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.
- Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer (1795-1874)
- Rabbi Judah Alkalay (1798-1878)
- Rabbi Samuel Mohilewer (1824-1898)
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)
- 1855--Born in Latvia, had traditional Jewish religious Yeshivah education.
- 1904--Arrived in Ottoman Palestine, but was subsequently was caught in Europe for the duration of World War I, returning after the war to Palestine, which was then under British mandatory rule.
The Jewish community in Palestine was at that time polarized between the "Old Yishuv" (=settlement); i.e., the traditional religious community living a "purely" religious life of study and prayer in the "holy" towns, subsidized by donations from Jews abroad; and the "New Yishuv" consisting of Zionist settlers, largely socialist and anti-religious, who strove for Jewish economic productivity, especially in agricultural settlements.
- 1924--Appointed by British as Chief (Ashkenazic) Rabbi of Palestine.
- Rabbi Kook fought for reconciliation between the Zionists and the religious traditionalists. His legal rulings tried to accommodate the needs of the struggling and economically fragile Zionist settlements; e.g., by permitting agriculture during the Sabbatical year through a farfetched legal fiction.
He also worked for reconciliation between the opposing camps within the Zionist movement, the socialist (Labour) Zionists and the right wing (Revisionist) branch.
- Rabbi Kook was a prolific author. His style was an archaic, flowery kind of Hebrew very different from the spoken vernacular that was being revived at the time.
- He supported the introduction of modernist educational programmes.
Central Themes in his Thought
Jewish Nationalism and Eschatology
- Strong belief in the progressive direction of history towards perfection and enlightenment.
Clear influence of Hegelian and Marxist ideas, as well as traditional Jewish Messianism.
This led to a conviction that the world would come to recognize and support the Jewish claim to national restoration in their homeland.
- Rabbi Kook believed that the "secularist" Zionists were performing a religious mission, even if they were unaware of it. He saw them as fueled by sincere, altruistic motives, and not as heretics.
- The traditionalists, who had abandoned full involvement in day-to-day life in favour of narrowly "religious" pursuits, were products of the anomalous situation of Jewish exile, and hence their model of Judaism was as inauthentic as the secular Zionists who desired a physical, national "redemption."
Rabbi Kook argued that the approaching stage of Jewish history would include both spiritual and material redemption.
- The Jewish people would serve as the vanguard of a universal spiritual revival.
- The religion itself must undergo a spiritual revival. Merely to live according to the commands of Jewish law is insufficient.
- Zionism must have religious content, and cannot be limited to a narrow, parochial nationalism.
Jewish Law (Halakhah)
- A tension exists between creativity and adherence to tradition.
- Judaism strives to unify of the totality of existence under the Divine influence.
This involves a conflict with unrestrained individualism.
- The ideal of religious life is universal, unselfish love (Ahavat hinam).
- Integration of Kabbalah, Hasidism and other streams of Jewish mysticism.
- Emphasis on "light" (appears in titles of many of his books).
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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