Sav­ing Israel: How the Jew­ish Peo­ple Can Win a War That May Nev­er End

By – October 25, 2011

Daniel Gordis has no qualms about Jew­ish sov­er­eign­ty in an inde­pen­dent state. His new book is a man­i­festo pred­i­cat­ed on the Jew­ish state’s hav­ing recre­at­ed Jew­ish peo­ple­hood, revived the Hebrew lan­guage, and restored a place in his­to­ry for Jews as a nation. Draw­ing on Zionism’s exam­ple of the pow­er of such ideas, he con­cludes that Israel needs a new sense of pur­pose, one that tran­scends the cur­rent stale­mate with the Pales­tini­ans and that starts with the recog­ni­tion that Israel was nev­er meant to be a state like all oth­er states.

Rab­bi Gordis sug­gests that Israel’s rea­son for being is the heal­ing of the Jew­ish peo­ple, the cre­ation of a space in which Jews can thrive as they could nowhere else.” This chal­lenges the Enlight­en­ment val­ues of uni­ver­sal­ism and democ­ra­cy, and he does not shrink from those impli­ca­tions. He treats democ­ra­cy as a val­ue sec­ond to pre­serv­ing a Jew­ish major­i­ty, and rejects the vision of Israel as mere­ly a Hebrew-speak­ing, minia­ture America.”

Equal­ly chal­leng­ing to many Amer­i­can Jews is his view that the use of force in self-defense is a tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish val­ue. Hav­ing a state is not a mat­ter of Jews glo­ri­fy­ing vio­lence or con­quest, he writes, only the oppor­tu­ni­ty to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their own sur­vival.” More broad­ly, through a state Jews can give expres­sion to the ideas they have long cul­ti­vat­ed but have nev­er been able to express in action.” Rab­bi Gordis firm­ly rejects the indis­crim­i­nate bias of many Jews against war in gen­er­al, and the con­comi­tant embrace of pas­siv­i­ty and vic­tim­hood as a basis for Jew­ish identity.

By chang­ing the sub­ject from Israel’s short-term behav­ior to its guid­ing prin­ci­ples and its long-term pur­pose, Daniel Gordis has restart­ed the whole con­ver­sa­tion about the country’s direc­tion. His urgent call to action, artic­u­lat­ed with eru­di­tion, reflec­tion, and fear­less­ness, could not be more time­ly or more essential.

Discussion Questions

1. Gordis titles his third chap­ter The First War, All Over Again.” What do you think he means by that? Do you agree with his assess­ment ofthe con­tin­u­ing conflict?

2. Gordis dis­cuss­es Pro­fes­sor Sam­my Smooha’s idea of an eth­nic democ­ra­cy, a sys­tem that com­bines the exten­sion of civ­il and polit­i­cal rights to per­ma­nent res­i­dents who wish to be cit­i­zens with the bestow­al of a favored sta­tus on the major­i­ty group.” Do you think Israel is an eth­nic democ­ra­cy? Is Israel’s sta­tus as a Jew­ish state in oppo­si­tion to its democ­ra­cy? Can a reli­gious state ever be tru­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic? (pg. 131

3. What do you see as Israel’s pur­pose? How does this pur­pose affect pol­i­cy in Israel, both for­eign and domes­tic? How can Israel bet­ter ful­fill this pur­pose? (pg. 148

4. Gordis dis­cuss­es his youth­ful Jew­ish edu­ca­tion as such: We were taught Jew­ish his­to­ry and phi­los­o­phy in a way that made pas­siv­i­ty and Judaism sound like the most nat­ur­al com­bi­na­tion. …In a strange way, it now seems to me, we were actu­al­ly com­fort­able with the role of vic­tim.” What do you think about this? How do you think Jew­ish cul­ture inter­sects with a sense of vic­tim­hood? Is this a good thing, a bad thing, or nei­ther? (pg. 183

5. How does Gordis sug­gest Israel should be saved? Do you agree? What changes do you think would have to be made in Israeli and Jew­ish cul­ture and pol­i­tics to enable Gordis’ plan?