Dear Jews of America, California is not Israel either

A response to Rabbi Menachem Levine's insightful oped "Dear Israelis, America is not Israel."

Tzvi Fishman

OpEds Israeli and American Flasg
Israeli and American Flasg

I would like to comment on Rabbi Menachem Levine’s insightful OpEd, “Dear Israelis, American is not Israel.” /Articles/Article.aspx/22474  Rabbi Levine is sincerely troubled by the rising assimilation in America, and he rightfully points out that the Israelis who live in America are assimilating at a rapid rate. He advises all those who want to preserve their Jewish identity and withstand assimilation, to “connect to Torah – to Judaism.” I would like to clarify that statement.

First, I would like to clarify the idea that Torah and Judaism are the same. They are not. Judaism is never mentioned in the Torah. The concept of Judaism began with the Babylonian Exile to describe the Jews of Judah and the smattering of religious rituals they could still perform outside the Land of Israel, like tefillin, Shabbat, and keeping kosher. Judaism is a truncated, shattered, Diaspora version of Torah. In contrast, Torah is the constitution of the Nation of Israel, including laws for the Israeli army, Israeli kingship, Israeli Sanhedrin, the Jerusalem Temple, and the laws which apply only to Jews living in Zion – a vast body of laws covering two-thirds of the Mishna. In fact, the expression, “Jew,” never appears in the Torah. In the Torah, we are the Children of Israel, not Jews.

In this week’s Torah portion of Devarim, Moshe comes to explain the Torah to the newborn Nation. He begins his discourse by telling the Children of Israel that they have lingered long enough in the wilderness – they are to resume their journey, go up, and conquer the Land of Israel. The Torah is not meant to be kept in Sinai, or America. It is the will of Hashem that the Torah be kept in the Holy Land, the only place in the world where the commandments can be kept in all of their wholeness, and the only place where the Children of Israel can be a “light to the nations,” by being an independent Nation of their own.

Diaspora is a curse, a punishment from which we are still suffering. Fortunately, it is not meant to last. Hashem, through the voice of Moshe and the Prophets of Israel, promised that we shall return home to Zion. In his incredible kindness, in our times, Hashem has opened the gates for His People to return. In a span of mere decades, Hashem has miraculously transformed desert wasteland into one of the most developed and powerful countries in the world.

Hashem is waiting for the Jews of America to come home. Nothing else will save them. Assimilation will steadily wipe out our numbers unless we give up the beloved fantasy of Jewish life in foreign, Gentile lands.
As Moshe reminds us this week, Hashem wants His People to live in the Promised Land, not in Spain, Germany, Russia, or Beverly Hills.  
With the ever-increasing rate of assimilation in America, before long, only pockets of Orthodox Jews will remain, and who will protect them when, as it has happened throughout history, the volcano of anti-Semitism explodes, and Americans remind the Jews that they aren’t true Americans after all?

A connection to Judaism is not enough to save the Jews of the Diaspora. Just as the soul needs the body to survive in this world, without Zion, Judaism and its practitioners in the exile are doomed. Only Torah and Eretz Yisrael together can secure the Nation of Israel’s future. To stop assimilation, the Jewish People need to be in Israel. Yiddishkeit in America doesn’t have the power to save us. It’s not real Torah. As Moshe reminds us this week, Hashem wants His People to live in the Promised Land, not in Spain, Germany, Russia, or Beverly Hills.  

Our Sages teach that the root cause of the Temple’s destruction was planted on the tragic day when the Spies in the wilderness returned with their negative report of the Land and convinced the Children of Israel, who cried all the night of the 9th of Av that year, that they could serve Hashem far better without the difficulty and danger of building the Israeli Nation in the Land which Hashem created for His Presence to dwell – radiating out to the world from the Temple in Jerusalem, may it be built soon with the return of the exiles to Zion. Amen.