The Missing Zionism of the Likud Party
Prof. Paul Eidelberg
It has been said that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, turned his back on his Likud party’s Zionist principles when he by adopted Labor’s disengagement from Gaza policy in December 2003. True, he stole the votes of those who supported Likud in the January 2003 election, but what does the Likud know of Zionism?
Zion is one of the most sacred words in the dictionary of authentic Judaism. It is the dwelling place of God's glory. It is the Sanctuary of the Torah, the Holy City which surrounds it, the Holy Land of which Jerusalem is the eternal capital. From Zion , from Jerusalem , the word of God—the Truth—shall come forth. The people chosen to possess this Land were chosen to serve God, to live by His commandments, that is, to reveal the infinite wisdom, power, and graciousness of God in every domain of existence and thus be a blessing to all the families of mankind.
Would anyone dare say the program of the Likud Party comes anywhere close to this understanding of Zion ? The idea Zion, more precisely, the idea of a Torah Commonwealth, was never on the Likud’s agenda—not on Menachem Begin’s nor on that of his mentor, Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Their Zionism was, at most, cultural Zionism. But as Leo Strauss has pointed out, the Jewish heritage is not a culture—a product of a national mind. The Jewish heritage presents itself, not as the product of the human mind, but as a divine gift, as divine revelation. It completely distorts the meaning of the Jewish heritage to which one claims to be loyal by interpreting it as a culture like any other high culture.
The Zionism of the Likud was based on European nationalism. It reduced Judaism to a religion, a matter of individual not of national well-being and happiness. The frame of reference in which such terms as “religion” and “nation” appear is derived from the history of the Western world—which is foreign to Judaism. The term “Jewish” is neither a religious nor a national concept. “Our people,” said the tenth-century sage Saadia Gaon, “is a people only through the Torah.” Judaism is a nation-creating religion, and Israel is a people created by this kind of religion.
Eliezer Berkovits writes that religions, as rule, do not make nations. Nations and peoples are biological, racial, political units. They may accept a religion, but the religion they accept is accidental to the national group. Christianity, for example, created no people, and neither did Islam. They were imposed on pre-existing peoples.
An Englishman may accept Hinduism in London , but this does not make him Indian. But if he accepts Judaism and practices it, he will not only become an adherent of a religion; he will will also belong to the Jewish people and thus become a member of the Jewish people’s Covenant with God.
This Covenant is not merely between the individual and God—as may be the case in other religions. Judaism is a national covenant with God. This is what makes Judaism and the Jewish people unique—and this was never part of the Likud ideology. The Likud separated Zion and the Land of Israel from the Torah, which is why the Jews are losing both.
The Likud has a galut or exilic mentality. Jews were more faithful to the Bible in the Ghetto than they are in Israel ! Why? Because in the Ghetto Judaism was a living, practical faith which shaped the economic and social life of the entire Ghetto community. Max Nordau regarded the Ghetto Jew as more proud and independent than the “enlightened” and assimilated Jew.
However, as the Ghetto walls fell, Judaism became a religion relegated to the home and the synagogue. This truncated Judaism prevails in Israel . Judaism is supposed to be an all-embracing way of life. Judaism in Israel does not walk through the marketplace or the shopping malls. It does not permeate the deliberations and policies or even the structure of Israel ’s government. It has ceased to be the teacher of mankind and a creator of history. No wonder Israel limps along without any clear purpose or sense of identity—and no Likud leader addresses this dilemma, this malaise.
Secular Jews are lost in modernity, and so are religious Jews, who have yet to endow modernity with Jewish meaning. Recall the first prophecy: Yafet—Yavan, meaning Greek philosophy—shall dwell in the tents of Shem. Yeshivas in Israel , despite all the good they do, might as well be in Borough Park : they do not train students in statecraft! Jews must be faithful to the Bible without rejecting secular wisdom and the blessings of modernity.
We need a Judaism that transcends the black hole of politics. We need a new kind of Jewish leader, a person learned not only in the Torah but in rigorous science.
Israel , in its essence, synthesizes universalism and particularism: it is the one nation created to relate God’s infinite power, wisdom, and graciousness in every domain of existence. Only a nation dedicated to God can inspire and elevate mankind. This must be taught to every child, in every classroom, so that Zion , the word of God—the Truth—shall come forth again in all its glory from Jerusalem .