Let me start by saying that this is a very informal, somewhat irreverent book — zany at times about subjects that are dead serious. To put a smile on the face of an impending disaster takes some doing, and in this Rabbi Ian Pear succeeds.
The basic premise of this book with a long title — “The Accidental Zionist: What a Priest, a Pornographer and a Wrestler named Chainsaw Taught Me About Being Jewish, Saving the World and Why Israel Matters to Both”— is that we, the Jewish people, are in deep trouble. Surprise! When aren’t we in trouble?
In good times we have trouble and in bad times we have tzores.
In this book, published in 2008, we are presented with a series of challenges that reflect the views of a ba’al teshuva who takes his religious beliefs very seriously. Rabbi Pear received his rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University, his juris doctor from the NYU School of Law, and a degree in International Politics, Security and Law from Georgetown University’s School for Foreign Service. Now living in Jerusalem with his wife and four children, he is the founder of Shir Hadash, a popular synagogue, educational institute and community center that attracts thousands of overseas visitors each year, Jewish and non-Jewish, to learn more about Judaism, Israel and the Jewish people.
Given this eclectic background, one should not be surprised to see a book so brazen and challenging, by so young an author, be written as a warning against secular nationalism and in defense of religious Zionism.
What I found most endearing about this book was the sharp focus that Pear places on his deep devotion to the religious component of the State of Israel’s purpose for existence. To me, this focus is everything. Without our belief in the divine origin of our claim to Eretz Yisrael, all else is worthless — yes, absolutely worthless.
A godless nationalism, however phrased in eloquent secular terms, is not relevant to our people’s quest for a homeland in the Land of Israel. Pear places this divine claim as the predicate for all that comes in train when it involves the safety, security and wellbeing of Israel.
And mind you, this predicate transcends all of our religious denominational divisions, particularly that of the Mesorati (Conservative) movement in Israel who share the same exact belief in the divine origin of our historic claims to Israel.
In addition, Pear clearly defines how halacha-based ethical monotheism, and an ethical behavior and lifestyle, is at the essence of the Jewish people’s purpose as an agent of G-d’s rule on earth. Basically, Israel is the base for such a message to go forth to all mankind. There is no other purpose for both our existence as a separate nation among the nations of this world and for Israel’s existence as an “Am Segulah,” a treasured, chosen nation. Despite a powerful military, a promising high-tech economy and a magnificent higher educational system, we, as a nation, according to Pear, are only defined by higher spiritual criteria. And how right he is, with no apologies and no misgivings.
Pear’s style of writing, as noted before, helps to make these arguments all the more understandable because of their charm and obvious sincerity. While at times a bit much, his personal anecdotes do make their points obvious to even the most casual of readers. This helps to strengthen arguments that when presented by others seem forced or embarrassingly clumsy at best. In Rabbi Pear’s pen, they are presented with a smile by a man confident in his intellectual skin as to the justice of his beliefs.
Toward the conclusion of this book, the author quotes from one of America’s premier Jewish theologians, Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Berkovitz, of blessed memory, who said the following that should serve as the capstone to this review. He states as follows:
“The concept of Israel as a holy nation [should] not only not conflict with the universalism of Israel’s prophets, but actually lead to it as its own logical completion. The idea of a holy nation is not to be confused with that of nationalism. The goal of nationalism is to serve the nation; a holy nation serves G-d. The law of nationalism is national self-interest: the law of a holy nation is the will of G-d.
In nationalistic ideology, the nation is an end in itself; the holy nation is a means to an end.”
No one else could have said this better than Rav Berkovitz, and Rabbi
Ian Pear knew this, and had the grace to share his words with us.
Originally published in 2009.