The past, the present and the future
of the Jewish nation
To start with let’s remember the definition of the notion Jewry, given by Halakah (traditional code of religious Jewish laws) and fixed in Israeli «Law of return»: a Jew is a person, born by a mother-Jew, or one who was converted to Jewry in accordance with Giur (a religious canon).
Let’s make a brief historical excursus on this subject. Since ancient
times before the Romans destructed the Jewish temple in
From 70 to the beginning of XIX century as the Jewish nation had no country, Jews were believed to be only those, who were born in Jewish religious society (or entered this society being mature) and performed Jewish religious rites. This situation was legalized by Halakah, which was eventually formed at that period.
There were few people who hesitated that during thousands of years it was Jewish religion which became a basic factor, forming self-consciousness of the Jewish nation. Moreover, Judaism, which brought monotheism to the world, became a spiritual basis for other world religions – Christianity and Islam. Accordingly, there was nobody who remained indifferent to Jewish religion. Often this indifference turned into the form of stark disapproval of Judaism, but it rarely went further than common absurd claims such as « the Jews crucified Jesus Christ». Both Jesus and Mohammed were guided by the Law of Moses, so, certainly, no one of Christian or Islamic theologians could declare a full break with the Jewish religious tradition.
Probably, it was this unique historic destiny of the Jewish religion that in the Middle Ages and the New Time predetermined a special attitude to Jews, who were scattered after the destruction of the Jewish temple (actually scattering took place earlier – after the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.) On the one hand, native population of any country, where the Jews had to live, pursued them because they were gentiles, but on the other hand, still something prevented the natives and the conquerors (like crusaders) from the total depopulation of the Jews. The Jews used to be humiliated, their homes destructed, their women raped, and sometimes the whole communities were resettled or even evicted from the country. But it was far from Hitlerism with its «final solution of the Jewish problem», so if the Jews used to be burned at the stake, it was done only with certain families, not one and all, and not simply for the fact of belonging to the Jews, but for specific accusations, even if they were fabricated. Moreover – there were opened synagogues in places where the Jews lived, and few people dared to impede performing the Jewish religious rites, in spite of the constant rumors about sacrificing Christian babies there.
So the anti-Semitism in its middle-aged form led to the fact, that the Jewish nation wasn’t depopulated and didn’t integrate, on the contrary, they rallied round their main sacred thing – Jewish religion. Persecution, to which the Jews were exposed, ousted the weak from their rows, but the strong became still stronger.
Finally, the Jews came to drastic changes, which took place in the spiritual life of all civilized countries in the second half of XIX – the beginning of XX centuries (at first we should mention a relative triumph of legality, a relative equality of civil rights and a relative freedom of conscience); not as a nation, which was added to the category of museum objects similar to some descendants of ancient Egyptians or Maya; but as an absolutely viable and anonymous nation of many millions. They didn’t have their own country, but they influenced greatly the course of events in the whole world.
But the same worldwide processes of assertion of democratic freedom, which in XIX century let the Jews obtain more or less equal civil rights with native population in some civilized countries, – paradoxically enough, threatened the very existence of the Jews. And the main reason for this was the freedom of conscience, which hit the main stronghold of Jewry – religion.
At that time the Jews didn’t have their country yet (and in the foreseeable future were not going to), and the religion as a factor of unity of the nation began moving to the background because of the mass atheism. And positivist views on the constitution of the Universe became so popular, that atheism was more often in the form of the straight, primitive, but intelligible statement «God doesn’t exist », than in more modern indirect form (probably, God still exists, but there is no need in mediators between Him and human-beings, such as churches, synagogues, bishops, rabbis, pastors etc.) There became more and more Jews-atheists (a classic example of this is Karl Marx). And if these atheists themselves were at least circumcised in conformity with Halakah, their children didn’t have any attitude to Jewry, and most of them formed mixed marriages. (All three Marx daughters were brought up in gentile environment and married gentiles. Actually, this example of one Jewish family of the father of Marxism shows us the course of Jewish assimilation typical for XIX century).
Certainly at first this process was much slower in so-called Jewish
places, than in big cities. But it was stimulated by the revolution of the
beginning of XX century. And here I can give an example from my own family
archive: my great grandfather Naum Zagraevsker, the warden of the synagogue in
This was the process of assimilation of one family of the head of the
A lot of researchers, including the author of this article, consider culture in its broadest sense, which embraces literature, art, social morality, traditions and, definitely, language to be the basic factor, forming national self-consciousness. Here let’s ask a question: could this beyond-religious, high-society culture become the basis for the unity of Jewish people at the end of XIX – the beginning of XX century?
Unfortunately, couldn’t. Exactly unfortunately, as insufficient
development of the Jewish high-society culture by the beginning of XX century
was connected with absolutely specific historic circumstances: the Jews after
There was one more negative factor for Jewish high-society culture: if talented people were born in Jewish diasporas, they were usually taken by «a state forming» nation. Hence there are lot of Jewish geniuses by birth (Henry Heine, Felix Mendelssohn, Leonid and Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam, Franc Kafka, Mark Rothko and many others), but hence it follows that there are very few worldwide famous personalities of Jewish culture exactly. Here Mark Chagall, Solomon Rabinovich (more known by the name of Sholom-Aleihem) come to mind, some more figures of art, provincial traditions of playing the violin, provincial national costumes, – but anyway there almost wasn’t beyond-religious Jewish culture. At least the culture, which could be compared in size and richness of traditions with high-society culture of not only France, England or Russia, but even with the United States, which was quite young by national measures, but which accepted cultural traditions together with the migrants from Europe.
Language also failed in uniting Jewry. Hebrew at that time was the
language of a narrow circle of the most educated people; in everyday life few
people spoke it. Yiddish was the most common in all languages, which the Jews
of different diasporas spoke in different epochs, but not the one. In
And already by the beginning of XX century migration of the population
in the civilized world, connected both with equality of civil rights, freedom
of choice of the place to live, and with industrialization increased greatly.
Jewish people didn’t escape this either. The Jews, having settled at a new
place, like it or not began teaching their children not Yiddish in the first
place, but the language of the country where they were to live and work. This
is one more factor, which predetermined assimilation. So in the
As well as the knowledge of Yiddish language, already in the second generation of non-religious Jews traditional surnames, names and patronymics began to disappear. The first and the third ones were kept a bit longer (though, for example, a lot of Samuelevichs (sons of Samuel), Shmuelevichs (sons of Shmuel) and Solomonovichs (sons of Solomon) were identified in their passports as Semionovichs (sons of Semion) or Sergeevichs (sons of Sergey), as for «standard» Christian names, they became very popular by the beginning of XX century. And again I take my own family archive as an example. My grandfather Michael Naumovich Zagraevsky got a birth name Moses, and he was put down as Michael when getting his passport. We already mentioned above his sister Mera-Mila. And my great grandmother of another ancestry line (of Moses Naumovich Averbah, my father’s stepfather) was Hana-Dina before the revolution and became Anna. Her children, who were born before the revolution, still had Jewish names – Moses and Cecilia, and her grandchild, who was born in 1930s, was given name Yuri.
History, as we know it, doesn’t accept subjunctive moods. And still let’s try to guess what would have been, if in the first half of XX century there weren’t three events, which brought Jewish national self-consciousness to drastic changes and influenced so much the fortune of the Jewish nation.
But for these three events, which we will name a bit later, the process of assimilation of non-religious Jews during the whole XX century would have been going at a pace of the end of XIX – the beginning of XX centuries (and maybe even faster, owing to the general globalization during the last decades). And what would Jewish diasporas look like now, at the beginning of XXI century? It is difficult to evaluate their qualitative and quantitative structure, but it’s clear that they would almost consist of exclusively those, who perform Judaic religious rites. And what percentage of the Jews in diasporas attend synagogues regularly at least to some extent?
I think that it wouldn’t even come to someone’s mind to call the Jews a nation, and actually it would be only a large international religious sect, which would include several hundreds of thousands people, in other words, it would be comparable with «Jehovah's Witnesses» or «Seventh-Day Adventists». Probably, the members of this sect would have their own way of life, as for example the Old Believers or the Mormons have. And this is all what modern Jewry would be.
Non-religious descendants of religious Jews, perhaps, would still remember that someone from their ancestors was a Jew, but they themselves, with the exception of few people, wouldn’t consider themselves to be Jews.
But in the first half of XX century three events took place, and history, as if intentionally, came to the aid of the Jewish nation.
What kind of events they were?
It’s not difficult to guess, that the first is the success of the Zionist
movement, which entailed the forming of the state of
But in the process of creating Israel in terms of forming of the Jewish
nation not only the territory of the future state – Palestine, Eretz-Israel,
which was the most desirable of all the possible variants, was important (for
example, in 1920s the Zionists were considering quite seriously the alternative
ways of forming of the Jewish state in … Uganda). The important fact was also
that Judaism played already the role not of «the leading and guiding power» in
the Zionist movement, but of a basic (but not compulsory) religion in
democratic society with the real freedom of conscience. The leaders of Zionism,
the kibbutznics and the soldiers of «Hagana» also treated religion in different
ways. When every repatriate from time to time had to take weapons to defend
their country either from Arab partisans, either from the English army, either
from Rommel army, or from the surpassing forces of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Libya,
Iraq and etc. – nobody cared about whether this repatriate was a halakic Jew,
whether he attended synagogue, whether he ate kosher food and observed Shabbat
or not. No wonder, that in such circumstances
The second event, incomparably more tragic, but which finally also played the important role in the process of forming the Jewish nation on the new basis, was Holocaust. Six million victims (it goes without saying, that this figure is approximate, but six or seven million wouldn’t alter the scale of the fascism crimes) were not vain.
First, the truth about Hitler’s crimes shook the world’s community, and
this stimulated the forming of the state of Israel (though, unfortunately, not
so much in order to except the necessity of militant actions against the
English and the Arabs). Secondly, anti-Semitism not exactly became weaker in
the world, but every anti-Semite already knew, that his position contradicted
the world social opinion. Thirdly, nobody could remain indifferent to the Jews
(perhaps, the most terrible vice of the modern society is not aggression, as
civilized humanity somehow learned to fight with it, but exactly indifference).
Fourthly, (and it’s the most important here): the Jews realized, that the
The third event, not so large-scale and tragic, but also very important
on the scale of one separate country, more precisely of its Jewish diaspora, –
was the introduction of the system of domestic passports, where was a
note of «nationality». (Perhaps, this very fact stimulated the forming of a
Jewish autonomous region in the
And to change this note in the passport was much more difficult, than to change religion. Thereafter, assimilation was practically impossible for the «Soviet Jews themselves», and for their children (even those, who were born in mixed marriages and accepted gentile nationalities, had to write the nationality of their parents in many application forms). «A Jewish mark in the application form» could be lost only in the third or in the fourth generation. This created favorable conditions for the anti-Semites of all kinds, but this also united the diaspora, – perhaps, the most non-religious of all the Jewish diasporas in the world.
No wonder if any other Jew will remember some other important for Jewry
events of XX century, especially if he comes not from the former
It seems that everything is good, there is nothing to worry about: any
state is capable of reproducing their own citizens beyond the religion and even
beyond the culture, – guided by the fact that they were born from native
citizens and (or) in their territory. And even if there is no positive natality
(as, for example, in modern
But will the very Jews live in this territory – descendants of those,
who defended Israel from the Babylonians and the Romans in ancient times, in
the middle centuries got slaps in the face from burgomasters «in honor of»
Christian holidays, in the New time rescued their families from pogroms and in
the Newest time were in the heat of Auschwitz or led he escorts with food to
the blocked by the Arabs Jerusalem? Or in some decades
In principle, the modern world is more tolerant to the problems of the state forming nations, than, for example, the middle aged one: even if the natality of one or another state isn’t positive, but negative, the culture of the nation is in the state of stagnation, religion is forgotten by most of the population, and the nation itself has practically broke up into several isolated diasporas, – anyway it’s doubtful that nowadays such a state would be conquered by some outer enemies. The world community wouldn’t let it happen. Something different would take place: immigrants of other countries (usually less developed) would come, give birth to a number of children, teach them their language, cultivate their culture, sooner or later get the majority in the parliament, and the nation would become much more different…
We should and must be concerned about this process. And the
And what about the hostile Israeli neighborhoods? And what about the
Arabs, who hate
And what would they do, when they realize this? At last they would
create their state in
Then they would have only one way out that we mentioned above: to reconcile with Israel, come to any, even the most unfavorable terms and then, by fair means or foul, immigrate to the Jewish state, give birth to children there, teach them their own language, cultivate their religion and culture in them and gradually, step by step, become the national majority. It’s not that difficult, as it seems: there are about four million Jews in Israel (some more – in diasporas, but they are far from there), a number of Arabs in the country itself amounts to about two million, there are more than eight million of the «Palestinians» next to it. And there are three hundred million of the Arabs around, in close proximity…
Some people can say: the aim of the government – to provide the
citizens, regardless of the color of their skin, their religion and the
language they speak, with a rightful level of life and safety. And do the
majority of the Americans live worse, than in
And maybe in these circumstances the country wouldn’t have to spend large sums of money for keeping the most powerful army in the region, and a middle-class Jew would live even better, regardless of the fact, whether he is a Jew, Arab or whoever?
But is it this the Zionists struggled for? And is it for this the Jews lost their lives in Hitler’s concentration camps? And this question isn’t rhetorical, as the Zionists struggled for exactly the Jewish nation, and they died for the very fact of their Jewry.
A thesis «
It seems that
First, Halakah leaves a kind of a loophole for conversion of gentiles to Jewry – Giur. And the problem of the last is that no one of really honest and principled men, being an atheist, or an adherent of another religion, won’t pass through it and, accordingly, won’t become a halakic Jew, however useful in perspective he would be for Jewry.
But a dishonest man, who is indifferent to Jewry (or maybe hostile to it), but who is self-interested and wants to take advantage of this, – can easily break his views and moral principles, pass through Giur, become a halakic Jew, get the citizenship of the country and turn into potential «the fifth column».
Secondly, the very term «the Jewish state» in combination with a halakic definition of Jewry is a legal delayed-action bomb.
Though equal suffrages and equal possibilities for self-realization are
declared for all the citizens of Israel, anyway, the Jews, according to
Halakah, are the «the first-best» citizens, and there are «the second-best»
ones – people of different faith, including those, who are connected with Jewry,
consider themselves to be Jewish, but who were born in mixed marriages, not
from a mother-Jew, but from a father-Jew. Or their grandmothers or grandfathers
were Jews. According to «the Law of return», such people have the right of
So, a considerable part is excluded from Jewry (taking into account a
large number of mixed marriages in XX century – not less than a half). Beyond
And there isn’t any logic in it: why do the Jews repatriate gentiles? And why do gentiles repatriate to the Jewish state? To be more exact, why do they immigrate, as even a term «repatriation» in fact isn’t appropriate here? For higher living standards – «for sausage», as they said at the beginning of the 1990s?
For many people, especially for those, who have enough of sausage and other good things of life in their home country, it’s just humiliating.
Moreover, why divide those, who were born in
Generally speaking, this situation is referred to as discrimination in
legal parlance. And all this can go on till one professional suit to the
International Human Rights Court of Justice. The suit, which endangers a main
and sacred for every Jew thesis: «
Therefore, while the going is good, it is necessary to secure the country from similar suits, as well as from other charges in discrimination and violation of basic human rights.
And as the denial of the thesis «Israel is the state of the Jews» is, as we know it, unacceptable, there is only one way out: gradual transformation of the notion «a Jew» from the traditional, halakic one, which became obsolete in XIX century already and which created a threat of degenerating of Jewry into a religious sect, – to the notion, typical for any modern state forming nation, which has its own national government: Spain – the Spanish, Germany – the German, England – the English, Portuguese – the Portuguese, France – the French, Holland – the Dutch, Israel – the Jews.
It’s a plain matter of fact, that each of the nations and countries,
mentioned above, has its own peculiarities. In
These countries, like other civilized ones, suffer from immigration –
both legal and illegal (labor, through marriage etc.) In
And what prevents any person, who has an Israeli passport or a birth
certificate, to be considered a Jew «on default» – as well as a Frenchman
There are two problems that prevent it.
The first one is the ambitions of those who consider themselves to be the citizens of «the first-best». But these ambitions can easily move away to the background by the corresponding explanatory work from the government’s side.
The second problem is much more complex, and it may take years to resolve it, if not decades. It is the creation of the basic beyond-religious principles of the Jewish nation’s self-consciousness.
So that a person (either born in the country, or an immigrant – it doesn’t matter) considers himself to be the part of the state forming nation, it is necessary to introduce him step by step into that cultural-informational field, which creates this much-talked about self-sensation: «I am a German», «I am a Frenchman», «I am a Jew». It is easier for children and more difficult for grown-ups. Even the study of the language of the country of residence can be an insurmountable barrier in the path of a repatriate (not to mention an immigrant). Even the learning of the main bases of the national culture, at least at the level of school literature, – requires considerable efforts, which people at a mature age, who have to earn for living at the same time, are not always capable of.
There is another necessary constituent of this process: the presence of the very culture that is necessary to adopt. As we mentioned above, at the beginning of XX century the Jews have neither national culture nor national language. Since that time the language appeared (though the difference between elevated Hebrew and common Hebrew is much more bigger, than between, for example, literary Russian and common Russian, but this is already the question of specific national traditions). But the culture, comparable with the German, French, Russian ones, doesn’t exist yet. And here it becomes necessary to take some measures.
First, it would be useful to study carefully the works of art of
numerous geniuses of Jewish origin of all the epochs, who lived in various
non-Jewish countries (which we mentioned above), and try to single out purely
Jewish peculiarities. If we manage to do this without defects, such as «
Second (and the main one): it is necessary to develop the utmost modern
national Jewish culture, which
It is also necessary to review the procedure of repatriation, as «the Law of return» in its present state has two extremes, and neither leads the repatriates to effective assimilation.
For some people it is a complex, long and important (at least by word of mouth) religious Giur, which with all its complexity makes no provision for the compulsory learning of Hebrew.
For others it is an absence of any procedures, except of the inspection
of the documents’ authenticity, which confirms that their grandmothers or
grandfathers were Jews. The fact that a person may have never seen these
grandmothers and grandfathers and doesn’t have any idea about the Jewish
nation, isn’t taken into consideration. And again there is no compulsory
learning of language, history, culture, economy, polity of
Finally, «the Law of return» efficiently supplies
This situation is so acute that nowadays there are even suggestions about the abolition of the 1970 amendment of «the Law of return» that gives the right of repatriation for not only Jews children, but also their grandchildren. In other words, there is a suggestion to reduce greatly a number of the repatriates.
But in the conditions of hostile neighborhoods, where
It seems to be necessary to introduce an analogous procedure in the Jewish state. Perhaps, in Israeli circumstances, where the problem of creating of the state forming nation is much more nagging, than in Germany, it is necessary to introduce, except language, other exams (tests at the very least) – history, culture, economics, polity etc.
There rises a question: and what about those, who have a potential right for repatriation according to «the Law of return», but still didn’t repatriate, in other words, didn’t get Israeli citizenship? In case of accepting these suggestions, can’t they be considered Jews? Even if they are Jews according to Halakah?
We can answer in the following way: who they consider themselves to be
according to Halakah or according to any of its confessional modification – is
the question of their religious views. But for the Jewish state they shouldn’t
be Jews yet. At the end of the day, nobody prevents them from learning the
language, history, culture, economics and polity of
There may rise another question: and what in such conditions will be
with the present national diasporas within
The answer is quite simple: national diasporas won’t seize to exist
(they are in
By the time of getting Israeli citizenship a repatriate should know his
«home country» well, and «the home country» should know him well. In this case
there would be little probability that his further travelling around the world
will lead to breaking ties with Jewry and to irresponsible treatment to the
future of their country –
The measures, suggested here, should contribute to the rally of the Jewish nation. And it is much easier for a rallied state forming nation to oppose criminality, external threat, drug selling, unemployment, illegal immigration, economical crises, and other problems, all the developed countries face.