Jewish Religious
Opposition To Zionism

By Edward C. Corrigan
Exceprted From Jewish Criticism Of Zionism
Much of the fiercest opposition to Zionism came from the Jewish religious community which attacked its secular nationalism. Akiva Orr, who characterizes himself as a Jewish refugee from Israel, describes this conflict between religion and secularism as follows:
The State of Israel is a secular state: its law, its legislative assembly (the Knesset), and the majority of its population are non-religious. This is hardly surprising as Israel came into existence due to the efforts of a secular political movement motivated by non-religious nationalism, namely political Zionism. In its early days Zionism came into fierce conflict with religious Jewry. The Zionists rejected religious submissiveness; the religious saw the atheist attempt to create a secular Jewish state as blasphemy.19
A nonreligious Jewish identity is antithetical to a religious definition of Jewishness. This fact presents an irreconcilable contradiction between the religious and secular streams in the Jewish community. Theodore Herzl, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and many other leading Zionists were non-believers who actively sought to reformulate the basis for Jewish existence on race and territorial nationalism.20 This process would thereby "normalize" the existence of the Jewish people.21 The anti-religious component of political Zionism explains the vehement opposition of most devout Jews when the movement first emerged.
For religious Jews the restoration of Zion could only be brought about by divine intervention; human attempts to reestablish Israel were heretical. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the religious leader of nineteenth century German Orthodox Jews stated that it was a sin to promote Jewish emigration to Palestine.22 Zionists were called by Rabbi Joseph Hayyim Sonnenfeld of Brisk "ruffians" and "evil men."23 In 1898 Rabbi Sonnenfeld wrote that Zionists have
asserted view that the whole difference and distinction between Israel and The Nations lies in nationalism, blood and race, and that the faith and the religion are superfluous. . . . Dr. Herzl comes not from the Lord, but from the side of pollution.24
Other leading Jewish religious leaders who opposed Zionism included Moritz Gudemann, Chief Rabbi of Vienna,25 Dr. Herman Adler, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain,26 the Lubbavitscher Rebbe, Rabbi Shulem ben Schneersohn,27 the Holy Gerer Rebbe, the Stas Emes,28 and Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the leader of the American Reform Movement.29 Many more Jewish religious leaders were opposed to Zionism.30
Religious Jews in Palestine and the Orthodox Jewish organization, Agudas Yisroel, founded in 1912, also opposed the political Zionist colonization program in Palestine. They protested, to the British Mandatory Administration, against the Zionist claim to represent the entire Jewish community.31 Nathan Birnbaum, an early Zionist, who is credited with coining the term Zionist, later broke with the movement and became a devoutly Orthodox anti-Zionist Jew. For a brief time he served as one of Aguda's spokesmen.32
On June 30, 1924, Jakob Israel De Han, a member of Aguda's executive committee, was assassinated in Palestine by underground soldiers of the Haganah. He had "violently denounced Zionism in cables to British newspapers and attacked the Balfour declaration" and British colonial officials who were "pro-Zionist " De Han became a martyr to Jerusalem's anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews.33
In time, the Zionists managed to win much of the Orthodox Jewish community to their cause. This was done in part by granting the Orthodox political and economic concessions and by implementing a proportional representation system in central Zionist organizations and in the Israeli Knesset. This type of political mechanism gave the Orthodox Jews an important role in determining the course of Jewish affairs in Zionist institutions.
The various religious parties in Israel today represent Orthodox Jewish opinion that has accommodated itself to the Zionist view. However, the religious orientation of these parties is frequently at odds with the majority secular-national interpretation of "Jewishness" in Israel. This contradiction is the source of much political conflict.34
It can even be said that the Israeli ultra-orthodox religious parties which participate in Israeli politics are still anti-Zionist, despite that involvement. The ultra-Orthodox parties are Shas (the Sephardic religious party), Aguda (the Hasidic) and Degel Hatorah (the Flag of the Torah or the "Lithuanian party"). They are supported by between 250,000 and 300,000 Orthodox Israeli Jews and won 13 Knesset seats in the 1988 election.35
These three religious parties are opposed to the Zionist aim of creating a secular Jewish homeland, and as such are considered by some as anti-Zionist. This view is held despite the fact that they support the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and bargain for financial support from the state. The National Religious party, which won five seats in the 1988 Israeli election, is considered Zionist and over the years has become increasingly nationalistic.36
While much of the Orthodox religious Jewish community was eventually won over to the extent of giving at least nominal support to the state of Israel, significant pockets of resistance remain. The Neturei Karta ("Guardians of the Walls") in their large enclaves in Jerusalem's Mea Sharim Quarter and in Bnai Brak near Tel Aviv, preserve Orthodox Jewry's fierce opposition to Zionism. They refuse to have anything to do with Israeli state authorities.37 The following is an excerpt from a Neturei Karta advertisement that appeared in The New York Times on June 15, 1981:
Besides the millions of Jews who are non-Zionist, there are many hundreds of thousands of Jews who are fervently anti-Zionist. They are opposed to Zionism and the very existence of the Zionist state because Zionism seeks to change the essence of Judaism and substitute chauvinism and militarism and loyalty to the Zionist state for the lofty and unchangeable principles of the Jewish faith. The Jewish nation was not founded by Zionist politicians but the character of Jewish nationhood was determined on Mount Sinai and the Jewish people as well as every individual Jew are bound to fulfill the Mitzvos (commandments) of the oral and written law of the Torah. Jews are certain that the Jewish redemption will come with the coming of the Moshiach. The establishment of the Zionist state before that time is heretic and indeed blasphemous. Our greatest rabbis have taught us that Zionism is one of the worst calamities that has ever befallen the Jewish people.38
The intensity of the ultra-Orthodox's opposition to political Zionism is fierce. Rabbi Moshe Schonfeld, for example, argues that Zionism is causing a genocide of the Jewish people by destroying the religious and spiritual basis for Jewish existence.39 Rabbi Moshe Leib-Hirsch summarized the extent of Neturei Karta's opposition to Zionism by stating, "We will not accept a Zionist State even if the Arabs do."40
Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar rebbe, until his death in 1979, at the age of 91, was also implacably anti-Zionist and "influenced Orthodox Jewry in the whole of Transylvania." After World War II, and a brief stay in Jerusalem, he emigrated to New York. Many of his followers congregated there and new members joined his flock. Rabbi Teitelbaum opposed Zionism not only on halachic grounds but also because he believed that "Zionism forestalled the Messiah. . . brought the Holocaust and other calamities on the Jewish people." In his view the Jewish state "condemned itself through its own lifestyle and politics." Teitelbaum's 40,000 chassidim are found largely in Williamsburg, New York, and in Jerusalem.41
In January 1986, the non-Zionist Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States and Canada, representing Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, issued a statement attacking Zionism and Israel's policies towards the Palestinians. It included the following:
It is our duty to denounce those who invoke the name of the Almighty in vain. It is our holy obligation and our moral responsibility to call on them: Stop using these falsehoods and heresies to justify yourselves and your misdeeds. The Jewish faith, as transmitted by the Almighty to our forefathers has not and will never countenance the zionist and nationalistic doctrines of the state of Israel. These false doctrines are compounded of atheism and anti-religious zionism, ideologies alien to Judaism. Let them not be misrepresented to the world as Jewish.42
Reform Jews in the United States were also opposed to Zionism. Their Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 stated their opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state very clearly: "We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine. . . nor the restoration of the laws concerning the Jewish state."43
With the emergence of the Zionist movement their position even hardened. In 1897, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) declared:
. . . we totally disapprove of any attempt for the establishment of a Jewish state. Such attempts show a misunderstanding of Israel's mission, which from the narrow political and national field has been expanded to the promotion among the whole human race of the broad and universalistic religion first proclaimed by the Jewish prophets. . .44
It was not until 1937, and after the rise of Hitler, that the CCAR changed its position on the question of Zionism. This reversal, however, also spawned another anti-Zionist Jewish organization.45
In 1943, a group of 92 Reform rabbis, and many other prominent American Jews, created the American Council for Judaism with the express intent of combatting Zionism. Included in the Council's leadership were Rabbi Morris S. Lazaron of Baltimore; Lessing J. Rosenwald, the former chairman of the Sears, Roebuck & Company, who became president of the Council; Rabbi Elmer Berger who became its executive director; Arthur Hays Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times; and Sidney Wallach of the American Jewish Committee. Membership in the Council grew to over 15,000. Its members were highly articulate and greatly angered the Zionist leadership, who wanted the American Jewish community to present a united front on the Palestine question.46
Even after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1947 the American Council for Judaism continued to oppose Zionism vocally. The magazine, Issues, was their principal vehicle of communication.47 Issues was joined in its opposition to Zionism by The Menorah Journal edited by Dr. Henry Hurwitz48 and William Zukerman's Jewish Newsletter.49
After Israel's spectacular success in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, however, a change in the policy towards Zionism occurred in the American Council for Judaism. Alfred Lilienthal suggests that "Zionist infiltration" succeeded in "neutralizing" the Council.50 A separate organization was subsequently established in 1969 called American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism (AJAZ). The new group, which is based in New York, continues the original anti-Zionist tradition of the American Council for Judaism. Rabbi Elmer Berger is currently the president of AJAZ and also editor of its publication the AJAZ Report.51
One of the most articulate and vocal critics in Canada today of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians is Rabbi Reuben Slonim. He is a spiritual Zionist in the tradition of Ahad Ha-am. His criticisms of Israel's policies eventually led to a break with his congregation in Toronto. However, he does have a small, but devoted, following among the Canadian Jewish community.52 In 1983 he wrote:
Today we Jews are losing [the] humanism and universalism of Judaism, all for the sake of Jewish statehood. We love Israel, and so we should, but we are so blinded by that love that we are willing to pay a prohibitive price for it. We condone acts we would declare unconscionable anywhere else in the world: nuclear weapons are wrong but necessary for Israel; apartheid is wrong, but for the sake of Israel's survival we will tolerate it; human rights are critical, but not for the Palestinians; we have a right to a state but Palestinians do not. Our racism towards Arabs would be regarded as anti-Semitism if others spoke of us in the same light. In all things we need to remember that the Jewish people and the Jewish state are but instruments, not ends in themselves; that what is good for the world is good for the Jews, not what is good for the Jews is good for the world; that the ultimate goal of the Jew, if he be truly Jewish, is to serve humanity.53



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