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Why is 'Isra'el' not (just) the State of the Jewish People

Dr. Yitzhaq Hayut-Man 11.05.2014 22:44
Why is 'Isra'el' not (just) the State of the Jewish People

In the debate whether Israel is "the State of the Jewish People" we should note how this name was proposed by Ben Gurion and had been contemplated by Rav Kook before. By joining Rav Kook's vision to the Biblical text emerges the contrary of the conventional concept of "the State of the Jewish People", and that Israel cannot - and need not - be considered the Jewish State but as the state of the Holystic Israel' (Klal Yisrael) that comprises of additional, non-Jewish nations.

Why is 'Isra'el' not (just) the State of the Jewish People

Dr. Yitzhaq Hayut-Man


Abstract: For clarifying the debate whether The State of Israel – Medinat Yisra'el -is indeed 'the State of the Jewish People' it is germane to clarify how this name was proposed by Ben Gurion and how it was earlier contemplated by Rabbi Avraham Yitzhaq Kook. Joining Rav Kook's vision with the Torah (Pentateuch) text view of Israel gives rise to a conclusion that is the opposite of the conventional concept of "the State of the Jewish People”: It is discovered that the State of Israel cannot – and need not – be considered as the State of the Jewish People' but as 'The State of Klal Yisrael' - the Assembly of Israel' – that includes additional non-Jewish nations.

In the Hebrew Month of Iyar (early May 2014), we celebrated the 66th Independence Day of the State of Israel. At about this time mounted public debate about the legal definition of Israel as “the State of the Jewish People”. In order to understand the dilemma we need to return to those who first coined this expression Medinat Yisra’el – ‘The State of Israel’.

The expression 'Medinat Yisrael – the State of Israel - was not coined by Herzl (he called it Der Judenstat – The Jewish State).[1] As is widely known, it was proposed by David Ben Gurion, Israel's first premier. On the morning of Friday, Iyar 5, 5708 (May 14, 1948), the ‘Moẹtzet haẠm' (National Council) - the provisional cabinet of the Zionist leadership at the time met to discuss the final drafting of the Megillat haẠtzma’ut - The Declaration of Independence. Thus  they discussed, how to name the new state?

Herzl thought about ‘the Jewish State’, but the members of the provisional Council debated other names: Judea? Zion? Zionah? Ivriyah? Hertzliyah? 

David Ben Gurion put forward the name 'Medinat Yisrael', and in a 6-3 vote they agreed to this name. So on that day it was written "We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, which is the State of Israel".

But this was not the first time that the expression 'Medinat Yisra'el' has been used. Rabbi Avraham Yitzhaq haKohen Kook, whose influence over the State of Israel is constantly rising,[2] first arrived in the Land of Israel on Friday, Iyar 28, 5664 (May 13, 1904He and his family celebrated this event each year until 1967 – when this date has become the anniversary of Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).

A few months after his arrival he wrote in his handwritten journal[3]  where he was writing his insights:

A nation is not the highest happiness for a human being... This can be said about a regular nation that does not rise above the level of a shared insurance company and offer little else…  This, however, is not the case with a nation that has ideals at its foundations a nation in which the highest ideals are stamped into its very being... A nation such as this offers great happiness to the individual. This nation is truly the highest in the scale of happiness, and this is our nations, Medinat Yisrael (The State of Israel), the foundation of God’s Throne in the world, whose entire desire is that “God will be One and His Name will be One (Zecharia 14:9), which is indeed the greatest happiness.

And what are the ideals at the foundation of the State of Israel?

Rav Kook wrote[4] that 'Israel'is in the service of "the desire for the good" and we must fill the world with "charity, love and light" and should "educate mankind so as to reach the highest point that only God's voice will be heard in the human heart and only the good and the light, charity and love will be his share".

And the last thing Rav Kook wrote, shortly before he passed away in 1935.[5]

Ultimately, the Land of the Bible will have to be built by the People of the Bible, in order to bring forth the spirit of Godly peace (shalom) that is in the Bible, in all its supreme delicacy to the lives of all the nations on our planet Earth.”


-        + - * - + -

We have all been brainwashed to regard the expressions "The People of Israel" and "The Jewish people" as completely synonymous. But hard as it is to be liberated from this conception, this is still a mistake, and even a grievous mistake, which actually drives us away from the possibility of becoming the ideal Israel about which Rabbi Kook (and also Ben Gurion) wrote.

If we turn to the advice and supplication of Rav Kook to turn to the Bible, we shall find that the truth of the matter is that 'The Jewish People' is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and these scriptures were not meant for it. Even the appellation 'Yehudi' (Jew) or 'Yehudim' (Jews) hardly appears in the Hebrew Bible (the one exception is the Book of Ester, which is clearly an exilic book).

The Biblical subject of the blessings, the nation that "in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:3),[6] is indeed 'Israel' - and it is a Confederate entity of 12 nations.[7] The constitutive story, the generic foundation is the story of brothers in conflict in generation after generation till they reach the twelve-fold pattern of partnership.Brothers who were alienated from each other for a very long time and then returned to be constituents of 'Israel'.

The Hebrew Bible is our hold in the Eternal Israel (Netzaḥ Yisra'el), and what has already been formulated then, is returning in greater might. And now we have the  concerning the great dilemma that is facing the State of Israel in relation with the Palestinians in general and especially with the attempt to force the Palestinian Authority (and in fact, first force ourselves) to recognize Israel as exclusively the state of the Jewish nation.

What if there are, or likely to appear, additional nations who see themselves as brothers-Israelites? Shall we keep the doors shut for them?

Is this only hypothetical? Would there all of a sudden appear Israelite nations?

Well, the potential is there, and it is rising. There are some claiming blood brotherhood (that is, common genetic sequences), but more still who identify themselves as Israelites. They are characterized by a yearning for Zion, a will to connect with Zionism and desire to belong with the People Chosen for the benefit of humankind. But before we get into their story we must face the Palestinian conundrum.

There is much evidence that the majority of the Palestinians (in particular the inhabitants of the hill regions) are of Jewish origin. Currently 'The Engagement Movement' operates on this basis, and is disseminating the evidence and looking for Palestinians who will recognize and announce their Jewish origin and their desire to liberate themselves from the yoke of the Palestinian Authority and the terror organizations. Yet the issue is not race but a question of assumed identity. There is also the evidence that over a million Israeli Arabs (or if you rather, 'Israeli-Palestinians) carry Israeli identity – which they would not give up.

Why does this prospect drives fear in the heart of most Israelis, and certainly in the hearts of almost all politicians and publicists? There is a black devil painted on all walls –the formation of an Arab-Muslim majority in the State of Israel.

This might perhaps seem a reasonable stance as no Arab-Muslim state has yet reached democracy. But this fear of the Muslim majority is only because we do not see the entire picture of the Bible - that of the Israel of the Twelve Brother-Nations; we see only a dualistic polarized game of "Us versus Them" – the Arabs. Once we recognize the possibility for non-Jewish Zionists to be included in Israel, then there would be ten of them seeking to be accepted as Israelites for each Arab who would seek to be included. This is not the place to elaborate.

Many of those who see themselves as the descendants of the Ten Tribes (namely, of 'Israel'), are not of Rabbinical-Jewish descent. Examples of this are the Pashtuns who live in Afghanistan and N. Pakistan. But there are dozens of theories, some of which are now backed by genetic evidence – and the crucial thing is not 'race' and blood but a common belief in 'Tsur Yisra'el' – 'the Rock/Eternity of Israel'.[8]

Who are those fraternal-nations who are likely to accept the arrangement illustrated through the stories of the Book of Genesis?

There are many millions of Christian Zionists (and there have already emerged a few 'Muslim Zionists'), and closer than them are hundreds of communities of 'Messianic Israelites' and still closer are hundreds of those who declare "I have followed the footsteps of Jesus away from Christianity".[9] Many of them shall want to join Israel – if only allowed.


        And how can this be done? This deserves another article to be proposed by Shavu'ot/Pentecost. One hint – in the beginning there has to be produced a model of Israel in virtual reality, in the unlimited territory of cyberspace, and observe how through games and simulations the new nation of Israel forms and emerges.



[1] But when the book was translated to Hebrew in 1896 by Yitzhaq Franhof the title was indeed 'Medinat Yisrael'. My thanks to Dr. Nathan Ofir for alerting me to this.

[2] Whereas there are many memorials for Ben Gurion (from streets to a university and Israel’s main airport), Rav Kook’s writings are nowadays read far more than Ben Gurion’s.

[3] Jaffa, the first of the Eight Collections, entry 186.  

[4] Included in his edited book 'Orot' (Lights)

[5] In a notebook (Pinqas) called Notebook 12.

[6] From which issue the definition and promise of this nation as "you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (exodus 19:6).

[7] And more precisely, 13 tribes. There is also the tribe of the Levites, who exercise extra-territorial service and make a model for the ideal of the entire Israel as drafted for global service.

[8] The Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel did not use a word for 'God', but uses the expression 'Tsur Yisra'el', literally 'The Rock of Israel'. This expression has not yet been adequately explored and explained. Nevertheless, it clearly carries a meaning of YetsirahFormation and creativity. The State of Israel is a creative project – it was established in order to form anew the Nation of Israel.

[9] Here the name and work of Hugh Joseph Schonfield is very relevant. 

 Why is 'Isra'el' not (only) the State of the Jewish People   Why is 'Isra'el' not (only) the State of the Jewish PeopleWhy is 'Isra'el' not (only) the State of the Jewish People


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