Ever since the invention of the steam engine a flood of scientific inventions and industrial products undermines every traditional culture on this planet. This process spreads by two means: travel and effects of new products.
All cultures respond alike to this threat – they split into three fragments:
1. A minority loyal to traditional beliefs and customs, opposing modernization
2. A majority giving up traditional beliefs and customs, while assimilating
3. A middle-way tendency trying to modernize the traditional culture
In most cases this is a slowed down assimilation
In Europe this fragmentation began among Jews in the 19th century. In the year 1800 all Jews still obeyed the 613 religious rules for the conduct of daily life but by 1900 only 20% still obeyed those rules (“Mitzvot”). To be “A Jew” meant “to live according to the Mitzvot”. This is why the Jewish Initiation ceremony is called – “Bar Mitzva”. Ceasing to live by the Mitzvot initiates a “Jewish Identity” crisis. This crisis began in Europe around 1850 and continues to this day.
Secular Zionism is one product of this crisis. Religio-Zionism is another. Those who preserve the original Jewish culture are the Orthodox Religious. They still constitute some 15% of every Jewish community. The rest tried “to become a person like all other persons” i.e. to assimilate.
Napoleon’s legal code granted Jews legal equality, but in 19th century Europe they encountered social discrimination. In 1893 one assimilationist Jewish journalist in Vienna suggested to overcome this discrimination by mass converting to Christianity of all Jews in Vienna. His name was Theodore Herzl.
In 1897 he was sent by his paper to report the Dreyfus trial in Paris. Dreyfus was a Jew who converted to Christianity to become an officer in the French Army. He was accused of spying and imprisoned in a court case that shook France as it was clear that he was framed due to his Jewish origin. Persecution of a Jew who converted to Christianity shattered Herzl’s beliefs. It forced him rethink them. He concluded that Jews are discriminated as an ethnic – rather than religious – minority, and to overcome this they must have a State where they will be the majority. To promote this view he founded a political movement aiming to create such a State He called it “Zionism” after the Biblical name of a Jewish State in the past. Herzl suggested that instead of striving to become a person like all other persons Jews strive to become a nation like all other nations. Religious Jews immediately opposed this. For them Jews are “God’s nation” chosen by Him to show the world how He wants people to live.
Religious Jews believe all history is determined by God’s will. They believe the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and exile of the Jews from Zion by the Romans in 70 A.D. is God’s punishment for sinning, and this can be overcome only when all Jews repent by living according to the 613 religious rules. They oppose the idea of assimilation – of Herzl and his followers – and reject his “Jewish” State. A State of non-believers is not Jewish and must be opposed. In 1912 they formed “Agudat Israel” (“The Jewish Association”) to fight Zionism.. Only few religious Jews joined Herzl’s Zionist movement.
The conflict between Zionists and Orthodox Jews reached a peak in 1924 when the spokesman of Orthodox Jewry; Jacob De-Haan was assassinated in Jerusalem by a decision of a Zionist group. One member of this group was Itzhak Ben-Zvi, who later became Israel’s second President. The Zionists feared De-Haan will convince the world that Zionism is a merely a trend within Judaism and does not represent all Jews. This challenged the Zionist pretension to represent all Jews.
Zionists fear Jews who challenge their claim to represent all Jews, especially when the Jewishness of such critics cannot be challenged.
In 1921 The British rulers of Palestine appointed Rabbi Abraham Kook as Chief Rabbi in Palestine. Judaism has no Pope but the British needed an address for dealing with Jewish religious matters and invented this post. Kook had a good reputation among religious Jews as a great religious scholar. He decided to bridge the gap between Zionism and Judaism.
To convince religious Jews he used the metaphor of the donkey carrying the savior. Religious Jews believe that when all Jews repent God will send a savior (the “Messiah”) on a white donkey to lead them back to Zion with its capital Jerusalem, where God’s Temple will be rebuilt. The donkey carrying the savior is oblivious of its role as a vehicle for redemption. Kook hinted that Herzl’s secular Zionists are like the savior’s donkey and religious Jews should not fear to ride it. This convinced some religious Jews to form the National-Religious Party and join Herzl’s Zionists’ efforts to create a State in Palestine. When Israel was established as an independent State in 1948 Ben-Gurion promised them that all marriage-divorce-burial procedures in Israel will be by religious law, without an option of civil law. This convinced them to join Ben-Gurion’s coalition and he gave them the Ministry of the Interior, which enabled them to enforce their laws of marriage-divorce-burial according to the “Halakha” (Jewish religious law). This is the “Status-Quo” agreement (between Orthodox Jews and Secular Zionists). It curbed the hostility of Orthodox to the secular state claiming to be the “State of the Jews”.
Israel’s military victory in 1967 was a new watershed in the relations between secular and religious Jews. After this war all Palestine, including Jerusalem, came under Israeli rule. Religious Jews saw this as God’s will, and inferred that by granting this victory to secular Zionism God indicated that redemption is at hand and religious Jews must do all they can to redeem the entire country and – eventually – rebuild the Temple. At the same time Labor Zionists who formed the backbone of Israel and of settlement in Palestine claiming this is not colonialism but a case of “A country without people to people without a country” could no longer uphold this lie as TV showed many Palestinian villages and cities.
The settlement zeal passed from Labor-Zionism to Religio- Zionism. And so did the ideological hegemony in Zionism. This was symbolized by the 1968 meeting between Rabbi Levinger and Ygal Alon. After the 1967 victory the Israeli Cabinet forbade settling in the newly occupied territories intending to bargain them for Peace with the Arab states (excluding Jerusalem which was officially annexed). Rabbi Levinger defied the government and entered Hebron in the occupied territory as a tourist but later declared he came to settle in Hebron. According to the Cabinet’s decision the army had to evacuate him, but it didn’t.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Ygal Alon, a dedicated atheist, rushed to Hebron to congratulate Levinger. This symbolized the ideological capitulation of secular Zionism to Religio-Zionism. The religio-Zionist Levinger created an accomplished fact defying the Labour government, yet the deputy Prime Minister rushes to congratulate Levinger. In the following decades, thousands of Religio-Zionist settlers set up dozens of new settlements and new towns in the territories occupied in 1967. They saw it as their religious duty. All Israeli governments encouraged them and provided them with infrastructure of roads, electrical grid, water pipelines, cheap mortgages, and constant Army protection. This was a heavy burden on the economy. A key figure in supporting the Religio-Zionist settlers was Ariel Sharon. He was the settler’s darling and their man in the government. Sharon helped them more than anyone else.
In September 2000 the Likud Party and Sharon were in the opposition and asked Labor Prime Minister Barak’s permission to visit the El-Aqsa mosque which stands where religious Jews want to build the Jewish Temple. Sharon wanted to boost his patriotic image for the coming election campaign. Barak allowed it and Sharon, with 200 Israeli policemen, appeared in El-Aqsa on a Friday, knowing this provokes Muslim worshippers. The worshippers clashed with the police who shot and killed ten. CNN and other TV channels filmed it all and viewers everywhere saw it. This produced angry demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. In Jakarta a million Muslims demonstrated against Israel. Similar demonstrations occurred in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco.
In these countries the regimes oppose any demonstration and send the police and army to curb them. This created the impression that these regimes support Israel! When these regimes realized this they told the US that if Sharon continues his policy towards the Palestinians all pro-US regimes in the Arab world will be identified with Israel and toppled. To avoid this, Saudi-Arabia proposed a plan whereby Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 borders allowing the Palestinians to set up their State and in return all Arab States sign a Peace treaty with Israel, normalize their relations with it, and guarantee its security. Saudi Arabia brought this proposal to the Arab-League (The UN of the Arab world) and the majority accepted it. Only Syria, Libya, and Iraq opposed it. The US adopted this plan as its new policy for the Middle East calling it “The Road Map” and told Sharon.
He opposes this plan but cannot oppose the US. His way to deal with what he opposes is to say he accepts it and then act to undermine it in a way that will put the blame on others. He pretends to accept the “Road Map” but acts to provoke the Palestinians so they will be responsible for its failure. By evacuating all Jewish settlements from Gaza he relieved Israel of a heavy military and financial burden, improved Israel’s – and his own – image abroad, and hopes to minimize concessions to the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Jerusalem.
In the past he used this technique to deceive Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Begin, Rabin, and the Likud party. Now he uses it to deceive Bush and Condoleezza Rice. Whether he succeeds remains to be seen. What can already be seen is the theological and ideological crisis of Religio-Zionism. The blogs in the Internet sites of Religio-Zionists (like Moriah, Kippah) are full of anguished questions and statements by Religio-Zionists. Their plight was exacerbated by declarations of Rabbis (like Rabbi Eliyahu) that “THERE WILL BE NO DISENGAGEMENT.”
-“Why did Rabbi Eliyahu say: “There will be no disengagement but great miracles”? I also heard him say: ” This is a prophecy and I am no fool”…
Why did this prophecy fail to materialize?
The Rabbi said the disengagement was not God’s will but Sharon’s will, I simply don’t understand this, if it wasn’t God’s will then who runs the world? Sharon or God? Does the Rabbi mean that God did not want it to happen only Sharon did yet in the end Sharon won??? This contradicts everything we were taught. We were taught that no one on earth moves a finger unless God wants it and everyone is God’s tool and what God does not want does not happen. Can anyone act against God’s will? If the answer is YES then God is not almighty since God wants one thing yet some mortal wants something else, and whose will is implemented? What about all we were told about Divine Intervention?
What about all we were told that God alone, and only He, runs the world?
If – as the rabbi wrote – The disengagement was not God’s will yet it happened.
Why did we pray to God? We should have prayed to Sharon to have mercy on us since he decides what will happen to us. Does this make sense to you??? –
– “Why did God choose such a devoted community, so God-fearing, so devout, and destroyed it? Were they sinners? Did they have a problem? Why didn’t He destroy Tel-Aviv? Why them? Why at all? Why didn’t He heed our prayers and requests? Now the whole world sees how Jews expel Jews. The whole world saw how we prayed and cried yet were expelled. The whole world now thinks God is no longer with us. The Christians who said Jews are no longer the chosen people will now be sure they are right. The Arabs – damn them – now think they can do to us whatever they like. WHY? Why did God let us down in front of the entire world?
I try to understand but fail. What will happen to us now? How can we recover? –
-“How can one continue to live after such a crisis? Is God testing our devotion?” –
(“Ynet” 27.8.2005 )
-“Shalom, … On the day following the evacuation one gets up in the morning, and what? How can one go on living after such a crisis? Thousands of Jews are evacuated from their homes and lands, children will suffer enormous crises, one feels that the State falls apart, I feel this is linked to the era we live in, the destruction of the Temple due to fratricidal hate. I feel terrible. I feel people in this State hate me just because of my faith and views. Is God testing our devotion? “
“It didn’t matter how hard we tried, people sold bracelets, went on demos, read Psalms, prayed at the Wailing Wall, did all they could to prevent the evacuation, and all this didn’t help. It’s unfair. I know it is wrong to ask, but why does God do this? ?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? [all marks in the original A.O.]. Why did God want us to work so hard and then he evacuates as if we did nothing? I thought about it and said maybe it is a trial, to see how we respond. But I think it is simply unfair to do bad things just in order to test peoples’ faith. I am very upset and will appreciate a reply”. –
But not everyone’s world has collapsed. The anti-Zionist Orthodox celebrated.
In “Ma’ariv” (2. 9. 2005) Avishai Ben-Haim reports that:
-“Even “Neturie-Karta” people had a mass-meeting following the disengagement. This event, at the centre of the Kasbah of “Meah-She’arim” (in Jerusalem. A.O.) celebrated the disengagement. At the “Shtibel” square, familiar with demonstrations, a few hundred “fanatics” representing the extreme anti-Zionist view, gathered on Sunday evening. They believe that creating a Jewish State before arrival of the Messiah is forbidden and so is any contact with it, even voting in elections or accepting welfare payments. The posters raised or stuck on the walls expressed great happiness on the expulsion of the settlers from “Gush Katif”. Some stated: “We saw the beginning of the destruction of the Zionist State and pray to see its final destruction.”. Others read : ” Orthodox Jews demand the liberation of the entire Holy Land from the dirty hands of the Zionists” and “Not only Katif settlements must be abolished but the entire Zionist State”.
The speakers, who spoke Yiddish (not Hebrew. A.O.) Ridiculed the Religio-Zionist belief about the “Beginning of redemption” and the orange banners worn by opponents of the disengagement from Gaza. . . . From their point of view the dismantling of the Gaza settlements was a double historical victory – over secular Zionism… and over Religio-Zionism .At the end of the meeting they marched shouting “Palestinian territory, Zionists out” and “Jews are not Zionists. Zionists are not Jews”. –
“Ma’ariv” 2.9. 2005, page 15.
“Ma’ariv” showed a photo of a poster saying “Jews are not Zionists” in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and another saying: “Zionism is the disaster of the Jewish people”.
It is true that today only a small minority of religious Jews adheres to such views but in matters of faith numbers don’t count. A belief held by a few often outlives beliefs held by many. In the 17th century a false Messiah called Shabtai Zvi had thousands of followers in Europe. Very few Rabbis dared to oppose him. By the end of that century the movement disappeared. Religio-Zionism will not disappear. Many of its adherents will find arguments to justify what happened in Gaza. But their belief will lack its earlier fervor. A shadow of doubt will hover from now on over all their beliefs. They can no longer be 100% sure of anything. The same applies to ALL Israelis: from now on they can no longer trust ANY Israeli government. If Sharon, who promised (as late as April 2003) never to evacuate the Gaza settlements broke his promise after two months, whom can they trust?
This is not the beginning of the end of Zionism but it is the end of the beginning.
There is still a long way to go before Zionist ideology falls apart, but a crack of doubt has shattered the naive trust that Zionism represents Judaism. A crack cannot be undone. It can only widen.
(thanks to Gilad for the forward.)