On May 14th, 1948, after signing the meggilat ha-atzmaaut or Declaration of Independence, the new Prime Minister was asked by his advisor on religious affairs, Rabbi Meir Berlin (Bar Ilan), to visit Tel Aviv's Great Synagogue to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. He told the rabbi that that year, 1948, marked the 39th year he had been in Palestine, and up to that day he hadn't yet been in a synagogue. But for this momentous occasion, he would make an exception. Ben Gurion was a remarkable visionary, but I don't think he could have imagined that within thirty years after his death in 1973 virtually every modern synagogue in the world would display an Israeli flag, that the singing of Hatikvah would take on liturgical significance, and that Yom Kippur services in many a liberal synagogue would open with a blessing or invocation by a representative of the Israeli government -- ideally an army general -- and if one wasn't available, then an ambassador or other consular official. But on other questions regarding religion in Israel Ben Gurion was wrong, particularly about Orthodox Judaism in Israel. Not only did it not disappear, it was immeasurably strengthened, and that produced the Settler Movement and the Haredim.

In the face of the return of the biblical and the messianic, the challenge for the future of Judaism is how to think about Israel in a rational considered fashion, a fashion not influenced by the supernatural and the messianic.

 

Shalom Goldman is professor of Hebrew and Middle Eastern studies at Emory University. His new book is Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews and the Idea of the Promised Land.