Auto-Integration: Modern Posing of Jewish Question
1956 – 2006
The hoary problem, subsumed under "the Jewish question," today, as ever in the past, provokes discussion. Like the squaring of the circle it remains unsolved, but unlike it, continues to be the ever-burning question of the day. That is because the problem is not one of mere theoretical interest: it renews and revives in every-day life and presses ever more urgently for solution.
Leon Pinsker. Autoemancipation
AN APPEAL TO HIS PEOPLE by a Russian Jew, 1882
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"
The words in the epigraph of this article begin the famous Autoemancipation by Leon Pinsker, herald of Zionism in the end of the nineteenth century. Theodor Herzl spoke fifteen years later: his no less famous “The Jewish State” was printed in 1896 (with typical for that time subtitle “An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question").
But if one thinks hard about Hillel’s words, one will see that nowadays, accents have shifted. In essence, the “unsolvable problem” is not the Jewish question in itself. While in the Soviet times, I ran into this “question” time and time again, for my daughters who went to school after the breakup of the Soviet Union and whose passports have no “ethnicity” entry, this “question” has never existed. When I was young, I often avoided public declarations of my Jewish background. My daughters, praise the Almighty, have a hard time understanding this. The situation has radically changed with the central component of the Jewish life and Jewish spirit: with our internal and public Jewish identification. And this applies not only to my family. And not only to Russia.
There are no deadly problems for the existence of Jews in the world, but problem revolves around the existence of the Jewish state. The world today is acutely aware of the present situation and the future of the State of Israel. Compared to the realities of a hundred years ago, the vector of Jewish problems has turned 180 degrees.
The events of the Second Lebanese War have a great significance today. Jewish people are obviously concerned about the shaping situation. But my goyim friends and acquaintances keep asking me, “What do you think is really going on there? Where is it heading and how will it all end?”
These questions relate not just to the political or military situation but to the deeper element – the logical and ideological side. Let me repeat myself: while in the times of Pinsker and Herzl, people thought about the prospects for the solution of the Jewish question, nobody thinks in those terms today. Well, maybe anti-Semites still do. Today, the old question is formulated in a new way, “What are the general prospects for the solution of the middle-eastern problem and Israel?” Using the key word of classic Zionism of more than a hundred years of age, this question could be formulated in the following manner, “When and how will the situation in the Middle East become normal”?
…About six or seven years ago, I went to Egypt as a tourist. I asked that question of the bus driver en route from Hurghada to Cairo. He looked at me in surprise, as one would look at someone asking a question with a well-known answer, and replied laconically, “Never of course, mister”.
I remembered this phrase a few weeks after the beginning of the Second Lebanese War. I noticed that the recent events woke in my soul the feeling that was slumbering there for a few years but never disappeared totally. It was the feeling that this will never end. By “all this” I mean the permanent war between Israel and her Arab neighbors, close and far.
As a matter of fact, this situation was legally registered around 60 years ago. We all know that the creation of the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, and that on May 15, Arab countries declared war on it and sent their troops into its territory. But not many of know that on May 19, 1948, the Temporary Council of Israel declared the introduction of the state of emergency, which was never officially cancelled and is legally still in effect.
The fact that since its emergence, the state was plunged into emergency state, cannot be considered normal because the basic idea of classic Zionism was the idea of normalization. Since the time of Herzl it was believed that Jewish people could live normally only when they create their own national state and that the purpose of creating such a state was exactly in setting a normal life for Jewish people.
Normalization was the framework idea; it was wider and more important than any of its modifications and variations: whether the new state should be secular or religious, socialist or capitalist – all these things ranked second.
But life in a state cannot be normal when the said state is constantly warring. And it is doomed to stay that way because its neighboring countries, being a hundred fold stronger in size, do not recognize its right to exist.
The idea of normalization was closely connected to the idea of a refuge. The Jewish state was supposed to, first of all, provide secure refuge to every Jewish person in the world (at least, to that significant part of the Jewish people who are making aliyah). Summing up the historical experience of the Land, one should admit that this idea failed as well. Today, it is more dangerous for Jewish people to live in Israel than in New York, Moscow, London or Buenos Aires.
There are other deep and serious factors that point to the problematic nature of the foundations of the Zionist project. First of all, I mean the radical weakening, the gradual nullification of anti-Semitism; secondly – the factual and moral legitimization of Jewish “Diaspora lifestyle”.
Modern Zionism began with an intense response of an extremely assimilated Vienna Jew Theodor Herzl to the Dreyfus case. At one time, Herzl thought about the solving of the Jewish question through mass conversion of Jews to Christianity. But later, he came to the conclusion that in the inescapable anti-Semitic surrounding it will be of little help. Forerunners of Zionism proceeded from similar basis of feelings and thoughts: we are Jewish people, and since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, we’ve been living in “foreign” countries where we will never have normal lives for we will always remain foreigners here and therefore the sting of anti-Semitism will always be directed at us. It is quite natural that these feelings fed with Russian pogroms of the end of the nineteenth – beginning of the twentieth century; they reached their peak after the Holocaust.
But after the world recognized and realized the phenomenon of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism entered its historical phase of depletion and exhaustion. This is a fact. European revolutions of the nineteenth century, beginning in Napoleon’s France, discussed the possibility of granting equal rights to Jewish people, while today, almost every civilized country has strict laws punishing anti-Semitic manifestations. Today, there is practically no anti-Semitism in the country of the largest and strongest Jewish community – the United States of America. Anti-Semitism is on decline in the previously classic anti-Semitic country – Russia. Anti-Semitism as a term is unthinkable in Germany.
The only area of anti-Semitism at a government level is the Arab countries. In fact, its main source is not anti-Semitism per se, but “anti-Israelism”; it is rooted not so much in their attitude to the Jewish people but rather in their attitude to the State of Israel. Bitter irony of history. Founders of Zionism could not even imagine this: depletion of anti-Semitism in the Diaspora – and the Jewish state being the main source of growing anti-Semitism in the world…
So, one of the basic syllogisms of classic Zionism was, “Anti-Semitism inescapable – ergo normal life of Jewish people in the Diaspora countries is impossible – ergo we should create our own state”. It is clear today that the initial members of this syllogism are very outdated. Herzl wrote, “Rich Jewish people who now have to feast with their curtains drawn will have full freedom to enjoy life in their own state”. Today however many rich Jews can be found in many countries, and they don’t have to draw their curtains down if they want to feast.
The reason is not only the changing mentality of citizens of different countries. One of the reasons is the changing face of Jewry – the disappearance of “a caftan, peisim, and fur hats” (listed from the famous speech of Max Nordau at the First Zionist Congress), abolition of head shaving for married women, rapid growth of non-religious feelings among the Jewish population, etc. People stopped viewing Jews as foreign elements, little understood and thus unacceptable, after the “de-ghettoization” of the Jewish people that began with Haskalah and is still underway.
Founders of the Zionist project view life in galut as cardinally wrong not only because of anti-Semitic threats but also because of the threat of full assimilation and the loss of Jewish ethnic and cultural identity. “Even if we can get civil rights in the Diaspora, decrease anti-Semitic threats, and increase our economic wellbeing, we will still be facing the threat of termination of our Jewish identity” was the main argument in the dispute.
It is clear today that these arguments are not irrefutable. The life of Jewish communities in many countries (especially in the USA but not only there), is shaping in a way that Jewish people are pretty capable of preserving their Jewish identity. Moreover, this identity is growing and developing, including due to the historical decline of anti-Semitism. To express the same thought in a simpler manner, one can say that Jewish people find it prestigious to claim their Jewishness in many countries where they used to be ashamed of it and tried to avoid it (both publicly and internally).
I remember a recent conversation with a Jewish woman from Kazan. “How many Jews are there in Kazan?” I asked. Her answer was, “There were about eight or ten thousand before the 1990s. Almost two thirds of them left, and now we have about ten thousand”.
The worldwide revival of klezmer music, Yiddish songs, a growing interest in and respect to the Yiddish language are some of the numerous examples of preservation and development of Jewish identity, first of all, among the Diaspora Jews.
I saw some strong Jewish communities in Russia, the United States, and other countries. These people neither consider themselves handicapped Jews nor do they consider their life in the galut a secondary or waning lifestyle. And modern thinking people will have nothing to say against this view.
In this respect, the State of Israel, especially at the first stages of its formation, took upon itself an unseemly role trying to discredit the idea of a “galut Jew” and the Yiddish language in order to push their “negation of Diaspora” idea. From a pragmatic point of view, we understand that the young state was fighting for their own new identity and had to pursue such policies, but from the moral and historical viewpoints, such policies are unacceptable. Sometimes, it reached unthinkable forms. At the sixth conference of Histadrut, Ben-Gurion rebuked Ruzka Korchak, participant in the Vilno Ghetto revolt, who spoke “a foreign and dissonance language”, meaning Yiddish. I heard somebody saying that to the question of why in the early 1940s he was not doing his best to save the Ashkenazi Jews from destruction, Ben-Gurion replied, “A good milch cow in Palestine is better for me than a hundred of those with peisim”. Itzhak Tabenkin claimed that, “Sorrow for the dozens of thousands of those killed is terrible but the shame of our weakness is no less terrible”. Chaim Weitzman described Jewish people who survived death camps and arrived in Palestine as “human dust”.
“Such expressions cannot be justified or even comprehended”, said former education minister in Rabin’s government, Amnon Rubinstein.
Ultimately, history put everything in the right place. But we must remember such things. It took forty years for the rabbinate of Israel to finally remove – In 1995 – the words “… went as sheep to the slaughter” from the memorial prayer said on Memory Day of Holocaust and Heroism.
In the beginning of the twenty-first century, authoritative professor of the Jerusalem University, Eli Barnavi, summed it all up, “Zionism today? It’s nothing but a pile of ideological rubbish…”
Creators of Zionism and then the founding fathers of the Land of Israel no doubt proceeded from deep, sometimes even ingenious ideas; in most cases, they made decisions on the basis of their most sincere feelings. Today, as well look back at the road we have covered, it is clear that many mistakes have been made, many disputable decisions have been taken, and history has showed some ambiguity of a number of key elements of this grand project.
A hundred years ago, three ideologies of the possible development of Jewish life on the earth were formulated. The first one was assimilationsim (life in the Diaspora, maybe even good life, but with the loss of Jewish identity). The second one was Zionism. And according to Israel Bartal, Jerusalem, “there seemed to be a place for the third way between the first two: of a national existence in the Diaspora”. In the beginning of the century, many (BUND, Dubnov, and other autonomists) hoped for that third way. But it has never come to pass. Why not? Let us continue quoting Bartal:
“It was not Zionism or absorption that prevented the third way. It was the catastrophic influence of two totalitarian regimes – Soviet and racist. These two sowers of evil in the twentieth century, each in its own way but with the same intolerance made impossible the existence of the Jewish national uniqueness on European ground”.
I ask: is it irreversible and forever?
It is very difficult to find an answer to this question, even hypothetically. And the main problem is this. The post-Zionist era that many Jewish scientists are talking about, is coming not just to Israel. It is coming to the whole world. This is a completely new situation for the whole Jewry. We can find our way in it only if we are very careful for history knows no such precedent.
What does it mean today and what does it mean to us?
Initially, the State of Israel wanted to monopolize Jewish identity. It made a great progress in it, one of the reasons being that every Jewish person on this planet naturally wished the Land of Israel security, victories, and success because Jewish people have always been and will always remain in solidarity with this country on main issues. Raymon Aron was absolutely right saying that “No Jew, religious or nonreligious, Zionist or anti-Zionist, can be objective when the point at issue is Israel and those millions of Jews who have built a state in the land that is equally sacred for followers of three religions of the Book”.
But can anyone unconditionally monopolize identity on the basis of solidarity? This is one position. For instance, the words of former director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Shlomo Avineri, are no coincidence but a follow-up:
“One should not think that the State of Israel came to replace Jewish religion. But functionally, it plays a similar role in the existence of the people. The State of Israel can serve as a common denominator today, uniting the whole body of various factors of Jewish life”. Or, “In Israel and in their solidarity with her, more than in any other factor, Jewish people worldwide see the central value element of their Jewish self-identification. Thus the State of Israel is the central point of self-identification not only for the Jewish people who live there: more than any other factor it determines the life of Jews in the Diaspora”.
I can understand this point of view. But can it be accepted? We can understand the viewpoint of hot radical Zionists a few decades ago, “If you do not make aliyah, you are not Jewish”. It is not very fashionable or relevant to say these things now, but isn’t this what Avineri means, in essence? Five years ago, I was invited to a meeting of Moscow Jewish public with Ariel Sharon at the Marriott Hotel. The prime minister of Israel deliverd an interesting and energetic speech, but at the end he added, “There are around a hundred very smart people here. But I fail to understand one simple thing – why are you all sitting here, in this hotel hall, listening to an old Jewish soldier? Nobody really needs it. One thing is needed – go home and pack your suitcases”.
To accept this point of view means to close the “third way” mentioned above. As a matter of fact, can one seriously accept the motto “There is no Jew outside Israel?” For back in 1897, Ahad Ha’am wrote,
“The truth is bitter but it is still better than illusions. We should admit to ourselves that the gathering of all the scattered is unachievable in a natural way. A Jewish state can be created – but even then, most of our people will remain scattered in different countries”.
Even more so, let us hear Ben-Gurion’s sincere admission (from “Jewish Survival”):
“Since the very establishing of the state, Zionism faced a difficult, possibly the hardest trial. When the choice was posed to go to Israel or to remain in exile, both the Zionist masses and their leaders chose to stay in equal measure. <…> This is an obvious fact. Historical facts cannot be dismissed, condemned or compared to modern trends. They should be understood and evaluated. They should help make conclusions so that we would correct and change what should and can be changed and corrected”.
And then – among the largest part of Jewish people live and not in the Land, where purely Israeli identification of Jewishness is impossible, when the general Orthodox religiousness declines in the world at large and in the Jewish people in particular, when many people try to preserve, revive or grow their Jewish identity, - that’s when the old question rises to its full capacity, “And who is a Jew?”
The age-old question: who is a Jew? An answer to it is simultaneously difficult and simple. Obviously, a Jewish person today does not have to be religious in the Orthodox sense of the word; he does not have to wear peisim, have his son circumcised on the eighth day or never use telephones on Saturdays.
Formation of the State of Israel as a new, extremely authoritative instance, and the Law of Return, which takes the norms of Halachah into consideration, have made a significant impact on many people in every country. “If the Jewish state made this decision about Jews, then…”, they say. According to the Law of Return and the Halachah, a Jewish person is one born of a Jewish mother or the one who underwent giyur. There are different rules of giyur, but according to Shoshana Miller’s precedent (1980), the Law of Return covers people who undergo different forms of giyur, including Reformed. In Israel, only one giyur is recognized – done within the Orthodox community. In Reformism, the principle of “born of a Jewish mother” is simultaneously expanded (“…or father”) and narrowed (“…and who was brought up as a Jew in childhood”). After Brother Daniel’si precedent, a new norm was added to the Law of Return: “…and has not converted to another faith”.
Can we be satisfied with these norms today? Extremely doubtful. How a Jewish father is “less Jewish” than a Jewish mother in giving birth to a Jew? No idea. If we believe that Jewishness is not only (and not so much) religious, that is, Judaistic, but also ethnic identity, can we accept the court decision in the case of Brother Daniel as well grounded and just? We most surely cannot (even the Halachah says that a “Jew does not stop being Jewish even if he commits a sin”). In principle, can we get satisfied nowadays with the objectivization of Jewish identity that stems from the Law of Return or from various religious forms of Judaism? We certainly cannot. Anna Frank gave a much deeper, more universal and at the same time more exact definition of Jewishness, “Anyone who suffers can consider himself Jewish”.
The best and the most exact answer to the question of who is Jewish was given by Sartre: “A Jew is the one who considers himself Jewish”. This answer stems from the central element of this problem – the element of identification.
A serious historical precedent took place to this effect. During the great immigration in the middle of the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of people came to Israel without being Jewish in the strictest sense of the Halachah. In March 1958, minister of the interior Bar-Yehuda (Poaley Tzion Party) issued a directive to workers of registration bodies that “any person sincerely declaring his Jewisness should be registered as Jewish, without any other proofs”. This caused indignation among the religious circles, and in July that year, the government somewhat changed that directive. One condition was added to it, “… and who does not belong to another faith”.
Then Ben-Gurion addressed fifty wise men living in Israel and the Diaspora with the same question: “who is a Jew?”. Five of them refused to answer the question; forty-five agreed. Thirty-seven of them proclaimed agreement with the Halachah. The government was shuffled, and minister of the interior became a representative of a religious party. In January 1960, he issued a “procedural resolution” defining who is a Jew. According to his resolution, a Jew is a person “born of a Jewish mother, who does not belong to another faith, and those who converted to Judaism in accordance with the rules of the Halachah”. The Supreme Court of Israel however, when examining the case of Shalit in 1969, decided that the Law of Registration of Citizens is a secular law, and criteria of defining Jewishness in this law cannot be based upon religion or the Halachah. The procedural resolution of 1960 was ruled invalid, and the Laws of Registration and Return were amended – the end of the phrase – “in accordance with the rules of the Halachah” – was removed.
All of this is really interesting but not argumentative. To consider one person Jewish because his mother is Jewish even if his father is not, and another gentile because his mother is not Jewish even if his father is – this principle lacks any scientific, social or moral sense. And the fact that the State of Israel makes a legal act (a law, an ordinance, an instruction, etc.) of one of the versions of external identifications today and of another tomorrow, changes nothing in essence. The State of Israel does not possess the highest jurisdiction towards the whole Jewish people, in particular, pertaining to Jewish identification.
The Jewish World bulletin has a better approach to this subject in its program:
“Jewish world includes all those who preserve their belonging to the Jewish nation and leads the lifestyle that corresponds to their idea of this ethnic culture. Today, under conditions of assimilation and non-religiousness, Judaism becomes a national tradition rather than religion, creating the foundation of ethnic life that is on par with the norms of modern morality, ethics, and education. Modern time develops new forms of secular Jewish life that are based on sources in Judaism as the historical foundation of this ethnic culture. <…> In secular Jewish life, the main form of preserving belonging to Jewry remains the feeling of commonness with the historical fate of one’s nation, recognition of one’s genetic and historical kinship, culture, national traditions, holidays, and memorial dates”.
So, Jewishness is not a static term. It is not defined solely by external attributes. Jewishness is a dynamic term that has strong connections with internal identification. If a person knows that generations of his ancestors were British lords or Russian peasants, he is unlikely to start calling himself Jewish. Although, this possibility should not be ruled out. At the same time, if a person knows that his ancestors were Jewish, he is unlikely to stop considering himself Jewish, at least at the bottom of his heart. Although, unfortunately, this possibility should not be ruled out either.
“In a free society, all Jews (and not just those who underwent giyur) are “Jewish by choice” (David Biale, Berkeley University)
Another essential segment of the society is people who do not say “I am Jewish” but rather “There were Jews among my ancestors and it is important to me”. Such people can easily have a sense of commonness with the historical fate of the Jewish people, recognize their genetic and historical kinship to them, their culture, etc. In essence, this is a realistic and lawful phenomenon of a person who internally identifies himself with several ethnic groups. Nobody has the right to tell him, “Please make up your mind about who you are!” Such an approach would be nonsensical.
I believe if they want to, such people can easily integrate into the Jewish people, but with the right to have other identities as well. Such identification can be either internal, when a person senses it and reflects it in his own heart without any external manifestations, or external, up to getting a document to that effect. This way, the Jewish community can tell such a person, “We know you are Hungarian, but we believe you to be our Jewish brother, a member of our family”.
Unfortunately, human thought is not mature enough on this problem, thus languages lack certain terms to describe the situation. But if reasonable discussion starts on this agenda, terminology will come about, too.
Similarly to the old party terminology, people have long been using the phrase “Jews and sympathizers”. Intuition dictates that it is OK to talk about, for instance, “French Jews”, “German Jews”, “Jewish Americans”, or “British Jews”. A person can feel his belonging to several ethnic backgrounds, with one of them leading, for example, “I consider myself Russian, but partly I am Jewish, and in an even smaller part, a Pole”. The question of identity is extremely delicate and multifaceted and one should not approach it with simplistic and uncouth measurements. Nobody has proved so far that “poly-identification” is impossible along with standard cases of “mono-identification”. To simplify things a bit, we can talk about “fully” and “partially” Jewish people, “Jews by birth” and “Jews by spirit”, or “Jews by connection”.
In the 1950s, famous author Arthur Kestler (a Jew by birth) formulated a strict syllogism: after creation of the State of Israel, the “Jewish question” is removed from the agenda since now Jewish people have no reason to dream and pray about getting to Jerusalem the next year. For the past almost two thousand years, it had been impossible to come to Eretz Israel iber ein yurii – but became possible after 1948. Why would anyone keep praying when you could go straight there?
In his other book, Kestler says, “Jewish people of our days have no cultural tradition of their own, but have some habits and behavioral peculiarities accumulated by social inheritance from the painful ghetto experience and from religion that the majority does not belong to but which gives them a pseudo-national status anyway. The ultimate resolution of this paradox lies either in emigration to Israel or in assimilation into the surrounding nation”.
But Diaspora is not eternal. And there are deep-going reasons behind this fact. Max Dimont, author of the famous book “Jews, God and History”, states, “Existence of Diaspora was a necessary condition to continue the Jewish culture outside the limits of life of a common civilization. If not for exile, today they would present a cultural force not much greater than the remnants of Karaims. Today as before, the State of Israel exists alongside the Diaspora. But, just as before, Israel is the citadel of Judaism, its haven of salvation, the center of Jewish nationalism. And the Diaspora remains the universal soul of Jewry. Will the Jewry be preserved in the future? If they preserve their will to survival, continue to find new means of withstanding the changing conditions, and preserve the Diaspora as a permanent factor of their history, they can preserve their creativity as well. A will to self-preservation and an ability to meet challenges are insufficient for survival. It takes the Diaspora that must be a part of the history of the Jewish people”.
We can view the roots of this situation in a different light as well. Human natures are very different. The phrase “All people are different” is probably commonly used by now. These differences run along various directions, sometimes superficial, sometimes deep. One of the most fundamental differences among human types is the difference between “Introversion” and “Extraversion” that has been established in psychology. The souls of some people are oriented mostly inside (in a wide meaning of the word – their own community, their own people), while the souls of others are oriented outside.
The same can be said about the dominating cultural and sociopolitical traits of different Jewish groups (it is a well known fact that differences between Jews are always very strong; we all know the saying “for two Jews there are three synagogues”).
For intraversial Jews, life in their community (their country, their culture, their shtetl) is self-sufficient; the rest is viewed as the necessary or undesired interference. For extraversial Jews, life in their community is insufficient for their self-realization; they have to reach out to outside contexts, to other communities, other countries and nations. When they find themselves in their homogeneous environment, some Jewish people say, “How wonderful, I can finally have my own people surround me!”, while others exclaim, “This is horrible, there are only Jews around me!”
So, this is the fact: some Jews are oriented outside, to other nations; they are “geopolitical extraverts”, people of the Diaspora. Others are oriented inside, towards their own community – they are “geopolitical intraverts”, people of the Land. Jewry must serve both itself and the world. Within the state, it is directed mostly at itself, while in the Diaspora, that is, in the world – towards the whole world.
Moreover, I believe that in the future, the term “Diaspora” (galut, goluth) will be eliminated, and not by some legal semantic act, but due to the growing comprehension of its current inanity. If we live in England or Russia, Hungary or Argentina, Australia or Holland, in the USA or in Norway, we all live in this world, we all live on this Earth rather than in exile. We live among people, rather than in “dispersion”. If we have homes in these countries, why would anyone call us homeless? Kestler’s syllogism can be corrected this way: after the creation of the State of Israel, life outside it did not lose its sense for a Jewish person, but the use of the term “Diaspora” became meaningless”.
Today or in the future, there are and will be Jews of Israel and Jews of the World. And they are absolutely equal – ethnically, morally, and spiritually.
…Alas, Leon Pinsker, who wrote in the epigraph to his “Auto-Emancipation” a quote from the three-part statement of Hillel (Mishna, Pirkey Avot, 1:14), quoted only the first and the third parts (“If I am not for myself – who is? And if not now – when?”). but he failed to quote the important second part. You can find it in the epigraph to this article.
For decades now, the life of Jewish people in the world is becoming more and more safe, while the prospects for the State of Israel do not look good. Logically, the following options are possible:
1. Status quo can be preserved for a number of years which is the state of a permanent, with some pauses, warfare with Israel’s neighbors. This option is very likely and very undesirable. This state is extremely dangerous, unstable and can ultimately unravel along one of the worst case scenarios: a heavy military defeat, escalation of even more destructing forms of warring, etc.
2. Reaching of a strong peace on any acceptable terms. This option is extremely desirable but, unfortunately, very unlikely.
3. Disappearance of the state. This option is slightly likely and is of catastrophic nature both for the Jews of the Land and for the Jews worldwide. Even events begin to unravel along this path, they may simply develop into an unprecedentedly destructive and fatal for all humanity third world war.
4. Realization of the old idea of territorialists about building a Jewish state outside Palestine. Conditionally speaking, this is a resurrect of the “Uganda Project” or in the current situation – the “moving of Israel”. I will not evaluate this option here.
It is difficult not only to evaluate and discuss the territorialist idea today, but even to speak it. Here are some facts.
British people have seldom been accused of stupidity. The British (Joseph Chamberlin) told Hertzl something like this, “Mister Hertzl, we understand your strivings and are willing to assist you in many things. A significant part of your people do have an understandable desire – to live as many other nations live, in a country where the Jews will be a majority, where they will be a “title nation”. But we warn you – it will be extremely difficult, maybe even impossible to build a viable, normal Jewish state in this region. Therefore, we offer you another option – for instance, Uganda”.
Initially, Hertzl agreed with the British. It was mostly due to his desire to solve the problem of Jewish emigration from Russia as quickly as possible because of pogroms in that country. At the Zionist Congress in Basel in 1903, Hertzl suggested to send a special commission to Uganda to find out the local conditions and circumstances. 295 voted for this decision, 178 voted against it. But in 1905, the religious part of the Congress, which was in majority, stood against this idea and persuaded Hertzl to reconsider his position.
In an effort to preserve and develop the “territorialist project”, in particular, in Uganda, Syrkin and Zangvil created a Jewish Territorialist Organization (JTO). After several failed probing attempts in Canada, Australia, Cyrenaica (Libya), Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Angola, and especially after the signing of the Balfour Declaration, the Jewish Territorialist Organization came practically to a naught. In 1925, JTO disbanded its members. According to the Jewish eLibrary, “The organization's failure was due to its inability to secure a definite project, and its lack of sensitivity toward the historic and traditional sentiments of Jewish identity”.
What is the main problem of the Jewish people today?
One of the radical problems lies in the fact that Jewish people have no common worldwide institution that as an international legal entity could speak on behalf of the Jews of the whole world, the Jewish people as a whole. Jewish people (and not just Jewish) who live in Eretz Israel are represented by the State of Israel, but more than a half of the Jewish people live in other countries. This means that the nation as a whole has no representative body. This shows that the great and natural historical task for any nation – that of integration – remains unresolved for the Jewish people. Nobody can and will resolve this issue for the Jewish nation.
How can this problem be resolved? One way – let us call it political centralism – is to create a sort of global Jewish Union (the exact term is of no importance at this time, it will be found later) as an international legal entity. In order for this body to become a fully fledged international legal entity, it should be founded by the states that are primary international legal entities. The problem of drawing a number of countries (Israel, USA, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, etc.) into the ranks of co-founders may prove to be solvable. A similar option (if it is solvable from the legal and pragmatic points of view) is to convert the World Jewish Congress into an international legal entity through co-opting a number of states into its co-founders.
Fundamental objectives of such an organization (let us call it the World Jewish Union here) can be not only political, but also cultural, informational, charitable, and scientific.
Centralistic political projects however may have a hard time surviving nowadays. People have less and less belief in the purity and charity of any “umbrella” organizations claiming to cover all of the processes of real live that are going “under its roof”. Any centralizing institution – a state, a party, a super-corporation, etc. – may be nothing more than a body of suits, who are rapidly losing historical trust in them.
At the same time, a centralized option has some good old advantages – an opportunity to centralize all information, to pursue representative functions, and to accumulate finances for various projects of import.
Another important question that must be resolved is legitimization of Jewish identity for all.
We believe a person must be recognized Jewish on the basis of his/her self-identification and auto-conversion (auto-giyur). A person could declare himself Jewish – and it would be sufficient (as it is enough to pronounce the Islamic creed to convert to Islam). The declaration could be made in front of a witness and signed by the claimer and the witness. This declaration could be then legitimized by any civil or religious Jewish organization of any country which in this case will act as an additional witness – a legal entity. A Jewish organization is any legally registered organization of any country that has the word “Jewish” and/or its derivatives in its name (literally or by indubitable meaning, for instance, “Judaic”, “Ashkenazi”, “Sephardic”, etc.) and whose basic statutory objectives include those pertaining to the development, support, spreading, and preservation of the Jewish culture at large or some of its components (for instance, education, religion, science, music, languages, social aid, etc.).
Auto-identification could be done on the basis of self-declaration as a “Jew by blood” (for instances that are not recognized by the Orthodox Halachah – a Jewish father only, and for formal mamzerim, etc.), or as a “Jew by spirit” (by convictions, values, faith). This declaration could be open or confidential, according to the claimer’s wishes.
The world Jewish community can also embrace people of “many nationalities”, people of “poly-identifications” that include Jewish identification. This could be written down in a document to that effect.
The World Jewish Union (as a new Central Institution or any organization, for instance, a website) could keep a record of the Jews in the world (similarly to the record of ethnic censuses in different countries) and enter there Jewish people, including those who were registered in an above mentioned way. Anybody can be removed from this record if they wish.
In all fairness, we should say that this model of auto-identification can be implemented in the absence of a Central Institution.
No matter how history will solve its problems of global organization and political establishment of the Jewry in today’s world, we must clearly formulate the main principles that relate to every Jewish person and to the Jewish nation at large. We see these principles as follows:
1. A Jewish person is any person who considers himself Jewish and who sincerely declares himself as such.
2. Jewish people can live compactly, that is, set up independent national-state formations (first and foremost, the State of Israel whose creation was declared on May 14, 1948), or dispersedly, individually or by communities of various scales in any other country where it is not forbidden by the local laws. Both main forms of life are morally equal; they should and can be useful to the humanity.
3. Jewish people all over the world should support and respect the State of Israel, while the State of Israel should support and respect Jewish people all over the world.
4. The fundamental values of the Jewish people are life, freedom, justice, spirituality, peace, abidance by law, tolerance, altruism (charity), individual responsibility of adults, priority of childhood and education, legal and spiritual equality of rights of all people irrespective of their sex, race, religion. асы, вероисповедания. Jewish people refuse any idea of ethnic, racial, cultural, or religious exclusiveness.
5. Jewish people can think, speak and write using the main Jewish languages (Hebrew, Yiddish, and Ladino), as well as any other language. Language belonging of a person has no formal bearing on his Jewishness. Jewish people should value and encourage the preservation, development, and study of the main Jewish languages.
6. Jewish people have a rich and developing culture that goes back to the past of the Jewish nation, its history and religion. Jewish people should value and encourage the support and development of the Jewish culture.
7. A Jewish person can profess Judaism in any of its denominations (Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, Reconstructivist, etc.) or follow no religion at all, or profess any other traditional religion whose values do not contradict the main values of the Jewish people, or share the state religion of the country they live in. In any case, religious identification is a totally individual and free act of any grown-up person.
I believe that intelligent people of good will are unlikely to argue against the above formulated principles. I am sure that their sincere acceptance will help solve many difficult problems – the integration between Jewish people, the integration between the Jewish people and the world, and the finding of peace for the State of Israel.