Prof Gil Troy and Gol Kalev discuss Judaism 3.0 at the Begin Center
Jerusalem, April 4, 2022 – The Begin Heritage Center hosted an evening to mark the publications of Gol Kalev’s new book, Judaism 3.0 – Judaism’s transformation to Zionism. After a wine reception overlooking Jerusalem’s old city walls, the crowd gathered for a panel discussion.
Kalev said that when Menachem Begin was born in 1913, the Jewish nation-religion was different than what it is today. Back then, it had the internal glue of religiosity and external one of insularity, while the national aspect was suppressed. Today, it’s the reverse: There has been a steep decline in religiosity and Jews are integrated, while the national aspect of Judaism has been dramatically elevated. Seventy years after the Jewish state was founded, Zionism is now becoming the most relevant aspect of Judaism.
Kalev stressed that the transformation of Judaism did not occur in Israel’s first 70 years, both since transformations of this magnitude take time, and because there were hurdles, such as Zionism’s over-association with secularism. This was not by design, and contrary to Herzl’s vision.
“Only between 1920 and 1950 there was a secular majority in Israel,” Kalev said, noting that 60% of Israelis today self-describe themselves as either Haredi, religious, or traditional (Which he compared to religious Christians in America). Yet this period [1930s] was exactly when the Ben-Gurion-led socialist party won elections to the Zionist institutions, consolidated power and reshaped the Zionist ethos to their liking.
Kalev sees two parallel trends in Israel that correct this: A long-term shift of power from the secular minority to the religious/traditional majority, and a religious fashion within the seculars – consuming religious experiences a-la-carte while staying secular. Hence, by the 2020s Zionism is no longer over-associated with secularism, and the transformation that Herzl seeded is now happening – Zionism is becoming the anchor of Judaism.
Kalev also argued that trends in America, where 80% of Diaspora Jews reside, support the transformation. “When Jews came, America had a homogenous narrative. For a Jew to fit-in and be like his neighbor, he needed to suppress his Jewish national affiliation and reduce Judaism to a religion.” Kalev claims that developments in America such as embrace of heritage-identity and multiple-identities, make such legacy American Jewish approach less consistent with prevailing American trends – a Jew who wants to be like his neighbor should look at Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz showcasing their Cuban ethnological national affiliation, and at Vice President Harris showcasing her Jamaican and Indian affiliations. Zionism provides the ethnological national identity to the American Jew, but it also helps bridge the religiosity-gap American Jews have relative to the overall American society. “Jews are perceived to be flag-carriers of secularism in an increasingly religious America, but centering your Jewish identity around Zionism and Israel – now a religious society – allows the American Jew to be connected with faith through association.” Whether they like it or not, American Jews are already in Judaism 3.0, he argued: “For many American Jews, the #1 Jewish-related activity is criticism of Israel.”
Kalev also placed the historic transformation of Judaism in the context of what he sees as the emerging global philosophical divide of the 21st Century: Americanism vs. Europeanism. “Israel and the Arab world are squarely on the Americanism side that champions faith, particularity, ideology and nationalism, while some American Jews are perceived to be associated with Europeanism values of universalism, anti-nationalism, anti-particularity and secular extremism…Zionism and Americanism are sister ideologies, drawing on the same values, and therefore it is not surprising that anti-Zionism is correlated with anti-Americanism. “So unlike in the early days, today an overt embrace of Zionism makes the American Jew more in-tune with Americanism.”
Prof Gil Troy turned to Kalev and said: “I want to give you the highest compliment I can give you, which is to disagree with you.” While supporting the overall message of the book, Troy disagreed with the binary approach Kalev takes, which he called cultural imperialism. “All these terms, all these dualities, national vs religion, secular vs religious – these are Christians terms, these are Western terms, they are being imposed on our delightful messiness.”
Referring to Judaism as an Oreo cookie with the national and religious aspects holding it together, the reduction of Judaism to a religion smashes that Oreo cookie. “A Conservative Rabbi who calls himself anti-Zionist, is like a Jesuits priest saying he does not believe in Jesus.”
When it comes to faith, Troy said that the typical Israeli has a lot of Jewish content, but very little consciousness – for example, eating cheese cake on Shavuot, and not knowing why. While in America it is the reverse. “The most basic literacy is gone, and we are seeing this with the third and fourth generations.”
Troy agreed that Jews jumped ahead of the non-Jewish Americans when it comes to lack of faith. He noted that many Jews do not believe in God and connect to their Judaism through the Holocaust and Jewish humor, but they still mark census forms that their religion is Judaism. “So they have the consciousness, but not the content – this is an extraordinary educational opportunity.”
Troy spoke about what he called the Holy Jewish trinity: People – God -Land. “You can tell the entire story of the Jewish people by looking at these three, and the evolving relationship between these three parts.”
Referring to his book The Zionist Ideas, Troy spoke about the three births and re-birth of Zionism: “In Abraham we see all the elements: the religiosity, the peoplehood, the national dimension, the delightful confusion, but we also see land.”
The second birth of the movement is in the 19th Century when Italians are becoming Italian, French are becoming French and Jews said: we too are a people…And then the third rebirth is Herzl’s great jump: Statehood.
In responding to Troy, Kalev argued that de-facto, whether we like it or not, Zionism is by now the most relevant aspect of Judaism – through positive or negative connections alike. It is the one aspect of Judaism that evokes emotions, and draws engagement. Hence, recognizing that we in Judaism 3.0 would provide Jewish clarity, which in-turn will enhance other aspects of Judaism, including the religious aspect and other elements.
Troy took issue with Kalev’s view of “Jewish clarity,” underscoring that he likes confusion: “I like pushing-back against the binary categories, the clean-neat Christian categories, the clean-neat Western categories. We are Jews!”
In her remarks, moderator Yael Rozenman-Ismael spoke about her Palestinian-Muslim background through her mother’s side, and Jewish background through her father’s, while growing-up in a Christian Catholic country – Bolivia. “This is where I connected to Judaism 3.0. With my name, the outside world identifies me as a Jew, but for the Jews, it becomes complicated…The truth is most of the Jewish world is going through this process, as more and more Jews become intermarried and halachic Jews become more secular. We have a new evolving way of identifying ourselves as Jews, and Gol shows in his book how our anchor is becoming more and more our national aspect as a people. This book ignited the necessary debate on how we are to perceive our heritage and our future.”
“We should know when to agree to disagree, but also when to agree to agree.” Troy concluded, turning to Kalev: “Thank you for inspiring me, stimulating me, and triggering me to think about all those great ideas.”
Photos: Avigail Tresgallo unless specified otherwise
Video: Begin Heritage Center
Gol Kalev on the end of Zionism’s over-association with secularism:
Gil Troy on religiosity in Israel and America:
Gil & Gol debate:
Gil Troy responding to Kalev’s saying that Judaism 3.0 is the vehicle for Jewish sustainability: “And let us say Amen”
Judaism 3.0, launched on March 7th, was chosen by the Jerusalem Report as the cover of its 2022 New Year issue. The book was unveiled on January 12th in a pre-launch Garden-party.
Watch video-clips, read a recap of the March 7, 2022 book launch party:
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Synopsis: Judaism 3.0 synopsis
For more information: Judaism-Zionism.com
“This book should play an important role in the discussions about the future of world Jewry and its relations with Israel.”
Natan Sharansky, former Chairman of The Jewish Agency, former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel
“Gol Kalev’s book has the merit to transform the very essence of the State of Israel to becoming an objective expression of Jewish identity“
Dr. Georges Yitzhak Weisz, author – Theodor Herzl: A New Reading
“A courageous, compelling, and thoughtful thesis that must be part of any serious discussion of the future of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Michael Oren, historian, former Ambassador of Israel to the United States
ייA remarkable ideas book that is about much more than the state of Judaism…One of the most important books about Judaism, Zionism and global trends of our times.”
Catherine Carlton, former Mayor of Menlo Park, Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur
“Fresh new thinking about the relationship between Judaism and Israel. Kalev picks up where Herzl left off……A must read for people of all religious and political backgrounds who want to get a deeper understanding of the state of Zionism and Judaism today.”
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem