This month, Gefen Publishing House and Mizrachi Press will release “The Jewish State—From Opposition to Opportunity,” by Rabbi Doron Perez, executive chairman of the Mizrachi World Movement. World Mizrachi is grateful to partner with Gefen Publishing House in publishing this timely and important work. The following essay is adapted from the book’s afterword.
Netanel Ellinson, head of a pre-army academy in Israel and a gifted educator, makes the following sobering observation. In both prior Jewish commonwealths, a crisis ensued as the nation neared its 75th year of independence.
Quite remarkably, 73 years after David’s coronation as king over all the tribes of Israel, the people of Israel tragically split into two separate kingdoms: Yehudah and Yisrael.
The same is true of the Hasmonean kingdom in Second Temple times. The Hasmonean kingdom was established by Shimon HaChashmonai, followed by Yochanan, and then King Alexander Yannai and Shlomtzion HaMalkah. In the 73rd year, once again, a deep division ensued between the two princes, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus. This became a family feud and a deep political divide, with one brother enlisting the support of the rising Roman Empire, giving Rome a foothold in Judea and eventually leading to the decimation of the Hasmonean kingdom and the destruction of the Temple.
In both cases, Ellinson notices a troubling trend within the first three generations of the establishment of statehood. The first generation is that of the founders, who rally all their resources to found the state and ensure its viability at the outset. The second generation is that of the builders, who build on the success of the founders to expand and enhance the national infrastructure and build sustainability for the generations to come.
He poignantly terms the third generation as “the generation of the destroyers.” This generation by and large do not know firsthand the challenges of the founders but reap the benefit of their sacrifice and investment. Apathy sets in, then discord, and finally tragic divisiveness. This has happened not once but twice in the history of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel.
As we celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary, we find ourselves at this very same juncture. The fate of the state is in our hands. Israel is grappling with the roiling and divisive issue of judicial reform, revealing deep fault lines and fissures in Israeli and Jewish society. How the state of Israel handles this and other divisive issues will define its long-term internal resilience and mutual trust. The currency of a functional society is the level of trust each person and group places in the other. We must find a recipe for Jewish unity and legitimate space for the different ideological perceptions of Jewish identity and destiny. Reclaiming the covenant at the heart of Jewish society and drawing on the dynamics of Davidian politics is crucial for the future of Israel.
As great as the external threats are to Israel—and indeed they are—in many ways the internal issues are no less and perhaps even more threatening. There is a significant spiritual correlation between the geopolitical reality facing the Jewish people in general and Israel in particular and its metaphysical state. It is impossible to separate the external historico-political circumstances of the Jewish people from their internal moral and spiritual state.
Israel is, in the words of historian Paul Johnson, “a pilot-project for the entire human race,” and, in the words of Rav Kook, a microcosm of all the salient moral dilemmas and challenges facing human society. If Jewish society in Israel, which reflects an intense gamut of views, can find space one for the other, we may provide both the example and impetus for all of humanity to find space for one another. Rav Kook has highlighted that this unity is possible through the rubric of authentic inclusive Torah values.
Fascinatingly, Herzl’s utopian novel “Altneuland” ends on this very note. The different characters in Herzl’s imagined future state express what each one feels is the driving force of the new Jewish state—be it suffering, technology, knowledge or willpower, among other suggestions. After each has given their opinion, the book ends with words of the final protagonist, Rabbi Shmuel: “But the venerable Rabbi Shmuel arose and proclaimed: ‘God!’”
Indeed, Israel’s relationship with God is an inextricable part of the story. When we find space for others, we find space for the Godliness in each other and in turn for Hashem’s shechinah—His presence—to be felt in the rebuilt Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem and throughout the world, may it be speedily in our days.
Rabbi Doron Perez is the executive chairman of the Mizrachi World Movement. Since assuming a leadership position at World Mizrachi eight years ago, he has focused on organizational transformation in building a global Religious Zionist movement.