I’ve noticed, that in Britain at least, those Jews most willing to raise a critical voice on Israel are secular in outlook and find their home on the political left on most issues.
After all, so much of organised religion (Judaism very much included) is politically and socially conservative and happy to align itself with the status quo and the power elites of the day.
There are of course notable religious Jewish individuals who are exceptions to the rule. But that’s the problem – they are exceptional and notable, they are not mainstream.
Recent surveys of Jewish identity, both in Britain and in the USA, show that identification with the State of Israel correlates closely with the strength of affiliation to organised Jewish life. Which may explain why left-leaning Jewish critics of Israel choose to drop off the synagogue membership list.
Israel probably thinks this is good news. But it means there’s little religiously based challenge to Israel’s actions from within the formally affiliated Jewish community. For Jews like me, that’s a great pity. When I look at Israel’s current trajectory I see a country that’s losing not just its democratic credentials but ditching Judaism too. At least a Judaism that makes any sense in our globally wired-up 21st century.
My own view of Judaism is that although it has its roots in a tribal Iron Age patriarchy it also contains enough radical thought for it to be politically subversive and countercultural in our own time. While left-wing secular Jews base their critique of Israel, and their Palestinian solidarity, on ideas of universal human rights, I would make the case for recognising that such concepts originate from the creation myths of Judaism and the theology that flows from the book of Exodus.
I like to believe that our Jewish sacred texts and liturgy are divinely inspired. But I’m also in no doubt that they are human constructs honed and edited over thousands of years. Sometimes they serve us well and sometimes they don’t. Wrestling with sacred texts is a necessary part of the religious human condition.
So here I am, not just wrestling but messing with the most famous sacred text of all – The Ten Commandments. My motivation is this: I’m hoping it may provide a way for affiliated Jews to recognise the radical countercultural solutions that stare out from the pages of our prayer book.
It’s a while since Moses came down from the mountain and for Jews in particular, things have moved on and times have changed. But the essence of God’s instruction remains true and just. It’s the tribalism that dates and blunts the message.
Your comments are welcome.
The Ten Commandments (Revisited)
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage and shaped your story across many lands and times. You shall remember your adversity and your triumphs and lend your hand to strengthen all of my creation.
You shall not make for yourself idols to worship. You shall not worship the land on which you reside nor its cities nor its walls for you will not find me there. Instead strive for holiness and peace in all of my creation and in all the places in which you dwell.
You shall not take the memory of the Holocaust in vain nor use its victims to justify your iniquity. Use your story of adversity and of triumph to bring others out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
For six out of seven days you shall not rest from making all of my creation – the land, the sea and the air and all living things – honoured and protected. On the seventh day you shall rest and celebrate all of my creation.
Honour your father and your mother but correct them when they stray from my commandments. It is right to challenge your elders if they become complacent or forgetful of my creation or create idols for you to worship in my place.
You shall not murder unarmed men, women and children nor punish those that have done you no harm nor imprison them without charge or fair trial.
You shall not adulterate my creation through offering short measures in your ethics or short change in your justice.
You shall not steal your neighbours’ land nor bulldoze their homes.
You shall not tell lies about your neighbours nor deny their history, nor their culture nor their humanity. Remember how this was done to you.
You shall not covet your neighbours’ house nor their land nor their water, nor anything that is your neighbours’. Remember, the earth is the Lord’s.
If you keep these commandments, which I give you this day, then justice will lead to peace. Safety and security will be yours. The rains will come at the right time. You, your children, and your children’s children, will be a delight unto my eyes.