The Zionist Pyramid

Lev Leviev's attack on Zionism and secular Judaism (Haaretz, March 7) reflects a basic misunderstanding of the essence of relations between Zionism and Judaism. This misunderstanding, which emanates from the ultra-Orthodox camp and permeates parts of national-religious Jewry as well, should be cleared up.

The national and religious elements of Jewish identity are welded together, but Zionism wished to overturn the pyramid proportions - from a nation whose base is religious identity to one whose base is national identity - language, territory, state, shared destiny.

Zionism acknowledged that survival in exile was perhaps very spiritual, noble and unique, but believed it to be unnatural, and thus disastrous - much like a man devoting himself exclusively to spiritual issues while neglecting his body. Thus secular Zionist ideologists tried to develop a secular-national version of the holidays and of a number of seminal Jewish texts.

One may disagree with this approach, but it did not ignore Judaism. The severance from Judaism was not caused by the secular Zionist approach but by its inability to maintain its own world and its surrender to the winds of time, which brought on their wings a capitalist consumer culture that sweeps away any singular religious identity.

The Zionist revolution had many different enemies from the start - a coalition of ultra-Orthodox and Reform Jews and socialist revolutionaries, who had difficulty relinquishing the devotion to spiritual matters for a state like all other states. The problem is that this attitude still characterizes Zionism and Israel to this day. People on the left, right and even the ultra-Orthodox community are finding it hard to give up the unique Jewish devotion to ideal and spiritual considerations and deal with the difficult, compromising decisions required of a nation state.

The right wing wants us to stick to the land's holiness and ignore every realistic demographic or foreign policy consideration. The left wants to adhere to "Jewish morality" and ignore every realistic consideration of protecting Israeli citizens. The ultra-Orthodox see the Zionist revolution itself as a desecration of the proper Jewish pyramid.

They all, however, want to share the fruits of Zionism - having Israel as their national home - without paying the price, which would mean compromising their values.

We should answer Leviev in this spirit: indeed, the severance from Judaism is painful and steps must be taken to repair it. Jewish identity has two floors. The cultural-spiritual floor must not be neglected, but the struggle for repairing the spiritual aspect must not damage the national ground floor. This floor is already under attack from so many directions that it is in danger of collapse. If this happens then Jewish survival will really be in danger.