The essence of the Jewish people

The Torah

And you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
(Exodus 19:6)

For you are a holy people unto the L-rd, your G-d.
(Deuteronomy 7:6)

Rabbi Saadia Gaon, leader of Babylonian Jewry (882-942)

Our nation, the Children of Israel, is a nation only by virtue of its Torah.
(Emunos V’deios 3:7)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rabbi of Frankfurt, Germany (1808-1888)

The Torah united all the individual Jews and made them a nation, and therefore even after they were distanced from their land and deprived of sovereignty, they are a nation, not primarily because of their past, nor because of their future, when they hope G-d will return them to their land, but because they are the bearers of an eternal tradition, a people that fulfills its covenant with G-d. It was thanks to this identity that they have been able to maintain their existence despite the destruction of their land and sovereignty.
(Horeb, p. 460)

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Rosh Yeshiva of Baranovitch, Poland (1874-1941)
When we say in our prayers that the words of Torah are our lives, we do not mean only in the World to Come. Here too, in this world, we have no life except by virtue of the Torah. As soon as the Jewish people leaves the Torah, they have no existence and continuity. The Jews assimilate and eventually become lost among the nations. The next generation has forgotten where it came from. The process ends in total destruction, G-d forbid. Having a connection with a homeland, the land of Zion and Jerusalem, is no guarantee for the continuity of the Jewish people.
People are led astray after false ideologies proclaim that a homeland can be a basis for our existence and salvation. Who knows if this mistake will not cost us? Who knows if we will not bring upon ourselves some new tragedy, whose purpose is to erase this bitter error. For only the Torah is the homeland and soil that sustains the Jewish people.”
(Kovetz Maamarim, vol. 1, p. 140)