In the NJJN’s recent article about author Gershom Gorenberg’s appearance at Temple B’nai Abraham (“Israeli writer urges settlement withdrawal,” Nov. 14), Rabbi Clifford Kulwin was quoted as saying, “I don’t think they [Israel’s founders] would approve of what this has evolved into even though they were the ones who laid the groundwork for it happening.” The “it” to which Kulwin is referring is the religious influence on politics in Israel.
The problem with this position lies in the founders’ fundamental purpose of establishing a Jewish state and maintaining a Jewish majority: To provide a safe haven for Jews around the world in their historical homeland. The founders of Israel recognized that a Jewish state must be intricately tied to our biblical right to the land, the religious laws that make us Jews, and the political authority invested in a sovereign Jewish government. As it says in the declaration, “It will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.” It does not in any way imply that a modern Jewish state of Israel should be totally divested of its religious history and tradition. The founding fathers of Israel recognized that by establishing a Jewish state in the land of Israel, there were certain responsibilities to our heritage that must be maintained, particularly after that heritage had been targeted for destruction by the Nazis.
Demanding that Israel be both a Jewish state and a democracy is rather paradoxical. As Gorenberg mentioned, you can’t have the entire land of Israel, a Jewish majority, and a democracy in the real world.
So what should the State of Israel prioritize for itself and its future? Being a democracy which, by American terms, necessitates a division between religion and state? Or being a Jewish state with a Jewish majority in the biblical land of Israel, as it was intended to be by its founders and by the hopes and dreams of Jews around the world for millennia? If one wishes to detach religion from a Jewish state, and with it, all our religious responsibilities and traditions, why not purchase a stretch of land in some other part of the world where Jews can be as safe and free to live their lives as the non-Jews surrounding them?
I believe the future holds a major reckoning for the State of Israel in terms of its priorities and defining values. Ultimately, time and God will effect a shift away from the democratic and toward the divine definition of a Jewish state.