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Religious Zionism

Introduction to Religious Zionism

Members of a Kibbutz in the land of Israel


The varieties of Zionism take many forms. There are: (1)  secular political Zionists like Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau, (2) cultural Zionists like Ahad Ha-Am (Asher Zvi Ginsberg) and Hayyim Nahman Bialik,  Micah Joseph Berdichevski, Joseph Hayyim Brenner, Jacob Klatzin, Judah Leon Magnes, Dr. Chaim Wiezman, and Martin Buber, (3) socialist and Marxist  Zionists such as Nahman Syrkin, Ber Borochov, Aaron David Gordon, Berl Katznelson, and (4) the many different kinds of religous Zionists. Of the secular Zionists, many of them in Russia saw a need for a Jewish state either as an outcome of the Dreyfus affair or because of outcries in Russia in the 1870s and 1880s with Peretz Smolenskin, Dr. Eliezer Ben Yehudah, Moseh Leib Lilienblum, and Leo Pinsker.  The heady European intellectuals in search of roots pre-WWII also contributed to the discussion of Jewish nationalism in a secular modality (for example, Bernard Lazare, Edmond Fleg, Ludwig Lewisohn, Richard Gottheil, Solomon Schechter, Louis Brandeis, Horace Kallen, Mordechai Kaplan, etc.).

This library guide is on the religious Zionists. Early precursors of these religious Zionists include: Rabbi Yehudah Alkalai (1798-1878), and Religious Nationalists such as Rabbi Samuel Mohilever (1824-1898), Yehiel Michael Pines (1842-1912), Rabbi Isaac Kook (1865-1925), Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (1880-1949), Rabbi Kahana, etc. While there are many types of religious Zionists, what unites them is the commitment to Torah, the land of Israel, and Hashem. However, the fundamental vision of the religious Zionists, which often makes modern secularists uncomfortable, is the commitment to a return to a Jewish theocracy in the land of Israel with legal matters adjudicated by a Sanhedrin as per the predictions of many medieval Jewish philosophers, including Maimonides.

Maimonides, in the 14th section of the Misneh Torah named Sefer Shoftim, Hilchot Melachim U'Milchamoteihem,  writes: "In the future, the Messianic King will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will rebuild the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel. Then in his days the observance of all the statutes will return to their previous state. We will offer korbanot, observe the Sabbatical year and Jubilee years according to all their particulars as described in the Torah."

What is radical about Maimonides' position is that he holds that, based on an opinion of the sages, "there will be no difference between the current age and the Messianic era except the emancipation from our subjugation to the gentile Kingdoms and freedom from persecution. Once the messianic kingdom is established according to Torah principles, there will be no more war, no famine, no persecutions, blessing will be abundant, the one preoccupation of the world will be to know Hashem and come close to Him may his name be exalted, ingathering of exiles, and the primary criteria will be the re-establishment of the Temple and Sanhedrin...In that era there will be neither famine, or war, envy or competition for good will flow in abundance and all the delights, of which there are only intellectual delights, will be freely available as dust" (For more on Rambam's messianism, see here).

Unfortunately, there are tensions between secular Zionists and religous Zionists. Often the secularists today resent the Haredi religious Jews for resisting serving in the Israeli military (IDF), and feel it unfair that religious Zionists often have disproportionate representative influence on Israeli elections as swing votes.  When Yahdut is achieved and ahavas hinam, ahavas yisrael, and ahavas olam, then perhaps the fulfillment of the religious Zionists' vision of their dreams will come to light, as so envisioned by greater medieval luminaries such as Maimonides, who saw this redemption, and classified its conditions and the objective criteria necessary for its fulfillment.

David  B Levy

Review of Reuven Firestone's book, Holy War In Judaism

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