Tuesday, February 18, 2014

amida (berakha 10), Jewish Religion or Jewish people?

The 'amida is divided in three sections. The first section, which includes three blessings, consists in praising God. The third section, also three blessings, is about thanking God. And the middle part, thirteen blessings, deals with our requests to God. This last section is subdivided into two major subjects: 1. Personal requests  (we ask God to grant us: intelligence, protection, good health, livelihood, etc.) and 2. National requests (Coming back to Israel, have our Political leaders back, restore our capital Jerusalem, etc.) . 

Our berakha, "Bring us back to the land of Israel" inaugurates the section dealing with our National aspirations. Indeed, the first thing we ask God as a nation is to gather all of us from the four corners of the earth and to bring us back to our homeland, Israel. 

Incidentally, this berakha clarifies a very relevant point, shedding light on the present debate about Israel's claim to be recognized as a "Jewish State". 

Israel's foes, Palestinians and the Arab League of Nations, etc., justify their rejection of a Jewish State saying that a religion-based country (a Jewish State) is a racist and apartheid state (See for example this).  They'd say that Israel's claim is as if, for example, Japan would declare itself a Buddhist State, and grant citizenship only to people who practice Buddhism, or so.  (Needless to mention that the same logic is not applied against the establishment of the "Islamic republic of Iran" or "Saudi-Arabia", an Islamic theocratic monarchy, which officially prohibits public non-Muslim religious activities).

An important lesson we learn from our berakha, and from the next five "national" requests, is that "religion" is not the only way to describe Judaism.  Judaism--or Jewishness--concerns primarily the legal status of every member of the Jewish NATION. Being Jewish is a virtual "citizenship", maternally inherited, which does not expire even when a Jew lives in exile for centuries.  You cannot conceive Judaism as you conceive any regular religion: a system of faith, without national elements. Religious groups do not have a land of reference. Christians are not "a nation".  If you are a Christian you do not pray to go back to Rome or reestablish the Christian government in the Vatican. You do not have National aspirations. On the contrary, State and Church are deliberately disconnected. The same can be said about Islam (Farrakhan's "Nation of Islam" is the name of his religious movement, not the way Islam views itself, as it can be clearly seen from the name League of Arab "Nations"). 

Judaism, as we learn from this berakha, would not make sense without the Land of Israel, or the aspiration to come back to it. Israel, the Jewish State, is the original Homeland of the Jewish People.   In this sense, "Israel, a Jewish State" is as if Japan would simply declare that "Japan is the Homeland of all Japanese people".

Jews who live outside Israel, are proud, law-abiding and grateful citizens of the countries where we live, but we are still part of the Jewish Nation (Nation=shared history, shared language, shared Law, shared Land). And as we express it in this Berakha, our hope is that one day we will be gathered from the four corners of this planet, and reunited again in our original homeland. Fulfilling thus the ultimate vision of the Jewish Prophets:  The people of Israel, living in the Land of Israel, under the Law of Israel.