Religions, nations, movements, companies and concepts all go through transformations in reaction to changing circumstances. There has been a dramatic change in Jewish circumstances over the last 150 years:
1. The Jewish state was reestablished.
2. Jews redomiciled. More than 98% of Jews have immigrated during the last 150 years, primarily moving from Europe and the Middle East, to America and Israel.
3. Jews became secular, abandoned their insular communities and began marrying non-Jews.
Those changes are radical and unprecedented in 2,000 years of exile. As a result, the legacy architecture that bounded the Jewish nation-religion through the exile years, is no longer sufficient to preserve Judaism. At the same time, conditions emerged within the Jewish world and outside it for a new architecture to effectively hold together Judaism and assure its continuity.
Judaism can be viewed in two primary contexts:
Rabbinical Judaism is the religious expression of Judaism, through all its streams including Orthodox, Conservative, Reform.
Zionism is the national expression of Judaism, with Israel being the physical manifestation of Zionism.
The transformation to Judaism 3.0 suggests that the organizing principle of Judaism is shifting from the religious element (Rabbinical Judaism) to the national element (Zionism). This is occurring without any compromises to the religious aspects of Judaism. In-fact, it is neutral regarding any debates about Jewish laws and practices.
The transformation is not a call for action, but a recognition of reality. It does not require any legislation or decision. Recognizing the transformation would be its fulfillment.
The second transformation of Judaism
Judaism transformed in the past. Judaism was originally bound by the architecture of Biblical Judaism (Judaism 1.0), which was centered around the Temple, the ritual of the sacrifices, Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. This was shattered with the destruction of the Temple and expulsion during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Judaism had to transform in order to survive, and indeed it has – into what became known as Rabbinical Judaism (Judaism 2.0). This remained the architecture that bound the Jewish nation-religion through the exile up to today: Halacha (Jewish law), the rituals, the canonization of the Oral Torah, the learning, the yearning to return to the ancestral homeland.
But given the radical changes of the last 150 years, Rabbinical Judaism is no longer the relevant organizing principle of Judaism. Instead, Zionism (Judaism 3.0) is turning into the architecture through which Jews connect to their Judaism, and by which the outside world perceives the Jews.
A Jewish person can be religious or secular, Orthodox or Reform, affiliated or unaffiliated, straight or gay, Israeli or British, liberal or conservative, rich or poor, ideological or agnostic. What connects this Jewish individual with another Jewish person is his affiliation with the Jewish nation. In 2,000 years of exile, Jewish people miles apart connected through the religious glues of Rabbinical Judaism (Judaism 2.0): Praying at the exact same times, practicing the exact same rituals, adhering to the exact same Jewish laws. But with the radical decline of Jewish observance (from arguably close to 100% to less than 10% today), those connectors are no longer sufficient.
As the Jewish religious connector faded, the Jewish national connector has been dramatically augmented. The reestablishment of the Jewish state provides a physical point of orientation and tangible value to connect though. This is true also for Jews who are avid critical of Israel. They too typically meet their Judaism through Zionism.
The success of Israel provides a cultural point of orientation that allows a Jew to connect to his Judaism naturally and willingly, through the broad range of Israeli products and experiences that are suitable to him or her. A connection to Judaism through choice replaces the connection through no-choice that existed until the 19th Century when Jews were insular and did not have a path to exit.
Eighty five percent of today’s Jews reside in either Israel or North America. Both of those Jewish centers have gone through significant shifts in recent decades. As a result of those developments, hurdles to the transformation that previously existed have now been removed, enablers of the transformation are in place, and the transformation is increasingly becoming evident.
An early hurdle to the transformation to Judaism 3.0 was Israel’s strong secular identity. Zionism could not be the organizing principle of Judaism when Israel was so closely associated with secularism. But as Israel further democratizes, there is a shift of power and narrative from the secular minority towards the religious/traditional majority. At the same time, secular Israelis are increasingly embracing Jewish religiosity on their own terms while remaining secular. In addition, early opposition to Zionism in the Haredi community is gone. Zionism serves as the bedrock of the Jewish state, and the vehicle through which Israelis, secular and religious alike, connect to their Judaism. About 99% of Israeli Jews vote for Zionist parties.
The transformation is enabled by developments in North America, home to over 80% of Diaspora Jews. At the early stages of the American Jewish experience, Jews did not need Zionism. Upon arrival to America, many of them were religious, spoke Yiddish and married other Jews. Being part of the Jewish nation-religion was core to their identity. But over the years, a denationalization occurred, reducing American Judaism to a religion – “the Jewish church.” This could still have worked if the Jews remained religiously connected, but most turned secular. For a small percentage of American Jews – Orthodox Jews and those involved in Jewish causes – Judaism remains today an integral part of life, but for the majority, Judaism became subordinate to other components of their identity.
American Jews were able to remain a distinct community through the early 21st century with the help of temporary replacement glues – the memory of the Holocaust and nostalgia for the Eastern European past. But with the passing of the survivors and immigrant generation, circumstances are changing. Without the religious and community glues, and absent the national connection that previously existed, mainstream American Judaism is now on a path of evaporation.
But an alternative to evaporation has emerged – a transformation. The transformation to Judaism 3.0 in America is not only a necessity, but it is also a growing reality, as there is has been a gradual cultural Israelization of the American Jewish experience. American Jews connecting to their Judaism through Israel is much easier than in the past due to the success and vibrancy of the State of Israel and the array of diverse Israeli products and experiences one can choose to connect through: Israeli innovations, art, wine, soldiers, gay life, parties, fitness, archeology, scientific breakthroughs, Hutzpah. This is true also when it comes to political opposition to Israel in Jewish circles. That too is a connection to one’s Judaism through Israel, and hence a demonstration of the transformation to Judaism 3.0.
Developments in the surrounding environment in America and in Europe, as well as in the evolving manner in which the world perceives Jews, strongly support a transformation to Judaism 3.0. This is reflected, first and foremost, the shift in the form of opposition to Judaism from being directed at the Jewish religion and character (anti-Semitism) to being directed at the Jewish nation (Israel-bashing). This too does not only indicate that Judaism is transforming, but it makes such transformation a necessity.
Indeed, the Israel-bashing threat (which BDS is a small component of) is only potent if Judaism stays in Judaism 2.0. Recognizing the transformation to Judaism 3.0 would negate the claim that the opposition is not to Judaism, but merely to Zionism. It would also provide the relevant tools to counter the Israel-bashing threat.
The transformation to Judaism 3.0 was incepted in 1897, with the first Zionist Congress convened by Theodor Herzl in Basel. Herzl made it clear at the onset that Zionism was not merely about the establishment of a country. Zionism was launched and designed as the beginning of a Jewish transformation. Herzl famously stated: “At Basel, I founded the Jewish state.” He immediately clarified that the state he founded is not simply a geographical representation, nor a collection of citizens who happen to live in a given territory – it is an ideal. He explained: “…A territory is merely the concrete basis. The state itself, when it possesses a territory, still remains something abstract.” This abstraction, this ideal, which Herzl seeded in Basel, is now, after 120 years, turning into the organizing principle of Judaism.