Wednesday, February 08, 2006

On Secular Zionism

Chardal has written on the topic of Zionism. I don't want to address all the topics in his post, just this particular one:

What does the land mean to a secular Jew?

Secular Jews were in a difficult predicament at the turn of the century. The promise of the haskala movement to lead Jews towards acceptance by European society and subsequently towards equality and social justice seemed little more than a pipe dream. Anti-Semitism was on the rise and the enlightened social theories of the day seemed to offer little that would remedy the situation. Hertzl and those who followed him proposed to create a political reality for the Jewish people such that we would define our environment and social norms and thus we would be able to implement the teachings of the enlightened and modern world in a more perfect manner – without the old prejudices of the Europeans. The natural place to implement this experiment was in Eretz Yisrael, the historical land of the Jewish people. The land was not an ideal in its own right nor did it contain any religious meaning to these assimilated Jews. The value of the land was only so far as it provides the nation with physical security and independence thereby curing the social ills experienced in Europe. In other words, where for the religious Jew, the state is a response to the religious need to live in the land – for the secular Zionist, the land is simply a necessary component of creating a political state.

He is correct to a certain extent. The Jews that settled the land did not have a religious connection to it. But I think it is disengenuous to say that the land was not "an ideal in its own right". There were many proposals for a Jewish homeland in Uganda, Canada, etc. But the pioneers felt that it was imperative that our homeland was in Eretz Yisroel and not some random plot of land. Instead of a religious connection there was a cultural connection which was just as important and powerful. These Jews were in love with the land, with the Kinneret, with Hebron, with Yerushalayim.

It is true that the land was "a necessary component of creating a political state", but it was more than that. What the settlers were trying to do was instill the love of the Land itself. The primitive love that farmers feel for their land, such that when someone tries to push them out, they defend that land with their life.

This is how it used to be 2000 years ago. It took twelve Roman legions to quell the Bar Kochba rebellion. How strange it is that a Nation that is viewed as weak and bookish, capable of producing doctors, lawyers, and accountants, was once the Nation that was one of the biggest thorns in the side of the most powerful Empire in the world. But through 2000 years of wandering the Jews forgot how to be attached to the land. Of course, how could they be attached to the land that was not theirs? This was the problem the secular settlers tried to correct.

I haven't sorted my feelings out about his post or Zionism in general, but I did want to address what I think is an unfair characterization of the motivations of the secular Zionists.


Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Hmm, the point which you quoted seems to be a convenient generalization used to differentiate the assimilationist secular Zionist from the other type. I think, however, once you get past any generalization, the details and nuances appear to be no less important that the surface differences.

February 08, 2006 11:02 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Can you elaborate? Don't leave us hangin!

February 08, 2006 11:30 AM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

I mean, secular Zionists were not all the same. And neither were the religious ones.

In fact, Blogs of Zion link to an interesting Jpost article on an issue illustrating just how pluralist Zionists actually were and how hard it is to generalize:

February 08, 2006 6:28 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

I fully concede that my post was a gross generalization. It would have taken too long to cover all the different shades of secular and religious Zionism. I still think that my contention is mostly correct, the main focus for the seculars WAS the establishment of a political entity and the land ideal was in a supporting role.

February 12, 2006 11:56 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


Thanks for stopping by. I didn't necessarily mean to attack you (although re-reading my words, it seems like that's what I'm doing). I just wanted to make a point, kind of using your post as a springboard.

I think that I would put these two goals as more equal. There were many Zionists that wanted to establish a political entity, but there were many who wanted to work the land and return to an agricultural basis for Judaism. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive.

February 12, 2006 6:15 PM  

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