Two Different Faiths

“Israel’s” state rabbinate recently released a list of 160 people whose certifications of Jewish identity are not recognized. Predictably, there has been a storm of protest from those who feel the state rabbinate has overstepped its bounds, regulating things it has no right to regulate. They’re right. A state organ declaring who’s Jewish and who isn’t goes against the very spirit of democracy “Israel” purports to uphold. The truth is, the outcry is too narrow, its focus too constricted. Very few of those who are so outraged have been similarly scandalized by “Israel” referring to itself as a “a Jewish state”, coopting what it means to be a Jew. For many, it’s simply a question of their form of Judaism being included or excluded in the national politic, not that a secular state where state-sponsored rabbis are beholden to secular politicians should decide who may or may not adjudicate on issues of Jewish identity. It’s the old “they can’t see the forest for the trees” revisited.

The underlying problem is far more basic and begs the question: does a movement or political body, by virtue of nothing else besides its membership being composed of a majority of Jews, become a Jewish group? If there were an organization called “Jews against Judaism”, would it be Jewish in nature? Can someone throw away the historical, normative meaning of being “Jewish”, a religious one, and still be considered a Jew in its fullest sense? By unwittingly embracing a European “volk” sense of self, many of those protesting against the Israeli rabbinate have scaled down their own identities. The “blood and soil” nationalism of “Israel” has its roots firmly planted 19th and 20th Century European, particularly German, nationalisms, not in the Judaism of any era. Zionism has, by cover of intellectual night, stolen the celestial and replaced it with crude materialism. It would be akin to someone claiming that Islam or Christianity are ethnic or national identities, devoid of religious significance. The State of “Israel” has cheated the Jewish people. And those now protesting the Israeli rabbinate have cheated themselves.

Does “Israel” proclaiming itself a Jewish state actually make it so? Can someone like Chaim Nachman Bialik, one of “Israel’s” most celebrated literary figures, who proclaimed that, “let fists fly like stones against the heavens and against the heavenly throne”, be considered a “good Jew”? Has being Jewish simply become a matter of ethnicity, the revelation at Mount Sinai forgotten or expunged from the record? In part, those who are now protesting the rabbinate have bought into this reduced form of Jewish identity. In truth, they believe that a state can in fact decide who’s Jewish and who’s not. Their only difficulty is that, in their view, the rabbinate and its state overseer have failed to recognize their particular Judaic flavoring.

A rabbinic authority who takes marching orders from a country that’s forbidden to exist according to the Torah lacks any and all authority to validate or invalidate notions of Jewishness. It’s like one faith sanctioning an aspect of another faith. Zionism can never legitimately sanction any part of Judaism. Their two different faiths.



Jewish Identity