Can we talk about Zionism?

Dr. Alice Rothstein (photo:  http://www.alicerothchild.com)
A look into the birth and growth of Zionism in history and context in order to understand its aspirations and contradictions.

By Dr. Alice Rothchild | Brookline Chronicle |  Oct 29, 2019

‘Political Zionism is a recent phenomenon. This is very different from my zayde’s messianic Zionism which was more a belief that the Messiah would come someday and everything would get better, but don’t hold your breath. This was often followed by a fatalistic shrug and more davening.’

Today I’m going to be discussing the recently published book, Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation. The book is a collection of curated essays by rabbis, students, academics, and activists, and includes my chapter titled: Choosing a different path. I am going to start with some definitions that I have gleaned from my own personal research and also from the excellent introduction written by Professor Carolyn Karcher who is the editor of this book.

I would define Judaism as a religion, centered on tikkun olam, on pursuing justice and loving the stranger. It is a body of sacred texts, rituals, and ethical precepts. This is very different from the definition of a Jewish macher (see Yiddish – big shot) in Boston who once said in answer to the question: “Can you be a Jew and not be a Zionist?” “You don’t understand, Israel is the religion.” Clearly I take issue with that.

Zionism, on the other hand, is a political ideology of Jewish nationalism, a belief that Israel is necessary as a safe haven after the Nazi Holocaust, that nothing but a Jewish state can protect Jews against anti-Semitism and the next holocaust. For many Jews, Zionism is the core of Jewish identity and the litmus test for being “in the tent.” I also think of Zionism as a response to the lack of progress in the emancipation of Jewish communities and the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe in the 20th century.

So let’s start with a bit of history. Political Zionism is a recent phenomenon. This is very different from my zayde’s messianic Zionism which was more a belief that the Messiah would come someday and everything would get better, but don’t hold your breath. This was often followed by a fatalistic shrug and more davening.

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