Azure's debut, the End of Zionism, and more

Failing Substitutes
I congratulate you on your article “The End of Zionism?” which I thought was the most perceptive (if equally troubling) analysis of the situation in Israel I have read in years.
I have just completed a book on the American Jewish community, whose conclusions are at least somewhat parallel to your own regarding Israel. I suggest that the adoption of substitutes for Judaism—new forms of what is now known as “Jewishness” and consisting of liberal politics, “Jewish culture,” ethnicity, Holocaust studies, etc.—is clearly failing to keep Jews Jewish; and conclude that a community built around anything but the old-time religion will not survive in this country. But the American Jewish community is entirely dedicated to the liberal attitude toward religion, namely that it is a dangerous, divisive, reactionary force that must be marginalized lest Jews lose their chance for integration and social advancement.
Congratulations on your superb piece.
Elliott Abrams
Senior Fellow
Hudson Institute
Washington, D.C.
Honest Intellect
Upon receiving a copy of Azure: Ideas for the Jewish Nation, I want to express my most sincere thanks to you while wishing enormous success to The Shalem Center. An honest intellectual approach to the needs, problems and aspirations of the Jewish people and the State of Israel represents a very important contribution to their future and well-being.
I am sure that by reading the contents of Azure, I will gain a better understanding of Israel and its people. So allow me to repeat my most sincere thanks to you and your institution, and to express my hopes that the effort you have initiated be effective and long-lasting.
Manuel E. Lopez Trigo
Ambassador from Costa Rica
Philosophers and Principles
Regarding Ofir Haivry’s article, “Act and Comprehend”:
In view of the discussion of Thales, I would like to add that there are Jewish parallels and possible influences on his views. It was long fashionable to minimize this influence, despite the identification of Thales, “the first Greek philosopher,” as a Phoenician by Herodotus. This Aryanist or anti-Semitic prejudice has given way in some recent studies to the recognition that both Thales and another early philosopher, Pythagoras, were Phoenicians.
In regard to the mention of Cyrus as a “non-Jewish king” who is yet called mashiah, it might interest you to know that some believe that Cyrus descended from the ten northern tribes who were exiled after the fall of Samaria and settled in northern Mesopotamia and places further east by the Assyrians. Cyrus is described (I believe, in the Cyropaedia of Xenophon) as having received his education in a school devoted to the principle of justice.
Elliot A. Green
Nefarious Normality
For some months I have been pleased to receive The Shalem Center’s periodic publications concerning social and political conditions in Israel. I have been in full agreement with your analyses and conclusions, and am always eager to receive your materials.
I am absolutely delighted, however, with your latest publication, Azure. I don’t remember when I last felt so uplifted about any kind of reading as I did after having read Yoram Hazony’s article, “The End of Zionism?” It is nothing less than a confirmation and true reflection of my own feelings and convictions concerning present conditions in Israel.
I had followed with intense interest the campaign that the Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu had mounted before the election and am proud to say that as far back as two years ago I had predicted Netanyahu’s election as the next prime minister of Israel.
But I was quite dismayed with the results of the election. The victory of the Likud was much too narrow. Where were the “think tanks” of the “right”? Where were the professors and thinkers and the media when it came to the point for Israel to be made aware and warned about the consequences of the concept of “Post-Zionism”—the predictable total failure of the peace process and the nefarious efforts of Shimon Peres and his entourage to become “normal” and eventually perhaps join the Arab League, as is most eloquently pointed out in Azure?
Finally, please accept my wife Eve’s and my congratulations on the occasion of your first issue of Azure. We do hope for many to follow.
Joseph P. Morrison
Miami, Florida
Wind in the Willows
In his article “Act and Comprehend,” Ofir Haivry asserts that homes should be built in order to bolster the nation’s bond with disputed parts of the homeland. According to Haivry, homes to a large extent engender a sense of belonging and strengthen the bond, and therefore—if I may interpret his remarks—the sight of a Burger Ranch restaurant alongside skyscrapers would be the ultimate sign of a firm grip on the land.
I have a serious problem with this idea. Form may indeed have an impact on content, but homes can result only from belief and vision, not the other way around. The caustic public debate today over building stems not from a difference of opinion on particular plots of land, but is an outgrowth of culture and creative activity, such as literature, cinema and theater. Since the establishment of the state, Israeli writers have endeavored to anchor their national-political views in a wide-ranging and impressive canon. Yesterday’s extremists are today’s centrists, not because their opinions have softened or become moderated, but because they have succeeded in explaining them at every opportunity. Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, S. Yizhar and many others are considered today (and justifiably so) to be the country’s authentic cultural luminaries. Their track record is beyond dispute: Hundreds of plays, endless shelves of books and records, all representing the same national-political view, were the only way the public’s thirst for culture could be quenched—a thirst that keeps intensifying. With nowhere else to go, the soul makes do with substitutes; it is satiated by the poisonous drink, without protest or scorn. The homes built over the years in Kiryat Arba or in Shiloh did not provide the slightest respite for the exhausted soul. The homes preached to the converted, only serving to deepen the gap, seeming—then as now—alien and not natural, fantasies of a sector steeped in perilous illusions, a sector that follows the path of a nebulous divine imperative or of murky emotions that have no place in modern Israeli society.
Where is it written that one must live in the territories? Who said that it is good to die for our country? Why are the graves of our forefathers so important? Serious answers to these questions have never been written in a clear and modern idiom. Yeshiva boys serve in the military, full of motivation and ideals, but we have never read a book written by one of them; if they would ever go to the theater, they would know that an Israeli play has never been written from a perspective similar to theirs, not to speak of the cinema.
The classic exilic Jewish way of thinking actually flourished in the ghetto. It was sheltered from the influence of the gentiles and the outside world. The ghetto ensured that the members of the community would stay inside and would not seek their self-realization elsewhere. It turns out that the ghetto, together with European Jewry, “made aliya” and quickly found its place in Israel. The religious Zionists set up settlements and yeshivas, and raised large families. Even if they live in the city, serve in the army like everyone else and work at the neighborhood bank, the majority are still living in a cultural and spiritual ghetto—a ghetto that never forced them to grapple with the lofty spiritual challenge presented by their partners in building the state, their intellectual rivals. It was cozy in the ghetto, secure and warm. There one saw no need to explain or justify oneself, nor was there enough time or desire to write books or plays.
Today, everything is collapsing. The roots of the collapse are firmly planted in current rabbinic attitudes that perpetuate the spirit of the diaspora, attitudes to the effect that it is better to hide behind the yeshiva walls, or at least behind the walls of the bank or hospital, in a supportive and protected environment, and not expose oneself to “secular” culture. Anywhere you turn, you will see a yarmulke, often at the highest levels, and even in the army—the height of material existence. The Zionist rabbis tout their talented youth, organize a rally in the city square and salute: “Behold Solomon’s litter, sixty brave men all around, all of them girded with swords and well-versed in the art of war”—we are not afraid, we live in peace with the left and with secularism, we are exposed to the most “dangerous” environments and have remained Zionist and religious as in the past; everything is rosy.
The rabbis appear to have forgotten that when the first army preparatory academies were formed eight years ago, the entire rabbinic establishment was up in arms, maintaining adamantly that the hesder system was good enough, and that there was no reason for a young religious man to join the regular army—naturally, it was considered “dangerous.” But the religious youth voted with their feet. Spiritual desiccation and the disjunction between religion and state engendered a strong predilection for the elite units. While their peers from the kibbutzim and moshavim began to show the first signs of flagging motivation, among the religious youth it blossomed. Perhaps this was, in part, a compensation for a feeling widespread in the religious community of somehow not belonging, a result of years of repression and the castration of all spiritual and artistic impulses by the religious schools and yeshivas.
Today, wherever you look, you will find religious military officers who find support from the rabbinic establishment. Having seen the success of the preparatory academies, the Zionist rabbinate adopted it as its own, lending its stamp of approval. This was not the result of a sudden passion for pluralism or a new vision of the future of Zionism; it was simply the recognition of a reality that turned out to be fairly successful. This military reality refreshes the soul of the young religious man, a soul that seeks to show its place in society, a place equal to that of his secular comrades.
The spiritual void was stopped up with military putty, and today one gets the impression that the needs of the religious community are satisfied. But it is only a temporary, facile solution. Sooner or later, our sons will also understand that the army is not an end in itself, that a country cannot be built solely on the foundation of security and defense of the homeland. A serious inquiry is needed on the question of “What are we doing here?” an inquiry that cannot remain only on the level of halachic rulings or dusty, eighty-year-old journal articles.
The declaration that religious Zionism has integrated itself into all spheres of life is no more than self-delusion. Whereas this may be true on the lighter side of reality—the material facet, uniform for everyone; it is undeniably false on the spiritual side, which is complex and arduous, presenting tough demands. Do religious Zionists wish to demonstrate spiritual excellence? Let them write books and plays, publish articles, compose music, do something spiritual—at least do something. We can see for ourselves that not a single refreshing and original spiritual work has been written in the last fifty years, a work with roots planted in religion, or by an author of significant Tora stature. The only thing produced has been updates and commentaries, vocalized luxury editions of one sort or another, a rehash of something already extant. Despite the fact that religious people should naturally spearhead the country’s spiritual pursuits, connect to the upper worlds, in reality there is only retreat and a diminution of the spirit. The rabbis are not the cultural vanguard of religious Zionism, despite their pretense to the contrary. They are the bearers of halacha and commentary, of religion and establishment. Their style of thought is dogmatic and exilic; they do not even fathom the need for artists, painters or authors, and as a result religious Zionism today finds itself in a crisis no less deep than that of secular Zionism. There is still an important difference: The most typical expression of the problem, demotivation, bypassed religious Zionism, which has not yet figured out why it does what it does, and it is not yet left without answers. But the time for demoralization will come, as well. Religious Zionism in all its years of existence has not specified its outlook—not even to itself. There are the stupendous works of Rabbi Kook, and that’s it. Since then, apparently, nothing has happened. 
Building homes is the easy way out. It transfers responsibility from the individual, imposing it on the Housing Minister, the government and thousands of foreign workers. A real bond will not develop without a profound dialogue that takes into account all the aspects of cultural life. “If God does not build the house, the workers labored for naught.” Without a clear and deep vision, the house cannot persevere. Without spiritual foundations, there can be no material stability. Thousands of homes in Ariel did nothing to endear the general public, since they were not the product of dialogue and cultural-spiritual persuasion, but rather as part of an ideology that does not know how to manifest itself. Scary-looking, Uzi-toting settlers in army parkas are the representatives of the settlements in the territories. They are the occupants of the house for which the workers labored for naught—frustrated occupants who do not understand where they went wrong.
When we say “Michael Jordan,” we think of more than basketball; we also see his smile and personality beaming from behind the ball. The same goes for books and drawings, plays and poetry. Aviv Gefen is more famous than his words or melodies; he represents a worldview, even without resorting to words. Today’s youth buy Aviv Gefen, not just his records. The religious public cannot sell its opinions and ideas because it is still incapable of articulating them in the vernacular. An allegiance develops only where a mutually agreed-upon message is dispatched and absorbed. The religious public has not broadcast such messages for many years; this sector remains locked in the ghetto, talking only to itself, afraid primarily of itself. Afraid that it will be contaminated, that the outside world will not measure up to its standard of spiritual quality, that it will fail. And thus, “every man has his sword upon his thigh because of the fear by night.” The sword of creativity, spirit and excitement remains fastened to the weakened body; the sword can no longer revolve, because it is too difficult. The religious are not represented at the Betzalel art school, nor at Nisan Nativ, nor at the music academy. If there are one or two, it means that in spite of everything their souls were restless and could not endure the spiritual shallowness they had inherited.
The situation is critical, the dam about to burst. There is no time to sit around, no time for hesitation. We must get up and act. We need authors. We need painters. We need poets, musicians, actors and singers. We need a wide range of activity. We need brave rabbis and open-minded educators. We need to acknowledge reality. We need awareness.
Da’el Shalev

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