By Christopher Hollis
MR. ISRAEL WEINDER, Director-General of the Israeli Ministry for Religious Affairs, has given it as his opinion that after the events of last June "there is not one individual in this country who does not believe in God." On the other hand, I have heard a Franciscan long resident in the country say that between 80 and 90 per cent of the people are atheist. Where does the truth lie between these two extremes?
Of course, it is largely a matter of terminology. Judaism is not a matter of orthodoxy so much as of orthopraxis. The widest differences of opinion are to be found between Jew and Jew, and few doubtless among educated Jews accept as literal historical truth all the assertions of the Old Testament.
On the other hand very few Jews succeed in completely divesting themselves of their faith that their nationality is a quality which differentiates them from other people. Those who have attempted to do so in modern times have been very sharply reminded by Hitler that the Gentile world will not allow them to do so whether they like it or not.
In Germany more than anywhere else the Jews attempted to forget their origins and take upon themselves the colour of the society around them. It is not surprising that those who survived have decided that the achievement is impossible. that whether they like it or not they are in some manner a Chosen People simply because they have survived, and if you are a member of a Chosen People then it is difficult not to believe that there must be someone who chose you.
So the Jews, having attempted in face of the Nazis to meet persecution with a policy of non-resistance. now very reasonably think that if they are to survive at all they have no alternative but to establish for themselves a home and to fight for it against those who threaten them. nor is it unreasonable when they find their fighting to be beyond all expectations successful that they should conclude that they have been victorious because God is on their side.
It is through such an interpretation that, they see the events of last June. Israel had been set up 19 years before. In the partition of 1948 the Old City of Jeru salem had been left to Jordan. This was a great cause of sorrow to every Jew — a sorrow to which further bitterness was added by Jordan's violation of the article of the armistice by which they promised free access to persons of all religions to the Holy Places and by their refusal to Jews of permission to go to the Wailing Wall.
Yet, though they accepted the agreement with reluctance the Jews retained the belief of the Seder, in which for two thousand years pious Jews had eaten the Feast, promising themselves as they did so that they would eat it "next year in Jerusalem." Yet to them in the last years as throughout their previous years of wandering this was a purely apocalyptic expression.
There was no intention of doing anything to occupy Old Jerusalem in any existing situation and when the crisis of June with Egypt and Syria arose the Israeli Government informed the Jordanian Government that if Jordan took no action against Israel. then Israel would take no action against Jordan.
Jordan's relations with Syria had till then been very bad. Nasser was generally thought to have attempted to murder King Hussein. The common opinion was that Jordan would remain neutral and, had she done so, the fighting could never of course have brought Israel to the occupation of the Old City. It was only Jordan's unexpected attack that made that possible.
It was therefore hardly possible that a Jew should not sec in the events of June a marvellous example of the Lord's doing. We in distant security take it for granted that what did happen was always certain to happen. Such events never seemed inevitable to the majority of people in Israel.
There were many there who thought that the Arabs would prove to be soldiers of a very different order of competence from that which they had shown 12 years before, and looked forward to a hard and doubtful fight for survival. The sudden and overwhelming victory was by no means generally expected.
it was therefore hardly surprising that Jews in their thousands who had till then not been notably pious should have passed through what had previously been the Mandelbaum Gate and offered thcir'thanks to the God of Israel at the Wailing Wall. In that sense there is most certainly a revival of religion in Israel today. 1-low far this is religion and how far an exalted patriotism, how far it will prove an enduring conversion and how far a revivalist enthusiasm, who shall say?
Has it changed the fundamental nature of the people? And, if so, how has it changed it? Such a mood has beyond doubt its dangers. It is always dangerous when a nation comes to think of itself as a Chosen People, whether it be a Protestant country. a Catholic country, persuaded that it has a unique mission to champion the Catholic cause. Moslem or Jew.
Christ, as we know, was faced with just this temptation, and replied that His kingdom was not of this world. The Christian record over the ages in this respect has by no means been such as to give Christians any right to lecture the Jews. Still what has been in the past a temptation to Christians, to which they have so often fallen. is certainly today a temptation to Jews.
The battle in the Israel secular political world between the hawks and the doves is at the moment keen, and the moderate Prime Minister is by no means easily holding his position against his more aggressive Defence Minister, Mr. Dayan. The hawks have an uncomfortably strong case.
It is very plausible to say that, so long as the Arabs refuse to recognise the existence of Israel and continue to reiterate their demands for its total obliteration, it is absurd to make concessions to them or to give up any territory that may be of strategic value. And plausible as this may be as a short-term argument, it is certain that if some arrangements arc not made, then there will be another Middle Eastern war which may very well prove to be a World War that will lead to the destruction of all of us.
It is, on its own secular merits, an intensely difficult dilemma with which Israeli politicians are faced —, a dilemma that can be solved only in a spirit of the utmost coolness and restraint.
Responsible religious Jewish opinion is as fully aware of this as any other, but unfortunately, as was perhaps inevitable as the consequence of these unbelievable and unforeseeable events, there is also some irresponsible Jewish religious opinion. This opinion quotes rabbinical rulings to the effect that it is contrary to the will of God for Israelites ever to cede any territory which God has given to them. Such an attitude is not in itself very helpful. and, if maintained, it must in the end bring the Israelite regime as certainly to destruction as have such principles when adopted by other regimes in similar circumstances.
In the religious treatment of their adversaries Israeli conduct has over the past years been better than that of the Arabs. Many of these have fled or been expelled— according to one's interpretation of events—from Israeli territory. But some have remained, and to whatever disabilities they have been subjected, their lives have not been wholly intolerable.
Jews have been entirely expelled from Arab countries. We hear a lot—and very rightly so—about Arab refugees. Whatever harsh things may have been done in certain places, mosques are still open to Moslem worship in Israeli territory. The muezzin still calls to prayer from the minaret of the Rock of the Dome, built though it is on the site of the Jewish Temple.
In spite of the promise in the armistice agreement to respect religious rights there was no synagogue in Old Jerusalem which was not destroyed and desecrated by the Jordanians in their occupation. But such matters are not for victors to remember Magnanimity should always be the quality of victors There are plenty of Jews— official and unofficial—who are alive to the religious and political duty to give generous relief to the vanquished and to the refugees in their hour of humiliation. It is much to be hoped that these large-minded Jews will win the victory among their own people.