As the high holiday of Passover speedily approaches us on Monday, April 18th, some of my fellow Jews worldwide begin and some continue to make what I believe is a great and grave mistake.
Let’s define a few terms. A Jew is someone with a Jewish mother, or who converted to Judaism through the Jewish ritualistic processes, and an Orthodox Jew is someone who, beyond merely being Jewish, lives in conformity with the Jewish halachic laws and rituals. A Zionist is one who believes that the Jews have a right to the modern day land of Israel, or, at very least, the right to sovereignty in their own Jewish national homeland. That being said, the terms are by definition mutually exclusive; while Jewish people are not necessarily Zionists, the vast majority of Zionists are Jews. Finally, Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier who was captured and taken away from his people on June 25, 2006 by the terrorist organization known as Hamas, in a cross-border raid.
There is a difference between Zionism and Judaism, and it is one that I have seen the world, Jews and non-Jews alike, begin to minimize. But this minimization of the difference, and thus, the equating of the two terms, has not begun solely with the non-Jews. Rather, it has started with Jews who practically view Judaism and Zionism as interchangeable terms which share the same goals and points of view. But this idea is not simply false or ignorant; though it is both, it is also dangerous and destructive for the Jewish people, for anyone who identifies with the Jewish people in the slightest. And, regrettably, this idea has grown to be extremely prevalent within most modern Orthodox Jewish communities.
I shall briefly explain the awful dangers that such a widespread subconscious belief poses to the Jewish people. Simply put, the Israeli government is fallible. They err, they mess up, they make mistakes. Though most modern Orthodox Jews I have encountered admit to this and say that “they know Israel is not perfect,” they also ironically say that “they stand by Israel in all of Her decisions.”
Can these two statements coexist? Unlike Zionism and Judaism, which can but do not have to coexist, they cannot. It is terribly ironic that most Orthodox Jews of authority that I have spoken with claim both these things, because not once have I heard them admit to the so-called “imperfection” that they admit is evident in the Israeli government. They only seem to recognize Israel’s imperfection in theory, but not once have I heard any true Zionist Jew criticize an Israeli decision. No matter what, there is a reconciliation of Israel’s decisions with Western Morality; to my sadness I have very rarely heard any opposing viewpoints and have instead been bombarded with ready-made defenses to take down any opposing viewpoints on any Israeli decision whatsoever, be it on the streets or on college campuses.
Cutting to the chase here, the problem this poses, beyond the potentially widespread ignorance among Jews, is the way the non-Jewish world will view us as a result. Since we have established that the Israeli government makes mistakes, like any government that has ever graced planet Earth, to equate Orthodox Judaism with Zionism is to integrate a fallible, imperfect source as a primary influence of mainstream Judaism.
God is perfect. If God created the world and gave the Torah to the Jewish people, the Torah and all its practice must be 100% perfect as well. Therefore, if Judaism is “right,” its practice by Orthodox Jews must be pretty close to God’s word, assuming modern Orthodoxy has it down correctly. But letting in an imperfect source into an arguably perfect and Godly tradition that has been preserved – through painstaking effort over thousands of years – both tarnishes the perfect source, and elevates the imperfect one.
If you go onto Youtube and watch any video related to Israel, you’ll no doubt see a stream of anti-semitic, hateful comments somewhere at the bottom of the page. There are thousands upon thousands of websites – http://www.realzionistnews.com, for example – that discuss how the Jews controls America, how the Jews corrupt everything important in the world, etc. But what they really mean, unfounded as their opinions tend to be, is that the Zionists control the media, because it’s the “Israeli agenda” they refer to, even though they label it the “Jewish agenda.” Israel and her action’s are primarily criticized, but criticized under the label of Jews and the Jewish problems and how the Jews are powerful and how the Jews are in control and how the Jews run the media, etc, etc, etc.
This very Passover, which begins in a few short hours, a custom is both beginning and continuing as it has for many years. Many people have decided to somehow incorporate captured soldier Gilad Shalit into their respective Pesach celebrations, literally incorporating him into the Passover Seder, and thus elevating Gilad beyond a captured Israeli solder in distress, a symbol of Zionist struggle, to a symbol of unity for the whole Jewish people. Now, I pity Gilad Shalit, and I advocate for his immediate release from the hands of Hamas as much as I can. But I do so as a Zionist, and as a humanitarian, and importantly, not as a Jew. I firmly believe that the second I do that, I begin to elevate Gilad and the Israeli government to a nearly divine status. And if I do that, if we do that, we provide anti-semitic fodder for those who hate us to hate us even more, and for those who don’t hate us to begin to hate us. Because the Israeli government is bound to mess up sometime, and many believe it already has messed up many times.
In conclusion, as long as we allow a necessarily fallible, imperfect source to heavily influence an infallible, perfect source, the perfect source becomes tarnished. It is a very sad world indeed when a huge percentage of powerful and opinionated non-Jews do not themselves appreciate the difference between Zionism and Judaism that we absolutely need to reinforce. If that day does unfortunately come (you might say it already has!), Jews worldwide – myself included – will ask why the world antagonizes us so. Of course, there are many, many reasons for anti-semitism, spanning from far before the modern State of Israel was eve a vague dream. But all I’m saying is that the unhealthy, unnecessary blending of Zionism and Judaism will definitely feed many antisemitic mouths, and will also promote a false idea of Judaism to its followers… As I have observed and described I already see unfolding.
As a Jew and as a humanitarian who deeply sympathizes with Gilad, his family, and the entire Israeli people, I ask people to consciously understand the distinction between these two very different ideas. They are not interchangeable, not mutually exclusive, and when totally combined, their synthesis only promotes unnecessary negativity. I sincerely wish any Jew reading this (and any Jew that isn’t) a Chag Kasher V’Sameach and a meaningful, spiritually uplifting Passover. Here’s to a week of the worst food we’ll ever eat in our lives! Just kidding. Matzah pizza and Matzah with cream cheese really isn’t all that bad.