This is an article I have wanted to write for a long time.
The massive tension between the current Zionist Israeli state and traditional Jewish ethics and belief is not a new thing: it dates back to the very start of the Zionist movement in the 1890s and the early settlement of Palestine. I am writing it now because the recent election of a brazenly racist, and probably genocidal Israeli government, and the almost daily horrific news of destruction, pogroms, imprisonment, oppression, and murder directed by Zionist Jews against Palestinians is calling me, as a traditionally minded Jew, to do so.
Is the Zionist state a rejection of Judaism? I have come to think it is.
Let me explain.
It is rarely recognized these days that Israel was founded on the rejection of traditional Judaism. This was recognized by many of the greatest Rabbis of the late 19th century and early 20th century — about which more below — but the more successful Israeli state building became, the more this was forgotten.
The Zionists who settled Palestine between 1890 and 1930 were overwhelmingly secular, as were the leaders of the movement. They wanted to distance themselves from traditional Jewish culture, and were sharply critical of the “effeminate”, scholarly, nonviolent, book-obsessed Judaism of Eastern European shtetls they came from. Their hero was the strong pioneer, the man of steel, the earthy warrior and farmer, in a way reminiscent of many early 20th century movements with a tendency towards Fascism and blood-and-soil Nationalism. They tried to erase the memory of Yiddish culture and certainly of religious Judaism except when drawing on its narratives and symbols could buttress their state-building project.
As well as disdaining the traditional Jewish culture they came from, their movement was in direct opposition to mainstream Rabbinic thought about the land of Israel. Leading Rabbis knew this, and fiercely resisted Zionism. The religious resistance to Zionism was based on two main factors:
1. mass immigration back to Israel before the messianic age is forbidden by the Talmud, the authorative basis of Jewish religious law, as is warring against the nations; and