Home French News Zionism’s cooption of Judaism , by Anne Waeles (Le Monde diplomatique

Zionism’s cooption of Judaism , by Anne Waeles (Le Monde diplomatique

Zionism’s cooption of Judaism , by Anne Waeles (Le Monde diplomatique

The first chapter of Genesis on an egg, Jerusalem.

The coalition of secular and religious ultranationalists that has governed Israel since 2022 is unprecedented. However, a messianic narrative took hold there long ago. Rhetoric infused with religion was used to lend the Zionist project an air of legitimacy from the start, employing terms like ‘Promised Land’ and invoking the 2,000-year-old Jewish dream of bringing together those who had been exiled. This was despite the fact that most Zionist pioneers were atheists, and scorned ‘backward’, ‘passive’ religious Jews whom they wished to replace with ‘rational’ ones – go-getters and workers ready to rebuild the Jewish nation in the land of Israel. Observant Jews, from liberal to ultraorthodox, saw the burgeoning Zionist initiative as a betrayal of tradition. They decried the movement, calling it an instrumentalisation of Judaism to help create a national religion.

The historian of Judaism Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin describes this as a secular messianism. In today’s Israel, Zionism and nationalism feed off each other ‘because they are central to the secular Zionist myth’, he writes. ‘Nothing settlers have done is new. Their approach is no different from that of secular Zionists; they have simply taken it to its logical conclusion’. Raz-Krakotzkin isn’t alone in arguing that Zionism is a repackaging of Judaism’s core themes, including exile and redemption.

‘At the heart of Judaism lies the idea that living is itself exile’ – the banishment of the people of Israel after the second temple was destroyed, which Jewish tradition presents as the consequence of straying from the divine precepts: ‘The house of Israel went into exile for their iniquity’ (Ezekiel 39:23). But while in exile, the Jews were to observe the Torah’s commandments and repair the world through good deeds. The displacement thus has a spiritual dimension – another historian, Yakov M Rabkin, presents this as a state of the world where the divine presence is hidden – and a universal meaning for humanity. (…)

Full article: 1 608 words.

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(1Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Exil et souveraineté, La Fabrique, Paris, 2007.

(2Foundational text of Judaism, composed of the five first books of the Bible, or Pentateuch.

(3Yakov Rabkin, Au nom de la Torah: Une histoire de l’opposition religieuse au sionisme, Presses de l’Université Laval, 2004.

(4Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, ‘Jewish memory between exile and history’, The Jewish Quarterly Review, vol 97, no 4 (fall 2007).

(5See Shlomo Sand, ‘Israel deliberately forgets its history’, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, September 2008.

(6The Talmud summarises all rabbinical debates concerning Jewish law, customs and history. There are two versions: that of Palestine, written between the third and fifth centuries, and that of Babylon, finished in the late fifth century.

(7Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, quoted in Indigenous Education and Empowerment, Ismael Abu-Saad and Duane Champagne (eds), AltaMira Press, Lanham, 2008.

(8Max Nordau (1849-1923), German-Jewish writer and right hand of Theodor Herzl, quoted in Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, Exil et souveraineté, op cit.

(9Quoted in Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, [Exil et souveraineté], op cit.

(10Maurice Samuel, Level Sunlight, 1953, quoted in Yakov Rabkin, Au nom de la Torah, op cit.

(11Gershom Scholem, quoted in Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism, University of Chicago Press, 1996.


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