This is not a political commentary column. It is, in accordance with my editor's instructions, a column about Judaism, the faith and its rituals, history and worldview. I am therefore writing about the Land of Israel as a religious value of Judaism and not as a nation state or political entity.
Orthodox Judaism on the surface may appear to be a collection of rules, commandments and strictures. However upon a closer and more sophisticated study, it is really a set of values in life that determine the application of all of these laws and rules. The halachic process is really an attempt to reconcile or decide which values in Judaism reign supreme over other values when they seemingly conflict. For example, human life and its preservation is a supreme value that outweighs the great value of Shabbat and other such mitzvot. Shabbat on the other hand is a value that takes precedence over the value of productive labor and otherwise necessary work.
On the scale of Jewish values, the Land of Israel ranks very high. It is a religious and faith value and not merely the product of nationalistic fervor or patriotic feeling. Therefore, the Land of Israel is incorporated in the daily prayers of Jews the world over as are Torah, repentance and praise of the Creator. The Land of Israel is thereby transformed from being a place to being a spiritual challenge and a supreme matter of faith. One cannot appreciate Judaism and Jews without understanding this and appreciating its importance in Jewish thought and history.
Zionism was built upon this basic value of Jewish faith, though in its secular form it stripped the Land of Israel from its religious value core and transformed it into a nationalistic endeavor. Zionism encouraged manual labor, farming as an expression of personal achievement and enhancement, and the belief that the "Jewish problem" and anti-Semitism would disappear with the establishment of an independent Jewish state. It did not see the Land of Israel as a matter of religion or as a faith value. It took a more "practical" approach to the issue and saw it as being purely a means of creating a viable Jewish society, secure and progressive and a respected member of the family of nations.
The Talmud saw the Land of Israel as such a supreme religious value that under certain circumstances Jews are allowed to reacquire and purchase land there from non-Jews even on Shabbat. It promoted the concept of "yishuv Eretz Yisrael" - the settlement and upbuilding of the Land of Israel - as a religious obligation. Jewish sovereignty was immaterial in relation to the value of the Land of Israel itself. The fierce opposition to Zionism by many sectors of Jewish religious society was based on the Zionist substitution of Jewish nationalism for the religious value of the Land of Israel.
The struggle - ideological and faith-based - over the place of the Land of Israel in Jewish life and its true definition has remained current. It lies at the heart of much of the political debate that swirls around us today. Territory, security, demographic effects, all are certainly an important part of the political and diplomatic debate. But deep, deep down, the issue remains one of faith and values.
The differing viewpoints regarding government policies on disengagement, unilateral withdrawals, peace processes, etc. all are based on the question of how strong and governing the value of the Land of Israel is in practical terms.
The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator. www.rabbiwein.com