Why We Must Become a Territorial People Again

The Jerusalem Post, July 6, 2010.

Not since the Second Temple Period, have we, the Jews, really been a “Territorial People.” Ok – then, you can say, we really dropped the ball; but this would not be completely fair. One has to appreciate one was up against the most powerful and greatest Empire the World had ever known up to that time – and probably still has ever known; so one could say, apart from being obsequious and flattering – as persons like Josephus, Paul, and even R. Yohanan b. Zacchai most certainly were – there was no other realistic way of survival at the time. Hardly another independent nation achieved it.

But on the positive side of the balance sheet, there were certain things, customs, and aspects of Greco-Roman life and Civilization that the Jews in Judea were not willing to tolerate – nor were they willing to dissimulate with regard to these as some of their more obsequious survivors were willing to do – and so they were willing to go to their deaths, in fact one can argue, the really first so-called “martyrs” lending “a noble example,” as the Maccabean Books put it, for all subsequent generations and their imitators.

This was nothing to be ashamed of and, for really committed persons, such as those at Qumran or Masada – Josephus’ “Essenes,” for instance, to say nothing of his “Zealots” or “Sicarii,” there was really no other way – either this or get as far away as possible, which many “Jews” obviously actually did, either to Babylonia, Persia, Southern Arabia – even “Arabia Deserta” just out of the way of Roman Rule, – India, and further afield. To be perfectly honest, this is what I probably would have done given the choice. I probably would not have had the courage to stick around as it would have either been this or perish. Still if one had a family, just as the Jews in Europe during the War, even this may not have been an option.

But what does that say about today? Mainly this: we must become a “Territorial People” once again and we must have an ideology and a religious inspiration to sustain it. Nor is this to unfairly accuse Rabbinic Judaism. One must be in awe of the staying power and dedication of this metamorphosis of Judaism even including today. But it cannot give the answers to the present existential situation of the Jewish People – and it is possible to argue it could not, though it tried nobly, do so during the Holocaust years – nothing really could, in fact, except “Kiddush ha-Shem” which many nobly undertook. The Rabbinic expression of Judaism really developed and was perfect to sustain a Diaspora People or a Diaspora existence.

But today we need an ideology that will suit and befit a Territorial People. It is this one lacks for the last forty or more years. I do not count the period 1948-67 as in that situation one was clearly still in a defensive or even in a “survival” mode. I am speaking basically since the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars. No one has known what to do – left or right – and, because of this, we have basically been floundering, flopping about from position to position, Government to Government. There has been nothing there, modern enough and sufficiently amenable to the contemporary world, to answer the “Big Questions”; and I mean by these “the Territories,’ the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, the Constitution of a Modern State, Foreign Policy, How to Say “No,” etc., etc. I could go on.

But let me give a few examples: why for instance do some extreme Orthodox still wear black? Haven’t we had enough of this? Ok, this was the tradition of Central and/or Eastern Europe, but do they not realize this is the color of mourning and its origin goes all the way back to “the Mourners for Zion” or “Mourners over the Destruction of the Temple” in the First and Second Centuries? Why, for instance, do they not wear “white”? Would this not be a more celebratory color and a cheerful encouragement to our youth, which certainly does, God knows, need sustenance and cheering up. What, for instance, are we ‘mourning’ now or for that matter since 1948?

Oh yes, in today’s news we hear that the Palestinians are willing to accord us our “Jewish Holy Sites,” meaning primarily “the Wailing Wall” – “the Western Wall” in modern parlance, the pre-1948 “Jewish Quarter”, etc. I have already treated to some extent in previous articles the problem of treating a “Wall” built by Herod, who was not even a Jewish King but an Idumaean/Nabataean Roman lackey as “Holy” or kissing stones set down by him as a sop. And should we have a Temple or what should we do with the Temple Mount and do we really want a sacrifice cult or should we turn it into something more ceremonial as the British, for instance, their “House of Lords,” which is constantly metamorphosing? This problem has bedeviled us since1967. It bedeviled Moshe Dayan who solved it in his inimitably egocentric manner, bequeathing us the situation we have today.

And how do we say “No” in an elegant and dignified manner without humiliating ourselves? How do we say “No” to Barack Obama or his representatives? How do we say “No” to the UN or its “Human Rights Commission”? When is it both permissible and/or obligatory to engage or embark in a “first strike” or “pre-emptive war” and when shall or do we use nuclear weapons? How do we say “No” to Turkey or Ahmadinejad or Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood or Bin Laden and how to do so with so much Honour and Nobility that the whole World, and not just Christian Evangelicals – though, at least, their support is welcome, respects us? Was it permissible, for instance, to evacuate all of Sinai in 1976, while being forced to keep Gaza? How do we tell bereaved parents that the price of freedom of their son, captured on military duty, cannot be bargained for at the expense of or threat to the People?

All these things and more, a “Newly Territorialized People” or “Territorial People” must answer and we have no handy answer or elegant guidebook for them in our previous 2000-2500 year history – maybe before that in biblical times, before being overrun by outsiders but not now. Nor will, clearly, 3000-year old answers do for our time. These are the questions – and more – we must begin to put together a modern ideological, philosophical, or religious approach to and we can start now by telling the Turks and their so-called “Humanitarian Organizations” and Gaza Relief flotillas, as well as their worldwide supporters, Persian facilitators, fellow-travelers, and anti-Semitic provocateur-exploiters, without remorse, where to get off.