Friday, 31 March 2017

A Conflict of Loyalty

Years ago, when I first became an American citizen, I had to take the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. I remember how disturbed I was then when the thought of “What if the U.S. and Yisrael ever enter a political conflict,” occurred to me. I decided to push that thought away as far as possible into the creases of my sub consciousness.

Fortunately, it laid dormant for a long time until several years ago.

Comically enough, though, it was not so much the actions of America or the U.S.  government and its policies vis-a-vis Israel, Medinat Yisrael that served as the catalyst or the wake-up element for its disturbing resurgence. Rather, it is the American Jewish community that has brought that troubling thought of conflict of loyalty back into life.

As many here know, I care about my fellow Jews, first and foremost, wherever they are but I can only speak about those who live in the US. I have been following the American Jewish community for many years, first as one of its members and later as an outsider who had strong connections to it through family and friends. I was unhappy with the way those ties unfolded themselves to me.

I initially saw some cracks in Jewish unity and loyalty to our Jewish culture and heritage when I worked as a Hebrew and Sunday School teacher at one of the northern California synagogues. As part of my duties, I instructed a course entitled “Jewish customs and traditions.”

One day, I decided to dedicate the lesson to “Jewish Contributions to World Civilization.” Listing all the achievements and major contributions of Jews to the world was a good way, I felt, to start as I was hoping to instill great pride in young American Jews. “So, you see,” I concluded, “Jews have given many gifts to the world.”

“And so have Catholics,” answered one very outspoken student.

I was taken back by that response. “That is true,” I did not hesitate to say. I chose my words very carefully as I was trying to decipher the reason behind this unexpected comeback. “Of course, Catholics have contributed much to world civilization,” I continued, “but this is a Jewish class in a synagogue. “ I could feel my blood temperature rising. “Let Catholics discuss and teach their contributions to the world in their churches, in their Sunday schools. Do you think they bother to discuss the gifts of the Jews in their Sunday schools?” I calmly said, still trying to control myself.

I was proud. I was even more proud when I walked uprightly into the Rabbi’s office to meet with some angry parents.  Though I knew I had a job to keep, I was ready to face them and defend my position.

“We teach our children to be universal,” the head of the PTA started.”

I did not linger with my response. “How can we and our children be supporting the contributions of others if we are ignorant of our own?” I challenged them. “Dear Rabbi,” I said as I turned to face him, “you lost your eye as you were walking alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in Montgomery Alabama when you joined their fight for civil rights. Where are you and your loyalty to our people when they need the support for their rights to educate their youth to be proud of their heritage? How can we support the good fight of others when ours is still raging?” He smiled and ,lowered his eyes.

That was forty years ago. Little seems to have changed.  Now, as then, some of our Jews feel the need to fight the battles of others while neglecting the future of their own. Moreover, that support, on more than one occasion, is done while sacrificing our own on the altars of justice and universality.  
Why are Jews so keen to be like everyone? When will our fellow Jews realize that their loyalty should be primarily to Jews and Judaism, our heritage and our essence? After all, are not these values the ones that have kept us going for over two millennia? So why are we struggling so hard to, seek approval and recognition? Should the world not love us and be grateful to us for some of our gifts, ones that we shared so readily with it?  Why are Jews so eagerly  willing to give slices of our own in return for that approval, for that love, for being accepted and supported? Why are some of us so ready to betray the memory of those who died while protecting those values? What will it take for our fellow Jews to understand that we are not like everyone else, that we cannot be like other nations?  
We cannot, not because we are better, not because we are worse but because we are different.

A free People is a People free of conflict. As long as the internal conflict of loyalty in Judaism continues, we will never be free. We may well have physically left the Diaspora but the Diaspora, as it seems, has not yet left our souls.

Shabbat Shalom.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Liberty - Another Gift of the Jews

The middle of the month of Nissan, according to the Jewish/Hebrew calendar, marks the start of the Holy Day of Pesach (Passover). In Hebrew, the language of Am Yisrael, it is also known as the Spring Festival.

But for many Jews, it is, first and foremost, celebrated and commemorated as the Holy Day of Liberty, the time in our history where the Yisraelites were liberated from slavery in Egypt and were on their way to becoming a Nation at Mount Sinai.

The concept of Liberty, Cherut (חרות) or Dror (דרור) in Hebrew, as practiced and applied by Am Yisrael was unheard of prior to Yetziat Mitzrayim (The Exodus from Egypt). Its magnitude was never underestimated or diminished and has been celebrated by Jews the world over for over to three millennia.

The significance of the notion was already established at the most important event in Jewish History, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The act of the Giving of the Torah is akin to the signing of a contract, a covenant, a Brit. This one is between G-d and Am Yisrael. As in any contract, both parties are first introduced. A swift review of Shemot (Exodus in its Hellenistic name) 20: 2, G-d announces: "אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים." I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of Egypt out of the House of Slavery.”

A question is begging to be asked: “Why did G-d mention the Exodus from Egypt as his achievement? Surely G-d could have introduced Himself as the Creator of the Universe, for is there a more compelling deed than creating a Universe?”

One of the answers to this very important question is linked to the concept of Liberty. The reason G-d elected to introduce Himself in that manner is because He wanted to show us humans that Liberty is analogous to the act of creation.

It is important to mention that while the concept of Liberty has become universal, the Holy Day of Pesach is reserved to Jews and Am Yisrael ONLY. That is reiterated by another, very captivating interpretation of the above verse. Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, in his book “The Kuzari,” points out that we learn a basic educational truth from this introduction. For people to accept direction from a teacher, parent, or anyone else, they must first trust that person. Trust occurs when there is a personal and beneficial relationship between the two parties. Once trust has been established, the one is able to accept direction and criticism from the other. That is why G-d introduces Himself as the architect of the Exodus rather than the Creator of the universe. The Exodus was a personal experience that benefitted every Jew. It was a clear expression of G-d’s love and concern and it generated within the nation a sense of trust and gratitude. “

Moreover, each Jew and member of Am Yisrael is commanded to regard themselves as if he or she personally came out of Egypt from out of the House of Bondage into Liberty. This commandment is reflected in The Oral Torah (Masechet Psachim) where it states, “בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים". “In each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt.”

It was only after Am Yisrael was liberated that they were taught and coached in the art and the skill of practicing certain freedoms. Liberty, as the Cambridge Dictionary defines it is the right “to live as you wish or go where you want.” It means mobility.” Liberty precedes Freedom which the Oxford dictionary defines as the “condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say, think… whatever you want to, without being limited.” One cannot have Freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression without experiencing Liberty first. One cannot exercise the virtue of Liberty without following the Divine directive to practice choice. Freedoms must be heralded by Liberty.

The concept of Liberty is described in Vayikra (Leviticus) (Leviticus) 25:10. “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land and to all its inhabitants,” וּקְרָאֵתֶם דְּרוֹר .בָּאָרֶץ לְכָל יֹשְׁבֶיהָ” This concept was adopted 3000 years later as one the founding principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the USA. It is inscribed on the Liberty Bell.

This verse in Vayikra adds another facet to the term Liberty. The word “Dror” is used in the context of Yovel יובל (Jubilee). It is not only in terms of physical Liberty but also freedom from economic slavery. All debts are to be erased. A person who is in debts is a slave to his or her creditor. Jubilee puts people back on their feet allowing them the opportunity to experience Liberty as it should be.

Though many of us take the concept of Liberty for granted, unfortunately, a large segment of humanity is still shackled to the House of Bondage. We can only hope that this Pesach, the proclamation made in the Torah, as decreed by G-d to Am Yisrael will be carried forth and reach the ears of the hearts and souls of those who hold the key to their Liberty, Cherut, Dror and Freedom.

May we all have a meaningful Pesach crowned with every blessing

Special thanks to Michal Dar-El with her help on this.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

On the Essence of Zionism by Michal Dar-El

"Zionism is the Return to Judaism even before the Return to the Land of the Jews," Theodore Herzl, Opening address to the First Zionist Congress 1897.

Dear friends,

The essay you are about to read was written by my dear friend Michal Dar-El. It is one of the most comprehensive ones on the subject of Zionism. This academic and well researched paper explains why Zionism is a Jewish concept only and why no one other than Jews can or should call themselves "Zionists." 

Hopefully, it will, once and for all, put the issue to rest and unite Jews behind the need to stop giving pieces of our heritage in return for love and support by those who have no right to claim as their own what only Jews have practiced for the last few millennia.

We take this opportunity to thank all Pro-Zionists for their love and support of Judaism and its inseparable essence of Zionism.

Without much further ado, let me introduce to you, my dear friend Michal Dar-El and her excellent article. Please share and educate the world.

The belief that “History is written by victors” is shared by many.
This paper would argue that Zionism also falls under this jurisdiction, as Zionism has thus far turned out the ultimate victor with the reunification of The People of Israel and The Land of Israel - by the reestablishment of Jewish Sovereignty over its Land. Therefore, it is essential for “Zionism”, the victor, which is still writing and creating its own history, to be correctly defined and conceptualized.
The narrow definition of Zionism only as a political movement, rather than an ETERNAL element and a pillar of Judaism, has become predominant in the last 120 years, as an outcome of the emergence of the modern “Zionist Movement” and as a consequence of its success in achieving its national goal. The movement emerged when most of The Nation of Israel reached a peak of being sick and tired of life in exile and was at a breaking point. Modern Zionism was established to solve the root and the cause of the problem – the exile of most of The Nation. In order to achieve its goal, The Zionist Movement had to renew the use of dormant and almost forgotten Jewish political tools and to adopt mid-19th century universally accepted political terminology. By doing so, the Zionist Movement mitigated the clear, historic and well defined origins of Zionism that had always existed within the realm of Judaism.
At the time, it was necessary for the promoters of the Zionist national movement to emphasize Zionism mainly as a tool for attaining Jewish national rights rather than a historical and inherent component of The Nation. Since then however, this narrow definition of Zionism, which overlooks the core Jewish roots of the term, has not only become a cause of ignorance – but has also led to some current absurdities that I will elaborate on below. I believe therefore, that a genuine debate about the core and the essence of Zionism needs to be conducted in and by Israel. We need to reach an inclusive and broad definition of the term based on its meaning and natural evolution from ancient times and until today.
This need is clear and evident today, more than ever, as this misunderstanding and ignorance has led to the absurd phenomena taking place nowadays, where some Jews are propagating the term of “post-Zionism” (and thus, in fact, are negating their very own existence) while others are trying to redefine Israel from being The Jewish State, as was determined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence – to being “a land of all its inhabitants”. The lack of knowledge of the roots of Zionism has also led some Gentiles to define themselves as “Zionists” (instead of “pro-Zionists”) or to some Jewish observant streams – who fail to connect between modern Political Zionism and its Tanakhic roots - to outright reject Zionism.
Before the trickle of absurdities becomes a flood, an educational effort and intellectual process needs to be conducted to define what Zionism truly is and means. This endeavor will necessarily expose the trends mentioned above for what they really are: an attempt to nullify the Jews as an inimitable Nation, and a willful campaign to narrowly define us as just another religion – with no specific and inherent connection to The Land.
As an attempt to contribute to the definition and understanding what Zionism truly is - this paper will, in a nutshell, provide the historic evidence and background that illustrates why Zionism is an inseparable part of Judaism and that it is one of its essential pillars.
“Zionism” is a Tanakhic concept which expresses the bond between The Nation of Israel (aka Children of Israel / Hebrews / Israelite / Jews) and The Land of Israel.
Zionism is as old as the history of the Nation itself – starting 4000 years ago with God’s commandment to Abraham, and Zionism has never ceased to exist nor been diminished in importance since then and until present.
The word “Zion” is mentioned in The Tanakh as a synonym to Jerusalem and to The Land of Israel, as well as being a synonym for The Nation of Israel. The Tanakhic expression “B’ney Zion” [1] (Children of Zion) refers to The Nation of Israel, or “The Zionists”, in the same manner that the term “B’ney Israel” (Children of Israel) means “Israelite” and the term “Yehudi” (a member of the tribe of Yehudah/Judea living in The Kingdom of Judea) is translated as “Jew”. That, in spite of the fact that the common translated use of “Jew” refers to all the descendants of the tribes of Israel – and not just to the Judean ones. *
Zionism’s many expressions are revealed in The Torah, The Tanakh, The Rabbinic Literature (The Oral Torah, The Talmud, etc.), The Prayers, The Rabbinic Poetry (aka Piyyut), in Jewish fine literature, in Jewish philosophy, etc.
* At this stage it is important to note that though the terms and the Tanakhic sources in this summary are in English, the ONLY accurate language for the discussed issue can be Hebrew – despite efforts to clarify mistranslations.
Therefore, for similar essential reasons, correct definitions and conceptualizations can only be discussed by those who have practical knowledge of all aspects of Tanakhic studies and its interpretations and exegesis throughout the generations, as well as the history of Jews and Judaism.
The foundation, the basis and the essence of Zionism is the inseparable bond between The Eternal Promised Nation of Israel (the People through its forefathers) and The Eternal Promised Land of Israel that was established by God. It is a unique and unparalleled case in the history of all nations. No other nation has a written deed, nor a documented Godly promise, for its blessed and sacred ownership of its land. Other nations regard their lands as their historical earthly property - while The People of Israel has a 4000 years old deep spiritual connection to their Sacred Land, and a binding deed sanctified by God Himself.
“Now the LORD said unto Abram: 'Go you from thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.” (Genesis 12, 1-2)
That’s how Zionism started: in a MOVE-ment established by God’s directive.
Later God makes a promise to Abraham:
“And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the terebinth of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said: 'Unto thy seed will I give this land'; and he builded there an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.” (Genesis 12, 6-7)
The ultimate of God’s many promises to Abraham comes in The Covenant, which is since renewed by EACH individual of The Nation of Israel:
“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him: 'I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou wholehearted. And I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.' And Abram fell on his face; and God talked with him, saying: 'As for Me, behold, My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.' And God said unto Abraham: 'And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any foreigner, that is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.'“ (Genesis 17, 1-14)
This Covenant is called in Hebrew “Brit Milah” – A Covenant by Word. This is contrary to the common mistranslation of “circumcision” - which only describes the physical procedure and fails to stress its sacred and its binding constitutional aspects.
It is easy to understand from The Covenant why the Brit Milah is crucial for Jewish Life throughout the generations, why it is valid only for The People of Israel who renew The Covenant properly, and also why The People of Israel can never be defined as an ethnic race.
God repeats His oath to Isaac, son of Abraham (but not to his brother Ishmael):
“Dwell in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore unto Abraham thy father; and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these lands; and by thy seed shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves; because that Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.'” (Genesis 26, 3-5)
Later God repeats his oath to Jacob (Israel), son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham (but not to his brother Esau):
“And God said unto him: 'Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name'; and He called his name Israel. And God said unto him: 'I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; and the land which I gave unto Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.'” (Genesis 35, 10-12)
Most of the Laws of The Torah are strictly connected to The Land of Israel. This fact created the inseparable triple pillar of Judaism: The Nation of Israel -The Land of Israel-The Torah of Israel.
None can exist without the other; one is dependent on the other.
The sanctity of The Land of Israel was determined by God even before The Nation of Israel returned to its Land [2]. During the Exodus from Egypt, The Nation of Israel was given The Torah and its Commandments – after the CONSTITUTIVE EVENT on Mount Sinai. It is where and when God renewed His Covenant with the ENTIRE Nation of Israel, for future generations too [3] and for ETERNITY [4], unconditionally [5].
The sanctity of The Land is also stressed for The Temple in Jerusalem, the holiest site for The Nation of Israel ever:
“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25, 8)
“Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and rear an altar unto the LORD in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (Chronicles A 21, 18)
“Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where [the LORD] appeared unto David his father; for which provision had been made in the Place of David, in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite. (Chronicles B 3, 1)
Other Laws of The Torah which are connected to The Land of Israel only, other than The Laws concerning The Temple, are: Laws concerning the crop of The Land (Sh’mita, e.g.), Laws concerning purity (quarantine of leprous, burial laws, e.g.), Laws concerning law and order (cities of refuge, e.g.), Laws concerning civil and military government, and many more.
The sacred connection between The Nation of Israel and The Land of Israel and Jerusalem (both known as Zion) doesn’t cease when most the Nation is in exile, during which Laws of The Torah that apply only to The Land of Israel were observed – in order not to be forgotten. Furthermore, during the exile of most of The Nation from its Land, prayers, lamentations and poetry were composed as an expression for the burning desire to return to Zion. Indoors, walls facing in the direction of Jerusalem functioned as a figurative memory of that yearning.
Zion and Jerusalem are mentioned 120 times in routine prayers: “And You shall bring us to Zion with joy, and to Jerusalem, House of Your Temple – with eternal gladness” – is just one example of many. Many know the lamentation of The Exiles in Babylon:
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged up our harps. For there they that led us captive asked of us words of song, and our tormentors asked of us mirth: 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.' How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a foreign land? If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy. (Psalm 137, 1-6)
Less known to non-Hebrew speakers is the poem of the 11th-12th century Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi, who lived in Spain:
My heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of the West;
How can I taste what I eat and how could it be pleasing to me?!
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet
Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I am in the chains of Arabia?
It would be easy for me to leave all the goodness of Spain, as
It is precious for me to behold the dust of a desolated Holy of Holies.”
Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi left Spain for The Land of Israel when he was 75 years old.
Every Israeli child knows the Israeli anthem, “Hatikvah” (The Hope), by heart. “Hatikvah” was composed in exile by Naftali Herz Imber (1878), a non-observant Jew, who was inspired by the prophet Ezekiel’s “Vision of the Dry Bones”:
“Then He said unto me: 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” (Ezekiel 37, 11)
The Anthem still expresses the eternal yearning for a complete meaningful life of The Nation on its Land, Zion:
“As long as in the heart within – The Jewish Soul yearns
And toward the Eastern edges, onward, - An eye gazes toward Zion
Our Hope is not yet lost – The Hope that is two-thousands years old
To be a free Nation in our Land – The Land of Zion and Jerusalem”
Throughout the exile, when Jewish life in the Diaspora continued to develop, Jewish presence and life in The Land of Israel never ceased to exist. It continued persistently, and grew due to various waves of Jewish immigration. Throughout the centuries those immigrations were strictly an outcome of Jewish faith and devotion aimed at fulfilling the command [6] to dwell in The Land of Israel: Zionism in practice.
As described above, Zionism is inseparable from Judaism. Until the late 19th century the Jewish immigration to The Land of Israel by individuals and small groups took place for reasons of faith: small in quantity but meaningful in quality.
The 19th century was characterized in Europe by many socio-economic changes which led to political and nationalistic changes. Those events affected the Jewish communities with the rise of anti-Semitism on the one hand, and attempts of assimilation on the other. The events in Europe seeped to its colonies and spread worldwide.
It is possible that those changes also expedited a reexamination of the Jewish Philosophy concerning the concept of Redemption, and in particular redemption from exile.
Until then, the consensus – with few exceptions – was the idea that Redemption of the return of The People to its land would occur only by God via a messiah. That idea took on a new dimension when a few Rabbis suggested that The Nation of Israel must act in order to achieve Redemption by fulfilling the Torah’s commandment to inhabit The Land of Israel:
“And ye shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein; for unto you have I given the land to possess it. (Numbers 33, 53)
Among those Rabbis we can count Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmacher, Rabbi Yehudah Alkalai and Rabbi Dr. Yehudah Bibas, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, and many others. They are all considered as the heralding founding fathers of Modern Zionism, which led to the establishment of organizations promoting the Return of The Nation to The Land of Israel (“Hovevei Zion” est. during the 1870’s, e.g.) and laid the ideological platform for the futuristic Modern Zionist Movement – led by Herzl. The list of proto-Zionists of modern times includes Moshe Hess too. In his book “Rome and Jerusalem” he approached the idea of Returning to Zion as a Jewish national aspect, and part of the general European “Spring of Nations” – a nationalistic awakening that expressed the desire for self-determination. Despite being highly influenced by Socialist ideas (and an outstanding leader of the revolutionary German Socialist Movement) – his vision of the futuristic Jewish State in The Land of Israel stressed the need for conducting the spiritual way of life in accordance with The Torah. Hess, too, insisted on the firm wholeness of The Nation of Israel-The Land of Israel-The Torah of Israel.
The modern proto-Zionists had an insufficient impact on the masses: the East-European Jewry was mostly an observant conservative society which struggled to accept the idea of Redemption without a clear sign from God (not by a messiah, i.e.), while the West-European Jewry had just started to enjoy its new emancipation, and many identified themselves more with the general formative changes which swept through Europe – rather than the continuous link to The Nation of Israel and its unique aspirations.
But that wasn’t the case in other Jewish communities worldwide, which continued to adhere to principles of Traditional Zionism. Middle Eastern communities sensed as well that the end of the exile was coming. During the 19th century entire villages in Morocco were emptied from their Jewish inhabitants who immigrated to The Land of Israel. Similar scenarios occurred among Yemenite Jewry.
Back in Europe, a few decades had passed until the geo-political conditions enabled the ascent of a movement which would eventually lead to the reestablishment of Jewish Sovereignty in The Land of Israel. It took also an extraordinary person like Herzl, who skillfully synthesized the various ideological trends into a solid movement aiming for the same goal: rebuilding the Jewish State in The Land of Israel.
Prior to establishing the modern Zionist Movement, Herzl, a jurist, journalist and writer by profession, spread his ideas through the press and through books and plays - in order to enforce the issue of the Jews on the public debate. There is no doubt that Herzl was exposed to the writings of the Rabbinical proto-Zionists and that he was greatly influenced by them. Rabbi Alkalai and Herzl’s father and grandfather were acquainted, e.g., and many of Alkalai’s book “Goral L’Adonai” (A Lot for The Lord) ideas - appeared later in Herzl’s book “The Jewish State” (“Der Judenstaat”, “L’État Juif”). Though Herzl’s vision was deeply interwoven in Judaism – it was his political path which contributed most to the success of the modern Zionism’s endeavor and to Herzl’s fame. His conviction in this path, together with Max Nordau, was just one of the many methods towards the goal - and is known as Political (national) Zionism. It stressed the need for political, diplomatic and legal activity and gaining the patronage of a European country which would advocate for a Charter for Jews’ resettlement in The Land of Israel.
By that, consciously or unconsciously, Herzl replicated the Tanakhic and the Jewish historical methods of redeeming The Nation from exile - by gaining the compatible super-powers’ approval. Out of the many examples, Moses’ appeal to Pharaoh - to release The Hebrews from bondage during the time of The Exodus from Egypt - is the most generally known.
In 1897 the “Zionist Movement” was established as the first Zionist Congress took place in Basel, Switzerland.
The other Zionist streams, which Herzl cleverly managed to unite under the common goal, were:
Practical Zionism (“Hovevey Zion” organization) – promoted immigration and re-settling prior to political activity.
Synthetic Zionism (Chaim Weitzman, Martin Buber) – united Political Zionism with Practical Zionism, to a simultaneous activity.
Religious Zionism (“Hamizrachi” movement) – had a vision of combining labor in The Land of Israel according to The Laws of The Torah; while The Torah is the core and the national aspect serves as a mantle.
Spiritual Zionism (Achad HaAm) – stressed the need for cultivation of Jewish Culture and National values prior to immigration.
Socialist Zionism (Nachman Syrkin, Dov Borochov) – desired to establish an agriculturist society based on moral equality.
Revisionist Zionism (Ze’ev Jabotinsky) – demanded a revision of the Zionist Movement activities. It emphasized the historic national heritage of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel as the constituent basis for the Zionist national idea and the reestablishment of the Jewish State. It supported Liberalism (including Economic Liberalism).
Surprisingly, all those conflicting approaches succeeded to reach their prime goal while continuing to express the unique attribute of Jewish life - in the Jewish State - based on the common denominator:
“The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people.
Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped.
Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books”
(The Declaration of The Establishment of The State of Israel, May 14 1948)
For 4,000 years, Zionism has been and still is, an integral aspect and a main pillar of Judaism.
The term “Zion” culminates within it both The Land of Israel and The Nation of Israel.
The unbreakable sacred bond between The People of Israel and The Land of Israel by God’s eternal Covenant, IS the true core, the nucleus, of Zionism. Every member of The Nation of Israel is personally committed to The Covenant when renewing it by the Brit Milah.
Moreover, this unique bond was also recognized by the rest of the world throughout the ages. For example, in the “Letter to the Jewish Nation” from 1799 Napoleon Bonaparte proclaims the Israelite “The rightful heirs of Palestine!” – based on this bond. [8]
For eighteen centuries most of The Nation of Israel was in exile. It was during that period when new expressions of prayers, poems, rituals and customs were created, in an attempt to fill with meaningful content the unnatural void created by living away from Zion.
Because of the inseparable sacred connection between The People of Israel and The Land of Israel, a miracle occurred during the 1,800 years of separation and exile – the Jewish People never ceased to exist as a Nation and never stopped yearning for the redemption by the return to Zion.
It is clear that the exile had to come to its end! As the Jewish way of life in the Diaspora was exempt from dealing with mundane tasks of national existence and sovereignty, the national-political aspects of Judaism had become dormant. On the other hand, the evolving traditions of Jewish methodical learning flourished during this period – but couldn’t advance The Nation towards national independence. Therefore, an alternative and fresh approach was needed to temporarily concentrate on other paths and venues in order to reach its goal. Only after reaching its goal, The Nation could reconnect to the historical essence of Zionism, in practice, through the restoration of its sovereignty over The Land of Israel. That temporary Jewish path, which arose in Europe, has become known as the political “Zionist Movement”.
The modern “Zionist Movement” is a sequel in The Nation of Israel’s History, drawing its raison d’être from Judaism’s essential building blocks – starting from when God established the MOVE-ment by ordering Abraham “Go you from thy land… unto the land that I will show thee”.
Defining Herzl as “The Visionary of The Jewish State”, though true, is unjust - for it lessens his more significant role: being The Redeemer of The Nation of Israel from exile. Herzl recognized and restored the National definition of the Children of Israel. He diagnosed the illness of a nation without its territory and determined it as terminal – unless cured. By that Herzl redeemed The Nation from the distorted definition of being a “religion” – a definition which was imposed on The Children of Israel by the Gentiles, either deliberately or out of ignorance (God’s Covenant with Abraham – a valid constitutional document - was to make out of him a great nation – not a great religion). Lacking a better definition – as a nation without its land is an oxymoron from Jewish perspective – the false definition was, tragically, absorbed into The Nation’s general consciousness.**
** For this reason and others, the modern “Zionist Movement” was full of contradictions. It reflected an outcome of eighteen centuries when most The Nation, along with its main spiritual centers, was uprooted from its source of Purity and Holiness, and thus enabled infiltration of foreign influences as collateral damage.
Without dismissing the enormous and important role of the modern “Zionist Movement” in paving the way towards national independence in Zion – we, The Nation of Israel, still face the challenge of restoring by refinement the fundamental definition and concept of Zionism, in order to achieve our unique self-determination in The Land of Israel, and in order to fulfill our prophetic universal role as “A Light unto The Nations” [7].
It is clear now that Political Zionism, which was used and defined by the Zionist Movement, is just one aspect of Zionism. Though this aspect naturally evolved as we regained our national sovereignty, Zionism cannot continue to be narrowly defined in our joint consciousness. The term “Political Zionism” is indicative of the fact that Zionism is much broader than that, that there is more to it, another facet of it, than just “politics”. By leaving out and forgetting the essential aspects and the roots of Zionism - we, in fact, agree to degrade a pillar of our existence to no more than a Narrative. Moreover, by this, we endanger both our identity and our universal role.
Reestablishing and restoring a complete and true definition of Zionism to national consciousness requires great endeavor - however, it is an imperative! This is especially clear nowadays in the light of the attempt of some of our Nation to propagate into national consciousness terms such as “post-Zionism”, or to redefine Israel from being The Jewish State – to a land of all its inhabitants. It becomes crucial as the study of Judaism in secular schools nowadays has been reduced to “Biblical Criticism”, while in the past, until few decades ago, The Tanakh, The Oral Torah and The Talmud were compulsory and part of the curriculum of all Israeli-Jewish schools.
Furthermore, in Israeli schools and text books, the study of Zionism is taught as only starting from Herzl and the 19th century, and in a manner that is totally detached from its rich past which is not even mentioned within the context of the concept. As a consequence, this is also the knowledge of Zionism that is predominant today within the general national consciousness.
The few references and historic details which are included in this paper are just a mere drop in an ocean of the wisdom and knowledge which has been passed down to us through 4,000 years of Jewish existence. This history and tradition has to be kept alive, taught and protected from ignorance. Our heritage needs to be incorporated within our national consciousness and to be returned to the definition of Zionism.
It is the moral imperative of each Jew to learn, earn and to safeguard our Nation’s heritage and treasures and to meaningfully celebrate the reunification of The Land of Israel with The Nation of Israel.
This can be achieved by reuniting The Nation with the appreciation and the understanding of what Zionism truly means.
[1] “Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.” (Psalms 149, 2)
[2] “And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 'Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, And thou shalt not defile the land which ye inhabit, in the midst of which I dwell; for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the children of Israel.'” (Numbers 36, 9-10, 34)
[3] “Ye are standing this day all of you before the LORD your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in the midst of thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water; that thou shouldest enter into the covenant of the LORD thy God--and into His oath--which the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day; that He may establish thee this day unto Himself for a nation, and that He may be unto thee a God, as He spoke unto thee, and as He swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; but with him that standeth here with us this day before the LORD our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day.” (Deuteronomy 29, 9-14)
[4] “Even all that the LORD hath commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day that the LORD gave commandment, and onward throughout your generations; (Numbers 15, 23)
[5] “For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall My covenant of peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath compassion on thee.” (Isaiah 54, 10)
[6] “And ye shall drive out the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein; for unto you have I given the land to possess it. (Numbers 33, 53)
[7] “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness, and have taken hold of thy hand, and kept thee, and set thee for a covenant of the people, for a light unto the nations. (Isaiah 42, 6)
[8] Letter to the Jewish Nation from the French Commander-in-Chief Buonaparte (translated from the Original, 1799)
General Headquarters, Jerusalem 1st Floreal, April 20th, 1799, in the year of 7 of the French Republic
Israelites, unique nation, whom, in thousands of years, lust of conquest and tyranny have been able to be deprived of their ancestral lands, but not of name and national existence!
Attentive and impartial observers of the destinies of nations, even though not endowed with the gifts of seers like Isaiah and Joel, have long since also felt what these, with beautiful and uplifting faith, have foretold when they saw the approaching destruction of their kingdom and fatherland: And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35, 10)
Arise then, with gladness, ye exiled! A war unexampled In the annals of history, waged in self-defense by a nation whose hereditary lands were regarded by its enemies as plunder to be divided, arbitrarily and at their convenience, by a stroke of the pen of Cabinets, avenges its own shame and the shame of the remotest nations, long forgotten under the yoke of slavery, and also, the almost two-thousand-year-old ignominy put upon you; and, while time and circumstances would seem to be least favourable to a restatement of your claims or even to their expression, and indeed to be compelling their complete abandonment, it offers to you at this very time, and contrary to all expectations, Israel’s patrimony!
The young army with which Providence has sent me hither, let by justice and accompanied by victory, has made Jerusalem my headquarters and will, within a few days, transfer them to Damascus, a proximity which is no longer terrifying to David's city.
Rightful heirs of Palestine!
The great nation which does not trade in men and countries as did those which sold your ancestors unto all people (Joel 4, 6) herewith calls on you not indeed to conquer your patrimony; nay, only to take over that which has been conquered and, with that nation¹s warranty and support, to remain master of it to maintain it against all comers.
Arise! Show that the former overwhelming might of your oppressors has but repressed the courage of the descendants of those heroes who alliance of brothers would have done honour even to Sparta and Rome (Maccabees 12, 15) but that the two thousand years of treatment as slaves have not succeeded in stifling it.
Hasten! Now is the moment, which may not return for thousands of years, to claim the restoration of civic rights among the population of the universe which had been shamefully withheld from you for thousands of years, your political existence as a nation among the nations, and the unlimited natural right to worship Jehovah in accordance with your faith, publicly and most probably forever (Joel 4, 20).
Source: “The journal of the International Napoleonic Society” Volume 1 # 2

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Roger Froikin says it best!

    I have been attacked on more than one occasion for my suggestion that people, mainly Jews, for that is what I care about, refer to  our Homeland as Yisrael. I base my argument on the origin of the name and its meaning, which to me precisely defines who we are and what we, Am Yisrael, are all about.

    The origin of the name is in Bresheet 32:28. "Your name shall no longer be Ya'akov but Yisrael for you have fought with G-d and with humans and have overcome." The name is powerful and prophetic at the same time. Yaakov means to follow in the footsteps of others. That is what Jews and Am Yisrael have done for the last 2000 years. We have let the Nations dictate to us who we are, where we should live and what we shall be.  No more. We are now in our own land ,the land of our forefathers. We are now in control of our own destiny! We lead ourselves. Not only that, we have been in constant struggle with all. But as the name Yisrael suggests, we have prevailed and will continue to prevail. Why would we want to change that name. And NO, Israel does not mean that. Israel in Hebrew , and our name is Hebrew, means G-d will sow. That is NOT what the Angel of G-d told Ya'akov.

    To all those who argue otherwise, Roger Froikin,  one of my best and most knowledgeable friends has this to say:

    "Language is an interesting thing when it comes to place names. No Spanish speaker calls Mexico the same way an English speaker does. The Italians call a city on their coast Livorno, but if you listen tyo the BBC from London, you know that they will call it Leghorn. While, the Italians will call London, Londra.

    3800 years ago, Avraham's grandson Ya'akov (Jacob) was called Yisrael for a reason, because the name meant something, and said something special ab...out his descendants and the attitudes at the core of Judaism that made it unique in the world then - and now, that Am Yisrael (the Hebrew Nation) relates to the world by "doing", by thinking, by debating, not by passively accepting or submitting. In 1948, the state of Yisrael (in Hebrew) was reborn.

    Yes, that is what it is called by those who live in it, respect it, and believe in it. So, is it Israel or Yisrael? I understand that one cannot get English speakers to call it anything other than Israel when speaking to one another. Just as I understand that Italians will call the British capital, Londra, and Germans will call their country Deutschland, no matter how many Americans call it Germany.

    So, in a smaller world, we need to understand that these differences do exist, that what we call a place, because of our linguistic histories, may not be accurate to those living there. So, as a Jew, I lived in Medinat Yisrael for years of my life, and my heritage is part of Am Yisrael. That's a fact. People might not want to hear it, but it is still a fact. Or should the the Germans be forced to call their country Germany just because others do? "

Friday, 10 March 2017

Yiddish, anyone?

It was not easy growing up speaking Yiddish in the nascent state of Yisrael. The language evoked memories of the Diaspora and its recent tragedy of the Shoah, an experience that has forever changed the Jewish people.

It was my first language, the only one I could communicate through with my grandmother who never spoke Hebrew. It was also the language that drew much mockery, contempt and disdain by many. “That is the language of the Ghetto,” some suggested. “That is the language of those who went like a lamb to the slaughter house, without any resistance,” others yet never hesitated to contribute their two cents. I was called a “vusvus.” (what, what in Yiddish). I was called a “soap” since, after all, Yiddish was the language spoken by those, some of whom were targeted to become soap by the Nazi killing machine.

These condescending remarks, however, never deterred me. They had the opposite effect on me. “I am a daughter of two such ’lambs’,” I always came out in defense of Shoah victims. I saw their existence as a triumph. “It is the language of survivors,” I retorted. “in fact, Yiddish is the culture of survivors.” I was proud to speak it, to hear my grandmother’s Yiddish stories about shtetl life, to sing its songs and to laugh at its humour. “If not for Yiddish and its humour,” my late mother told me on more than one occasion, “I doubt that even those who had come out of the inferno would have. אז מעז הונגעריק זינגט מען אונד אז עס טוט ווי לאכט מען  (When you are hungry, you sing and when you hurt, you laugh) was our motto when we were in the Nazi camps,” she repeatedly told me. I adopted this motto.

Years later, when I lived in Texas, I taught a Yiddish course in one of the synagogues as part of an adult education program. I always started the lesson with a humourous anecdote about life in the shtetl. On one occasion, I had to travel out of town and asked another teacher to cover for me. “Why have you been teaching them only about the wonderful aspects of shtetl life?” she asked me upon my return. ”Why don’t you teach them about the hunger, the poverty, the anti-Semitism?” I did not need time to think of an answer. “That, they can read about in any encyclopedia,” I told her. ”The purpose of my course is to teach them how the Yiddish language and culture helped Jews overcome some of the darkest chapters in our Jewish history. This is what Yiddish is for me, this is what Yiddish was for many, a survival tool.”

Unfortunately, not many are aware that the Yiddish culture which nearly became extinct since so many of its members were brutally eradicated, was also blessed with great writers, poets, philosophers and thinkers. My daughter and I had the honour to have had a glimpse at it when we attended a two month Yiddish course at the University of Vilna, in Lithuania.

Vilna housed one of the largest Ghettos during the early years of WWII. The Ghetto library, full of Yiddish books, was one of its busiest centers. One hundred thousand books, per month, were checked out at one point of its existence. The Yiddish culture was the residents’ sustenance, their elixir and sliver of hope during those difficult years.

So yes, Yiddish it is for me. I still learn it, read it, speak it and sing it. I vowed that as long as I am alive, it will live on with me and through me. My parents taught it to me, I taught it to my daughter and I intend to teach it to my grandchildren. After all, isn’t remembering, keeping our heritage alive one of the tenets of Judaism? Is it not what Exodus 13,8 commands us where it says, “And you shall tell your son. וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔” ?