Sunday, April 30, 2006

Yom ha-Atzmaut (Haftarot)

Isaiah 11-12: “The Stock of Jesse” Revisited

In many communities in Israel, it is customary to read the haftarah designated in the Diaspora for Aharon shel Pesah (the Last Day of Passover)—Isaiah 10:32–12:6—on Yom ha-Atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day. (In recent years there has been some debate within the religious kibbutz movement as to whether or not this may be done with usual berakhot; Ha-Kibbutz ha-Dati has been at the forefront of those who attempt to maximize the celebration of Yom Ha-Atzma’ut as a religious holiday in every sense, and have been willing to undertake daring halakhic innovations in this direction.) In any event, this choice is presumably motivated by the idea of the State as reshit tzemihat geulatenu, the harbinger or beginning of the Messianic process; that, combined with the fact that this was an established and well-loved haftarah in the Diaspora which is “lost” in Israel due to our observance of only one day of each holiday.

There is a certain irony in the choice of this chapter, which emphasizes the total change in nature to be wrought by Messiah, as a reading for Yom ha-Atzma’ut, the day which more than any other symbolizes the naturalistic approach to the meaning of Messianism. But even apart from the issues of ”What kind of Messianism?” the issue of rationalism vs. supernaturalism, etc., which we raised in our earlier discussion of this haftarah (HY II: 7th Day of Pesah), and which we continue below in a somewhat different vein, this choice raises some important issues about the nature of Zionism; more particularly, how religious Jews and particularly those who call themselves Religious Zionists view the nature of Zionism. Is Zionism only important as a form of messianism, or does it have other dimensions of religious significance?

Zionism generally, of course, saw itself as a revolution in Jewish consciousness; it offered a return of the Jewish nation to history, not just as a passive object, everywhere a tolerated (or persecuted) minority dependent upon the good graces of others, but as a sovereign nation responsible for its own destiny. But this involved important religious possibilities as well. One theme, familiar from the thought of religious Zionism, was the naturalization of messianic hopes: the coming of Messiah viewed, not as a sudden, supernatural irruption into our world, as shown in any number of apocalyptic prophecies, but as a gradual, barely perceptible process, like the first faint light of dawn slowly dispelling the blackness of night. But there are other reasons to value the Jewish national revival: the return to autonomy, per se, has improved the Jewish lot. As Yeshayahu Leibowitz put it, Zionism was an expression of our being “fed up with living under the Goyim”: a simple, natural human reaction to a long-standing unnatural situation. In religious terms, this might be called a yeshu’ah (“deliverance”) —a Divinely aided amelioration of our situation within history, as contrasted with ge’ulah (“redemption”), a miraculous change meaning the end of history as we know it.

A third theme, articulated by David Hartman among others, is that the creation of the State provided the opportunity for implementation of Torah values in all aspects of human life within a living society, and not only in the constricted area of religious ritual, and individual piety, and the like. (Such, at least, is the dream on paper. I leave it to the readers, especially those living in the State of Israel, to evaluate the results. The existence of numerous religious political parties allegedly dedicated to the goal of tikkun olam be-malkhut Shaddai, of remaking the world as the kingdom of the Almighty, is frankly disappointing).


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