Religion Without State

Yeshayahu Leibowitz believed traditional Judaism has no precedent for a modern Jewish state like Israel.

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This, Leibowitz charges, is hypocritical, and damages both religion and the state. Jews should rather face the challenge posed to their faith by the state which they have created and confront the following choice. Either the Torah's legislation was intended lekhatchila, a priori, and so contained a model to which any Jewish state at any time must conform, or it represented a code enacted bedi'avad, ex post facto, in accord with particular circumstances prevailing at one time but no longer.

If the former, Neturei Karta [anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews] in Israel and non-Zionists abroad such as the Satmar Hasidim are correct: Zionism is illegitimate; the Jewish state can have no religious meaning, and in fact violates God's laws. (In our terms: politicization and resymbolization are incompatible with Jewish tradition.) If the latter, a revision of halakhah is needed, commensurate with the revision of Jewish history accomplished by Zionism. This the Orthodox community in Israel and its supporters abroad have so far refused to undertake.

Leibowitz can neither approve of their "hypocrisy," nor endorse the non-Zionists' position, nor embrace Rav Abraham Isaac Kook's messianism. He has, moreover, repeatedly opposed the political po­sitions taken by those who have invoked messianism as their justification. Leibowitz thus remains a critic rather than the leader of a movement, caught in the rifts that have opened up in the modern period between the recon­ceptions of Eretz Yisrael that we have examined.

Reprinted with permission from The Land of Israel: Jewish Perspectives, edited by Lawrence A. Hoffman (University of Notre Dame Press).

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Dr. Arnold M. Eisen

Arnold M. Eisen, Ph.D. is Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Prior to this appointment, he served as the Koshland Professor of Jewish Culture and Religion and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University. Prior to joining the Stanford faculty in 1986, he taught at Tel Aviv University and Columbia University.