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February 12th, 2014 |

Collage: Vered Zeikovsky

The Forgotten Element

Privatization is a tool in the modern capitalist economy that is intended to transfer ownership of public assets from the public to the private sector. The process of privatization brings about a decline in the level of society’s responsibility for its weaker members, and an erosion in their status as human beings. The shaping of a more just Israeli society, without which Jewish society in the land of Israel will not survive, requires a more intense connection to Jewish culture in Israeli society

Sins between man and his fellow man are considered sins against God and his Torah. Social concern for the weak – the stranger, the orphan and the widow – is very prominent in the Torah. There are prohibitions against oppressing or exploiting the other, and demands for equal justice under the law. Anyone deviating from this code violates his covenant with God
The predominant trait is the middle way, which is the source of normative behavior in matters of property: mine is mine and yours is yours. Maintaining the boundaries of the estate, and not stealing from another person, but by the same token, not distributing property and assets in a more egalitarian manner, either. We are therefore intrigued by the statement: “And some say it is a trait of Sodom”

There is a profound connection between the fact that the Ashkenazi middle classes have become members of the bourgeoisie, and their disengagement from the system of values based on socialist Zionism, These processes are inextricably bound up with the alienating processes of secularization, which have brought about an acute disengagement from the heritage of ancient Jewish culture and from its discourse

At first glance, there is no link between Jewish culture and privatization. Most people now living in Western, capitalist-democratic societies, Jews included, do not deny the validity of the dominant economic-social system, or its principles and ethics. The prevailing belief is that private ownership of assets is the best way to generate profits from these assets and operate them effectively for the good of the owners as well as the public – even though the private ownership of large, anonymous companies does not usually guarantee a human commitment to the greater good of society. This view prevails due to the failure of other political systems, in which the suppression of human freedom, and the exploitation, humiliation, derision, degradation or murder of human beings reached a level that would cause any reasonable person to believe that compared to any other system, the present one is the least of all evils. Particularly grave damage was caused by the Soviet system and similar totalitarian regimes, which made specious use of the exalted ideals of the equality of man.

Both openly and latently, the modern media – which rely on advertising budgets – influence the development of consumption and work habits, behavior and ethics. The modern media are the main suppliers of information. To a large extent, the worldview on which the presentation of this information is based determines the awareness of the individual, and invites him to take part in the present system of his own free will.

What sort of formative culture would be able to bring about sweeping changes in the awareness, the mutual responsibility and the image of human society as a whole and of Israeli society in particular, on the assumption that such changes can take place only in a democratic context, which is based on mechanisms of consensus among various social forces?

I would like to propose some of the fundamentals of Jewish culture, in all its manifestations, as possible elements in a process of narrowing the gaps in Israeli society.

Divine revelation, which surfaced for the first time in the Hebrew Bible, mandates the equality of man, every man, who was created in God’s image.

The Bible recognizes the fact that in human society there are class differences, there is slavery and there is subjugation. But all are equal before God. And therefore, on the Sabbath the master and his menservants, maidservants and farm animals rest together, because this is the day on which the acts of creation were concluded. That is why in the seventh year the boundaries of inherited land are breached, and everyone is permitted to partake from the hefker (ownerless property). Debts are erased and Hebrew slaves are liberated. That is why in the Jubilee year (on each 50th year, after seven cycles of seven years each) – which in fact may never have actually been observed – landholdings and other basic properties are restored to their original owners. Jubilee renews the regime of equal ownership before God. In other words, once a ‘week’ – be it shmita (the sabbatical year) or the Jubilee year, the proper divine order is restored. We should bear in mind that the choice of the Jewish people as a nation is not automatic; it derives from the Jews’ belief in one God and is conditional on their observance of His Torah and His way (Exodus 19: 5-6).

Most of the commandments of the Torah – both the positive and the negative ones – deal with relations between man and his fellow man. But sins between man and his fellow man are considered sins against God and his Torah. Social concern for the weak – the stranger, the orphan and the widow – is very prominent in the Torah. There are prohibitions against oppressing or exploiting the other, and demands for equal justice under the law. Anyone deviating from this code violates his covenant with God. Israelite prophecy imposed the sins of the leadership on the entire Israelite collective. The prophets Micah (Chapters 2 and 3), Amos (Chapter 4) and others argue that all of society bears responsibility for the serious digression from God’s Torah, for which the punishment is – exile. The society that deviates from God’s Torah by its social behavior and by oppressing others will also suffer from atrophy, political blindness and dissolution.

The redemptive goals of the Return to Zion, at the beginning of the Second Temple period, which are poetically expressed in the “Servant of God” chapters of Isaiah (Chapters 40-61), were not fulfilled in historical reality. Those who returned to Zion were aware of this flawed situation. The reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah laid the foundations for Pharisaic Judaism on the basis of the Torah. The didactic-educational infrastructure of the reform was based on dissemination of the Torah among broad sectors of society, and primarily farmers, who constituted the majority of the returnees to Zion. The dissemination of Torah education among broad segments of the population (I do not mean to say that all were educated or well-versed in the Scriptures), gave rise to the figure of the popular talmid hacham (Torah scholar), who is active among the people. This is evidenced by traditions related to Antigonus Ish Sokho, Yossi ben Yoezer ish Tzreda, Nitai Ha’arbeli, Shimon ben Shetah, Shemaya and Avtalyon, Hillel and Shamai.

The Hasmonean revolt raised the core group of the militantly pious to a dominant position, and in turn gave rise to the Pharisaic stream of Judaism. Although this may be an extremely controversial assertion, in my mind there is no doubt that the radical opposition movement to Rome is based on the ideology of the House of Shamai and his Jewish legal rulings, at the core of which was the uncompromising conflict with the Hellenistic Roman world, a conflict that was both religious/national and social/class in nature. It was an uncompromising confrontation between cultures. The feeling of a flawed redemption that God had not wholly realized led to the revolutionary shift among broad sectors of the population, and observation of the commandments became an individual and collective tool designed to bring the redemption closer and to improve the world. Certain halakhot (religious rulings) cited in the Rabbinic literature, which impart new interpretive depth to the laws of the Torah, may be viewed in this light.

Before embarking on a discussion of some of these halakhot, it is important to emphasize that the Pharisaic stream was itself divided into factions and individuals with diverse viewpoints, or at least different emphases, regarding the actual practice of halakha. In this regard, I should cite the social and political differences between the House of Hillel and the House of Shamai, in light of the harsh dilemmas confronting Jewish society during the Herodian dynasty and afterward, under direct Roman occupation.

Temporary ownership

“And the land should not be sold forever, for the land is mine, for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Leviticus 25: 23). The simple explanation is that there is no true ownership of property in the Land of Israel except for God’s ownership. The ownership of property by human beings is only temporary. The Tannaitic Midrash Halakha explains that only when you are subjugated to me to the point that you are really similar to me can the land be yours. The similarity to God and the following of His ways are at the center of subjugation to Him, as we have found, for example, in the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Pe’ah 81, Halakha 1, 15b: “Abba Shaul says, I will be like Him, just as He is merciful and for giving, so should you be merciful and forgiving”.

Here we should cite the commentary by the 13th century scholar Nahmanides to the verse in Leviticus (25:23), which espouses a path of social radicalism, according to which every human being is liberated in the Jubilee year, at which time the divine egalitarian arrangement is restored. Liberating man from his fellow man and equal ownership of property are rooted in the absolute subjugation to God, who created man free of any subjugation.

“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child” (Exodus 22:20-21). In this context, Nahmanides wrote in his commentary on the verse: “And that is because God protects the weak. He is the one who rescues every person from those stronger than he. If a person has no one to rescue him from oppression, God is the one who rescues him.”

From this we learn that man is commanded to walk in the path of God, to prevent oppression and to refrain from oppression. Nahmanides states that this universal commandment applies to every human being. We can sum up his radical interpretation, which relies on Biblical and Talmudic sources, thus: refraining from oppression is a universal value, and if a person has no possibility of being liberated from his oppressor, then God himself will rescue him. From this, we learn that a person who walks in the path of God is obligated to refrain from oppression and exploitation. But there can be no universal order without a measure of compassion for every weak and suffering person.

In the Rabbinic literature, at least among the radical representatives who advocate the militant piety of the House of Shamai, there are important implications to the view that the only true ownership of property is God’s ownership, which means that public property is the only area in which the individual has any ownership.

For example: “Rabbi Yehuda says: If the majority of people have chosen a path for themselves, what they have chosen is theirs” (Tosefta, Baba Batra, 2:15). In other words, a public path that people have chosen to use along the edges of open fields or other open spaces, even if it trespassed the boundaries of private estates here and there, became public property and public territory, which was taken over in an anarchistic and spontaneous manner. The majority confiscated the land from private owners, not in an official-administrative manner, and not with the permission of an oppressive regime, and it therefore belongs to the majority and supersedes any private ownership. Of course, this radical approach is not accepted by all of the Sages.

The middle way

In Ethics of the Fathers, 5: 10, we find: “There are four types of people – he who says mine is mine and yours is yours, that is the average type; and some say it is a trait of Sodom. Mine is yours and yours is mine, is an ‘ignorant person’. Mine is yours and yours is yours is a ‘pious person’. Mine is mine and yours is mine is a ‘wicked person’. “In this axiom, the Mishna is testing human society by its behavior in matters of property. If we were to segment society into the four types presented in the Mishna, and to base it on only one of these sectors, then we might find ourselves in a society of mediocre people, or of ignoramuses, or of pious people, or of totally wicked people. Of course, human society is made up of various types of people.

It would seem that the predominant trait is the middle way, which is the source of normative behavior in matters of property: Mine is mine and yours is yours. Maintaining the boundaries of the estate, and not stealing from another person, on the one hand, but by the same token, not distributing property and assets in a more egalitarian manner, either. That is also the prevailing custom in countries that have a modem capitalistic democracy. We are therefore intrigued by the statement: “And some say it is a trait of Sodom”. In other words, those in whose name this was said believe that the middle way is the mother of all sin: it is the trait of Sodom. It gives rise to a lack of mutual responsibility and a lack of concern for the weak, and unbridled greed.

The second trait is sharing, which the Mishna defines as a trait of the ‘ignorant.’ One wonders why. I believe that the only way to answer this question is by analyzing the character of the pious person. However, it should be understood that several commentators had a problem with the Mishna’s wording. For example, the author of the book Magen Avot: “An ignoramus is someone who has not reached the degree of piety at which he will allow others to benefit from his property and he won’t benefit from their property, but both benefit equally, and that is a properly functioning society.” Regarding the trait of the pious person, he wrote: “He does an exaggerated amount of good, which is a matter of piety… He wants to allow others to benefit and doesn’t want to benefit from anyone.”

Ostensibly, the pious person is a naive altruist. But if we look carefully at the logic of the saying, and argue that in order to create social sectors you need at least two people, we will get a situation of two people who say to each other: mine is yours and yours is yours, creating a mutual relinquishment of all property in the relationship between them, except for the pure human relationship, which is free of any formal monetary claims. What remains between them is human brotherhood and love. These pious persons are called “haters of their own money”, and because they have become totally liberated from dependence on money in their relationships with others, this trait automatically causes them to refrain from any oppression or robbery. (For example, see Mekhilta Yitro, Tractate of Amalek, Chapter 2, pg. 198.)

A number of Aggadah stories appearing in the tractate of Baba Metzia of the Jerusalem Talmud (Chapter 2, Halakha 5, 56a), are assembled as stories whose ideological core is based on the qualities of the pious person. They relate to the laws of returning lost items, which the pious person practiced beyond the letter of the law, thereby sanctifying God’s name in the eyes of non-Jews. In all the stories, it is the pious person’s example of total liberation from dependence on money and greed as a factor that brings the non-Jews to understand the uniqueness of monotheism. In other words, the quality of the pious person is what brings man closer to God, just as the pious persons are described in the Book of Daniel, which tells of the events of the Hasmonean revolt. Liberation from dependence on money and from egoism removes from human relationships the alienation that is caused by money, and brings man close to his God. The halakha that I have presented is embedded deeply in the world of Talmudic commentary of the Middle Ages, as well as in the commentaries of the ensuing period. The problem that confronts the rabbinic authorities and commentators is how to balance the normative halakha and its high demands with the complex reality of Jews in a cooperative society.

The 18th century Hasidism of the Baal Shem Tov reverted to the practices of the (earlier) pious persons and wove them into the Cabalistic mysticism. The self-reduction of the ego and the urge to dominate, man as “nothingness” – these are the foundations of man’s mission in the world, meant to restore sparks to their origin.

Jews play a significant role in the financing and management of the mercantile world – although sometimes behind the scenes – as suppliers of money and war materiel to monarchs, as slave traders or underwriters of the slave trade, and as providers of monetary services early in the modern era, particularly in Central and Western Europe. And certainly they have an important role in the commercial development of modern capitalism, mainly as providers of funds and as bankers.

Reality and sanctity

However, Jews also played an important and at times decisive role in the revolutionary socialist movements, from the very start. In the course of attempts to emancipate the Jewish people and to make them part of Europe and European society, they internalized all aspects of European culture, along with its various ideologies.

The longing among broad sectors of the Jewish people to become involved in a “progressive” Europe can be seen as an almost “messianic” longing. But paradoxically, the struggle for emancipation was a total failure. Jewish capital was described as “ruling the world and dominating” kings and princes through its symbol: the House of Rothschild. Marx called for emancipation from the domination of Jewish capital. On the other hand, revolution and the world of revolution were occasionally identified as “Jewish”. Jews and Judaism were traditionally identified as violating the proper Christian order and the legitimate tradition of government. The surrounding society identified the Jews, at times against their wishes, as a national-religious collective.

Jewish auto-emancipation in all its forms blended European culture in its varied forms with elements of Jewish culture, with the precise choice of elements dependent on the worldview of the person doing the choosing.

As a secular national movement, one that is modern and European in character, Zionism reflects an eclectic mix of beliefs and opinions. Socialist Zionism is the Zionism that emphasized the link between Jewish sources and socialism, and space does not permit us to analyze the ways in which various ideas were woven together into a cohesive ideological whole by the various philosophers.

But it is perhaps more important to consider the image created by Zionist –socialist ideology in those who fulfilled it. I believe its essence lies in a letter written by Y.H. Brenner to Uri Nissan Gnessin in 1900, part of which I will quote here: “My view of life is entirely different. And in short, we must sacrifice our souls and reduce the evil in the world. An evil of hunger, slavery, hypocrisy, et al. It is necessary to increase the reality and the sanctity in the world. It is necessary to improve the life of the Jewish nation so it will be normal.”

The purpose of the Jew, in Brenner’s opinion, is to sacrifice one’s soul in order to reduce the evil in the entire world. Evil that stems from man’s enslavement to man, both physical and spiritual. Reality and sanctity are opposed to one another, and complement one another. Improvement of the life of the Jewish people, so that it will be normal, cannot be achieved in universal society without a dialectical combination of sanctity and reality. This motif repeats itself in the internal Jewish discourse dating from Biblical prophecy until the Hasidism of the Baal Shem Tov, and Brenner adapts it and recreates it, while omitting the deity.

The working Jew

In 1958, a member of Kibbutz Reshafim wrote in a kibbutz journal that was published in honor of the tenth anniversary of the collective: “Has the dream of combining physical work and spiritual pursuits really been proven false? Is such a thing truly impossible? … Can we imagine a rooted national life without knowledge of our culture? Can we develop a national culture without drawing from the sources? Will we be goyim who speak (incidentally, not very much better) Hebrew? After all, we know that this is a precious and rich culture that excels in its purposefulness, its aspiration for justice and honesty, love of man and his redemption.” The kibbutz member is intuitively expressing here his crystalline worldview, in which his Jewish culture is interwoven with universal culture. The Jew is supposed to combine physical work with spiritual pursuits. He must harmoniously combine his existence with his cultural awareness, which draws from Jewish sources.

Pre-state religious thinkers conducted a profound discourse with the general and Jewish socialist philosophy. This is especially true in the case of the Cabalist rabbi Yehuda Ashlag (who wrote a commentary to the Zohar entitled “The Ladder”). In his book “Matan Torah” (Giving of the Torah) (1933), Ashlag writes: “Because we were commanded ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ with the words ‘as thyself’ telling us that you should love your neighbor as much as you love yourself, definitely not less… and if this is not enough, I will tell you that the simple meaning of this commandment of loving one’s fellow man is even stricter, and requires us to place the needs of our friends above our own needs” (pp. 20-21). In addition: “Thus, through its engagement in the Torah and its commandments for their own sake, the Jewish people are supposed to prepare themselves and all the people in the world until they evolve sufficiently to take upon themselves the work of loving one’s fellow man, which is a ladder to the purpose of creation” (ibid, p. 38).

In Rabbi Ashlag’s opinion, the common denominator of all humanity is self-love, which unrestrainedly dominates all human beings (ibid., p. 41). And he continues: “As for the harsh egoistic conflict between man and his fellow man, which causes national relations to worsen…as long as self-love and egoism prevail among the nations, the Jews will not be able to worship God out of purity either” (ibid, pp. 105-106). He goes on to discuss individual freedom, and says: “And from this we understand the extent of corruption of those nations that impose their control over minorities and rob them of their freedom, without enabling them to pursue their lifestyles in accordance with their preferences, as derived from the heritage of their forefathers.”

“And those who do not believe in religion and in divine supervision can understand the obligation to preserve individual freedom by observing the natural order, because we see how all the nations that fell and were destroyed throughout the generations, were destroyed because of their persecution of minorities and individuals, who therefore overpowered them and destroyed them. So it is clear to everyone that there is no possibility of establishing peace in the world without taking individual freedom into consideration, because without it there can be no lasting peace” (ibid, p. 115). Rabbi Ashlag combines the ideas of Biblical redemption with Rabbinic literature and Cabalistic mysticism, while carrying on a discourse with modern European culture. Central to his worldview is the principle that no tikkun olam (improving the world) can take place on the basis of the subjugation of any other person.

Just as interesting and important is Rabbi Isaiah Shapira (1891-1945). In his discussion of “And thou shalt do what is right and good”, as dictated in the Torah portion of Kedoshim, he writes: “Anyone who wants to observe the Torah fully, cannot be satisfied with observing the laws that are spelled out, but must delve into the lofty goal that lies behind these laws, to try to fulfill this goal. He must think not only of what is honest and good in his eyes, but what is ‘right and good in the eyes of God’ … because Judaism isn’t content to limit the active evil deed, but also aspires to uproot the potential evil from a person’s soul…”. And he adds: “From here it develops that according to the Jewish point of view, the only possession a person has in the world is work, and only something that a person has earned through his work is his. Because only the ability to work is not given in partnership to all of creation, but rather to each person individually… The commandment to cancel debts can be understood only according to the aforementioned view of Judaism in regard to property – that a person is not the owner of his property ‘for all things come of Thee’ … but in terms of divine justice, which stems from the view of ‘for all things come of Thee’ (Chronicles I, 29:14), the commandment of shmita is the exalted expression of honesty and justice. Even the very prohibition on interest is a violation of property rights.”

“The basis for this viewpoint on property is the assumption that property in itself, without any effort on the part of the owner of the property, has a right to be profitable. That is the basis for collecting interest. And it is also the basis for the exploitation of others through the power of property.” Rabbi Shapira read the ancient Jewish sources correctly, and blended original Jewish interpretation into the Marxist discourse of the time. A discourse that would have echoed (even if it wasn’t entirely realized) in the world of socialist Zionism.

The short-lived truth of labor

The culture of the new, working Jew began to come to an end almost at its inception, because Jewish society in the Land of Israel did not want it. The worker ceased to be at the center, and for many, labor ceased to be the truth. This happened primarily due to structural changes in the economy that made it impossible to pay fair wages for work that did not involve exploitation.

Due to the unique circumstances of a society of immigrants, which lends itself to accelerated capitalism – especially after the major conquest of the Six-Day War, but not only then – the working classes turned into a huge, bloated middle class that aggressively produced assets and then piled on more assets, in unrestrained competition. And as a force that had been restrained and repressed for an extended period of time, the Jews now pounced on the opportunity to become bourgeois.

S. Yizhar writes: “Workers who continued to be workers… remained workers only until their moment came, and until other workers came to replace them, be they new immigrants or simply Arabs” (“The Stream of Workers in Education”, Hapoalim Library, 1992, pp. 120-121, in Hebrew). When Yizhar wrote these words he did not yet know that the agricultural society would itself fall victim to the processes of internal extinction and the processes of rampant capitalism alike, and that it would therefore also fall victim to the murderous exploitation of the banks and the inability to adapt quickly. It therefore became a poor society, which bore responsibility for depriving itself of the instruments of its own struggle. Today there is no work from which the owners can profit honorably and attain a decent standard of living. And there is no efficient and non-exploitative management or economic philosophy.

Because of the dominance of socialist Zionism, the settlement community that formed the basis for the establishment of the State of Israel created unique economic and social structures that promoted mutual responsibility, in the context of the Histadrut labor federation. The general idea behind their establishment was that the shaping of Jewish society in its future national context would be based on a worldview that drew from internal Jewish tradition as well as universal tradition, and that this society would be responsible for the entire Jewish nation (it goes without saying that significant gaps between the vision and the reality were already evident at the start). In the course of its establishment and development, the state gradually divested itself of its public assets and of its responsibility for the fate of each member of society. But the founding ethos still retained significant vitality. This framework of society’s responsibility for its individual members was reflected mainly in relatively small disparities in wages, and in reasonable disparities when it came to property ownership.

The fault line runs through the Six-Day War. Rivers of ink have already been spilled about this issue. In my opinion, we can suffice by saying that a situation in which occupation has continued for 35 years does not allow for the development of a just society based on mutual responsibility.

Any domination of others by force causes a society to disintegrate both on moral and practical grounds. The level of egoism, both alienating and alienated, of the individual in such a society increases, as the level of his sense of responsibility for society at large and its weaker members declines.

The processes of exploitation of cheap Arab labor, which later, in the wake of the intifada, was replaced by foreign labor from Third World countries, create exploitative “flexibility” in the low-level job market.

The disintegration of Jewish society has led to the composition of private narratives by each group that is fighting for its position and its place in society. Danny Guttwein wrote in “The Politics of the Privatization of Memory”, in the Haaretz book section on July 9, 1997: “The social solidarity and responsibility that are anchored in the ethos and the Zionist collective memory of the Labor movement constitute a primary obstacle in the way of Israeli society, which is the target of a new elite that is gradually taking form – based on a new alliance between elements of the old elite and the new political, economic and professional elite. Undermining this ethos is essential in order to expand and complete the process of privatization… Making the moral aspect of the memory based on the Zionist narrative distasteful, and relativizing it, while at the same time legitimizing alternative narratives, are meant to generate an alienation toward society and the state on the part of Israelis, and thus to ‘privatize’ them and to turn them into citizens of a post-modern market society that is controlled by a new elite.”

This is why members of the other people that live in the country are denied any collective/national or individual/personal definition. Whereas the settlement enterprise is ostensibly an outgrowth of the heritage of the Labor movement, no real element of the social-cultural philosophy of the Labor movement or of the ways in which it fulfilled this philosophy has permeated the worldview of messianic religious Zionism. The cultural and ideological fabric of radical religious Zionism, which is based on a secular European heritage that is close in spirit to European fascism and to its sources, as well as to the mystical messianism of Rabbi Kook, created a new revolutionary essence in the Jewish philosophy of religious Zionism.

Even the rise of Gush Emunim can be explained by the disintegration of Jewish society in the Land of Israel after the Six-Day War, and particularly the disintegration of its deep-seated connections to Jewish culture, at the level of the individual in the secular society.

Paradoxically, the arguments posed by both the post-Zionists and the radical religious-Zionists in regard to the essence of the conflict are the same arguments, except that the legitimization is different. One group claims that from its inception Zionism has been a colonialist movement that subjugates and dispossesses people, and that there is therefore no practical difference between the situation created in 1948 and that created in 1967. The other group claims that everything that took place is justified, because the Arabs have no national rights in the country.

I believe that socialist Zionism’s political and ethical response to both the post-Zionist position and the chauvinistic messianic position can be found in a monologue by Ephraim Avneri that appears in the book “A Tale of Love and Darkness” by Amos Oz (Keter, 2002, in Hebrew, to be published in English in early 2003). “But I won’t use the word ‘murderers’ about Arabs who have lost their villages… About Nazis, yes. And about Stalin – also. And about all kinds of oppressors of countries that don’t belong to them… said Ephraim. It’s very simple: If not here – then where is the land of the Jewish people? Under the sea? On the moon? Or do only the Jewish people, of all the nations in the world, not deserve a little homeland at all?… Perhaps you have forgotten that they, coincidentally, tried a little in ‘48 to kill all of us? So there was a terrible war in 1948, and they themselves said it was either them or us, and we won and took from them. It’s nothing to be proud of! But had they beaten us in ‘48, there would be even less to be proud of: not a single Jew would have been left alive… But that’s the whole thing: Because we took from them what we took, in ‘48, now we have it. Because we have it already, we mustn’t take any more from them. We’re finished… If we take more from them someday, now when we already have, that would be a very great sin.”

There is a profound connection between the fact that the Ashkenazi middle classes have become members of the bourgeoisie, and their disengagement from the system of values based on socialist Zionism. These processes are inextricably bound up with the alienating processes of secularization, which have brought about an acute disengagement from the heritage of ancient Jewish culture and from its discourse. A person forms his identity on the basis of both universal and particularistic foundations. Personal identity cannot be formulated without its particularistic elements – related to origin, family and even shared fate.

Privatization is a tool in the modern capitalist economy that is intended to transfer ownership of public assets from the public to the private sector. The process of privatization brings about a decline in the level of responsibility for the weaker members of society, and an erosion in their status as human beings. Social and structural changes in democracies require changes in awareness and in lifestyle on the part of both individuals and the community. The shaping of a more just Israeli society, without which Jewish society in the Land of Israel will not survive, requires a more intense connection to Jewish culture in Israeli society.

By Menachem Ben-Shalom | 24/09/2009

Menachem Ben-Shalom teaches Jewish history at Sapir College and is a founder of “Maagal Tov” (Good Circle), a non-profit association that explores the Jewish sources from a secular perspective


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