Our nation only exists in Torah.
Saadia Gaon, legendary Egyptian rabbi 10th CE
The danger is that national identity be transformed into statism and will to power.
Ariel Sharon was the classic “tough Jew” who came to prominence after the creation of the Jewish state in 1948. Zionism was a secular movement whose apotheosis came after the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of 800,000 native Palestinians. No more soft Jews who were seen to be too compliant as the Nazis raged through the shtetls of eastern Europe. No more luftmenschen, scholars and Talmudists who had their heads in the clouds (the meaning of the Yiddish phrase) and walked into the death camps. Zionism wished to decouple itself from Torah, a catastrophic move away from the ethical heart of Judaism. Many prominent Jews such as Martin Buber and the Orthodox thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz saw this as a betrayal. The moving Israeli national anthem Ha-tikva alludes to this shift “to be a free people on our land”—and free of Torah commitment.
Most Israelis came from eastern Europe and lived under the Tsars. They found it difficult to assimilate in a virulent antisemitic culture living as they did in densely compact areas, but under the new enlightenment (haskala) these forebears of Sharon et al surrendered the religious dimension of their lives. A new secular identity was born devoid of Judaism.
Many Israelis Hebraicized their names to symbolize the fact that they were new Jews. Sharon’s parents like Netanyahu’s, were Lithuanian. It is important however to stress that these were not people of Torah Judaism. A new nationalism usurped those values. The legendary Judaic prominence of compassion, introspection , deep learning and humility was sacrificed on the altar of nationalism and egotism. But then 1948 became 1967 and the Six Day War with the capture of the new territory we call the West Bank unleashed a still greater national chauvinism.
In Toronto it broke the heart of perhaps the greatest Canadian rabbi of the 20th century, Reuben Slonim. He looked out on his downtown congregation and noticed a profound change “The Six Day War (1967) had plunged them into an orgy of chauvinism from which they never recovered…messianic faith has become intermingled with fanatical nationalism…the years went on and Israel won more wars but lost every peace…” he wrote in his autobiography To Kill a Rabbi.
As secularism corroded most faiths, for Jews in Israel, the military victories overwhelmed the ancestral faith and at the heart of those wars was the racist figure of Ariel Sharon bent on Politicide-the destruction of the Palestinian people.