In early 2021, a relatively fringe group of Jewish nationalists went ahead and did perhaps the most brilliant political rebranding act in Israel’s history. They called themselves The Religious Zionist Party. The new name implied many things. Firstly, the definite article “the” (even more prominent in the Hebrew version of the name, which is simply “The Religious Zionism”), implies that there is no other religious Zionist party, no other religious Zionism (as a concept, ideology and movement) and, in effect, no other political representation for religious Zionists, except the party.
Moreover, it co-opted the name of a rather broad and diverse ideology, implying that anyone who subscribes to religious Zionism in any form in some implicit way does or certainly should support this new political party. I have no doubt that this rebranding – one of various factors – significantly contributed to the party’s unprecedented rise in power.
Besides “brilliant branding choice,” perhaps the only word that can accurately describe the act is “hijacking.”
Religious Zionist Party: Ideological hijackers
The implication that The Religious Zionist Party represents all religious Zionists, as well as religious Zionism, is patently untrue, even if the party does enjoy significant support from people identifying.
Some recent reports have mentioned religious Zionists opting to change the style of kippa they wear, or remove it altogether, as dissenting voices opt to leave the camp in whole or in part.
Few, if any, leading arbiters of Jewish law see wearing a kippa at all times as a binding religious obligation. Certainly the weave, color, and fabric are not the subject of the Jewish laws that guide observant Jews in daily life. Nonetheless, especially in Israel, cultural symbolism is extremely significant.
It’s depressing to think that at least some of our fellow religious Zionists who don’t subscribe to the political rebrand are relinquishing part of their identity, rather than fighting for it.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, considered by many to be the most important spiritual leader in the history of religions Zionism, once wrote, “The pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom.”
Would it not make more sense, then, from an ideological and educational perspective to proudly wear one’s kippa in order to declare clearly that “The Religious Zionism” isn’t the only religious Zionism?
And beyond the semantics, wouldn’t the best way to fight the hillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) represented by many political leaders be to increase kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name), by showing in words and action that the corruption, bigotry, and division exemplified by many in Israel’s ruling coalition is not the way of Torah and Judaism – Zionist or otherwise?
The author is a Jerusalem-based writer and publicist, whose work focuses primarily on Jewish, Israeli, and Middle Eastern history and culture. @ZackRothbart