As Israel becomes more and more enveloped in the consciousness of Jews around the world, I cannot help but question my view on what should come first, the Torah or the land. Tradition, and the laws that bind Jews to the Torah, are an essential part of a Jew regardless of where they stand on religious issues. Israel, more specifically the concept of Zionism, is another important aspect that has allowed Jews around the world to flourish in ways that did not seem possible before 1948. Although the aforementioned question may sound foolish to ponder, the moral dilemma of which aspect should be prioritized is one that a Jew must come to terms with.
First, let us ask ourselves where the Jewish people would be today without the Torah. Obviously, the Torah has been extremely important in establishing a unique and distinct collective Jewish culture. It has given Jews the ability to maintain their identity through binding religious customs that have been passed down for generations. The Torah has allowed Jews to remain distinct from their neighbors in exile and, in some ways, given them the ability to survive through the worst. When asked the question about the Torah or Israel, a religious perspective might argue that the Torah is what makes Jews Jewish. The Torah keeps Jews spiritually connected to God: Through faith and through the Torah, Jews have flourished across the globe during years of persecution and exile. The Torah is such an integral part of Judaism and Jewish culture that it defines the very soul of a Jewish person. A religious person would go so far as to ask where the Jewish people would be today without the Torah. Personally, I think that without the Torah, the Jewish people would not be what they aretoday. Without the customs and traditions embedded within the Torah, the Jewish people would be lost.
Israel is the Jewish homeland. Jews everywhere flock to Israel for political and religious freedom and Israel is, in many ways, part of the Jewish soul. Israel has given Jews a collective national identity and a place of refuge. For a Jew, to imagine a world without Israel is like imagining a body without a heart. From a Zionist perspective, history has shown time and time again that Israel is essential for Jewish survival. Where would the Jewish people be today without Israel? This is a tough question. In my opinion, hope, progress, and optimism would no longer exist within the Jewish people. It is safe to say that there would be far fewer Jews in the world without Israel. Although some may say the Jewish people have come along fine without Israel, I believe the inverse is true: Before Israel was established, Jews in the diaspora were persecuted and faced with uncertainty. However, Israel now exists and will continue to exist.
Considering the Zionist perspective, how should a Jew rank their Jewishness? Should they put their Jewish identity above all other national or ethnic identities? These are questions I urge readers to come to terms with themselves. If Jewish identity is more than just a religious one then what defines a Jew? Some argue that Zionism is a political manifestation of Jewish identity, a nationalistic concept of Judaism. I urge readers to really think about whether Judaism and Zionism can coexist. As seen in Israel’s political climate as well as the political climate of Jews globally, there seem to be areas in which the two concepts conflict with each other. For example, a small number of orthodox Jews have problems with the concept of Zionism because it stems from secular thinking points. Moreover, many secular Jews who are Zionist have problems with Judaism itself and religious practices. For some, the two cannot coexist and there is an obvious answer to this question.
Back to the question at hand – should Jews prioritize the land of Israel-Palestine/Judea and Samaria or the teachings of the Torah? However, deciding which should come first before the other is a trick question. If the Torah is the soul of the Jewish people, then Israel is its beating heart. If it is a matter of survival, there would not be a Jewish people without the Torah or Israel. The two go hand-in-hand in defining a collective Jewish identity. Prioritizing one or the other would be like parents prioritizing their children. This question, like so many other moral dilemmas, is one that is tough to answer.
“The views expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and not UCLA or ASUCLA Communications Board.”