Looking Backward: The Two-State Solution Needs a One-State Solution
[“Looking Backward” is an occasional feature on TraditionOnline.org in which we ask authors to reflect on their contributions to the pages of Tradition from years ago, or in which we re-explore classic essays and their ongoing contributions to religious thought.]
In 1975 I published a short essay in Tradition, largely in response to the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. The essay was a kind of jeremiad, and, understandably, it discomfited a number of readers, some even accusing me of being a closet anti-Zionist. (“Israel, Torah, and I: Musings of a Temporary Resident”; Fall 1975). I am mindful of the irony visible now in hindsight: My critics still live in the United States; I have made my home in Jerusalem for the past 30 years.
The gist of the essay was that there is no guarantee that the State of Israel will remain ours forever, and that we have to earn the right to own it and inhabit it. I cautioned that if, as some quarters would prefer, we become “like all other nations” and blindly imitate the worst of Western culture, we will be complicit in Israel’s destruction from within, God forbid, and susceptible to the biblical punishment of being expelled from the land. From the perspective of over four decades, I must say that there is little in it that I would change today. The attraction of becoming “like all other nations” is as strong as ever, and the permissive, everything-goes, liberal-left line of the world is alive and kicking in Israeli secular circles. From innocuous (and some non-innocuous) clothing styles and male ear and nose-rings among high-school youth to the legitimization of homosexuality and the obliteration of gender differences – not yet present in 1975 – the influence of the worst aspects of the West is palpable in 2020 throughout secular Israeli society.
Not to mention the abysmal secular ignorance – especially among young people – of the simple basics of history, Tanakh, and the rudiments of classical Jewish sources. (Experiment: ask an intelligent secular high school senior: who is Maimonides, or Rashi, or what is Mishna, or how he spends Rosh Hashana. Suggestion: take an anti-depressant pill with you.)
But – and this I did not foresee in 1975 – just as secularism is still alive and kicking, so also has the Torah-oriented community grown and developed to a remarkable degree, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Torah study and genuine piety, tzedaka and hesed are at a level of depth and breadth rarely seen before in the Jewish diaspora.
Thus it is that the two tracks – not parallel, but gradually veering away from one another – pose a life-threatening danger to the future of the State, even if there were no bombs or rockets or worldwide anti-Semitism arrayed against us. The two-state solution needs a one-state solution, lest Israel split into two separate peoples. One secular Jew remarked recently that he would rather have his daughter marry an Arab Muslim than a haredi Jew. The two groups have little interaction with one another – which is an understatement. For example, the haredim, who with their huge birthrate are poised to be the majority in Israel within 50 years, consider the secular extremists to be a mortal danger to the Jewish people; secularists, returning the kudos, feel the same about the haredim. On the surface, never the twain shall meet.
The good news, however, is that the Yiddishe neshama and its search for truth will not be quenched, and here and there one finds reminders that secular Judaism is not that monolithic. There remains a deep longing for some form of authentic Judaism, one which Orthodoxy, neither modern nor haredi, has not been able to satisfy.
The truth is that secularism is not an ideology. Not every non-religious Israeli is necessarily a secular Jew. There resides within him a yearning for some meaningful connection with God. But that is a subject for another time.
Much has changed since 1975. On the one hand, Israel has become an economic, military, and hi-tech powerhouse. The sudden influx of millions of Russians – some of whom are halakhically Jewish – has transformed Israeli mores and politics. And of course, as befits a Middle Eastern country, there remains endemic corruption in high places, with Prime Ministers either serving or facing prison time. Some things never change.
Hovering above it all is the theme of my 1975 piece: Israel is not a nation like all others; the Jewish people must earn the right to dwell in the land. The warning of lo taki ha’aretz etkhem (Lev. 18:28, 20:22) is still relevant today. This might again be a jeremiad – but even jeremiads are occasionally true.
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman served as the editor of TRADITION from 1988 to 2001. His many archived essays and columns published in our journal can be found here.
[Published January 2, 2020]