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The Bright Ideological Future

June 4, 2017

A Historical Joke

by Rabbi Amichai Gordin, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Shaalvim High School

At the end of the Six Day War, Ephraim Kishon and Katriel Gorodish (using his regular penname “Dosh”) published a book of cartoons and satire. The last cartoon in the book, which is called “Excuse Us for Winning,” was a very touching drawing. In it, “Srulik” (who represents the State of Israel in Dosh’s cartoons) looks at King Hussein, who is off to one side, with a look of shame and defeat. Srulik proposes to the King in a conciliatory tone: “For two thousand years, keep saying, ‘If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.’ Then you will get it back.”

* * * * * *

Dosh, who was not religious but was very nationalistic, understood the importance of the long period of yearning for Jerusalem. He understood that the nonreligious paratroopers who freed the Old City with tears in their eyes did not come to the fight alone. They came on the wings of their grandfathers and grandmothers, who kept the memory of Jerusalem alive for thousands of years. If not for the ancient and eternal yearning for the holy and sanctified city, we would not have been privileged to return to the Western Wall and to the Temple Mount.

* * * * * *

Not all the people felt the yearning. The liberal movement which was founded in the beginning of the nineteenth century and later developed into the Reform movement abandoned the belief in the coming of Mashiach and the return to Zion. The return to Jerusalem and Zion was removed from the texts of the Reform prayer books. David Friedlander, one of the founders of the reform movement calmly said, “I pray… for my King, for the citizens of my country, for myself and for my family, but not for a return to Jerusalem.”

In some ways, the Reform movement was the exact opposite of the secular Zionist movement. While the Zionist movement renounced the idea that Judaism is a religion and concentrated only on nationalism, the Reform movement renounced the idea that Judaism is a nationality and kept only the religion (which it also watered down to a great extent).

Prominent philosophers of the Reform movement claimed that “the end of political sovereignty of Yisrael was once thought to be a calamity, but in fact it was a sign of progress – not a fall but rather a strengthening of religion. In this way Israel was getting closer to its true destiny. Clinging to sanctity has replaced the sacrifices. Israel has arrived on the scene in order to disseminate the words of G-d to the ends of the earth.” [David Einhorn, “Olat Tamid”].

While in Europe the Reform movement continued to mention Tisha B’Av (in memory of the destruction of the Temples), this holy day was removed from the Reform siddurim in America. The destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the people in the Diaspora were not seen as a reason for mourning. “The flames which obliterated Zion lit up the hour of the birth of Israel as the Messiah, who suffers for the entire human race.” [Einhorn, ibid].

Based on this understanding, it is not surprising to find that the Reform movement was violently opposed to Zionism. Thus, while Chaim Weizmann fought valiantly to obtain the Balfour Declaration from the British government, Claude Montefiore, the head of the Reform movement in England, tried with all his might to prevent this from happening. It is quite possible that he played a part in the strong objection to the Balfour Declaration voiced by Edwin Montague, who was the Minister for India and the brother of Lilian Montague, a leader of the Reform movement in England. This opposition managed to limit the scope of the declaration and almost succeeded in preventing its publication.

* * * * * *

These guiding principles of the Reform movement disappeared during the last generation. The more the Zionist movement broadened its base and garnered support among the Jewish community, the more the Reform opposition to Zionism waned. The Reform movement, which raised high a banner of ignoring traditions and past heritage for the good of a modern spirit, treated its founders in the same way that they treated Jewish tradition. They threw their former leaders into the dustbin of history. After waiting for way to long, the movement brought Zion and Jerusalem back into its siddurim. In 1975, some thirty years after the State of Israel was established, the Reform movement finally joined the World Zionist Organization.

In view of all of this, the demand by the Reform movement to be given an area of their own near the Western Wall can best be described as a rare historical joke. Just imagine if Zehava Galon (of the leftist Meretz Party) and Yariv Oppenheimer (of the Betzelem organization) would petition the Supreme Court to allow them to buy a house in Kiryat Arba, near Chevron. The Reform movement, which firmly opposed any mention of Zion and Jerusalem and which up to 80 years ago fought tooth and nail against Zionism, is now part of a campaign to give them a section in the palace of prayer near the Western Wall. Who can say that the Angel of History doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Our mentor, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, liked to quote a Gentile wise man, who warned that anybody who marries within his own generation will remain a widower in the next generation. That is exactly what happened to the founders of the Reform movement, and that is what will happen to the leaders of the struggle for alternative marriages in Israel and for defining a new brand of Judaism.

“Her clothing is strength and dignity, and she will be happy in the days to come” [Mishlei 31:25].


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