Kosher Bookworm

‘The Accidental Zionist’ by Rabbi Ian Pear


This week’s book, “The Accidental Zionist” by Rabbi Ian Pear (New Song Publishers, 2008) is an 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 Pear succeeds.

The premise of the book 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. What’s new about that?)

In this book we are presented with a series of challenges that reflect the views of a rabbi (a proud YU grad and a ba’al teshuva) who takes his religious beliefs very seriously. Rabbi Pear has degrees in law from NYU’s School of Law and in international relations from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

What I found most endearing about this book was the sharp focus the author places on his deep devotion to the religious component of the State of Israel’s purpose for existence. Without our belief in the divine origin of our claim to Eretz Yisrael, all else is 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. Rabbi Pear places this divine claim as the predicate for all that comes in train when it involves the safety, security and wellbeing of Israel.

This predicate transcends religious denominational divisions, particularly that of the Mesorati (Conservative) movement in Israel that shares the same belief in the divine origin of our historic claims to Israel. In addition, Rabbi 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.

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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 high-tech economy and a magnificent higher educational system, Rabbi Pear opines that we are only defined by higher spiritual criteria. And how right he is, with no apologies and no misgivings.

While at times a bit much, his personal anecdotes 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.

Toward the conclusion of this book, the author quotes 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.