Truth, Understanding, Insight

Zionism or the Banner of Zion?

26th June 2010, hej


What is Zionism if those that claim to be Zionist cannot be classified? Do the ideals of Herzl(1860-1904), fit with those Balfour (1848-1930), who self described himself as a 'Zionist', and do these have much in common with Rav Kook (1856-1935)? And what is Zion?

Herzl was a visionary, but he never lived to see the failure of his vision. He was taken at 44. He had done his work by then. His vision was from an era that did not survive 2 world wars.

The mid years of the 1800's were much closer to the enlightenment era than we appreciate. Just as we can see back 100 years to World War I, so Hertzl lived in a world influenced by the previous 100 years. And they were the bright years of the Enlightenment.

In the Enlightenment everything seemed possible to human thinking, but for 300 years the world has tried out and lived the visionaries' Utopias, and all of them have failed in one way or another due to the idealist's failure to recognise a fact about being human. Not one of us lives up to even our own ideals, so how's it going to work when our ideals are imposed on others? None of the forms of governance have proven to satisfy the idealists' visions.

No less than any other 'ism', Zionism was the province of idealists of many different persuasions, many who energetically sought to impose their version of Utopia on others. Zionism, with its wide spectrum, is a peculiarly Jewish version of Utopia. There is even 'Green Zionism'. Green is the end of secular optimism, being born of fear not hope. Zionism is now, in the era of disillusion, faced with an Israel released for a time from wave after wave of people making Aliyah who had nothing, and which now appears like any other developed nation. Israel has crime problems, improvidence and poverty like any other developed nation, perhaps not worse, but possibly no better. This is how it may appear to those who give no credit for the circumstances: those who might see it from a humanistic view point.

In the age of disillusion, it might be a good idea to ask what does Zion mean? What does Zion mean to the person who gave the world the word.

Yes, I mean King David.

And the king and his men went to Jerusalem unto the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land: which spoke unto David, saying, Except you take away the blind and the lame, you shall not come in here: thinking, David cannot come in here. Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David. (2Samuel 5:6-7)
And the inhabitants of Jebus said to David, “You shall not come hither. Nevertheless David took the castle of Zion, which is the city of David. (1Chronicles 11:5)
Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the chief of the fathers of the children of Israel, unto king Solomon in Jerusalem, that they might bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion. (1Kings 8:1)

Zion was a description of David's royal city. It did not include the future temple site which was from the time of Solomon. Isaiah confirms this when he speaks to Hezekiah and the people,

For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this. (2Kings 19:31)

Note Jerusalem and Mt Zion, indicating a subtle difference.

Whatever Zionism is now, Zion is irrevocably connected to the place of Hebrew royalty,

Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the LORD has said unto me, 'You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.' (Psalm 2:6-7)

Whatever Zionism is now, Zion is forever connected to the idea of salvation from all enemies,

Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the LORD brings back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad. (Psalm 14:7)

If anything Zionism was not about then, or now, but about a better future.

Does this sound like a vision of hope? Has it passed? Is it relevant now? Is it perhaps in an era of disillusion and many enemies more relevant today than ever before? So how did David know people would one day realise their ideas had failed and need strength?

<To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.> The LORD hear you in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend you Send you help from the sanctuary, and strengthen you out of Zion; (Psalm 20:1-2)

The sanctuary, is the temple which is the place of help but strength is to the ruler who lived in Zion. Of all the possibilities from political left to right that Zionism has encompassed, did it encompass monarchists? David's Zion did.

Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. (Psalm 48:2)

Zion is not an idea but a concrete place,

Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark you well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that you may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death. (Psalm 48:12-14)

David was not an idealist. For David, Zion meant a perfect world of physical beauty and justice.

Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shined. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. (Psalm 50:2-4)

Not an ideal not of 'now', but a concrete prediction regarding the future.

The power of David's image of Zion is that it is a place of God and peace.

<To the chief Musician on Neginoth, A Psalm or Song of Asaph.> In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion. There broke he the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle. Selah. (Psalm 76:1-3)
The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. Selah. I will make mention of Egypt and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there. And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her. The LORD shall count, when he writes up the people, that this man was born there. Selah. (Psalm 87:2-6)

Zion is a place that can be inhabited but also hated.

The LORD is righteous: he has cut asunder the cords of the wicked. Let them all be confounded and turned back that hate Zion. (Psalm 129:4-5)

But the most poignant of David's vision of Zion is his vision of unity and everlasting life.

<A Song of degrees of David.> Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. (Psalm 133:1-3)

For more see Psalm 133

Zion came to mean more than just the city to Israel after their exile in Babylon,

And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. (Isaiah 1:8)
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a strange land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. (Psalm 137:1-6)

This captures an essence of what Zionism might be. Whereas Herzl's Zionism is now outdated by the disillusion of the reality of progress, this song suggests that Zionists can draw from an older love of Zion; including restoring the ancient songs of worship. But is the world ready for yet another revolution?

If Zionism is taken as the Hebrew Prophets saw it, a Zionist is a politically incorrect revolutionary of a type not seen even in the era of revolution. What is written about the idea of Zion, of a more ancient type of Zionist, might shock to the post-modern era by its scope of vision.

The LORD also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the LORD will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So shall ye know that I am the LORD your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more. (Joel 3:16-17)
For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. (Isaiah 51:3)

And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:8-10)

And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain. (Isaiah 4:5-6)

And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken it. (Micah 4:2-4)

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, your King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10)

The Zionism of the prophets is one of a future king, of global peace and just governance. The secular world seems rather trite, moth-eaten and pale by comparison. What can Green Zionism push for compared to every person dwelling under a vine and fig tree? These men were visionaries of another order entirely. There were many prophets who all agree as to the future and they sound so positive.

What is the equity of Socialism and the Labour movement compared to the end of all sorrow? If this is the ideal of Zionism of the recent past, what could it mean to be Zionist now? The prophets did not write for their amusement, they wrote to change the way people of their day thought and acted. Such a Zionist vision was not to be achieved without hard work before it, and years of preparation,

The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)
He that puts his trust in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain; And shall say, Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people. For thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah 57:13-15).
Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. Behold, the LORD has proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. (Isaiah 62:10-11)

There is not one of person who, back then and through the ages and even more so now, cannot contribute. For in Hebrew, if the scholars are correct, Zion means a 'pillar or sign'.

Zionists are those who put up a sign, or “lift up a standard for the people”. But of what is the substance, of the message on the banner? Perhaps that Zion be the city of the great king?

Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)

Who's the messenger of the covenant? The one Moses spoke of.

The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; to him you shall hearken; (Deuteronomy 18:15)

The other 'isms' of the 18, 19 and 20th centuries have failed as they forgot we fail. Fundamentally, we need a way to not cause each other sorrow, a strong set of reasons to not harm each other and a leader who can sort out quickly whose case is just. The ideal of Zion of the Hebrew prophets encompasses both human failing and a vision for a better world.

Of course some might not want such a world on the terms it has been proposed by the prophets. Herzl and others have tried to create a world of peace and absence of sorrow by every other means, but the grand ideas of the 19th century haven't produced a happy world, it merely produced more sorrow. But Herzl did help pave the way for a new religious growth, but Herzl died young. By contrast Rav Kook was given a long life to influence many people. Israel was to be a place Judaism could shake off the dust of centuries and take on new life. A place also to learn again to affirm the land promised to the fathers was important, and what it might mean for Abraham to inherit the land he saw though buried in it as a stranger.

On this note it might be added that Zion was firstly the name for a place that others said, “you cannot come here”

“Except you take away the blind and the lame, you shall not come in here”: thinking, David cannot come in here. Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David. (2 Samuel 5:6-7)

Zion is not a ideal but an idea about a real place (and a small one at that). Perhaps only the religious Zionist really understands why it is that today the city of David, (the one archaeologists have found) is a place all the leaders of the nations of the world are saying “you cannot come here”!

Making Aliyah to Israel as it is now, is about preparing a way to Zion. People can stand up the 'pillar' of Zion and wave the flag, we can imagine Zion, but the walls of the city of the great King are still a ruin, until 'he come whose right it is'. But we have been given a generation (see here) to prepare the way.

It is written that on the mountains of Israel the people will be 'fed' the Torah (Ezekiel 34). It is notable that in Judea and Samaria there is a spirit that won't be quenched. It is there, to the embarrassment of the world and the secular Israeli, that many are 'lifting up a banner'. There are yet deep wells for the Zionist idealist to draw from, if they chose. There are 153 references to Zion in the Tanakh, and not one of them is without promise to fire the heart of the kind of radical that once made revolutions.

For more Recompense for the controversy of Zion

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