Rabbi Yechezkel “Chatzkel” Abramsky (1886 – September 19, 1976), legendary sage and rabbinical judge of London and Jerusalem, taught that “Jewish identity’ derives from three attributes of our ethnicity: being part of a special nation, a special religion, and a special holy community. Onmost weekdays we enumerate these three fundamentals in the Tahanun entreaty that we recite immediately after the daily Shemoneh Esrei prayer.
The first element⸻being part of a special nation⸻is indicated by the words: “Guardian of Israel, guard the remnant of Israel, and do not destroy Israel, [and] those who recite ‘Shema Yisrael’.” Have any of us ever noticed that the prayer expresses the word “Israel” and not “Jews”, identifying us, inthis case, as a nationality? It also speaks of our national heritage instead of our religion/faith. “Israel”, after all, originates with the name of our patriarch, Yisrael and it is also the special term for our national homeland⸻and every member of “the tribe” responds to the familiar words “Shema Yisrael”.
We begin Tahanun by pleading with the Almighty to preserve also those Jews who do not identify with a traditional code of conduct or a strict commitment to a particular or set of beliefs. It is enough that they are Jews living in the State of Israel, or diaspora Jews who identify with the “Jewish family” in times of crisis. This is the covenant of Jewish peoplehood that God established with Avraham.
Tahanun continues: “Guardian of a unique people, guard the remnant of a unique nation, and do not destroy a unique people, who declare Your Name one and unique, the Lord our God is one and unique.”
In this stage of the prayer, we ask for the preservation also of those who see themselves as “Jews” in addition to being Israelis, those who live a unique traditional lifestyle of Sabbath, festivals and kashrut, and those who are committed to faith in one God. These Jews express the covenant at Sinai, the special religious beliefs and way of life that make Jews a singular and unique people
The prayer concludes: “Guardian of a sacred people, guard the remnant of a sacred nation, and do not destroy a sacred people. . . .” This is the final and highest aspect of our ethnicity: in addition to our being a nation and a religion⸻Jews and Israelis are bound up together with a family-nation-state and are committed to a system of traditions and beliefs⸻thus we are also the Jewish people bound by those same traditions and beliefs.
Yes, the non-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel are certainly Jewish (even if they have substituted the wisdom of the Democratic donkey for that of Bilʿam’s), but I become weary and leery of their advice to Israel when they have lost their raison d’etre (allegedly to rescue and appeal to those Jews who cannot follow Orthodox/Torah Judaism. Their intermarriage rate is up to 70% in America and I suggest that they put their own house in order before moralizing to those of us in Israel. After all, the basic tenet of a “unique people” is remaining “Jewish.”