Pondering the nature of Jewish identity in today’s world, and the respective challenges faced by Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, Yehudah Mirsky looks to the writings of Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), founder of Israel’s chief rabbinate:
In a justly famous set of reflections written around 1912 or 1913, Kook points to three distinct dimensions of Jewish identity: nation, universal ethics, and the sacred. In pre-modern Jewish life, these all clustered together and reinforced each other. In modern times they split apart, each becoming the property of a specific party—in Kook’s day, respectively, Zionists, socialists, and the Orthodox. These “camps” [did not merely represent] different ways of addressing problems practically, they were vehicles of identity, of articulating and living different visions of Jewishness. But the one thing that they shared—to me, still the indispensable prerequisite to being part of the Jewish conversation today—was a passionate commitment to Jewish physical and cultural survival, each by its own lights.
For Kook, the true meaning of the “sacred” is the ultimate unity of all three: Jewish peoplehood at once particular and universal and thus enacting God’s [nature as a being that is both] universal and particular, [both] transcendent and immanent. . . .
In our day, Jewishness simultaneously affirms the global and the local, the universal and the particular, while lodging a permanent protest against the idea that any one particular identity, and any one—even universalist—ideology is the one-size-fits-all God-like answer to the human condition in all its diversity.