A Detailed Example of Discrimination

 

We will examine the example of discrimination in land ownership and acquisition as central to issues of discrimination.  This is just one example.  We could have discussed the discriminatory treatment based upon military service, for example,  or the discriminatory treatment based upon the legal non-recognition of the Arabs as a national minority for example.

 

The conflict between the Zionist movement and the Palestinian national movement is above all a conflict about land.  The Zionist movement, before the creation of the State of Israel, tried to acquire lands in Palestine through purchasing them from local landowners.  However, the percentage of land which the Jews possessed on the eve of the creation of the State was very modest.  The creation of the State was the occasion to make up for this almost total lack of lands.  Despite the intensive strategy of and expropriation carried out by the State in regard to the Palestinians, the State consistently denies that these expropriations are discriminatory and insists on speaking a discourse founded on human rights.  The State insists that the right of property is not an absolute right, that the State has the right to expropriate land from its citizens for public use.  Furthermore the State explains that the expropriations of lands include proportionally more land belonging to Jews than to Arabs.  It is true that such laws exist in all countries and that these laws provide indemnity for property thus expropriated.  But this is not really the issue here and these justifications are developed simply to mislead and misrepresent the facts.

 

In fact, when it comes to the dispossession of the Palestinians, the State of Israel uses various techniques and judicial strategies.  In some cases, old Ottoman and British laws are invoked.  In other cases, new laws have been introduced.  The main aim is the territorial dispossession of the Palestinians and all means are used towards this end.  Once the Palestinians have been dispossessed, new laws are passed in order to keep them that way and to keep the properties in Jewish hands.  The dispossession of the Palestinians is a good example in order to show the harmony that exists among the executive, legislative and judicial powers.  The Supreme Court has contributed to fill in the voids where uncertainty remains despite the laws.

 

After their dispossession, Palestinians feared that their properties would never be returned.  Indeed, according to law, the ownership of these lands cannot be transferred.  We must therefore examine these organisms that have ownership of and administer the land.

 

The Law of the Administration of Lands in Israel of 1960 obliges the government to create a Lands Administration Authority.  These lands are divided into three categories according to the three bodies: State land, Development Authority land and Jewish National Fund land.  92% of the land in Israel is controlled in this way.

 

In naming the administrator of the Lands Authority there is no public candidacy for the job.  The administration is headed by a committee presided over by the Minister of Development and Housing.  Half the members of the committee are named by the government and the other half are named by the Jewish National Fund.  Thus, one half of the members are named by a Zionist body which, by definition, contains no Arab members.  The other half are named by the government which recently named, for the first time, a non-Jew, a Druze.  The Human Rights Committee is conscious of this discrimination and has said:

The Committee is also concerned that the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) is responsible for the management of 92% of land in Israel, includes no Arab members and that while the ILA has leased or transferred land for the development of Jewish towns and settlements, few Arab localities have been established in this way until recent years.  The Committee condemns the considerable inequality and discrimination which remain in regard to land and housing.”

Once the lands have been transferred out of Arab hands to the organisms which control them, they can never be regained by the former Arab owners.

 

I can conclude therefore, that as far as the Palestinian citizens of Israel are concerned, pluralism in the State of Israel remains largely unrealized and that the myth of Israel as the unique democracy in the Middle East is indeed just that, a myth.


THE CHALLENGE OF PLURALISM

FOR CONTEMPORARY JUDAISM IN ISRAEL

 

Rabbi Michael Marmur

 

The subject you have asked me to speak about, the challenge of pluralism, has troubled Jews of all ages and all stripes, particularly these days and particularly on this Sabbath.  This is the Sabbath in the calendar of yearly readings of the Pentateuch in which we read of the rebellion of Korach (Numbers 16).  In fact, today we read the portion of the Book of Numbers which deals with a series of rebellions, of which that of Korach is the most notable.  The issue then of discourse within the Jewish people, of claims and counterclaims, of what we would term the issue of pluralism, is very much at the forefront of my consciousness this Sabbath.  It is also at the forefront of my consciousness because I am a concerned citizen of this country and I look at what is going on around us.  I realize that this issue is not only presented in the yearly reading of the Torah but is sadly and troublingly presented in every daily newspaper.  This is true too every time I listen to the hourly radio news, as we tend to do so compulsively in this country, in order to find out which synagogue has been burnt down today.  Therefore I am surprised and happy to address this question today.

 

I want to begin by explaining to you how I see the plurality of forms of Jewish expression in the modern context.  In examining how Jews have responded to modernity in different ways, I want to touch on some central challenges and ironies to do with the very question of pluralism.  In my world, particularly in the non-Orthodox sectors of society, pluralism has become something of a mantra.  If you are for pluralism or against pluralism, that says everything about you.  It defines where you stand on all kinds of major questions.  I want to examine what being for pluralism entails from a religious perspective.  There are many more challenges and ironies involved than one might initially think. 

 

In a simple, though I hope not simplistic, way, I would like to suggest that what the Jewish people has done over the last 200 or 250 years is to develop strategies for coping with the revolution of modernity.  The bulk of Jews during this period was in the Western world.  The encounter with modernity of Jews and others in the East, in Africa and in Asia, has been different.  Most Jews were in Europe when modernity struck.  Jews and others tried to develop strategies in order to deal with the challenges and crises that modernity represented.  I do not think it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the Jewish encounter with modernity has been even more intense than the encounter of others with modernity and all it represented: secularism, new ideas about the state, new approaches to science and technology, a new approach to the individual, talk about innate rights, a whole new world of ideas.

 

Why do I suggest that the Jewish encounter was most intense? If one considers the Jewish encounter with modernity, one comes to the conclusion that we have emerged from this encounter both bruised and blessed, not unlike the Biblical Jacob in his encounter with that strange figure at the fords of Yabbok.  This encounter is indispensable for his growth into Israel but it is also a very painful and maiming experience.  Jewish tradition has different versions of answers to the question: Who was that ish, that person?  One interpretation is that this was Jacob’s struggle with the angel of Esau, that is to say, with the spirit of the non-Jewish world.  Another, more psychological, interpretation suggests that, like Hamlet looking at the ghost, Jacob is struggling with himself.  Or, for that matter, that Jacob is struggling with God.  Now whether that struggle is essentially social, between the Jewish and the non-Jewish world, or psychological, Jacob struggling with himself, or theological, Jacob struggling with God, these three versions more or less delineate the struggles Jews have to face in dealing with the angel of modernity.  We have emerged from this encounter both deeply wounded and yet, also, blessed.

 

Jews have often played a role at the very forefront in this revolution of modernity.  The sociologist S.  Baumann has spoken of the viscous role of the Jews, at the cutting edge of these changes, lubricating these changes but also suffering from their worst excesses.  When I try to sum up, for students, the major changes that modernity has brought about, I talk about a technological revolution and a revolution of social theory, a revolution of self-understanding.  I can shorthand those revolutions by saying: Einstein, Marx and Freud (or even Durkheim or others).  It is not totally coincidental that each of these is at least of Jewish origin.  This is not to say that Jews are more modern than anyone else but that Jews have had a particular encounter in this encounter of the modern world. 

 

What have been our strategies to deal with this? Let us talk about five such strategies which I hope will set out the problematic of what Jewish pluralism means in our day:

 

1. One response was an assimilationist response.  That is to say that modernity provides me with a choice between being Jewish or being a modern person.  They do not go together.  Thus a choice had to be made.  Some chose religious conversion to Christianity and others chose a quasi-religious conversion, to the truth of the Communist party or whatever quasi-religion was on offer.  Or some chose the myth of being a “universal citizen” or a “person in general” or whatever it might be.  But hundreds of thousands, even millions of Jews made a choice to assimilate out of being Jewish not at the point of the sword as they had done in previous times but because modernity made this choice possible.

 

2. A second approach to the dilemma of modernity uses the same logic but comes to the opposite con­clu­sion: ultra-Orthodox Judaism.  They argued that there is a choice, you can be modern or Jewish but not both; and I choose to be Jewish in the good old-fashioned way, in the way that God intended.  Let us speak for a moment about the sociology of ultra-Orthodox Jews.  I will have to be exceedingly simplistic as within the ultra-Orthodox world there are great differences of opinion.  Let us look at one of the most external expressions, the clothing.  There is in fact noth­ing Jewish about the clothing of the ultra-Orthodox Jew.  In fact, there is only one article of clothing that is really Jewish and that would be the tsitsit (the prayer shawl fringes).  Even the kippa (skullcap) is of less impeccable Jewish pedigree.  It is only a thousand years or so old and in our history that is dangerously modern.  So there is nothing particularly Jewish about dressing in this hot weather in heavy black clothing but it is all about what you think about modernity.  It is about saying: “Stop the world here because when it looks like this I do not understand it.”  I could understand the power relations up to this point, the Jew was a Jew, the goy (Gentile) was a goy; sometimes relations were good, sometimes relations were bad, but it was understandable.  So the ultra-Orthodox response is “no thanks” to the blessings of modernity, it is too high a price to pay.

 

3. The third response is that of the modern Orthodox Jews.  They claim that the first two approaches are based upon an error because they present the choice as one of “either or.”  It is, in fact, possible to mediate between a traditional Jewish life style and the modern world.  How? By using the ideology entitled in Hebrew “torah im derekh eretz” (Torah alongside the ways of the world).  There should be no intrinsic contradiction, according to this approach, getting up early in the morning and praying fervently as a traditional Jew does, getting into your air-conditioned car, traveling to your air-conditioned office and living a high-tech 21st Century life.  If modernity impinges on my Jewish life, and asks me to do something I can not do, I will die rather than do it, but by and large modernity does not make explicit claims on me to turn away from my Orthodox life. 

 

4. A fourth way to approach modernity has been the approach of the Jewish nationalists.  I am talking here particularly about secular Zionists but there are other versions of this too.  What does this approach say? I can live in the modern world without choosing, instead I need to reframe what it means to be Jewish.  I need to learn from the 19th century nationalist movements in Europe and what they developed as their ideologies of self-expression.  Judaism was originally a blend of national and religious components.  Because of the vagaries of our Diaspora existence we palled up the religious dimension for reasons of national survival.  Now that a new reality has been created we must pall up once again the national dimensions and we can play down the religious ones.  Extremely secular Zionists would even argue that we must do away with the trappings of religion.  Others have a more tolerant approach or are even actively involved in religious life.  This fourth approach suggests that we can resolve the struggle of being modern as a Jew in the world by re-framing what it means to be a Jew.

 

5. Liberal Judaism in its various manifestations is my fifth response.  Liberal Judaism, be it Reform or Reconstructionist or Conservative, is very similar to and very influenced by streams of Protestant theology in 19th Century Germany and later in English speaking countries.  It tried to solve the riddle of modernity by saying the following: One can be both Jewish and modern and it is not necessary, as our modern Orthodox brethren say, to create distinct spheres in which these two aspects of my identity can exist.  Rather I can open up the two aspects, Jewish and modern, to each other.  Now I can re-understand my Judaism by using the full arsenal of tools, hermeneutic, methodological and research tools, which modernity lays at my disposal.  So, when I come to read the Bible, for example, I do not only have the traditional commentators at my side, but I come to read it theologically, psychologically, anthropologically, archaeologically, and any other “logicallies” you can think of.  The idea that I have developed a critique of history, which, whilst I am an engaged and committed Jew, I evolve the notion that “it ain’t necessarily so.”  What each generation has believed is the one and definitive Judaism is in fact the story of evolving Judaisms through time. 

 

I have left out much more than I have put in to this brief analysis and I apologise to all of you for that.  What is the significance of all of this? Let us move to modern Israel and see how these various streams have played themselves out in Israeli discourse.  The assimilationist voice, we might imagine, was, by definition, not heard on the Israeli scene.  The Biblical, romantic notion of going to settle in the Middle East was not the way the assimilationist might go.  The truth, however,  is that the instinct to move away from Judaism towards assimilation never goes away.  Today you have Israelis, born in this country, who, either actively or passively, tend towards an assimilationist approach, that is to say that anything distinctly Jewish in their culture, lifestyle or ideology feels pointless to them.  They are prepared to live in this Middle Eastern context in what has been termed by one sociologist as “MacWorld”.  MacWorld is both Macdonalds and Macintosh, it is a world in which you could be in any airport lounge in any city in the world, it is a kind of homogenized, western, business-fied reality.  If you like, it is a kind of old-style universal Messianism made grand and then mass-produced.  There are Israelis, born and bred here, products of the education system, who would rather live there, in MacWorld, than in any specifically Jewish place.  If MacWorld happens to be situated in Tel Aviv or Raanana, then fine, but let us not get too Jewish about it.  So, even though we imagined that the assimilationist approach could not exist here, that is simply not true.

 

Ultra-Orthodoxy is alive and well in this country; you may have noticed.  This is not so much because they decided that they should all come and live in Israel but because, when a large number of their brothers and sisters were perishing, many of them from Eastern and Central Europe came over here.  Those who live in the West are likely to also come here and those who live here already have very large families.  The community is thus growing exponentially.  Statistically, the experts say that about 20% of the Jewish population of this country are Ortho­­dox Jews.  Of that 20%, the relationship between ultra-Orthodox and modern Orthodox is always in a state of flux.  The ultra-Orthodox are growing though whereas modern Orthodox are shrink­ing, losing people on both sides, some becoming secular and others becoming ultra-Orthodox. 

Ultra-Orthodoxy is present here but not altogether present here.  Different corners of ultra-Orthodox society have become involved in Israeli society at different levels of intensity.  For some, we, non-ultra-Orthodox Israelis are simply the new goyim (Gentiles).  Ultra-Orthodoxy has always been on the other side of the wall, separated from people not like them.  Once this was non-Jews and now it is secular people.  Others from within this society have become involved in Israeli society and affected by it.  They have become involved in the political system and they receive money from the State.  They tend to have a much more complex relationship. 

Modern Orthodoxy came to this country and made common cause with Zionism.  Look for a moment at those who live in settler communities.  By and large, they cannot be described as ultra-Orthodox.  They do not wear the trappings of ultra-Orthodoxy, they have a different approach, much influenced by the teachings of Rabbi Kook.  They are deeply and intensely Orthodox, but it is a version of modern Orthodoxy.  This is characterised, for example, by the fact that they enthusiastically recruit their sons into the army whereas ultra-Orthodox Jews would generally not do so.

 

Having made common cause with secular Zionism, modern Orthodoxy can be found in a political spectrum where some are very radical and some are very moderate.  In fact, in the initial years of the State an even wider deal was struck between the secular Zionist establishment and the modern and ultra-Orthodox.  Why did the secular strike this deal?  Because there were more important questions to deal with on the national agenda than the differences among these groups.  We had a state to establish, an economy to begin, wars to be won and so if certain rabbis wanted control of marriages or wanted separate education systems, so what? We had more important tasks to achieve.  Much of what is being played out in the Israel of the 1990s and early 2000s is the price we are paying for that historic decision. 

 

Now where was Liberal Judaism, the Judaism I represent?  The answer is “Elsewhere!”  Liberal Judaism was not a force in this country when the major decisions affecting the religious status quo were made.  There are two reasons for this.  Firstly, Liberal Judaism was demographically elsewhere.  It had felt uncomfortable with the national expression given to Judaism and had chosen to insist on belonging to the country in which a Jew lived.  A Jew was a German of the Mosaic persuasion and not a Jew from a national point of view.  Thus Liberal Judaism did not approve of Jews going off to set up their own society.  The second reason is that the Jews who initially emigrated to Palestine came from the countries of East Europe, Poland, Russia, Rumania, Hungary etc, countries where Liberal Judaism was never strong.  Thus the concept of Jewish identity developed without the input of Liberal Judaism.  In Israel, you were either Orthodox or secular as far as your Jewish identity was concerned.  The Liberal option was not even proposed.  There were no streams in Judaism in Israel, there was the river and the desert.  Thus the deal struck in Israel was between secular Jews who cared little for Jewish religious tradition and Orthodox Jews who looked like the custodians of the religious tradition they were entrusted with.  So, even though Zionism was a rebellion against these very custodians of tradition, in the State the deal that was struck gave these Orthodox a monopoly over the religious tradition.

 

I would like now to propose to you a conceptual model for thinking about pluralism in our society in the light of what I have just explained.  Jonathan Sacks, the Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Britain, has an important book, One People, on the models of consensus among Jews, in which he makes the same distinctions as those made by John Hicks.  Exclusivism posits that there is only one mode of religion that is true, mine, all others are false.  Inclusivism posits that only my religious position contains all the truth but that other religious paths participate to differing degrees in that truth.  Pluralism is fully expressed though in the conception that truth is manifested in the differing paths and reactions to the reality of the world.

 

Sacks takes these models and plays with them and because he is Orthodox you can already imagine what he is going to do with them.  Exclusivism is bad, pluralism is impossible but inclusivism can work.  Jonathan Sacks might be right but in Israel there is great difficulty in encouraging this discussion.  Most Israeli Jews have a synagogue they do not go to, an Orthodox synagogue.  Even though many do not practice, they still perceive the Orthodox was as the true way.  But this is certainly changing as Israeli Jews discover the streams of Liberal Judaism.  50 years ago the founding myth of Orthodox monopoly was founded and 50 years is about the shelf life for any myth.  It is now crumbling.  The conception that secular Jews and Orthodox Jews can divide up the family jewels exclusively between themselves is now flaking away. 

 

To conclude, I want to exemplify the dilemma.  In recent weeks we have seen the burning of a Conservative synagogue and a Messianic prayer hall.  Although I condemn both acts, my attitude to these two groups is problematic.  I am a Liberal Jew and everything is supposed to be okay.  But I and all my colleagues have an enormous problem with so-called Messianic Judaism.  As a democratic citizen of this country I relate to the burning of these two buildings in exactly the same way.  As a committed Jew I relate quite differently to what goes on within those two build­ings.  That is to say that pluralism is a very complicated matter and needs to be treated as such. 



[1]How did we know this? We had thought for a long time that this was the case, but it finally was confirmed for us when one night the person manning the recording equipment absentmindedly pressed the “play” rather than the “record” button and Hillel was treated to the sound of his own voice in a previous phone conversation!

[2]Concluding observation of the Human Rights Committee-Israel 18/08/98 CCPR/C/79/ Add. 93 par 28.


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