Religion, Zionism, and Religious Zionism

By Bloch, Ethan D. | Tikkun, January 1996 | Go to article overview

Religion, Zionism, and Religious Zionism


Bloch, Ethan D., Tikkun


As the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians moves forward, and the decision on the fate of the West Bank draws near, the religious Zionist movement--now virtually identified with the settlements--has found itself at the heart of the political debate in Israel. Though many in the peace camp prefer to view religious Zionists as "Other," the basic idea of religious Zionism has in fact implicitly been accepted by many mainstream Jews, even those who are not religiously observant, and those who do not support continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The basis of religious Zionism is the view that conflates the modern state of Israel with biblical promises and sees the establishment of the state of Israel as a step in the redemptive process. The widespread implicit acceptance of this idea is seen in the use of the "Prayer for the State of Israel," versions of which are found in a number of commonly used prayer books, and which refer to Israel as "reshit tzmichat ge'ulateinu"--roughly, "the start of the flourishing of our redemption." For many secular Jews, who may never have heard of the Prayer for the State of Israel, support for Israel as part of the biblical prophecy has become something of a surrogate for religious observance, especially when it is part of the notion of Israel as the redemption after the Holocaust.

We need to rethink the relation of our religious beliefs and our support for Israel. Individual Jews should certainly use their religious values when making personal decisions about which political views to sup. port, but should there be a formal, or ideological, connection between religion and state in Israel? I share the hope of many Jews, left and right, that the State of Israel should be imbued with Jewish values, and that it not . become just another "normal" westernized state. But where should the Jewish values in Israel come from And which Jewish values--the chauvinistic parts of our tradition, or the values taught by the prophets and the rabbis of the Talmud, who valued peace, who cared for all of Israel and non-Jews as well, and who argued against zealotry and unnecessary hatred?

The question is not whether Jews should mix their religion and politics when it comes to Israel, but how. For both the secular Jew and the ultra-Orthodox, there is no problem figuring out how to connect religious beliefs with Zionism--each group rejects one and supports the other. For those who both support Israel and engage in religious observance of any variety, the problem of mixing these two imperatives is real. I believe that the mix of religion and politics--the central tenet of religious Zionism--is unnecessary at best, and in fact is quite dangerous.

Perhaps a messianic view of Zionism was needed as motivation in the pre-1948 era. Today, its implicit acceptance unintentionally lends tacit credence to political violence in Israel. Surely the vast majority of religious Zionists, and more broadly those who view the modern state of Israel in religious terms, strongly oppose political violence. Moreover, there is a small, though significant, religious peace movement in Israel, Oz v'Shalom/Netivot Shalom, and newly appointed Israeli cabinet minister Rabbi Yehuda Amital of the Meimad Party has explicitly objected to the injection of Jewish law into politics.

But the very ideology of religious Zionism inherently prevents this separation of religion and politics, just as it has within it the possibility of taking the idea of divine inspiration to its logical extreme, as did Yigal Amir. It is no accident that religious Zionists, originally aligned with mainstream labor Zionism, have moved steadily rightward since the Six-Day War of 1967--which was viewed by some as a miracle.

If the foundation of the modern State of Israel is seen as the realization of a divine plan (which aims for Jewish control over all lands Jews once occupied), then there is little room to be concerned with Palestinian rights, not to mention rights for non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. …

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