Why haredim should be Zionists

Haredim, who accept the Bible, the Talmud, and the rabbis should embrace Zionism and the State of Israel.

Haredim in Mea Shearim 150 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim in Mea Shearim 150
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
I am a Zionist on every level. This created a challenge for me when I studied in a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva in Jerusalem where rabbis never mentioned Israel’s Memorial Day, Israel’s Independence Day, or Jerusalem Day. No prayers were said for the state or on behalf of the IDF soldiers. These omissions disturbed me but my arguments about the magnitude of our return to Israel and Jerusalem fell on deaf ears.
Why? Because “the state is secular,” it is a non-kosher entity. Any official acknowledgement of its holidays and the recitation of special prayers associated with the state would be giving legitimacy to a body which was foreign to Torah and the values the yeshiva espoused. On that basis, my pleas were entirely ignored.
This was unacceptable to me. While I needed no sources to validate what I knew to be right, since the primary message conveyed in a haredi yeshiva is that the Torah is the well spring for our ideologies and must serve as our guiding light through life, I decided to explore what Torah sources had to say about Zionism and the role which the State of Israel plays in our faith. Perhaps this could sway my mentors and friends. This search led to remarkable results.
The most glaring sources relate to the flourishing of the fruits of Israel. The Bible relates in Leviticus 26:32 that while the Jews are in exile, Israel will remain desolate. The implication, taught outright by the 11th-century Spanish rabbi and philosopher Bahya ibn Paquda (Rabbeinu Bachya in his commentary to Genesis 17:8), is that the reversal of that desolation indicates the end of the exile. This sign is stated more clearly by the prophets. Ezekiel (chapter 36), Isaiah (chapter 51), and Amos (chapter 9) all describe the growth of trees and fruits in Israel as an indication of the arrival of the messianic age.
In yeshiva, great weight is placed on talmudic teachings. Turning to the Talmud for clarification, I found that the most obvious sign of the redemption is that the fruits of Israel will grow once again (Tractate Sanhedrin 98a). The Talmud also teaches in Tractate Megilla (17b) that the final redemption begins with the in gathering of the exiles, followed by t e flourishing of the fruits of Israel, and concludes with the arrival of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple.
This idea was concretized by the revered Rabbi Akiva Eiger just 200 year s ago when he taught that if we succeed in growing fruit in Israel then t he final redemption is imminent (as related by his student, Rav Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, Shivat Zion, volume 2, pp. 51-52).
No one can refute the reality that after thousands of years of desolation, Israel is now flourishing and producing fruits. Anyone who agrees with the most basic haredi tenet, that the words of the Bible, Prophets, Talmud and the great rabbis serve as the basis of our faith, must conclude that the flourishing of trees and fruits i n Israel indicate that we are experiencing a significant step toward redemption.
Since the flourishing of the land was brought about by the Zionist movement and its drive to create the State of Israel, one cannot avoid the conclusion that Zionism and the state, at the very least, play important roles in the messianic process.
But what about the claim that monumental steps towards the Messiah’s arrival cannot possibly be driven by secular leaders? This argument holds no weight. The Bible, especially in the book of Kings, reveals that God is willing to perform great miracles and brings salvation through individuals far more anti-religious than any of the state’s secular founders and leaders.
King Ahab, who married a non-Jew, encouraged idol worship and stood silent while his wife killed prophet s was told by a prophet that he would lead troops to miraculous victory (see Kings I 20:13-14). Omri, identified as a greater sinner than all the wicked Jewish kings before him, (Kings I 16:25), merited a long-lasting dynasty because he added a city to the Land of Israel (Sanhedrin 102b) despite the fact that his intention in adding that city was to eliminate Jerusalem as the focus of the Jews! The secular leaders of the State of Israel most certainly have more noble intentions in building Israeli cities and, thus, can certainly merit playing a role in the redemption process.
Kings I, Chapter 14 describes Yeravam as a terrible sinner who caused others to sin, as well. Despite his sins, he led the Jews to victory in restoring the borders of Israel. The Bible its elf explains that the time came for this “redemption” and God used whoever the leader was at the time, despite his being irreligious.
Rabbi Yehuda Loew (the “Maharal of Prague” 1520-1609), teaches (Gevurot Hashem, chapter 18) that “ ...the Messianic King will establish a new kingdom, which will emerge from the first kingdom that will precede it. This is so because the holy kingdom of Israel, which has an inherent, divine status, sprouts from an unsanctified kingdom.”
According to the Maharal, there actually must be a secular government as a precursor to the arrival of t he Messiah. This means that God specifically chose a government made up of secular leaders to pave the way for the final redemption! But what about the haredi principle of “da’at Torah” which means an obligation to heed the opinions of t he rabbis even if these go against what we understand to be correct? Doesn’t this concept mean that we cannot pray for a state and its soldiers or celebrate its existence if our great rabbis do not identify with its importance or see it as a cause for celebration? The following quotes from great haredi rabbis debunk this argument: Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank, a judge on Rabbi Shmuel Salant’s rabbinic court and former chief rabbi of Jerusalem, referred to the creation of the State of Israel as “the beginning of redemption” (Kuntras Har Zvi in Drishat Tzion, p. 48).
Rabbi Chatzkal Sarna, Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach signed a document on 20 Tevet, 5709, (1949) than king God for granting them the privilege of witnessing “the first buds of t he beginning of the redemption through the establishment of the State of Israel” (referenced by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in Yabia Omer Orach Chayim 6:41).
Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg taught that “the ingathering of the Exiles alone is the sign of the beginning of the final redemption” (Tzitz Eliezer 7:49).
There really is no escaping it. Haredim, who accept the Bible, the Talmud, and the rabbis throughout the ages as conveying the word of God, should embrace Zionism and the State of Israel as positive developments and essential to the redemption process.
I look forward to the day when all fellow haredim will open their eyes to see these clear sources and join to get her with the rest of Israel to pray for t he welfare of our soldiers (and even serve as soldiers, themselves!), mourn those who have been killed in the line of duty, and celebrate the great miracles of our independence and return to Jerusalem.
The author is an ordained rabbi, author, educator and community activist in Beit Shemesh. He is the director of the English Speakers Division of the Am Shalem movement.