Don't thank Trump, bless him

Rabbi Kook refused to thank His Majesty’s Government for the Balfour Declaration. Instead, he blessed them.

Daniel Pinner

Judaism מדליקים את החנוכייה
מדליקים את החנוכייה

A century ago last month, the British Government issued the Balfour Declaration: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object”.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, in Britain for the duration of the First World War, had had some measure of influence in getting His Majesty’s Government to issue the Balfour Declaration.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews – assimilationists and secularists to a man – were bitterly opposed to Zionism and to the Balfour Declaration. But the general Jewish community of Britain, and virtually the entire religious establishment (led primarily by Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz and the Chacham or Sefaradi Chief Rabbi Moshe Gaster) were overwhelmingly in favour.

And so British Jews had an overwhelming sense of gratitude to their Government. Understandably, we may add.

But Rabbi Kook refused to thank His Majesty’s Government, and admonished other Jews also not to thank them. The appropriate response, he explained, was to bless them, not to thank them.

It was in the same spirit that Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz addressed His Majesty King George V, in a letter dated 11th December 1917 (the second day of CHanukkah), two days after the Turkish and German forces had officially surrendered Jerusalem to Britain, and the day that the British General Edmund Allenby made his formal entry into Jerusalem (on foot rather than on horseback or in a motorised vehicle, to demonstrate his respect for the Holy City):

“On behalf of the Jewish communities of the Empire whose Ecclesiastical Chief I have the honour to be, I humbly beg to congratulate Your Majesty on the world-historic victories of Your Majesty’s Army in the Holy Land.

“The occupation of Jerusalem, following so closely upon the epoch-making declaration of Declaration of Your Majesty’s Government on Palestine as the National Home for the Jewish people, causes the hearts of millions of my brethren throughout the world to throb with the deepest gratitude to Almighty God, Who alone doeth wondrous things.

“The House of Israel, that for 2,500 years preferred Jerusalem above its chief joy, fervently prays that everywhere the heroic efforts of Your Majesty’s Forces may speedily be crowned with complete and lasting success”.

Notice that Chief Rabbi Hertz’s gratitude is only to “Almighty God, Who alone doeth wondrous things”, not to King George. To King George V, he offers congratulations, and prayers that his Army enjoy success.

Our right to Israel, our right to our homeland, did not depend upon any nation’s recognition. Britain could not grant us our national right to the Land of Israel: G-d had already long-since granted it to us. All Britain could do was to recognise that already-existing right. And for recognising that right, Britain deserved not our gratitude, but our blessing and our prayers for further successes.

As one of the most powerful countries in the world of a century ago, Britain’s recognition of our right to our ancestral homeland had a powerful impact on history.

A century on, President Donald Trump – the leader  of the world’s most powerful nation – has officially and publicly recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.

There has been an outpouring of intense emotion from the entire world. As was to be expected, Israel-haters have lambasted President Trump, while pro-Zionists have lavished praise on him.

But it is not appropriate to thank him for recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. As he himself reiterated several times in his speech, he merely recognised a fact which had already been long established:

“It was 70 years ago that the United States...recognised the State of Israel. Ever since then, Israel has made its capital in the city of Jerusalem, the capital the Jewish people established in ancient times. Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the modern Israeli government...[T]oday we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality”.

Indeed it is. And it is a reality which every Jew-hater in the world is desperate either to ignore or to deny, and to change.

It is a reality which, 2,181 years ago, the Maccabees took up arms to defend.

It is an immutable reality which, at this season during Hanukkah, we proudly celebrate. בַּיָמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה – in those days, at this season, the Maccabees restored Jewish sovereignty to Jerusalem. Not our right to sovereignty, because that had already been granted by G-d. But the actualisation of that right was the Maccabees’ victory.

בַּיָמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה – as in those days, so too at this season: US President Trump has recognised our eternal right to Jerusalem, our Holy City. And for recognising that right, Trump has richly earned not our gratitude, but our blessings and our prayers for his further successes.