Zionist Culture Criticism (anti-Judaism)

(Joseph Hayyim Brenner)

It’s probably not a bad idea to remember that Zionism also has a face. I said awhile back that I wasn’t going to post about either it or Israel, that I wanted to take a break, and that I don’t really care what happens, because, well, you make your own bed. But I’m teaching Israel and Israeli Judaism this semester, and, it remains true that Israel and Zionism are pretty inescapable on a Jewish thought blog. To all my Disaporist friends out there who want to argue otherwise, who want to break the “bond” between Zionism and Judaism (you know who you are): please, please prove me wrong…and stop writing about Israel and Zionism. I’ll believe it when I see it.

In class, we just finished running through the classical Zionist theorists in Hertzberg’s “The Zionist Idea.” And I really have to say, I still love the Jewish culture-critics like Berdichevsky, Klatzkin, and Brenner. I think they are fresh, and caustic.

I don’t know if it’s true as is now being claimed by the anti-Zionists, the non-Zionists, and the post-Zionists, especially the ones who love Judaism, that Zionism is subsuming Judaism, and destroying Judaism in the process. If it’s at all true, it’s probably the most true about Orthodox Jews and Judaism. But mostly, it seems to me to be the other way around. To be sure, it’s a vicious circle, but I think it’s more the case that Judaism is now subsuming Zionism, and that’s what’s killing Zionism. Looked at this way, the problem is Judaism, not Zionism, as claimed by the critics of Zionism.

Clearly, the very notion of an insoluble bond between Zionism and Judaism that critics of Zionism claim to see today would have horrified Berdichevsky, Brenner and their ilk back then. It’s great fun teaching them to undergraduates. These guys hated all the things that American Jews, including American Jewish philosophers, are supposed to feel sentimental about, namely Judaism, Jewish history, and “Jewish ethics.” There is a tough radical core to these ex-Yeshiva bochers, these 1st Aliyah and 2nd Aliyah guys. I’m betting it has a lot to do with Nietzsche. It’s the bracing self-criticism that I love about the Zionist culture-critics writ small and classical Zionism writ large.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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1 Response to Zionist Culture Criticism (anti-Judaism)

  1. efmooney says:

    Random thoughts from a non-Zionist non-Jew in love with Judaism and Zionism: This ongoing debate about “What is Judaism?’ or “What is a Jew?” reminds me of Hilary Putnam’s quip that “A Jew is the one asking the question.” Which goes to the deeper point that the history of the Jews is a history of contestation about what is Judaism. It’s a big family fight, and that’s what Judaism is: As Bibi said, the Koran says “Obey”, the five books say “Argue, Object, Disagree” (and I’d add, “then pray”).
    You might like “Radical Jewish Culture/Secular Jewish Practice” in Charles Bernstein (a MARVELOUS writer) ‘s ATTACK OF THE DIFFICULT POEMS (Chicago).
    A final thought. Yes, Nietzsche had an impact, but that great advocate for getting faith away from the sovereign state, S. Kierkegaard, was a factor, too, a critic in the mix who influenced Buber (and many others) long before Buber left for Palestine. Contemporary Israeli scholars don’t necessarily think of S. Kierkegaard as a Christian thinker (nor do I).

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