By Prof. David A. Frankel
Judaism is more than just a religion. Judaism is a way of life based on loyalty to the nation, to its values and history. To be a Jew means to belong to the Jewish people, to the Jewish nation. There is a difference between belonging to a people or nation and identification with a country. The notion of a nation is deeper than that of a country. A person may be a citizen of several countries, but he cannot be part of more than one nation.
The establishment of the State of Israel blurred the concepts and led to misunderstanding by many, as Israeli citizenship does not necessarily equate to membership in the Jewish people. At the same time, at its founding the State of Israel was declared to be the state of the Jewish people and it is primarily defined as a Jewish and democratic state. This definition is also grounded in the country’s Basic Laws. One of the results of these blurred lines is that the country’s character must embrace Judaism in its widest sense.
There are three basic principles, three fundamental characteristics to Judaism and the Jewish people: 1. Pure monotheism, 2. Historical continuity and national memory, 3. Jerusalem, and the land of Israel around it, as the central point of the nation. To strengthen the connection between the disparate portions of the Jewish people, scattered across the face of the globe with ties between them bound to weaken, our sages emphasized three distinct signs: language, the Sabbath, and mythology. The Hebrew language remained the language of prayer. The Sabbath remained the weekly day of rest, and to bolster it various prohibitions were enacted. The mythology, the Scriptural stories, became the spiritual property of every Jewish child everywhere. Thus did the Jewish people experience and emphasize their unique nature among nations.
Despite that classic approach, there have been those who sought to encourage Jews to fully integrate into their places of residence in the diaspora. Various movements and trends blurred the unique characteristics of the Jewish nation, and, in the end, led to the loss of a great deal of the nation. The establishment of the Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and the liberation of Jerusalem, led to a flourishing of nationalism amongst great swaths of the Jewish people.
And yet there are those who still seek to negate the existence of a Jewish people by aiming at significant nationalist symbols: reducing the status of the Hebrew language, abandoning the Bible, damaging the status of the Sabbath, belittling the Jewish holidays, etc. It can be feared that in light of this reality, within a generation or two the historic, cultural, spiritual, national, and even linguistic connection of residents of the State of Israel to the Jewish people will be similar to the connection between residents of modern Greece to ancient Greece or of Italians to ancient Rome.
The State of Israel is not like all other states. In order to safeguard its existence and continuity, and so to safeguard the existence and continuity of the Jewish nation, we must understand that the establishment of the state specifically in the Land of Israel was both a necessity and a result of our existence as a people. In order for the state to be Jewish, as announced in the declaration of independence, and not just a state in which Jews may live, it must steadfastly maintain the fundamentals of the nation, principles like increasing the usage of the Hebrew language, Jewish cultural and literary heritage, history, lifestyle, festivals and holidays, and the centrality of anything connected to the principles of the Jewish people. The state must acknowledge that it is the nationalist-political center of the Jewish nation.