THE “Z” WORD
I could introduce this short review by saying something like “a few interesting books landed on my desk recently…”, but that won’t be exactly true. I selected the books I am about to describe for our collection and for today’s blog because, as different as they are from each other, and as diverse as their publishers in Israel are, they all reflect an interest in (or should I say “scholarly obsession with”?) the ongoing discussion of Jewish/Israeli identity in the context of Zionism.
“Zionism” – the Jewish yearning for our ancient homeland, a.k.a. “Zion”, emerged as a national liberation movement at the end of the 19th century. As the driving ideology behind the re-settlement in the Land of Israel, it has been practiced, debated, extolled and vilified. As a political signifier it was, and still is, used in the construction of a Jewish identity as it relates to modern day Israel.
These are but four of many more books and articles that are being published in Israel as well as in the USA. Check them out as subjects in our catalog, as well as in databases of Jewish scholarship such as RAMBI, under “Jewish Identity” or “Zionism and Judaism” (both links available from our website www.huc.edu/libraries/losangeles)
Dorshei Tsiyon be-Fo’al (Activist Seekers of Zion), by Yitzhak Alfasi. Jerusalem: Shem, 2006.
Rabbi Alfasi, who has published many volumes of rabbinic biographies before, based on their denominational and ethnic affiliations, compiled this new volume of biographies, bibliographies, photographs and introductory essays of the many rabbis who actively engaged in preaching about and encouraging the Jewish return to Zion.
Beginning with 18th century rabbis from Gibraltar, Croatia and Poland, 1008 rabbis are listed as heralds & practitioners, as well as political activists and proponents of the (literal=agricultural) return to the land.
The entries include citations from their writings about Zionism, and are worth the effort - even for the hebraically-impaired readers.
Athalta Hi (The Attitude of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Greats to Zionism and the Establishment of the Jewish State), by Yitzhak Dadon. Jerusalem: Self-Published, 2006.
The title of the book comes from an ad, published in 1949 and addressing “God’s people in Zion” , declaring the creation of the State of Israel as the beginning of the promised redemption, (“athalta de-ge’ulah”) and urging religious voters to become politically involved and help elect candidates of the “United Religious Front” to the Knesset. The ad was signed by the two chief rabbis of Israel, Herzog and Uziel, and endorsed by over a hundred rabbis throughout the country. This, and many other documents excerpted in this volume, help illuminate the powerful commitment of religious Zionist leaders to their participation in a democratically elected secular house of representatives, and their view of such an involvement as part of Jewish observance.
And now, to a totally different angle…Still about Zionism and identity, but from different perspectives:
Zehuyot be-Madim (Identities in Uniform: Masculinities and Femininities in the Israeli Military), by Ornah Sasson-Levy. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 2006.
The book examines gender identities as they are shaped in the most masculine institute in Israel – the Military. Based on interviews with men and women soldiers, the author demonstrates how the myth of the “manly fighter” shapes the way people view themselves and others, and the ways in which they are stratified in Israeli society.
The author teaches sociology, anthropology and gender studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel.
Tsiyonut veha-Biyologiyah shel ha-Yehudim (Zionism and the Biology of the Jews), by Raphael Falk. Tel-Aviv: Resling, 2006.
A critical examination of one of the most controversial issues in Israeli society: the biological identity of the Jews and the ways in which the Zionist movement dealt with it from its inception.
Falk points to the parallel development at the end of the 19th century of national movements and Eugenics, and analyzes the three central biological questions that Zionism attempted to answer in light of scientific research: What makes Jews unique? Who are, or who were the real Jews? And how can one identify Jews?
The author has taught at the Hebrew University while conducting experimental genetic research. In the last twenty years he has been exploring the history and philosophy of biology.
I am not sure how well these issues go with tzimes, but I have no doubt that they could make a good conversation topic around the Shabbat table.