Jewish Nation-State VS. Hebrew Bible(Giles Fraser)


Giles Fraser*2 “Binyamin Netanyahu’s nationality bill is at odds with the Hebrew Bible”


Of all people, Jews know what it is to live in somebody else’s country, without rights, subject to their laws, subject to their prejudices. The Hebrew Bible*4 itself is a record of the experience and psychological consequences of exile – of being the forced labour of Pharaoh’s megalomaniacal building programmes, of weeping by the rivers of Babylon. And when the story of the Bible finishes and the Jerusalem temple is destroyed by the Romans, a new period of extended exile begins, shaping the collective memory with centuries of religious persecution, collective punishments and eventually mass murder.

It is not difficult to see why security is extra precious for the Jewish people and why the very idea of a Jewish homeland has a meaning and significance far in excess of that envisioned by the modern democratic nation state.


But, throughout the Bible at least, this experience of being strangers in strange lands has another consequence: it amplifies the empathy that the writers of the Hebrew scriptures have for migrants and minorities. Thus, for instance, Deuteronomy 10:19 goes as follows: “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” Its not a one-off passage. Again and again precisely this formula of expression is used to encourage identification with people who find themselves living in someone else’s country and culture. And this sense of solidarity is such that the Bible insists that both Jews and non-Jews are to be subject to the same laws, the latter having the same legal protections as the former. The Book of Numbers has it thus: “The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord. The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you.”

Through the biblical prophets, the people of Israel are regularly scolded for their forgetfulness, and lambasted for their failure to keep faith with the covenant they made with God. The prophets represented the self-critical vigilance of the Jewish people. They spoke the uncomfortable truth to power. Oh, how we need to listen to their voices once again.