On April 20, fourteen members of the Regent community joined Rabbi Israel Zoberman for a discussion of Lion’s Honey, David Grossman’s examination and retelling of the Sampson story in Judges 13-16. For Grossman, Samson is a metaphor for the tension inherent in Zionism and modern Israel. As Rabbi Zoberman explained, the birth of modern Zionism was deeply “anti-rabbinic” in calling on Jews in the diaspora to look to themselves for their own welfare and to establish a Jewish state before the coming of the messiah. Whereas European Rabbis had traditionally emphasized study and submission to the Gentile authorities, virulent anti-Semitism convinced Zionists that Jews must have a strong state to guarantee their own survival.
Rabbi Zoberman emphasized that Samson is a metaphor for modern Israeli society not only because, like Samson, Israel is so much stronger than her enemies; but also because like Samson, a Nazarite (from the Hebrew word nazir meaning “consecrated” or “separated”), the Jewish people have been called by God “to be a special people unto Himself” (Deuteronomy 7:6). This tension, according to Rabbi Zoberman, between the Biblical and rabbinic teaching that the Jews are a “special people” unto God and the Zionist insistence that Jews must count on themselves for their defense, is one of the ironies of Jewish history that continue to define and shape Israel today.