Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Last Heresy

Hebrew University’s Institute of Advanced Studies is sponsoring a workshop on Judaism and Heresy. At first glance, heresy does not seem such a hot-topic for the twenty-first century unless you live among fundamentalists. But, of course, even secular ideologies have room for orthodoxies and heresies, and Zionism, of course, is the only orthodoxy left for the Jewish people. You can be a pork-eating atheist who spits on religion, but if you are a Zionist, then you are a welcome part of the Jewish people, If you are a Satmar hasid who believes that the State of Israel is an abomination, then you may look and talk Jewish, but “you have removed yourself from the Jewish people.” Ditto for the anti-Zionist left.

I just ran into a colleague who is attending the conference. He is an expert on Karaites, and his paper made the point that as long as the Karaites refused to recognize rabbinic authority, but saw themselves as part of the Jewish people, then they should not be considered heretics. But when in the nineteenth and twentieth century in Russia they saw themselves as a different religion/ethnicity from the rabbanites, then they removed themselves from the Jewish people, and really were heretics. When I asked him, “Are anti-Zionists heretics?” he said, until the Holocaust they were not, but after the Holocaust, they in effect removed themselves from the Jewish people, and should be considered heretics. He said that this was analogous to the Karaites. Well, I didn’t get a chance to talk to him because I was trying to get into my car, and I couldn’t find the keys. But I don’t get the analogy at all. The separationist Karaites saw themselves as the true Jews and the rabbanites as imposters. But the anti-Zionists have no problem with Judaism, or with being considered Jews. They just don’t agree about Zionism.

One of the tragedies of the establishment of the State of Israel was that it effectively destroyed the debate over Zionism. Oh, sure, the debate between Zionists and the Diasporists continued. To some extent the debate over political Zionism continued, although Zionists now assume that if you question the legitimacy of Zionism, you question the right to Jews to exist, or to express their collective identity. But if you ask the question today, “What form, if any, should Zionism take for the Jewish people?” you are looked at as if you are nut. There were people who used to identify what the Soviet state did with Marxism or Communism. But when I was growing up, I used to hear all the time, “Don’t assume that the Soviets state embodies the most cogent or appealing form of communism.”

How many times have you heard that said about Israel?

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