Monday 26 May 2014

Orthodox Jews and the State of Israel, by Yirmiyahu Cohen

Pope Francis’s current visit to the State of Israel, like the visits of his predecessors, represents the diplomatic relations that exist between the Vatican and the Zionist state.

We are a large community of Orthodox Jews who do not have relations with the State of Israel and who do not support its existence. Let’s take a few minutes to understand the reasons for that.

We are living in tumultuous times.

In the twentieth century, the Jewish people suffered the great tragedy of the Holocaust, and then what seemed to be a miraculous rebirth in their original homeland, the Holy Land.

Why would Orthodox Jews be against a Jewish state? Some think it is because the State of Israel is a secular state.

But that is not a complete answer, because if someone is doing something good (such as a volunteer ambulance service or an organization to feed the poor) we support it regardless of whether the activists are religious, secular or non-Jewish.

We praise the good that people do, and at the same time we reach out to our brethren who are not religious and try to show them the beauty of Torah.

So if having a state with an army were a good thing according to all, no one would be against it just because the leaders are irreligious. We would just try to make it more religious.

The best way to understand the real reason why Orthodox Jews oppose the state is by looking at Jewish history.

The Jewish people once had a state, in the time of the First and Second Temples. That state was destroyed and we were driven into exile two thousand years ago.

The Jewish belief has always been that “because of our sins we were exiled from our land,” in the words of the Prayerbook.

The exile did not come because we were weaker than our enemies; it came because it was G-d’s plan to atone for our sins. Furthermore, it was G-d’s will that the Torah should be spread all over the world.

It was always clear to the Jews that just as their exile did not come about due to their own weakness, it could not end with their own strength, only through repentance and the coming of the messiah.

Because G-d wanted us to stay in exile, He forbade us with an oath not to gather ourselves together and take over the Holy Land, and not to fight wars against the other nations.

This oath are written in the book of the Song of Songs and explained in the Talmud.

Because of this, when the Zionist idea was proposed by Herzl about a hundred years ago, almost all the rabbis in the world were opposed.

Even the rabbis who supported colonization in the Holy Land said clearly that they did not intend to fight wars and take over the land.

Moreover, the rabbis feared that a Jewish state would arouse the anger of the Arabs, who constituted 95% of the population of the Holy Land at the time the British took over during World War One. Wars would have to be waged, resulting in thousands of Jewish casualties.

After the state was founded, prominent rabbis continued to oppose it.

For example, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979), was the most vocal opponent of Zionism at this time. He spoke for all his life on the subject of Zionism and published two scholarly books on the subject, proving that the existence of the state violated Jewish law.

Another vocal critic of Zionism was Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, who never ceased to cry over the destruction and danger brought upon the Jewish people by the State of Israel.

Today there are large groups of Jews – about half of the Orthodox world, in fact - who are opposed to the state on principle and will not wave its flag or recite prayers for it.

It is often claimed that Jews who oppose Zionism do not love the Holy Land, or do not care about the millions of Jews living there. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jews who oppose Zionism love the Holy Land so much and yearn so much for the redemption that they cannot stand to see the Holy Land turned into a mockery of the redemption by people who could not wait for G-d to fulfil His promises.

Jews who oppose Zionism love their fellow Jews in the Holy Land so much that they cannot stand to see even one life lost for the sake of a state.

Zionists, on the other hand, hear about Israeli army casualties and say, “This is the price we must pay to have a state.”

One issue in which our opposition to Zionism comes to the fore is the current effort by the Israeli government to draft the Orthodox into its army, and the Orthodox refusal to comply.

People ask: shouldn’t we do our share? The answer is that it is not only us Orthodox Jews – no Jews should serve in the Israeli army. There should not be an Israeli army or a state.

It would be like asking why Orthodox Jews do not work on Saturday – shouldn’t they do their share of the work?

The answer is, obviously, that no Jews are allowed to work on the Sabbath. It is just that the Orthodox are the only Jews who actually follow Judaism and care what the Torah has to say.

And while we cannot convince the Israelis to give up their state at the present time, we must still maintain our own adherence to the Torah, and we believe that in the end, the truth will prevail.

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