The Theological Meaning of Israel’s Independence

In a speech to a gathering of the American branch of the Orthodox Zionist organization Mizrachi, delivered a month after Israel declared its independence, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explored the religious significance of the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty. The speech, delivered in Yiddish, was translated by Arnold Lustiger, and published last year. It has now been made available online.

Soloveitchik begins with the rabbinic reading of the biblical phrase “I took you out of Egypt”—spoken by God to the Jewish people—as “I was taken with you out of Egypt,” a reinterpretation that can be accomplished in Hebrew by simply rearranging a few dots. It therefore follows that the Divine Presence (Sh’khinah) accompanied the people of Israel into exile, and will return from exile with them. But could the creation of a secular polity in Mandate Palestine really accomplish this metaphysical transformation? And, more importantly, what can be done to ensure that Jewish statehood does return Divine immanence to the Holy Land. These are the questions that Soloveitchik attempts to address:

The progression of Jewish history used to be chaotic, insane, and absurd. It now has a sense of purpose and significance. It has a direction and an objective.

We need to stop and examine this assertion of purpose, of direction, of an ideal. What is it? The answer is simple. The state of Israel will liberate a segment of the Jewish people from exile in the political-social sense. Naturally, not everyone will be redeemed through it. Even the Exodus from Egypt itself did not free all the Jews from Egypt; the sages suggest that not all enslaved Israelites were redeemed, perhaps only one fifth, and some say only one 50th or even one out of every 500 Jews in Egypt were actually liberated (M’khilta, B’shalaḥ 13:18).

Exile is a subjective concept. Through the new Jewish state, we Jews have at least been given the opportunity to liberate ourselves from exile. But will the Ribbono shel Olam [the Master of the Universe] Himself also be freed from exile by the state of Israel, or will He remain in captivity in a Jewish state? This is the main question we religious Jews have been asking ourselves for the past several months.

With regard to redemption of the Sh’khinah from defilement, I am definitely optimistic. Whoever ultimately stands at the helm, life in Israel will to a certain extent be completely Jewish. I read in the press that the kitchens of the Israeli army are strictly kosher. When, on that fateful Friday, the establishment of the state of Israel was proclaimed, the ceremony was held eight hours early so as not to desecrate the Sabbath, despite various logistical difficulties associated with doing this. The act alone sanctified the Sabbath more than 50 rallies dedicated towards Sabbath observance.

Naturally, religious Jewry must stand watch and fight for [Sabbath observance], but I can assure everyone that Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael will be holier than it was in the Jewish neighborhood in Berlin, in the Frankfurt Ghetto, or even on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tradition

More about: American Zionism, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Religious Zionism

 

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy