Part 1 of 3
Antisemites who pose as anti-Zionists often exploit the Neturei Karta in order to demonise the State of Israel or to use the sect as a foil to legitimise antisemitic tropes. An example of this are Islamic fundamentalists, who in one breath claim that these Jewish anti-Zionists represent the “real” Jews, and in the next allege that European Jews are “khazars” or that secular Jews like David Ben Gurion are not real Jews (or some other similarly themed myth).
Statements such as these are presented in ways which could be construed by the casual observer to mean that they have been sanctioned by the Neturei Karta. All of which gives rise to a number of puzzling questions, the answers to which could help clarify what the Neturei Karta actually believe and what is falsely projected onto them. With this in mind, I emailed some questions to Rabbi Elhanan Beck from the British branch of the Neturei Karta movement. He provided some candid responses:
Me: According to Orthodox Judaism the definition of a Jew is: one who is born of a Jewish mother or one who has undergone a Halachic conversion to Judaism. Does the Neturei Karta accept this definition?
Rabbi E Beck: Yes, we do agree with that definition. At the same time, you see that one’s beliefs or practices are not totally irrelevant, because for a conversion to be valid, the convert must accept upon himself to follow all the laws of the Torah and he must believe in all of its principles. Similarly, even a born Jew who doesn’t believe in the principles of Judaism is not part of the Jewish people, as Maimonides writes in his commentary to the Mishnah.
Now, it is true that once someone is a Jew, he always remains a Jew, but that only means that he has the liabilities of a Jews – he will be punished for violating all the laws, and if he married or divorces a Jewish woman, the marriage or divorce is valid. However, he does not have the privileges of a Jew, for example, he is not trusted to testify that food is kosher, and food he cooks is forbidden for observant Jews to eat. Of course, if such a Jew abandons his sins and false beliefs and comes back to the fold, he would not require conversion.
Me: Your stance on secular Jews who support Zionism is clear. You consider this belief to be heretic. My question is what the status of secular Jews or other religious Jews is who support Zionism. Are they Jews or not? For example, do you consider David Ben Gurion to be a Jew?
Rabbi E Beck: If someone supports Zionism knowing that it is heresy against the Torah, and he deliberately wishes to deny the Torah (like Ben Gurion), then based on the above definition he is excluded from the Jewish people and would only be a Jew for the purposes listed above.
But factually speaking, most religious supporters of Zionist are misled and ignorant of the Torah’s true position, so they don’t realize that they are supporting heresy. They support it because they are convinced that Zionism protects the Jewish people (which is a mistake, even apart from the heretical aspect; on the contrary, the Zionists are the ones bringing the greatest danger upon the Jewish people, both in their country and around the world, by provoking anti-Semitism in every country, especially in the Arab world). For ignorant people like this, the rules are different. We don’t consider them to be outside the Jewish people, just Jews who are mistaken about an important issue.
While we accept them as Jews, we reiterate that this does not take away from the seriousness of this sin and the importance of speaking out against it.
Me: Some of your Muslim allies claim that European Jews are not semites but Khazar converts and thereby have no claim to Palestine. What is your response to that?
Rabbi E Beck: We are certain that the Khazar hypothesis is not true. Yes, some of the Khazars converted to Judaism about 1200 years ago, but they never learned enough about Judaism to keep it fully. Probably most of them assimilated into the non-Jewish population among surrounding nations. European (Ashkenazic) Jews are not descended from Khazars, except for a small few. We are descended from communities of Jews who settled in Germany more than a thousand years ago, and moved eastward into Poland, Russia and Hungary. The proof is that Ashkenazic Jews in all countries spoke a common language, Yiddish, which is a form of German. This shows that they came from the west, not the east. Furthermore, many Ashkenazic Jews are descendants of the Kohanim, the Levites, or have documents to prove their descent from important Jews in Talmudic and Biblical times. The book “The Unbroken Chain” documents some of that lineage. And more recently, DNA tests have shown that Ashkenazim and Sephardim (Jews from Arab countries) are closely related.
It is important when fighting Zionism to stick to only truth and nothing but the truth. When people use falsehood to support a good ideology, it takes away from its credibility. People hear the one falsehood and dismiss even the true parts.
Besides, to claim that today’s Jews are not really Jews and are therefore not entitled to claim Palestine really strengthens Zionism, because it implies that if it can be proven that they are really Jews, they can claim it. Actually, Jews are obligated by their own Torah to remain in exile and make no claim to Palestine until the messiah comes, at which time things will proceed as commanded directly by G-d. Therefore, it is clear that according to the Torah, the Zionists are obligated to give up their state right away and hand it over to non-Jews.