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.