It’s no secret that Hebrew and Israeli culture have not attached particularly great importance to Tisha B’Av as part of the fabric of Israeli life. The tension between the theme of destruction that dominates Tisha B’Av and the ethos of Zionist revival led to the marginalization of this fast day.
In one respect, however, Israeli society has preserved a common denominator with the traditional themes of Tisha B’Av. Over the generations, Jewish tradition has shaped the fast day as an emblem for the loss of the Land and the departure into exile, despite the fact that the historical reality was far more complex. Zionist thought unquestioningly adopted this narrative, and the “negation of the Diaspora” became one of its ideological pillars. Even today, despite the change in tone and the adoption of politically correct nuances in Israel’s discourse with the Diaspora, Israeli society is still influenced by this approach and continues to regard Jewish life outside Israel as an abnormal phenomenon.
One of the main manifestations of this classic Zionist approach is the growing preoccupation with the level of assimilation in the Diaspora Jewish communities. This subject surely deserves serious consideration and responses, but it is questionable whether Israeli discourse meets this standard. “A second Holocaust,” “a national disaster,” and “destruction” are just some of the prevalent coinages that reflect an ignorant and arrogant approach.
Another manifestation of the modern-day version of the “negation of the Diaspora” is Israel’s attitude toward the non-Orthodox streams. The serious implications of this approach are masked by the profound commitment and emotional attachment of Diaspora Jews to the State of Israel, but it would be foolish to assume that this will endure forever. Thousands of Jewish congregations place the Israeli flag on their podium, send their members to visit Israel, make donations and raise their voices in prayers for the wellbeing of the state. Yet in return Israel turns a cold shoulder to them and views them as second-class Jews.
The non-Orthodox communities are a fundamental expression of Jewish life in the Diaspora and are Zionism’s key partner in an approach that argues that people can live a modern life without abandoning their Jewish identity. The State of Israel’s ongoing alienation of these communities negates the foundations of Diaspora Jewish life and constitutes a powerful rejection of millions of Jews.
The final manifestation of the “negation of the Diaspora” is the expectation that Diaspora Jews will unreservedly support the State of Israel without the slightest nuance of criticism. The approach that any reservation reflects disloyalty to the Jewish people is ultimately a further reflection of the belief that the Jewish status of those who live in the Diaspora is at best conditional.
In recent years, the “negation of the Diaspora” has received renewed intellectual support from two different directions. The first approach depicts Jewish life in the Diaspora as inherently meager and shallow. The second, more radical approach depicts such life a fiction. The Israeli author A. B. Yehoshua is a prominent exponent for the former approach, while Professor Shlomo Zand has recently emerged as a proponent of the latter view. While these two positions may seem to be very different, they are essentially similar. Both confine the theater of action to the State of Israel and abandon Diaspora Jewry.
In Israel’s seventh decade, the victory of the Zionist ideal is evident. In this reality, the defensive position once adopted by Zionism has become a patronizing and power-based attitude. Israel’s contribution to Jewish life in the Diaspora is beyond doubt, but so too is the contribution Diaspora Jewry has made to Israel’s resilience and to the future of the Jewish people. Diaspora Jewry has made a significant contribution on a wide range of issues: gender; the renewal of forms of prayer; the revival of the concept of community; nurturing social and environmental responsibility as part of the Jewish agenda; promoting interfaith dialogue; and many other areas.
No less importantly, Diaspora Jewry provides a constant moral and value-based reminder of what it means to live as a minority. In an era when Jewish sovereignty is required to exercise force, and has to a large extent become addicted to force, this reminder is more needed than ever.
Recognizing the mutual contribution and dependence of the Diaspora and Israel can provide a firm basis for discourse to shape the character of Judaism in the 21st century and to ensure Jewish survival. An essential condition for such discourse is the emergence of a new, mature Israeli attitude toward Jewish life in the Diaspora.
Attorney Rabbi Gilad Kariv is the Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism