Sunday 3 May 2009

All Our Eggs in One Basket

The concept of the "in-gathering of the exiles", kibbutz galuyot in Hebrew, originates from the promise given by Moses to the Children of Israel prior to his death. This is the idea of all Jews living in the Jewish homeland in Israel. Although Moses envisaged that the People of Israel would sin in their homeland and be exiled, he also envisaged them being returned to the Land of Israel and predicted that they would have it better than their forefathers. During the Babylonian Exile following the destruction of the first temple, the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah all prophesied the in-gathering of the exiles by repeating Moses' words. Following the destruction of the second temple and the resulting exile, the concept of the kibbutz galuyot became relevant once more. It was the central theme of the Zionist movement and is the basis of the present-day aliyah movement. A prayer for the in-gathering of the exiles was added to the daily prayers by the rabbinical sages and, in his writings, the Rambam links the kibbutz galuyot with the coming of the Messiah. There can be little doubt that this concept is central to Jewish belief and to modern Zionism.

I have read a number of articles which indicate that there are more than a few Jews who do not consider themselves to be in Jewish "exile" by virtue of not living in Israel. For them, being able to live a Jewish life freely in their home country is sufficient. More than this, there are many who question how healthy it would be to have all Jews in the world living in one place, the promised Land of Israel. There are those who believe that this presents a security risk to the future existence of the Jewish nation. If all Jews live in Israel and something catastrophic happens to Israel, this would essentially eliminate Jews off the face of the earth, thereby achieving what many before have tried to do and failed. The notion of having all Jewish eggs in one basket is too much of a risk in the opinion of some.

There are also strong arguments in favour of having Jews living in the Diaspora. This affords opportunities to influence from critical political and business positions in foreign countries to promote Israel's interests. There can be little doubt that Israel benefited significantly in its early years from Jews in prominent positions in key countries. Despite Israel now being more established, it could still use any help that it can get. Whilst high ranking Jews could help, it seems as though Jews in influential positions these days may be more cautious about using their influence to help Israel. They need to be sure to demonstrate that their allegiance lies with their home country.

It is my view that Jewish continuity can best be assured for those Jews who live in Israel. It is a fact that more Jews have been lost to assimilation in countries in the Diaspora than have been lost to terrorism in Israel. It seems inevitable that this trend will continue. And whilst it is true to say that Israel is a target for a catastrophic attack in an attempt to eliminate the Jews, the good news is that it has a government and an army whose primary responsibility it is to guard against such an event. I believe that the chances of such an event taking place remain very low.

For now, Jewish existence in the Diaspora does not appear to be under an existential threat. Many Jews are able to have good, wholesome Jewish lives in all four corners of the globe. And for many of these people, living in Israel is not an option for any of a thousand good reasons. There is clear evidence, however, that a combination of rising anti-Semitism and assimilation is serving to diminish many Jewish communities around the world, or place them under threat. Israel represents the only growing Jewish community in the world today.

So whilst Israel would be happy to take advantage of any help that Diaspora Jews can provide in their individual spheres of influence, I cannot help feeling that it will be more the case that Israel will be helping Diaspora Jewry in the future. Having as many Jews in Israel as possible will certainly facilitate this help when it is required. Despite the many valid arguments against putting all your eggs in one basket, I feel that Jewish continuity ultimately requires this.

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