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*!Charles S. Liebmanƒ *! Bar©Ilan Universityƒ
that whereas Tradition, Judaism, and the
Jewish religion existed as distinguishable conceptions in the
period of the ”yishuv• they no longer do so ©© or if they do,
distinctions are less pronounced and exist among a smaller
segment of the population than in the past. On the other hand,
Tradition no longer carries the authority over the lives of Jews
which it once did.
* Tradition, Judaism and Jewish Religion Definedƒ
prefer to capitalize the term Tradition because I am
referring to a specific tradition. Edward Shils, who has written
the most important book on tradition from a social scientific
perspective describes tradition as:
...that which has been and is being handed
down or
transmitted. It is something which was created, was
performed or believed in the past, or which is believed to
have existed or to have been performed or believed in the
Edward Shils, ”Tradition• (Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 1981), p. 13.
J But in my use of the term Tradition I don't mean
transmitted from the past or even everything Jewish transmitted
from the past, but rather what Robert Redfield has called a great f
tradition as distinct from a little tradition. According to
In a civilization there is a great tradition of the
reflective few, and there is a little tradition of the
largely unreflective many. The great tradition is cultivated
in schools or temples; the little tradition works itself out
and keeps itself going in the lives of the unlettered in
their village communities. The tradition of the philosopher,
theologian, and literary man is a tradition consciously
cultivated and handed down; that of the little people is for
the most part taken for granted and not submitted to much
scrutiny or considered refinement and improvement.
J Robert Redfield
”Peasant Society and Culture• (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 1956), pp. 41©42.
The fact that Tradition,
or what Redfield calls the great
tradition is cultivated by an elite does not mean that the masses
have no part in it. It does mean that any transformation which
the Tradition undergoes in their hands is unselfconscious and
that they only play an indirect role in its development. This
occurs when the custodians of Tradition integrate folk traditions
into the great tradition.
J Customs such as reading Kol Nidre on the eve
of Yom Kipur or
reciting Tashlikh on the New Year are examples of transformation
in the little tradition which the elite ultimately incorportaed
into the great tradition. For a more dramatic example of the
influence of popular behavior and belief, in this case of a very
special kind of community, on the custodians of Tradition, see
Haym Soloveitchik, "Religious Law and Change: The Medieval
Ashkenazic Example," ”AJS Review•, 12 (Fall, 1987), 205©221.
The masses,
regardless of how they
behave, defer to the custodians, i.e. the religious elite, as
authorities in interpreting Tradition.
The Jewish Tradition may be but need
not be identical to
Judaism or even the Jewish religion. It certainly is identical in
the minds of the religious elite. They use the terms ”masoret• or
”mesorah• (tradition), and sometimes ”Yisrael saba• (grandfather
Israel), synonymously with Torah (a euphemism for the Jewish d
religion). They are less likely to refer to Judaism ©© but when
they do, they mean Torah and ”masoret•. In other words, all the
terms are basically identical although they do evoke somewhat
different images. But Tradition, we must recall, is that which is
handed down or transmitted from the past or what is believed to
have been from the past. Therefore, it is entirely possible that
Tradition undergoes change in the process of transmittal and the
set of beliefs, or practices, or symbols which we one generation
calls Tradition differs from that which a prior generation
identified as Tradition. The term Judaism, on the other hand, may
refer to some essence, some basic set of ideas, or beliefs, or
rituals, or symbols which remains constant and to which Tradition
may be more or less faithful. The distinction is an important one
for those who are dissatisfied with Tradition but anxious to
declare their fidelity to Judaism. An alternate strategy for such
individuals is to deny that Judaism is composed of ideas or
beliefs, or rituals. Some have argued that Judaism is the label
for what Jews or the Jewish community believes and practices.
They may acknowledge that there is a Tradition, that is a set of
beliefs or practices that were transmitted from the past but deny
that this Tradition is the essence of Judaism.
Finally, one can conceive of the
Jewish religion as distinct
from Judaism and/or Tradition. Some claim that the essence of
Judaism is something other than religion ©© not a core set of
beliefs about God and man, or a set of rituals which God imposes
upon man. Instead, they argue, Judaism is concerned with the d
nature of the Jewish people and the Jewish community. Hence,
Judaism is not the same as the Jewish religion. But one can also
argue that Judaism and religion are synonymous, i.e. the essence
of Judaism is a set of beliefs about God and man and a set of
rituals which God imposes upon man, but deny that they are the
same thing as the Tradition. The latter, though it may be
religious in its parameters, may also be something other than the
religious essence of Judaism. All of these views were represented
in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Tradition, Judaism and
Religion in the Yishuv Period E
The end of the nineteenth and the first few
decades of the
twentieth century are the critical years in the formation of the
Jewish national identity. A variety of thinkers sought to
formulate the essence of a Jewish nationalism. Whereas the
Zionist settlers in Erez Yisrael often wavered between one
formulation and another, I want to identify three important
trends of thought which help distinguish between the different
poles of Jewish national identity in that period ©© all
characterized by various degrees of unwillingness to accept the
Jewish tradition (what I call Tradition), as normative.
Radical Secular
The stream of thought most antagonistic to Tradition was d
forcefully articulated by Micha Joseph Berdyczewski (1865©1921).
He felt that Tradition had to be destroyed in the process of
creating a new Hebrew. He protested against the "artificial
mending of the rift between the old and new."
J Ehud Luz, ”Parallels Meet:
Religion and Nationalism in the Early
Zionist Movement, 1882©1904• (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication
Society, 1988), p. 165. The rabbinic
culture "that led us into exile and was built on the ruins of the
land cannot live together with the national culture, which wants
to break the thread of exile and plant within us new values and a
totally new will".
J Quoted in Luz, ”Parallels Meet•, p. 166.
Berdyczewski did not reject Judaism. But as Dan Ben©Amos
points out:
A central theme in his scholarship was the romantic quest
for ”nefesh ha©umah•, "the national soul," and ”ruakh ha©'am•,
"the folk spirit." He wished to explore the psychological,
religious and social forces that generated the Jewish
national spirit, before the spirit became subjugated by the
pressures of normative Judaism and its religious and ethical
value system.
J Dan Ben©Amos, "Introduction," in Micha Joseph Bin Gorion,
”Mimekor Yisrael: Classical Jewish Folktales• vol. I (Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1976), p. xxxii.
J In other words, Berdyczewski
distinguished between "the national
soul" and the "folk spirit" which he sought to identify and
affirm, and Tradition which represented its distortion. But
recovering the national spirit did not mean, from Berdyczewski's
point of view, or the point of view of his followers, that it
would now become normative. He remained anti©traditionalist and
highly individualistic in orientation. "The Jews must come first,
before Judaism," he said. As Ehud Luz points out, he was the
first Jewish thinker to declare that Judaism is a multiplicity of d
streams, beliefs and opinions, and not a fixed system of values.
"Whatever a Jews does and thinks ©© this constitutes his
J Luz, ”op.cit.•, p. 165.
Berdyczewski's individualism was
poorly suited to the
conditions of the new (Zionist) ”yishuv•”• and the need for
collective action in the struggle for national autonomy. But his
antagonism to Tradition remained a powerful component in the life
of the new ”yishuv•. In its most extreme manifestation, it led to
what Amnon Rubinstein has called "the mythological sabra" who, as
a literary archetype, is without parents.
J Amnon Rubinstein, ”To Be A
Free People• (Tel©Aviv: Schocken, in
Hebrew, 1977), pp. 101©139.
This "new Hebrew"
however, may have been more ignorant and indifferent than
antagonistic to the Jewish past. Conservative Secular Zionism
major school of secular Zionist thought, that of
Berdyczewski and his followers, not only rejected Tradition, but
were antagonistic to the very notion of a normative tradition,
the other major school, that of Ahad Ha'am and his followers,
adopted a different strategy. They ostensibly affirmed Tradition,
but attempted to redefine its parameters. They sought to
appropriate Tradition from the hands of its former custodians,
the rabbis, reinterpret it in national terms, and transfer
custody to Judaic scholars and literary leaders. This program is
evident in a series of essays by one of Ahad Ha'am's most devoted
followers, the "national" poet, Hayyim Nahman Bialik. The most d
important of these essays, for our purposes, is "Hasefer Haivri"
(On The Hebrew Book), written in 1913. It was Bialik's dream to
reproduce a compendium, necessarily selective, of the major texts
of the Tradition in order to make them available to the modern
Hebrew reader. Increasing numbers of these readers, Bialik felt,
were ignorant of Tradition, and unable to penetrate its textual
sources, even if they wanted to do so. But the problem implied in
the essay is even more serious. For, Bialik observes, there are
those who think that:
...all the literary output of the nation in its entirety
its spiritual giants, over the course of thousands of years,
has no value in our day.
J ”The
(Tel©Aviv: Dvir, ninth ed.,
1947, in Hebrew), p. 194.
J Bialik proposes what he calls a ”kinus• ©© a
compilation of
the major literary works of the Jewish people or selections from
such works.
J Rotenstreich translates the term as "ingathering". See
Rotenstreich, ”Tradition and Reality: The Impact of History on
Modern Jewish Thought• (New York: Random House, 1972), pp. 97©108.
He describes
this effort as the creation of a new
canon, noting explicitly that, as was true of past canonizations,
such an effort would also exclude many texts.
The essay invokes terms such as
"holy spirit" or "sacred"
numerous times but the referent is not God but the Jewish people.
Indeed, the enterprise is steeped in an aura of holiness but, as
Bialik observes, differs from previous canonizations since the
present one would be in accordance with the "national" rather
than the "religious" spirit.
Bialik deals with the question ©© who would make
decisions; who would decide what was to be included in the ”kinus•
and what was to be excluded? His general answer is: d
The opinion of the
people and its sentiments, or as the
ancient phrase puts it: "The holy spirit" of the nation. We
have no other criteria at the present time.
J ”Ibid•., p. 196,
But this is hardly a practical answer. It turns
out that the
custodians of the new Tradition, i.e. those who determine what
will or will not be included in the canon are to be Judaica
scholars ©© and, Bialik later adds, "the best writers". The
scholars, he states, "are nothing but the spiritual
representatives of the people, and they have no choice but to
defer to the demands of life, sometimes in opposition to their
own inclinations".
J ”Ibid•.
Bialik uses the term ”hakhamim• (wise men) for Judaica
scholars, and this permits him to juxtapose them with the ”•ancient
”hakhamim•, i.e. the rabbinical sages. Thus, without so much as an
apology to the reader, he demonstrates the power of life over the
private inclinations of the scholars by quoting texts concerning
the desire and subsequent failure of ”hakhamim• to exclude the
books of Ezekiel and Ecclesiastes from the canon. Bialik warned against efforts to
rewrite or distort the
contents of the texts to be selected. But in his own major effort
in this direction, his six volume ”Sefer Haagadah•, compiled with
Yehoshua Hana Ravnitsky, he and Ravnitsky, according to Dan Ben×Amos: "expurgated
the text of offensive statement...[and] omitted
those narratives which they found either aesthetically
unappealing or educationally inappropriate."
J Dan Ben©Amos, ”op.cit.•, p.xl.
oversimplification, Berdyczewski, d
and his followers were prepared to concede Tradition to the
rabbis. Tradition was "rabbinic culture" which was not the same
as the spirit of Judaism. Tradition was associated with the old
”•”yishuv•, from which the Zionist settlers were so anxious to
J Yehoshua Kaniel, "The Terms 'Old Yishuv' and 'New Yishuv' In
Contemporaneous Usage (1882©1914) and in Historiographical
Usage," ”Cathedra•, no. 6 (December, 1977), pp. 3©19.
Ahad Ha'am and his
followers looked to
the scholars (often themselves), as the custodians of a
reformulated Tradition and identified it with Judaism. In practice, however, the
Tradition, certainly in symbolic
form, in terms of ritual, ceremonial, objects, and language, were
less and less evident in Israeli society until the 1960's.
Bialik's fears about the ignorance and antagonism of the new
Hebrew to the Jewish tradition were increasingly realized. The
effort of the Ahad Ha'am school at reconstituting Tradition, was
largely in vain. Until the end of the 1960's, Israeli society
seemed to be increasingly indifferent if not alienated from
J This topic is treated more fully in Charles S. Liebman and
Eliezer Don©Yehiya, ”Civil Religion in Israel: Traditional Judaism
and Political Culture in the Jewish State• (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1983).
Religious Zionism
The third trend within the new
”•”yishuv• that deserves mention
is that of religious Zionism. It was a minor influence in the
period of the ”yishuv•”• but has become far more influential in
contemporary Israeli society. Therefore, its transformation is
especially interesting.
Religious Zionist thinkers adopted a rather ambiguous
attitude toward Tradition. This was especially true within Torah d
v'Avodah, the labor wing of religious Zionism. This is not
surprising in view of the fact that the vast majority of rabbis,
and the leaders of the rabbinic world in particular, i.e. the
custodians of Tradition, bitterly opposed the Zionist enterprise.
Aryei Fishman
J Aryei Fishman, "'Torah and Labor': The Radicalization of
Religion Within a National Framework," ”Studies in Zionism•, no. 6
(Autumn, 1982), pp. 255-271; "Tradition and Renewal In the
Religious©Zionist Experience," Abraham Rubinstein (ed.), ”In the
Paths of Renewal: Studies in Religious Zionism• (Ramat©Gan: Bar×Ilan University
and ”Hapoel
(Documents)•, edited and with an
introduction by Aryei Fishman (Tel©Aviv: Tel©Aviv University, in
Hebrew, 1979).
has shown how the religious©Zionists integrated
both Zionism and modernity into their religious formulations.
They termed their own efforts "a holy revolution" and, in the
tradition of Jewish religious reformers, invoked the message of
the prophets, i.e. they ostensibly returned to an original,
essential, more pristine Judaism, and payed relatively less
attention to later rabbinic texts with their emphasis on ”halakha•.
Furthermore, as Fishman notes, the religious©Zionists attributed
a special sanctity to their own community ©© confident that the
special charisma that resided among them would insure their
fidelity to the commands of God, even as these appeared contrary
to Tradition.
* Tradition, Judaism and Religion Todayƒ
Jewish religion, and Judaism are understood,
today, by the vast majority of Israeli Jews, as meaning more or
less the same thing. In the process of reintegrating Tradition,
religion and Judaism, Tradition, in particular, has assumed new
content ©© a process which, in Ivan Marcus' felicitous term we
can label "innovation disguised as tradition".
J Ivan Marcus, "The
Devotional Ideals of Ashkenazic Pietism,"
Arthur Green (ed.), ”Jewish Spirituality: From the Bible Through
the Middle Ages• (New York: Crossroad, 1988), p. 357.
The first point to note is
that the rabbis have reemerged as d
the custodians of Tradition. Their influence has come at the
expense of custom (community practice) and the role of Judaic
scholars. This is true among both the ”dati• (religious), as well
as the non©”dati• population. Among the ”datiim•, for example,
decisions of Jewish law, which once accommodated and even
deferred to communal and familial custom, no longer do so. The
classic anecdote, in this regard, and my colleague Menachem
Friedman vouches for its authenticity, is the refusal of the
grandson of the preeminent rabbinical sage of two generations
ago, the Hafetz Haim, to offer the benediction over wine in his
grandfather's goblet, because its size is inadequate according to
criteria established by the Hazon Ish, the preeminent rabbinical
sage of the last generation. Among non©”datiim•, especially but not
exclusively among those of Sephardic descent, one can point to
the rising influence of holy men, whose advice as well as
blessings are increasingly considered critical in matters ranging
from health care, marriage, and accident prevention, to the
choice of political candidates. These holy men are possessed of
charisma; they are not simply custodians of Tradition. But they
nevertheless speak in the name of Tradition and never in
opposition to it.
One observor traces the growth of rabbinic influence among
the non©religious to the decline of the influence of politicians
and generals who "found popular trust being withdraen from them
and reinvested, if anywhere, in rabbis."
J Edward Norden, "Behind 'Who Is
a Jew' A Letter from
Jerusalem," ”Commentary• 87 (April, 1989), p. 30. The growing importance
of rabbis as custodians of Tradition is evident in the space d
offered to them in the general press prior to holidays. Most,
perhaps all Israeli dailies devote at least one article, on the
eve of a holiday, to a description of the nature of the holiday.
My impression is that during the last two decades a decreasing
number of article are written by Judaic scholars from a scholarly
perspective and an increasing number of articles are written by
rabbis from a rabbinic perspective. The noted Judaica scholar
Yosef Dan notes the decline in importance of Judaica scholarship
and scholars in Israeli society in the present period.He
attributes this decline to the secular public's increasing
association of Judaism with its religious, indeed its ”haredi•
J Yoesf Dan, "The Hegemony of the Black Hats," ”Politika•
No. 29
(November, 1989), pp. 12©15.
But the Tradition over which the rabbis
reign is not, as we
noted, the same Tradition over which they held sway in the past.
The most important change is its nationalization ©© a process
accompanied by the "traditionalizing" of Zionism.
historiographical paper so I confine myself
to repeating the observation by Immanuel Etkes
J The observation was made
in a paper delivered at a Shorashim
Conference at the Mount Zion Hotel, March, 1989. about recent
efforts, from a variety of sources, to blur any major distinction
between the ”aliyot• of traditional Jews ©© the hasidim in the late
eighteenth century and the ”aliya• of the Vilna Gaon's students in
the early nineteenth century ©© with the Zionist ”aliyot• beginning
in the late nineteenth century. One finds efforts to "zionise"
the early ”aliyot• of religious Jews by describing them as
messianic in intent and nationalist in activity. And one also
finds efforts to traditionalize the Zionist ”aliyot• by emphasizing d
the number of religious Jews present in the first ”aliya•. Etkes'
observation is all the more significant because while he points
to a tendency among academicians and putative scholars, I believe
it is present among political leaders as well ©© in no less a
figure than Ben©Gurion, especially toward the end of his life.
nationalization of the Tradition takes place at many
levels. A necessary condition, perhaps even a catalyst, was the
transformation of the Tradition in the hands of the religious×Zionists.
Religious©Zionism could have legitimated the effort to
establish a Jewish state and cooperate with secular Zionists
through a number of alternative strategies.
J See the chapter "Religious
Orthodoxy's Attitudes Toward
Zionism," in Charles S. Liebman and Eliezer Don©Yehiya, ”Religion
and Politics in Israel• (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
1984), pp. 57©78. It could have
argued, as did Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines (1839©1915), and more
recently Yeshayahu Leibowitz, that a Jewish state is vital for
the physical well being of the Jewish people but that the Zionist
enterprise has nothing to do with religion. It could have argued,
as did Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel (1883©1946), for a rigidly
utilitarian program of cooperation with secular Zionists, taking
care to stress that on religious issues there is no distinction
between religious©Zionists and anti©Zionist ”haredim•. Instead,
religious©Zionism adopted the ideology of Rabbi Abraham Isaac
Hacohen Kook (1865©1935)”•, an ideology which sanctified Zionist
ideals in religious terminology and even legitimated secular×Zionism by explaining
it as an instrument of God in the
Redemption of the Jewish people.
In retrospect, the victory of Rav Kook's
reconceptualization d
of the Tradition was inevitable. Few religious people will
dedicate their lives to a project which is not a matter of
religious concern. What I find especially instructive is that
this transformation in the content of Tradition took place before
most religious©Zionists had read Rav Kook's work or heard his
ideology expounded. It is only since the 1960's that
interpretations of Rav Kook have flourished, that his disciples
have founded ”yeshivot• which preach his message, or that study
groups have been established all over Israel where Rav Kook's
doctrines are taught as normative Judaism. I don't mean to
minimize the impact of this effort. But it is important to note
that Rav Kook's basic doctrine ©© a doctrine that pointed to the
Zionist enterprise as the signal of divine redemption and to
those engaged in that enterprise as fulfilling God's commands,
whether they acknowledged it or not ©© was adopted by religious×Zionists because
the idea facilitated their acceptance into the
new ”yishuv• and their alliances with the non©religious, not
because they found the proof texts in this regard overwhelming.
But Rav Kook himself appreciated the radical nature of much of
what he preached and the difficulty of integrating it into
Tradition. Indeed, it has even been argued that he adopted a
negative attitude toward "religion" although he construed this
term in a very special manner ©© and at one stage some of his
disciples sought to emphasise the distinction between "religion"
whihc carried the negative association of ”galut• and house of
study with "faith" and the Jew living a natural life in his own d
J Gideon Aran, "From Religious Zionism to A Zionist Religion The
Origin and Culture of Gush Emunim A Messianic Movement in Modern
Israel," Ph.D. Thesis submitted to the Hebrew University, 1987.
Today, his
disciples have been at some pains to deny
the radical nature of Rav Kook's thought; to the point of editing
and censoring some manuscripts and refusing to publish others.
J Hagai
Segel, "Lights From Dimness," [Orot Me'Ofel] ”Nekudah• no.
113 (September, 1987), in Hebrew
Rav Kook, in the eyes of his followers, is no longer a
revolutionary voice or the radical innovator he was once reputed
to be, but the successor in a line of luminaries that extends
from Rabbi Judah HaLevi to Nahmanides to the Maharal.
tradition, religion and Zionism in Israel
is nicely illustrated in a recent bulletin of Tehilla, an
organization dedicated to promoting ”aliya• among religious Jews.
The bulletin contains an article by one rabbi and a news story
about another. The first rabbi serves a major congregation in
Tel©Aviv. In the photo accompanying his article he appears in a
distinctively rabbinical style ©© black frock, homberg hat,
beard, indistinguishable from a ”haredi•. The article centers on
the different message to which each of the four cups of wine
which the Jew drinks at the ”seder• points. The messages are
distinguished by their level of spirituality but all point to the
"spiritual centrality of the holy land". The most important or
highest level message, the rabbi notes, must be transmitted to
religious as well as non©religious Jews. Eventually they must all
appreciate, he says, that the ultimate purpose of ”aliya•, which he
compares to the exodus from Egypt, is the appropriation of the
verse "and I shall be your God and you shall know that I am the
J Ben©Zion Nesher, "Four Languages of Redemption," ”Derech
Tehilla•, no. 22 (April, 1989), p. 9.
This mingling of religion, tradition
and ”aliya• stands in d
contrast to a news story about an American rabbi, who immigrated
to Israel and after a year©and©a©half revisited his native
country. He is quoted as telling Orthodox audiences that:
"there's lots more to being Jewish than religion ... Judaism is
not just a religion but a nationhood."
J The story apeared in the
”Cleveland Jewish News• (February 24,
1989) and was reprinted in ”Derech Tehilla•, no. 22 (April, 1989),
p. 30. The reappropriation of Tradition and its nationalization by
religious©Zionists was probably a necessary condition in the
acceptance of Tradition and the legitimation of religion among
the non©”datiim•. I already made reference to the growing influence
of the rabbis in defining the content of Tradition among non×”datiim•. This is
especially true of non©”datiim• aligned with the
political right. Religious Jews are perceived as their political
allies and religion as a powerful instrument to legitimate their
political demands. Their conceptions of Judaism may more properly
be termed a "mood" or an "identity" rather than an ideology. One
reason it lacks clear articulation may be because its proponents
are so sympathetic to traditional religion that they are
reluctant to pose an alternative to religious conceptions of
Tradition. Disproportionate numbers of Sephardi Jews, the bulk of
those who define themselves as ”masorati'im• (traditional in their
religious orientation), share this mood. But they include some
who define themselves as ”hiloni• (secular) as well. Ariel Sharon,
the favorite political leader of the ultra-nationalists, is
quoted as saying, "I am proud to be a Jew but sorry that I am not
J ”Ma'ariv• "Weekend Supplement", (March 10, 1986), p. 12.
In the last few years, as divisions between doves and hawks d
have sharpened, one hears increasingly that fidelity to religion
and loyalty to the state are associated. Thus, a circular from
the Religious Division within the Ministry of Education to
principals of religious schools in 1988 reminded them that Jewish
traitors come from the anti-religious left and not from within
the ranks of the religious. And a columnist for the
religious-Zionist daily discusses "the Israeli left, sections of
which betrayed the State and associated themselves with the
J ”Hatzofeh• (June 27, 1968), p. 3.
The writer notes that
"leftism" is correlated with
disorganized family life, divorce and "unofficial marriages" i.e.
marriages not conducted in accordance with Jewish law.
It is not surprising
that ”dati• spokesmen emphasize the
association between religion and patriotism. But non©”dati• leaders
do so as well. Thus, for example, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir
is quoted as saying:
The left today is not what it once was. In the past,
and economic issues were its major concern. Today, its
concern is zealousness for political surrender and, on the
other hand, war against religion. It is only natural that
someone whose stance is opposed to the Land of Israel will
also oppose the Torah of Israel.
J ”Ma'ariv• (December 20, 1987 p.
J The affirmation of nationalist ideals and their integration
into the Tradition, in the hands of the rabbis, certainly eased
the way for the non©”datiim• to reaffirm their own ties to the
Jewish people (no longer Hebrews as distinct from Jews), and to
Jewish history (no longer repressing "two thousand years" of d
”galut•, or reducing it to an unfortunate interlude).
nationalized, among both non©”datiim• as
well as religious©Zionists, through a selective interpretation of
sacred texts and of Jewish history. Emphasis is given to the
sanctity and centrality of ”eretz yisrael•, the Land of Israel. The
Zionists celebrated their radical departure from the Tradition in
their efforts to reclaim and settle the Land, Israelis celebrate
their continuity with the Tradition in this regard. What is all
the more remarkable is that ”eretz yisrael• has come to symbolize
both loyalty to the State of Israel as well as loyalty to the
Tradition. Indeed, as Baruch Kimmerling points out, the term
”eretz yisrael• has increasingly replaced the term State of Israel in the
pronouncements of national leaders, especially those on
the political right.
J Baruch Kimmerling, "Between the Primordial and the
Definition of the Collective Identity: ”Eretz Israel• or the State
of Israel?", Erik Cohen, Moshe Lissak and Uri Almagor (eds.),
”Comparative Social Dynamics: Essays in Honor of S.N. Eisenstadt•
(Boulder: Westview Press, 1985), pp. 262©83. To be a good Jew means to live in
the Land
of Israel under conditions of Jewish autonomy.
Tradition means its
particularization as well. I don't wish to argue that this is a
distortion of the Jewish past. I suspect that the effort to
interpret the Tradition as moralistic and universalistic, an
effort that is basic to the American Jewish understanding of
Tradition, is far less faithful than is the Israeli version to
what Jews throughout the ages understood as Tradition.
J I explore this
notion in greater detail in "Ritual, Ceremony
and the Reconstruction of Judaism in the United States," ”Studies
in Contemporary Jewry•, vol. VI. forthcoming. But it
merits mention because it does stand in contrast to the Zionist
effort to "normalize" Jewish existence. Classical Zionists
suggested that antisemitism was a consequence of the peculiar
condition of the Jews as perennial "guests" or "strangers" in d
countries not their own. It was not, they claimed, the result of
any special animus toward Jews as such. This claim was necessary
to bolster Zionist belief that once the Jews had a country of
their own their condition would be normalized and antisemitism
would disappear. This was among the more non©traditional
components of the Zionist credo.
Israeli Jews no longer, for the most part,
believe this to
be true. Antisemitism, they are likely to believe, is endemic.
"The world is all against us" as the refrain of a popular song
went, suggests that there is nothing that Jews in general or
Israelis in particular can do to resolve the problem. The Jew is
special because he is hated and he is hated because he is
special. This is the lesson of Jewish history, as my own students
are wont to remind me, and it serves to anchor the state of
Israel within the currents of Jewish life. In summary, Zionism,
the ideology of Jewish nationalism has been transformed and
anchored to the Tradition, and the Tradition, in turn, has been
nationalized. Erik Cohen describes this trend as:
a reorientation of the basic
principles of legitimation of
Israel: a trend away from secular Zionism, especially its
pioneering©socialist variety, towards a neo©traditionalist
Jewish nationalism which, while it reinforces the primordial
links among Jews both within Israel and the diaspora, de×emphasizes the modern,
civil character of the state.
J Erik Cohen, "Citizenship, Nationality and
Religion in Israel
and Thailand," in Baruch Kimmerling, ”op. cit.•, p. 70.
particularism has implications for the
interpretation of ethics and morality as well. Emphasis on law d
(and ritual) means a de-emphasis on the centrality of ethics.
But, in addition, religious Jews in Israel have redefined
"morality" in particularistic rather than universalistic terms.
According to the rabbi who pioneered the establishment of
extremist education within the religious-Zionist school system,
Jews are enjoined to maintain themselves in isolation from other
peoples. Foreign culture is a particular anathema when its
standards are used to criticize Jews.
J Charles S. Liebman, "Jewish UltraNationalism in Israel:
Converging Strands," in William Frankel (ed.), ”Survey of Jewish
Affairs, 1985• (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press,
1985), pp. 28©50.
"Between the Torah of
Israel and atheist humanism there is no connection"; there is no
place in Judaism for "a humanistic attitude in determining
responses to hostile behavior of the Arab population" says
another. According to a leader of Jewish settlers on the West
Jewish national morality is distinct from universal
morality. Notions of universal or absolute justice may be
good for Finland or Australia but not here, not with us.
J ”Ibid•., p. 46
This de-emphasis on universal standards of morality among
rabbis, extends to areas other than the Jewish-Arab dispute. The
chief rabbi of Ramat-Gan, for example, decries the practice of
childless Israeli couples adopting Brazilian children, even
though the children undergo conversion procedures. Such children,
he says, will be raised as Israelis but not all of them will
identify with the Jews. "After all, it is clear that children
inherit characteristics from their parents," he says. He then
cites rabbinic texts in order to prove that non-Jews are not
blessed with the quality of mercy with which Jews are blessed, d
but on the contrary are cruel by their very nature.
J ”Hatzofeh• (June 20,
1988), p.4.
Many non©”dati• Jews may be unhappy with this type of
interpretation, but they don't doubt that it is the authentic
voice of Tradition.
* The Authority of Tradition in Contemporary Israelƒ
There is no question that Tradition has assumed a positive
valence in Israeli society today. The initial rejection of
Tradition was probably inevitable. Even those Zionists who didn't
reject religion itself were conscious of the fact that their
efforts stood in opposition to central values of the Tradition
and the pronouncements of its custodians. But, in addition, the
very excitement and hope, the revolutionary ardor which the
Zionist enterprise generated among many of its followers, youth
in particular, undermined a basic sympathy for tradition of any
kind. "No more tradition's chains shall bind us...the earth shall
rise on new foundations" is the anthem of the worker's
International but is a sentiment which revolutionaries of all
stripes are likely to share. The creation of Israel, the need to
consolidate rather than innovate a national consciousness, the
mass immigration of traditionally oriented Jews from eastern
Europe but especially from North Africa, the decline of secular
Zionism, all help explain the reemergence of Tradition, religion
and Judaism as important components of Israeli culture. Of
Israelis have adapted themselves to this d
change. Important segments of Israeli society demur. A few of
these merit attention. Steven Cohen and I have described them in
fuller detail else.
J Charles S. Liebman and Steven M. Cohen, ”Two Worlds
of Judaism•
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) First are ”•those whose dissent is an
extension of their religious extremism ©© the anti©modernist and
anti or non©Zionist ”haredim• who understand Tradition in its pre×nationalist and
pre©modernist form. Second are those who
understand the Tradition in less stridently nationalistic, in
pan©Jewish and more moralistic terms. They include a segment of
religious©Zionists of whom Rabbis Yehuda Amital and Aaron
Lichtenstein (Yeshiva heads) or Rabbi David Hartman (theologian)
are representative, and, on the other hand, those secular×Zionists who have
remained faithful to an older generation's
formulation of Judaism. The late Abba Kovner was an exemplary
representative of this tendency. Finally there are those who
don't object to the contemporary Israeli interpretation of
Tradition but wish to have no part of it. This is probably the
dominant strain in the political party Ratz, the Citizens Rights
Movement. Political scientist Ze'ev Sternhall, though himself a
member of Mapam, expressed this idea on the pages of ”Politika•, a
journal sponsored by Ratz. Sternhall bewails the absence of
western style democracy in Israel which he defines as a system of
government which places the individual and not collective goals
at the center of its concern. The key problem in Israel, he says,
is understanding the essence of democracy, "the rights of humans
to be masters of themselves...the expression of man's recognition
that all sources of political, social and moral authority inhere d
in man himself".
J Ze'ev Sternhall, "The Battle for Intellectual Control,"
”Politika•, no. 18, in Hebrew (December, 1987), pp. 2-5
Israeli political
culture he suggests, rejects the basis of
democratic thought -- that "society and state exist in order to
serve the individual...and are never ends in themselves." A major
source of Israel's collectivist culture, according to Sternhall,
is the Jewish tradition. Even the non-religious Zionists, he
maintains, "never really freed themselves from the tradition of
their father's home, and in one form or another they deferred to
”Yisrael Saba•".
Sternhall's sharp critique leads us to a final question:
granted that his description of the Jewish tradition is accurate,
to what extent does it carry real authority within Israeli
society? Since we defined Tradition in terms of the perception or
consciousness of contemporary society, it is reasonable to assume
that Israelis wouldn't understand Tradition in the way they do
unless it was congenial to them. I'm not suggesting that Israelis
or any other society defines its Traditions arbitrarily and
consciously to suit its preferences. There are two good reasons
why it cannot and does not do so. First, because preferences
themselves are a product, at least in part, of Tradition.
Secondly, because the conscious manipulation of Tradition, like
the conscious manipulation of religion, or law, destroys its
authority. It ceases to compel deference and obedience once it is
viewed as an instrument to satisfy contemporary needs rather than
rooted in a transcendent source and/or a hoary past and/or the
nature of reality. But there still remains an element of d
subjectivity, of preference, of utility in the manner in which we
define our Tradition, in the themes we select for emphasis, in
the interpretation we offer to the symbols that compel us. In
this respect, therefore, it is never entirely accurate to explain
patterns of behavior by Tradition. For, at least in some
respects, if such patterns did not suit us, we would behave
One mustn't exaggerate the compelling quality of Tradition
in contemporary Israeli society. Clifford Geertz distinguishes
between "religiousness" and "religious©mindedness"
J Clifford Geertz,
”Islam Observed: Religious Development in
Morocco and Indonesia• (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968). ©© the
difference between being held by religious conviction and holding
such convictions. Religiousness celebrates the content of the
belief, religious©mindedness celebrates the belief. Tradition, in
Israeli society, is analogous to religious©mindedness. Israelis
are in favor of the idea of Tradition which is not the same as
saying that they submit themselves to Tradition. Tradition in the
modern world ©© because it is self©conscious, because it exists,
even in the mind of its adherents as something apart from them,
because one can imagine non©Tradition ©© means that one must make
choices with respect to it. The necessity to choose Tradition
rather than simply live one's life in accordance with its norms
and values inspires fanatical devotion among some but leads
others to adopt a more permissive, latitudinarian and less
submissive orientation.
Furthermore, despite the deference which Israeli
accords Tradition, it is my impression that many Israelis are d
ignorant of (not simply mistaken about), its basic tenets. Ritual
and ceremony is certainly a source of knowledge about Tradition
and a mechanism for socializing its adherents to its norms. In a
forthcoming study of a middle income Tel©Aviv neighborhood,
sociologist Ephraim Tabory shows how second generation secular
Jewish Israelis, i.e. Israelis who define themselves as secular
and report that they were raised in secular homes, observe
virtually no Jewish ceremony or ritual.
J Ephraim Tabory, "Patterns of
Living in a Mixed Community,"
Yeshayahu (Charles) Liebman (ed.), ”Relations Between Religious
and Secular In Israeli Society• (Jerusalem: Keter, in Hebrew, 1990). The number
of such
Israelis is increasing far more rapidly than the number of ”hozrim
bitshuva• (non©religious who have chosen to become religious).
Tradition, as
we have indicated, is not necessarily the same
as religion and certainly not the same as the observance of
religious ritual. But religion, especially in Judaism, is the
most important instrument for socializing a population to the
norms of Tradition. The fact that less than 20 percent of the
Israeli Jewish population defines itself as ”dati• suggests that
the position of Tradition within Israeli society is not as secure
as one might otherwise believe. If the compelling quality of
Tradition is so limited with respect to ritual and legal matters,
than how compelling can it be in matters of values and general
social norms where it confronts a world of competing and
alternative values and norms? Individualism, Sternhall to the
contrary notwithstanding, is becoming far more commonplace in
Israel. The demand for self©fulfillment and personal
gratification is growing. The mass media, foreign travel and the
structure of the economy are enough to insure that. And those who d
dissent from Tradition, even if they constitute a small minority,
occupy key positions among the economic, political and cultural
elite. Among such people, generally the better educated and more
"enlightened", to use Shils' term, there is a prevailing notion
a great many of the beliefs, practices, and institutions
...[need] to be changed, replaced, or discarded in favor of
new ones which would invariably be better ones...the accent
of intellectual and political discourse still remains on a
movement forward from the recent and remote past. The
emphasis is on improvement.
J Shils, ”op. cit.•, p. 2.
J It is
difficult to sustain Tradition in a social milieu
antagonistic to the norms of the past. We have only to remember
that the opposite of utilizing tradition as a basis for decision×making is
utilizing reason, and we are reminded of Tradition's
inherent weakness.