The Jewish State – Challenges and Opportunities
BY RABBI DORON PEREZ
Next month, Gefen Publishing House will release The Jewish State – From Opposition to Opportunity, by Rabbi Doron Perez, Executive Chairman of the Mizrachi World Movement. World Mizrachi is proud to partner with Gefen Publishing House in publishing this timely and important work. The following essay is adapted from the book’s introduction.
Jewish sovereignty is the greatest opportunity of our generation. It is also our greatest challenge.
The collective return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel after two thousand years of wandering and statelessness is one of the most remarkable human and Jewish stories in all of history.
It is almost beyond belief that so soon after the horrific ovens of Auschwitz and the wholesale decimation of European Jewry the Jewish people would somehow rise like a phoenix from the ashes and establish an independent state for the first time in two thousand years. Withstanding three full-scale wars aimed at its destruction in its first twenty five years, Israel transformed adversity to blessings of biblical proportions – gathering in millions of immigrants from every corner of the globe, reviving an ancient language and revitalizing a desolate land. In seventy five short years Israel has become a leading first world country – a regional economic and military superpower and one of the leading global hubs of high-tech innovation, research and development. Many of the great yeshivot and learning centers destroyed in Europe have been rebuilt in Israel with more Torah study today than arguably any other time in history. Growing more than tenfold from a population of six hundred and fifty thousand Jews in 1948 to a Jewish population of over seven million and a general population approaching ten million, Israel is an ongoing miracle and the fulfillment of scores of biblical prophecies which envisioned the return of the exiles and the revival of the barren Land.
This marvel has been met with violent and vitriolic opposition – not only major regional wars aimed at Israel’s destruction but the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation, consistent terror attacks from within and an incessant global delegitimization campaign against the very right of a Jewish state to exist.
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of blessed memory, the great rabbinic leader of American Jewry in the 20th century, highlighted this point in his masterful lectures on the spiritual meaning of Zionism and Jewish statehood. He taught that the greatest spiritual endeavors of the Jewish people in every generation – such as the establishment of the State of Israel – are invariably met with the greatest opposition and condemnation by her enemies. It is this very opposition which highlights the holiness and spirituality of the enterprise itself.
The 75th anniversary of Israel is a historic milestone and therefore a significant moment to reflect on the meaning of the endeavor of Jewish statehood. Understanding the centrality of sovereignty in the Jewish mission is critical to understanding Israel and the transformative contribution it can make to Jewish and human history.
This book aims to address both a metaphysical understanding of the great opportunities Israel provides as well as the spiritual meaning of the unparalleled opposition it faces – and indeed the connection between this opposition and opportunity.
As such, the following penetrating questions will be addressed in this book:
- Why has the Jewish state not solved the problem of antisemitism, as Herzl believed it would, but become the cause of a new and no less virulent type of antisemitism – anti-Zionism? How is it that the very Jewish state that Herzl believed would solve antisemitism is today the source of it?
- Why did antisemitism change from opposition to Judaism and the Jewish people to opposition to the Jewish state? How can it be that in living memory of the Holocaust it is as dangerous for a Zionist Jew today to walk the streets of Damascus, Ramallah or Baghdad as it was for a European Jew in Berlin, Warsaw or Vienna in 1940?
- Why have the Arab world and the Palestinians consistently turned down every offer of a two-state solution for over 80 years? Why will they not accept a Jewish state and an Arab state, side by side in Eretz Yisrael?
- Why have all conventional paradigms of diplomacy and peacemaking dismally failed thus far in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Why did one of the world’s greatest peacemakers, Professor Padraig O’Malley – who played a significant role for over twenty five years in achieving peace in war-torn Northern Ireland and then spent twenty years aiding apartheid South Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy in 1993 – give up his attempts for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after five years, coining the phrase “The Two State Delusion”? Is it possible that the solution to the sustainability of a Jewish state lies not in the realm of geopolitics but in metaphysics – that the ultimate solution is a spiritual one and not only a political one?
- Why is the world disproportionately obsessed with the Jewish people – termed by a leading historian of antisemitism as a “lethal obsession”? Why is the Jewish state judged by a double standard and a higher moral expectation than every other nation?
- What can the Tanach teach us about addressing the vehement opposition to Jewish statehood and the deep divisions and ideological diversity within Israeli society today?
- Is there a recipe for unity in Israel today that will allow the different ideological camps within Israeli society to move from continuous conflict and confrontation to harmoniously living together?
- Is it truly possible to separate religion and state in Israel and how is this issue unique to the unity of a Jewish state?
- What is the connection between the unity of the Jewish people and Yishayahu’s prophetic call to be “a light unto the nations”?
- How can Israel’s greatest political leader, King David, guide us to a sustainable solution?
Jewish sovereignty has invoked both fierce antagonism and enormous opportunities for the future of Jewish destiny. What is required are new paradigms for thinking about the Jewish state – both its challenges and potential solutions. Issues relating to collective Jewish destiny ought to be viewed through a spiritual paradigm, reflecting the Divine mission that the Jewish people have always believed has been bestowed upon them. The Tanach, the book of books reflecting the Jewish people’s great contribution to humanity, has much to contribute to the pressing issues of our time.
It is impossible to fathom the unique phenomenon of Jewish destiny without reflecting on our ancient and sacred texts and the interpretations of our great sages to assist us in better framing and understanding the issues of the hour. Modern Jewish sovereignty may be an innovation of the 20th century, but this is not the first time we have been a sovereign nation, and not the first time we have faced violent opposition to our sovereignty.
Weaving together ideas from great thinkers and leaders, this book will grapple with these big questions: A phenomenal idea of the Gaon of Vilna on the categories of antisemitism and their biblical antecedents; Professor Robert Wistrich’s historical research which bears this out; Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Zionism’s greatest rabbinic leader, on the meaning of a Jewish state and his remarkable thesis of how to unite it; and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, arguably the greatest rabbinic thinker and moral leader of this generation, on the modern mutation of antisemitism and the meaning of Jewish destiny. Infused with a spirit of Religious Zionism, this book presents a new-old contemporary vision of Jewish statehood and a paradigm for its internal unity. The biblical figures of Avraham and David are the founding pillars of Jewish nationhood and sovereign leadership respectively, and they serve to anchor some of the central ideas presented, particularly Rav Kook’s unique recipe for Jewish unity. The book will engage in Yishayahu’s vision of a Jewish state being ‘a light unto the nations’ – 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.
Rabbi Doron Perez is the Executive Chairman of World Mizrachi.