Israel and Judaism’s Future

Rabbi Prof. David Hartman explores Israel's unfinished business in this in-depth essay tracing the history of Zionism and the religious response to it.
Shalom Hartman Institute Founder Rabbi Prof. David Hartman z”l was a leading thinker among philosophers of contemporary Judaism and an internationally renowned Jewish author. As part of his unique vision to deal with the challenges of Judaism in the modern world, Rabbi Prof. David Hartman founded the Shalom Hartman Institute in 1976 in honor of his father. He was a man who is with us no more A thinker, teacher, and lover of mankind Our

Rabbi Prof. David Hartman explores Israel’s unfinished business in this in-depth essay tracing the history of Zionism and the religious response to it, as well as the new covenant he sees has been created by the creation of the State of Israel.

There were many people, both in Israel and abroad, who believed – and continue to believe – that the fundamental purpose of the State of Israel was to solve the condition of Jewish suffering by providing a national home for Jews. Treating Israel solely as a haven against persecution is, I believe, incomplete and inadequate for understanding the significance and importance of the rebirth of Israel.

Although persecution and suffering played a major role in the national quest for Jewish political independence, the Zionist revolution was also deeply infused by utopian social, political and cultural longings. Many dreamed of a new Jew, a transformation of the Jewish psyche. The return to the land was envisioned not only in terms of physical safety but also as a healing process that would liberate Jews from the negative self-image they internalized during centuries of oppression and powerlessness. For religious thinkers such as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook the Zionist revolution was destined to release spiritual energies that had been repressed by the unnatural condition of galut, exile. Rabbi Kook looked forward to a new Jewish human type emerging as a result of the secular, often atheistic, Zionist enterprise.

Jerusalem has always been the receptacle of Jewish historical hopes and dreams. Israel invites ideological passions because it connects Jews to the historic memories and aspirations of the Jewish people. You cannot relate to or live in Israel without being affected by the visions of Isaiah and Amos, the passion of Rabbi Akiva, the age-old longing of Jews to return to Jerusalem where justice and human fulfillment would be realized.

It is not accidental that starting from the early years of statehood the Bible was the national literature of this country. Despite a strong disavowal of the Bible’s theological foundations, there was – and, I believe, still is – a profound identification with the biblical outlook in terms of human types and values, and prophetic moral and social aspirations. I am not suggesting that a biblical religious pathos infuses the country but only that Jewish life in Israel is imbued with some of the broader historical conditions and perspectives present in the biblical outlook. In Israel, in contrast to the Diaspora, the synagogue and Jewish family life cannot generate a sufficient sense of vitality in order to make Judaism a viable option for modem Jews.

This essay will argue that our return to the land has not only recreated some of the existential conditions that informed the biblical, covenantal foundations of Judaism but also that modern Israel provides Jews with an exciting opportunity to recapture some of the salient features of their biblical foundations. The acceptance of responsibility for Jewish national existence will be understood as a progressive extension of the rabbinic understanding of the covenantal relationship between God and Israel.   It is, therefore, not surprising that the urgent practical questions of security and the economy do not exhaust what preoccupies Israelis. To the outsider it seems strange that an embattled, besieged country such as Israel is always embroiled in internal controversies that have little to do with security and survival. For example, government coalitions are formed and fall over issues related to how one applies Halakhah to society.

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