Friday, May 28, 2010

Not Understanding Zion

The big contentious issue for this least as it's being construed by the conservative and progressive wings in the Presbyterian Church (USA)...goes beyond our usual howling about human sexuality. This year, we're also fighting about the whole Israel/Palestine thing.

On the one hand, you have the leftists in the church, who seem so eager to show solidarity with the oppressed that they'll swallow anything that comes out of the mouths of Palestinians. This includes providing tacit endorsement to statements that equivocate about the morality of suicide bombing and that deny that the Jews who now reside in Israel are actually real Jews.

On the other side, you have the right-wingers who seem to think that Israel can do no wrong, being the Chosen People and all. Fences smack in the middle of communities? Keeps the rabble out. Draconian security? It's necessary. Destroying the houses of the families of those who cause trouble? That'll show 'em. Heck, this is the land that God gave 'em, so they've got a right to do whatever they darn well please. It's right there in the Bible!

Discernment is not really a well developed spiritual skill-set among partisans.

My own struggle with the issue is complex. I have no patience for folks who articulate hatred for Jews. Period. Meaning much of the rhetoric used by Palestinians just makes me angry. Israel as a secular state...meaning, a parlimentary democracy that is comprised primarily of folks who are of Jewish heritage and who speak Hebrew...doesn't trouble me at all.

But when I start thinking about modern day Israel as the theological Zion, as the place of God's promise for the Jewish people, things come apart a bit. Honestly, it doesn't connect with my understanding of the Kingdom in any way, shape, or form. It's a Christian bias, I know, even if it is squarely rooted in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. But the idea of Zion as a place, as a particular patch of land in a particular corner of our little world, that idea is completely alien to my theology.

The idea of Jerusalem as Zion hasn't, quite frankly, had any substantive foundation in the faith since the Babylonians trounced Judah. Jerusalem and the geophysical space we call Israel just aren't the same as Zion. When the prophets speak of Zion, they speak of a utopian reality, a state of being in which not only are the Jewish people living without fear of oppression, but everyone else who recognizes God's intended purpose for us is as well.

That state of being is not limited to a hunk of semi-arable land in the Near East. Way I see it, it manifests itself in any place where the Jewish people...and we Gentiles, too...can live free from fear, oppression, and want. From my own admittedly odd perspective , I see Zion more strongly expressing itself in New York City than I do in the Middle East.


  1. If Judaism is a religion you are probably correct: there is more Zion in NYC than in Israel. But if being a Jew is a racial question then it becomes much more complicated. If at some point in the future the USA becomes a radically antisemitic country Jews will need a place to go. If there is no Israel where will they go?

    This of course is a secular argument, not a religious one because I don't see the current state of Israel as a fulfillment of prophecy either. Nevertheless it is an important and vital question to Jews around the world. Particularly in the face of growing antisemitism in Europe.

  2. @ Pastor Bob: I just have trouble seeing it as an ethnic thing. Take my sons, for instance. Are they "half-Jews?" Does Judaism convey the way that "blackness" conveys in our culture, where the proportion of your blood reflects your relative Jewishness? Perhaps they are "Jewlatto." I don't buy that, mostly because it feels too much like the reasoning in Germany circa 1939.

    Judaism is primarily a faith tradition. In the absence of Jewish faith practice, of the mitzvahs and the Torah and the Holy Days, you aren't meaningfully participating in Israel, the "people who wrestle with God." Yeah, yeah, what does a goyishe kopf know from that? Still, it's the way I see it.

  3. Yeah, its complicated.

    But I agree that being Jewish is not a racial thing. And the "need a place to go" argument is just the flip side of Lebensraum (a doctrine that has its origins about the same time as the origins of Zionism)

    Come think of it, several doctrines have their origins at the same time. Social Darwinism, the concept of multiple human races (there is only one human race), nationalism, lebensraum, Zionism... The result of these doctrines is two devastating world wars, and a hand full of genocides. The next step along those lines glows in the dark.

    What we should have learned by the end of the 20th Century is that those paradigms are seriously flawed. We need to reject the political actions that are predicated on those doctrines. We need to move on, forward and away from those paradigms.

    You don't even have to be a student of the Prince of Peace to figure that out.

  4. The problem I see is that Fascists won't ask if you are religious or not. My wife's mother is Jewish. If here in the US we had a takeover of the government as in Nazi Germany my wife and children would be killed. I probably would be killed too. That's why I think there has to be a Jewish homeland.

    Now that doesn't mean I approve of all that the Israeli government does. The "separate but equal" schools in Israel are a disgrace. And then there are all the occupation problems

    Still if my family needs a place to go, I want a Jewish homeland.

  5. @ Pastor Bob: I do strongly sympathize with that, even if it's a very unlikely future. American Fascism is unlikely to be anti-Semitic. Still, should such a thing happen, I'd either be fleeing with my family across into Canada or joining the resistance. Israel could, I'll admit, be useful then.

    Then again, if there's only one safe place to live unmolested by those who hate you, that reminds me of Warsaw in 1940. That you are "safe" inside the walls of a ghetto does not, in fact, mean that you are safe. It just means you are conveniently contained.

    In that, democracies that intentionally protect the rights of minority groups seem more conducive to the security of the Jewish people than an ethno-religious homeland. Given how truculent and politically tone-deaf Israeli right-wingers often are, Israel as a nation state sometimes seems to do more harm than good. This last week has offered painful evidence of that.

  6. @ Beloved Spear:

    I entirely agree with what you said about policies of the current (and previous) Israeli government. The current government offers a proposal for peace that essentially asks the Palestinians to surrender and be prisoners in their own land. The curious thing that I find is that the majority of Israelis want peace. The question is will those who "represent" the Palestinians accept peace.

    To me real peace would offer a recognition of Israel as a state and a peace settlement not only between Israel and Palestine but also with surrounding nations. From the Israeli side there must be a withdrawl to the Green Line. How the sides can work out Jerusalem is a very difficult question but it has to be settled.

    I don't think the current Israeli regime or the two Palestinian regimes will accept this. Ultimately if both sides want peace they will bot have to give something to receive something.

  7. "In that, democracies that intentionally protect the rights of minority groups seem more conducive to the security of the Jewish people than an ethno-religious homeland."

    Check out how Jews are being treated in Europe today. And being a Calvinist, (therefore expecting sin from humans whether Christian or not) I find it improbable that the US would move toward a final solution for Jews but I recognize that how improbable such a situation might be I have to plan for possible futures.

    Oh, and Judaism, while a religion, is also an ethnic group. Lots of Jews and particularly in Israel are not practicing Jews. But if your mother is Jewish you are Jewish unless you take on a different religion. I've seen more objections to conversion the Christianity but then again Jews have had more contact with Christians in the past 1000 years.

    Now an aside: Islam used to be very tolerant of Jews and Christians. While there were other reasons if a Christian or a Jew became a Muslim then that person didn't have to pay the tax levied on non Muslims. For the first few hundred years Muslim leaders made little or no attempt to convert people to Islam. Now militant Islam, for a variety of reasons, has moved to trying to convert everyone. Go figure!

  8. @ Pastor Bob: I agree that Europe today is considerably more hostile towards Jews than it was back in the 1970s and 1980s. Attitudes there have changed significantly in the last 15 years. The question is: why? What is the cause of that rise in hostility?

    I think actions on the part of Israeli right-wingers--like razing homes as punishment, expanding settlements, raiding aid convoys, and enacting legal structures to separate Jews from non-Jews in Israel--have made life for Jews outside of Israel less comfortable.

    As for Israel being a the event that the demon of anti-Semitism took control in a major world power, having the Hebrew people highly concentrated in a single nation state seems more like a target than a haven.