In my dialogue with spiritually-searching Jews during the late 1960’s and 70’s, I discovered that the majority of them had an ambivalent attitude towards the Land of Zion. Although the amazing events of the Six-Day War had awakened within them an interest in Zion, there was no message going forth from the Zionist establishment in Israel and North America that addressed their spiritual yearnings. The leaders of the State of Israel and the leaders of the secular Zionist organizations in North America failed to project after the Six-Day War a spiritual vision regarding the Land; instead, they spoke about the State of Israel as a democratic bastion of modern western culture and as a nation that was militarily strong.
Some Israeli leaders even thought that this secular vision would inspire many North American Jews to move to Israel. I recall one Israeli prime minister who urged American Jews to move to Israel and help build a “Hebrew-speaking democracy in the Middle East.” He failed to realize that if the only purpose of the Jewish state is to be another democracy in the Middle East, then this would not appeal to most American Jews who were already living in a prosperous and secure democracy. In addition, most American Jews had little connection to the Hebrew language, and they therefore were not very excited about the invitation to move to the Middle East in order to establish another democracy which would conduct its affairs in Hebrew.
In order to gain a deeper understanding as to why the vision of these Zionist leaders did not attract Jewish spiritual seekers, we shall review the following teaching of the Chofetz Chaim, a leading and beloved sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries:
The soul of Israel is the holy Torah, and the body of Israel is the Land of Israel. (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah, Parshas Bo)
Just as the soul needs the body in order to fulfill its mission in this world, so too, the Torah needs the Land of Israel in order to fulfill its mission in this world. This is why the Chofetz Chaim reminds us that many mitzvos of the Torah can only be fulfilled in the Land; however, he adds: “But the Land of Israel without the Torah is a body without a soul” (ibid).
The vision of these modern Zionist leaders was a vision of the Land of Zion without its soul. It therefore failed to appeal to Jewish spiritual seekers who needed to hear a spiritual and holistic vision of Zion which would address their deepest yearnings.
Why were these leaders unable to present such a vision? The beginning of the answer can be found in the following comments which I shared with you in my introduction to this series:
Through my study of Judaism, I discovered that the Torah – the Divine Teaching – is the “soul” of Zion, but through my study of the modern Zionist movement, I became aware that the umbrella organization of this movement, the World Zionist Organization, became dominated by secular activists who rejected this ancient spiritual vision. They sought to have “nationalism” replace the Torah as the raison d’etre of our people and our land. An example of their approach can be found in the following excerpt from the writings of Jacob Klatzkin, a leading Zionist thinker:
“In longing for our land we do not desire to create there a base for the spiritual values of Judaism. To regain our land is for us an end in itself – the attaining of a free national life.” (The Zionist Idea by Arthur Hertzberg).
Klatzkin added that Zionism is opposed to those who believe that the basis for our life is “the eternal content of Judaism” and that we are to be a “priest people, a nation of prophets.” He wrote: “Zionism is opposed to all this. Its real beginning is the Jewish State and its basic intention, consciously and unconsciously, is to deny any conception of Jewish identity based on spiritual criteria” (Ibid). The basic premise of Klatzkin was accepted by the World Zionist Organization when it passed a resolution in 1911 which stated, “Zionism has nothing to do with religion.”
How different this statement was from the prophetic proclamation, “From Zion shall go forth Torah” (Isaiah 2:3).
After I sent out the introductory letter with the above quotes, I received the following comments from Joy Krauthammer, a Jewish spiritual seeker of the 60’s generation:
“All these quotes are so disturbing to me; this is what our leaders took away from us? Torah and spiritual values... But then, this is what I am a child of, and I have been fighting for my own soul since I was a child, probably as a result of this thinking. Like you, I was in ‘exile’; I was in exile living in an upper middle class neighborhood. I could not relate to the women on the street, the mothers and their fine nails and mahjong. I could not relate to the children on the street, except for my close friend who was in Catholic school. Who was that child, Zalman, who did not fit in? I did not fit in. I had to find art, flowers, and the Hare Krishnas and swamis. I was a ‘flower child’ and ‘a child of the universe.’ The Desiderata was the only code I knew and that worn 60’s scroll still hangs on my wall wherever I live. I was in ‘exile’ and without a light at the end of the tunnel. You were in ‘exile’ and were rescued; and your parents listened. You became free to be who you are; you were able to heed the Divine call: ‘Lech Lecha – Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, from your parent’s house to the land that I will show you’ (Genesis 12:1). Baruch Hashem, I have learned to spiritually Lech Lecha.”
The World Zionist Organization wanted to bring an end to our exile from the Land of Zion; however, this organization developed an ideology which caused many Jews to experience exile from the “soul” of Zion – the Divine Teaching which serves as our heritage and raison d’etre. I felt the pain and longing of these Jews, and I therefore decided to devote my life to helping them find the spiritual and holistic vision of Zion. As part of my preparation for this task, I began to read about the history of the modern Zionist movement, and in the next letter, I will begin to share with you some insights that I gained which were helpful in my dialogue with our searching brothers and sisters.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
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