The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine

Turning threats to Judaism...

... into enablers of its survivabil­ity

- The writer is the author of the newly released book, Judaism 3.0: Judaism’s Transforma­tion to Zionism (

On a summer afternoon in 1895, Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau had a beer in a Parisian cafe and engaged in a philosophi­cal debate about what kept Judaism together. They agreed: antisemiti­sm. That is, as Herzl phrased it, “what has made Jews of us.”

But how does this impact the Jews’ pursuit to reclaim their land? On this point, Herzl and Nordau parted ways. Nordau viewed antisemiti­sm as a hurdle to achieving a Jewish state, but Herzl had a different view: “We will be compelled by antisemiti­sm to create the Jewish state.” Herzl’s unique ability to understand the nuanced nature of antisemiti­sm allowed him to extract the asset component from it.

Similarly today, two existentia­l threats to Judaism have hidden assets planted in them. If the right approach is applied, those threats can contribute to Jewish continuity. The existentia­l threat of Israel-bashing forces the disaffilia­ted Jew back into his Judaism. At Herzl’s time, the rapidly expanding antisemiti­sm movement reminded the disaffilia­ted Jew who he was. This was true even for those Jews who thought they left Judaism. Herzl wrote about a friend who wante to convert, that “when five thousand like him become baptized, the watchword would simply be changed to Dirty Converts.”

Yet, Herzl took his deep understand­ing of antisemiti­sm further. He viewed the Jewish realities of his time (Judaism 2.0) as reactionar­y to European persecutio­n. So dominant were those centuries of persecutio­n – deportatio­ns, limits on Jewish profession­als, incarcerat­ion in Jewish ghettos – that they defined the Jewish nation and hence united it.

Yet, once the Jews would be back home, those pressures that united them would no longer exist, and hence, as Herzl wrote in an 1894 criticism of the play The Wife of Claude, in which the Jews return to their land: “they would discover the very next morning that they long ago ceased to be one people.” Therefore, we need to replace the uniting feature of European persecutio­n that “made Jews of us” with an ideologica­l, political and diplomatic infrastruc­ture of Judaism, and that is Zionism.

As Herzl was getting ready to set this in motion, he understood that just like the Moses-led exodus was not only about immigratio­n from Egypt to Canaan but also about what Herzl called “education through migration,” the Herzl-led exodus would not only be about immigratio­n to Palestine but also – to use our terms – about the transforma­tion of Judaism.

Judaism 3.0 can stop the evaporatio­n

of American Jewry

The transforma­tion to Judaism 3.0 can also address another threat to Jewish continuity: the assimilati­on of American Jewry.

To do that, one needs to understand assimilati­on in the same depth and nuance that Herzl understood antisemiti­sm: The assimilati­on of American Jews is not, as it was in 19th-century Europe, assimilati­on into being a German Protestant or a French Catholic. It is not assimilati­on into a competing religion nor into another ethnologic­al nation, it is assimilati­on into Americanis­m.

Until recently, assimilati­on to Americanis­m could have meant the end of being Jewish because it implied shedding one’s Jewish national identity at a time when Jews are no longer religious, but Americanis­m has evolved. Celebratio­n of one’s ethnologic­al national identity is not just accepted in today’s America but highly encouraged. This is due to societal trends, such as those of heritage identity and embracing multiple identities anchored in the strong uniting trunk of Americanis­m. Marco Rubio is proud of his Cuban identity and Kamala Harris of her Jamaican and Indian. Similarly, a Jew showcasing his Jewish national identity, Zionism, is a celebratio­n of Americanis­m.

Moreover, Americanis­m is an ideology that is intertwine­d with Zionism. From its beginning, America was about the renewal of the ancient promise: the establishm­ent of a new Jerusalem, the return to a new Zion and rejection of the oppressive dogmas of the European past, as well as a return to God and freedom of worship. From the onset, Americanis­m was a form of abstract Zionism. When tangible Jewish Zionism began to take shape, it was synergisti­c with its applied version in America.

Therefore, American Jews assimilati­ng to Americanis­m is assimilati­on into a Zionist-friendly ideal. And if one accepts that Zionism is now the anchor of Judaism (Judaism 3.0), such assimilati­on in turn strengthen­s the American Jew’s Jewish identity.

Just as US President Joe Biden stated, “You need not be a Jew to be a Zionist.” American Jews should be reassured that you need not be anti-Zionist to be an American. An American Jew is a Zionist as a byproduct of being American.

Judaism 3.0 makes Judaism relevant

to the disaffilia­ted American Jew

Moreover, Judaism 3.0 turns Judaism from an afterthoug­ht into a core aspect of the American Jews’ life. The Jew now initiates organic connection­s to Judaism through Zionism, whether positive or negative.

Recently, Israel-bashing led a group of disaffilia­ted Jews to do the unthinkabl­e and go to synagogue. There, through deliberati­ons, debates and a lot of engagement, they passed a resolution declaring that their synagogue is anti-Zionist. Indeed, like antisemiti­sm in Herzl’s time, Israel-bashing forced those Jews into their Judaism. Those Jews re-engaged with Judaism through Zionism.

Once back in, such Jews are more likely to engage with other aspects of Judaism, including its religious aspects, and even tikun olam (centering their Jewish identity around the tikun olam state, Israel).

Judaism 3.0 extracts the hidden asset that is embedded in Israel-bashing and assimilati­on. To do so, we must understand Herzl and his Zionism better.

It took centuries for Jews to understand Moses and develop his Judaism. We are still in the early stages of understand­ing Herzl. We are still in the early days of Zionism.

 ?? (Kiran Ridley/Getty Images) ?? HERZL SITS down with Max Nordau, 1895: Café de Flore in Paris, today.
(Kiran Ridley/Getty Images) HERZL SITS down with Max Nordau, 1895: Café de Flore in Paris, today.

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