The future of Jewish values in Israel.
Jewish values are grounded on and derived from the idea of covenant (Hebrew: brit). Covenants are morally-informed pacts, based upon voluntary consent between people or parties having sufficient standing for the task at hand. A covenant provides for joint action or obligation to achieve defined ends (limited or comprehensive) under conditions of mutual respect that protect the individual integrities of the parties to it. Every covenant involves consenting, promising, and agreeing. Most are meant to be unlimited in duration, if not perpetual.
In its original biblical form, covenant embodies the idea that relationships between God and humans are based upon morally sustained pacts of mutual promise and obligation. God's covenant with Noah (Genesis 9), which came after Noah had hearkened fully to God's commands in what was, to say the least, an extremely difficult situation, is the first of many biblical examples. In its political form, covenant expresses the idea that people can freely establish communities and polities, peoples and publics, and political society itself through such morally grounded and sustained compacts (whether religious or otherwise in impetus), thereby establishing enduring partnerships. Using the language of covenant, the Bible describes relations between God and nature, humans and nature, and the various elements of the natural world.(2)
Covenants can bind any number of partners for a variety of purposes, but in essence they are political, having to do with the distribution of power and the relationships between the partners in the pursuit of common goals. Their bonds are used principally to foster the relationships to accomplish the designated tasks. A covenant is the constitutionalization of a set of relationships of a particular kind. As such, it provides the basis for the institutionalization of those relationships; but it would be wrong to confuse the order of precedence. Thus covenantal relationships and the institutions built upon them stand in great contrast to hierarchical ones in which every person has his or her place in the political or social pyramid at a higher or lower level, with the higher ruling the lower, or to a system where a natural elite gravitates to positions of power that it retains unrestrained. The covenantal basis is the true, some say the only, basis for democracy.(3)
From its biblical origins, through which it entered first Jewish, then Western, and finally world civilization, the covenant idea has been the central value concept promoting human freedom and equality. The original biblical covenants were between humans and God. The very idea that the two could be joined in covenant was quite radical and involved the limitation (in biblical terms, the self-limitation) of God by entering into covenants with humans, which, if they did not make humans the equals of God, made them equally responsible for the tasks embodied in each covenant. Much later the Reformed Protestants of Western Europe and the Puritans of England recognized the daring quality of this claim and erected upon it the ideas that became the foundations of Western democracy.(4)
Such Jewish ideas as tzimtzum (contraction), God's partial withdrawal to make space for the world including humanity, and the view dominant throughout Jewish history that humans can indeed argue with God and attempt to convince Him to change His course of action, are all grounded in this fundamental covenantalism. According to this view, God may be all powerful, but He does not rule humans hierarchically and thereby empowers humans to rule themselves. In the final analysis, this may be the ultimate Jewish value. Culturally, Jews are covenantal through and through, regardless of whether they are religious or secular. The fact that the State of Israel was built upon hierarchical European models while the people of Israel share a very different cultural tradition generates many of the dysfunctional elements in Israeli society. Individuals whose cultural expectations are covenantal have to work within a system whose institutional structures are hierarchical and thus develop devices to bypass formal procedures.(5)
Covenantal principles lead to the establishment of partnership relations based upon the fundamental equality of free people, in such a way that actions and agreements are achieved through negotiation and bargaining. Negotiation and bargaining, to be covenantal, must be conducted with hesed, that is to say, in a spirit of hasidut with the parties recognizing that they are negotiating with covenantal partners and hence must be prepared to go beyond the letter of the law (lifnim meshurat hadin).(6) Hesed, which is sometimes translated as "grace" and sometimes as "lovingkindness" is not fully translatable into English, but it is best understood as the loving fulfillment of the obligation flowing from a covenant bond. I use the term covenant-obligation as the equivalent of hesed. A person who acts with hesed is called a hasid, that is to say, one who builds a life around the rendering of hesed to his covenant partners. The whole concept of Hasidism in Jewish life, both in the biblical period and subsequently, is an outgrowth of this dynamic approach to covenantal relationships. Otherwise, the relationship becomes simply contractual with each side only interested in maximizing its own advantage. The Bible pairs brit ve-hesed over and over again as do the classic texts of Jewish tradition.
At the same time, Jews have recognized that life is not merely a set of covenants but also rests on an organic dimension and that the solidarity among kin is fundamental to human and particularly Jewish existence. To this day, the Jewish sense of kinship and solidarity is legendary.(7) Jews have made this solidarity a norm for all peoples as separate peoples and, collectively, as human solidarity. The Bible presents humanity as having two foundations: one, the common descent from Adam and Eve, and the second, their common binding through God's covenant with Noah after the Flood, which establishes the rules by which humans must live. A society organized on the basis of an appropriate combination of kinship and consent is normative for Jews.(8)
A second comprehensive Jewish value concept that serves as a central pillar for all Jews and for the Jewish state is that of re'ut (neighborliness) as in veahavta le reakha kamokha (love thy neighbor as thyself) - The Golden Rule. Re'ut, a concept that appears first in the Bible and subsequently in rabbinic literature, deals with the kind of solidarity that a territorially-based community should have. In a sense it is both an extension of and a limitation on the value concept that holds all Jews arevim ze la-ze (guarantors for one another) because of the links that bind them. While re'ut has been variously interpreted, it not only offers the possibility for solidarity among Jews but also between Jews and non-Jews when the non-Jews fit into the category of re'im (neighbors). While many rabbinic sources limited the concept to relations among Jews, the Bible leaves the matter open. Community solidarity, the logical extension of re'ut, is a particular characteristic that the Jewish settlers of Eretz Israel sought to foster in the Yishuv and in the state, and remains a hallmark of what, in Jewish eyes, makes for a good commonwealth.
A third core value concept is that of tzedakah u-mishpat (just law and judgment), the fundamental justice that is built into the world and is anchored in the fundamental law governing human relations. Tzedakah u-mishpat is the biblical-Jewish equivalent of natural law in Greek and Western thought, except that in its Jewish origins it rests on God's creation and covenants described in the Bible. As a value concept it has been a critical motivator for Jewish life, especially political and social life.
All three of these fundamental value concepts are challenged by the present situation. The Jewish sense that Jews are bnai brit-covenanted to one another - is challenged by the ideological polarization of religious and secular Jews in Israel, and the diminution among the latter of the sense that Jews are perforce bound together by the reality of their position in the world, not by Divine commandment. The idea of re'ut is under assault principally through the spread of Western-style individualism in Israeli society, with its materialistic and hedonistic elements that diminish both the sense of solidarity and the perceived demands for it. In essence, those who advocate civil society on the Israeli scene do so at the expense of those elements of re'ut that promote solidarity. Tzedakah u-mishpat are under challenge in Israel because of the demise of socialism, the modem ideology in which they were rooted. That demise itself reflects the reality that socialism, which was intended by its adherents as a modem secular way to embody the aspirations of tzedakah u-mishpat, created its own injustices and distortions. While the ideology of socialism has been abandoned and so, too, have many of its practices, nothing has yet emerged to take its place for secular Israelis, and many still have a certain nostalgia for socialism as an ideal even though they no longer desire its practices.
Of these three embattled value concepts, perhaps tzedakah u-mishpat will most quickly reassert its claims. Re'ut may be expanded to include non-Jews, particularly Arabs, in the immediate neighborhood, although it will probably do so first through lip service, then through public expressions, and only later through actual belief. Brit may also make the transition, but that will be in many respects the most difficult. Jews the world over still adhere to the sense that all Jews are bnai brit, literally children of the covenant, which means that their social order is shaped by their common covenant. Nevertheless, this idea of covenant may be supplemented by the sense of having similarly appropriate kinds of associational relations with Israel's neighbors or, for that matter, with others in the regions of which Israel is a part (the Mediterranean Basin and West Asia) or more likely, with people Israelis see as kindred wherever their geographical location. One thing that stands to contribute to the reinterpretation of the idea of brit is the kind of compactual connection that emerges among the nations and states of the world as a result of what is generally referred to as globalization.(9)
Humanistic (Universal) Jewish Values
Humanistic Jewish values are those that almost everyone would agree are valid in all times and places for all human beings. They are the values at the core of Western civilization and, indeed, are either fully or substantially derived from the Bible and Jewish sources. They are strongest in lands and among peoples strongly influenced by the Bible and its covenantal worldview, including Protestant Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as Israel. Since those are the countries and peoples that contemporary Israelis seek to emulate, those values are even likely to be reinforced by the greater involvement of Israel with the larger world. Since they are rooted in Jewish culture and represent many of the core values of Western civil society and liberal democracy, even when parts of the West retreat from them the Jews remain their most powerful partisans. This is the case in the United States. As Americans have grown wealthier, they have moved from the humanitarian liberalism of the 1930s to a new conservatism. The exceptions are the poor, those still struggling for social acceptance, and the Jews, who, despite the fact that they have both "arrived" politically and socially and have become wealthy economically, remain committed to the social values of the old liberalism. There is no reason to expect that a similar development will not occur in Israel as it achieves greater peace and prosperity over the next thirty years. It is only to be expected that there will be those who take some values more seriously than others, but there is every reason to anticipate that the dominant values in Israel will continue to be derived at the very least from these universalistic values of humanitarianism and social justice which Jews have acquired over the centuries from the Bible and Jewish tradition and which they have modified in light of their different collective and individual life experiences. Israelis will have to find ways to adapt these abstract values to the concrete and specific situations that they confront, but they very likely will make the effort to do so. Consider the recent disputes over building the bypass roads in the territories between those who want the roads to be built as rapidly as possible so the peace process can continue in the field, and those, including some of the strongest supporters of that process, who are worried about permanent damage to the environment.
Such values focus on matters of planning, encompassed by the idea of yishuv haaretz, which concerns not only the settlement and development of the land but also the protection of its environmental quality in the course of that development. Yishuv haaretz includes such concepts as bal tashkhit, the prohibition of senseless destruction of the environment, even in times of war. The laws of sanitation, the sabbatical laws, the need to reinvigorate the earth by allowing it to lie fallow periodically, also fall within this category.
Even in biblical times, all three of these dimensions were present, receiving differing emphases at different times. For example, in the years of Zionist pioneering in the resettlement of the land, the emphasis was on developing a barren and exhausted land and populating it with Jews. As a result of that effort, at one and the same time, Israel was turned green and productive, but parts also have been injured through improper development. In recent years, with the sense that the basic development of the land has been more or less completed, and population pressures have grown, the emphasis has shifted to environmental concerns. As of yet, Israel is not at the forefront in showing concern for environmental problems, since it is still in the process of transition from the old developmental philosophy to the new. Still, this transition is likely to be completed over the next thirty years, and environmental concerns are likely to become predominant, although how predominant is an open question since the needs for development will grow apace with the growth in population and the sharing of territories with the Palestinians.
Though it is unlikely that this environmentalism will develop by direct reference to Jewish sources and ideas, its Jewish basis will nonetheless be present as its subtext. As in other contemporary Jewish values (democracy, for example), it will come to us as those sources and ideas have been filtered through Western civilization, reinterpreted in contemporary form.
Bnai Noah (literally: the children of Noah) deals with the unity of humanity and the place of all humanity in covenant with God. Derived from the biblical covenant that God made with Noah (Genesis 9), it underlies the Jewish basis of both human equality and law and order in the world. The talmudic sages derived the seven Noahide laws, a Jewish equivalent of natural law, including the prohibition against theft, murder, and idolatry, the necessity to establish courts of justice, as well as not tearing flesh from living animals for food. In the traditional sources, the seven Noahide laws prohibit idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed, sexual sins, theft, and eating from a living animal, and positively require the establishment of a system for the administration of justice to enforce the prohibitions. Other prohibitions followed from these. For example, both military conquest and dishonesty in economic life are prohibited under the prohibition of theft. Positive injunctions to practice charity, to procreate, and to honor the Torah similarly are derived from the Noahide laws.(10)
The essence of the Noahide covenant is that we are all equal in our descent from Noah, and therefore must relate to one another on the basis of mutual respect. Even more than in the case of yishuv haaretz, these values have entered Western civilization and now function at its cutting edge, from whence they have been returned to Israel, where, sad to say, many Israelis are not even aware of their Jewish origin. Nevertheless, those laws have come to influence the interaction of peoples and states in the world and will continue to do so.
Tikkun Olam (the repair of the world) addresses the reform or reconstruction of the world along lines that will lead humanity toward the implementation of its ideal visions. The very idea that humans can improve the world and that history is ultimately progressive entered Western civilization from the Bible through the Jewish people and Judaism with its offshoots, Christianity and Islam. In the modern epoch, those ideas were secularized through modern revolutionary movements that placed great emphasis on the reconstruction of the world. To the extent that they left out the religious constraints on human excesses, they failed and brought more misery than progress.
Today the world seems to be tired of the kinds of ideologies that secular revolutionary movements represented. Yet among Jews with a strong culture of social consciousness, the idea of tikkun olam not only remains strong but, among North American Jews at least, has become articulated as a central value. This rearticulation of tikkun olam has yet to come to Israel in the same way, but is likely to emerge in the next generation as Israelis come to terms with their values as well as material aspirations.
What constitutes tikkun olam at any particular time is an open question, but this concept invariably embraces the values of humanitarianism and social justice, however interpreted. Earlier this century, socialism, as an assault upon radical economic and social inequalities, offered a path for many Jews. Today, many of those who advocate reform as tikkun olam are at the forefront of the movements striving to prevent the abuse of spouses, children, and animals and improve participation in society of the disabled. All of these causes have come to Israel in one form or another and are likely to be even more important on the Israeli agenda if the peace process is successfully completed and Israelis gain the time to respond to other issues that will touch their social consciences.
To date, there is no Israeli equivalent of the backlash against social democracy and the welfare state that has spread widely in the West. Some of that backlash is simply the result of increased privatism and even selfishness in the Western world, but some of it is principled and makes its case in terms of the same concerns for tikkun olam, that is to say, a belief that those concerns are best achieved through free markets and private initiatives including public but nongovernmental voluntary activity and philanthropy. Under the socialist ideology that informed so much of the old Israel, it was held that if something was worth doing publicly it should be done by government and not by private philanthropic effort, which was just the reverse of the view dominant in the United States and other Western countries that Israelis now try to emulate.
It is very likely that with the great increase in prosperity and private wealth in Israel, Israelis with means will begin to make some share of that wealth available to voluntary organizations designed to undertake humanitarian and social missions. They will thereby increase the role of the public nongovernmental sector in Israeli life in two ways: by giving it more resources, and perhaps most important, by detaching it from a dependence upon government financial support.
Darchei Shalom (ways of peace) is in certain respects the complex of value-concepts most overtly prominent among Jews, both religious and otherwise, who constantly call for peace for Israel and the world in prayer or song or other forms of expression, no doubt because Jews have suffered so greatly from its absence. Israel is now engaged in a peace process that is attempting to close the period of conflict with our immediate neighbors, while the world as a whole is engaged in a peace process that led to the end of the Cold War and now has taken a new turn, seeking to end local conflicts, especially long term ones that have engaged people beyond the boundaries of the conflict.
Israel's peace process is perhaps a classic example of the combination of ideals and self-interest that characterizes the best in humanistic Jewish values. Jews are at the forefront of almost every peace movement, individually or collectively, and those Jews seemingly among the least attuned to an overt recognition of the place of Jewish values in our society are among the most active in the struggle for Israel-Arab peace.
The peace process is likely to be dominant in Israel at least for the first haft of the coming generation and, indeed, will undoubtedly be involved in the clash of values between those who see peace as a preeminent value and those who see other Zionist and Jewish values as equally if not more important. The question before us will be to what extent will this be viewed as a clash among Jewish values and to what extent as a clash between Jewish and other values. If the conflict of values is recognized for what it is - as a conflict among Jewish values - Israel is likely to do better in preserving its Jewishness and its solidarity as a society than if this becomes a conflict between "Jewish" and "democratic" values and the "Jewish" values are seen only as the more parochial ones.
At present Zionist values are in something of a retreat or eclipse in the face of the search for peace with Israel's neighbors and prosperity for Israel's people. Neither search need be seen as contrary to Zionist values, but the experience of Zionism makes them seem to be so for some people in the short run. While some of these Zionist values have been displaced, either because the Zionist achievement has pushed them from center stage or because other considerations have obscured or confused them, there is every chance that some will survive. As we saw at the time of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, especially for secular Israelis, Zionism is the "faith of the fathers," to which people turn in times of crisis for solace and reassurance. Now there is likely to be a struggle within Israeli society between Zionist values as originally understood or as reinterpreted, and other interests or drives.
Bayit Leumi (a national home) is a complex of value-concepts at the center of the Zionist enterprise, the rebuilding of the Jewish national home in Eretz Israel. Now that the original Zionist pioneering stage has ended, Israelis must redefine what Israel means as a bayit leumi, as a bayit (home), and from a leumi (national) standpoint in an age of greater universalism, especially a spreading universal world culture at both popular and elite levels.
Medina Yehudit / Medinat Hayehudim (A Jewish State/A state of Jews) is full of conflict-producing questions. Is Israel a Jewish state or a state of Jews, i.e., just happens to have a Jewish majority? Is Israel engaged in the struggle between Judaism and democracy? In my opinion, the last misstates the question. The use of the term "democracy" in that way is a code word for trying to end Israel's existence as a Jewish state. So, too, for the left, Judaism is a code word for Jewish religious fundamentalism and a state governed by a fundamentalist understanding of halakhah (Jewish law) as interpreted by fundamentalist rabbis. Whereas humanistic Jewish values can be unifying since they bridge religious, traditional, and secular Israeli Jews the struggle over Zionist Jewish values has produced conflict between various segments of the Israeli population and is likely to continue to do so. This struggle could be disastrous for Israel, becoming a kulturkampf of major proportions, detaching Israelis from their moorings, or it can be the basis for serious new thought leading to the successful synthesis and adaptation of Jewish values for a new Israel committed to achieving the purposes of Zionism in a new generation. If the questions considered by the Israeli public continue to be phrased as they have been in the past, then the former is likely to be the case. If they are rephrased in more appropriate ways to ask "what kind of democracy?," "what kind of Judaism?," then they could begin to find a very productive synthesis.
Until now the extremists on either side of this issue have determined how the questions will be asked. What is extraordinary in the case of both is. how little attention they pay to authentic Jewish political traditions. Neither Biblical or Talmudic description of political practice or that of other classic Jewish texts nor the history of their application in Jewish communities and polities throughout Jewish history has informed the arguments of extremists on either side. Perhaps this is a result not only of ideologies but also of the conventional view of Jewish history that emphasized Jewish suffering, or emancipation, and the abandonment of Jewish communal autonomy and collective identity, except in religious matters. In addition, Zionism was founded on a myth, subsequently disproved by the great Zionist historians such as Yitzhak Baer, Ben-Zion Dinur, and Haim Hillel Ben Sasson, that when the Second Jewish Commonwealth was destroyed, the Jews disappeared as a collectivity from the pages of history - meaning political history - and that Zionism would restore the Jewish people to the world stage as a political entity as a necessary part of the Zionist revolution. Both of those worked not only to obscure but also to hide the Jewish political tradition and experience - when in fact both testified to a moderate, rather centrist record of communal autonomy and democratic decision-making, at least relative to the times, within the framework of Jewish belief and law.
This poses another problem. Present Israeli thinking about statehood is essentially the same as it was at the beginning of the Zionist enterprise a century ago when statism - the idea of the totally independent and self-sufficient state - was dominant in the world. Today, that kind of statism has faded. While states will continue to exist, and peoples that do not have a state of their own will continue to demand statehood, the kinds of states that will exist in the new world will be neither totally independent nor self-sufficient; rather they will be constituent units in a new world order that will involve substantial interdependence, economic and otherwise, with great limitations on political sovereignty for all polities. This has already happened, in practice, and is already more of a reality than has been recognized. Regional arrangements of a federal or confederal character are becoming more widespread, as the examples of the European Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States, or even the Caribbean Community suggest. Larger regional economic, defense, and rights protection arrangements such as the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), while formally still a set of treaties, actually are becoming more constitutionally binding upon their members. All of this is taking place within a world system that includes almost everyone. Paradoxically, these developments make it easier for small states and polities within these regional and world systems to define themselves in terms that are particularly designed to preserve their own separate identities and cultures, even as the mass media and the market promote globalization, which threatens to undermine local cultures. Israel will have to redefine itself within this new context so that the values intrinsic to a Jewish state are in some way maintained within this new setting.
Eretz Israel (the land of Israel) deals with the land itself, its ownership, control, and use. Quite obviously, Israel and Zionism have reached a crossroads with regard to Eretz Israel. After the turnabout in 1967 when it seemed that the 1947-49 partition of the land west of the Jordan was repealed as a result of the Six Day War, Israel now finds itself going back to a repartition. But is it? What will happen to the settlements established in the territories after 1967 and to other Israeli interests such as security and water in any repartition is a matter on the active public agenda and is the center of a serious conflict of values, perhaps the most serious in Israel's history. It is likely to continue to be so for at least the next decade and perhaps even beyond.
Even more than that, Israel's peace with Jordan and the outlines of its peace with the Palestinians suggest that simple repartition will not occur; rather, confederalization in ways not dissimilar from other parts of the world will turn out to be integral to any peaceful solution if it is to work. At the very least, strong economic interconnections and the handling of many tasks from environmental problems to promoting tourism will be overseen by joint authorities for Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan. Thus, if Israel gives up primary control, it does not necessarily mean that Israelis will not be able to maintain a strong relationship to Eretz Israel, backed up by at least secondary status throughout the historic land of the twelve tribes.
Here, the Jewish value of Eretz Israel publicly expressed actually stands in the way of its achievement, by frightening our neighbors and awakening their fears that Israelis are still pursuing expansionist goals in the very act of implementing the peace process. Still, while Israeli Jews may accept a smaller territory for Medinat Yisrael (the state of Israel), all of Eretz Yisrael will remain a matter of special concern for them. Confederal ties with their Palestinian and Jordanian neighbors may make it possible for Israelis to give expression to this value in ways other than political sovereignty for the benefit of all three entities.
On the other hand, Eretz Israel may also be understood as a value concept concerned with use of the land. In other words, viewing the land as having a special sanctity should lead to a more respectful and caring attitude toward it that requires better land use. Just as in pre-state days, this value led to a policy of land acquisition that emphasized common national ownership by the Keren Kayemet Le Yisrael (Jewish National Fund) in the name of the Jewish people, respectful land use may acquire an ecological dimension in the name of the Jewish people that would otherwise be absent were the matter to be left entirely to market forces. This could be one of the greatest contributions that Jewish values will make to the coming generations of Israelis.
Techiya Yehudit (Jewish revival) concerns the role of Israel in the revival of Jewish civilization, Jewish life, and the Jewish people from a Zionist perspective, both secular and religious. This is likely to prove one of the most divisive issues during the next generation since what constitutes the revival of Jewish civilization, Jewish life, and the Jewish people are all contested matters. To give only a few of many examples: Should the Jewish people mean only those Jews in Israel or include both Israel and the diaspora? Should the Jewish people be open to those who accidentally or unintentionally find their way into it, or should we demand higher levels of commitment for belonging? Should Jewish life be religious, or is it enough that it be the life that Jews live at any given time? Does it have special standards or requirements? Are the historic standards and requirements still valid or should new ones be developed? What constitutes Jewish civilization and how is it best maintained and fostered?
Indeed, Zionism has always been divided into two camps, those who saw the Zionist enterprise of restoring the Jewish people to their land as the first step toward normalcy, and those who saw it as a means of restoring the Jewish spirit in its most productive sense. These two camps go back to the very origins of Zionism. Herzl saw the Jews striving to be like all other nations but able to do so only if they were settled in their own land, while Ahad Ha'am and the Religious Zionists saw the rebuilding of a Jewish national home in Eretz Israel as the best, if not the only, means of reviving and reconstructing Jewish civilization under modern conditions. From the first, the two approaches lived within a certain uneasy tension that was possible because they needed to work together to achieve their shared immediate goal of re-establishing the Jewish people with their own governing authority in Eretz Israel. After the reestablishment of the state, the necessity to defend it against the neighboring Arab states and peoples made consideration of those basic differences a luxury that Israelis could not afford. While Israel was under siege, those two camps had enough in common to hold themselves together as one. Today, however, the prospect of peace has divided them in the most profound and contradictory ways, placing them in strong opposition to one another.
Nevertheless, most Israelis still combine their desire for normalcy with their desire for some degree of Jewish life. For example, in the 1993 Guttman Institute religious behavior poll, there is no recognition of the great schism between those who believe that Jews are religiously obligated and those who view their Jewish religious behavior as simply the maintenance of the customs of their fathers, which may be good for the children as well. In operational terms, most of the first group can be expected to stand firm on matters of Jewishness, while most of the second will, in the last analysis, usually go with the dominant trends in society since other matters ultimately will be more important for them. This is a historic struggle, not only within the Zionist movement, but throughout Jewish history, between Jews who seek normalcy and Jews who feel in some way obligated or bound by their Judaism. Indeed, much of the falling away of Jews in the past as well as the present probably has had to do with that struggle and the side different people chose. All of these questions are controversial today, as is the central question: Is techiya yehudit still an important Israeli goal? The next generation will be critical in providing answers or at least a framework for continuing discussion of these issues.
The Jewishness of the Jewish State
These value concepts involve the norms of Judaism that deal specifically with the Jewish people, even more specifically with the politically independent Jewish people in their land.(11)
Critical here are questions of what kind of polity a Jewish state requires. This question has been framed in two ways. Secular Jews (Hilonim) have phrased it as medinat hok mul medinat halakhah (a state based on civil rather than religious law), and religious Zionists have phrased it as halakhah u-mishpat hamelukhah (religious law and the civil law linked to it). Both of these questions are value questions that must accommodate each other's claims to a certain extent if a fruitful discussion is to take place.
Another question of concern is to what extent, and in what areas does, can, or should pluralism legitimately exist within a Jewish state. Most of these questions, when raised, become public issues, often in distorted ways, but they have to be treated as issues in the public eye and their resolution will have a public character. Having to debate these issues in the public realm offers great educational opportunities, but also presents the possibility of great distortions, especially when the media tend to concentrate on extremes that provide more interesting "copy" than do more sober assessments of the issues. Clarification of the terms of the debate on these issues will be a major task before the Israeli public over the next generation.
Edah (assembled community or congregation) is the biblical term for describing the Jewish people in its organized political form. In the Bible, the formal name of the Jewish polity was Adat Bnei Yisrael (assembled congregation of the sons of Israel), reflecting both its republican and federal character. This complex of value concepts addresses the role of the state and other public institutions in giving expression to Jewish religious and cultural matters. To what extent will the state institutions of Israel continue to give a favored position to Jewish matters and to what extent will they seek to become a neutral instrumentality? What will the state undertake and what will be undertaken by public nongovernmental bodies not part of the state apparatus? Will the Jewish national institutions such as the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, Keren Hayesod, and the World Zionist Organization acquire more of the specifically Jewish functions of an increasingly neutral state? These are issues that are likely to be at the top of the state's Jewish agenda over the next generation.
Superficially, Israel looks as if it is polarized between hilonim and haredim (ultra-religious), with the hilonim demanding separation of religion and state to the maximum extent possible and the haredim seeking the reverse. In fact, a much more nuanced situation prevails. According to the Guttman Institute survey of 1993, 20 percent of Israelis define themselves as secular (hiloni) and, of this group, three-quarters maintain some observances and only a quarter (5 percent of the overall total) claim to observe nothing. On the other hand, some 25 percent consider themselves shomrei mitzvot (observers of the commandments) in the traditional sense, two-thirds of whom are religious Zionists and a third haredim. The other 55 percent fall into the masorti (traditional) category whose beliefs and observances range from the very modest to the virtually Orthodox. Ninety-eight percent of Israel homes have mezuzot on their doors. Some three-quarters of all Israelis have a Passover Seder, and close to that percentage fast on Yom Kippur. In a 1996 survey, 70 percent indicated that they either had or were hosted in a sukkah on Sukkot. Over two-thirds state that they believe in God, and over half believe in Torah miSinai(God's granting the Torah at Sinai). On the other hand, only a quarter believe that God obliges people to follow the precepts of the Torah. When compared with other studies, it seems that the masorti group is slowly moving away from traditional practices but not changing much in the realm of belief. The hilonim tend to dominate the upper levels of the Israeli establishment, especially members of the talking classes, hence theirs are the views most frequently heard.
In the early days of the state, the moderates in both the religious and nonreligious camps jointly controlled policy-making in the area of religion and state for Israel. Since the Six Day War, however, the extremists in both camps seem to have displaced them in terms of setting the direction for policy-making. The moderates in both camps are likely to want some continuation of the public observance of Jewish tradition along with maximum possible freedom for private choice in the matter. Whether this leads to new policies will be one of the issues on the agenda over the next generation.
As far as the relationship between Judaism and democracy is concerned, the very term edah, as implicitly defined in the Bible and subsequent Jewish tradition, reflects a republican political order and, for that matter, a rather democratic republican order, albeit one within the framework of God's commandments as interpreted by the human authorities of the time. In essence, God and the people shared jurisdiction. While this understanding can be interpreted in various ways, there is no requirement that it be interpreted as the haredi extremists suggest. Indeed, there is much precedent in Jewish tradition for alternate interpretations. Working to bring together the Jewish political tradition and the opportunities of modernism offers the best opportunity for shaping the result in a manner suitable to the vast majority of Israelis.
Am Segula (literally, a treasured people) looks at the question of Israel's Jewish uniqueness and the tension between it and the desire for normalcy in Israeli society. This will be a major struggle in the coming generation and it is foremost a struggle of competing values.
Brit Arevut (the covenant of mutual responsibility) raises the issues of solidarity among Jews in Israel and between Israeli Jews and the Jews of the diaspora, including the sense of Jewish peoplehood that goes beyond Israeli citizenship. Part of the division between Israeli-ism and Jewishness focuses on two questions: What should be Israeli Jews' relations with their diaspora brethren? Is there a Jewish people that extends beyond the State of Israel? Part of the value system of those advocating normalization calls for shedding the burden of Jewish peoplehood and of a Jewish diaspora. Those who view Israel as the bastion of Jewish life and civilization see it maintaining as close a relationship with the diaspora as possible. Israel, for them, is the center of a worldwide Jewish people.
Meanwhile, for those who wish to keep Israel as a Jewish state there is an interest in reinventing Israel-diaspora links. It is clear to all that the issues that have bound Israelis and diaspora Jews until now are no longer sufficient. As Israel achieves peace with its neighbors and becomes more prosperous, and as fewer Jews need to be rescued from the diaspora and brought to Israel because of their troubles in their countries of origin, the old "philanthropic" or "relief and rescue" approach to Israel-diaspora relations will be increasingly recognized as inadequate. This sea change offers a great opportunity to rebuild these relationships on more positive and pro-active grounds. No longer is Israel a poor relation that needs sustenance, nor are there masses of Jews in the world that need to be saved physically. Instead, the Israel-diaspora relationship should be built on common interests and common interpersonal ties. These ties will come through families and friends who have members or counterparts in Israel and in the various diaspora communities. The common interests must revolve around the desire to remain Jewish and the need to work together to foster that result. The diaspora, too, is composed of these same two camps, though neither has made resettlement in Israel the touchstone of the division. Those who seek normalcy in the diaspora can simply assimilate as individuals and quietly steal away, as it were, without any ideological struggle or fanfare, while those who seek to perpetuate Jewish life and civilization at best can lean on the neutrality of the state in which they live but cannot expect positive action on its part to help them pursue their goals. Still, the new division in Jewish life will not be between Israel and the diaspora but between those Jews who seek to be "like all the nations" and those who seek to perpetuate their Jewishness.
For more than a decade Israel's educational system has placed its greatest emphasis on fostering skills that will help students earn a living and compete on the world scene. This means that emphasis on English language, mathematics, and similar instrumental skills have taken preference over the transmission of either the Israeli or Jewish heritage. This has come at a time when media influence on the values and habits of people has reached unprecedented proportions in Israel. That influence is in the direction of a universal culture, mostly pop, but also a universal elite culture. In either case, it constitutes a challenge to, if not an assault on, most elements of Israeli and Jewish culture that from the media perspective take on a particularistic appearance.
The experience of other countries has shown that a five- to ten-year interruption in the teaching of any subject matter will produce a generation that knows little or nothing of that subject matter. Israel is no exception, and a new generation has emerged that knows little about its Zionist past or its Jewish heritage. This generation also lacks any sense of the degree to which their humanistic values have roots in Jewish sources, and it has received almost no education in Zionist or other Jewish values per se. Unless this trend is reversed, we can expect that the overt role of Jewish values in shaping Israeli society will further diminish, and those values will continue to count only to the extent that they are embedded in the culture - that is to say, below the level of conscious awareness, except insofar as those who remain religious express them. And the strong tendency for the non-religious to assume that what the media bring them as the haredi response to these issues is the only religious response further undermines all Jewish values. While the cultural expression of values is not to be denigrated, without reinforcement it becomes, in the last analysis, a form of living off the spiritual capital of the past, and as that capital is used, it is necessarily diminished.
The next thirty years will be decisive in determining whether or not conscious concern with Jewish values of any kind will continue to have a place in Israeli society. For the vast majority of Israelis who are not educated in Israel's religious schools, a major discontinuity could develop with a serious impact on Israeli society. At this point in our knowledge of human behavior, one would be hard put not to recognize how important heritage is in the transmission of civilization and the maintenance of loyalties necessary for any society to survive and flourish. Hence, Israel has entered a very dangerous situation that needs to be examined and addressed immediately.(12) A serious effort must be made to identify the core Jewish values that are part and parcel of our Jewish heritage and of central concern for a Jewish state, and, after identifying them, the effort must be made to educate people in those values.
Zionism emphasized just those humanistic Jewish values as the best, indeed for some the only, way to express their Jewishness. That achievement was to be the justification for a Jewish state among those who shared the ideology of universalism which was so much a part of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century progressivism. If the descendants of those Zionist pioneers often no longer recognize the Jewish character of the values they have inherited, then so much the worse for Israel. Israel undoubtedly would be a better place if more effort were made to develop the present expressions of those values within the framework of traditional Judaism rather than from the Zionist tradition alone. This would strengthen the sense of a common heritage for the new generation which, as every other society has found out sooner or later, needs to have a sense of heritage for its own sense of identity and worth. It would also make it possible for the new generation to understand how being Jewish will not only strengthen Israel but enable the Israelis of the future to participate in the emerging world civilization with pride.
1. Max Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind, 2nd ed. (New York: Blaidsell Publishing Co., 1965). Max Kadushin, Organic Thinking: A Study in Rabbinic Thought (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1938). Here a note on methodology is in order. This essay follows from the work of Max Kadushin who authored several books exploring the thought process of the Talmudic sages and understanding of the norms emphasized in talmudic sources, especially The Rabbinic Mind and Organic Thinking. In those books he presented rabbinic thought as based upon a number of what he referred to as "value concepts"; that is to say, core ideas designed to express certain values which were not so much precisely defined as expressed through midrashic commentaries to build an edifice of ideas. To paraphrase to Kadushin's approach, rather than setting out basic definitions of those value concepts within definitional frames in the manner of Greek philosophic thought, value concepts are built like the oases of Eretz Israel and this region. They start with a central core around which are added various elements over time, with those closer to the center being the more critical to understanding the value concept. Thus value concepts and complexes of value concepts express the fundamentals of Jewish thought in the area in question and have in that way become parts of Jewish culture, able to be developed, expanded on, or redirected in every generation according to the needs of time and place. The Jewish values discussed in the following pages are value concepts of relevance both to the internal development of Israel and in Israel's relations with its region and the larger world. They will be discussed drawing upon Kadushin's methodology.
2. Daniel J. Elazar, Covenant and Polity in Biblical Israel: Biblical Foundations and Jewish Expressions, Vol. I of the Covenant Tradition in Politics (New Brunswick, NJ/London, UK: Transaction Publishers, 1995).
3. Daniel J. Elazar, Kinship and Consent: The Jewish Political Tradition and Its Contemporary Uses, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997).
4. William Johnson Everett, God's Federal Republic: Reconstructing Our Governing Symbol(New York: Paulist Press, 1988); Vincent Ostrom, The Meaning of American Federalism: Constituting a Self-Governing Society (San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies Press, 1991); Daniel J. Elazar, Covenant and Constitutionalism (New Brunswick, NJ/London, UK: Transaction Publishers, 1997); Perry Miller, The New England Mind (Boston: Beacon Press, 1939, 1953).
5. Daniel J. Elazar, Israel: Building a New Society (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).
6. Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin, 56-60; Mishneh Torah, Melakhim, 8-10, 10-12; both with commentaries. EJ, Vol. 13, 348-362.
7. It is even seen by some as a form of tribalism carried over into the contemporary world.
8. Elazar, Kinship and Consent, Introduction.
9. Paul F. Diehl, ed., The Politics of Global Governance (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1992).
10. Cf. Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 12, pp. 1189-1191.
11. Questions of people, polity, and land have in part been considered in the previous section. Here we need deal only with the question of halakhic considerations of what constitutes Eretz Israel and what authority Jews have, to determine what they will retain and what they can surrender under different circumstances.
12. The Shinhar report on the teaching of Jewish civilization in Israel's schools, issued two years ago by a commission appointed by the Minister of Education, has already suggested as much.
DANIEL J. ELAZAR, founder and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is author or editor of over 50 books and essays. His recent works include Understanding the Jewish Agency and Israel: Building a New Society. As editor of the Jerusalem Letter/Viewpoints series, he has analyzed issues as varied as the emerging role of Sephardic Jewry to the future of religious politics in Israel. Professor Elazar also holds the Senator N.M. Paterson professorship at Bar Ilan University in Israel and is Director of the Center of the Study of Federalism at Temple University in Philadelphia.
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|Author:||Elazar, Daniel J.|
|Publication:||Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1997|
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