For Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney’s students

Shalom/Salaam/Peace!  I’m honored that your teacher asked me to expound on Zionism from one fairly-balanced left-leaning American Jewish perspective.  The (low-production-value, off-the-cuff!) video is at  A few sources are referenced there, including my 2012 Yom Kippur sermon, which you may want to have open while watching/listening to the video — click here, YK 2012 ‘Home Leave’ to print , for the sermon text.

Another resource I cite briefly in the video, but that’s worth perusing more fully, is Dr. Boaz Newmann’s progressive Israeli perspective, at 

And, it’s always good to have a historical timeline, for context:   start easy, with reasonably accurate balanced choices of just a couple pages each, like or — then for more detail, especially in 20th C and around the conflict, try

The text I more or less spoke from on camera (hate being a talking head, but no choice here!):  Zionism 101 for LTSP 2013.  You’ll find there the final paragraph that I meant to add before the camera ran out of juice!  (it read: “Literally, both of these mugs [Germantown PA & Kibbutz Ketura] are in my kitchen, often used.  American Jews really do have two homes.  I’m honored to speak to you from one of mine.  I bless you with a meaningful exploration of Zionism and Israel; with an open mind and heart; and with celebrating and blessing those who strive for Shalom/salaam – for as was first said on the shores of the gorgeous Sea of Galilee, “blessed are the peacemakers”.  May they carry the day, soon.  Thank you…”)

And after that, please do the reading that Dr. Gafney wisely assigned — it’s a subject worth all those words, and many more.


And bonus material — various (alas all-male, though Rachel Blaustein is in the talk 😉 original takes from the last 120 years or so of Zionist thought, starting with Herzl and Ha-Am, and ending with modern American activist rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel and Mordechai M Kaplan.  Enjoy:


Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg)

1897 “The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem”

           Jewish settlement, which will be a gradual growth, will become in course of time the center of the nation, wherein its spirit will find pure expression and develop in all its aspects to the highest degree of perfection of which it is capable.  Then, from this center, the spirit of Judaism will radiate to the great circumference, to all the communities of the Diaspora, to inspire them with new life and to preserve the over-all unity of our people.  When our national culture in Palestine has attained that level, we may be confident that it will produce [people] in the Land of Israel itself who will be able, at a favorable moment, to establish a State there – one which will be not merely a State of Jews but a really Jewish State…

…a political ideal which is not grounded in our national culture is apt to seduce us from loyalty to our own inner spirit, and to beget in us a tendency to find the path of glory in the attainment of material power and political dominion, thus breaking the thread that unites us with the past…

Hayim Nachman Bialik

1925, Dedication of Hebrew University

         …We are not come here to seek wealth, or dominion, or greatness.  How much of these can this poor little country give us?  We wish to find here only a domain of our own for our physical and intellectual labor …  For the present there is only a small beginning of upbuilding, yet already the need has been felt for erecting a home for the intellectual world of the nation.  Such has ever been the nature of our people:  it cannot live for three consecutive days without Torah.  Already at this early hour we experience cultural needs that cannot be postponed, and must be satisfied at once.  Besides, we are burdened with heavy cares for the cultural fate of our people in the Diaspora …

We must therefore hasten to light here the first lamp of learning, before the last lamp grows dark for us in foreign lands.  And this we propose to do in the house whose doors have been opened this day upon Mount Scopus…


Yehuda Leib Pinsker  (1882, Auto-Emancipation)

           Judeophobia is a psychic aberration.  As a psychic aber-ration, it is hereditary; as a disease transmitted for two thousand years, it is incurable…  For the living, the Jew is a dead [person]; for the natives, an alien and a vagrant; for property holders, a beggar; for the poor, an exploiter and a millionaire; for patriots, a [person] without a country; for the classes, a hated rival…

Theodor Herzl  (1894 Diary, 1896 Der Judenstat)

           …the Promised Land, where we can have hooked noses, black or red beards, and bow legs, without being despised for it, where we can live at last as free men [sic] on our own soil, and where we can die peacefully in our own fatherland…

We are one people – our enemies have made us one, together – and thus united, we suddenly discover our strength.  Yes, we are strong enough to form a state, indeed, a model state.

… The world needs a Jewish state; therefore it will arise.

The Zionist Organization  (1922, Memorandum to the League of Nations Council)

           They are persuaded that in Palestine alone it is possible for Jews as such to live their corporate life and attain their full stature as a people in perfect harmony with their environment.  They are not less firmly persuaded that it is in the interest of the new world order that the discord in the Jewish soul should be resolved, and that the Hebrew genius, restored to Hebrew soil, should have an assured opportunity of once more making its characteristic contribution to the common stock.  [compare Bialik:  “”We will be a normal state when we have the first Hebrew prostitute, the first Hebrew thief and the first Hebrew policeman.””]

David Ben Gurion  (1944, “The Imperatives of the Jewish Revolution”)

           We must master our fate; we must take our destiny into our own hands!  This is the doctrine of the Jewish revolution — not non-surrender to the Galut (Diaspora), but making an end to it.

Galut means dependence – material, political, spiritual, cultural, and intellectual dependence – because we are aliens, a minority, bereft of a homeland, rootless and separated from the soil, from labor, and from basic industry.  Our task is to break radically with this dependence and to become masters of our own fate – in a word, to achieve independence.

To have survived in the Galut despite all odds is not enough; we must create, by our own effort, the necessary conditions for our future survival as a free and independent people.

The meaning of the Jewish revolution is contained in one word – independence!

Independence for the Jewish people, in its homeland!


Nachman Syrkin (1898, “The Jewish Problem and the Socialist-Jewish State”)

           A classless society and national sovereignty are the only means of solving the Jewish problem completely.  The social revolution and cessation of the class struggle will also normalize the relationship of the Jew and his [sic] environment.  The Jew must, therefore, join the ranks the proletariat, the only element which is striving to make an end of the class struggle, and to redistribute power on the basis of justice.

The Jew has been the torchbearer of liberalism, which emancipated him as part of its war against the old society; today…the Jew must become the vanguard of socialism…

The Jewish state come about only if it is socialist; only by fusing with socialism can Zionism become the ideal of the whole Jewish people.        [See Chaim Arlosoroff:  “The land shall never pass into the hands of individuals; it shall be the property of the people that championed it in a struggle against many obstacles.”]

 Aaron David Gordon (1911, Ha’Avodah)

           In Palestine we must do with our own hands all the things that make up the sum total of life.  We must ourselves do all the work – from the least strenuous, cleanest, and most sophisticated, to the dirtiest and most difficult.  In our own way, we must feel what a worker feels, and think what a worker thinks.  Then, and only then, shall we have a culture of our own, for then we shall have a life of our own….

We have been deprived of labor (I do not say ‘we have sinned,’ for it was not our fault that we arrived at this situation); and we shall be healed through labor.  Labor must become the pivot of our aspirations, and the basis of our national structure…

Only by making Labor, for its own sake, our national ideal shall we be able to cure ourselves of the plague that has affected us for many generations, and mend the rift between ourselves and Nature.


Yehuda Alkalai (1843, The Third Redemption)

           It is written in the Bible:  “Return, O God, unto the tens and thousands of the families of Israel.”  On this verse the rabbis commented in the Talmud as follows:  “it proves that the Divine Presence can be felt only if there are at least twenty-two thousand Israelites together.”  Yet we pray every day, “let our eyes behold Your return in mercy unto Zion.”  Upon whom should the Divine Presence rest — on sticks and stones?!       Therefore, as the first step in the redemption of our souls, must cause at least twenty-two thousand to return to the Holy Land.  This is the necessary preparation for a descent of the Divine Presence among us; afterwards, God will grant us and all Israel further signs of favor…

Aaron David Gordon (1913, The Congress)

           …The Diaspora has killed our independent life force, the strength to create for ourselves life from within ourselves, for our own part and on our own responsibilities.  We have consequently been unable to leave it, because wherever we go are capable only of creating a new Diaspora for ourselves.  There is no secure refuge, from the Diaspora which is within us, anywhere in the world.  This fact is not seen, and it may almost be said that it is not wanted to be seen, since in Eretz Yisrael, I believe one can feel it with one’s hands….

 Martin Buber (1918, Zion and Youth)

           There is no true Jewish state other than the state in which the rules of Moses’ Law concerning equality of wealth are maintained, and in which social justice as preached by the prophets is realized in a way that encompasses the economic conditions of our era, and dominates them.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook (1930’s, Lights & Rebirth and The Holiness of the Land)

      [Torah Zionists must work] harder at the task of uncovering the light & holiness implicit in our national spirit, the divine element which is at its core.  The secularists will thus be constrained to realize that they are immersed and rooted in the life of God…

Jewry in the Diaspora had no real foundation; it lives only by the power of a vision, and by the memory of our glory – i.e., by the past and the future.  But there is a limit to the power of such a vision to carry the burden of life, and to give direction to the career of a people – and this limit seems already to have been reached.  Diaspora Jewry is therefore disintegrating at an alarming rate, and there is no hope for it unless it replants itself by the well-spring of real life, of inherent sanctity, which can only be found in Eretz Yisrael…               Independent Jewish creativity, in the sphere of thought or in the sphere of daily life and action, is impossible for [the People of] Israel, except in the Land of Israel.

6.  NON – or POST (?) – ZIONISM

Avram Burg (2008, The Holocaust is Over, We Must Rise from Its Ashes)

           “This country is not the country that we built. We founded a different country in 1948 …  a state that lives by the sword and worships its dead is bound to live in a constant state of emergency, because everyone is a Nazi, everyone is an Arab, everyone hates us, the entire world is against us….  We are abducted by the settlers; they are abducted by Hamas….

If you are a bad person… a strong-arm occupier, you are not my brother, even if you are circumcised, observe the Sabbath, and do mitzvahs.  If your scarf covers every hair on your head for modesty, you give alms and do charity, but what is under your scarf is dedicated to the sanctity of Jewish land, taking precedence over the sanctity of human life, whosever life that is, then you are not my sister.  You might be my enemy.

A good Arab or a righteous gentile will be a brother or sister to me.  A wicked man, even of Jewish descent, is my adversary, and I would stand on the other side of the barricade and fight him to the end.


        (p. 42)   …living in ‘two civilizations.’  For that, the tradition has not prepared us.  Only a movement which dares to face the new realities in the world about us is likely to help us achieve that new style of living.  That is the task of the New Zionism.

        The New Zionism should make it possible for us to see Jewish life steadily and whole.  It should relate the Jewish people, the Jewish religion and the Jewish way of life to Eretz Yisrael as the alpha and omega of Jewish existence.  Eretz Yisrael has to be reclaimed as the only place in the world where Jewish civilization can be perfectly at home.  But also other lands where Jews have taken root have to be rendered capable of harboring that civilization.  The one purpose cannot be achieved without the other.  Should Jewish civilization fail to be at home in Eretz Yisrael, it will disappear everywhere else.  Should it disappear everywhere else, it is bound to give way to some new Levantine civilization in Eretz Yisrael.

(p. 26) All this leads to one inescapable conclusion:  Zionism should henceforth treat the establishment of the State of Israel only as the first indispensable step in the salvaging of the Jewish people and the regeneration of its spirit.  Actually to attain these objectives, Zionism has to be viewed not merely as a cultural and political movement, but also as a religious movement for our day.


       (p. 113)  We are tired of expulsions, of pogroms; we have had enough of extermination camps.  We are tired of apologizing for our existence.  If I should go to Poland or Germany, every stone, every tree would remind me of contempt, hatred, murder, of child-ren killed, of mothers burned alive, of human beings asphyxiated.

        When I go to Israel every stone and every tree is a reminder of hard labor and glory, of prophets and psalmists, of loyalty and holiness.  The Jews go to Israel not only for physical security for themselves and their children; they go to Israel for renewal, for the experience of resurrection.

(p. 224-25)   Well-meaning people used to say that a Jewish state would be an answer to all Jewish questions.  In truth, however, the State of Israel is a challenge to many of our answers.  To be involved in the life of Israel is to be in labor.

What is the meaning of the State of Israel?  Its sheer being is the message.  The life in the land of Israel today is a rehearsal, a test, a challenge to all of us.  Not living in the land, nonparticipa-tion in the drama, is a source of embarrassment.

Israel is a personal challenge, a personal religious issue.  It is a call to every one of us as an individual, a call which one cannot live vicariously.  It is at the same time a message of meaning, a hope for a new appreciation of being human.

The ultimate meaning of the State of Israel must be seen in terms of the vision of the prophets:  the redemption of all [people].  The religious duty of the Jew is to participate in the process of continual redemption, in seeing that justice prevails over power, that awareness of God penetrates human understanding.


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