Zionism, Militarism, and Fantasy Camp

For some reason I don’t think that any of the founders of Zionism are standing and applauding from their places of eternal reward (wherever those may be).

NPR reported this morning about Caliber 3, an Israeli company which, according to their website, “was established in the year 2000 to design and apply effective security solutions around the world.” They now have a special two hour course which “is geared to all tourists of any age who would like to learn about anti terrorism tactics. Experts in anti terrorism combat will teach how terrorism is fought, how to shoot a pistol and give hands on experience for all participants in shooting a weapon.” They stress that the “program … combine[s] together the values of Zionism with the excitement and enjoyment of shooting which makes the activity more meaningful.” They also do birthday parties. Seriously. Continue reading

Women of the Wall and the Fire Next Time

The Torah emphasizes repeatedly that one only approaches the Holy with great fear and trepidation. On the day that the Tabernacle was dedicated, Aaron’s children were killed by the same sacrificial machinery that consumed Israel’s offerings. The ritual choreography which eventually became the Yom Kippur service is preceded by the warning: “Speak to Aaron your brother, that he not come at all times into the sacred zone … lest he die.” God warns Israel as they gather round Mount Sinai that they not approach the mountain “lest they break through to the Lord to see and many of them perish.” The Sages applied to Torah the same paradigm. Comparing Torah to fire, the midrash warns that if one gets too close, one will be burnt, if one strays too far, one will freeze.


These are the thoughts with which I find myself as I try to bring some order to the reasons that I am uncomfortable with the movement for equal ritual access at the kotel, known as Women of the Wall. It is not that I fear the disruption of the customs of the place—customs which have only been in place for several decades, not longer, and have been stage managed by the Hareidi rabbis of the kotel, pretending that the force of the police is the same as the patina of authenticity. It is not egalitarian worship at the kotel that I fear. I strongly believe in egalitarian worship everywhere, rarely if ever praying in a quorum divided by sex. It is rather worship of the kotel that makes me anxious.

Continue reading

Kinah/Lament for Yitzhak Rabin

Seventeen years ago Yitzhak Rabin, a warrior belatedly turned peacemaker, was assassinated. May his memory be for a blessing.  


Aryeh Cohen


The day after Yitzhak Rabin was killed

Moshe was remonstrating with God

This is truly Torah. Is this its reward?!

and again he felt faint sitting

in the back of Akiva’s study hall

looking over nine empty rows

bereft of students whose

master was martyred whose

flesh was parcelled

out in the market.

and God said they are turning

back the clock they are forcing

my hand they are running toward

an end that I didn’t intend to write

the benches are filled with those

whose texts are filled with dirt and

rocks. and Moshe, faint with the

hunger of unfulfilled desire

asks: is this the love of

Solomon, the holy of holies?

and Elishah saw the angel sitting

and Elishah saw the son dying

and Elishah turned on Rabbi Meir

“go find your Akiva now…” Continue reading

Two types of sovereignty: Zionism and Diaspora

There is an important conversation that is not happening about Zionism and the American Jewish community. It is a conversation that is as old as the Zionist enterprise itself. One of the central claims of political (as opposed to Messianic) Zionism is that the solution to the “Jewish question” is sovereignty. The Jewish community was a powerless and dependent community during its almost two thousand year sojourn in Exile and it was this powerlessness which left it vulnerable to the predations of the sovereigns of whatever country offered them a temporary home. Equally important was that this political dependence caused a cultural withering and produced a Jewish culture which was perverted by the influence of other more powerful cultures. A true Jewish culture could not take shape until the Jewish community had achieved sovereignty and shook off the chains of both political and cultural dependence. (Shades/foreshadowing of post-colonial theory.)

This argument had great resonance in the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries. The civil and human rights of Jews in every country in the world were fragile, and the Holocaust seemed to be the final, awful expression of this untenable situation. The only way Jews would assume control over their own destiny was “to be a free people in our land.”

From where we are standing now, however, six plus decades after the end of the Shoah and the establishment of the State of Israel, and after the civil rights movement and the ongoing enshrinement of religious and civil liberties in the United States, the discourse of sovereignty does not look the same. There are two ways in which sovereignty (either mamlakhtiyut or ribonut) can be understood. First is the sovereignty of ultimate power. (OED: “The position, rank, or power of a supreme ruler or monarch; royal authority or dominion.”) Translated to the Zionist argument this would be the claim that there is a need for Jewish power, Jewish control of all the levers of government and the judiciary. Only in this way is the future of the Jewish people guaranteed. This understanding of sovereignty demands a Jewish State with a Jewish prime minister, a Jewish legislative body, etc. That is, in some way, (or in every way) the polis must be Jewish.

A different understanding of sovereignty is participation in the governance of the country. (OED: Sovereignty is “the supreme controlling power in communities not under monarchical government; absolute and independent authority.”) This latter form of sovereignty does not require a Jewish supreme ruler, but rather the unfettered equal access of Jews to the levers of power and institutions of government—together with, though not subordinate to, other communities. In other words, what is necessary for this type of sovereignty is a working democracy in which (to quote Abraham Joshua Heschel) “some are guilty but all are responsible.”

This latter understanding of sovereignty should be the understanding of the Jewish community that has decided to reside in the Diaspora. In a democracy, the argument should go, the Jewish community has control over its destiny, not in an autonomous or separatist way, but in necessary collaboration with other communities. It is in this political process of dialogue, disagreement, compromise and collaboration that the country will flourish to the benefit of all the communities therein. This is then a Jewish return to sovereignty with others, in which the sovereignty of others is complementary to Jewish sovereignty. In other words, the existence of the Jewish community within the permeable boundaries of a working democracy.