Does Zionism Equal Judaism?
Is Zionism part and parcel of Judaism? This question has been argued for more than a century with no conclusive answer in sight. I’d suggest there is no clear answer; that there are so many definitions of both “Judaism” and “Zionism” (some perhaps more valid than others) that it’s a matter of interpretation. But let’s take a closer look.
The argument “Against”
“Zionism” according to the likes of Herzl and Ben-Gurion had in mind a Jewish national movement that would allow Jews to create a home state like any other country in the world with the only difference being they would be able to find refuge in this state in case of persecution at the hands of the Gentiles. Herzl was willing to settle for a Jewish national home in Uganda or Madagascar. The only thing that prevented him from doing so was pressure at the hands of fellow Zionists and the Jewish community at large.
Today’s Left continues clinging to the old world view and trying desperately to maintain an Israel divorced from its supposed status as the “Jewish State.” If we’re to claim Israel is the “Jewish State,” after all, that inevitably suggests other trappings of Judaism such as a universal observation of the Shabbat and holidays, nationwide kashrut standards imposed by the State, etc., and a Halachic State imposed by the government. I don’t think imposing Judaism on secular Israelis would be either smart of viable, but it’s difficult to make an argument for a “Jewish State” devoid of Jewish standards.
The term “Zionism” comes from the word “Zion,” one of the names of Jerusalem. This is a name used specifically in a religious context. Many consider our forefathers to have been “Zionists” in that they prioritized settlement of the Land of Israel. G-d promises Abraham the Land of Israel as the “inheritance of his progeny” on multiple occasions in the Book of Genesis.
The Land of Israel and its settlement are alluded to in countless instances in Jewish liturgy. Jews pray in the direction of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Many of the biggest religious authorities like Rav Yehuda Ha’Nasi, the Rambam and Rebbi Nachman, just to name a few, had to overcome untold difficulties to step foot in Israel. Jews throughout the 2,000-year Diaspora dreamed of returning en-masse to the Land of their ancestors.
No other nation in history has had such a deep connection to their land and no other nation has wandered the Earth for two millennia to eventually come home.
As far as the early Zionists, the fact that while they may not have necessarily considered Israel the only viable destination for a future state, the fact that they inevitably chose it over other destinations, points to a connection between Jews and Israel that never disappeared even with the coming of the European Enlightenment. The fact that it was Jews lacking religious affiliation who made up the mainstay of the Second Aliya points to a connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel that reaches beyond religious divides.
According to Chassidut, a Jew is born with a unique soul. It allows one to both reach great spiritual heights and sink to hitherto unheard of lows. Perhaps it’s this Jewish soul that connects modern Jews some of whom are far-removed from Judaism to the Land of Israel. If we assume this “Jewish soul” indicates a connection with Judaism, a Jew, affiliated or not, always maintains that link with Israel and thus, Zionism is intrinsically connected to Judaism.
This argument has strewn more hatred amongst the Jewish community than almost any other current dispute. While I have a very strong opinion on the subject matter, I believe an approach that “There’s no definitive answer due to the diversity of definitions” would simplify things, relieving us of the task to prove the other wrong.
While it’s clear to me that the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel (the connection with the State is a separate topic I may delve into at a later date) is one that emanates from our national history and religious practices, Zionism from a modern perspective indicates that we have both a personal and national duty to settle the Land. This–more so than the question of “Does Zionism equal Judaism?” is the crux of the argument for many Jews today. In the religious world, especially, Rabbinic authorities find themselves increasingly at loggerheads over whether it’s one’s duty to live in Israel and under what circumstances it’s permissible to yield the weight of this responsibility.
I’ve never been a proponent of the “Why can’t we all just get along?” approach. On trips to America, I’ve never passed up the opportunity to shame fellow Jews on their failure to come to Israel and their marked duplicity in being religious and making the conscious choice to remain in the Diaspora. I think that Zionism and Judaism are invariably linked–that one cannot function without the other. You be the judge…