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Herzl, Weizmann, Jews and Faith

Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann took a dim view of some of their fellow Jews; that is apparent from their writings.

Herzl and Weizmann may be regarded as key architects of Zionism, without them it may not have happened; would not have happened at the time and in the way it did. Herzl, in his writing and lobbying for ‘the Jewish State’ could be said to be substantially responsible for bringing form to a fairly vague hope. Even so, his ‘centre of gravity’ seems to have changed depending on which national leader he had been speaking to or was about to meet: the Kaiser, the Sultan, the French Prime Minister. Later, following Herzl’s early death,  it was Weizmann use of his wartime contacts with members of the British Cabinet who brought ‘the dream’ closer to reality with the declaration that has gone down in history associated with the name of Arthur Balfour.

There was much that Herzl and Weizmann disagreed about, but we don’t have to read between the lines to work out one area of agreement that ought to be quite worrying. Discounting ‘assimilated Jews’ who, for Weizmann at least, were either not ‘real Jews’ or were close to being traitrous, both seem to believe that Jews were incapable of living in harmony with any other group of people for any length of time. (In this regard it should be noted they seemed entirely ignorant of the experience of that body of Jewry that existed in the Middle East.)  Herzl was more upfront about this -in his diary he records that he and Max Nordau agreed that Jews were the cause of antisemitism, (this could, of course, be a circular argument), more background in my 100 day blog

Weizmann may have been more nuanced, recognising the contribution of such powerful advocates and financial supporters as Justice Brandeis in America and Samuel and Rothschild in Britain. Nevertheless it is there implicitly in his counter arguments to anti-zionist Jews who were concerned that Zionism put them in the position of ‘serving two masters’.  It is also there, almost explicitly, in the positions taken by successive Israeli governments, and especially in the language of Ben Netanyahu, who, following the Paris attacks, visited France and told the Jewish community in effect, ‘you can only be safe in Israel’. And the financial and political support given to Israel by Jews in Britain and America looks rather like ‘hedging their bets’.

Is there a theological perspective on this? One such might be the Ezra-Nehemiah-Haggai restoration ‘angle’, which is so anxious about assimilation that even talking to neighbours looks like treachery. Cooperation is impossible, and intermarriage is a cause for community remorse and penitence. Not much has changed in two-and-a-half thousand years. We are wise to notice that many of those neighbours would have had as good right to call themselves ‘Israelite’ as did the returnees.  But the message from the patriarchs was not so much ‘beware of foreigners’ as ‘beware those foreign gods’. Ancient Israel was not the only people to falter in making the distinction, it persists today. Israel’s ethnic mix is certain evidence that God is not concerned with ‘pure DNA’, (which we know today to be impossible).

The message to the patriarchs also contained indications often ignored, “and you shall spread abroad …” (Gen 28). Couple this with the covenanted expectation that, “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession … you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Ex 19), and we face an interesting and vital question: what could it, must it, mean to be a kingdom of priests? Word given to Jacob-Israel and to Moses must be taken seriously by God’s people; of any era. Surely a kingdom of priests is a mediating kingdom, since priests function as intermediaries between God and humankind. It is equally surely impossible to act as mediator whilst remaining utterly separated. The ‘separatedness’ of the Levitical priesthood did not cut them off from their fellow Israelites.

Jews, if they truly are inheritors of the promises to Abraham and Israel, must be dispersed, at least until their messiah comes. How can they fulfill this commission while they live in physical and spiritual ghettos. And a nationalistic ghetto can have no place in God’s ‘creation-economy’. This is an insurmountable problem for Zionism and its Christian manifestation. Not only do they misunderstand the prophets, not only do they, almost certainly unintentionally, sidestep the gospel; they fail to function according to the mandate to which they claim heritage. The genuinely religious Jews at least see the point and reject Zionism. They continue to wait for the Messiah who, for Christians, has already come.

The politically religious make selective use of the faith to justify a political outcome that suits their purpose; Jews are, or appear to be, safer. They have a point. Secular Jews make a claim, that logically should be rejected, based on a gift from a god in which they don’t believe.

The Christian Zionist claim is as disturbing as is Herzl’s belief that Jews are the cause of antisemitism. Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, Christian Zionists believe that the presence of large numbers of Jews outside Israel delays the ‘Second Coming’, a term that has to be qualified because many of them seem to believe that the 2nd will actually be a Third. It seems that God’s timetable is subject to the travel arrangements of several million Jews who show little inclination to leave their homes and jobs in Britain and America to go the Palestine.

Strangely, especially for the Christian version of Zionism, the Jews at the time of Jesus had no difficulty in accepting dispersion, although it took the leadership, the Rabbis, a hundred years to catch up. Once the early church, almost wholly Jewish, got into its stride, it accepted the challenge to ‘go’, and went and told the world the good news of Jesus.  That good news was of righteousness and justice for all, especially the poor, the weak, the powerless, and this was exactly the mandate given to Abraham and to Jacob. It was exactly as anticipated by Israel’s prophets, although previously poorly understood. If religious Jews want to build a temple, Christian Zionism wants to help them – so that it can be destroyed.

Have they not understood that the temple was Messiah, and that his body was destroyed on a cross and was rebuilt after three days, exactly as Jesus prophecied, (John 2:13-22, cp Mk 9;31). If the Jerusalem temple, modelled on the tabernacle, was a teaching aid to earth the faith of Israel in the certainty of God’s presence, so the new temple of Jesus Christ exists to earth His Spirit through His people throughout the whole earth as testimony to God’s Great Love. That temple cannot be destroyed.

Zionism thinks that Jews cannot live alongside others and survive. God said, ‘spread out, sing the songs of zion, teach the world’. Christian Zionism is equally out of step with God’s timetable and plan. It is a Macabbean response two millennia after the failure of the first attempt. It was mistaken then and more of a mistake today since the Messiah has come and shown us the different way, the ‘Way of The Lord’. Both Zionisms are redundant, worse, they are counter-productive and undermine the gospel.

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