Which Comes First, Judaism or Democracy?

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So the about to be new government in Israel wants to settle things this way –first Jewishness and then democracy. In all my years, in Israel, thinking about Israel and Zionism, going back to the 1980s, I never heard of such a thing. While it may have always been true practically, that Israel was Jewish before it was democratic, it was never articulated this way discursively; and discourse makes a difference. I don’t like calling things “first” or “second.” As I understood it as a liberal or Labor Zionist, these two values were supposed to be co-terminous and simultaneous, not one before the other. To me, that was the tension that made Israel an interesting place, and as I came to understand it, an emblem of Jewish modernity.

This new arrangement is a wicked one. The problem of trying to establish first principles is that you always end up making a bad decision. But maybe that’s the logical outcome that people like me never wished to recognize about Israel. I still don’t believe that to be the case because I don’t believe in “logical” or inevitable or necessary outcomes. The idea  smacks of “essentialism.” That said, this privileging of Jewishness over democracy remains a very live possible outcome, a bad one, that I suspect remains unthinkably foreign to most American Jews, and which most of “us” would refuse.

I don’t see how this secures “our” support of “Israel.” Alas, though, it does secure “my” attention. I’ll be blogging more about Israel in the next week what with the new election and Obama’s visit.

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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2 Responses to Which Comes First, Judaism or Democracy?

  1. Carlos says:

    Would you not rather this though? At least transparency in motives is made somewhat clearer. And yes, this is the obvious dichotomy of the situation, where both Judaism and democracy do not co-exist. Obviously democracy is far more important for a healthy society to eventuate, but unfortunately a healthy society is today more equated by the numbers of population as opposed to the content in the population and the human experience that ensues.

    • Carlos says:

      *unfortunately a healthy society today is more equated to the type/race of a population in an area as opposed to the content between the people and the human experience that ensues.

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