Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Behind in Parsha Blogging: Al HaAretz v'al HaMazon (shel HaNeshama)

I had so many ideas for the blogging, but between traveling and being sick, I've lost track of them before comitting them to paper.

So in lieu of the regularly scheduled programming -- and in the spirit of thinking of the Genesis of the Jewish people as well as the events of the Channukah story -- and prompted by an interesting special on NPR about certain cultural aspects in the Ukraine, I was thinking about what separates Judaism (and possibly Axial Age religion qua religion) from pre-Axial Age Paganism and post-Axial Age faiths that have a heady mix of Paganism thrown in. In some ways, though, even this apologist for Judaism sometimes wonders if we Jews are missing something that is present in Paganism ... and perhaps some of the appeal of Zionism is that it provides that missing something?

What something? I'm curious as to all y'all's thoughts on this, but I'll start with my own list:

There are two things I am thinking of that Judaism lacks except in occassional reference (e.g. my quotation from Birkat Hamazon in the title) ... an attachment to the spirit of the land and the idea of receiving spiritual nourishment. While pagans, both neo and original, and even nominally Christian Am-HaAretzim, have an intense spiritual connection to their land personified in terms of spirits, gods, etc., the connection we Jews, since the first exile, have with our land is one of yearning for it and is explicitly not personified.

Similarly, while we Jews have an abstract idea of spiritual nourishment, the Orthodox/Catholic Christians (like the pagans of old) concretize this experience. What got me thinking about this was my absense from shul last Sat. due to illness when I realized what it is I missed vs. what it is my Catholic friend misses when he can't attend mass. To me, what I miss is community, etc. But for him, it's like he's missed a meal or a doctor's appointment he can't make up. I can always daven at home and while it doesn't count in the same way, I've still fulfilled my obligation, because my spiritual nourishment is something I can prepare myself. OTOH, my friend has to receive spiritual nourishment from someone else, viz., the priest handing out the consecrated host.

Even the most hippy-dippy and/or mystically minded of Jews is too "tough" and hard-nosed to really be comfortable with a faith that personifies attachment to the land with spirits and gods and too independently minded to really be comfortable receiving spiritual nourishment in such a passive manner. And yet, even the most tough-minded Jews must feel a certain attraction to the charms of such a faith where grace can be received as a gift (rather than how in Judaism God's graciousness lies in showing us the path we ourselves can take for our salvation) and where there is such an intense spiritual attaction to the land from which our bread comes that it must be personified for we humans to fully relate to it, which is necessary given the intensity of the spirituality involved.

I would posit that Zionism provides the attachment to a concrete land (of Israel, rather than the abstract yearning for Zion in Jewish prayer) ... but how can that attachment really be Jewish?

And as to the desire to have a personified spirit life like the Goyim? Nu? That is certainly why many young Jews grow disenchanted with the "lack" of spirituality in Judaism and seek strange waters.

But how do we as Jews ensure that the Zionist love for the land remains within the parameters of Judaism, and how do we provide for personified spirituality without lapsing into paganism? How do we make sure that Judaism really does praise, in the words of Birkat HaMazon, "al ha-aretz, v'al ha-mazon (shel ha-neshoma)" but remain true to the wisdom and sophistication of Judaism and not lapse into pagan superstition?

fascinating topic...I've never heard this comparison of Zionism/Paganism. I'm not sure how to answer your question.
I just pulled it out of some orafice recently, although I'm sure that both the ultra-Orthodox and certain liberal groups like Jewish Renewal would be wont to make such a comparison.

Indeed, one can argue that Judaism really began with the prelude to the Exile (IIRC, Jeremaiah was the first person to refer to "Jews" distinctly from the tribe of Judah of Israel) ... so Zionism, in wanting to return to Israel, really goes back to pre-Jewish ideas of the Hebrew faith, to the extent that it isn't entirely secular.
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