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.