Disengagement (II): The Land & The People
The latest developments in Israel are making me feel increasingly anxious about the possibility (in the medium term) of civil war among Jews, leading to war with the Arabs and the final destruction of the Third Temple. I don’t know how long will remain the State of Israel, but at least, I hope it will last more than myself.
It is well known that the question of the relation between the People and the Land have always been central in Jewish religious thought. For two thousand years, anyway, it was mainly theoretical. Even in the beginning of modern Israel, the religious Jews were not a driving force on israeli politics and many of them were outspoken critics of the whole Zionist enterprise.
But once the State was founded, and specially after the 1967 (very much biblical) victory against the Egyptians, the religious public became more attached to the state. As a result two old questions were revived: the first one is how Jewish should be the “Jewish and democratic state of Israel”; the second is related to the right of the elected officers to make decisions on hot religious topics, specially their right to withdraw from the mystical “Erezt Israel”, that is, the Land of Israel as defined in the Bible.
Two schools of thought emerged in Orthodox Judaism.The first one considered the attachment of the People to the Land as a sacred duty, which should fulfilled under all circumstances, and failure on keeping the land is considered a sin able to bring disaster to the nation. I will call this viewpoint as the “Land-idolatric Judaism”, joining in one statement the description and the opinion. Idolatry is when men turn a tool into a Master.
The second approach is that the Land belongs to the People, and was given by G_d to it, so the People has the right to fight for it, keep it, or render it as the price for other political or strategic commodities.
To discuss the present affairs from a religious perspective, I want to put the present circumstance under the light of Jewish ancient history.
Two catastrophic events have shaped both the history and the narrative (and remember: for Jews, history and narrative are always linked, sometimes in the reverse order) of Judaism: the fall of the Temples.
In VI Century Before Christ, the Babylonian armies under Nabocodonosor took Jerusalem, pillaged the Holy city, destroyed the First Temple and enslaved the People. The moral interpretation is also explicitly included in the Prophecy of Isaiah:
“So Jerusalem will fall in ruins and Juda will be sunk, because its words and facts stand against the Lord”
The Torah can be interpreted to some extent, and sometimes, accordingly to Maimonides, even directly discarded in favor of reason ( “The Torah speaks the language of man” was his conceptual tool to reevaluate the Torah under a rational light), but in these particular case, the Text is explicit and fully coherent, both on religious and historical grounds, and no Jewish scholar have doubts about the fact that on that time, division, paganism and corruption where prevalent on the old Kingdom of Israel. I consider that in religious (and even in secular terms) this consensus cannot be challenged.
From a religious and historical perspective, there is no doubt about the fact that the I Century was exactly the opposite: a period of religious piety, and even over zealotry. The Talmudic studies were, after Hilliel, in one of their all-times maxima and no apparent reason can be given for G_d´s Anger on such a Law-observant and study-oriented generation. Anyway, the Temple was destroyed, the People was partially enslaved, and one century after, following a second rebellion, the Romans killed half a million Jews and the rest were dispersed “among the nations”. It was the beginning of the Diaspora.
In my personal opinion the lack of an accurate narrative for the Fall of the Second Temple is the biggest gap on Jewish religious historiography.
For hundreds of years, even in the Land of Israel, the Jewish People have been ruled by foreign powers. The Bible praises Cirus, the King of Persia as the Great King and the protector of Jews. Beyond the Land of Israel, the Jews had no territorial claims and even when they were a regional power, under David and Salomon, they never tried to build an Empire. In fact Judaism is the only non-proselytism monotheism, and the Torah contains careful rules to protect the foreigners “because you also were a foreigner in the land of Egypt”.
The Romans were not hostile rulers. They provided Israel with peace and tried not to interfere with local affairs. The taxes were high, but the whole Empire pay them, and anyway, it flourished. It is true that there were some pagan provocations, but compared with a history of cruelty and open oppression, the evils of Roman Empire were affordable. The price of resistance was, anyway, higher.
After the Maccabe rebellions against the Greeks (far more justified), Jewish political nationalism grew strong, and for two centuries, the relative liberalism of emperors was rewarded by Israel with a permanent state of war. As a first time in their history, instead of become fascinated and learn from the foreign powers, the Israelites fully rejected the Roman/Greek culture. In those centuries the Jews became hated not because of their superior culture or ability to create wealth, but the other way round, because they were a closed, poor and ignorant society. Those centuries, despite the light of some saints as Hilliel, were the nadir of Jewish culture. Because the Jewish People has a universal destiny it should always be linked to the universal culture. Jews not only have to be global brokers of goods and money: first of all, they should trade on ideas.
Isolated and despised, the Jews turned religion into superstition.They asked for a miracle, instead of asking for wisdom. They pushed G_d, instead of following him. The Bible contains a few miracles and a lot of intelligence. The Jewish leaders fought always using the means as optimally as they could. Esther or Gedeon asked G_d for his help, and that help was inspiration and some luck. The special cleverness and boldness of some Jewish heroes have been the preferred channel used by G_d to intervene in the History of the People. In the Last Days of the Second Temple, the Jews were waiting for a miracle, instead of looking for a reasonable Treaty.
The Jewish nation is granted that it will survive up to the Last Days, but every generation plays for own their lives and no miracle will substitute the historical process. The miracle is the historic process itself.
The idea that the People belongs to the Land and the idea that G_d will make miracles in the battlefield or even in the demographic-field is against the rational tradition that Judaism has followed at least since Maimonides. The traditional Jews used to think that the Messiah would deliver the restoration of the Land to the People. But the modern (religious) Zionism is based on the opposite causality, i.e, that the return of the Jews to Israel is no longer a result, but a pre-condition for the Messianic AEra. Once the Jewish People accepted a return to the Land before the Messianic deliverance, they also accepted the Maimonidean gradualist Messianism. Miraculous Messianism is incompatible with Zionism.
The fall of the first Temple tells us a history of the catastrophic results Jews forgot about G_d; the second speaks about what happened when Jews forget about reason, and try to precipitate the historical process beyond pragmatism
So when the Jewish leaders, both political and religious make their decisions, they should not take a divine intervention into account. G_d can intervene, but only when human forces became exhausted, and the goal of the Jewish governors is to minimize those circumstances. Recent history tells us that G_d´s intervention is slow... too slow for human standards.
Currently the rational expectations are on the side disengagement Likudniks. The time for Palestinian binational claims is coming. Israel cannot be a democratic country keeping the whole land, and cutting the links with the four million Arabs in the territories is the only strategy available to remain as a part of the Western Civilization. To remain civilized. To remain Jewish, in the full sense of the word.
Two thousand years ago, a stubborn resistance to accept the reality on the ground, leaded the Jews to an impossible war, relying on a miracle. As a result of the misleading leadership of the zealots and some Doctors of the Law, the Second Temple was destroyed and the Jews lost their land for two thousand years. Since that historic mistake, pragmatism has been a core belief of Judaism.
I wonder how is possible that after two thousand years of disgrace coming from that historic mistake, people are forgetting so fast. An allucined revival of Second Temple Mesianism will only lead to same Second Temple results.
PD.-Mi segundo post sobre la desconexión. En inglés. Pronto volveré en español!