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Must a Jewish State Be Zionist?

Many Israeli intellectuals seem still caught up in an outdated debate about their identity caused both by their secularism and their left-wing ideology.
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What does the term “Zionism” add to a Judaism that wishes to express itself within a Jewish state? Is it anything more that Jewish Nationalism? Before Zionism was created in the nineteenth century what was the nature of Judaism‘s relationship to the land? Was it not simply the wish to live within a community of practicing Jews on its historical territory? Did that require a political movement? There was no political movement when thousands of Jews moved to Safed under the Ottomans in the sixteenth century. So why add this controversial notion of Zionism to Jewish proactive dynamism? And why not recognize secular Jews in the way, once upon a time, both Jewish commonwealths did, by including everyone, religious or not?

Zionism is a product of its limited time. Judaism has been around for thousands of years. Trying to conflate a nineteenth century nationalist ideology with a millennial religious tradition just cannot work. It’s like trying to fit a fat man into a thin man’s diving suit.

This is why many Israeli politicians now realize that if Israel is to be a Jewish state as opposed to a state for Jews, it must define itself as a Jewish state and support Jewish identity within its mission. The Palestinians should indeed also have a Palestinian state of their own which will define itself in any way it sees fit. Palestinian Israelis and Jewish Israelis, be they secular or religious, should be free to choose which state they want to live in and make whatever adjustments or compromises will be required. This is the fair solution. In theory. Sadly, we know it’s not that simple.

Given the unlikelihood of reaching an agreed solution with the Palestinians for two states, a single state looks a possibility. Under the Ottomans, a government bureaucracy ran the country, and each religion, millet, ran its own affairs. That would be the ideal solution if only the external threat was removed. But it won’t be as long as militant Islam exists and so long a militant Judaism wants to defend itself with maximal demands. Or as long as both sides have political leaders with limited imagination and no stomach for risk taking.

Therefore sadly I see no solution. There is only an unsatisfactory status quo, both externally and internally. That being so we have an obligation to make it as livable, as fair, and as ethical as we possibly can. But ask politicians to achieve that (anywhere) and you’re dreaming!!!!

About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.


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7 Responses to “Must a Jewish State Be Zionist?”

  1. David Martin says:

    totally dislike…. maybe two hundred years ago we didn't have the term "Zionism" but the desire and the inheritance of the land was EXACTLY the same… come on! you are writing to intelligent people, what a disappointment.

  2. David Martin says:

    totally dislike…. maybe two hundred years ago we didn't have the term "Zionism" but the desire and the inheritance of the land was EXACTLY the same… come on! you are writing to intelligent people, what a disappointment.

  3. David Martin says:

    totally dislike…. maybe two hundred years ago we didn't have the term "Zionism" but the desire and the inheritance of the land was EXACTLY the same… come on! you are writing to intelligent people, what a disappointment.

  4. This is one of the best articles I have read here in a long time – if a One-State Solution could be made, it would solve all of Israel's problems, including the alienation of those of us who are not Zionists. This is an intelligent and even-handed approach. It is not only a problem of secular Jews, but Jews of all types of religious practice and belief, both to the right and to the left of the Chief Rabbinate, who are alienated by the current ways.

  5. This is one of the best articles I have read here in a long time – if a One-State Solution could be made, it would solve all of Israel's problems, including the alienation of those of us who are not Zionists. This is an intelligent and even-handed approach. It is not only a problem of secular Jews, but Jews of all types of religious practice and belief, both to the right and to the left of the Chief Rabbinate, who are alienated by the current ways.

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