Hartman Examines How the Six-Day War Forever Changed Jews and Judaism
Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War planted the seeds for profound dissension among the Jewish people that exists to this day.
These were just some of the sobering words that Rabbi Donniel Hartman told close to 100 attendees at a recent salon at the home of Debbie and Naty Saidoff in Bel Air.
Hartman is the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, a pluralistic research and education center focused on deepening the quality of Jewish life both in Israel and the Diaspora.
His 2016 book, “Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself,” examines why Judaism, Christianity and Islam fall short of their professed goals of creating people of high moral standards.
At the Saidoffs’ salon, though, Hartman focused on how to navigate the dissension that exists as a result of the victory in the Six-Day War. That division, he said, influences Israeli policies and attitudes toward Palestinians, Zionism and secular-vs.-religious Judaism. That year, Hartman argued, was when a new trinity of Jewish life was born: power, land and God.
“1967 was the first time you could associate the words Jews and power,” Hartman said. “Throughout most of history, we had never been a people of power.”
In suddenly being able to defend Israel, the Jewish people attained a new sense of pride. “With power, you could be proud to be Jewish. David defeating Goliath is a great story,” he said. “It restructured Jewish self-understanding.”
It is pride, Hartman said, that makes possible secular Judaism, with its view that “I don’t have to love Torah in order to be a Jew; [I] just want to belong to the Jewish people.”
But the line between pride and arrogance is thin, he said. “Power can make you put your civility on hold and it begins to undermine the civility of the State of Israel itself. One of the great challenges we face — more Jews are divided between Democrats and Republicans, pro-Trump, no-Trump, Likud, Labor — is to what extent you believe power is a blessing or a curse.”
Because of the victory in 1967, the Jewish people became for the first time not just the people of the book but also the people of the land, Hartman argued. “In 1947, we accepted borders where not one of our holy sites was under Jewish control — borders which were basically disconnected from the Israel of our past.”
“Power can make you put your civility on hold.” – Rabbi Donniel Hartman
But with the capture of Jerusalem, Schem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Shilo and Bet El (among others), Jews became the people of the land. “For secular people, it became, ‘Now I want to be Jewish, not because I want to be part of Torah. I don’t need a synagogue or Torah. The land creates a connection to my identity.’ ”
The people who took the idea of land most seriously, though, Hartman said, were religious Zionists. “They always believed that when am Yisra’el (the people of Israel) lived in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel), that would bring about the Moshiach (messiah).”
Just like power, Hartman argued, land is a great gift. “But is it a means or an end?” Nobody, he said, wants to go back to pre-1967 borders. “We don’t want to live in a world where our existence is precarious, but when means and end get switched, you have a dilemma.”
1967 started the discourse on land — a conversation Hartman called one of the most central in Jewish life. “A whole generation of Jews says, ‘I want to talk to you about Israel, but what about the occupation?’ And you can say, ‘How can I occupy my own land?’ ”
For Hartman, what matters is precisely how much land, what Jews should do with that land, and what happens when other people are living on that land.
“There were 1 million Palestinians living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in 1967,” he said. “Today, there are between 4 and 6 million [depending on your political point of view]. How do you deal with that? Is compromise possible? So, has land become an end or a means? And how do we talk about that?”
God always has been a problem for Jews, Hartman said, because in the Bible Jews were the chosen people God freed from Egypt. But the God of the Bible created an expectation that reality never fulfilled, he said. “For Jews, God is phenomenal in the past and in the future, but it’s in the present that we’re having some difficulties.”
In the face of so much tragedy, the Jewish tradition embraced the notion of a world to come, since that faith helped maintain the belief that God still loves the Jewish people, Hartman said.
“But it’s in 1967 that God returns fully,” he said. “We can now say that God loves us, that he created a miracle. It was the victory after three weeks of terror when we thought a second Holocaust would happen.”
“Feeling loved by God is a nice thing, but post-’67 there begins to enter Israeli politics a sense of ‘I don’t have to worry about the seat of power; I live by different concerns.’ Today, Israel’s Givati Brigade goes to war with a badge that says ‘God is with you.’ Is that a gift or a challenge? Is it good that our soldiers believe God is fighting with them?”
Addressing the challenges posed by power, land and God is “crucial to moving forward and learning how to talk to each other,” Hartman said. He spoke of how Jews are constantly “shushing” one another, challenging others’ right to speak unless they share the same views.
While most in the audience praised the presentation, one attendee pushed back, saying that, while after 1967 Israel held Jews together, Jews who oppose Israeli policies today are “the best transmitters of anti-Semitism.”
Hartman responded, “The Jewish people don’t get to tell people you have to be connected to Israel because without that we’re facing a new black hole of global anti-Semitism. We don’t get to make Israel important through convincing everybody that the end is coming. We have to do it by having an Israel that inspires everyone.”