Rabbi Sacks on 21st Century Israel

JInsider (March 2010)

We are ready for Zionism Mark Two, because Zionism Mark One had a very simple challenge. Brilliantly achieved, the creation of a Jewish state. Zionism Mark Two has not yet been done. Not seriously yet been tried: the creation of a Jewish society. Why do I say this? Fundamentally, read Torah, read the books of Moses. What are they about? A spiritual discipline for very highly individuals? No. They're the code, the architectonic of a society. So they tell you how to treat employees. They tell you how to create a welfare system based on, sharing agricultural produce with the poor. They tell you how to do environment: Let the fields live fallow, one year in seven and one year in 50. The whole thing is the blueprint of a society.

Now, Jews have lived in virtually every land under the sun. They have lived in every kind of circumstance, but in 4,000 years, there was only one space on the whole of planet earth, where they had a chance of creating their own society, in accordance with their own values. And that is the state of Israel.

So Israel, the state is there. It's a miracle. We celebrate it. But Israel is, society has not yet fully begun. What kind of Israel might it not be? If it could show the world. Here is a society structured on Tzedakah, here is a place where Shabbat is not something you just celebrated home or in shul, but out there.

What might Israel, the society look like? Number one is society driven by the concept of Tzedakah, when nobody faced really crippling poverty. Do you know how much poverty there is in Israel today? How many people are dependent on soup kitchens for their food? And Israel shouldn't be like that. Israel should be one of the great world's leaders in environmental protection. Don't forget our current environment who crisis is being caused by the destruction of forests. Israel was the first place in the world in the 1860s, Chovevei Tzion, where people didn't cut down trees, they planted trees. They took a barren landscape and made it a landscape of fields, and forests, and farms. Israel should be leading as the world's example of environmental concern.

And of course there are areas where Israel really does lead the world, where we want to show how that connects with our values. For instance, technological creativity. Don't forget, Judaism takes the highest view of human beings of any religion known to humanity. We don't believe with Christianity that we are all corrupt through original sin. We don't believe with Islam that the highest thing in life is submission. We believe that we are God's partners in the work of creation and what a beautiful way Israel does that. Through its advanced Medical Technology, its Information Technology, its Nanotechnology, its extraordinary Agricultural Expertise.

So here are ways in which Israel could not just be a place where Jews live, but a place where Jews live Jewishly. Where Judaism is part of the culture, the media, the ethics of business, the ethics of labour relations. Those would make Israel, not just a place on the map, but the home of human hope. And that, I think, is a challenge that would unite Jews throughout Israel, and throughout the Jewish world. And it would also do so much for Israel standing in the world of nations, because whatever the politics of the situation. You want to see what a small nation with no natural resources can do? Go to Israel.