How is it possible that some of our most dedicated Jews can be in opposition to Israel and Zionism? One would think that haredi Jewry, men and women who take their prayers to return to Zion very seriously, along with their scrupulous observance of the mitzvot, would be the most ardent Zionists. But that is not the case.
Haredi opposition to Zionism needs to be separated into two camps, anti-Zionists and non-Zionists. Haredi anti-Zionists are a small but prominent minority in the haredi world. Their views are best expressed by the Satmar Hassidim’s position on Zionism.
Let’s start with the non-Zionists, as they are the vast majority in the haredi world.
These haredim are not against the State of Israel. They just don’t see any religious significance to it. Yes, it’s great that there is a state that allows Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael and practice their religion, but there is not, nor can there ever be, a Jewish state that is not based on Halacha. Because of their inability to attach significance to, or see any value in, a worldview outside of the myopic view of Halacha, they cannot attach any significance to Israel.
These haredim participate in the government, just like they would in New York, and just like Jews have advocated for themselves in the courts of kings for centuries. And while the state has sometimes been antagonistic toward religion, the good generally outweighs the bad. Non-Zionists do not attach any messianic significance to the state, since they cannot conceive of redemption coming about through secular hands. The idea that redemption can come through Sabbath desecraters and pork eaters is anathema to them and the very idea of redemption.
The second group, the anti-Zionist movement within the haredi world, is much smaller but more visible. The reason for this is that is the former group of non-Zionists doesn’t really stand for or against Israel, while the anti-Zionists see the State of Israel as the product of satanic machinations. It is much easier to see “something” over “nothing.”
While religious Zionists will look at the Six Day War as proof of God bringing miracles and thus His divine blessing to the State, anti-Zionists believe that the miracles of that war were brought not by God but by Satan himself, to test us.
Anti-Zionists believe that the establishment of any Jewish state, even by religious Jews, is an affront against God and a rebellion against the divine decree of exile. While religious Zionists see Zionism as a means for secular Jews to embrace their Jewish identity and heritage, anti-Zionists see this embrace as worse than assimilation. In their thinking, an assimilated Jew knows that he is assimilated, while a Zionist thinks he is being Jewish but has in fact traded real Judaism for a fake, “plastic” one. In other words, having no Judaism is better than having a false one.
This is a fair view, and one can find enough material in the vast wealth of the Jewish bookshelf to support it.
For example, there is a verse in the Song of Songs that is repeated three times: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4).
The Talmud (Ketubot 111a) asks why this verse is repeated three times. The Gemara answers that upon the exile of the Jewish people from Eretz Yisrael, there were three oaths that were taken:
1. The Jewish people will not ascend as a wall (Rashi: all at once, with a strong hand).
2. The Jewish people will not rebel against the gentiles.
3. The gentiles will not oppress the Jews too much.
These three oaths serve as the textual and theological foundation of haredi anti-Zionism. The objections based on the oaths are best expressed in Vayoel Moshe, written by the previous Satmar rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum.
Religious Zionists believe that the three oaths are agada (lore). And lore, unlike law, is taken seriously but not literally. The fact of the matter is that the agada is making a historical claim that simply never happened, based on biblical verses from a biblical book of poetry that is nonhistorical. We have no record of the Jewish people being made to swear anything upon their exile, and we certainly have no record of the gentiles being made to swear anything either.
This Gemara is not brought down as Halacha, neither by the Rambam, the Tur or the Shulhan Aruch. Its point is to teach lessons and serve as a guideline about the nature of the world and Jewish existence. It is not meant to be a policy for all generations of Jews.
Furthermore, even if the oaths are meant as Halacha, the religious Zionist point by point response would be the following:
1. We did not ascend as a wall to Eretz Yisrael, nor did we take Eretz Yisrael by force. In the modern period, Jews came in waves to Eretz Yisrael over a span of decades. Most years the total of immigrants was less than 10,000. Upon arrival, these immigrants peacefully settled the land by purchasing parcels and through the building of farms, villages, towns and cities. They built industries and dried swamps. There was never any military action that conquered any part of Eretz Yisrael till after we declared our state.
2. The Jewish people did not rebel against the Gentiles. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the League of Nations mandate of 1922 expressly recognize the historical connections between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. They serve as the legal foundation for our settlement here and our right to a Jewish state.
3. The gentiles were said to have sworn not to “oppress us too much.” Some 2,000 years of persecutions that include the wholesale murder of whole communities, forced baptisms, Jewish taxes, exiles and the like might still be under the category of not “oppressing us too much.” But when death camps were established that murdered six million of our people, 1.5 million of them children; when they have to coin a new word, genocide, to describe what the gentiles did to us in the Holocaust; then it is fair to say they have broken their end of the bargain. If they have broken their end of the agreement, then we are free to break ours.The writer holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy and teaches in post-high-school yeshivot and midrashot in Jerusalem.
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