Religious Zionism: The future of a lost movement

Religious Zionism today is at a crucial crossroad.

rav kook 88 (photo credit: )
rav kook 88
(photo credit: )
Elul is finally here. Another year has passed in the Jewish calendar, and it is time for Jews to prepare for a new year. During the next 30 days - a time of religious introspection and spiritual stocktaking - Jews will begin to ask themselves some difficult but important questions: Have I acted ethically in my business and social life? How have my actions impacted others and have I made the world a better place? Has my ritual life been one of deep meaning, expressing a yearning to be close to God, or have I, instead, been going through the motions without the proper intention and thought? Did I achieve my goals during the past year and how will I try to reach the seminal milestones in my life in the coming year? As we prepare for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, these are the questions we must ask ourselves. Elul is a month of repentance for individual Jews to evaluate the meaning of life and the human relationship to God. But as a traditional Jew and a Zionist, I need to ask questions that transcend my own life and faith. As an individual Jew, I am part of a broader movement that has made many important contributions to the State of Israel, Zionism and Judaism. Yet, Religious Zionism today is at a crucial crossroad and must turn inward to deal with difficult challenges. Religious Zionists need to ask questions about their movement's underlying theology and its relationship to Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora. If the movement's adherents do not deal with these questions, Religious Zionism will be lost, slowly slipping into irrelevance as a force in Israeli and global Jewish life. THE QUESTION of the messianic theology of the great Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook is certainly the most daunting and urgent for religious and secular Zionists today. Kook was a genius, one of the most creative and original thinkers produced by Zionism. Kook defied his religious colleagues in Europe who were fiercely anti-Zionist. He proposed that the modern Zionist movement, though driven by the idealism of anti-traditional socialist pioneers, was part of God's plan to redeem the Jewish people and humanity. The young pioneers may not have known it, but they were providing an infrastructure in the Land of Israel for the coming of the messiah. In a brilliant twist, Kook countered the argument of religious Jews against Zionism - that its adherents did not wait for the coming of the messiah to build up a state in Israel - and turned it on its head. For Zionists both religious and secular, he remains a hero and a role model. Yet, today, more than 70 years after Kook's death, we must ask questions regarding his brilliant thesis. Is the State of Israel, an entity that Kook never lived to experience, truly the beginning of the messianic redemption of the Jewish people? Kook's son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, believed that the triumph in the Six Day War was a harbinger of the coming of the messiah. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, 40 years ago the chief chaplain of the IDF, proposed that the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount be blown to smithereens and a Third Temple be built. Is this really what Abraham Isaac Kook desired? Did Zvi Yehuda Kook's fervent messianic beliefs serve as an inspiration for Yigal Amir, the assassin of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995? It is obvious that both Kooks would never have condoned one Jew murdering another in the name of their religious beliefs. But we must ask ourselves: Did the deep messianic yearnings of Religious Zionism, yearnings that saw any return to the Arabs of biblical land captured in 1967 as a betrayal of God's messianic plan, play a part in the horrible events of more than a decade ago? RELIGIOUS ZIONISM has not seriously dealt with these questions. It is tantamount to heresy in religious Zionist circles to question Kook's theology. It is almost forbidden to ask whether the settlement of Judea and Samaria should be the supreme value of the followers of Kook and his son. These probing questions must be asked if Religious Zionism is to move forward as a viable movement, countering both the tenets of secular Zionism and the beliefs of the haredim. The month of Elul demands introspection. The time has come to acknowledge Kook's genius and how he understood the important role secular Zionism has played in the modern development of Judaism - while at the same time partly rejecting the messianic activism of Kook's theology. The messiah will come when the messiah will come. Meanwhile, there is important work for religious Zionists to accomplish beyond the settlement of the lands of the Bible and the building of a Third Temple. Most Jews in Israel and the Diaspora know little of their Jewish heritage and the importance of Judaism. We must educate them in a spirit of tolerance, without coercion. We must counter the post-Zionists on the extreme left who deny the Jewish identity of Israel, and we must also oppose the cynical political wheeling and dealing of haredi parties like Shas. Religious Zionism must claim its rightful place as a movement promoting a new understanding of Jewish faith and the Jewish commitment to the State of Israel and its people through aliya and education. We must purge ourselves of the Yigal Amirs, Baruch Goldsteins and other extremists of our movement. In this new year, perhaps, the legacy of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook will provide a model for all Jews and will inspire them in their search for peace and truth. The writer, based in Florida, is an adjunct lecturer on Jewish history at Broward Community College.