Jewish nationalism.

As Avraham walked up and down the length of what would later become Israel, the Inheritance and Land of Promise, I wonder if he had any idea of just how ‘controversial’ such an action would later be considered. Where he walked, what he saw, it would eventually come to be the Land, the geo-political terrain that thousands of years later would still be at the centre of world politics. And this piece of real estate holds our attention as Jews, either for or against.. passions stir and our relationship today to this small, singularly Jewish nation and country still seems for so many to be uncertain. Shall we consider our nation as a secular democratic country amongst other Western nations and their traditions, or are is it a Zionist nation? Can we be patriotic, merely historic or even nationalistic about it? In an age where Nationalism as a positive cultural value-creator has become more associated with wars, genocides and even the Shoah, sliding down the societal options as a valid national expression, can we accept Jewish Nationalism?

Today Nationalism once more is on the rise across the globe, especially across the European Union, Russia and the Far East. The old Romantic notions and cultural paradigms of home and hearth, land and identity are resurgent. As if we haven’t learnt enough from history. The Jewish people have singularly learnt where Nationalism leads with its idolatrous glorification of one nation or people group over another. It leads to only one place: death. Usually of many tens of thousands if not millions. Given this historic background, should we even consider Jewish Nationalism? And yet…

If Nationalism has at its base the historic almost quasi religious identification of a people group with a piece of land, then surely Israel, of all nations CAN make a claim to a legitimate form of Nationalism. Our hearts ARE stirred by our Land; it was given to us by divine decree and we would remain in it as long as we observed the house rules. So it is no surprise then that this deep national stirring is taking form in Israel. Recently PM Netanyahu began a process that would define Israel in Basic Law as a Jewish State, and not just a national homeland for Jews. To define it such is to firmly put the flag of a nationalist identity into the foothills of Jerusalem. And why not? There will be resistance of course, not least from those who wish to see a two-state solution with its slow demographic death for Israel. The bigger and more pressing issue of course will be to define and create a working definition of the word ‘Jewish’. For Messianic Jews this is an exciting opportunity to see our national and spiritual homeland become a truly open country to ALL Jews regardless of religious persuasion. Avraham Avinu was not a 21st century Eastern European Askenazi Jewish man. Neither was he of the Orthodox persuasion. He had faith. With that faith he began a family (made up of ethnic Jews and converts) that created and inherited a national homeland. The rest is history. Israel will in time realise that the constituency of Messianic Jews scattered around the world are and will be one of the strongest supporters of our Land. If this ‘new Nationalism’ means anything then it must be inclusive. As Leat Collins in her editorial piece (Jerusalem Post 27.3.14, p5) said ‘The lesson that many in the West took from the Holocaust is that nationalism is bad; the message the Jews took from it is that nationalism is necessary’.


Pesach (Passover) was not that long ago that we have forgotten the major themes that dominated that time: Freedom and deliverance from those who would and did oppress us. Pesach and freedom are semantically intertwined, you can’t have one without the other. Yet the nature of freedom is a challenge to understand. Freedom today is defined largely by a personal response and rejection of anything that would attempt to restrain or cramp individual style. This form of freedom rejects authority, preferring to replace the Torah’s view of a hierarchical form of authority based on experience, calling and training with an experiential almost emotionally charged form of self-determination. ‘Man is the centre of the universe and I am at the centre of mine’. But is this freedom? Is this what the Scriptures teach? One might even connect such forms of self determination with the very first act of sin and rebellion in Gan Eden when Chava decided using her own faculties of reason and analysis to rebel against G-d. In Jewish thinking collective leadership drawing down the wisdom of the ages and applying Torah in a ‘human’ way is the chosen structure of order in Jewish communal life. To function within a Jewish community is to recognise these G-dly forms of order, to recognise that the Mitzvot themselves demand a form of submission to G-d that involves a surrender of yourself to Him who alone has the right and power to organise, dare we say control, your life.
We don’t like relinquishing that power to run our lives. Such has always been humanity’s problem, let alone our Jewish problem. Yet relinquish it we must. Rav Shaul in his letter to the Jewish community in Rome (ch 6) describes a situation where we are removed from being servants or slaves to sin because of the freedom brought in our redemption through Yeshua. This parallels our freedom from Egypt. But Rav does not stop there. He continues to say that our new position is that we are slaves to righteousness. We are not ‘free’ in the modern sense of that word. We belong to G-d because He bought us, the slave price, and now we are His. He does indeed have the legal right and authority to tell us what to do, and that includes a voluntary submission to the structures embodied in the community to express His global will.
Modern man despises such ideas and sees in them another form of oppression, yet this is not the case. Why? Elsewhere in the Messianic Writings Rav Shaul commands men to not ‘lord it over others’ as the pagans (gentiles) do. What we discover through this is that the G-dly, Jewish, righteous way to function as ‘slaves to righteousness’ is to offer submission. It is never demanded, insisted upon or forced. All community leaders can do is to point the way to the real righteousness of G-d, and trust, hope, that people will follow. Such voluntary surrender to HaShem opens the door to see real righteousness in action, and we then discover that as much as we are still ‘slaves’, we are in fact part of the family.