Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Teves 5760 - December 22, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
False Identity

by Y. Lorberbaum

A fascinating phenomenon has erupted amongst nonobservant Israeli families who are either living abroad temporarily or have emigrated. While they were living in Eretz Yisroel, they felt no desire or need to look into Yiddishkeit or to adapt a lifestyle connected to mitzvah and Torah observance. But when they get to chutz la'aretz, without any external pressure and strictly of their own free will, these families soon begin to come close to Judaism!

In most of the families, "closeness to Judaism" is characterized in these ways: shemiras Shabbos to some degree; synagogue attendance on the holidays and particularly the Yomim Noraim; keeping kosher; and most significantly: sending their children to schools where they learn a substantial amount about Judaism and Jewish customs (much more than what they would have learned in Israel). In some of these schools, the students even daven and bentch.

There is a similar anomaly amongst nonobservant Israeli youth who are spending time abroad, searching for spiritual pleasures in eastern countries and physical pleasures in western countries. The whole time they were in Israel, they had no desire or need to hear anything about Judaism. Just the opposite -- they had an aversion to finding out anything connected to Jewish values and rituals.

Lo and behold, on their excursions around Buddhist monasteries or cafes in America, these young people are suddenly infused with an incredible openness and thirst to learn about Judaism. They stream in masses to seminars and lectures about Judaism, and they grab any Torah tapes they can get their hands on. A significant number of them subsequently return to Israel in order to enter a framework where they can learn more about Judaism and begin keeping mitzvos.

Why these families and young people only open up to Judaism while they are outside of Israel needs some analysis. At first glance it would seem that the trend should be the opposite, that a greater interest in Judaism would be in Israel, with less of an openness abroad. The answer to this mystery is in the self-identity that the State of Israel has imbued in its residents.

At its founding, the State of Israel based itself on principles of secular countries. Secular Zionists believed that they had to replace religious identity with a secular nationalistic identity, meaning that Jewish identity would no longer depend on Torah and mitzvah observance or even any attachment to Jewish heritage or tradition. The new Jewish identity would depend on nationalistic concepts, such as living in Eretz Yisroel, speaking Hebrew, military poems, participation in Zionist projects, and later on in Hebrew songs, trips throughout Israel, rooting for the Israeli soccer team, eating falafel, plastic hammers on Yom Haatzmaut, and so forth.

We have here a serious problem. There are many Druse, Israeli Arabs, athletes, and other non-Jews from all over the world, who fulfill all the criteria of "Jewish identity," even though they are not at all Jewish. The reason for this confusion is that Jewish identity is essentially religious, and not nationalistic, as has been proven throughout Jewish history. As HaRav Saadia Gaon says (in Emunos VeDei'os the third maamar), "Umoseinu einoh umoh ello beToraso -- Our nation in only a nation through its Torah. Therefore, spiritual, secular people who are searching for secular Jewish identity will always remain at a loss.

An example for this was given at a conference focusing on Jewish identity, which took place in 5747. Kol HaIr (a local Jerusalem weekly newspaper) summarized the conclusions of the discussions: "Under the aegis of the Spinoza Institute, the concerned secular public set out to search for its identity which had been ripped up by exile, Zionism, attempts at reviving Zionism, Canaanism, etc. The institute enlisted Spinoza, Yirmiyahu Yovel, Chaim Be'er, A.B. Yehoshua, Moshe Shamir, Gershom Schoken, and Saul Bellow for marathon discussions, whose conclusion retained the same mixed-up definition of the Israeli and the Jew. They even concluded that perhaps no such identity exists at all."

So the Jewish State has managed to grant its citizens a new Jewish identity bursting with nationalistic symbols. In doing so they have cut Jews off from the Jewish religion and from thousands of years of cultural heritage.

Therefore, as long as Israeli families and youth are residing in the State of Israel, they feel that their Jewish identity is very strong and sturdy. They do not feel any need to find out more about Judaism, about their rich heritage. Nor do they feel any need to adopt religious symbols and mitzvos. Furthermore, some Israelis resist any connection to Judaism, since religious Judaism is a danger and threat to their new "Jewish identity." It is as if religious Judaism is screaming out to them that they are obligated to reevaluate and change their false identity, and this they do not want.

When these families and youth leave Israel for abroad, simply by being outside of Israel they do not fit into any nationalistic definition of Jewish identity. In this situation, having removed external, shallow, and false frameworks of Jewish identity, they begin to search for deeper and more meaningful symbols. Immediately they remember the basic foundations of Judaism, such as Shabbos, holidays, davening, learning Torah, and the like. Furthermore, in these circumstances, they are ready and willing to hear about Judaism, mitzvah observance, and even doing teshuva. They go to every lecture and seminar focusing on Judaism that they can.

We see here an astounding trend! A Jew needs to pack his bags, leave his home, travel hundreds and thousands of miles, and wander for weeks and months in Buddhist monasteries or American bars to find his true identity!

Whoever attempts to get to the root of this matter will see something shocking. The State of Israel has managed to steal the real identity of the Jewish people and to replace it with a new, false identity. In doing so, the State has caused tremendous irreparable damage to all of its Jewish citizens, in that it has cut them off from the past, from historical continuity, and from their true identity, which is based on religious identity.

The most devastating result is that the greatest and deepest assimilation is taking place in none other than Eretz Yisroel! The Jewish State itself has consciously prepared fertile ground on which to forget Jewish identity. Despite this, in chutz laaretz, the Diaspora, the Israeli Jew finds more openness and readiness to return to true Jewish identity. We find that the most difficult and authentic exile, characterized by mass assimilation, is found in Israel! The worst assimilation is not when it is amongst the goyim, but spiritual assimilation, which takes place within this secular nationalistic culture.

Those familiar with Jewish history know that this is not the first time this atrocity has occurred amongst the Jews. This is explained in Sifsei Chaim by HaRav Chaim Friedlander zt'l (Discourses on the Holidays II, page 23). "The Greek exile took place when the Jewish people were dwelling in their own land -- because the concept of golus is not necessarily when we are exiled from the Land of Israel (which was the case in the Babylonian exile and others).

Golus is essentially the exile of the Shechina, the weakening or break of the spiritual connection between Am Yisroel and HaKodosh Boruch Hu, chas vesholom. This refers to when the goyim are ruling over Am Yisroel spiritually, when the Jews are influenced by their culture and they chart their lives along the lifestyles of the goyim. A spiritual golus like this takes place whenever Jews are subservient to hashkofos and thought processes of the goyim and conduct themselves accordingly. Consequently, they have put themselves into exile."

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