One Man’s Opinion

By Eugen Schoenfeld

A friend recently sent me a brief excerpt of a study conducted by Shmuel Rosner, who cautions us that a schism undermines universal Jewish unity.

Mr. Rosner, a journalist and senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, writes: “A sense of crisis has emerged in many Jewish communities regarding their relationships with Israel, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to discuss Israel because of the bitter political disputes these discussions spark. This difficulty may lead to the exclusion of Israel from Diaspora community agendas and is an obstacle to communicating Israel’s actions and policies to the Jewish public within a sympathetic communal framework.”

Eugen Schoenfeld

Eugen Schoenfeld

Mr. Rosner’s comments disturbed me. First, I was greatly disturbed by his own bifurcation of Jews — between the Israeli Jews and, as he calls us, the Diaspora Jews.

Calling Jews who live outside Israel Diaspora Jews is not merely nonevaluative nomenclature. To refer to us Jews who live outside Israel as Diaspora Jews displays his own value perspective. Diaspora is a sanitized version of the Hebrew word galut. The galut Jew is a ghetto Jew, one who, unlike Israeli Jews, is weak and does not stand up for himself and his rights.

Such Jews are powerless and cower before Christians or Arabs; their motto is “Keep quiet and make no waves.”

The Diaspora Jew is one described by Haman: a people different from all other people in the land and unworthy of the trust of the true citizens of a country. Is this how Mr. Rosner or perhaps all Israelis see the non-Israeli Jews?

I must remind Mr. Rosner that a great many Jews, even during Temple times, lived outside Israel. The Jews of Alexandria, who settled there in the third century B.C.E., were highly productive in crafts and in Torah and Hellenistic wisdom. (Consider the rise of Jewish Hellenism and Philo.) They were not known as galut Jews but as Jews michutz laarets (Jews outside Israel).

We must accept one reality: Israel’s territory is not big enough to absorb all Jews, and therefore there will always be many Jews (perhaps the majority) living outside Israel.

Alas, I do not have the data that would let me respond critically and truthfully whether and to what degree there is a separation between Israeli and non-Israeli Jews. I can respond only from my personal experience and state of feeling about present-day Israel. I must admit that, at least from my perspective, the values that I believed in and that were fundamental to Zionism have been lately altered.

Throughout my life I have always felt that I owe a certain degree of loyalty to Israel, its history and its people. The values that I derived from the Torah and prophets were instrumental in the formation of the infrastructure of my spiritual existence.

I have always believed that I am a part of a people whose moral and spiritual system is rooted in the social concern explicated in the Torah. I am an adherent of Isaiah’s and Mica’s rejection of ritual cultism and in the pacifism of Jeremiah.

These values were more important to me after my Holocaust experiences. As a teenager before and during the Holocaust, I was committed to the militancy of Rabbi Akiva and Jabotinsky, whom I met. I believed in our need for vengeance, the ideal expressed in the haggadah prayer Shefoch Chamatch, when we symbolically invite Elijah to enter our home and we ask God to “pour out your wrath on the nations who deny you.”

Now, at my advanced age, I agree with Stephan Zweig’s view of the ideals of peace seeking as reflected in the great pacifist prophet Jeremiah. I still believe in the values espoused by Herzl in his dream, outlined in the book “Old New Land,” for coexistence.

For the most part, our traditional philosophical teachings were not concerned with power, but with the ideal of humanism — for a life in which people could live without fear. The prophet Zachariah knew this, and he taught us that real might comes from the spirit, as he declared: “Not by might, not by power, but by My spirit.” That spirit, the spirit of G-d, is manifest in the search for justice, humility and peace.

The founders of Zionism were Jews who hoped that we and the world could realize the Herzlian dream of peace and wished for Israel to become the model of a moral country serving both Jews and Arabs. Similar views were expressed by Ahad Ha’am in his collection of essays titled “Al P’rashat D’reachim” (On the Cross Roads).

Israel will never become a large country in which there is room for all Jews to reside. Therefore, its function is to the model of a moral and ethical society. The fate of Israel is not to become a great territorial empire. Its function is to become the great moral society — the great humanitarian society.

This is what I liked about Ha’am, Simon Dubnow, Bialik and others who taught me to dream for peace.

I agree with Ha’am and Dubnow that the rise of moral-cultural Judaism is based on Jewish philosophy from the Torah time until the present. That is the glue that has and will continue to unite Israeli Jews with Jews michutz laarets and create the universal Klal Yisrael.

I understand Israel’s concern for survival, but survival based on a quest of power will merely disunite Judaism. We must return to the humanistic, universal principles for the dream that was central to our tikvah, our historic hope.

We never were, nor should Israel become, a seeker of vengeance. Vengeance is a slippery slope that leads only to continual hatred and the rejection of peace. My problem with the present state of affairs in Israel is its elevation of vengeance and hatred over our belief to become a rodef shalom, a seeker of peace.