Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Zionism and Religion: A Progressive Jewish Observation

What does it mean to be Jewish? Many people of Jewish background, myself included, were raised to believe that one's Jewishness and loyalty to Israel are inextricably tied together. To question the actions of Israel's government is an act of disloyalty, and one of the few topics that are not open to debate in Jewish circles.

I tend to look at social justice from a faith perspective, and the situation in the Middle East is no different. When I began to question what was going on in Israel/Palestine, I began to question beliefs that were at the core of my Jewish self. Here are some conclusions from a religious viewpoint as to why a Jewish person cannot just blindly accept that Israel is blameless, perfect, pristine, and an example to the international community.

First of all the, so-called "Jewish state" was not founded on religious principles. It was founded by socialist, working class Holocaust survivors. Which is perhaps by, at first, the modern political State of Israel was rejected by many religious branches of Judaism. Zionism was seen as a political, secular movement - not a religious one.

Over time, the Orthodox took over, and Orthodox law is what rules in Israel today. As a result, all cycle of life events have to be overseen by Orthodox auspices, conversions that are not Orthodox are not accepted, and neither is patrilineal descent. In other words, the version of Judaism that the fewest Jews around the world follow is what rules in Israel. So, if you are someone who identifies as Jewish but converted through Conservative or reform (or are the child of a mother who converted as such), or have a Jewish father and was raised Jewish but have a non-Jewish mother, guess what? You are not considered Jewish in Israel. Oh, and only religious marriages are valid, so if your spouse is not Jewish, in Israel you are single.

Yes, a government gets to decide a person's religion. Although Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, that doesn't speak of freedom to me. Here is another one: Messianic Jews (Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah) are not considered Jewish under the Israeli Law of return, even if they are Halachically Jewish (born to a Jewish mother who is considered Jewish under Orthodox law). Now, I know this is a very contentious issue, and I am not intending to start an argument on whether or not Jesus is the Messiah, but I am a firm believer that people have the right to believe whatever they want (even if they are being meshuggah (crazy)). Apparently, the powers that be in Israel don't share that attitude. How ironic, considering how Zionist the Messianic movement is. So, if you are a Messianic Jew, heed my words: Israel does not want you.

Israel does love Evangelical Christians, though. Those same Christians who believe that Jews are going to hell (well, the ones who don't believe in Jesus, anyways). There is a prophecy that Jesus will return if the global Jewish population makes aliyah (moves to Israel). Evangelicals support Israel financially and politically. Israel appreciates this and welcomes them - except for the Jewish Christians/Messianic Jews. Those guys are religious traitors, after all. Yeah, like the Evangelicals putting money and time into conversion efforts against Jews isn't intrusive and borderline anti-Semitic. What a paradox.

As a member of Independent Jewish Voices I am glad I have an outlet for my views on the Middle East and social justice from a Jewish perspective - a progressive Jewish perspective. If you are Jewish and interested in true religious freedom, social justice, and human rights, I hope you will consider joining.

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