A Forgotten Religious-Zionist Manifesto

July 24 2019

Today, Rabbi Abraham Isaac ha-Kohen Kook (1865-1935) and his disciples—literal and figurative—are the thinkers most associated with religious Zionism. But even before Kook began to develop his ideas about the Jewish people’s return to its homeland, many rabbis had joined the Zionist movement. Among these was Yehuda Leyb Don Yahya, a member of a family of Russian Chabad Ḥasidim and a leading disciple of one of the most prominent rabbis of his day, the fiercely anti-Zionist Ḥayyim Soloveitchik. Don Yahya published a pamphlet in 1901 in which he sought to reconcile traditional views of messianic redemption with Theodor Herzl’s secular, political Zionism. Bezalel Naor summarizes his ideas:

Don Yahya begins by clarifying that the return of the nation to its land can in no way be viewed as the complete redemption prophesied in Scripture. The prophets’ vision, while including the ingathering of exiles, extends beyond that to [all of] mankind acknowledging God and embracing His Torah.

[Yet] Don Yahya is flummoxed by various rabbis who adopt an all-or-nothing attitude to the Zionist organization’s [attempt] to secure from the Ottomans a safe haven for Jews in the Holy Land. Just because the Zionist dream does not encompass the comprehensive vision of the prophets of old is no reason to reject Zionism. Granted that the Zionist goals are much more modest in scope; that still does not justify opposing the movement.

Don Yahya’s own reading of the sources—biblical and rabbinic—is gradualist. He anticipates a phased redemption. The Jews’ return to the land is certainly the beginning, the first installment in a protracted process which will eventually . . . culminate in the restoration of the Davidic dynasty in the person of the messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple.

Don Yahya [also] points to the democratic character of the Zionist congresses. If more religious Jews would join the ranks of the Zionist movement, they would be able to turn the tide and steer the movement in a more religious direction. He chides those religious elements opposed to Zionism not to gloat and say, “We told you so,” in the event that Zionism deviates from Judaism. [Instead], these anti-Zionist agitators should be held responsible for bringing about that outcome by instructing observant Jews to stay clear of the movement.

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Read more at Seforim

More about: East European Jewry, History of Zionism, Messianism, Religious Zionism

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror