A Rosh Hashanah Reflection on Zionism
Some time in the 16th or 17th centuries a legend developed about one of the greatest Rabbis in Jewish history, the Maharal of Prague, Judah Loew ben Bezalel (Hebrew: יהודה ליווא בן בצלאל; between 1512 and 1526–17 September 1609). The tale, which is well known, tells of how the Jewish ghetto in Prague was besieged by anti-semitic hoodlums. The bookish, scholarly Jews had no defenders, so the Maharal summoned his knowledge of Kabbalah (Jewish esoteric mysticism and magic) to help. Making a humanoid out of clay, in a bold act of imitatio dei he brought it to life as God had brought the earth to life in the garden of Eden, sealing the creature’s forehead with a name of God, Emet (Truth).
The golem was a creature of brute force who beat the back the hostile gentiles, but eventually, like Frankenstein, began to go amok. The violence of the golem proved hard to control, and finally he began to threaten all and sundry, both Jews and non-Jews alike. The Maharal took him to the attic of the synagogue and erased the first letter on his forehead, leaving the word Met (death). The golem slept once more, and is still there to this day.
Or is he?
The meaning of the tale seems clear. It is both a fantasy of self-defense and a moral warning: it would be nice to have a brute, powerful defender for us bookish, intellectual, religious Jews, but once unleashed such a power would take a toll, threatening our moral mission and our very existence. It is a wonderful parable of non-violence, one of many Rabbinic warnings that went unheeded by the secular, anti-Rabbinic Zionists who created modern Israel, and who disdained the “passive” religious, intellectual culture of the Jewish diaspora so intensely.
Today we see the result of the golem that Zionists created. Modern Israel is a tech power, a military giant, wealthy in physical strength and strong in the ways of the world. Orthodox Jews have indeed embraced it as their golem, happy to sit in Yeshiva while the Israeli Defense Forces crush those that Zionism and the worst dregs of xenophobic Jewish theologies have taught them to be their enemies.
The Golem secured worldy strength and success for Israeli Jews and the pleasures of a safe space of strength and untrammeled Jewish culture for Jewish visitors from abroad, but at a horrific cost which only becomes clearer with time. The Golem terrorized and murdered Palestinians, evicted them from homes it then stole for others, depopulated villages and gave them Jewish names. It sold its strength out to any dictator who would aid its violent campaign of self-defense and conquest, whether they were from Chile or South Africa or Burundi or Myanmar, with just the type of ethical deficiency you would expect from a creature made for cunning, strength and violence.
As we all know the Golem is currently busy eating away at any restraints on its activities, as a Golem will. It is busy stealing more land from Palestinians and crushing them beneath its heels while the descendants of the Maharal — who have not yet learned the lesson of their ancestor and who refuse to erase the Alef from its forehead — look away, or actively feed it. Its violence has already taken the life of many Jews as well as non-Jews, and its weapons have spread throughout the world, even to the enemies of us Jews.
Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of Creation and a beginning of the season of repentance and return to truth. Its time to learn the true name of the golem, which is not truth, but death. The only way to peace is peace, and justice can not be gained unjustly. As our trampled Torah teaches us: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.” The Rabbis comment: “Justice is repeated twice to teach us that justice can only be pursued with justice.”