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Galilee Diary: Definitions VI

Galilee Diary: Definitions VI

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)

Rabbi Abba said in the name of Samuel: for three years the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel were in disagreement, each insisting that the halachah was according to its view.  A heavenly voice was heard, saying "Both views are the words of the living God, and the halachah is according to the School of Hillel."  But if both are the words of the living God, why did the School of Hillel merit that the halachah followed its view?  Because they were soft-spoken and humble, and taught both their view and the view of the School of Shammai - and even mentioned the opinion of the School of Shammai first.
-Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 13b

A couple of months ago I began a series of entries trying to explain the fine points of difference among the religious "streams" in Israel.  Before moving on, herewith a scorecard, to help keep track of the players (in rough order of numbers):

1.  Cultural, non-religious Zionism: The "mainstream" of Israeli culture that has dominated the education system and public life for a century.  Sees Judaism as a national culture (like Frenchness for French people, or Polishness for Poles), in which the symbols of the Jewish tradition are secular, cultural symbols, no longer necessarily connected to religious belief.  The prime exponent of this approach, Achad Ha'am, was a strong influence on Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionism in North America.

2.  Traditionalist Zionism: The approach that characterized the waves of immigration from North Africa and the Middle East; a cultural definition that keeps within it many customs and behaviors rooted in Orthodox norms: e.g., my friend who doesn't normally attend synagogue or consider himself "religious," but when visiting the states with a group on Yom Kippur walked miles (to a Reform synagogue) rather than drive on the holiday.

3.  Orthodox Zionism: The Jewish state is the "first flowering of our redemption" - its existence has religious significance and thus must be supported and respected, and characterized by a lifestyle and culture in consonance with halachah.

4.  Orthodox non-Zionism: The Jewish state is just another secular state that happens to be located in our holy land.  It is not the beginning of the redemption - it has no religious meaning.  We must live our lives here as we did and would in any Orthodox community elsewhere.

5.  Messianic Orthodox Zionism: The dawning of the redemption we have seen in the past century requires us to be proactive in bringing about the conditions for its fulfillment, e.g., the conquest of all of the biblically-defined land of Israel.

6.  Anti-religious Zionism: Judaism the religion was a temporary measure associated with exile; now that we have returned to a normal, national existence, it has become obsolete and counterproductive.

7.  Liberal religious Zionism:  The synthesis between a Judaism based on a rational understanding of human autonomy and historical development - and an enlightened modern state in Israel - can advance the cause of redemption.

8.  Orthodox anti-Zionism: God has not given us any sign that redemption is near, and thus we are forbidden to try to create a Jewish state.  This faction refuses to pay taxes or vote or receive state medical benefits etc.

9.  Universalistic anti-Zionism: Ethnic nation-states and nationalism in general are factors that generate conflict and hatred, and Judaism should have no part in them.  Hence, a Jewish state is a passé if not reactionary concept.

#1 and #2 above are sort of the general baseline, the background noise, of Israeli life.  All of the others may be found in specific movements, political parties, and/or communities.  Lots of voices - but all of them, whether we like it or not, have something of value to say.

Published: 4/20/2010

Categories: Reform Judaism, Israel
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