Thursday, August 04, 2005


A Lengthy Redemption

[This article appeared on Arutz Sheva-Israel National News at]

A Lengthy Redemption

David Ashley

Inasmuch as current events in Israel are, indeed, confusing and bewildering, I sympathize with Rabbi Shlomo Crandall's "Confessions of a Confused Religious Zionist". I would like, however, to offer a different point of view on religious Zionism at this time of crisis.

Rabbi Crandall writes that he is "confused and frustrated" by the dissonance he experiences when reading reports of Israeli governmental transgressions and threats against loyal Jews and, perhaps, against the very idea of Zionism. Such tales seemingly contradict the religious idea that the State of Israel - that self-same state that is abusing its most fervent sons - is the first flowering of our redemption.

As Rabbi Crandall puts it: "But when you [referring to certain religious Zionist individuals mentioned in Rabbi Crandall's article - ed.] accuse your government of abuse and refuse to serve in its armed forces, how can you at the same time look at that same government with pride and refer to it as the beginning of the final redemption?"

The Israeli State

The rabbi concludes by saying that his "simple" reason to continue praying for the welfare of the state is that "we need not look that far back in our history to realize that our problems are infinitesimally less than we could have imagined sixty years ago. For that alone, we must thank the Almighty."

Yet, self-declared "non-Zionist" Hareidim also acknowledge the blessings of Hashem that are facilitated by the existence of the State of Israel. That perspective, though, is an after-the-fact, b'di'evad, "Zionism". Religious Zionism, unlike the traditional Hareidi non-Zionist or secular Zionist worldviews, means, by definition, that the establishment of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel, now, at the hand of the Jewish collective, is a fulfillment of a Torah precept. The State of Israel, even solely as the temporal expression of that mitzvah of sovereignty, has inherent holiness.

As Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook said, as reported by Rabbi David Samson in Torat Eretz Yisrael (pg. 346, in English):

"One must look at these matters in an encompassing perspective.... We are dealing with a fundamental, all-encompassing matter - statehood. The statehood of Israel is totally kadosh [holy], without any blemish at all. It is the Divine, exalted revelation of 'Who returns His Divine Presence to Zion'. All the other concerns are details. Whether large or small, the difficulties and problems have absolutely no power to blemish the intrinsic kedusha of the State."

This idea, the intrinsic holiness of Jewish sovereignty, was expressed earlier by Maimonides. According to Rambam ("Laws of Hanukah", Ch. 3:1), the reason we say Hallel on Hanukah is to celebrate the return of Jewish rule for over 200 years. Yet, those years included the reign of downright evil kings - who killed religious leaders, corrupted the judicial system, co-opted the state for their own ends, etc. There is, as Rabbi Samson writes, "absolute value [in] establishing Jewish rule in Eretz (the Land of) Yisrael."

From this perspective, I believe, the distinction can be made between the state of Israel as the atchalta d'geula, and the all-too-human failings of the individuals occupying the seats of power of the state.

The Israeli Government

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook's position, as described by Rabbi Samson (Torat Eretz Yisrael, pg. 354) is as follows: "While it is proper to protest against details of government policy when the situation demands, it is forbidden to be opposed to the government of Israel itself."

When, in the First Book of Kings (18:46), Eliyahu is described as "running before Achav," king of the Jews at the time, Rashi explains that the prophet was "showing honor to royalty." There is a mitzvah to honor the regime of the Jewish state (Kiddushin 32B), even one as evil as that of Achav, who ordered the killing of prophets and the betrayal of Judaism.

King Omri of the kingdom of Israel, who is described in the Bible (I Kings 16:25) as "doing more evil than all those who went before him," was rewarded by HaShem with his descendants inheriting his crown in succession. In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102B), Rabbi Yochanan explains Omri's multigenerational reward as being "because he added a single city [named Shomron] to the land of Israel." (Elucidated further by Rabbi Yissakhar Shlomo Teichtal, may God avenge his blood, in his introduction to Em HaBanim S'meicha.)

I humbly submit that the government of Israel - even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon himself - is responsible for far more strengthening of the land and people of Israel than merely building a single city. What is more, even if it was only the first generation of Israeli leaders who added cities to the land of Israel, might it not be that all subsequent governments, like Omri's sons, enjoy that primary legitimacy? I further submit that whatever sins the Israeli government has committed, they pale in comparison with the evil regimes of Achav and Izevel and other kings described in the Bible.

Therefore, as a simple Jew, I believe we owe the government of the State of Israel our respect for its positive contributions in the Land. Moreover, it is a mitzvah to respect a Jewish ruler in the Land of Israel irrespective of his personal qualities.

Disobeying a Jewish Sovereign

"At what point should the religious Zionist community refuse to join in the defense of the country?" Rabbi Crandall asks, referring to a reservist who declared his intention to refuse to continue to serve in the IDF.

My answer is: "Never!" The defense of the country - which is the defense of the Jews - is a mitzvah, even one of simple and direct pikuach nefesh, if also an independent Torah mitzvah of yishuv.

The question at hand in Israel today is rather when a religious Jew can refuse to carry out an order of the regime - that same regime that he is obligated to respect.

As for disobeying the government's orders, Rambam writes: "And it goes without saying that if the king ordered the abolition of a mitzvah, he is not to be obeyed." (Maimonides, Hayad HaChazakah, "Hilchot Melachim", Ch. 3, law 9) There is no indication from Rambam's writings that disobeying such an order is a negation of the entire institution of the regime; quite the contrary. As the institution of Jewish sovereignty in Israel is a Torah precept, as is the respect due the ruler, the king's order to violate Torah is itself an undermining of the foundation for his own regime. So, paradoxically, to disobey is to strengthen the regime.

Similarly - and without having to ask any complicated she'elat rav - King Saul's soldiers flatly refused his order to murder the kohanim and their families who were found to have assisted a fugitive of the regime, David the shepherd (I Samuel 22:16-17).

David himself, even as he fled the king - who was disobeying God's own prophet - respected the kingship. David treated King Saul with utmost awe and respect, even mourning him as one of the great men of Israel upon his death.

Much closer to our time, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook encouraged his students to settle every inch of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Yet, he was opposed to resisting Israeli soldiers (Torat Eretz Yisrael, pg. 353) sent to evict them from their outposts.

Obey or disobey, I think it is clear that never do we negate the institution of the government of Israel, much less the holiness of the State of Israel and its role as atchalta d'geula.

A Lengthy Redemption

In a sermon for Israel Independence Day (MiOhalei Torah, pg. 333), Rabbi Yaakov Ariel implicitly called the current state of affairs in Israel a "geula arichta", a lengthy redemption. "It has ups and downs..." Rabbi Ariel wrote, "and despite this, a natural redemption is in contrast to the exile that preceded it." The rabbi went on to say, "Sometimes, the stages [of redemption] fold in on themselves from the difficulty of the ascent, it appears to be a descent. However, in truth, it is nothing but a descent for the purpose of ascending."

And I remember hearing that the description from the Song of Songs (2:8-9) of "my beloved" as "leaping on the mountains, skipping on the hills," as "a stag or a young hart," is a metaphor for our redemption. If we can picture a gazelle making its way towards us, going from hill to hill, there would be times that it would seemingly "disappear" as it went into a valley. Yet, even when not visible, even when in the depths of a valley, the gazelle is still, inevitably, inexorably, headed our way.

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