Home » Torah » Towards a Jewish-Zionist-Israeli Theology of Liberation – Leah Shakdiel ’19

 
 

Towards a Jewish-Zionist-Israeli Theology of Liberation – Leah Shakdiel ’19

 

Exodus tells the story of replacing the violence of slavery with the violence of the liberation process. This can be read in several ways. One convincing reading is to justify smiting the Egyptians as punishment for their criminal subjugation of the Children of Israel. Another reading can be added which takes the historical context into account. In a pre-modern world where national conflicts were understood as a zero-sum system: either we the Jews are destroyed by others, or we destroy them, as the Book of Esther (9/1) phrases it – “and it was turned upside down, so that the Jews dominate those who hate them”. In Exodus too, we are presented with a zero-sum contest between Pharaoh and his magicians, vs. Hashem and his ambassador on earth, Moshe. Hashem overpowers the opponent, and the cruel drama of this victory needs to be branded in human consciousness for all generations, it underpins our national identity for ever after.

As compelling as these interpretations are, I insist that they are anachronistic, and unfit for an era with more evolved moral sensibilities. We must reject contemporary Jewish voices that equate today’s liberation of our people with the ancient concept of aggressive militarist vengeance, and brainwash us with the image of an either-or world, either Auschwitz or brutal conquest of all Arabs.
A good place to begin is with the way the Midrash problematizes the violence of Exodus: Hashem rejects the automatic reaction of the angels, the robots of praising Him no matter what, upon the shore of the sea. Whether it is the Israelites who may be smashed there for their sins, as early versions of the Midrash claim, or the Egyptians who are about to be drowned, as later versions claim – the Midrashim portray for us a Torah Judaism which considers all human lives as worthy of compassion and respect, and as responsible for choosing good over evil, Jewish lives and non-Jewish lives alike.

Now that the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt has become the paradigm for liberation all over the world, liberation from all kinds of oppression, from slavery and abuse by colonialism as well as greedy capitalism, I think we Israeli Jews need to develop our own version of Liberation Theology for this place and this time. I think that the task of our generation is to devise a proud and informed Jewish identity that makes room for coexistence with Arabs and Muslims not only in the land promised to our forefathers, but even in the Holy Basin of Jerusalem, where all three religions center their sacred space.

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