Pro-Jewish, Pro-Israel and What it all Means


The Jewish people, and with it Judaism, has changed dramatically over 200 years. Two hundred years ago, nobody dreamed of women as rabbis or cantors, Glatt Kosher was only known to a very small group of communities, German Jews were incredibly comfortable, and the concept of a Jewish state in the ancient land of Israel was, at best, a theoretical possibility.

Fast forward to today. Women as cantors and rabbis are a significant proportion of the leadership in liberal movements, and have made some progress in spiritual / religious roles in the Orthodox community, Glatt Kosher has become so pervasive that it now often misused to mean “strictly Kosher” rather than its technical meaning, the Shoah destroyed any semblance of full comfort for Jew in Germany or anywhere else. And the state of Israel is not just a reality, but a major player on the world scene.

Israel, of course is not a monolithic entity in any way – religiously, culturally or politically. And as Israel’s politics have, in just the last 50 years, been a pendulum, swinging from one side to another and back again, it has made being a pro-Israel Jew a rather dizzying ride. While the mainstream Jewish community has hung on to the wild ride, it has given rise to some people on the edges asking: Do I have to be a pro-Israel person to be a “good Jew?”,  “Does pro-Israel mean I have to support every decision Israel makes”,  “Do anti-Israel sentiments automatically indicate anti-Semitism” and the like. None of these questions have simple answers. But Israel is clearly a core element of Judaism for the vast majority of Jews in the world.

How did that happen? After all, in the late 1800’s, Zionist leadership tended to be secular Jews (many of them formerly religiously observant) with strong socialist and utopian tendencies. Religious Jewry, whether Reform or Orthodox, was largely not on board.

Without going into the historical causes that brought most streams of Judaism into the Zionist/pro-Israel fold, the process was actually not unique in Jewish history. Since the dawn of the Jewish people, Jewish communities have redefined and tweaked what Judaism stood for. Talmudic rabbis all but eliminated Biblical punishment for sins; the community that experienced the exile from the land planted the seeds of belief in a Jewish messiah; Safed and Spanish Jewry developed mystical approaches to Judaism. In each case, the new beliefs became integrated into Judaism so much, that today we barely know what Judaism looked like without these developments.

So, too, with attachment to and support of the state of Israel. The vast majority of synagogues recite a prayer for the state of Israel (despite its omission from Artscroll and Chabad prayer books); the flag of Israel is prominently displayed in most Jewish organizations; the singing of Hatikva is expected in any community gathering. Just as the elimination of capital punishment, the belief in a messiah (or a messianic era) or the teachings of mystical approaches, Israel has become accepted as an integral part of Jewish identity, including religious life. Parenthetically, I have even been made aware of rabbis who will not accept a person to become a naturalized member of the Jewish people without him/her making a commitment to Israel.

Whether you or I agree with every decision made in Israel, today or historically, is not the issue. Israel has incredible challenges and a wide range of ways in which it can address them. I find some of these paths unacceptable, and others desirable. Regardless of what parties are in charge, we stand in support of a strong and secure Israel. When we disagree, we do so not as detached, outside observers, but as “insiders”. Our disagreements are, for the vast majority of Jews, not about Israel’s right to exist or to be a “Jewish homeland”, but about the strategies to make Israel the best Israel possible, consistent with the values that we believe a Jewish state should reflect. But unswervingly in support of Israel and its future. And those who fail to understand that miss an important fact about the Jewish people today.

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