By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh
The above verse is referring not merely to physical defeat but also to a loss of national identity. The Meshech Chochma comments, "They will think that Berlin is Jerusalem." And this indeed is the harshest difficulty of the exile – when many people are convinced in philosophical or religious terms that after the destruction of the Temple the Jews have become nothing more than citizens of the lands in which they live, and that the only thing which is characteristic of them is the performance of the mitzvot. People called themselves "Germans of the Mosaic faith." The following are some examples that show how far matters went.
- The Chief Rabbi of the Liberal Jews of Hungary wrote: "Political Zionism which wants to establish a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael is in my opinion dangerous spiritual madness... The Zionist movement, which wants to transform Judaism from a religious sect into a nation, will never succeed in Hungary. We are Hungarians of the Jewish faith. Jewish nationalism does not exist. Everybody agrees to this, including the modern and Orthodox sectors." The same opinion was also voiced by the Orthodox rabbi.
- The Rabbinical Council of Germany also published a declaration, which stated as follows: "The aspirations of those who are called 'Zionists' to establish a national Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael are in conflict with the messianic mission of Judaism, as is included in the holy books and in later religious sources."
- According to the Chief Rabbi of Paris, "The Jewish nation is dead. The nationalistic framework is dead. But what has not died and will never die is the Jewish spirit."
- The Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen wrote that Zionism "is an insult to the patriotism of the Jews, who feel at home (in Germany). Both politically and emotionally, they feel that they are in their homeland... In all matters related to our spiritual lives we have a strong feeling of religious partnership that is closer than the relationship between Jewish messianic feeling and German humanism. Therefore, our feelings towards Germany and its people carries with it a character of close allegiance which is so strong that it is almost an expression of religious fervor."
- Many Jewish soldiers fought in the First World War. In a book that the German army published about letters sent by Jewish soldiers who fell in the war, the Minister of Defense at the time, Franz Josef Strauss, wrote the following in the introduction: "Reading these letters reveals a love for the homeland and patriotism which has long been lost to us. Moreover, in their letters from the front the Jewish soldiers who fought for Germany showed a deep-felt love for the homeland which is hard for us to understand at all in this day and age."
With this in mind, a Chassidic Rebbe came to the conclusion that it is easier to take the Jews out of exile than to take the exile out of the Jews. In this spirit, Theodore Herzl wrote, "Veteran prisoners do not have any desire to leave their prison." Herzl's assistant in London, Israel Zangwill, wrote, "Anti-Zionism can be hidden very easily under a mask of philosophy and it can wrap itself in religion, but it is really nothing more than the behavior of the prisoner who is hidden within each and every one of us, which has become our second nature. It is the yellow star which we were forced to wear for hundreds of years, and it remains to this day, sewn onto the lapels of our souls."