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The Law of the Jungle & the Jews

May 27, 2015

"The Law for the Wolves" is very much like the law for the Jews.

Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
- “The Law for the Wolves” by Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)

Having lived on a Zionist kibbutz (Afikim) in the Jordan Valley, I learned as a teenager about Zionism directly from people who had been raised with notions of the Jewish collective and Jewish nationalism.  It did not take long for this observant outsider to realize that Zionism is nothing more than Jewish tribalism, although “the tribe” is not really a tribe in the true sense of the word. The Jews that I met on the kibbutz and in Israel came from every corner of the world and really had nothing in common except their belief that somehow they belonged to the same tribe, or perhaps one of the other lost tribes of Israel.

It is pretty absurd how deep that belief goes. I remember asking my girlfriend’s father, the history teacher on the kibbutz, which tribe he thought he came from. I remember him saying that he thought he came from the tribe of Ben. He was a fair-skinned and red-headed “Jew” named Izi Merimsky whose parents had migrated to Palestine from somewhere in the Pale of Settlement of Western Russia. 

There were, on the other hand, families on the kibbutz from Yemen, Morocco, Argentina, Iraq, India, Poland, and America. They were all very different, but they all seemed to operate on the belief that somehow they were from the same tribe and that loyalty to the tribe was all that mattered. The laws of the state and the kibbutz all reinforced the notion that loyalty to the tribe was the supreme good, while individualism was something of a foreign concept.

I was not a member of the tribe and that made me an outsider, something I understood very clearly from my very first days on the kibbutz. I was an 18-year-old Christian American wandering around the Middle East who had migrated to Palestine and Israel from snowy Tehran, which meant a long journey in the middle of winter across Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and the occupied West Bank.

To understand Zionism one needs to understand how Zionists view Jews as members of a collective. Collective in this sense means people acting as a group. A good source to understand what is meant by the Jewish collective is the Jewish Agency for Israel, the central organ of the Zionist establishment, which has a webpage for Jewish teachers called, “Activity: Who are the Jews?”

The following are extracts from that webpage in which teachers are encouraged to discuss Jewish identity with their students:

The aim of this activity is to provide space for the students to define the entire Jewish collective of which they are a part…

Write a separate list of the things that the students think would take them out of the collective, and discuss it. Is it, in fact, possible to take yourself out of the Jewish collective? Does conversion take you out? Does being a ‘Jew for Jesus’ take you out? Does acting in a treacherous way against other Jews take you out? Does acting in an immoral way take you out?

Now hand out the following piece for the group’s consideration. It was written in the mid-1870s by Peretz Smolenskin, a pre-Zionist ideologist of Jewish nationalism who had an enormous effect in the Eastern Europe of the late-nineteenth century. We have chosen Smolenskin because he deals directly with the issues that we have mentioned, not because we feel that the students should necessarily accept his position.

His essential argument, presented in this piece, was that the Jews must continue to see themselves as a nation open to Jews of all religious outlooks. Religious observance was a criterion neither for belonging to the Jewish collective nor for being seen to live a Jewish life.

The essential criterion for a Jewish life was acceptance of the nation. Only a Jew who sinned against his/her nation should be seen as outside the collective and not living a Jewish life.

Extracts from Peretz Smolenskin’s “It Is Time to Plant”

The Jewish people has outlived all others because it has always regarded itself as a people - a spiritual nation. Without exception, its sages and writers, its prophets and the authors of its prayers, have always called it a people…

Thinking people understand that this unity is the secret of our strength and vitality. But such unity can only come from a fraternal feeling, from a national sentiment that makes everyone born a Jew declare: I am a son of this people…

No matter what his sins against religion, every Jew belongs to his people as long as he does not betray it…

It seems like being a Jew is a lot like being a wolf. Maybe that is where the name came from. As Rudyard Kipling wrote in “The Law for the Wolves", "…the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack." 


"The Law for the Wolves" by Rudyard Kipling, from "Law of the Jungle," Wikipedia, May 27, 2015

“Activity: Who are the Jews?” Jewish Agency for Israel,, May 27, 2015 

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