Religious Zionist: To be or Not to be?

israeli flag in the kotelI grew up in a modern Orthodox community where Israeli flags were hung in every synagogue and in every school. We sang the Israeli National Anthem every day before class, and recited a prayer for the wellbeing of Israeli soldiers every morning before breakfast. To me, it was a given- I was Orthodox, so I was a Zionist. It never occurred to me that the two don’t always go hand in hand and that, in fact, I could be one without the other.

When I was in sixth grade, I went to visit my cousins for a week in Baltimore. Just like I did often with many of my friends, I decided it would be fun to join my cousins for a day in school. They attended at the time an ultra orthodox Jewish day school. I knew the dress code would be different, that there would be only girls and no boys. But what I didn’t know, was that they wouldn’t sing the Israeli National Anthem or recite the prayer for the wellbeing of Israeli soldiers, or have the Israeli flag hanging in the classrooms. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to these things, but since Yom Ha’atzmaut was approaching, it came up in conversation. I asked my cousin, also in sixth grade at the time, what her school does for Yom Ha’atzmaut. I was ready to get into a competitive contest of which school’s barbecue is better, or who gets let out of school earlier. But she told me that her school doesn’t celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, and when I asked her why, she said simply, “Because they’re not Zionistic.”

That’s when I learned that Orthodox Judaism and Zionism are not synonymous.

Why Yes?

There are plenty of reasons why many Orthodox Jews are Zionistic. For starters, almost the entire Jewish Bible seems to have the shared theme of getting the Jewish nation to Israel. It is filled with stories of trying to get there, of failing to get there, of finally getting there, and then of being kicked out. But the whole time, it seems like God is on a mission to get the Jews to the Holy Land.

Also, many religious Jews believe it to be one of the 613 commandments of the Torah to live in Israel. Others believe that it is an underlying principle, and all other commandments can only truly be fulfilled if living in Israel is fulfilled first.

Others see Israel as a Jewish homeland. Just as the Jews are a nation, a nation needs a home.

So Then Why Not?

There are many people who accept the religious Zionist stream. Across the world there are religious Zionist schools and communities, both in Israel and not. At the same time, though, there are many religious Jews who are not Zionists, and many who are even anti-Zionists. Why would this be?

Many religious Jews, though having no problem with the state of Israel, do not believe it to be one of the 613 commandments. And so even though they are not necessarily avid Zionists in the religious sense, they are not necessarily not Zionists either.

Some believe that a Jewish state in modern times is simply not necessary. Diaspora has, for the most part, become a welcoming place for Jews of today, and the concept of a homeland has become irrelevant.

And then there are those who are altogether against the Zionist movement. Many religious Jews, for the most part Ultra Orthodox Jews, believe Israel to be the holiest land. It is, ideally, the Jewish homeland, and where, eventually, the Temple will be rebuilt and the Jews will be gathered in from exile. This will come, it is believed, with the coming of Messiah. Meaning, Israel will become the Jewish homeland by the miraculous hand of God, and will be a wholly religious country. Under these beliefs, they are against not Israel as a homeland, but Israel as the modern state it is today. They do not support the human action taken to establish it as a Jewish state. They do not support that it was established mainly by the secular and irreligious. And they do not support that today it is not a religious country up to par with their religious standards.

Wait… so why yes?

Rav Kook, one of the most influential religious Zionist leaders, in a way turned the ultra orthodox frame of thought against Zionism on its head, and instead took their arguments and used them for Zionism. Rav Kook, living to see the very beginning of the gathering of Jews to Israel, believed that the ingathering was God’s hand in disguise, and that he was actually witnessing the beginning of the coming of the Messiah. The fact that Israel was being established at all was beautiful, and that it was being established by the secular? Well, it wasn’t the secularism in them that he valued in them, but the avid Zionism and loyalty to the land.

Am Yisrael Chai

Walking in the streets of Israel, you may see around you the word “chai.” On emblems, jewelry, graffitied walls, this Hebrew word for life is found at every turn in this country. A country so small, a home for all of the beliefs I mentioned and so many more, the goal as a whole is the same, and its dwellers won’t let you forget it- “Am Yisrael Chai”- The Jewish nation should live.

The Story of Exodus

A special On the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Nissan (which falls out in Spring), Jewish people begin celebrating an eight-day festival called Passover. For seven days they eat no leavened foods, they have a festive meal on the first night called a Seder and celebrate the redemption of their ancestors from ancient Egypt. What exactly happened there in Egypt? Let’s tell you all about it… Continue reading

Ten Lesser Known Facts about Hanukkah

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival celebrated in the winter. Outside of Hanukkah MenorahIsrael, the festival is often considered as the Jewish equivalent to Xmas but this does not do justice to this wonderful festival that is a festival in its own right, with its own history, symbolism and traditions. Unfortunately, as with many other religions, Hanukkah has been commercialized and each year we find another Hanukkah accessory that we “simply can’t live without.” Sometimes, one just needs to go back to the roots and renew the appreciation for a festival in the simplest way, in order to realize the preciousness of it so we would like to present a list of ten lesser known facts about this wonderful festival, in the hope that it will bring back some of the glory to this special eight-day-period. Continue reading

Original Hanukkah Gifts

Another Hanukkah, another Gift-Fest?

Hanukkah 5763 (or 2012 according to the non-Jewish calendar) is rolling around and before long we will be racking our brains for appropriate holiday gifts. It has become customary to give gifts on the wintery festival of Hanukkah that celebrates the incredible victory of the band of Jewish guerilla fighters known as the Maccabees who fought against the mighty Greek army. Continue reading

A different custom for each day of Hanukkah

Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival that is celebrated in the Hebrew month of Kislev has taken on a different character in different communities around the world. Due to the long two-thousand year exile from the land of Israel, the Jewish people lived in different countries and over time these different communities celebrated the Jewish holidays with slightly different twists. Today, as the Jewish people return to their homeland it is fascinating to discover the different customs that evolved around the world in different Jewish communities. Here are eight different customs for each one of the eight nights of Chanukah… Continue reading

The Holy Guests of Sukkot

According to the Zohar, we are visited by spiritual guests during the festival of Sukkot, known as Ushpizin. The Ushpizin guests number seven and they are; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and King David. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that there are also seven Hassidic Ushpizin that accompany these seven spiritual guests and they are; the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch, the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash and the Rebbe Rashab. Although all of these guests visit our Sukkot on each day of the festival, each day is known to have it’s own special guests. Continue reading

All About the Day Before Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashana ShofarRosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and lasts for two days, falling at the beginning of the Jewish month of Tishrei. The festival is already in the conscience of Jewish people from the preceding month of Elul which is a time of preparation for the upcoming solemn days of Rosh Hashanah. The day before Rosh Hashanah often goes unnoticed but it has its own interesting prayers and customs and it is a shame to not pay attention to it Continue reading