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Professor Yakov M. Rabkin of Montreal University has recently written a very interesting article entitled, “Religious Roots of a Political Ideology: Judaism and Christianity at the Cradle of Zionism” which appeared in the MEDITERRANEAN REVIEW journal in June of this year. With his kind permission I will be posting his article over the next few weeks. This is a must read for anyone interested in the historical roots of Zionism and its relationship to both Jewish and Christian religious doctrines.
MEDITERRANEAN REVIEW | Vol. 5, No. 1 [June 2012] : 75~100
Religious Roots of a Political Ideology: Judaism and Christianity at the Cradle of Zionism
Yakov M. Rabkin
PART ONE: Abstract
Albeit overtly secular, Zionist ideology was inspired by religious thought. While traditional religions often supported the nationalist cause, the relationship of Judaism and Zionism is vastly different. Adepts of traditional Judaism immediately rejected Zionism, and this rejectionist attitude has not vanished to this day. On the other hand, Christian, mainly Protestant theologians had developed the idea of the ingathering of the Jews in the Holy Land several centuries prior to the first Zionist congress in 1897. This explains why the initially socialist oriented secular project of social transformation has undergone sacralisation, becoming a focal point of Evangelical Christian Zionists. These Evangelical contributions to Zionism and the Zionist state must be taken into account in analyses of the State of Israel, its position in the modern Middle East and the policy-making of those countries where such Evangelical circles wield significant influence. Keywords : Zionism, Christian Zionism, Israel, Judaism, Evangelical
Professor of History, University of Montreal, POB 6128, Centre-ville station, Montréal, Qc,
Canada H3C 3J7, firstname.lastname@example.org
76 | MEDITERRANEAN REVIEW | Vol. 5, No. 1 [June 2012]
Zionism is one of the more recent ideologies that set out to transform society. Zionists, and the State of Israel they created, represent a revolution in Jewish history, a revolution that began with the emancipation and the secularization of the Jews of Europe. Like all revolutions, Zionism was inspired by earlier ideas, and this paper explores Judaic and Christian sources of that inspiration. Secularization of Jewish life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries revolutionized Jewish identity, turning a once normative concept, Jewishness, into a purely descriptive one. Traditional Jews can be distinguished by what they do or should do; the new Jews by what they are. This split of identity, which has continued for almost two centuries, obliges us today to distinguish the adjective “Jewish” from “Judaic”. The term “Judaic” as used in this article refers to a normative meaning of Judaism, i.e. a religion with its spiritual and ritual aspects, making a claim on continuity rather than rupture. Conversely, the much broader term “Jewish” relates to Jews, their actions and ideas, regardless of their connection with Judaism. While some scholars maintain that Judaism became a religion in the Christian sense of the word only when Jews met modernity in Western Europe (Barnitzky 2011), it is beyond doubt that Judaic belief and practice had been fundamental to what it meant to be a Jew well before then.
Zionism has so drastically transformed Jewish life that the very word “Israel” has changed its meaning. According to Jacob Neusner, a rabbi, Zionist activist and one of the most prolific American academic interpreters of Judaism: The word “Israel” today generally refers to the overseas political nation, the State of Israel. When people say, “I am going to Israel,” they mean a trip to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem…. But the word “Israel” in Scripture and in the canonical writings of the religion, Judaism, speaks of the holy community that God has called forth through Abraham and Sarah, to which God has given the Torah (“teaching”) at Mount Sinai…. The Psalmists and the Prophets, the sages of Judaism in all ages, the prayers that Judaism teaches, all use the word “Israel” to mean “the holy community.” Among most Judaism’s, to be “Israel” means to model life in the image, after the likeness, of God, who is made manifest in the Torah. Today “Israel” in synagogue worship speaks of that holy community, but “Israel” in Jewish community affairs means “the State of Israel.” (Neusner 2002: 3-4) Religious Roots of a Political Ideology: | Yakov M. Rabkin | Judaism and Christianity at the Cradle of Zionism | 77 Neusner goes on to conclude that “the state has become more important than the Jews,” (p. 4) and to underscore the identity shift that many Jews have experienced over the last century, as they moved from being a community of faith toward forming a community of fate. Among the many tendencies within Zionism, the one that has become dominant set out to reach four principal objectives: 1) to transform the transnational Jewish identity centred on the Torah into a national identity proper to ethnic nationalisms then common in Central and Eastern Europe; 2) to develop a new national vernacular based on biblical and rabbinic Hebrew; 3) to transfer the Jews from their countries of origin to Palestine; and 4) to establish political and economic control over the “new old land,” if need be by force. While other nationalists needed only to wrest control of their countries from imperial powers to become “masters in their own houses,” Zionists faced the far greater challenge of trying to achieve all these objectives simultaneously.
About Professor Rabkin
Professor Rabkin has taught Jewish and Russian history, and the history of science at the University of Montreal since 1973. He is the author of Science between the Superpowers, a study of Soviet-American relations in science and technology (Priority Press, 1988), co-editor of The Interaction of Scientific and Jewish Cultures in Modern Times (The Edwin Mellen Press, 1995) and editor of Diffusion of New Technologies in Post-Communist Europe (Kluwer, 1997). His book A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism (Fernwood/Zedbooks) has been translated into twelve languages. It was nominated for Canada’s Governor-General Award and for the Hecht Prize for studies in Zionism in Israel. The Asahi Shimbun in Japan listed it among three Best Non-Fiction Books of the Year in 2010. His most recent book is What is Israel? published in Tokyo (Heibonsha) in June 2012. His list of professional publications consists of over two hundred titles. It includes studies of science in Russian and Soviet cultures, studies of non-western research cultures, of relations between science, cultures and traditions as well as contemporary Jewish history and relations between Zionism and religion. He received over twenty research awards, scholarships and fellowships.
His comments on the Middle East and international relations frequently appear on major TV and radio networks, including BBC, NHK, Radio-Canada and Radio-France as well as in printed media, including International Herald Tribune, Baltimore Sun, El Milenio, Newsweek, La Presse, and Jerusalem Post. He has been an expert witness for the Standing Committee on External Affairs and International Trade of the Parliament of Canada and has consulted for various international organizations, including the World Bank and NATO. He has also served as expert witness at legal proceedings in Britain, Canada and Israel.
The following post is from Jesse Zaplatynskyj. Jesse is a registered nurse and has a Degree in Theology from Tabor College Adelaide, South Australia.
I’ve often heard Christian Zionists say that the promise in the Old Testament (OT) regarding the Land that was given to Israel is something that is still to be fulfilled (and apparently happening currently). I hear of all the passages they speak of – the Torah (esp Genesis 12) and the thousands of mentions throughout the prophets which speak of a ‘return’ to the land.
But I have to then ask them (and myself) why isn’t there such a big emphasis on this in the New Testament (new covenant)? If this was such a huge part of our belief system as Christians today and the New Testament church then, why didn’t Jesus speak of it with the passion I hear from Christian Zionists? And while Paul spoke about it a bit in Rom 9-11 there isn’t much else mentioned about it? Why is this? I hear a lot about the “kingdom of God” throughout the gospels, and the struggles Paul has with his Jewish friends regarding all sorts of problems regarding how to now understand Jesus as the Messiah everyone’s been expecting – but not a lot about the necessity of ethnic Jews returning to a specific land in order to usher in a new age. Why is this? Every Jew knew that the messiah was to come in and get rid of the Romans and establish an ever-lasting Israel. But for some reason Jesus seemed to predict the end of the Temple (and the end of Israel as a nation) with agreement (eg Matt 21:12-27). What’s up with that?
Let’s briefly look at Romans 9-11 as I’m sure some may not think I’m taking this seriously if I just pass over it so casually. Firstly, Paul is challenging the established idea of what it means to be an Israelite. In Romans 4 we here that Abraham was righteous not because of his nationality “according to the flesh” (v 1) but because he “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (v 2). This was not about circumcision (or the law) (v 9-11a) but “was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised” etc (v 11b). In chapter 9 again he is challenging what it means to be Jewish by looking at Jacob and Esau concluding that “it does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (v 16). The Gospel according to Paul is not about being God’s people through the traditions of Israel anymore but about believing in God. He is challenging the identity of Israel now that Jesus has come! He says “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (9: 6). Paul then goes on to discuss how Israel has misunderstood its call (9:30-10:21) but refuses to believe that they have been abandoned and speaks about the engrafted branches (11:1-24). He is one of them, and he speaks with great emotion – he wears his heart on his sleave here. And as such, “all [re-defined] Israel will be saved” (11:25-32).
The problem for Christian Zionists however, is that there is not one mention of the land throughout this section! Furthermore, this section is heavily filled with OT references and not one of them is about returning to the land. Why? Because it’s about righteousness, belief, and being God’s children: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (10:12).
But what about all those OT prophecies? How do we then interpret them? I believe the prophets were talking of an earth where God would be known to all and the land was a symbol for that message. Essentially, they were speaking in terms they understood about something they could not explain. The Land was always given so that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3). The land, along with the rest of the Old Covenant, only did a partial job of the restoration of our hardened hearts. It needed something more. It needed to be more directly connected with God. It needed Jesus (see book of Hebrews).
Jesus said “I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil them” (Matt 5:17). Jesus (Immanuel), as God, came to be with us (humanity) – for all. This is the way the first church understood it. In Acts 2, Peter uses OT passages such as Joel that already started to understand this where God “will pour out his spirit on all people” (Acts 2:14). Other OT prophesies such as Ezek 34 speaks of a true Shepard (compare John 10), Ezek 37 speaks of the dead bones of Israel being made alive by the spirit of God (compare John 3). Jesus has done this. This is the Gospel. This is the new covenant where we do not need a temple to have access to God, but all have direct access to the Father through the life and death of Jesus (see Hebrews again).
As such, why would anyone want to go back to the old way? If Christian Zionists want to be so strong about the Old Covenant calling about the land then what about the other laws of the Torah? Should we also be circumcising our boys, following food laws, and all the other hundreds of laws in the Torah? A quick reading of Galatians’ should clear that question up (answer is an emphatic ‘no’ in case you’re wondering).
As Christians we do have a hope that Jesus will return and bring heaven and earth together in a way that resembles God’s initial plan: the Garden of Eden. The groans of the world (Rom 8) will end and a new order will be established. God will bring a “new Jerusalem” from heaven and heaven and earth will be united (Rev 21). I don’t personally think that that is now happening in Israel at present. Do you?
The Lord hears the cry of the Palestinian people.
As a Bible believing Christian I find the anti-BDS sentiment of so called journalists like Greg Sheridan and Andrew Bolt to be based in nothing but European supremacist, pro-colonialist bigotry. The media representation of what the BDS campaign is all about is reprehensible to anyone who knows anything at all about the movement.
The BDS program against the Zionist state was called for by 170 civil Palestinian organisations in 2005 as a non-violent means to pursue the cause for self determination and justice for the Palestinian people by putting economic pressure on the state of Israel to align itself with international law regarding its behaviour and policies towards the Palestinian people. The goal of the BDS movement is not necessarily aligned with either a one or two state solution. At all levels, the BDS movement recognises the right of the state of Israel to exist with secure and safe borders. A right acknowledged by Yasser Arafat in 1993 but never reciprocated by the Israeli government to this day.
The western media has no complaint with sanctions against those nations that don’t “play ball” with us, regardless of the fact that, in Iraq for example, thousands of children suffer and die as a result. But when it comes to countries that are aligned with us, even the slightest hint of sanctions against them is met with almost hysterical cries of racist and terrorist motivations, regardless of the fact that, as in the case of Israel, the nation is guilty of more violations of International law than all the Arab/Muslim nations put together. We can bomb Iraq to the ground (killing hundreds of thousands) on the faulty premise that it had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda when in fact it did not and our leaders had access to (or could have easily gained access to) information to the contrary. We can do these things without the slightest pang of conscience or pain of remembrance because our media and our leaders do not allow them to be part of our remembrance. They are not worthy victims; they are not worthy of our grief or sorrow let alone remorse. they are not us, they are them.
To the opponents of the BDS movement, the only true course for the Palestinian people is to either self dispossess from their homeland or be complicit with the illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. The refugees that live outside of Israel-Palestine should just “get over it”. Those who oppose the BDS movement deny the Palestinian people any means to fight for their rights to self determination at all. They must in effect become Zionists or suffer the consequences. The anti-BDS proponents demonise all Palestinian resistance. They condemn Palestinians as terrorists if they resist with violence or condemn them as anti-Semites if they resist non violently as is the case with the BDS campaign. They demand that the game be played in such a way that “heads Israel wins, tails the Palestinians lose”.
John Pilger puts a far more correct spin on the BDS campaign when he says in support of the BDS movement:
“Sometimes, looked at from the outside, Australia is a strange place. In other ‘western democracies’ the ‘debate’ about the enduring injustice dealt the Palestinians and Israel’s lawlessness has moved forward to the point where the cynical campaign of anti-Semitism smears is no longer effective — in the UK, much of Europe and even the United States.
If Israel’s bloody assault on Lebanon was not the turning point, the criminal attack on the imprisoned population of Gaza certainly was. The same is true of the BDS movement. This eminently reasonable, decent and necessary campaign enjoys a respectability across the world, not least in South Africa, where it’s backed by the likes of Desmond Tutu and especially those Jews who fought the apartheid regime. The University of Johannesburg, the country’s biggest, has just broken all ties with Israel. Justice for Palestine, said, Mandela, is ‘the greatest moral issue of our time’. That’s the company those Marrickville councillors who have stood up for this ‘greatest moral issue’, keep. And those who have wavered and walked away should think again – remembering other waverers who, long ago, walked away from speaking out against what was being done to Jews. The scale is very different; the principle is the same. Do not be intimidated by Murdoch vendettas or by anyone else. All power to you.”
The words of the Torah cry out to all Christians, Muslims and Jews.
“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.”( Exodus 22:21-24)
The God of the Old Testament cries out in dozens of verses in the Torah for Jews to reach out beyond the bounds of hatred, racism and bigotry; to take hold of the hands of the oppressed and the alien just as God reached out to them when they were helpless in Egypt, suffering under the oppression of Pharaoh.
The BDS movement will be heard in heaven, of that we can be assured. God’s promise to hear the cry of the oppressed in Israel should send shudders up the spine of those who arrogantly deny the right of the Palestinian people to be heard. The words of Jesus ring in our ears as well:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus care and concern for the marginalised and demonized in His time reflect the love of God for all humanity. His special concern for those at the “bottom” is a perfect reflection of God the Father’s heart towards Jew and non-Jew.
The gospel of Christian Zionism is not a gospel of Good News to Palestinians be they Christian, Muslim or secular. It is not really a gospel of Good News to anyone whose heart rejoices at the news of God’s reconciliation of all humanity to Himself.
The BDS movement affirms the right of Jewish people to live anywhere in the world (not just in Israel) in peace and equality with all peoples, free from racial and religious bigotry. The BDS movement wishes for exactly the same right for Palestinians. As such, the morality of the movement matches the morality of the God of both Testaments of the Bible. Anti-BDS supporters reject the concept of equality for Jew and non-Jew in Israel and the occupied territories. As such, they align themselves with the powers already defeated on the cross of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. Justice and equality for all in the Holy land is the ultimate goal of the Lord God and the BDS movement. That is why I endorse and am involved in it.
The New Testament affirms to Christians that both Jesus and Moses concur about justice and equality in all the world. Religious nationalism, self righteousness and hatred will be swept away, once and for all. this is the true hope that lies at the heart of all truly Biblically based doctrines of Eschatology.
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