Interview with a German magazine


Dear Rabbi,

since I am busy writing a comprehensive article on Zionism to be published in a German magazine, if I may, I would like to ask you two questions:

1. What is your explanation to the fact that less and less Jews, who according to the Halacha are considered to be Jews indeed, take Israel as an option to become their "nationale Heimstätte" as mentioned by Herzl? Is this neglect or even aversion based on religious reasons or/and on political reasons as recently mentioned by Uri Avnery: Israel was once intended to be a save haven for Jews and, in the meantime, proved to be the only place on earth where Jews, in fact, face danger and insecurity on a daily base.

2. Can you confirm on good reason that Zionists do not represent the clear majority among Jews? If so, how did Zionists succeed in gaining the main attention and support by the so called international community?

Sir, I hope I did not waste your time by asking you these two questions whose replies are to be considered essential for my article.

Very best wishes,
Ernst P.

Dear Ernst,

I think the decrease in immigration among religious Jews has more to do with the safety issue. In general, I haven't seen a great change in religious orientation among religious Jews in the past two decades. Those who are religious Zionists have remained religious Zionists, those who were anti-Zionists have remained anti-Zionist. The danger of living in the Holy Land has not deterred the religious Zionists from coming to settle there, but those who all along were anti-Zionist or non-Zionists have mostly stopped coming. These people never felt it was a religious duty to go there in the first place, they only went for secondary reasons: they wanted to attend prestigious rabbinical schools there, the cost of living was lower, they wanted to live in an insular religious community like those of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. Now that there's a greater danger, starting with the intifada in the mid to late 90s and even more so in this decade, there is less immigration from this group.

This is all said regarding religious Jews. Non-religious Jews originally adopted Zionism as a replacement for the Judaism they had discarded. They wanted to retain Jewish identity without the Jewish religious, so they invented nationalism as a substitute. The Zionist pioneers took the fiery love for Torah that burns in every Jewish heart and redirected it to secular nationalism, and they approached their goal with great zeal and determination. Once the state was established, they encouraged mass immigration of Sephardic and Eastern Jews, taking advantage of the wave of hatred for the new state that swept the Arab countries where these Jews had lived. During their first decade, they absorbed over a million immigrants, tripling the population.

Non-religious ideologies tend to burn themselves out after a short time. We have seen this in our long history with other heretical movements such as the Saduccees in Second Temple, the Karaites in the eighth century, and the Sabbateans of the seventeenth century. The reason is that Judaism has many commandments and puts a great stress on the training of children, so that each generation retains the traditions of the previous one, and stays separate from the non-Jewish world. Members of deviant sects, once deprived of the support of mainstream Judaism and often (as in the case of secular Zionism) discarding its commandments and educational system, will die out. The children and grandchildren of the original Zionists are usually not strong Zionists. If they remain in the state of Israel, they often become advocates of a two-state solution or a binational state. Others leave it all behind and go to live in other countries. In short, their decrease in immigration is more of an ideological shift rather than a response to danger.

We do not claim that Zionists are a minority. The Jewish population of the world is about 12.9 million. In the State of Israel, about 5 million. In America, about 5.2 million. This obviously includes many Jews who do not keep the Torah but nevertheless identify themselves as Jews.

In the State of Israel, about 10% of the Jewish population are non-zionist religious Jews. Zionist religious Jews are about 15%. The other 75% do not keep the Torah.

In America, about 10% of those identifying themselves as Jews are non-zionist orthodox Jews. I have no estimate for the religious zionist population, but I would guess that the percentage is lower than in the State of Israel. I also have no guess as to how many of the non-religious American Jews are zionists.

So in the world, we have about 1.2 million non-zionist religious Jews.

So we recognize that Zionists still have the majority. At the same time, we maintain that the non-Zionist view is the authentic Judaism, and it will eventually prevail. Secular Zionism as an ideology is dying out, as I wrote above. And as for religious Jews, we are working hard to educate them about their own Torah and we hope that they will soon realize their mistake and return to authentic Judaism.

You ask why Zionists have the attention and support of the international community. The answer is that Zionists have always been better organized and better funded than any other group. During the great decline of European Jewry in the century preceding its destruction, and among the rapidly assimilating American Jewry, Zionism captured the hearts of the masses with its promise that one could be a good Jew without the Jewish religion, simply by supporting their nationalist cause. They had the Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund. The most famous and influential Jewish figures were on their side. Orthodox Jewry before WWII was falling apart, and after WWII was busy struggling to rebuild itself. Now that we have, thank G-d, rebuilt to a large degree, we are beginning to get more organized and vocal. The majority of Orthodox rabbis, even those who were against Zionism, never spoke too much against it, because they realized that many Jews had Zionist sentiments and they would be turned off by such rhetoric. Instead they concentrated on traditional themes like Torah study and Chassidism, and thus we have the growth of a large (1.2 million) non-zionist population that is mostly silent on the subject of zionism. We feel it is the time to change that. By teaching the Jewish world about the true Torah view on zionism, we hope that religious zionism will fall apart and the authentic Torah view will survive.

You might want to read "A Threat from Within" by Yakov Rabkin. Please send us a copy of what you write, even if it's in German.

Thank you very much indeed for you prompt reply on my questions on Zionism.
This already helps me a lot farther. However, to me as a gentile the
circumstances are not too easy to understand. That is why I would like to
deepen my enquiry, if I may.

According to the opinion of some atheist and/or liberal Jewish critiques on
Zionism and Israeli politics, Talmudic aspects, or rather religious
motivations, would not play a significant role for the majority of Jews
immigrating to Israel. Uri Avnery, for instance, told me: "The Halacha plays
no role in this. Jews are Jews if they want to be Jews. The religious aspect
is quite irrelevant and has meaning only in dealing with the orthodox
minority in Israel. Unfortunately, since there is no separation between
religion and state in Israel, this has an impact on government policy."

I don't know if this statement reflects the reality indeed. What I know for
sure is that hundreds of thousands "Jews" from Russia immigrating to Israel
are apparently not to be considered Jewish at all. In my opinion, the reason
for them to move to the Zionist state is primarily motivated financially and
economically. Daniel N. SAUERSTROM, a Jewish political writer has published
a very interesting article in the Swiss-Jewish monthly "Aufbau", in which he
clearly states that most of those immigrants are everything but Jewish in
the real sense. He wrote:
»Die :Russen9 machen bereits ein Fünftel der gesamten Bevölkerung Israels
aus. Recherchen ergaben, daß mindestens 300.000 dieser Einwanderer nicht aus
einem jüdischen Hintergrund stammen. [...] Die etwa eine Million
:israelischen Russen9 bilden heute einen entscheidenden Machtfaktor bei
jeder Wahl und haben auf die weitere Entwicklung der Gesellschaft Israels
erheblichen Einfluß. [...] Ob bei Behörden, auf der Post, im Militär oder an
den Schulen und Universitäten, überall wird russisch gesprochen. Es gibt
russische Cafés, Buchhandlungen, Discotheken, und in der Hafenstadt Ashdod
sogar einen :Roten Platz9. Das russische :Zdrasdwujtije9 hört man fast
ebenso oft wie das hebräische :Shalom9, und Russisch ist mittlerweile neben
Hebräisch und Arabisch zur inoffiziellen dritten Amtssprache avanciert.
[...] Nein, es handelt sich um Menschen, die der Staat Israel im Rahmen der
Alijah aus dem ehemaligen Sowjetreich oder seiner Nachfolgekonstruktion auf
der Grundlage des vom israelischen Parlament 1950 beschlossenen
:Rückkehrgesetzes9 zur Einwanderung nach Israel bewegen konnte. Russische
Neueinwanderer, die keine Beziehung zum Judentum haben und nur wegen ihrer
angeblichen jüdischen Herkunft nach Israel einreisen konnten, oder denen es
gelungen ist, mit gefälschten Dokumenten ins Land zu kommen«. (Daniel N.
SAUERSTROM, »From Russia with Hate. Antisemitismus in Israel ein Phänomen,
das es nicht geben darf.«, in: Aufbau v. 18.3.2004)

I am aware of the various meanings within Zionism. I do distinguish between
religiously motivated Zionism and politically motivated Zionism. I view
Zionism as the historical movement to establish a physical state, a
"nationale Heimstätte" like Herzl understood it. Nowadays it is the
political concept to ensure the existence of the Israel state.
Of course, there are liberal and moderate Zionists, socialist Zionists,
extremist Zionists and, like Avigdor Lieberman and Meir Kahane, even fascist
Zionists. In addition, dealing with Zionism we have to distinguish between
rather moderate religious Zionists like the supporters of Mizrachi and
Agudath Israel, for instance, and the extremists of the Shas party and
individuals like Baruch Goldstein, for example.

No doubt, the Zionists in total certainly feel affinity with the state of
Israel no matter what their detailed convictions may be. As a matter of
fact, Israel is achieved, ruled and dominated by Zionists. Israel,
therefore, is a Zionist state and my study mainly deals with her Jewish
opponents. Those opponents stand up in harsh contrast to Zionists.
However, even Jewish
anti-Zionists are to be distinguished in more religious organisations, like
Bene Yoel, Hazon Ish, Kaschau, Krasna, Malochim, Nitra, Toldoth Avrohom
Yitzchok, and of course, the larger organizations like True Torah Jews
Against Zionism.

Furthermore, we also have secular organizations/individuals
criticizing or even fighting Zionism, among them a large variety of
journalists and writers like Uri Avnery, Amira Hass, Israel Shamir, Gabriel
Ash, Barry Chamish and others.

Another statement in my first letter to you, dear Mr. Lowenthal, was that
Zionists do enjoy much more attention in the media world-wide than their
opponents do. I assume that a major reason for this was the much better
organisation of Zionists. Take an easy example: The US-based Zionist lobby
AIPAC and even the small "Zentralrat der Juden" in Deutschland (both of them
are certainly not to be considered friends of yours) gain much much more
attention and have much more influence in the media and politics than "Jews
against Zionism", "Women for Human Rights" or "Gush Shalom".

I thank you once again for your time
Kind regards and best wishes

Ernst P.

Dear Ernst,

You are right that religion is not playing a significant role in the secular Jew's decision whether to immigrate. I didn't say that it was; I merely said that there is an ideological (not religious) shift among secular Jews as the old ideology of Zionism is dying out and more pragmatic concerns take precedence.

For the Russians, pragmatic concerns often lead them to the opposite conclusion: to immigrate. This is having a great effect on the demography of the Zionist state, and, as you quoted from Sauerstrom, many are not Jewish and some have false conversion papers, which entitle them to automatic citizenship under the Law of Return. For religious Jews, this fact has tremendous implications: the secular population of the State of Israel may no longer be considered definitely Jewish. If a secular Israeli decides to become religious and then wants to marry a religious Jew, that Jew will have to check into the Israeli's lineage to see if his mother was Jewish, if they converted properly, etc. For religious Jews in the outreach field, this is a nightmarish complication.

At the same time, we say that this is G-d's way of weeding out the thorns from his garden. G-d's garden is the Jewish people, and the thorns are the heretical movement called Zionism. G-d makes sure that heretical movements disintegrate and intermarry with gentiles so that they cease to be a part of the Jewish people. The only remaining Jews who know they are Jewish and have clear lineage will be the non-Zionist religious Jews. This process of weeding out thorns has happened many times before in our history. We are not happy about it, but it is G-d's method and He knows best.

I sincerely thank you for taking the time to answer my questions in a very comprehensive manner once again. Thanks to your replies I understand the delicate topic much better than I did before.
Recognizing that in German literature the diversity of Jewish anti-Zionism is not given too much attention, I am aiming to publish the differences and facts very accurately and in depth.
As you have recommended, I will also translate a couple of quotations from your website into German. Perhaps I may ask you a last question concerning orthodox Judaism.
Thanks to your reply I now understand the difference between Neturei Karta and True Torah Jews against Zionism. However, the difficulty in understanding the justification of your religiously motivated Jewish opponents still remains:
How do religious Jews who are defending the State of Israel justify their orthodox Judaism? I am not just talking about Jewish settlers, but referring to orthodox Jews like Baruch Goldstein, Meir Kahane and to a certain extent also to Avigdor Lieberman and the supporters of the Shas party. At least, individuals like Goldstein and Kahane were religiously motivated. However, they had committed crimes that stood in total contrast to the motivation of religiously motivated Jews opposing the State of Israel. However, both refer to holy scripts like the Talmud, Shulchan aruch and Torah respectively. In this matter, I am still confused.

Dear Ernst,

You ask how the religious Zionists square their Zionism with Judaism. There are two parts to the answer, and they are both true in varying degrees, depending on the person or group.

1) We find many groups of Orthodox Jews today who believe and practice the Torah, and yet want to subscribe to a different ideology as well. These people will take the Torah and twist it until it fits their agenda. For example, Jews who want to believe the theory of evolution will open up the book of Genesis and reinterpret it to fit with their view. The Jewish feminists will try to keep Jewish law and at the same time make changes to fit modern times: women leading the prayers in the synagogue, etc. Here as well, religious Zionism is a hybrid ideology, an attempt to believe in the doctrine of Zionism which originated in secular minds, and preserve allegiance to the Torah at the same time. Since they have this agenda, they approach the classic texts with this in mind (an a healthy dose of ignorance). Whoever is familiar with the Talmud knows that there are ways and means of misinterpreting the words in almost every area. The Talmud itself (Eiruvin 13b) says that there was one scholar who could come up with 150 reasons that a dead lizard should be ritually clean (when in fact the Torah explicitly says that it is not clean).

This is true of the leaders of religious Zionism. The followers, however, usually know nothing about the texts and sources, and are just continuing in the way they were raised.

2) The second part of the answer is that Zionism does hit on certain themes that are central to Judaism, and without careful thought one could mistake it for true Judaism. Jews do in fact hope to return one day from exile and settle Palestine. (However, this will be an act of G-d, not a political or military movement.) Judaism does make a point of seeing G-d's hand in history. Thus Zionists will say that all the events leading to the foundation of the state were really G-d manipulating history. However, we know that G-d sometimes grants success to the wicked, and thus success is not a proof of correctness. There is a lot of material in the Torah and Talmud in praise of the Land of Israel, which could be misdirected toward building a state when we are really supposed to be in exile. The Bible is full of stories of Jews fighting wars, which can lead one to be proud of the Israeli army. Meir Kahane once wrote (in frustration) that the reason why the charedi (=strictly Orthodox) world is not Zionist is because they have not really spent time reading the Bible; instead they spend all their time on the Talmud. Again, this is because he and other Zionists ignore the parts of the Bible that speak about the exile, when no fighting is permitted.

There is also a third point: prominent rabbis of the so-called "Modern Orthodox" Jewish world (which tends to be Zionistic) such as Kahane or Joseph B. Soloveitchik have seen that the Jewish people was swept away with pride in the Zionists and their military victories. To encourage people like this to stay Jewish, their leaders espoused Zionism and tried to brush under the table the arguments against it.

To get more specific about the legal arguments, Zionists often say that since the U.N. gave the Jews a state, it is not called "taking the land by force." The problem is that they are mistranslating the words of the Talmud, which really mean "taking the land en masse." Furthermore, the U.N. did nothing at all to help the Zionists get the land. They had to fight for it and expell hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. The Six-Day war involved taking more land that no nation had given to them willingly. Also, even if "taking the land by force" were the correct translation, it would mean by using force against the local people; what the U.N. says doesn't matter.

On our website there is a section called About us: visitor comments: questions and answers. There you can see some of what people have written to defend Zionism and what we have responded.