Fulfilling Abraham’s dream of religious Zionism

A few weeks ago I came across a brief article in a religious- Zionist publication by a rabbi touted as one of the prized students of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook and a leading figure among the “kavnikim.”

Rav Kook 370 (photo credit: wikimedia commons)
Rav Kook 370
(photo credit: wikimedia commons)
A few weeks ago I came across a brief article in a religious- Zionist publication by a rabbi touted as one of the prized students of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook and a leading figure among the “kavnikim” (from the Hebrew word “kav,” or “line”; referring to hard-liners who adhere strictly to the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook).
The article was ostensibly about the proper attitude of publicly appointed rabbis and religious leaders toward the general population. However, not only did the article fail to address this issue, the author demonstrated lack of vision regarding the direction of religious Zionism in general.
The rabbi insisted on two points, the first and most important being that rabbis must ensure that the land of Israel is not compromised; they must staunchly oppose any proposal suggesting that any portion of the land can be compromised and must “wage war” against a government which advocates such policy.
He then contended that religious leaders must seek the advice of the rabbinic assembly, who would impart the laws of the Torah in all areas of life, so that ultimately political decisions become religious ones.
The main problem with this rabbi’s response to such a crucial question is the failure to understand the need for religious Zionist leadership to focus on and address the distinctiveness and Jewish identity of Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, just as much if not more than focusing on Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel.
As a religious-Zionist rabbi and lecturer for the IDF I value the meaning of Eretz Yisrael, its spiritual attributes and inherent holiness. I espouse the importance of protecting its borders and sustaining its entirety both from a political standpoint and more importantly from a religious one.
Yet were I addressing the significant role of rabbis for today’s generation, first and foremost would be the need to impact society, all walks of society, including of course the secular public. I would try to impress upon the comprehensive Jewish community in Israel the meaningful attributes that Judaism has to offer and the advantages of adopting Jewish values and identity as a progressive lifestyle as opposed to a rigorous system which appears to be coercive and all too often judgmental.
This past week the Torah portion was about Noah, who is described as righteous and whose life was spared from the cataclysmic flood. Yet Noah is never ascribed the task of leadership; he is denied that status in the annals of Jewish history because he made no attempt to influence those around him. It is for this reason that he is called “ish ha’adama,” a man of the ground; he focused on the land, as opposed to its inhabitants.
Abraham, on the other hand, the prototype of faith, was not only a man who admired and honored the land, as demonstrated by his pioneering response to God’s directive to leave his home and settle the land of Canaan, but was genuinely concerned with the populace both physically (as demonstrated by his praying to God to spare even Sodom and Gomorrah) and spiritually, as he invited people to learn about the truths and beauties of what would become Judaism.
It is important to remember that the vast majority of the population which Abraham encountered were idolworshipers – yet he revealed to them these doctrines in a genuine and unthreatening fashion.
Israeli society across the board is thirsty for Jewish knowledge and Jewish values and the time is ripe to renew the mission of our forefather Abraham.
The fastest-growing institutions in the Zionist world today are pluralistic pre-military academies whose students, religious and secular alike, may not be as interested in being religious as they are in learning about the foundations of the Jewish religion. Across the country there are organizations such as Atid Bamidbar and Kollot Banegev, that are promoting learning seminars for people of all denominations to converse and study the texts of the Torah together in a forum that allows them to express their thoughts.
Limmud, an educational format which was started in the United Kingdom, prides itself as being dedicated to Jewish learning in all its variety. It strives to create collective and communal experiences to strengthen and develop Jewish identity. Today there are six Limmud conferences which take place in Israel at varied locales.
Limmud proclaims on its website that it will take you one step further along your Jewish journey; it is frustrating that religious Zionist leadership in Israel does not comprehend the opportunity it has to partake in and affect this journey, which can potentially broaden Jewish horizons and facilitate the Jewish future.
The Talmud analyzes the order of the blessings found in the Amida prayer, which is recited daily, and explains that the blessing regarding the land of Israel must be recited prior to the blessing regarding the people of Israel.
Rabbi Kook explained that the Talmud is expressing the formula for the successful redemption of the Jewish nation. First there would have to be Jewish autonomy within the land of Israel and then there must be a resurgence of Jewish identity within the people of Israel. We have been blessed to witness the first blessing beginning to come to fruition, and it is now time to heed the example of the first religious Zionist, our father Abraham, and facilitate the foresight of the most influential religious Zionist of our time, Rabbi Abraham Hakohen Kook, by ensuring that the second blessing is realized as well.
The writer is a lecturer on Jewish identity and ideology for the IDF Education Branch and Machane Meshutaf of the IDF Rabbinate. He also serves as an educator for the Menachem Begin Israel Government Fellows in Jerusalem and is a guest lecturer for communities throughout the Diaspora including the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia.