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Religious Zionist Movement
The Religious Zionist Movement is a faction within the Zionist movement which justifies Zionist efforts to build a Jewish state in the land of Israel on the basis of Judaism. The main ideologist of religious Zionism was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook who justified Zionism according to Jewish religion and urged young religious Jews to support Zionist efforts to settle Israel, and the secular Labour Zionists to give more consideration to Judaism.
Rabbi Kook saw Zionism as a part of a divine scheme which will finally result in the resettlement of the Jewish people in its homeland. This will bring salvation ("Geula") to Jews, and then to the entire world. After world harmony is achieved because of the refoundation of the Jewish homeland Israel, the Messiah will come.
Religious Jews believe that since the land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael) was given to the ancient Israelites by God, the right of the Jews to that land is permanent and inalienable. To generations of diaspora Jews, Zion has been a symbol of the Holy Land and of their return to it, as promised by God in Biblical prophecies. (See also Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism)
Despite this, many religious Jews were not enthusiastic about Zionism before the 1930s, and many religious organisations opposed it on the grounds that an attempt to re-establish Jewish rule in Israel by human agency is blasphemous, since only the Messiah can accomplish this. They considered it religiously forbidden to try to hasten salvation and the coming of the Messiah. They saw Zionism as an expression of disbelief in God's salvation and power, and therefore as a rebellion against God. Rabbi Kook developed a theological answer to that claim, which gave Zionism a religious legitimation.
Rabbi Kook answer was the following:
- Zionism was not merely a political movement by secular Jews. It was actually a tool of God to promote his divine scheme and to initiate the return of the Jews to their homeland - the land he promised to Abraham, Izhak and Jacob. God wants the children of Israel to return to their home in order to establish a Jewish sovereign state in which Jews could live according to the laws of Torah and Halacha and commit the Mitzvot of Eretz Israel (these are religious commandments which can be performed only in the land of Israel). Moreover, to cultivate the land of Israel was a Mitzva by itself and it should be carried out. Therefore, settling Israel is an obligation of the religious Jews and helping Zionism is actually following God's will.
Another big problem of religious Jews with Zionism is that Zionists were largely secular Jews, and in some cases were atheist in their point of view. The atheism of the early Zionists was imported from Marxism by Socialist Zionism which saw Zionism as an avant-garde effort of building an advanced socialist society in the land of Israel, while solving the antisemitism problem. The Kibbutz is a good example of Socialist Zionism : it was a communal settlement set to fulfill national goals, in which no Jewish law was observed (such as Kosher food). Rabbi Kook had an answer to this as well:
- Secular Zionists may think they do it for political, national or socialist reasons, but in fact - the actual reason for them coming to resettle in Israel is a religious Jewish spark ("Nitzotz") in their soul, planted by God. Without their knowledge, they are contributing to the divine scheme and actually commiting a great Mitzva.
- The role of religious Zionists is to help them to establish a Jewish state and turn the religious spark in them into a great light. They should show them that the real source of Zionism and the longed-for Zion is Judaism and teach them Torah with love and kindness. In the end, they will understand that the laws of Torah are the key to true harmony and a socialist state (not in the Marxist meaning) that will be a light for the "goyim" and bring salvation to the world.
Professor Shlomo Avineri explains the last part of Kook's answer:
- וסופם של חלוצים אלה, המגששים בעוורון החילוניות, אך האור הגנוז שבהם מוליכם אל דרך הגאולה - סופם ש"מלא-לשמו" יגיעו "לשמו" -עמוד 222
- "... and the end of those pioneers, who scout into the blindness of secularism and atheism, but the treasured light inside them leads them into the path of salvation - their end is that from doing Mitzva without purpose, they will do Mitzva with a purpose." (page 222, 1)
History and organizations
The first Rabbis who supported Zionism were Rabbi Yehuda Shlomo Elkalay and Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Klisher . They argued that the change in the status of Western Europe's Jews following emancipation was the first step toward salvation (גאולה) and that therefore one must hasten the messianic salvation by a natural salvation — whose main pillars are the Kibbutz Galuyut ("Gathering of the Exiles"), the return to Eretz Israel, agricultural work (עבודת אדמה) and the revival of the everyday use of the Hebrew language.
The Mizrachi (acronym for Merkaz Ruchani or "religious centre") is the name of the religious Zionist organization founded in 1902 in Vilna at a world conference of religious Zionists called by Rabbi Yitzchak Yaacov Reines . It operates a youth movement, Bnei Akiva which was founded in 1929.
Mizrachi believes that the Torah should be at the centre of Zionism and also sees Jewish nationalism as a tool for achieving religious objectives. The Mizrachi party was the first official religious Zionist party and founded the Ministry of Religion in Israel and pushed for laws enforcing kashrut and the observance of the sabbath. It also played a role prior to the creation of the state of Israel in building a network of religious schools that exist to this day.
The flagship religious institution of the religious Zionist movement is "Merkaz ha-Rav " Yeshiva, which supplied the religious Zionist movement most of its Rabbis and scholars.
Religious Zionism today
Religious Zionists are often called "Kippot Sruggot" because of the knitted skull caps that they wear. In Israel, different factions of Orthodox Judaism can be distinguished by the headgear of its members (such as Haredi Ashkenazi, Haredi Mizrahi, Hassidic etc).
Most religious Zionists are right wing supporters and vote for the Mafdal (National Religious Party), Likud (Conservative party) and National Union (nationalist party). However, there is a small minority of left wing religious Zionists. They are headed by Rabbi Michael Malkior and represented by the Meimad party (ran together with the Israeli Labor party).
Military service is an important value among religious Zionists and in recent years they have gained a majority in the Israeli Defence Forces NCOs' and petty officers' staff. They have a high presence in combat units and are considered by IDF officers and commanders as quality soldiers and officers.
Female religious Zionists are exempt from military service, but do a two-year national service instead (such as working at hospitals, schools and day-care centers).
Notable religious Zionist figures
This is a list of current notable religious Zionist leaders. The list is sorted lexiographicly according to the last name.
- Rabbi Shlomo Avinar - head of "Ateret Kohanim" Yeshiva and pillar idealog of the Religious Zionist Movement
- Rabbi Chaim Drukman - former member of Mafdal
- Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu - the unofficial spiritual leader of the Mafdal
- Efi Eitam - IDF war hero and the leader of the Mafdal.
- Rabbi Michael Malkior - leader of Meimad (left wing religious Zionism).
- Zvulon Orlev - the leader of the Mafdal "pragmatist" faction.
- Rabbi Yuval Sherlo - "pragmatist" religious Zionist Rabbi
- Rabbi Abraham Shpira - the spiritual leader of the Religious Zionism and the head of "Merkaz ha-Rav" Yeshiva.
- A Historical Look at Religious Zionism by Prof. Dan Michman
- List of Israel's most influencing Rabbis (Hebrew)
- "Kipa - House of Religious Zionism" - an Israeli Jewish portal for Judaism, Religious Zionism and Torah studies. The portal include large Responsa section, in which Rabbis answer questions sent by the surfers.
- Mafdal (overview in English)
- Religious Zionism And Modern Orthodoxy, Rav Yosef Blau
- Orthodox Zionism, Prof. Eliezer Segal
- Religious Zionism, Compromise or Ideal?, hagshama.org.il
- Religious Zionism: Between Openness and Closedness, Prof. Avi Saguy
- "The Zionist Idea and its variations" - professor Shlomo Avineri , Am Oved publishing, chapter 17: "Rabbi Kook - the dialection in salvation"
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