By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko
Does being Jewish mean that you are a Zionist? Realizing that Judaism is around for more than 3,300 years while Zionism is around for no more than 200 years, can easily lead to the conclusion that they are not the same. Sadly, such an understanding is no longer even thinkable. The existential threats made to Jews around the world, in the name of “anti-Zionism,” and our shared fate as a people, say it clearly–if you are Jewish, you are a Zionist.
The term “Zionists” used by the enemies of the Jewish people, refers not only to one kind of Jews, nor does it refer to all kinds of Jews living in Israel, but it is used to refer to all Jews living anywhere in the world. When Hezbollah claims to be an anti-Zionist organization fighting Israel’s occupation and then goes on to call for killing Jews all over the world, that should be pretty clear evidence for this. When Gaza girls who are supposedly taught to hate only the “occupier,” sing for the death of all Jews, that should be pretty convincing. When Chassidic Jews are stabbed and beaten in Brooklyn, Antwerp, London, Melbourne, and Jerusalem, all “anti-Zionism,” that should give a clear idea of what this is all about. When they attack the “Zionists,” they are attacking all Jews.
Why is this so important? Can the enemies of the Jewish people affect our religious and political outlook? This has to do with the core of what being Jewish means.
After going through the different categories of those who don’t have a share in the world to come, Moses Maimonides–the Rambam–in his code of Law (Mishneh Torah Hilchot Teshuvah 3:12) states the following:
“A person… even though he has not transgressed any sins… who separates himself from the congregation of Israel …but rather goes on his own individual path as if he is from another nation and not [Israel], does not have a portion in the world to come.”
The existential commitment that we must have to one another is one that transcends any particular mitzvah. It has to do with the core of who we are. The choice of Moshe Rabbeinu as the leader of the Jewish people, did not follow any particular intellectual or religious quality; it was his ability to sympathize with the pain and humiliation, his brothers and sisters who were going through that gave him that leadership (see Sh’mos 2:11, 3:3, Midrash Rabbah Sh’mos 1:27-28, and 2:6).
This sentiment is reflected beautifully in the words of Rabbi Moshe Sherer, president of Agudath Israel of America. The year was 1975 and the UN had just passed its infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution. Rabbi Sherer wrote that “Though the resolution was supposedly aimed only at secular ‘Zionism’… the slander is an attack on the entire Jewish people… when Jews are libeled, their affiliation does not matter; our love for our brothers and sisters draws us to their side.”
Rabbi Sherer went on to say, “The U. N. resolution is aimed at all Jews, for it assails the historical Jewish right to Eretz Yisrael. The Torah bestowed that right, and any attack on it is an attack on Judaism and the Jewish people.”
Did Rabbi Sherer agree with all the positions taken by the Israeli government? Of course not. At the time, there were probably various things the Israeli government was doing that he found offensive, but there was one thing that to him, was unshakeable: the Jewish people’s commitment to one another. Existential commitment matters. Our ability to stand up for one another, to identify as one, and most importantly, to pay high social prices for supporting each other, is a core component of halacha, and of Jewish historical existence.
President of Brandeis University, Prof. Jehuda Reinharz, once wrote, “The most striking example of the failure of the Jewish political reaction to anti-Semitism involves the utter inability to overcome Jewish fragmentation. Even in the 1930s, when anti-Semitism grew apace, Jewish unity remained a slogan on the lips of politicians rather than a fact of life.”
Let us not make the mistake we have made all too often. Regardless of previous positions, let us all stand as one. 21st century Zionism does not–and cannot–mean what it meant in the 19th century. 21st century Zionism means, at the very least, that we stand with our brothers and sisters; we stand with them in Israel, France, Cuba, or wherever they might be. We are all Zionists. We are because it’s the right thing to do. More importantly, we are Zionists because the most basic ingredient of being a part of the Jewish people, is standing proudly–with the Jewish people. v