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How do I answer my rabbi's argument based on Cyrus' proclamation?

Dec. 24, 2008

Dear, Shalom Rabbi,

The following is an email response from my Rabbi after I showed him your website. What is your response to this position?

As for the web site, Zionism and "anti-Zionism" are very complex issues. I will try to address some of the issues in this email - though to do justice to the issues, you and I should sit and talk about them.

I am very familiar with the claims of various Jewish groups who promote "anti-zionism" as an authentic Jewish response. I, however, disagree with this claim and present some of the reasons below.

Let me state at the outset that I do not believe that all Jews are supposed to live in Israel. I believe that Jews, to be true to our mission as a people, must live in all lands - not in exile, but as emissaries and examples of love of fellow human being, pursuing justice and peace amongst all peoples. I have lived in Israel and visit Israel regularly. I feel I can do more for my people, the Jewish people, by living here and supporting Israel. My life as a Jew, as an American Jew, would be greatly diminished if there was not a State of Israel. However, that does not mean that I feel that Israel, as a Jewish state, should not exist. The claim that zionism is racism is a false claim and one that is propagated by those who hate Jews. The declaration of the State of Israel secures the rights of all its citizens - regardless of race, creed, color, religion, language, etc. to rights and access to courts and to seek redress for wrongs.

Already, Israel is contributing to the quality of life of all human beings: cell phone technology was developed in Israel. Medicines that treat once deadly diseases were developed in Israel. Computer technology, research and development of new medical procedures and security are developed in Israel and implemented the world over.

Though it is true that there has been a Jewry living in the diaspora since the Babylonian exile of the 500's BCE, it is inaccurate and Jewishly inauthentic to state that Jews are ONLY supposed to live in the diaspora. Indeed, there are many prayers and references in the traditional liturgy that speak to Jews returning to the Land of Israel. Prayers shared by Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews alike. Many of the Psalms written, the vision of Ezekiel and other Prophets, speak of a time when Jews would again live autonomously in the Land of Israel.

The claim that Jews are only supposed to return to the 'Land of Israel" when the messiah comes, is likewise inauthentic to Jewish tradition and Jewish history.

It was under King Cyrus of Babylon that Jews were permitted to return to the Land of Israel in the 400's BCE, rebuild the Temple and create the traditions that we Jews observe to this day. Cyrus was certainly no messiah and yet the Jewish world, both during his time and ever since, has validated his proclamation of the returning of the Jews to Israel. If not for this return, there would be no 2nd Temple, no Hanukkah, no Jerusalem Talmud.

Is this all that different from the Balfour proclamation of the British government in 1917 granting the creation of a Jewish state in then British controlled lands in the middle east? Or the UN Partition plan of 1947? Both situations involved human beings making decisions about the Land of Israel. Could not these human beings, both Cyrus and the British/UN, be operating under the influence of Hashem?

And, I might add, if ultimately Hashem didn't want the modern State of Israel to exist, why have the Israelis won all of the wars? In 1948, the tiny State of Israel, with a rag-tag army made up of mostly holocaust survivors, fought off 5 armies of the Arab world - armies much better trained, better armed and far more numerous than Israel's army. In 1956 there was a battle in the Sinai against the Soviet trained and armed Egyptian army - again, Israel won. In 1967, Israel defeated the armies of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt in the 6 Day war. In 1973, Israel again fought for its survival on Yom Kippur, again defeating the armies of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt - all of whom had backing and support from Iran, Iraq and Saudia Arabia.

Again, if Hashem was with the armies who attacked Israel - how could Israel have won? If Hashem did not want a modern State of Israel to exist, how did Israel win all these wars?

The claim that the increase in antisemitism is because Israel exists as a State/Country, is disingenuous to Jewish history. For 2,000 years, Jews lived in the world without a State/Country. It was during this time that we as a people experienced the worse humanity has to offer: expulsions from all the European kingdoms, only to later be allowed to return and then later kicked out again; crusades that murdered 1/3 of the Jewish population of Europe; torture; forced conversions; pogroms; massacres; and ultimately the Shoah - all of this having occurred without a Jewish homeland, without a Jewish country, without a State/Land of Israel. Antisemitism is a reality we will always have to face - with or without a homeland, a country to call our own.

Shaul, this is only a brief response to the complicated issues raised by the claims of those who see zionism as antithetical to Judaism - there is so much more to discuss. I invite you to call me and let's set up a time to explore these and other issues.


Rabbi Mark B. Goldfarb

The return under Cyrus proclamation after 70 years of exile was prophesied in advance by Jeremiah. Cyrus is even mentioned by name in Isaiah, who lived 200 years before Cyrus. At the time of that return the Jewish people had several prophets Hagai, Zachariah, Malachi and others who all conveyed G-ds approval of the return.

Nowadays, however, we have no prophet who can tell us that the Zionist return is the return foretold long ago in the Tanach. In view of the Three Oaths, which prohibit an unauthorized mass return to the Land of Israel, the long-awaited return MUST be sanctioned by prophecy or another unquestionably supernatural event, otherwise how will we know it is the right time and not a violation of the Oaths?

Note that I said a mass return is forbidden. But for individual Jews to live in the Land of Israel is certainly permitted, and in this your rabbi is correct. There is an opinion in the Talmud (Rav Yehuda) who holds it is forbidden, but the halacha is not ruled in accordance with him.

Asking why the State of Israel won its wars if Hashem does not want it to exist is like asking how any wicked act can succeed if Hashem is against it. Hashem gives people free will, even to do something wrong, and as the Talmud says, If one comes to defile himself, Hashem opens the door for him.

We must also remember that there are many good Jews living in the Land of Israel and perhaps Hashem made the Zionists win their wars because if not, those Jews would have been killed. That does not mean that they owe their lives to the Zionist army. The Zionists created the whole danger to begin with, and then Hashem allowed them to succeed in fighting it off. Hashem is evidently letting the Jewish people live, hoping that they will soon repent. If not, there could be disastrous consequences, G-d forbid. Everyone can see that the saga of the State of Israel is far from over. A lot has happened since 1973.

No one ever claimed that ALL anti-Semitism in the world is due to the State of Israel. But sometimes you can see a direct connection. Take the attack in Mumbai, in which the terrorists stated openly that they were instructed to target Jews in revenge for the State of Israels acts against the Palestinians. Yes, Jews have always faced anti-Semitism, but lets not make it worse!

That has always been the Jewish response to anti-Semitism throughout the ages to try as hard as possible not to antagonize the gentile world. Texts of the Talmud and codes were constantly censored to remove the word goy and replace it with worshipper of the stars so that Jews could claim that it has no bearing on todays civilized and upright gentiles. Even under the oppressive regime of the Russian Czars, Jews recited the prayer for the king every Shabbos morning. In the Torah we read about Yaakov appeasing Esav with gifts. The Talmud tells of Nachum Ish Gamzu, the Jewish emissary to bring a gift to the Roman emperor in order to get him to repeal an anti-Semitic decree.


Happy 3rd Day of Chanukah. Thank you for such a comprehensive response.

Please be advised, I am forwarding your response to my Rabbi, Rabbi Mark Goldfarb. Your response is most compelling. I must say I am floating in my thoughts with regards to this topic.