Orthodox Zionism

Early Orthodox Proponents of Zionism

Although most leaders of traditionalist Judaism were hostile to political Zionism, a few significant individuals recognized the authentic religious roots of Jewish messianism, and were among the first to discern the profound social and political difficulties that beset European Jewry.

Among the most prominent precursors of religious Zionism were:

The Orthodox supporters of Zionism organized as the Mizrachi movement (literally: "Eastern", but actually derived from the Hebrew acronym for "Spiritual Centre"). The party was founded in 1901 at a conference of religious Zionists convened in Vilna by Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines (1839-1915), who served as the organizations first president.

In 1905 Rabbi Reines established the first modern yeshivah in Eastern Europe, in Lida, Lithuania. Here the traditional religious curriculum was combined with practical secular subjects. He argued that Orthodoxy would be at a disadvantage as long as religious Jews could not achieve economic affluence.

The ideology of the Mizrachi movement saw Jewish nationalism as an instrument for realizing religious objectives, especially of enhancing the opportunities for the observance of the Torah by a Jewish society dwelling on its own soil.

In addition to its important network of modern religious schools (which became the basis for the Israeli State Religious School System), in which spoken Hebrew and Biblical studies were taught (unlike the traditional yeshivot), the Mizrachi participated fully in Zionist congresses and other political activities, and trained its members for agricultural labour in Palestine. Largely through its youth movement, B'nai Akiva, it established settlements, especially in the Beit She'an valley in the Galilee.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935)

Religious Zionism in Israel

In the early decades of Israeli statehood, the mainstream religious Zionist movements (the "Mizrachi" and its affiliates) encouraged full participation with the secular majority.

A prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel was formulated and is recited in most synagogues. It refers to the Jewish state as "the first flowering of our redemption."

The chief Rabbinate (with separate Ashkenazic and Sepharadic branches) was appointed by the government and accepted as authoritative by most religious Zionists.

Under Israeli law matters of family law (marriage and divorce) and personal status were placed under the exclusive jurisdiction of religious (i.e., Orthodox) courts.

A new model of yeshivah, combining agricultural training with the traditional Talmudic curriculum, was established by Rabbi Kook's student Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neriah.

Special arrangements (Hesder) were established in order to allow full participation in military service within a programme of yeshivah study.


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