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http://www.al-bushra.org/Promisedland/elmer.htm

Editor, M.T. Mehdi copyright 1970 by M.T.Mehdi

Israel: Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy?

by Dr. Rabbi Elmer Berger

Since the seventh pre-Christian century, which was distinguished by the emergence of the great literary Prophets of the Old Testament, there have been two streams of thought or ideology in Judaism. The one stream avowedly stressed the national and particularistic characteristics of Judaism. The other stressed the universal. Occasionally, a personality - or a group - attempted some even-balanced synthesis or fusion of the two, essentially opposing forces. But more often than not, from the days of Amos -- the first of the great literary Prophets -- Jews were divided sectarianly between the two interpretations of their faith. In any effort to evaluate the Biblical bases- or lack of them -- for the present State of Israel, recognition of these two interpretations of Judaism is essential.

For it cannot be denied that the school which emphasized the nationalistic and particularistic regarded an eventual return to Zion as theologically important. For the school which pursued the universalistic emphases of Judaism, the "Return to Zion" was -- in a physical, political sense -- no consideration at all. To this group, therefore, whatever the Bible may say about the "Return to Zion" is no more binding than what the Bible -- or any of the subsequent, interpretative, Rabinic literature -- has to say about the dietary laws, the minutae of priestly conduct, or the laws pertaining to the sacrificial practices of the ancient Temple.

These Jews, following the universalistic leadership of the Prophets, are frankly and self-confessedly "protestants." They are no more bound, in their religious conduct, by any effort -- however good or bad it may be -- to understand the literal word of Scripture than the protestants of any other religion of man. This was made clear, in 1885, in what is still the classic statement of this protestant or Reform Judaism (as it is known in the United States), in a document called the Pittsburgh Platform. A group of the most distinguished Reform Rabbis of the day, meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, declared:

"4. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.

"5. We recognize in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect the approaching of the realization of Isarael's great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.

" In any political context therefore -- and the question of the relationship to the Bible of the political act of establishing the State of Israel is surely a political context -- this group of Jews must be excluded from any who suggest any stake in Israel, predicated upon Biblical mandates. Those of this group who are Zionists or pro-Zionists, have been persuaded by considerations which have derived from pragmatic and expedient reasoning. It may be true such protestant Jews are in a minority. There is almost no way to prove this. The obvious, denominational divisions within Judaism -- Reform, Conservative and Orthodox -- are no real barometer of adherence to stringent interpretations of Old Testament texts.

For example, it is generally conceded that the Conservative movement is overwhelmingly "Zionist." Since what Zionism means is, in itself, a sub- ject of debate within the movement, it is by no means easy to be sure even of this. But whatever it means and despite a considerable amount of "official," public support for Israel and Zionism, a bitter battle took place, at the 1959 biennial Convention of Conservative Judaism's most responsible body, over the question of whether, or not, the entire movement should move, en masse, into the World Zionist Organization.

According to the New York Times for November 18, 1959, The United Synagogues of America argued "the wisdom of a religious group's joining with what many delegates considered a 'politica body .. . "The issue arose at a session set aside for speeches on the role of the World Council of Synagogues. . . "Dr. Abraham J. Heschel, Professor of Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, said he would be unhappy to see the Roman Catholic Church join the Democratic Party, or the National Council of Churches (Protestant and Eastern Orthodox) join the Republican or Democratic parties." The convention of these Conservative Jews determined not to join the World Zionist Organization -- at least for the present. The action does not mean that many, if not most, of the representatives are not Zionists, or, at least, strongly committed to pro-Israelism. But it does mean that to a substantial number of these representatives of Conservative Judaism, "The Return to Zion" is something not to be entrusted to a political mechanism. And the political mechanism not only is no part of their Judaism, but they resist any fusion of the two. It is only a logical deduction therefore, that the State of Israel, brought into being by the World Zionist movement and still nurtured by it, is also not considered by these leaders of Conservative Judaism to be a part of their faith. It cannot be considered, by them, to be a fulfillment of the Old Testament. This leaves, for consideration, only those who follow the traditions of Orthodoxy in Judaism. For this denomination -- unlike Reform which rejected it -- the Messianic hope includes "The Return to Zion." But to these same Orthodox traditionalists, the phrase has a variety of meanings and the realization of the Messianic dream is to come about through a highly complex process - none of which has been fulfilled in the es- tablishment of the State of Israel. For to the genuine Orthodox Jew the Messianic "Return to Zion" is an integral part -- indeed the climax - of a spiritual process. It is the culmination of mankind's redemption; and it will take place when, in the judgment of God, the race or man has meticulously fulfilled the perfectionist pre-requisite for the utopian "return" This is why the Orthodox - and most Conservative -- Jews pray for the "Return to Zion" and recite, with frequency, the familiar passages from the Psalms and the Prophets which herald the return.

It is interesting to observe, by the way, that Christian Protestant denominations which also accept the Biblical texts literally, look forward to this "return." To them, the reconstruction of Zion and the "return of the children of Israel" is not the climatic chapter in the Messianic process, but a necessary pre-requisite to the climax. The climax itself is to be the personal re-appearance of the Christ, or the Messiah. The re-gathering of the "children of Israel" into Zion must precede the resurrection.

Now it is an incontestable fact that no Orthodox Jew believes the present State of Israel has come into being in a process which fulfills the injunctions of the Old Testament. There are Orthodox Jews who actually repudiate the present Israeli sovereignty as a profanation of the Biblical texts. This attitude is most vigorously and dramatically represented in precisely that part of the State of Israel where the most traditional Judaism is observed -- the Mea Shearim quarter of the city of Jerusalem. Here lives the Netore Karta who regard the present State of Israel as a subversive phenomenon to their faith and who, themselves, indulge in frequent acts of defiance of the governmental authority of the State of Israel. There are less well known but equally convinced followers of the same position among the Orthodox Jews of the Unite States.

These groups, at times, have made representations the United Nations. They are particularly agitated over the claims to the New City of Jerusalem advanced by the State of Israel. They prefer internationalization of a Jerusalem once again uniting the Old and the New cities. This attitude cannot necessarily be equated with an anti-Israel position, although there are those in these groups who do oppose the present state and who agree it came about, not through the fulfillment of the word of God, but as a result of the secular-political activities of Zionism. It cannot therefor be a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy; and it does not represent, for these people, the Messianic dream. They regard Israel as a secular state, devoid of Zion. Some reluctantly try to make their peace with it.

Many bear the State a deep resentment, because it demeans the noble, spiritually pure and exalting climax of their religious fait. Even the appropriation of the name "Israel" is a source of rsentment to many such Jews. For to them "Israel" is a religious, spiritual concept, sanctified in a tradition of holiness which they do not find in the existent, secular State. Finally, there remains to be considered those Orthodox - and perhaps also some Conservative -- Jews who do regard Israel as the fulfillment of the Messianic dream. A fair amout of ink has been spilled on paper and a fair amount of orator has been used to audiences in all parts of the world to prove or disprove this contention by examination of the relevant Biblical texts. And it may fairly be said that the net result of all this written and spoken verbiage is to end up with an argument, at the best, stalled on dead center. For if "the devil can quote Scripture," so can Zionists and anti-Zionists.

It is a brave man, indeed, who today, in view of the still expanding archeological finds and the changing theories of history, would take an irrevocable stand on the precise meaning of most ( the Biblical texts. The extensive controversies over the Dea Sea Scrolls, and their significance, is only one example in point. The furious debates which continue, seemingly without end, among the Biblical literalists, is another.

To the less lieral-minded, the Scriptures, long ago, became a source of great and inspired history, but ceased to be the literal, the exact, the definitive formulation of the Divine revelation, unalterable in specifics. There will be no attempt therefore, in this article, to examine and debate the explicit meaning of the texts frequently cited, either to support or to oppose the contention that the present State of Israel is the fulfillment of these Old Testa- ment prophecies.

It is sufficient to say only two things, by way of comment on the theory that Israel does represent such fulfillment.

1. None of the great national or international tribunals which have, in the past, wrestled with the political complexities of the Palestine problem has ever admitted that these ancient prophecies established any legal validity to the Zionist political claims to all, or part of, the Holy Land.

2. Even those Zionists who claim, ex post facto, that the State of Israel does fulfill the Biblical prophecies do not defend, as meeting the Biblical injunctions, the methods used to establish the State. The best these people can say is that the Zionist-nationalist movement became the Divine instrument. The closest these people come to logic is to plead the expediency and the necessity for human intervention and political efficiency to speed up the process which, they fully realize, was to require God's own ime.

Their efforts to equate the result of Zionist power politics with the Biblical injunctions therefore, have produced an awkward situation. For as chief-of-state of their Messianic fulfillment is the secularist -- probably the ag- nostic - David Ben Gurion. The Minions of the Lord - The Israel Defense Forces -- conscript women. And in the politics of the State itself, the religionists are engaged in unremitting warfare with the essentially secular government over education, the definition of a "Jew," the questions of legitimacy resulting from conflicting ideas about valid marriages and other rites.

The most charitable construction which can be put upon the State of Israel therefore, in the context of considering its Biblical legitimacy, is that through methods having no sanction in the Bible at all, a political sovereignty has been established. In a majority population of Jews, a minority is still engaged in a furious, political battle to compel the State to adopt a character which could be equated with the Biblical prophecies.

The equating is not accomplished today. The fulfillment is not even remotely near realization. Neither the process which gave birth to Israel nor the result, in the form of the State itself, can -- by any theory with the integrity which is central to all genuine religion -- be regarded as justified by the magnificent ethical and religious declarations of the spiritual giants whose words are immortalized in Scripture.


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