Monday, December 01, 2014

The Twilight of the (Children of the) Gods

A spectre is haunting Israel— the spectre of Judaism. All the descendants of Israel's Founding Fathers have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Academics and Intellectuals, Major Generals (ret.) and Winners of the Israel Prize, Socialist Ideologues and Post-Modern Cosmopolitans, Haaretz and Channel Two.
Few are the parties that have not decried as Fascist and Medieval, Benighted and Racist the upsurge in expressions of Jewish Identity and Spirituality that has marked this country in the past two decades (especially during the difficult days this past Summer). The Israel Democracy Institute convenes emergency conferences to deplore (and stop) the invasion of Public Space by Jewish Tradition, and and by references to God. The Council on Peace and Security has set out on a nationwide series of open meetings, and fora, in a desperate effort to stop the increased presence of Religious and Traditional soldiers in the army, lest they fomentb a putsch against the government. War hero, Lt. Col. Ofer Winter, has been passed over for promotion. His crime? He had the temerity of invoking God's Name in his battle orders, and for quoting the Bible. The latest spat over the Jewish State legislation (which is really much ado about nothing- as noted by Haviv Rettig Gur) is merely the latest lightening rod for a broader phenomenon. All told, the reactions to the spectre of Judaism verge on the hysterical.
Upon careful consideration, they have serious reasons for concern. The children and grandchildren of the Founding Fathers of our country are losing their grip. They no longer control the Knesset. They no longer have a lock on the media (though, they are doing everything to block competing voices, such as Israel HaYom and Arutz 20). From their redoubts in academia, culture, and the Justice system they still sally forth to protect their ideals and to declare that everyone has the right to their opinions. Anything that does not pass muster with them: Patriotism, Religious Faith and Observance, Jewish Historical Awareness, Jewish Literacy, is excoriated as jingoistic, regressive and (the ultimate condemnation): Destructive of Democracy. This latter is a brilliant tactic, by which a system of government is replaced by a specific set of unnegotiable values, dogmatically interpreted and applied. (I guess many have never read Ralph Waldo Emerson.)
In their hysteria, the children (and grandchildren) of the gods betray the fact that they are fighting a losing battle. There comes a time in the life of nations, that the founders cede dominance to others. It happened in the United States in the 1820's. In his magisterial study of Andrew Jackson, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., describes how Virginians and (to a lesser degree) Bostonians strove mightily to maintain their control over the nation that they (and their fathers) had founded. They sought control of its resources, its policies, its values and its culture. They saw all of these being usurped by the uncouth pioneers on the western fringes of the country. These were represented by their bĂȘte noire, Andrew Jackson (himself, ironically, a Virginian). As Schlesinger notes, the declining elites made their last stand in the Supreme Court. In the end, they failed.
The Founders of our country achieved unbelievable things. We are beholden to them, and must cherish and value how they created a flourishing Jewish homeland after two millenia. They were able to do that, in part, because they were driven by a profound Jewish identity, that was rooted in Jewish Literacy and in loyalties they absorbed from the world of faith that they, themselves, rejected. Their achievements were predicated upon that rich identity. They did not think it necessary to instill the country's culture with that which they possessed (as Yaakov Hazan sadly noted). The resurgence of Jewish identity and spirituality that started in the nineties of the last century, that is borne by religious and traditional sectors of society, is a response to a deeply felt need that the founders failed to bequeath to the country they founded.
Their children filled that void with a different vision. The people want their roots. The people want to be Jews and Jewish Jews. Indeed, 85% of Israeli Jews believe in the same God that the above noted groups would banish from the scene (and who, tragically, is not well served by many who claim to represent Him). Fear of the spectre of Judaism is, thus, justified on their part.
The Jewish State, indeed, is on a powerful path to being more profoundly Jewish than ever before. With the help of God.

[First Published in the Times of Israel 28/11/2014]