Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Israel in the Service of Judaism

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Israel in the Service of Judaism

Article excerpt

At a recent conference sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua ruffled feathers, to put it gently. He declared that "only Israel, and not Judaism, could ensure the survival of the Jewish people." Unless Jews lived in Israel and "took part in the daily decisions" of life in a Jewish state, "they did not have a Jewish identity of any significance."

As might be imagined, this did not go over well with an audience of AJC members from all over the United States. They do not live in Israel but are sure that they are Jews. Hillel Halkin, who does live in Israel and who writes regularly for Commentary and the New York Sun, comments: "If expressing his opinions about American Jews meant hurting their feelings, [Yehoshua] should have picked another time and place for it."

Before getting to his disagreement with Yehoshua, Halkin says this: "Indeed, despite the great inroads made by assimilation-in some ways, as a reaction to them-the hard nucleus of the American Jewish community, which numbers somewhere between one and two million people, is, Jewishly speaking, better organized, better educated, more committed, and more culturally and religiously creative than it has ever been before. And, the more committed they are, the more American Jews tend to care about Israel, too, and to give it dieir political and financial backing. This is hardly of 'no significance.' These Jews deserve an Israelis respect and gratitude, not his disdain."

Mr. Halkin later got his turn on the AJC platform. He was asked whether, in view of all the threats to Israel, it was not a good thing that the Jews of the world also live in the diaspora. He responded, "You know, if, God forbid, Israel should someday be destroyed or go under, I couldn't care less about the Jews of the Diaspora or what has happened to them." In his column, Halkin elaborated on that impromptu response:

It's not that Jewish life in the Diaspora has no significance, it's that Jewish life in Israel has more. Israel represents such an enormous Jewish adventure-the only adventure in which the Jewish encounter with modernity is complete and allembracing-that it's hard for me to understand how any Jew who really cares about being Jewish would want to be anywhere else. …

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