[A full English translation of Megillat Haatzmaut follows this article. The numbers referred to in the article correspond with the numbered clauses of Megillat Haatzmaut]
The Megillat Haatzmaut, proclaiming an independent Jewish state on the soil of Israel, offers educational significance far beyond the historical framework in which it was drafted. Its value as an historical document is obvious. Yet, the alert teacher can use the Megillat Haatzmaut, (heretofore referred to as MA), as the basis for serious textual reading, literary and comparative analysis, Zionist thought and chibbat haaretz. If the Zionism that we seek to foster within our students is to have meaning, it must rise above the polyester convenience of sloganism to thoughtful inquiry and reasoned analysis. A careful study of the MA can help achieve that end.
The purpose of this article is to offer various questions and exercises that will aid the students to better understand the MA and its application to their appreciation of Israel and Zionism. While no specific lesson plans are offered here, it is hoped that the material presented will inspire serious study of this important document.
In presenting the MA, it is most helpful to number the various segments for easy reference and to help make the document more digestible. It is suggested that before the students even look at the document, they should engage in the following first exercise.
Exercise 1: If you were asked to participate in the drafting of the MA proclaiming the right of the Jewish people to establish an independent state on the land of Israel, what would your lead paragraph be?
Q: When a declaration of independence is drafted, whom do the authors address?
Exercise II: Have the students read the entire MA. In a general manner have them indicate the transitional paragraph and identify the word that indicates that transition.
Describe the content of section I (one word).
Describe the content of section II (one word).
Exercise III: See Shmuel 1 8:5: “Provide for us a king like all the other nations, to judge us.” See Radak: “Some Rabbis say that the request of the elders was proper, as it is written, ‘Provide for us a king to judge us. ‘ But the general populace corrupted [the request] as it is written ‘So that we too should be like all the other nations
Q: Compare the phrase in paragraph 10 of the MA, “a nation as all other nations” with the verse in Shmuel as interpreted by Radak.
Q: What do many find offensive about this phrase? How do others interpret this phrase to be in harmony with religious Jewish thought?
Questions of critical analysis of the document:
1) Nowhere in the MA is the Biblical covenant mentioned as a justification for a Jewish state. What are the possible reasons for such an omission? Are such omissions from the MA justifiable?
2) What is the basic contention of paragraph 1?
3) What new dimension is introduced in paragraph 2?
4) What new dimensions appear in paragraphs 4-5?
5) How are the arguments of 6-7 fundamentally different from previous paragraphs?
6) How do paragraphs 8-10 contribute to the overall argument for the establishment of a Jewish state?
7) There seem to be four basic thrusts in the justification for a Jewish state. Please identify them and the paragraphs in which they appear.
8) Of all the justifications put forth for a Jewish state, which is the most compelling to you?
9) Paragraph 20 is actually a free translation. The first three words of the paragraph read “B’bitachon b’Tzur Yisrael.” Thus, G-d is never directly mentioned in the Hebrew text. (Tzur Yisrael has always been considered a direct reference to G-d in Tanakh, Rabbinic literature and in the liturgy). The use of this term, however, was deemed a compromise between two opposing groups. The religious Jews demanded a direct reference to G-d within the MA. A certain segment of secularists adamantly opposed the reference. How do you relate to a MA that does make a direct reference to G-d? To what degree does this omission hamper your ability to take pride in this document?
10) Cite specific passages within the MA that point to enduring attachment and “oneness” of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael.
Comparative Analysis A – from B’or Ha’tekhelet Haazah by Amos Oz1
The Land of the Jews could not be born, nor could it exist anywhere but on this spot, not in Uganda nor Ararat nor in Birobidzhan,* because it was to this place that Jews turned their thoughts in every generation. Regarding this, I must make a serious, almost cruel distinction between the internal motivations of the Return to Zion and its justification to other people.
The yearnings of the generations are motivations – not justification. Political Zionism made a political tool out of the religious, messianic yearnings. Properly so. But our justification as regards the Arab populous of the land cannot rely upon our yearnings throughout the generations. What do they care about our yearnings? There is no objective justification for the Zionist enterprise beyond the right of a drowning man to grab the only plank in the sea available to save him. That [justification] is sufficient.
Q: Which paragraphs within the MA would Amos Oz term valid justifications for the establishment of Medinat Yisrael?
Q: Please explain the distinction that Oz makes between motivation and justification. Do you agree with that distinction? If you agree that yearning is only a motivation for the “Return” but not justification for it, do sections 1-3 belong in the MA? Why or why not?
Comparative Analysis B – from “The Land of Israel” by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook2
Eretz Yisrael is not something apart from the soul of the Jewish people; it is no mere national possession, serving as a means of unifying our people and buttressing its material, or even its spiritual survival. Eretz Yisrael is a part of the very essence of our nationhood, it is bound organically to its very life and inner being. Human reason, even at its most sublime, cannot begin to understand the unique holiness of Eretz Yisrael; it cannot stir the depths of love for the land that are dormant within our people. What Eretz Yisrael means to the Jew can be felt only through the spirit of G-d which is in our people as a whole, through the spiritual cast of the Jewish soul, which radiates its characteristic influence to every healthy emotion.
Q: How does Rav Kook’s view of the relationship of the land of Israel to the Jewish people differ from the view expressed by Amos Oz?
Q: According to the above, would yearning for the land of Israel be a justification or a motivation for Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel?
Q: Compare the responses of Rav Kook and Amos Oz on whether it is possible to have a legitimate Jewish state that is not located on the soil of Israel.
(See also “The Divine Idea and the National Idea in Israel” in Orot by Rav Kook, published by Mossad Harav Kook, 1982, p. 102: “To fulfill the destiny [of living in the Divine light] this society must have a political and social state and a seat of national rule of the highest human culture.”)
Of course, no study of the Jewish people’s right to live on the soil of Israel can be complete without reference to the Biblical, Rabbinic, and liturgical sources relating to that right. The exploration of these sources, however, constitutes a separate presentation. From a religious standpoint, the Megillat Haatzmaut is far from a perfect document. But we can use it as a tool to help us strengthen our understanding of our own relationship to that awesome phenomenon of Jewish sovereignty on the soil of Eretz Yisrael.
Declaration of Israeli Independence
Issued at Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948 (5th of lyar, 5708)
(1) The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.
(2) Exiled from Palestine, the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom.
(3) Impelled by this historic association, Jews strove throughout the centuries to go back to the land of their fathers and regain their statehood. In recent decades they returned in masses. They reclaimed the wilderness, revived their language, built cities and villages and established a vigorous and ever-growing community, with its own economic and cultural life. They sought peace yet were ever prepared to defend themselves. They brought the blessing of progress to all inhabitants of the country.
(4) In the year 1897 the First Zionist Congress, inspired by Theodor Herzl’s vision of the Jewish State, proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national revival in their own country.
(5) This right was acknowledged by the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, and re-affirmed by the Mandate of the League of Nations, which gave explicit international recognition to the historic connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and their right to reconstitute their National Home.
(6) The Nazi holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the urgency of the reestablishment of the Jewish State, which would solve the problem of Jewish homelessness by opening the gates to all Jews and lifting the Jewish people to equality in the family of nations.
(7) The survivors of the European catastrophe, as well as Jews from other lands, proclaiming their right to a life of dignity, freedom and labor, and undeterred by hazards, hardships and obstacles, have tried unceasingly to enter Palestine.
(8) In the Second World War the Jewish people in Palestine made a full contribution in the struggle of the freedom-loving nations against the Nazi evil. The sacrifices of their soldiers and the efforts of their workers gained them title to rank with the peoples who founded the United Nations.
(9) On November 29,1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Resolution for the establishment of an independent Jewish State in Palestine, and called upon the inhabitants of the country to take such steps as may be necessary on their part to put the plan into effect.
(10) This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their independent State may not be revoked. It is, moreover, the self-evident right of the Jewish people to be a nation, as all other nations, in its own sovereign State.
(11) ACCORDINGLY, WE the members of the National Council, representing the Jewish people in Palestine and the Zionist movement of the world, met together in solemn assembly today, the day of termination of the British mandate for Palestine, by virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish people and of the Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations,
(12) HEREBY PROCLAIM the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called ISRAEL.
(13) WE HEREBY DECLARE that as from the termination of the Mandate at midnight, this night of the 14th to 15th May, 1948, and until the setting up of the duly elected bodies of a Constituent Assembly not later than the first day of October, 1948, the present National Council shall act as the provisional administration, shall constitute the Provisional Government of the State of Israel.
(14) THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines andHoly Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
(15) THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be ready to cooperate with the organs and representatives of the United Nations in the implementation of the Resolution of the Assembly of November 29, 1947, and will take steps to bring about the Economic Union over the whole of Palestine.
(16) We appeal to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building of its State and to admit Israel into the family of nations.
(17) In the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its bodies and institutions provisional or permanent.
(18) We offer peace and unity to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all.
(19) Our call goes out to the Jewish people all over theworld to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations the redemption of Israel.
(20) With trust in Almighty G-d we set our hand to this Declaration, at this Session of the Provisional State Council, in the city of Tel Aviv, on this Sabbath eve, the fifth of Iyar, 5708, the fourteenth day of May, 1948.
1 Published by Hakibbutz Haartzi Hashomer Hatzair, 1985.
* Birobidzhan is a province of the Soviet Union north of the Port of Vladwostok. It was designated in 1924 by the Soviet government to be a exclusively Jewish province.
2 from Arthur Hertzberg, ed., The Zionist Idea, Atheneum Press, N.Y. 1983, p. 419.