I know I owe a post on Pesach and that will be coming along soon. In the meantime, being Yom Haatzmaut and all and having recently returned from Israel, I figure it’s time for some random thoughts on Zionism or at least some general attitudes towards it.
While most Jews I’ve met would claim to “support Israel” ideologically but as expected, this support is highly subjective and how it is conveyed is equally varied. Some support Israel financialy through donations, Israel bonds, trips, or purchasing Israeli products where possible. Others take part in ceremonies, programs, or parades demosntrating their solidarity with the Jewish state.
And of course, others actually move there.
I’ve spoken to olim about the Zionism of Americans and quite are cynical, some to the point of outright disdain. If you believe that Israel is that important to the Jewish people as a nation or as a religion, then why not move? As one person expressed to me, the real meaning of an America going to the Israeli Day Parade is like saying that Israel is a great country – for someone else.
Others have toned down the pro-aliyah rhetoric for pragmatic reasons; people don’t always respond well to sanctimonious rantings. Still there is some resentment at the pharisaical Zionistic propoganda from those who haven’t actually made aliyah.
The question I have been dealing with recently is if American Zionism inherently hypocritical. Can one honestly claim to be Zionistic without actively planning and/or preparing for aliyah or is this just another example of vicarious Judaism?
My current thinking is to distinguish between who and how Zionistic messages are being propogated. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard the hocker in shul pontificating as to what Israel ought to do to solve their security or economic crises. Or perhaps you’ve heard the Rabbis extoling the superior spirituality of God’s chosen land.
In these types of rantings, the lack of aliyah mitigates the intended message. Unless the hocker is an expert in history, political theory, or has some other expertise, then his right to an argument is likely based on a perceived connection with the State of Israel. However, were his connection to be serious, then aliyah should be in his short-term plans. Similarly, if the Rabbi truly believes in the ultimate kiddusha of Eretz Yisrael then why not move?
Where I think these discussions disintegrate is in the motivations of the participants. For example, people could be taking extreme positions to overcompensate for their own Zionistic shortcomings.1 Or like many conversations, people could just be motivated from simple ideological arrogance.2
What are the alternatives? Frankly I’m trying to figure those out myself. Humility would be a good first step, but we could use that all over. On the other hand, Israel is one of the few things about which Jews feel strongly. Perhaps muting such passion would have even more averse consequences.
I’m still working this out, but I’m open to suggestions.
1. At least Rabbis have the capacity to create their own religious justifications for not making aliyah such as they can do more and better work the Jewish people in America or elsewhere. Even so, the premise of this noble sacrifice is rooted in sheer arrogance that their work is that crucial to the Jewish people. Some Rabbis might be able to get away with this, say R. Avi Weiss perhaps, but these would be the exceptions.
2. Not to say you don’t find this among Israelis, but at lest they live there.
Setting aside for the moment my opinion of my MO collegues for the moment, B.Z. Herzl discribes a far more nuanced and interesting approach to Zionism than most Hesder guys. In short, he argues that not *all* Jews need to move to Israel, just enough to make it a viable Jewish State–in order to allow the world to see that the Jews are not a nation of wanderers, etc.
Setting aside for the moment the silliness of 19th century nationalism, he has a point. Jews don’t exist for Israel, Israel exists for Jews; it is our resource to do with as we choose. Whether it is to buy Naot sandels and buy sfarim (guilty as charged) or to live on a hilltop (within the Green Line, of course) Israel is *our* Jewish resource (you can define “us” for the moment as broadly as you like).
Needless to say then, being asked by D.Leumis if/when you are making aliya is more insuferable than being at a Mormon picnic on Pioneer Day–No I will not convert to your religion; yes, I like America just fine, thank you!
Just wondering, why did you pick R’ Weiss as your example?
“Even so, the premise of this noble sacrifice is rooted in sheer arrogance that their work is that crucial to the Jewish people. Some Rabbis might be able to get away with this, say R. Avi Weiss perhaps, but these would be the exceptions.”
Could you explain your opinion on this a little more in depth? I think this statement may be a bit more than footnote-worthy.
I mentioned R. Weiss by name for two reasons: 1. His shul is one of the most overtly Zionistic American shuls I’ve seen and 2. R. Weiss is clearly one of the most socially active Orthodox Rabbis.
My personal sense is that Rabbis who give the “I’m needed more in America” line need to actually be contributing something essential and unique such that if they didn’t do it, no one else would. Many Rabbis barely think outside their 4 amot of their community or have an overly inflated sense of self-importance. R. Weiss, based on his track record and personality, would be one of the unique exceptions such that he can honestly say he is contributing more to a greater population while he is based in America – including encouraging Aliyah.
I don’t see why there should be a paradox involved in being a Zionist but not living in Israel. There may be a gap between the person’s beliefs and his actions, but it doesn’t negate the sincerity of his beliefs. A person might not give tzedaka because he likes his money; that is distinguished from a person who is ideologically opposed to the concept of giving tzedaka.
Josh, you forgot to mention the rabbis who after a degree in Psych and a few years in Yeshiva now give sermons on how Israel should solve its political and economic problems!
Zev, your opinion is valid but it excludes you from the realmof modern Zionism.
Jessica, it is a matter of priorities – if you love money so much that you can’t part with a few bucks, how much can you really believe in the concept of Tzedaka?
I will say that many Israeli and Zionist organizations (AB Yehoshua being the exception) have toned down their rhetoric. However, this is because of the failure of the MAKE ALIYAH NOW head bashing. In essence, we want all Jews to move to Israel, so we will improve our tactics to achieve the same goal.
Rav Hershel Schachter writes that he was told by Reb Avrum Shapiro (former Ashkenazi chief Rabbi of Israel, Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz Harav), that the greatest scholars and leaders of the diaspora may be permitted, or even obligated, to remain in chutz la’aretz (in his article “yishuv Eretz Yisrael” published in The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary society vol. VIII).
I brought this down not because i support all those people staying in diaspora, but because I don’t like hearing people blame Jewish Rabbis of being touched with arrogance. If we can;t rely on our rabbis, who can we rely on? of course, there are many many “rabbis” all over the world, even in Eretz Yisrael, that all they’re built of is their arrogance, but to include all rabbis other then some… i think thats a good place to stay away from…
The Meshech Chochma on this weeks parsha explains the Pasuk from the curses: “v’af gam zot, bhiyotam b’eretz oyveihem, lo m’astim v’lo g’altim lchalotam, l’hafer b’riti itam”. Although it lookss like Hashem is taking us out, or punishing us, it is only because he doesnt want to break his convenant with us. And so, over and over again in history, we see that the big jewish comunity, wherever it is, is destroyed, the masses are killed, and a minority escapes to start over again. they reach a new place, a “land of opertunities”, and build a beis medrash, and a shul, then another yeshiva, and when the comunity grows, g-d sends the nations at us again. but that is so that he doesn’t break the covenant with the jewish people. while in diaspora, too many yeshivas, is a dangerous thing, because they distort the words of the torah and meaning of judaism. In israel it is a bracha. and therefore, it is bound to happen again and again, the goyim will attack the jews. and that can even hapen in your beloved america.
Now one thing i don’t understand, is how it is possible to be a zionist, but not moving or planning on moving to israel. I read those words said by B.Z. Herzl and weep. B.Z. Theodore Herzl. He who said “Zionism, has no conection to religion.” Israel is NOT “ours to do with ir as we choose”, and that is the greatest problem of the israeli leaders nowadys…”cochi v’otzem yadi”. No. Israel, as the whole world, belongs to “mi she’amar v’haya haolam”. The Jewish people, belong to G-d. G-d made the jewish people DIFFERENT then all other peoples, and made the holy land different then all other lands. The Holy land doesn’t exist to be some sort of “summer home”. its not a home we rent out since we own a home in another state. if i were to use the term belong: israel belongs to the jews AND the Jew belong in Israel. it’s inseparable. what point is there to being an independent state if the jewish people dont live here? we sit in the holy city of Chevron, and weep over every check we recieve from American Jewry. What point is there in building up Jewish cities if the jews arent coming to live in them??? what point is there in saying “vtechezena eineinu” threee times a day. it;s a lie. you dont want to see. if you wanted to see you can come live in israel and see every day.
The only reason people need contribute, is to feel good about tehmselves. they want to feel that they are doing something to help. let me tell you something from the depth of my heart, and the hearts of all jews in israel. we dont want you money, we want YOU!!! every last one. NOW!!!