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

 

To the Anti-Semite, Jews Aren’t Just One Problem among Many, but the Source of All Problems

While it likely had some ancient antecedents, the blood libel—the myth that Jews murder Christian children and consume their blood as part of a Passover ritual—as we know it began in Norwich, England in 1144. That same city was the location of one of several blood-libel-fueled massacres of Jews in 1190, and researchers have recently concluded that a mass grave found in Norwich contained the bones of the victims. Meir Soloveichik reflects on this discovery:

The popularity of the blood libel, in its very absurdity, captures the essence of anti-Semitism. By taking the tale of the origin of Jewish chosenness—the exodus from Egypt—and turning it into a pernicious plan for annual evildoing, the libel illustrates how, as Robert Nicholson once wrote, hatred of Jews “isn’t just any old hatred or racism. It is a grand anti-myth that turns Jewish chosenness on its head and assigns to the people of Israel responsibility for all the world’s ills.”

The readiness of all today to denounce the massacres of medieval Jewish communities often highlights how, as the writer Dara Horn put it, “people love dead Jews.” The blood libel is not a thing of the past. It is ongoing. The world is all too prepared to bemoan the injustice against Jews in the past and yet all too ready to overlook those who purvey blood libels today.

Such a phenomenon can be seen in the successful career of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As Seth Mandel has noted, . . . the congresswoman has taken rhetorical dishonesty about Israel to entirely new level, linking—like the libelists of old—purported Jewish activity to grievances around the world. Commenting on the situation at the Mexican-American border, she accused, without offering any evidence, Israel of placing Palestinian children in cages. During one debate, standing on the floor of the House next to an image of a dead Palestinian child, she linked Israel’s airstrikes to the naval base in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

The bones of murdered Jews may have been exhumed from the soil of the site where the blood libel was born, but what has yet to be exhumed from the present is the blood libel itself. And it is only if we do all we can to identify, and call out, the liars and the libelists that we can honestly hope that the murdered Jews of Norwich will rest in peace.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Anglo-Jewry, Anti-Semitism, Blood libel