Theodore Herzl was moved to found the Zionist movement out of fear that European Jewry would face destruction in the near future. The only solution he saw for Jewry’s redemption was the creation of a Jewish state. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Herzl was right. Had there been a strong Jewish state such as the one we have the privilege of experiencing today, not only would millions of Jews have been saved from the Nazi destruction, but the Holocaust might have been avoided completely.
What Herzl did not foresee, certainly not in his vision of the state as expressed in his novel, Altneuland, were the challenges it would face, including some of its own making. Three of those challenges were discussed in the “Opinion” pages of the Dec. 4 issue of New Jersey Jewish News.
In his editor’s column, Andrew Silow-Carroll discussed a widely criticized blog post by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Teaneck, who heads a congregation of 800 families. Titled “Dealing with Savages,” the post contained a number of proposals for dealing with Israel’s Arabs, such as destroying Arab villages and expelling its inhabitants if a terrorist comes from them, shooting rioters and stone throwers with live ammunition, and other similar sentiments. Teaneck, which was my home for more than 30 years, is in many ways an Orthodox cocoon. Pruzansky’s cocoon is even smaller. Ignoring the talmudic injunction to avoid conflict “for the sake of peace,” this rabbi — who never lived there — is advocating that Israel take extra-judicial action against its own citizens and risk antagonizing just about the entire world. Mainstream newspapers took notice, and Israel’s critics charged that Pruzansky’s views were typical of Jews in Israel and abroad.
In the same issue of NJJN, Rabbi Seth Farber, an American-born Israeli, tells of the restrictions placed on rabbis if they are to perform marriages in Israel. The rabbis must be recognized by the chief rabbinate, which is controlled by fervently Orthodox Jews whose commitment to the state is highly suspect. Should a non-recognized rabbi perform a marriage, he risks being sentenced to two years in jail. Farber points out that Israel is the only country in the world where he — a Modern Orthodox rabbi who lacks the rabbinate’s approval — is forbidden to perform marriages.
Finally, Gilbert Kahn describes the failure of the peace process, which has led to an increase of terrorism (on both sides). The response of the government has been “to expand settlements, restrict Palestinian movement on the West Bank, and reduce resources available to Arabs in Israel.” This situation has caused despondency throughout Israel and has led some of Israel’s leading men of letters to encourage European countries to recognize a Palestinian state.
Hence, in addition to solving problems confronting Jewry, Israel has also faced new challenges, some self-inflicted. Take recent calls for legislation that would declare Israel the “Nation-State of the Jewish People.” Even a staunch supporter of Israel like Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, was moved, in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, to charge that the proposed law “betrays the most fundamental principles enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence.” Israel faces hostility and criticism from outside, no doubt. Instead of saying that the world is against us, the time has come for Israel and its supporters to ask about policies that contribute to this isolation, not only in the Middle East, but among Western democracies and even the Jewish people.