Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Jewish State and its Anthem

Recent photos and videos of the swearing-in ceremony of the new Chief Justice of Israel depicted a respectful, but silent Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran during the singing of the Israeli national anthem "Hatikvah ( Hope)."  Justice Joubran, a Christian Arab, born in Haifa, apparently feels constrained when asked to participate in a vocal rendering of the anthem.  An English translation of the anthem is as follows:

As long as deep in the heart,
The soul of a Jew yearns,
And forward to the East
To Zion, an eye looks
Our hope will not be lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

One can understand the Justice's reticence.  The anthem is most definitely a composition that is devoted to Israel as the hope and soul of the Jewish people.  Long before there was an Israel, this poetic expression representing millennia of Jewish yearning, composed by Naphthali Herz Imber in 1878, and adopted as an "anthem" by the Zionist convention of 1897, has, in all liklihood, been sung by most every Jew at one time or another.  Recordings of liberated survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp singing "Hatikvah" upon their release, have been reproduced and replayed during Jewish High Holy Day services.   I think it is fair to say that the anthem has almost become a part of the Jewish liturgy and is performed at many Jewish occasions around the world, independent of any Israeli association.

This has raised a controversy in Israel and in the rest of the Jewish world.  Is it acceptable for non-Jewish Israelis to stand silent during the singing of the nation's national anthem?  After all, 20% of Israelis would fall into this category.  Should the words of "Hatikvah," then, be altered to accommodate this significant non-Jewish population?

A resounding "yes" to "standing silent."  No one should be expected to intone words that do not express one's beliefs.   No citizenry of any state should be required to sing its anthem, or pledge allegiance to it.  Loyalty does not require public expression of loyalty.  A resounding "no" to altering the anthem's content.  Israel is The Jewish State! " Hatikvah" beautifully expresses that existential fact.  Provided that Israel exists as The Jewish State,  the non-Jewish citizenry must remain aware of and respect Israel's Jewish history and Jewish identity.


Debra Turner said...

Very thoughtful. An interesting question. One I haven't thought about.

What would happen if Israel became 50% or 70% non-Jewish at some point? Would that change anything? Just another interesting question in the debate.

Carl Steeg said...

At that point Israel could no longer be regarded as a "Jewish State." This potentiality is always lurking in the background of such discussions, and, at this point has really not been adequately considered.

Good question!