What would Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), have said had he lived to see Israel today? What would he have said about the left-leaning secular Israelis, whose cause he championed at the creation of the State?
It’s like asking what would Moses Mendelssohn and Zecharias Frankel, founders of Reform and Conservative Judaism respectively, have said today?
Mendelssohn (1729-1786) is considered to be the founder of Reform Judaism with its roots in Germany. Mendelssohn started out innocently enough. He authored a new and free translation of the Chumash called “The Biur,” literally meaning “The Explanation.” It appeared to be a well-done and faithful translation and commentary, perfect for the Jewish public.
However, several rabbanim, including later the Chasam Sofer (Rabbi Moshe Sofer), sensed that there was something not right about The Biur. There was a nuance that led them to believe that it was breaking from tradition. The rejection of The Biur by these rabbanim was not popular at the time, but time proved them absolutely correct. It was the very root of the Reform movement.
Although Moses Mendelssohn was himself religiously observant and even had a cordial relationship with some of the leading rabbis of his time, his immediate family left religion. In fact, his grandson, the famous composer Felix Mendelssohn, was brought up without Judaism and was baptized at age seven.
Generations later, the Reform establishment officially rejected the laws of Kashrus as well as many other fundamentals of Judaism. Today, intermarriage among Reform Jews is at about 70%. They have adopted every left-winged cause and social value, including often enough, being highly critical of Israel.
Rabbi Zecharias Frankel, although living in late 19th century Germany, is considered to be the spiritual founder of the born-in-America (early 20th century) Conservative movement. He began, as well, seemingly innocent, with his Positive-Historical School in Europe. The Conservative movement in America began to grow through its day school movement, patterned after Frankel’s teachings, spearheaded by Rabbi Solomon Schechter.
Today, Conservative Judaism is a shell of what it once was in terms of members and halachic observance. It is just a step behind Reform Judaism. LGBTQ, women rabbis, plus the whole gamut of leftist causes has become the norm for Conservative Jewry. Kashrus observance outside the synagogue or home is practically nil in today’s generation. Fidelity to Israel is very questionable. Intermarriage, as well, is at an extremely high rate.
What would Mendelssohn and Frankel have said if they would have lived to see the glorious results of their reformist ways? Likely, they would have been horrified. But guess what? They are themselves to blame. Any deviation from true Torah ways eventually leads to catastrophic results for worldwide Jewry. They didn’t see this coming, but the Orthodox rabbis at the time surely did.
What would Ben-Gurion have said today? He surely would have been horrified to see a sizable amount of leftist secular Jews coming to rallies bearing (or certainly tolerating) Palestinian flags along with the communist banner of hammer and sickle. So many are going completely mad at the election of a right-wing majority in the Knesset. Their concern seems to be more focused on the need to sympathize with the Palestinians than mourning victims of Palestinian terror, including twice murdering two young brothers and an American visitor.
Yet, Ben-Gurion himself is to blame. He expended every effort to secularize the nascent Jewish state at its founding. The rejection of basic Zionist ideals today is a result of his deviation from traditional Torah Judaism.
My father used to quote a certain chareidi rav whose name I do not recall, as saying, “The Ben-Gurion who helped found the Jewish state that allowed persecuted Jews to find a haven, that Ben-Gurion will receive great reward. But the Ben-Gurion who fought the Torah, oy…do I not envy him!”
It’s a shame that at a time when we will be reading Parshas Zachor and we should be focusing on our implacable enemies in our country and Israel, instead we must deal with the awful rift within our own brethren.
May we remain faithful to the Torah. May those mourning their loved ones in Israel find comfort in their faith, as they have incredibly been doing, to the point of being a great source of inspiration for all of us. Shalom al Yisrael. Amein!
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.