I am a Zionist on every level. This created a challenge for me when I studied in
a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva in Jerusalem where rabbis never mentioned
Israel’s Memorial Day, Israel’s Independence Day, or Jerusalem Day. No prayers
were said for the state or on behalf of the IDF soldiers. These omissions
disturbed me but my arguments about the magnitude of our return to Israel and
Jerusalem fell on deaf ears.
Why? Because “the state is secular,” it is a
non-kosher entity. Any official acknowledgement of its holidays and the
recitation of special prayers associated with the state would be giving
legitimacy to a body which was foreign to Torah and the values the yeshiva
espoused. On that basis, my pleas were entirely ignored.
unacceptable to me. While I needed no sources to validate what I knew to be
right, since the primary message conveyed in a haredi yeshiva is that the Torah
is the well spring for our ideologies and must serve as our guiding light
through life, I decided to explore what Torah sources had to say about Zionism
and the role which the State of Israel plays in our faith. Perhaps this could
sway my mentors and friends. This search led to remarkable results.
most glaring sources relate to the flourishing of the fruits of Israel. The
Bible relates in Leviticus 26:32 that while the Jews are in exile, Israel will
remain desolate. The implication, taught outright by the 11th-century Spanish
rabbi and philosopher Bahya ibn Paquda (Rabbeinu Bachya in his commentary to
Genesis 17:8), is that the reversal of that desolation indicates the end of the
exile. This sign is stated more clearly by the prophets. Ezekiel (chapter 36),
Isaiah (chapter 51), and Amos (chapter 9) all describe the growth of trees and
fruits in Israel as an indication of the arrival of the messianic age.
In yeshiva, great weight is placed on talmudic teachings. Turning to
the Talmud for clarification, I found that the most obvious sign of the redemption is that the fruits of Israel will grow once again (Tractate Sanhedrin
98a). The Talmud also teaches in Tractate Megilla (17b) that the final
redemption begins with the in gathering of the exiles, followed by t e
flourishing of the fruits of Israel, and concludes with the arrival of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple.
This idea was concretized by
the revered Rabbi Akiva Eiger just 200 year s ago when he taught that if we
succeed in growing fruit in Israel then t he final redemption is imminent (as
related by his student, Rav Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, Shivat Zion, volume 2, pp.
No one can refute the reality that after thousands of years of
desolation, Israel is now flourishing and producing fruits. Anyone who agrees
with the most basic haredi tenet, that the words of the Bible, Prophets, Talmud and the great rabbis serve as the basis of our faith, must conclude that
the flourishing of trees and fruits i n Israel indicate that we are experiencing
a significant step toward redemption.
Since the flourishing of the land
was brought about by the Zionist movement and its drive to create the State
of Israel, one cannot avoid the conclusion that Zionism and the state, at the
very least, play important roles in the messianic process.
But what about
the claim that monumental steps towards the Messiah’s arrival cannot possibly
be driven by secular leaders? This argument holds no weight. The Bible, especially in the book of Kings, reveals that God is willing to perform great
miracles and brings salvation through individuals far more anti-religious than
any of the state’s secular founders and leaders.
King Ahab, who married a
non-Jew, encouraged idol worship and stood silent while his wife killed
prophet s was told by a prophet that he would lead troops to miraculous victory
(see Kings I 20:13-14). Omri, identified as a greater sinner than all the wicked
Jewish kings before him, (Kings I 16:25), merited a long-lasting dynasty
because he added a city to the Land of Israel (Sanhedrin 102b) despite the fact
that his intention in adding that city was to eliminate Jerusalem as the focus
of the Jews! The secular leaders of the State of Israel most certainly have
more noble intentions in building Israeli cities and, thus, can certainly merit
playing a role in the redemption process.
Kings I, Chapter 14 describes
Yeravam as a terrible sinner who caused others to sin, as well. Despite his sins, he led the Jews to victory in restoring the borders of Israel. The Bible its
elf explains that the time came for this “redemption” and God used whoever the
leader was at the time, despite his being irreligious.
Rabbi Yehuda Loew
(the “Maharal of Prague” 1520-1609), teaches (Gevurot Hashem, chapter 18) that
“ ...the Messianic King will establish a new kingdom, which will emerge from
the first kingdom that will precede it. This is so because the holy kingdom of
Israel, which has an inherent, divine status, sprouts from an unsanctified
According to the Maharal, there actually must be a secular
government as a precursor to the arrival of t he Messiah. This means that God specifically chose a government made up of secular leaders to pave the way for the
final redemption! But what about the haredi principle of “da’at Torah” which
means an obligation to heed the opinions of t he rabbis even if these go against
what we understand to be correct? Doesn’t this concept mean that we cannot
pray for a state and its soldiers or celebrate its existence if our great
rabbis do not identify with its importance or see it as a cause for
celebration? The following quotes from great haredi rabbis debunk this
argument: Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank, a judge on Rabbi Shmuel Salant’s rabbinic
court and former chief rabbi of Jerusalem, referred to the creation of the State
of Israel as “the beginning of redemption” (Kuntras Har Zvi in Drishat Tzion,
Rabbi Chatzkal Sarna, Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach signed a document on 20 Tevet, 5709, (1949) than king God for
granting them the privilege of witnessing “the first buds of t he beginning of
the redemption through the establishment of the State of Israel” (referenced by
Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in Yabia Omer Orach Chayim 6:41).
Waldenberg taught that “the ingathering of the Exiles alone is the sign of the
beginning of the final redemption” (Tzitz Eliezer 7:49).
There really is
no escaping it. Haredim, who accept the Bible, the Talmud, and the rabbis
throughout the ages as conveying the word of God, should embrace Zionism and
the State of Israel as positive developments and essential to the redemption
I look forward to the day when all fellow haredim will open
their eyes to see these clear sources and join to get her with the rest of Israel
to pray for t he welfare of our soldiers (and even serve as soldiers,
themselves!), mourn those who have been killed in the line of duty, and
celebrate the great miracles of our independence and return to
The author is an ordained rabbi, author, educator and
community activist in Beit Shemesh. He is the director of the English Speakers
Division of the Am Shalem movement.