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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

"Zionism speaks in imperatives, or falls silent"

Jews without Zion by Jacob Neusner

JPost: Discussing programming for the Jewish students at Bard College, a Jewish student activist rejected the proposition that Israel be integral to Jewish Student Organization activities. It is "too controversial and has nothing to do with Judaism, and there are Jewish students who would object," so "we" think that Israel-programming should fall into the hands of a Jewish pro-Israel group separate from the Jewish Student organization: "Israel has nothing to do with the JSO."

To this student I replied, "But millions of Jews throughout the world regard Zionism as integral to Judaism – not just to Jewishness. And that is my view too."

To an Israeli who is a professor at Bard, I said, "Welcome to American Judaism." The student went very quiet.

But a student of mine, doing a reading course in Zionist theory and Israeli history with me, smiled from ear to ear. He chimed in, "There are any number of students I know who want little to do with the Jewish student organization because it has no bearing on Israeli questions at all."

WHAT DO we learn from this rather telling exchange?

What I learn is there is no Judaism without Zionism. A Jewish student organization that can exclude Israel from its programming ignores an important part of its mission.

What has made people think otherwise? Abandoning the rigors of Zionist theory in favor of the flaccid pro-Israel propaganda – no Torah, just tourism – has deprived us of an intellectual foundation for our pro-Israelism, which makes sense only as the realization of Zionism in the here and now.

Zionism speaks in imperatives, or falls silent.

The politics of the day preoccupy us. Issues of theory, Jewish philosophy and Judaic theology, intimidate us. But we pay a heavy price for ignoring Zionism as a philosophy of Jewish existence and as an integral component of the religion, Judaism.Continue reading . . .
The writer is research professor of religion and theology at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson NY.