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The Ben Gurion Years
Ben Gurion Centenary 1886-1986

The Making of the State - Five Historical Decisions

A "Normal" State?

I. Background

Zionism aims to change the status that Jews held among the nations of the world. It has sought to transform this persecuted minority into equal partners in a secular world.

As the Yishuv developed, the principle of a secular messianism took on increasing importance. Zionism is redemption, and redemption implies a new conception of the Jew as a person. The Jew must remain a model for all nations, but this model must be based on a-religious norms such as socialism, equality, peace, etc.

Jewish tradition therefore found a new interpretation in this new society dominated by the kibbutz; Shabbat became a day of rest, but not indispensable; Jewish wedding ceremonies became similarly indispensable. Some activities formerly considered typically Jewish were forbidden. For example, the poet Avraham Shlonsky describes how his kibbutz friends expressed their disapproval when they found out that he was contributing to a literary review because they felt such an activity had no part in the new country.

The festivals took on a new agricultural, social or national dimension. At the Pesach seder, the Hagada was replaced by modern texts. Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah, was celebrated only in its rural connotations. Rosh Hashana simply became the New Year. Yom Kippur, too religious a festival to acquire a secular interpretation, remained an unresolved problem, although different kibbutzim had different ideas, but on the whole the socialist pioneers did not observe the fast.

In April 1973 when the settlers in Hebron announced that they were not going to leave the town where they had come to hold their Pesach seder, the country resounded to heated discussions. The news that Jews had returned to Hebron revived half-buried memories. Hebron was the town in which the patriarch Abraham bought his first field in Canaan.

Rabbi Levinger's venture showed the new dimension in which religious Jews were moving, and their strength. This found its expression in the '70s through the formation of a new intelligentsia among journalists and writers with different political views. These latter rejected the "normalist" approach which had dominated Israeli society up to this point. The religious expression of this movement was the opposite of the secular basis of political Zionism. They considered it the movement of the Almighty, Who is preparing the people of Israel for their redemption. The goal therefore is not normalization, to be a nation like all other nations, but rather the sanctification of the people of a living G-d. Thus was born the "Gush Emunim" movement.

The leaders of the national religious movement, in the ensuing two decades, thus brought a doctrine to the Israeli right that was diametrically opposed to its traditional principles, because instead of a secularist pro-western approach, it returned to the concept of the uniqueness of the Jewish people standing alone against universal hostility. Moreover, in the process, they developed a political camp of opinion which stands for settlement throughout the historical Land of Israel; while the voice of those who believed otherwise in the national religious camp was to become the minority.

It is a trend which has overtones of Messianic thought: the idea that the Return to Zion is not towards the family of nations, but rather the opposite - a new polarization, with Jews on one side and non-Jews on the other. Since 1993, in the pursuit of the Peace Process and the Oslo Accords, Israeli governments have to contend with an ideological stand, as well as the broadly-based emotional and traditional ties to historical Jewish sites, both in Israel and worldwide - but hindsight is 20-20 and this was not on the agenda in Ben Gurion's time, although references to the strategic purpose of holding the territories were made by Dayan and others.

II. Activity

Aim: To produce a reaction to the two trends within Israeli society - one feeling of being different, through a values clarification activity.



    1. On the walls, stick signs on which you have written statements, opinions and facts in the headlines today in Israel (examples included below).

    2. Under each sign place a plastic pocket.

    3. First round trigger: give everyone two sets of cards, one set which has "normal" written on them, the other - "different". The participants look at all the signs and decide which card they want to put into the plastic pockets.


Example of sign text:


    "There are no kosher restaurants in the whole of Haifa." A participant who does not agree with this situation would place one of the "different" cards in the plastic pocket beneath this sign.

    After fifteen minutes go through the cards placed beneath each sign and establish the average feeling of the group.


4. Second round (activity):

Have people with different opinions volunteer to form subgroups. Each of these subgroups should choose a different one of the following areas:


  • religion and daily life in Israel
  • the Arabs in Israel
  • the political rights of the citizen
  • the role of women in the running of state religious institutions
  • non-Jewish religions and sects in Israel etc.


5. Charter of social rights

Draw up a document outlining in several points the rights and obligations of members of the chosen group, i.e. seek a consensus in spite of the differing opinions within the sub-group.

6. Once the various charters have been formulated, bring all the groups together and ask for a representative from each to present their main points.

7. Finally, review where the whole group stands between the two extremes [of normalcy or uniqueness] in Israeli society.


More examples for signs:


  • In some kibbutzim, Yom Kippur is a pretext for a huge picnic. Normal / Different?


  • The IDF uses Bedouin soldiers as scouts. Normal / Different?


  • There are no kosher restaurants in all of Haifa. Normal / Different?


  • Students at a yeshiva can gain exemption from army service. Normal / Different?


  • A law to ban pig-breeding in Israel. Normal / Different?


  • add your own statements, this list is not exhaustive...


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