A Vision for Unity in Israel
BOOK REVIEW: Rabbi Doron Perez, The Jewish State: From Opposition to Opportunity (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House and the Mizrachi World Movement, 2023)
BY DAVID M. WEINBERG
Readers of this magazine know Rabbi Doron Perez as a master organizer and motivator who has revitalized the World Mizrachi movement. In this new book, his second, he becomes known to us also as a fine historian, creative theologian, and uplifting educator committed to Jewish unity.
With a clairvoyance that precedes the current terrifying conflict over judicial reform, Rabbi Perez makes the case that internal disputes are more threatening than external threats to Israel. He argues that there is a significant spiritual correlation between Israel’s metaphysical state and the geopolitical reality it faces.
The way forward is to build a society based on “authentic inclusive Torah values,” “finding space one for the other” and “space for the G-dliness in each other.” And then, perhaps, Israel can become “both the example and impetus for all of humanity to find space for one another.”
“When Yerushalayim has a genuine space for all, then the Beit HaMikdash can be rebuilt because there is space for Hashem’s shechinah – His presence – to be felt in Jerusalem, Israel, and indeed throughout the world.”
“Yishayahu’s vision of a Jewish state being ‘a light unto the nations’ means being a positive example of how modernity and morality, statecraft and spirituality, particularity and universality can be woven together for the sake of a better spiritual and ethical world.”
Perez presents a plethora of biblical and rabbinic sources, from the teachings of Avraham Avinu through the Vilna Gaon, Rav Kook, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, fashioning a broad cultural platform for Jewish unity. He reminds readers of their covenantal relationship with G-d and their responsibility to build a society involving real dialogue between Jews of all types.
In short, Rabbi Perez’s solution to Jewish disunity is a renewed deep dive into a spiritual paradigm drawn from Tanach and reflecting the Divine mission with which the Jewish people have been bestowed.
MOST INTERESTING to me is the first half of this book (subtitled “Opposition”), where the author offers an ideological framework for understanding two thousand years of “opposition,” meaning antisemitism and genocidal campaigns against Jews.
Essentially, he argues that the greatest spiritual endeavors of the Jewish people in every generation – such as the establishment of the State of Israel in our times – invariably are met with the greatest opposition and condemnation by her enemies. And this opposition clarifies the holiness and spirituality of the enterprise itself.
Perez delineates three archetypes of historical antisemitism, based on a teaching of the Vilna Gaon: Moabite spiritual enmity (which expresses itself in opposition to Jewish values), Edomite physical destruction (opposition to Jewish nationality or race), and Philistine political denialism (opposition to Jewish governance and sovereignty in the Land of Israel). Put differently, there is antisemitism that focuses on opposition to Judaism (Torah), to the Jewish people, and to the Jewish state, expressed at different times in history, mutating like a virus from one form of hatred to another.
Perez dwells at length on the ills of modern Palestinian nationalism, which he views as a movement infected with the antagonism of ancient Philistines about Jewish sovereignty anywhere in the Land of Israel. In fact, these are the longest chapters in the book. He demonstrates how antisemitism and anti-Zionism have morphed into one mad malady of Jewish/Zionist demonization, a “biological viral infection” which has deeply infected Palestinian national culture and indeed some Western elites.
“The unusual picture that emerges is this: Modern Palestinian nationalism has been less about self-determination and more about denying the right of others to self-determination. It has been less about their collective right to this land and more about rejecting any collective Jewish right. It has been about refusing any compromise to share sovereign control of the land in any way. It is a perplexing type of oppositional nationalism – not positively promoting oneself but negatively denying others.”
“The Vilna Gaon sees the spiritual antecedent of this oppositional, rejecting type of nationalism as reflecting the style of the ancient biblical Philistines. It goes beyond the realm of conventional politics and history. It lies in the spiritual realm, in a millennia-old spiritual and historical phenomenon known as the ancient Philistines. It is them of whom the Gaon observes that lo henichu lahem shum memshalah v’shilton, ‘They did not allow them, the Jewish people, any form of governance or sovereignty in the land.’”
“Just as the Philistines committed themselves then, so too have the Palestinians of today created a form of nationalism that from its birth until today has one single-minded purpose from a spiritual point of view, and that is to deny the Jewish people any right to self-determination and governance in this Land.”
In short, there is a spiritual and cosmic nature to Palestinian denialism that can be successfully countered only by a spiritual and cosmic uniting of Jews in a renewed covenant of purpose.
IN THE SECOND HALF of the book (subtitled “Opportunity”), the author seeks to subsume the fissures of modern Israel and to overcome Israel’s external enemies by postulating a paradigm of community and destiny based on “Davidian politics” and fundamentals of Rav Kook’s weltanschauung, specifically the interlocking building blocks of religion, nationalism, and universalism (or ethical humanism).
Each of these foundations, he explains, can lead to extremism and conflict. But in proper balance and perspective, they can complement and complete each other, and build Jewish sovereign strength.
Rabbi Perez quotes an insight of the Malbim on Tehillim 122 that peace works from the inside out. “May there be peace at your walls, and serenity within your palaces,” meaning that peace with our enemies (at our walls) can only be achieved if there is internal peace within Am Yisrael (serenity within our palaces).
The pathway to serenity in our palaces, he writes, lies in a renewed sense of covenant and agreements on mutual responsibility to one another and for the good of society as a whole. “The idea of the covenantal relationship in Judaism is so positively transformative that it is seen as an ideal that the nations of the world will wish to emulate in aiming to build a better society, as per Yishayahu 42: “I, the L-rd, have called you to display My righteousness, and I will take you by the hand and guard you, and I will make you [the Jewish people] an exemplar of a covenantal nation, a light to the nations.”
The hankering for “covenant” does not mean coercive religion, Rabbi Perez emphasizes, “because any attempt to coerce the fulfillment of mitzvot would cause great backlash, hatred, and even, G-d forbid, civil war.” Rather, covenantal understandings must be brought about by wise political, spiritual, and educational leaders, acting in “Davidian” fashion, meaning leaders who forgive others for the sake of unity, who overcome tribalism and eschew extremism, and instead advance “synthesis and moderation.”
Here, Rabbi Perez sees the central potential contribution of Religious Zionist Jews, and of the World Mizrachi movement – in a healthy balancing of religion, nationalism, and universalism; a finely-tuned package which he terms “inclusive Torah values.” He argues that this package of values is “the fundamental rubric of Jewish destiny,” and it holds the key to partnership between religious and secular Jews, and ultimately between Jews and non-Jews.
Overall, the spectrum of sources that Rabbi Perez marshals to make his case (from the rabbanim mentioned above to Greek political philosophers, historians, and Zionist leaders) is breathtaking. And his passion for Jewish unity is endearing and inspiring.
While this book is devoid of practical solutions to conflicts between religion and state, between the batei din and the secular courts, between Charedim and chilonim, between chametz laws and homosexual rights, and between annexationists and two-state solutionists – it stands as a manifesto, a cri de coeur, for newfound accord between all Jews in building and defending the first Jewish state in 2,000 years.
David M. Weinberg is a student of Rabbi Chaim Yeshayahu Hadari zt”l of Yeshivat Hakotel and Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He is a senior fellow at the Institute for Zionist Strategy and National Security (Misgav) and at Israel’s Defense and Security Forum (Habithonistim). His op-ed articles appear weekly in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, and are archived at davidmweinberg.com.