Stage Two Statehood: Anticipating the State of Israel’s Coming of Age

Accounting for the State of Israel’s survival into the 21st century exercises the mind, given the external threats and internal deficiencies it has had to cope with from the outset. The state’s congenital defects are myriad and generally stem from the staunchly secular, socialist vision of many of its founders.

Israeli politicians regularly intone the mantra that Israel must be both Jewish and democratic, and most privilege democratic over Jewish. Yet Israel’s electoral system and parliamentary impotence make a mockery of democracy and excommunicate the state’s Judaic character.

Democracy entails elections whereby people are canvassed for consent, but Israel’s fixed party lists absolve members of the Knesset from accountability to their constituents. When the entire nation is a single constituency without candidate districts or voter ridings, the interests of the electorate are not represented and the purported representatives are beholden to party leaders, not voters. And the low electoral threshold means the Knesset is glutted with special interest parties cobbled together into coalition governments that thereby wield disproportionate national influence.

Moreover, prime ministers populate their cabinets with rival party leaders and elites, resulting in a plural Executive branch of government that constrains peremptory actions, often causing petty infighting among ministers and even the disintegration of governing coalitions. Furthermore, a cabinet constituted with MKs means there is no arm’s length separation of the Legislative and Executive branches of power. In addition, Israel still has no formal constitution, only a series of sporadically enacted Basic Laws, and does not accept the constitution of the Jewish peoplethe Torahas the foundation for its state charter. So much for the democratic nature of the State of Israel.

The Judaic nature of Israel is arguably in worse shape. Due to their entrenched secular, socialist ideologies, those steering the ship of state since its inception have largely refrained from instilling Judaic character into national institutions. Absent the compass of identity and the helm of heritage, over the decades Israel’s leadership has made numerous gratuitous concessions without reciprocation and has surrendered sacred lands and holy sites to its sworn enemies as part of the fatal charade known by the misnomer of “peace process”. Identity infirmity in a region crowded by strident neighbors mired in a medieval mentality is an invitation to annihilation, even if only through piecemeal accords for which Israel employs goodwill diplomacy and its foes ill-willed or martial diplomacy, i.e. warfare waged by other means. Without a profound and expansive understanding of Jewish patrimony, Jewish posterity is imperiled. Israel’s palpable absence of ethno-national authenticity makes it prone to foreign pressures and to misguidedly engaging in political self-immolation. 

There are remedies to Israel’s institutional ills, though reform will be inadequate where overhaul is necessary. One key remedy would be to establish a bicameral legislature: the lower house, the “Knesset” of 120 elected members, would possess an administrative and legislative capacity and be open to Jews and non-Jews alike, thereby enshrining the democratic aspect of the state, while the upper house, the “Great Sanhedrin” of 71 appointed members (rabbinical sages appointed based on merit), would possess a legislative and judicial capacity and be open only to the most respected Judaic legists, thereby ensuring the Judaic aspect of the state.

Re-instituting the Great Sanhedrin of 71 rabbinical sages as the legislature’s curule body, equivalent to a Senate or House of Lords, would bolster world Jewry’s sense of renewal and signal the supremacy of Israel’s Judaic character. Historically, the Great Sanhedrin was a council and court concerned foremost with religious law and adjudicating cases. Nonetheless it had different powers in different epochs, including political and legislative powers, and always maintained a legislative component even strictly within religious affairs, as in its issuing of takkanot (innovative laws) and gezeirot (preventative laws).

Re-establishing the Great Sanhedrin as a Senate would only modestly modulate its mandate. A reconstituted Great Sanhedrin would serve as a combined legislature and magistrature/judicature overseeing the Knesset, offering sager counsel to lawmakers of the lower house while acting as guardians of Israel’s Judaic nature in line with the rich teachings of the Torah, Talmud, and authoritative halakhic codes, in addition to operating within the discrete realm of Jewish religious affairs by issuing rulings and deciding cases of utmost import for world Jewry according to Judaic law. Both the upper and lower houses in Israel’s legislature would be able to introduce bills, but only a majority (whether simple, absolute, or extraordinary) of the Great Sanhedrin could enact a bill into law. An authoritative Great Sanhedrin, along with local courts (battei din), would also obviate the need for a Chief Rabbinate, an institution imported into the State of Israel from the Diaspora, which has proven all too often to be prone to controversy and scandal.

Historically, there was also a lesser Sanhedrin of 23 rabbinical jurists as well, and re-establishing this body as the supreme court of Israel would also remedy many ills currently plaguing the state. Israel’s current Supreme Court is the world’s activist court par excellence, overreaching into the purview of legislators at every possible opportunity and frequently negating the state’s Judaic content, thus threatening both Israel’s democratic and Judaic character. Such juridical over-extension is facilitated by the radically liberal Supreme Court’s ideological homogeneity and overt disregard for the will of the populace, much of which is religious or traditional. Unelected justices arrogating to themselves powers beyond their remit is a travesty of the first magnitude, an oligarchic threat to democracy.

In any nation the corporate good requires leadership that is coherent and resolute, which comprises a government, legislature, and judiciary rooted in the nation’s reason for being. Is Israel’s premise to be a democracy? Democracy is a method, not a vocation. It is important, but it cannot supersede Israel’s Judaic substance (in which many “democratic” elements are already enshrined). A nation’s allies extol strength and its adversaries exploit weakness. Resolving Israel’s identity crisis domestically would additionally go a long way in strengthening its international posture.

Stage One of Israel’s statehoodpolitical Zionisminvolved the preliminary in-gathering of exiles, the establishment of rudimentary national institutions, and fighting for survival in armed conflicts with neighboring aggressors. In Stage One, land and people (nation and nation-state) remarried, but the marriage has yet to be consummated.

Now pushing 70, Israel should confidently segue into Stage Two of its statehood, which entails a Judaic renascence so that the nation-state of the Jews naturally evolves into a Judaic state, a polity proudly embodying the exemplary morals, ethics, values, virtues, and principles of Judaism.

One of the ideal ways to do this would be to introduce a Declaration of Restoration, sequel to the Declaration of Independence, that would not be merely symbolic, but would entail a pragmatic agenda comprising long overdue measures:

  1. the enshrinement of a constitution governing the Judaic state, to whose letter and spirit all other laws must conform, which would formally replace the existing Basic Laws while incorporating them, with or without amendments, as necessary;
  2. the re-establishment of the Great Sanhedrin council of 71 rabbinical sages as the upper chamber in a bicameral legislature and the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate;
  3. the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin tribunal of 23 jurists to replace the Supreme Court; 
  4. the administrative redivision of Israel into electoral regions/provinces, counties, and wards/ridings/boroughs, from which Knesset members would be elected by constituent citizens to whom members would be politically and professionally accountable, including via a formal recall provision;
  5. the final indigenization of institutions such as the Jewish Agency (merged into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Immigration & Absorption) and Jewish National Fund (merged into the Israel Land Authority & Israel Nature & Parks Authority).

While today hybrid Israelpart Hebraic republic, part Judaic stateremains the Middle East’s target of choice, it may yet progress into a self-respecting, ergo respected, state, fulfilling its premise as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation and its purpose of serving as a light to the nations.

Redemption Requires Israel to Shed its Slave Mentality

“Pharaoh approached; the Children of Israel raised their eyes and behold! – Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to HaShem. They said to Moshe, ‘Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the Wilderness? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Is this not the statement that we made to you in Egypt, saying, Let us be and we will serve Egypt? – For it is better that we should serve Egypt than that we should die in the Wilderness!’

Moshe said to the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand fast and see the salvation of HaShem that He will perform for you today; for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again! HaShem shall make war for you, and you shall remain silent.’” (SHEMOT14:10– 14)

Acknowledging that Israel greatly outnumbered the Egyptian military at the Sea of Reeds, the Ibn Ezra provides a remarkable explanation of the above verses. He writes: “How could a camp of six hundred thousand men fear their pursuers? Why should they not fight for their lives and the lives of their children? The answer is that the Egyptians had been Israel’s masters. The generation leaving Egypt had learned from childhood to endure the Egyptian yoke and they possessed a low soul. Being weak and unaccustomed to warfare, how could they now fight against their masters? We see that Amalek came with a small force and, if not for Moshe’s tefillah, they would have weakened Israel. G-D alone does great deeds and orchestrates events. He arranged for all the males who had left Egypt to die out – because they lacked the strength to fight the Canaanites – until another generation arose who had not seen exile and who possessed an exalted spirit.”

The Ibn Ezra teaches that despite their superior numbers, Israel was not commanded to stand and fight. The Hebrews had been conditioned by several generations of slavery to fear and obey their Egyptian masters. Possessing a low soul made them near incapable of warfare, thus requiring Moshe’s tefillot to later overcome the Amalekite ambush (SHEMOT 17:8-13). According to the Ibn Ezra, this low soul was the reason that the generation departing Egypt would later need to die out in the desert over a forty-year period. Their children – a new generation raised in freedom – would then be able to wage a war of liberation against the Canaanite kings.

The low soul that the Ibn Ezra speaks of is similar to what modern psychologists term “learned helplessness.” At various historic points, this slave mentality has prevented the Jewish people from successfully advancing our national mission. One example of this neurosis in recent decades has been the confusion among many scholars concerning the process of redemption and how the Jewish people must relate to – and interact with – the historic events unfolding in modern times.

Israel’s Prophets and ancient Sages teach that there are two ways in which the final redemption can occur. There is the miraculous way (aḥishena) and the more mundane natural process (bi’eta). Due to the bitter realities of life in the Diaspora, Jewish communities in recent centuries were conditioned to believe that the redemption could only transpire through open miracles. Taking the initiative to advance salvation through physically conquering the Land of Israel was scorned as forbidden by many rabbis who claimed that Israel must sit patiently and wait for the Kadosh Barukh Hu to redeem His people. In the ghettos of Europe, where day-to-day life included a fear of gentile persecution, the idea of Jews valiantly recapturing Eretz Yisrael by force of arms seemed as if it would be even more an aberration of the natural order of the world than HaShem performing supernatural miracles on our behalf. As a result of this reality existing for so long, many Jews became trapped in this mindset of helplessness even once the political reality surrounding them had changed.

Other factors also contributed to the Jewish idealization of learned helplessness. Because of the internal damage inflicted upon Israel by so many unsuccessful messianic movements, the study of the redemption process was halted in most houses of study throughout Europe, leading to any attempt at bringing salvation closer through human efforts becoming widely seen as tantamount to an act of heresy. The combination of these factors created an expectation that the redemption would occur through supernatural events above and beyond human participation. Practical efforts to achieve redemption came to be viewed as destructive behavior stemming from a weakness of faith.

Learned helplessness became most prevalent in Jewish circles during the decades leading up to the development of political Zionism. The handful of Torah giants at the time who understood that Hebrew liberation could – and most probably would – unfold through a series of natural historic events were unable to effectively spread their ideas or inspire the faithful masses to actively participate in the redemption process. But examining the words of these visionary scholars can help us to retroactively recognize how correct they truly were and how much their teachings still illuminate our proper path.

Rabbi Yehuda Ḥai Alkalai, the famed kabalist of Sarajevo, wrote of redemption from within in Raglei Mevaser. In it he explains: “Redemption will reach us in a natural way. Had the Almighty wished to redeem His people through miracles, the exile would not have lasted so long. Moreover, in the present Jewish situation even a naturally attained redemption would be miraculous. Redemption will grow from within the people and not with the Messiah performing miracles, as in the days of the Exodus from Egypt. Final redemption will be the result of national initiative aided by G-D, as it is written: ‘And the Children of Judah and the Children of Israel will be gathered together’ (HOSHEA 2:2), and ‘Shake yourself from the dust, arise and sit down, O Jerusalem, release the bonds from around your neck,’ (YISHAYAH 52:2). Yishayah uses the reflexive form to emphasize that redemption will stem from self-help.”

In his Reply to the Skeptics, Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmakher states: “To our great misfortune there are yet many who mistakenly believe that they will sit in the comfort of their homes when suddenly a voice from heaven will proclaim redemption. But it will not be so! The Babylonian exile, though destined to last no more than seventy years, required the practical leadership of Daniel, Ezra and Neḥemia to achieve a significant return toEretz Yisrael. Unlike many of our own contemporaries they did not say ‘let every man remain at his place and redemption will come of itself.’”

Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalisher illuminates the way to redemption in Drishat Tzion. He writes: “It is wrong to believe that redemption will come as a sudden revelation of G-D from heaven, calling upon His people to leave the Diaspora. The vision of the Prophets must come true, but not as a sudden event. Final redemption will come in stages with the return of the people to the land and ultimately by the coming of the Messiah. Dear friend, you must rid yourself of the illusion that the call of the Messiah will come as a bolt from the blue arousing the sleeping masses. Redemption will come about through an awakening of well dispersed gentile leaders and governments, viewing favorably the return of Jews to the Holy Land.”

In regards to Rabbi Kalisher’s last point, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Ḥarlop – a prominent disciple of Rabbi Avraham Yitzḥak HaKohen Kook and former head of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav – teaches in the sixth volume of Mei Marom (Mayanei HaYeshua) that initial gentile support for Israel’s return to our land must eventually give way to hostility from the international community in order facilitate a later stage of the redemption process that will force the Jewish people to become independent through the realization that our strength and security stem not from alliances with other nations but directly from our relationship with the Kadosh Barukh Hu.

In Awake, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever teaches: “Even though natural events will lead to redemption, this is not simply an historical accident. There are no coincidences in the Universe, since G-D’s Will is also manifested in the course of natural events. Accordingly, it is for us to rouse the powers that be to treat the Jewish people favorably, whereupon Divine help will surely be forthcoming in the ingathering of the exiles to the Holy Land. As the Prophet proclaims (YISHAYAH 62:10): ‘Go through, go through the gates; clear the way of the people; cast up, pave the road; clear it of stones; raise a banner over the peoples.’ Yishayah’s intention is clear: we must awaken and do all in our power to clear away the obstacles in the path of our redemption.”

These scholars stressed the fact that human initiative would be necessary in bringing Israel’s redemption to fruition. Their ideas were highly advanced for their time – especially when compared with many of their contemporaries – and their teachings represent a Torah of action that challenges the psychological state of learned helplessness. While it is clear that we have still not yet tasted full redemption, the process has certainly begun to unfold. There exists a sovereign Hebrew state in much ofEretz Yisrael but in order for us to participate in bringing total salvation, a higher approach to Torah study must be adopted.

The holy Ohr HaḤaim speaks of redemption and self-awakening in his commentary on VAYIKRA 25:25. There he states: “Redemption will start with a stirring in men’s hearts urging them: Do you feel secure living in a strange land, exiled from your G-D? What pleasure does life offer so far removed from the lofty values that were yours in the presence of the Almighty? Superficial, ill-conceived desire will then become repulsive and a spiritual craving will awaken your soul, improving your actions until G-D will redeem. Who will be called to stand in judgment? The Jewish leaders of the Diaspora who throughout the years did not encourage their people to return to Zion. They will be made to bear the shame of a forsaken homeland.”

In Eim Habanim Smeiḥah, written during the Holocaust, Rabbi Yissakhar Shlomo Teikhtal echoes the Ohr HaḤaim’s statements on the dangers of passivity. “The Orthodox, on the other hand, those zealous for G-D’s Will, stood aside and took no part in this effort. They remained with their traditional view that ‘sitting back and doing nothing is best’… It seems to me that all the leaders who prevented their followers from going and joining the builders [of Eretz Yisrael] will never be able to cleanse their hands and say ‘our hands have not spilt this blood.’”

A new generation has arisen today, alive with a more vibrant Torah of redemption. It is a generation infused with an exalted spirit of vitality as Israel’s youth is again being raised on our natural soil. The homeland – which had for so long refused to provide fruits to any stranger – has blossomed under the renewed political sovereignty of her native people.

The vitality infused into the Jewish people today has inspired incredible acts of valor and self-sacrifice, even amongst those not observant or even knowledgeable of mitzvot. At nearly impossible odds, Israel has won miraculous victories over our enemies. We have liberated portions of our homeland and revived the Hebrew language after many long centuries of separation from both. These incredible events are part of a greater process prodding history forward as Israel returns to the international stage in order to ultimately shine blessing and light to mankind. HaShem has inspired a new generation with a lofty spirit uncorrupted by fear, passivity or the learned helplessness of the Diaspora. Israel’s youth demands a greater and fuller Torah that encompasses and infuses all aspects of life with the necessary strength and courage to usher in an era of universal redemption.

Confining Meir Ettinger, Israel Tries to Derail a Revolution

When one strolls the streets of Jerusalem these days, Meir Ettinger’s picture is everywhere. The posters demand justice for the young activist.  After all no one has charged him with anything and yet he remains in administrative detention, now for another four months.  Ettinger tried to influence the latest decision by going on a hunger strike, which rallied many rightwing activists behind him, but the security apparatus appeared unshaken.

The question that remains is what is the State of Israel so threatened by, which causes them to hold Ettinger for so long?

To answer this one must look back into the annals of Zionist history.

Although the Zionist movement’s goals were to attain statehood in the Land of Israel, the movement grew in various ways and approaches in reaching this goal. For most the state was a solution to a greater issue. Three distinct types of Zionism had formed by the time the Jews of the Holy Land revolted against the British Empire.

Settling the Land Leads to Sovereignty

Practical Zionism sprung forth in the late 19th Century by way of land purchases in Israel. Led by the “Lovers of Zion” movement Practical Zionists believed that the most important action to take was to settle as much of the Land of Israel as possible.  In their eyes independence would be driven by control and could only be sought after once the land was settled.  Statecraft was not on their radar.  

Speeches Will Gain Us Standing

Political Zionism took to heart the failure of the European Jews’ emancipation and decided to win supporters for resettlement in the Land of Israel.  Those who ascribed hope for the Jewish Nation in the international community believed that a Jewish State could be attained by appealing to “friendly” nations of the need to avoid a Jewish catastrophe.

Herzl was a Political Zionist.  Although the World Zionist Congress and World Zionist Organization (under Jabotinsky) achieved global notoriety, sovereignty was not decided in the halls of law around the world.  Only one form of Zionism merged all the necessary components to be able to take on the British Empire.

Zionism is about National Jewish Liberation

When Menachem Begin became the head of the Irgun he adopted the Lehi’s outlook on Revolutionary Zionism.  This is of course not a surprise as the Israel Eldad became the philosophical head of Lehi after Avraham Stern was killed. Eldad and Begin were good friends and chess partners. Their brand of Zionism saw the direct need to push each and every occupying power out of the Land of Israel.

Zev Golan writes in his book Stern and his Gang, “For Lehi, sovereignty was not a solution but a goal, an expression of Jewish culture, as any nation-state is the expression of a people’s culture. The few hundred Lehi fighters of 1943 declared themselves determined to fight  war to liberate the homeland from the foreigner.  It mattered not to them whether this foreigner was Turk, as it had been, British as it was then, or someone else in the future.”

The Lehi fighters desired to “establish the Hebrew kingdom based on our historic rights, on our national desire as expressed in all the messianic longings and attempts [Lohamey Herut Israel, Collected Writings].”

The Revolution Continues

When we succeeded in chasing the British Empire out of the Land of Israel, the nation was not ready for its destiny.  It’s true the State of Israel is successful, but goals of the Zionist Revolution as envisioned by Begin and Eldad have never been accomplished.  

Building a true Jewish State, one that pushes its sovereignty to all corners of our biblical promise has not come about.  Large areas of our ancestral homeland lie under the feet of foreign occupation.  The Temple Mount, “liberated” by fearless Jewish warriors in 1967, stands defiled and trampled by the urinating masses of Muslims who care more about controlling the holiest site to Jews than treating it with respect.

Jews are still murdered for daring to return to their ancestral homeland and politicians care far more about Western values than being proud Jewish leaders.

Meir Ettinger was arrested six months ago, and is still confined because he dared to speak the truth.  There have been no charges filed against Meir, but he is the most “dangerous man in Israel.” Why? Simply, because he called for the revolution to continue.  And why not?  Afterall Jewish destiny at the end of the day is Messianic. Meir’s revolt was not physical.  If it was it would not last.  The government in Israel is scared of the most potent revolt of all, an awakening that we have incomplete work here.  For that the elites who run the State of Israel are truly scared.

They are scared because their destiny expresses the internal struggle held within.  That we may actually be who we say we are and our return is more than just a temporal liberation, but rather the ultimate liberation which if allowed to reach fruition can liberate the entire world.

Deep down inside we all know the system we live in is a system that defines state institutions as divine. However, a system that disconnects itself from its divine mission does not get to claim inherent divinity.  Divinity is attained by expressing that which is held within each one of us.  The Zionist Revolution will only be complete when the State returns to the mission it was intended for and that is the complete and total liberation of Zion with the goal of setting up a true and righteous kingdom.