Centrality of Israel Rejected

A leading Jewish scholar asserted here today that Israel “is the last best thing we have from our common heritage in Europe” but that “so far as Jews are human and live within the human condition, Zionism and Israel cannot and do not form the center of their lives.”

Prof. Jacob Neusner made that assertion in a paper presented at the fourth annual religious leadership conference here of the Synagogue Council of America. The all-day conference was attended by more than 200 rabbis and Jewish scholars.

The Brown University scholar also said that Zionism and Israel “have virtually nothing to say to the enduring and eternal issues of life,” to which “answers must be found in another place entirely.” He declared that Zionism “never raised the question” of Jewish existence “as it is phrased by Judaism and the State of Israel can hardly claims to be central to the formulation of answers to those questions.”

NEUSNER’S VIEW CHALLENGED

Rabbi David Polish of Evanston, III., in a challenge to Prof. Neusner, declared that he affirmed the spiritual centrality of Israel and that he questioned whether “Galut can hope to unilaterally develop a vitality comparable to a society whose

Rabbi Irwin M. Blank, SCA president, said that the establishment of Israel was “one of the great events of all of Jewish history” and asked: “How could the synagogue not focus so much of its attention on this experience?” He said that “to do so is not to cover its nakedness but to participate in a process of assimilating this great event into Jewish life.” He noted, however, that there is perhaps a disproportionate focusing on Israel to the exclusion of other experiences and sources of Jewish experience.

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