Skip to content

Categories:

Judaism vs Zionism in the Holy Land

Published in 2005 in http://www.palint.org/article.php?articleid=19.

Judaism vs Zionism in the Holy Land

Of all the collective  movements that set out to transform society in the  twentieth century Zionism alone remains, a final vestige. Both Zionists and their adversaries agree that Zionism and the State of Israel that was to emerge from it in mid-twentieth century consummated the sharpest break in Jewish history.

To speak of the Jews before the 19th century is to refer to a normative connotation: a Jew is someone whose behaviour must by definition embody a certain number of principles originating in Judaism, with Judaism functioning as the common denominator. In the words of a modern German-American rabbi:

… the Jewish people on every continent lived its own life, devoted to its Divine culture, set apart from the political history of the world around it, which had bestowed on it alternatively grudging love and boundless hatred  … There was within Judaism only one interpretation of Jewish purpose, history and future that was considered authentic. Loyalty to the Law of |God was life’s ultimate purpose for every individual. It was also basic for the ethnic existence, the national unity of Israel which survived the collapse of all Jewish political independence. … And then was the yearning for the Messiah of God who would rally a united mankind about the sanctuary of God, a fervent hope, an all consuming yearning for a still veiled future. (Schwab, 10-11)

Secularism was to bring about a radical change in Jewish identity. From a normative connotation, Jewishness became a purely descriptive one. The traditional Jew could be distinguished by what he did or should do; the new Jew by what he is, quite independent of any belief-specific expectations or aspirations.

Zionism, at the time, represented a secular nationalist movement with four principal objectives: 1) to transform the trans-national Jewish identity centred on the Torah into a national identity modelled on those of the other nations of Europe; 2) to develop a new vernacular tongue, a national idiom based on biblical and rabbinical Hebrew; 3) to transfer the Jews from their countries of origin to Palestine; and, 4) to establish political and economic control over the Holy Land. While other nations needed only to struggle for control of their countries, to become ‘masters in their own houses,’ Zionism faced a far greater challenge in attempting to achieve its first three objectives simultaneously.

Shlomo Avineri, Israeli political scientist and former director general of Israel’s Foreign Office, acknowledges that it would be “banal, conformist and apologetic” to view Zionism part of the Jewish tradition’s “close ties with the Land of Israel.” One must instead speak of a transformation of Jewish consciousness, and surely not of the logical conclusion of centuries of yearning for the Holy Land.

In its attempt to ‘normalize the Jewish people’, Zionism challenged the historical continuity expressed in the dichotomy of reward and punishment, of exile and redemption. Both Zionist intellectuals and the orthodox rabbis who oppose them agree that Zionism represents a negation of Jewish tradition. Yosef Salmon, an authority on the history of Zionism, writes:

But it was the Zionist threat that offered the gravest danger, for it sought to rob the traditional community of its very birthright, both in the Diaspora and in Eretz Israel, the object of its messianic hopes. Zionism challenged all the aspects of traditional Judaism: in its proposal of a modern, national Jewish identity; in the subordination of traditional society to new life-styles; and in its attitude to the religious concepts of Diaspora and redemption. The Zionist threat reached every Jewish community. It was unrelenting and comprehensive, and therefore it met with uncompromising opposition. (Salmon, 25)

The Zionists were not the first Jews to establish themselves in Palestine. The Jewish presence in the Land of Israel has been uninterrupted since the destruction of the Temple. The Old Yishuv, as the settlements of pious Jews are best known by history, existed in Jerusalem and in several other Palestinian towns when the first Zionist settlers arrived. The Old Yishuv had been able to survive primarily due to charitable contributions from the Diaspora. Indeed, the old stock residents of Palestine, Jews and Arabs like, hardly corresponded with the image of a “land without people” cultivated by the new socialist immigrants who claimed to represent “a people without land.” The Zionists had arrived in a land where for centuries Jews, Muslims and Christians had cohabited peacefully. But in the eyes of the ideologues of Zionism the Land was empty: the picturesque traditional communities they encountered represented for them nothing more than details of the landscape. The Zionists did not ignore the Arabs alone; they hardly noticed the pious Jews, whose Sephardic majority was integrated into Arab economic life. These were the very Sephardim that the Ottoman regime had recognized as the representative of the Jews in the Holy Land, whose chief, the Hakham Bashi, held high rank in the bureaucracy of the Sublime Porte. The equally pious Ashkenazim had organized themselves in mutual aid and charitable structures that met their needs and has to this day remained, unlike the Sephardic organizations, a main source of revenue.

The Zionists looked upon these pious Jews as vestiges of a long-lost past condemned to vanish in the whirlpool of Zionist colonization. Faithful to the tradition of European political determinism, the Zionists cast a wide net. They styled themselves the avant-garde of world Jewry: and since the return of the Jews was, from their point of view, inevitable, only they, the Zionists, could properly represent “the true interests” of the Jews, even if some of those Jews were not entirely aware of the fact.

Judaic opposition to Zionism showed that the legendary ‘Jewish solidarity’ reviled by so many anti-Semites was nowhere to be seen. These pious Jews would certainly not have responded in the same way to an invasion of Palestine by a foreign power, which, from the theological point of view, would have changed little for them. But, in full awareness of the particular responsibilities Jewish tradition, which ‘execrates’ the impious, imposes upon the Jewish inhabitants of Eretz Israel (see Chapter 3 for more details), they lashed out at the new settlers in dramatic terms: “They do not walk in the paths of the Torah and the fear of God… and their purpose is not to bring the redemption close but to delay it, God forbid.” (Salmon, 28) Thus began the conflict between Judaism and Zionism in the Holy Land, a conflict that, more than a century later, has not yet played itself out.

Most inhabitants of the Land of Israel resented the arrival of the Zionists in the late 19th century. The pious Jews of Jerusalem were, in fact, the first to react to the newcomers, whom they saw as rebels against the Torah, and thus as persons both evil and dangerous. They called for “breaking off all relations, even to the detriment of family ties, with whomever belonged to the Jewish community governed by the new Zionist institutions.” (Kriegel in Barnavi, 159) At the very beginning of the 20th century, the Meah Shearim district became the centre of resistance to the invaders, and has since then, along with New York, Montreal, Antwerp and London, formed the hard core of the movement against Zionism and, later, against the state of Israel.

While many Arabs initially gave the enthusiastic Zionist newcomers the benefit of the doubt, pious Jews of Palestine swiftly rejected the newcomers, making no attempt to understand their political aims. The secularism of the Zionists made them immediately unacceptable to Jewish circles in the Holy Land. While Arab opposition remained primarily political, the rejection of Zionism and, later, of the state of Israel by traditional Jews was deeply rooted in their Judaism, and was little influenced by political considerations. While the Arabs came to recognize the Zionists as colonialist intruders who would endanger their political and economic well being, the Haredim[1] were alarmed at the danger of the Divine punishment that the actions of those whom they viewed as miscreants threatened to bring down upon all the inhabitants of the Land of Israel.

Ever since the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, the Zionists enjoyed the support of the British authorities, which were more than prepared to accept their pretension to speak on behalf of all the Jews of Palestine. A mission in 1918 by the Zionist Commission, chaired by Haim Weizmann, marked the first attempt to establish Zionist control over Jewish life there. Repulsed by the rabbis of the Old Yishuv, Weizmann held out a carrot: funding for the yeshivas. This approach mollified certain critics; others remained intransigent, suspecting that Zionist aid would become a means of depriving the yeshivas of support in the long term.

The Haredim refused to participate in the deliberations of the Jewish National Council organized by the Zionists, the formulation of which is instructive: pious Jews could not collaborate with Council, which had issued “a solemn proclamation of the deposition of God and the Torah as sovereigns of the Jewish Nation.” (Reinharz in Zionism and Religion, 135) The reason was not political, but centred on principled opposition to the new Jewish identity promoted by the Zionist movement. Given the refusal to accept the new identity, Rabbi Joseph Haim Sonnenfeld (1848-1932), could not accept even a measure of control by a predominantly Zionist institution. He made representations to the British authorities and, at the international level, to the League of Nations, in an attempt to gain recognition as an independent community. He was successful in blocking adoption by the British authorities of legislation that would have given the Zionists full control over religious life. It also established contact with influential European circles, thanks to the efforts of Jacob De Haan (1881-1924) the effective spokesman of the anti-Zionists. De Haan enjoyed high-level contacts in the West, and was prepared to activate them in an attempt to combat the Zionists and their designs on the traditional communities of Palestine. He would also have had to convince his interlocutors in London that the pious Jews represented no danger for the local Arab population, with whose leaders De Haan was in regular contact. He underlined the absence of nationalist ambitions among the traditional Jews, a nuance that placed them in a favourable position in the increasingly distraught context of the national struggle in Palestine. It is a nuance that often eluded contemporary observers, who seemed to confound the Zionists with their most tenacious detractors because both groups called themselves Jews. Even though many of them spoke Arabic and maintained cordial relations with their Arab neighbours, the majority of rabbis, in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Palestine had mastered neither Western languages nor, worse yet, Western concepts such as the notion of the nation-state, a concept central to Zionism. Not surprisingly, the Zionists felt much more at ease with Westerners than with these rabbis clothed in their long black caftans. By the early 1920s, the necessity of finding a credible spokesman had become a matter of some urgency. De Haan filled the need brilliantly, but the atmosphere of aggressive exclusionism created by the Zionists around the pious Jews of the Old Yishuv cast a threatening shadow over his activities. The Zionists, meanwhile, took very seriously the threat posed by Jacob De Haan: he was undercutting their strategy to position themselves as the exclusive representative of the Jews in Palestine in their relations with British decision-makers. The Zionists feared that De Haan would be able to set up a rival organization made up of rabbinical leaders who would reject the nationalist ambitions of the Zionist movement and establish cooperative relations with Arab leaders. Such an eventuality struck fear into the Zionists who, in demographic terms, were still in the minority in Palestine.

On the order of the high Zionist authorities, Hagana assassinated De Haan as he was leaving a synagogue in Jerusalem in 1924. It appears to be the first terrorist act committed by the Zionists in Palestine. It struck at the critical link in the chain of communication that the Haredi communities had intended to establish with the outside world.

While most of the opponents of Zionism were Ashkenazi Jews, the Sephardim also formulated a strong critique of Zionism. The Hakham himself, Salomon Eliezer Alfandari, “sabba ha-kadosh, the Holy Grandfather”, also known as the Maharsah (c. 1826-1930) was the living embodiment of the Sephardic opposition. Another Sephardic personality, Hakham Jacob Meir (1856-1939), chief of the Sephardic communities in Palestine, articulated his attacks on Zionism in 1928, on the occasion of the departure from Jerusalem of Herbert Plumer (1857-1932), the British High-Commissioner. When the master of ceremonies presented Meir along with other representatives of the Jewish community associated with the Zionist apparatus, the rabbi protested vigorously and declared that he neither recognized nor belonged to that community. All pious Jews must separate themselves from it, he concluded. Along with Sonnenfeld, he drafted a letter to Plumer in which he condemned the Zionists and called upon the British authorities to free the pious Jews from Zionist control. (Danziger, 450) The League of Nations later issued a ruling along these lines, following representations by the Jerusalem Haredim who had remained outside of the increasingly influential Zionist infrastructure.

Their isolation (“right of exclusion” in the language of the day) came formally to an end with the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, but the anti-Zionists redoubled their efforts to obtain at least equivalent status from the United Nations, successor body to the League of Nations. In their representations, they emphasized that they had never signed the Israeli declaration of independence. The refusal to recognize the State of Israel would deprive the anti-Zionists with all their political or social rights. To remain independent of the “Zionist entity,” their designation, as well as that of the Arab countries for the state of Israel, meant accepting total exclusion.

The policy of self-segregation affected almost all fields where contact with the Zionists might occur. Following the death in 1932 of Rabbi Sonnenfeld, a smaller group split off to follow a more rigid course, particularly with regard to education. Readers will recall that Rabbi Amram Blau was to emerge as the leader of the new group, known as Neturei Karta. In 1953 Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum (1887-1979), the author of the fundamental treatise on anti-Zionism Va-Yoel Moshe, assumed the leadership of the Haredim. Thus was established a broad anti-Zionist alliance that was deeply opposed to all forms of cooperation with the State of Israel, was based on the authority of several contemporary rabbis of renown.

Other anti-Zionists showed a degree of pragmatism and authorized limited participation in political affairs. It was a conception that could be traced to the instructions of Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz (1878-1953), a major rabbinical authority better known as Hazon Ish, who permitted Jews to participate in the Israeli political system while denying its legitimacy: “If a highwayman falls upon me in a forest and threatens me with arms, and I begin a discussion with him, so that he spare my life, does that mean that I recognize his legitimacy? No; for me, he remains a highwayman.” (Ben Hayim)

Witnesses relate that when the venerated Hazon Ish received Prime Minister Ben Gurion, who was at the time attempting to integrate the Haredim in the newly founded state, the elder neither shook his hand, nor looked him in the eye. It was apparent that he was acting out of respect for the Talmudic prescription that forbids looking upon the face of an evil person.(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Meggila, 28a)

Haredim have largely avoided symbols of the state of Israel.  Thus it is forbidden to fly the Israeli in the synagogue since the state of Israel represented no Jewish value and could not be associated with a Jewish house of worship. (Feinstein, 105) Hazon Ish took an even more intransigent position, forbidding entry into a synagogue decorated with an Israeli flag even if there is no other synagogue in the vicinity. The Jew who asked the question of Hazon Ish added that it concerned the only Sabbath of the year when every Jew, man and woman, is obliged to attend services and to listen to the biblical verses mentioning Amalek. And yet, despite this obligation, Hazon Ish insisted that it was forbidden to enter such a synagogue. (Steiner, 36-37)

Many observant Jews, while not active opponents of Zionism, keep away from identification with the state of Israel. Doubts as to the future of the state remain widely spread even among those who do not belong to the traditionally anti-Zionist circles:

In 1948, there was a great religious thinker, Rabbi Teitelbaum of Satmar, who warned the Jewish leadership that based on his understanding of G-d’s Will, establishing the state of Israel would be a costly mistake in the long run. His words were overwhelmingly rejected by a Jewish community mesmerized by waving flags and marching armies and blooming deserts, but he may yet prove to have been a true prophet, in the tradition of Jeremiah and the other unpopular prophets of doom. We cannot know for sure.” (Sober, 105)

Certain opponents of Zionism have already begun to prepare for a “post-Israel” dispensation, which explains their ongoing contacts with the Palestinians. More often than not, these contacts, for example, the nomination of Rabbi Moshe Hirsch of Meah Shearim as Minister for Jewish Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, are more symbol than substance. Still, an official letter written under the letterhead of the Palestinian Authority and signed by Yasser Arafat would indicate that the work of the anti-Zionists is bearing fruit. After thanking the Haredim for demonstrating against the state of Israel and exhibiting their compassion for the sufferings of the Palestinian people during the Intifada, he concludes:

These expressions are priceless examples of the long-standing and abiding relationship between Jews and Arabs reaching back hundreds of years, and enable the entire world to see the stark contrast between the eternal and beautiful values of Judaism and those embodied in aggressive Zionism. These demonstrations and expressions are of critical importance in enabling the Palestinian people and Arabs worldwide to see this crucial difference so that everybody understands that the actions of the Israeli state do not reflect anything rooted in the traditions, beliefs and laws of Judaism. This is vital in emphasizing that there is no conflict between Jew and Arab. (Arafat)

Their overtures to the Arabs, and their continuing insistence on compromise and negotiation have won for the anti-Zionist Haredim, faithful to the tradition of political flexibility, the scorn of the Zionists who have nothing but disdain for “this tradition of the weak” and insist on the values of courage and pride. But for the critics of Zionism such values are in direct contradiction not only with traditional Jewish sensibility, but represent a veritable danger for the Jewish people as well.

They remind us that the Jews constitute a truly minuscule group when measured against the whole of humanity. It would be imprudent to seek confrontation, as do Israeli politicians and the Jewish leaders who are faithful to them today. According to the anti-Zionists, it is time to abandon the illusions of megalomania and omnipotence and rediscover the gold thread that has guided generations of Jews. This gold thread weaves its way through the entire continuum of the Jewish spiritual heritage. It can be simply summed up in the midrash Avoth of Rabbi Nathan: “Who is the greatest hero? The one who turns an enemy into a friend.”

The temporary accommodations made by the anti-Zionist and non-Zionist Jewish population with Israeli society and with the existence of the state have barely modified their theological relation to these historical phenomena. It remains to be seen whether the fracture between those who hold fast to Judaism and the devotees of Jewish nationalism may one day be mended. Or, like Christianity before it, will Zionism develop into an independent focus of identity?

Judaic criticism of Zionism reflects deep-seated theological convictions. What is at stake is the entire theological interpretation of Jewish history. Or, briefly put, the consciousness and meaning of Jewishness itself. This is why the opposition to Zionism in the name of the Torah is likely to continue as long as the Zionist enterprise endures in the Holy Land. Even if many Haredim have embraced elements of the Zionist worldview, that identification remains emotive and circumstantial: most Judaic authorities have rejected Zionism in no uncertain terms. The perseverance of anti-Zionism forces many Jews to come to terms with the contradictions between the religion they profess to believe in and the ideology that has in fact taken hold of them.

With respect to the State, Jewish tradition is lukewarm at best: God, should He wish to do so, can destroy it, or banish its inhabitants from its territory without annihilating them or bringing their history to an end. It is a commonplace that the life of the Jewish people transcends any state framework. Or, as Leibowitz puts it:

The historical Jewish people, despite all its contradictions and despite all the divisions that arose within it, never considered the state apparatus—that is, the force of organized power under which the people live—as one of the constitutive elements of its national essence. The same holds true with regard to the land. Contrary to what is claimed in our Declaration of Independence: ‘The Jewish people has created itself in the Land of Israel”, eighty-five or one hundred generations have kept, rooted in their consciousness, the memory of the fact that a people—which already existed—had invaded the land of Canaan and had made of it the land of Israel. [...] In its historical consciousness, the people existed outside all territorial attachments. It remembered—and was reminded—that it had been a stranger in the land of Egypt. [...] Later it was to become independent, not in a State, but in a desert, something without defined borders. [...] The historical image is clear: it is the people who have created the State, and not the State, nor the land, which has created the people. [...] It is thus quite clear, with respect to the Jewish people, that it was not a state apparatus, nor a framework for the wielding of power, nor a given territory, not even a language that brought it into being and kept it in existence. Its national identity is incarnated in one specific, immanent element—Judaism. (Leibowitz, 95-96)

He goes on to stress that the prophets who threatened the state with destruction would not have done so had it meant the disappearance of the people.

Reservations about the state are an integral part of Jewish tradition.

The Talmud (Babylonian Tamud, “Tractate Ketuboth”, p. 111a) relates the three oaths sworn on the eve of the dispersal of what remained of the people of Israel to the four corners of the earth: not to return en masse and in an organized fashion to the Land of Israel; not to rebel against the nations and that the nations do not subjugate Israel in excess. The oaths also underlie the debate over the Judaic acceptability of the use of force [see next chapter]. In the Talmud, the right of individuals to settle in Israel is discussed, but there is a consensus against collective settlement.

The classical commentator Moshe Nahmanides (1194-1270) touched off a furor among his colleagues, the Kabbalists of Gerona, when he settled in the Land of Israel a few years before his death. They insisted on the fullest application of the three Talmudic oaths, and thus upon the injunction against settling there. “Nahmanides,” Leibowitz argues, “is undoubtedly the only one of the masters to lend the commandment to settle in the Land of Israel and to conquer it a real significance.” (Leibowitz, 171) But his opinion on the matter had no echo in the world of rabbinical legislation. A recent edition of the Babylonian Talmud, in response to the controversy that the question continues to generate, cites numerous sources that hold that settlement in the Land of Israel does not constitute a mitzvah.[2]

There thus exists a solid consensus that the idea of a return to the Land of Israel brought about by political means does not correspond at all with the ultimate goal of salvation that lies at the heart of Jewish tradition. Leibowitz, among others, postulates that “the fundamental thesis of Zionism, according to which the Jewish people consists of a people tied to a territory, that had been driven from it and for generations has aspired to return, is a mistaken thesis [...] The singularity of the Jewish people is manifested in the length of its existence in exile over many centuries, that is to say, deprived of any territorial or political unity.” (Leibowitz, 28, 41) While keeping the Land of Israel in memory, the Jewish people had never been defined by the land.

In his commentary on Zionist religious activism, Rabbi Moshe Sober, a product of the Zionist school system and one of the translators of the Talmud into English, lashes out at the usurpation of divine will that he has encountered in national-religious circles. There, the Judaic concept of providence is employed to justify any and all Israeli actions:

The notion that we can do whatever we please, succumb to any kind of temptation, or engage in any form of foolish self-aggrandizement without fear of penalty because we have an inside track to the Almighty is the plain opposite of religious faith. It is in fact an affront to the Divine, whose authority to determine the course of history we are usurping. The traditional penalty for this sin is to be sent to face a hostile world with no lucky breaks, no Divine assistance whatsoever, until we learn that only those who are performing G-d’s will can count on Him for assistance. Such blind faith is not really a faith in G-d at all, but rather faith in ourselves. It makes a tool out of the Almighty. It turns him into a kind of “secret weapon” whose purpose is to guarantee our success at whatever we fancy. It is an idolatrous concept that masks what is actually an irrational belief in our own invincibility. (Sober, 30-31)

Rabbi Isaac Yeruham Diskin (1839-1925), who presided over the Judaic Legal Commission established to deal with the exploitation of the Land of Israel, in 1917 virulently denounced the Zionist movement, which was then in the process of tightening its control over all the Jews of Palestine:

The eyes of all Jews behold that God has not chosen the Zionists to build upon His Land and to cultivate His inheritance. For it is incumbent neither upon us, nor upon them [the Zionists] to build the House of God. Moreover, it cannot be ‘built;’ on the contrary, they [the Zionists] are actively destroying and demolishing, wreaking great damage, and conspiring against God the better to eradicate completely the religious infrastructure. Like the accuser can never become the defendant, thus will the adversaries of Zion ever become its admirers. (Rosenberg, vol. 2, p. 368)

Exile had, tradition argues, a therapeutic, even cathartic function. A parable attributed to Rabbi Joseph Haim Sonnenfeld (1848-1932), one of the pillars of anti-Zionist resistance in Palestine, exhibits the logic that lies beneath the yearning for messianic salvation. “There was a king’s son, perfect in every quality, the only, beloved son of his father. One day, the son fell ill. The king immediately summoned the finest physicians to his son’s bedside. Could it be that this brilliant son as his father and the doctors to remove him from the hospital and take him home? Whatever their compassion, they would not allow him to leave until he was completely cured.”

“This is what has happened to us,” continues Sonnenfeld:

The people of Israel find themselves in such a situation. God has exiled us on account of our sins, and exile is as a hospital for the Jewish people. It is inconceivable that we take control of our land before we are completely cured. God keeps us and protects us, and administers to us His “medicinal” trials in perfect measurement and dosage. We are certain that when we our completely healed of our sins, God will not hesitate for a moment, and will deliver us Him self. How could we be in such haste to leave hospital in the face of mortal danger, a worldwide danger that hangs over our heads, God forbid? What we seek of deliverance is that our cure be complete; we seek not to return in ill health to the royal palace, God forefend. (Rosenberg, vol. 2, 441)

The victory of 1967 was a source of deep concern for Yeshayahu Leibowitz. He lashed out at the arrogance born of victory, and at the feeling of omnipotence that he saw as idolatry. He advocated a restitution of the conquered territories, for otherwise, added this perspicacious observer, Israel would find them a source of constant preoccupation. He expressed his opinion a few months after the Six Day War, at about the same time as Rabbi Amram Blau who, like Leibowitz, called upon Israel to return the territories without delay:

If the Zionists had even an iota of common sense [...], they would invite the Arab states to form, with them, a confederation that would embrace the Palestinians, who would thus recover their rights. Peace should be made when one is strong. Now, they [the Zionists] are strong. But they will not do so, because they are prideful, and will refuse to make the slightest concession. They prefer to place the lives of millions of Jews in danger rather than to ever see an Arab as president of such a confederation. By this spectacular, lightening war they imagine they have won. There can be do doubt that today they are at the height of their power. It is at this point that their descent will begin. It will not belong before they witness all the problems their conquests will bring. The hatred of the Arabs will deepen, and they will seek revenge. The Zionists now have hundreds of thousands of enemies within their borders. All of us who live here are now in great danger. (Ruth Blau, 234)

The Israeli operation at Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976, certainly one of Tsahal’s most spectacular—and least controversial—exploits, was nevertheless used an occasion to warn against self-importance. The Israeli military had freed the hostages taken on an Air-France flight between Tel-Aviv and Paris. Many Jews felt a sense of relief, but also of pride in the Israeli armed forces. It was reported that a few days after the operation, the spiritual leader of a major yeshiva a Bnei-Brak warned his students against any feelings of conceit or pride associated either with Entebbe or any other Israeli military action: “Even a drop of conceit is a sign of idolatry.” (Mosher)

A message counselling caution emanates from a monumental work edited by Daniel Elazar (1934-1999), a pioneer of research into the Jewish political tradition in Israel:

With the benefit of historical hindsight 2,500 years later, we know that the visionary Prophets and not the practical politicians of the day, the kings and aristocrats, were the true realists in the international arena. It was Isaiah who urged neutrality in the face of the Assyrian crisis, not Kings Ahaz and Hezekiah, and who was vindicated by the course of events. A century later, the passion of the “patriotic” party at court, and not Jeremiah’s counsel opposing rebellion against Babylonia, led to the destruction of the monarchy, the burning of the Temple, and the all-but-complete annihilation of the Jewish people. (Gordis in Elazar, 49)

These observations correspond with rabbinical opinions opposed to the use of force. It is therefore noteworthy that Elazar, founder of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a suburban Washington think-tank, had counselled several Israeli governments and remained close to nationalist circles.

To illustrate the cruelty of the Jewish national liberation movement, the critics of Zionism frequently cite the first political assassination to take place in the Land of Israel for centuries, that of Jacob Israel De Haan (see Chapter 5 for the political context of this terrorist act). De Haan of Agudath Israel, and his killing touched off a wave of indignation among the pious Jews of Jerusalem. (Marmorstein)

The order to ‘eliminate the traitor’ came from the highest echelons of the Zionist movement. The description of De Haan as a ‘traitor’ pointed once more to the influence of the Russian terrorist movements, much of whose rhetoric was adopted by the Zionists. Like the Bolsheviks, the Zionists considered all opposition to their political goals as illegitimate. Though they might tolerate tactical divergences within the movement, they could not countenance principled opposition to the Zionist project. Intolerance necessarily legitimised violence.

The Haredi leader, Rabbi Sonnenfeld, lashed out at the moral morass into which the Zionists, blinded by their political aims, had descended: See the abysmal depths to which the Zionist leadership has fallen and call out in a strong voice: ‘Stand back from this community […] (Numbers 16:21),’” (Slutzki in Danziger, 443)


[1] Haredim, the Hebrew for « strictly observant », is a common appellation of all traditional Jewish groups, usually distinguishable by their black-and-white dress code. They are often referred to as « ultra-Orthodox » by the media.

[2] Artscroll edition of the Babylonian Talmud: Talmud Bavli, Kesubos [Ketouboth], Brooklyn, NY, Mesorah Publications, 2000, p. 110b1-2, note 15


0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

You must be logged in to post a comment.