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This is why, despite the many challenges of the State of Israel, I consider myself a Zionist. So many of our prayers have already been answered, but others not yet. (I’ll resist the temptation to nitpick on the translation. It’s good enough to convey the message.)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

48 comments

  1. ז וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אֶל-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר: הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ בָהּ לָתוּר אֹתָהּ–טוֹבָה הָאָרֶץ, מְאֹד מְאֹד. 7 And they spoke unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: ‘The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceeding good land.

    KT

  2. Nice romantic spiritual singing but portrays virtually nothing of so many amazing feats that have been accomplished in the building of the modern state of Israel, so little of the beauty of the natural land and the pride of the new infrastructure and settlements, not to mention tzahal, great culture, recreation, sport, industry… shows how out of touch with the real world the nostalgic religious sector is.

  3. Reuven Spolter

    “This is why, despite the many challenges of the State of Israel, I consider myself a Zionist.”
    Let me understand correctly: you’re only a Zionist because you believe that our prayers have been answered. And if they weren’t answered, you would not be a Zionist? If, God forbid, we were to take a step backwards, as we did seven years ago, would that make you less of a Zionist? What exacltly do you mean? What is a Zionist in your mind – someone who believes that Moshiach has come – or may be coming, or partially has come?
    I thought that Zionists were people who believed not only that HKB”H would return to Zion, but that we too would do so ourselves, as He commands us to do. See this week’s parshah for more information.
    It seems that we throw around the term Zionist without exactly defining what it means, and what obligations it implies.

  4. Anonymous: You win the award for unnecessary nitpicking.

    Reuven Spolter: So according to you, someone who makes aliyah is a Zionist and someone who does not is not? Was Rav Soloveitchik a Zionist? Are Rav Schachter and Rav Blau? Were you before you made aliyah? Are your parents?

    One step backward is just a setback. If there was ch”v another exile, I would stop being a Zionist.

  5. shachar haamim

    Yoav Sorek in Makor Rishon’s Shabbat has suggested that the bracha return to it’s original nusach (recited in some congregations for yom tov musaf chazart hashat”z) which express the desire to return to the avodat hamikdash, as the return to Zion has happened already (and in 99.99% of the situations – except perhaps for about 20,000 Jews in Iran – and then maybe not – anyone who hasn’t is doing so by choice)

  6. >So according to you, someone who makes aliyah is a Zionist and someone who does not is not? Was Rav Soloveitchik a Zionist? Are Rav Schachter and Rav Blau? Were you before you made aliyah? Are your parents?

    How about this definition (at least for religious Zionism)

    A religious zionist is:
    Someone who either made aliya out of a sense of religious obligation OR someone who feels the need to find a valid religious excuse as to why they have not yet made aliya (ie, why they are patur). On a national level, this person feels that Jews should en-masse settle the land of Israel.

    A religious non-zionist is:
    Someone whose aliya is based on non-halachic religious considerations OR someone who feels no need to excuse their living in chu”l. On a national level, this person feels that there is inherent religious/pragmatic value in a large exile community and does not connect to any national project designed to move Jewry to Zion.

    A religious anti-zionist is:
    Someone who has to find a heter for making aliya and considers those who do so to be putting themselves in a spiritually dangerous position. If this person already lives in Israel, they are connected to the vestiges of the old yeshuv and consider themselves to be in a religious struggle against the state. On a national level, this person considers any national project to move Jews to Israel to be delaying the redemption.

  7. >One step backward is just a setback. If there was ch”v another exile, I would stop being a Zionist.

    Why? During the exile there were several failed attempts to settle the land as a group. Why should that possitive attitude stop just because the current project in its current form fails? I am all for being pragmatic, but in my opinion, total passivity in settling the land is a functional abandonment of the true messianic hopes of the Jewish people.

  8. I use the term Zionism as describing a belief system. Apparently others use it differently.

  9. Reuven Spolter

    And that belief system is?

  10. Reuven Spolter

    Doesn’t a belief system necessarily obligate? Or, is your armchair Zionism the type that sits back and watches while other people build the Land of Israel for you? And those names that you mentioned – all of them worked (the Rav) or work tirelessly to advance the causes of the State of Israel. Your initial comment – and the ones that followed, imply strongly that you are a Zionist because from what you can tell (from nice videos and the like) things are going nicely here (and I infer that you think there’s some level of geulah going on). My understanding of Zionism is one that requires some effort – even from afar, to advance the cause of the Jewish nation.

  11. Doesn’t a belief system necessarily obligate?

    Really??? No, human nature and real complications get in the way.

    Or, is your armchair Zionism the type that sits back and watches while other people build the Land of Israel for you?

    My grandfather did more to build the land than you can ever hope to do.

    And those names that you mentioned – all of them worked (the Rav) or work tirelessly to advance the causes of the State of Israel.

    I intentionally gave examples of obvious Zionists for effect.

    My understanding of Zionism is one that requires some effort – even from afar, to advance the cause of the Jewish nation.

    I consider that to be a mistaken opinion. I believe that someone can believe in the Torah without studying it, although he should study it. And someone can believe in God without following His commands, although he should. And he can believe in Zionism without making aliyah, although he should.

    You apparently believe that a Neturei Karta follower who moves to Israel is a Zionist while a supporter of Israel who lives in exile is a non-Zionist. I consider that a mistaken view.

  12. Gentlemen,
    I think we’ve been down this road before with limited results.Might I just mention that the pasuk I quoted above was used in a dvar torah that mentioned while the tarim didn’t lie, they apparently didn’t cry either about the exceedingly beautiful land that they felt could not be attained.
    KT

  13. “My grandfather did more to build the land than you can ever hope to do.”

    Tell me you didn’t type that.

    Kol HaKavod to your grandfather. Your point is?

    “You apparently believe that a Neturei Karta follower who moves to Israel is a Zionist while a supporter of Israel who lives in exile is a non-Zionist. I consider that a mistaken view.”

    Wasn’t that the Rav’s point about his uncle?

    I’ve always wondered who the “non-Zionists” were who had prominent roles in the Jewish Agency in the first half of the twentieth century. They were clearly Zionists, so what made them different?

  14. Kol HaKavod to your grandfather. Your point is?

    Few individuals today do much to build the land.

    Wasn’t that the Rav’s point about his uncle?

    Where did the Rav say that his uncle was a Zionist? I don’t remember that from Mah Dodekh Mi-Dod.

    I’ve never wondered about the Jewish Agency in the first half of the twentieth century.

  15. Vtechezenah is about G-d’s return to Tzion – it follows vehashev et avodat dvir beitechah. So the images, emotional as they are, are also about 50% mismatched (the kotel davening ones work – complete without the women).

    That said, I wholeheartedly agree that we are seeing many of the prophecies of the neveiim come true, and for any zionist, especially religious ones, Aliyah should be on the table. I struggle with the “should make Aliyah” emotion and my fears about finances and reluctance to give up comforts of the U.S.

    Please G-d, we will see the true shivat Tzion in our days, when a majority of the Jewish people are living there (next 10-20 years)

  16. What does what your grandfather did – and kol hakavod to him – have to do with you and your personal chiyyuvim and mitzvot? Your grandfather learned Torah as well (I assume). Does that exempt you? You seem to stand by the fact that your Zionism depends specifically on the giluy yad hashem, i.e. since I can see בשובך לציון, I am a Zionist. And, if you didn’t see that, you would not be. Is that accurate, or have I misread you?

    Moreover, you state,
    “I believe that someone can believe in the Torah without studying it, although he should study it. And someone can believe in God without following His commands, although he should. And he can believe in Zionism without making aliyah, although he should.”
    What would you think of one who believed in Torah without studying or following it? Not that much of a believer, I dare say.
    As my former Rebbe in Sha’alvim, Rav Tzuriel used to say, “What you wrote, is a proof for me!”

  17. R’Yehudah Halevi put it very well in the Kuzari when he wrote that the prayer of Jews for shiva letziyon when they have no intention of actually making Aliya is “worth less than the twittering of the birds”. I really dont understand, do you feel unable (anoos), or are you one of “the captains who can’t leave the ship” (a quote from RHS) IMHO in this time of reshit tzmichat geulateinu there is no genuine Zionism without Aliya.

  18. David – I will jump to Gil’s defense here. On an individual basis a person can be a Zionist even without making Aliya (even when the person chooses not to and is not “anoos”). There are reasons why a person can’t make aliya. but on a communal level there is NO Zionism WITHOUT Aliya. the so called Zionist schools that don;t educate towards Aliyah ae NOT Zionist. The President of the OU (as I indicated in a comment on another thread) who discuss what can be done to strengthen Israel without even mentioning moving to Israel, is NOT a Zionist (and the OU in American is not Zionist just because it has an OU center in Israel. Satmar also has a center in Israel).
    But Gil could be a Zionist. Maybe.

  19. Gil,
    The chip that you wear on your shoulder on this issue is really unseemly, and your sarcasm really isn’t appropriate, even on your blog. Need I remind you of the parshah this week?
    I try not to rub aliyah in the face of people who live in the States, but you seem to think that we should honor your life choice as a personal decision with no religious or spiritual implications.
    When I lived in the States, I acknowledged the tension and the pressure to live in Israel. I was actively involved in AIPAC and other efforts to support the Jewish State. That’s the very least that you can and should do.
    And making sarcastic remarks to cover yourself won’t change that.

  20. I was actually waiting for the snarky response from you, Gil. I was going to warn Rubie that we were do for one in 3…2…1…, but figured I’d be generous. And here it is! Along with an excuse for the all the Israel-bashing that goes on! I’d say it’s unworthy of you, but it happens whenever you do (or don’t) bring Israel up.

    My problem with this post is basically this: The video is really nice. It also has very little if anything to do with “Zionism” as currently understood. It’s a person singing a tefillah against, mostly, a backdrop of the Kotel. Like I said, very nice. Nu?

    As to grandfathers…well, my cousins who came here in the 30’s, lack of headcovering and all, did a lot more for Israel than I ever will. And they had it easy compared to those who preceded them by fifty years. And the kids I know going into the IDF now will do a lot more for Israel than I. What does any of that have to do with anything?

  21. R Gil and R Spolter-Let me try to serve as an intermediary to what I perceive as an unproductive discussion-I think that both of you would agree that the Jewish People, regardless of their level of observance, still is hurting on a communal and often individual level, as well, from the awesome consequences on a meta historical and hashkafic level from the Chet HaMeraglim. One can read why staying in Teaneck or Lakewood is spiritually preferable to moving to the Land of Israel, albeit for vastly different reasons. Yet, one can detact the echoes of Chet HaMeraglim and the rationale offered therein in such responses.

    Look at it this way-one can read both MO and Charedim who both offer all sorts of excuses, some learned , others justified,others rooted in sociolgical and educational realities and issues revolving around their families, and some without a scintilla of logic backing them, why they prefer to stay in ChuL, which IMO, the latter which borders on a lack of Hakaras HaTov for the enormous accomplishments achieved for the Jewish People as a result of the restoration of Jewish sovereignty to the Land of Israel.

  22. Calling the OU non-Zionist deserved a snarky response.

  23. Nothing deserves a snarky response. Look at the Gemara’s discussion on how Tanach goes out of the way to use “lashon nekiya.” A Ben Torah, to use a cliche, should avoid snark and sarcasm, especially in a serious discussion.

  24. Oh, and blanket lines like “Israelis are…” and “you guys” is lashon hara, no matter what the context is.

  25. Nachum: You are right. I deleted the comment.

  26. Gentlemen – can’t we all be friends?

  27. Shachar Haamim-The OU certainly is Zionist and pro-Israel. Merely because its serves American Orthodoxy via Kashrus, Chizuk/Kiruv programs and lobbying on issues affecting its constituency and members vis a vis Israel and domestic issues hardly renders the OU non Zionist. Would you apply such logic to RHS and other Talmidei Chachamim whose views on Israel are decidedly different than the Charedi world as to the hashkafic importance of the founding of the State of Israel?

  28. FWIW, RYBS described R Velvel ZL as one of the greatest Ohavei EY he ever knew, regardless of the fact that R Velvel ZL could not see or imagine a secular State of Israel in his halachic or hashkafic views.

  29. RYBS IIRC, described R Velvel ZL as one of the greatest Ohavei EY he ever knew, regardless of the fact that R Velvel ZL could not see or imagine a secular State of Israel in his halachic or hashkafic views.

  30. Gil- Kol HaKavod.

    For what it’s worth, my definition of “Zionist” certainly includes people who don’t live in Israel, God bless us all.

  31. R’ Gil
    Yasher Koach!
    KT

  32. The song’s words are about God and His shechina returning to Zion, but the pictures are about human beings returning. It is easy to imagine one without the other. In fact, that’s exactly what the anti-Zionists say is currently happening. Not that music videos have to be perfectly logical to have value, but I still thought this point was interesting.

    As for all the criticisms of Gil – I believe that hesder roshei yeshiva, among them RAL, have said that someone playing an important spiritual role in a Jewish community in chu”l should NOT necessarily make aliyah.

  33. Shlomo-IIRC, RHS has also voiced the same POV re those who play an “an important spiritual role in a Jewish community in chu”l should NOT necessarily make aliyah”, subject to the caveat that not everyone is as important as they might think that actually are. I think that one can argue based on numerous passages in the Talmud and Rambam that Kibutz Galiyos, which we are seeing in massive proportions in an unprecedented manner in Jewish history, and the flourishing of a secular Jewish state and the amazing number of young men and women learning Torah in Israel today are spiritual signs that even the most diehard anti Zionist would have to concede are present today, and that what we are seeing is the fullfillment of how the Talmud describes the nature of the redemption as being dependent on the spiritual nature of the generation and occuring Al Pi Derech HaTeva.

  34. R’HS recieved that mesorah from R’YBS who in his day iirc extended it to all those involved in the pulpit and chinuch (I disagree but the truth is the truth)
    KT

  35. I asked Rav Schachter if the position ascribed to the Rav in ‘The Halachic Positions of Rabbi Soloveitchik’, that Yishuv EY is a chiyuvis is correct. He told me that it is certainly incorrect, and although that is his personal position (although I think there is nuance to his view too), Rav Soloveitchik held that it is a kiyumis.

  36. When R’ Schachter says that line about everyone thinking they’re important enough to stay in chu”l, he clearly uses a self-deprecatory tone. (And if anyone can think it, he can.)

  37. See page 219 of Divrei Harav where R’YBS is quoted as I mentioned above.
    Kt

  38. shachar haamim

    “When I lived in the States, I acknowledged the tension and the pressure to live in Israel. I was actively involved in AIPAC and other efforts to support the Jewish State. That’s the very least that you can and should do.”

    Actually I recall that your wrote a piece about how terrible it was that the best motivated members of your community were leacing to Israel – as if that was a bad thing. Well, in the end you followed them. Great.

    Gil – I didn’t see the snarky comment. put it back. When the OU ran a special feature edition of how to reduce costs to young families by moving out a town – it was literally the entire magazine – they didn’t even have a line about moving to Israel. We’re not talking about older people with elderly parents or older teenages. we’re talking about a couple just starting out. and an educational message to the people now in school or contemplating what educational path to set out on and the costs and ramifcations of such path (unless you suggest that 17-19 year olds don’t read Jewish Action). Not a word about Aliya!
    I stand by my assertion. Sure the OU may pay lip service to the State of Israel at some level (and let’s not forget that there is a certain degree of influence by the Flatbush/Baltimore/Passaic yeshivish non-Zionist crowd in the OU), but institutionally I don’t think that a religious organization that does not educate to Aliyah can be considered Zionist.

  39. Especially in a world of Peter Beinarts and (l’havdil) Agudists, but even without them, I’d call any support of the State of Israel Zionist.

  40. “When the OU ran a special feature edition of how to reduce costs to young families by moving out a town – it was literally the entire magazine – they didn’t even have a line about moving to Israel.”

    That was certainly a serious error. But considering the organization’s overall approach towards Israel, with programs galore for youth and adults, and considering the usual tenor of JA, not calling the OU Zionist is short-sighted if not foolish. But then again, I think this discussion of “who is really a Zionist?” is as foolish and non-productive as our too often “who is really Orthodox?” discussions.

  41. On shachar’s advie, I am now affiliating with Neturei Karta

  42. shachar haamim

    “Especially in a world of Peter Beinarts and (l’havdil) Agudists, but even without them, I’d call any support of the State of Israel Zionist.”

    … let’s ne honest – there are Peter Beinarts and Agudists in the OU. As well as supporters of the State of Israel. As an organization it is “Zionist neutral” and one doesn’t see any partilcuar message of either Aliya or Mitzvat Yishuv Haaretz in its educational message.

    “On shachar’s advie, I am now affiliating with Neturei Karta”

    I suppose you’d then be joing up with Beinart…

    “That was certainly a serious error. But considering the organization’s overall approach towards Israel, with programs galore for youth and adults, and considering the usual tenor of JA, not calling the OU Zionist is short-sighted if not foolish.”

    The non-zionist and anti-zionist haredim also have lots or programs galore for youth and adults in Israel. Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem is packed to the hilt with people on one year programs and fellows who stay for extended stays on student visas. Probably more in that one Yeshiva than the OU sends in all of its programming combined.

  43. I had the same reaction as Shlomo – the words are about binyan ha Mikdash and restoration of the monarchy, but the images are all about the ingathering of the exiles. And while I was ready to be moved by the video, I wasn’t – because the images didn’t match the words, because both represent necessary parts of the process of geulah, both of which have stopped.

    You & I are not in Israel, nor do we have much great desire to go – we’re part of our communities here, we have parents here, we have jobs here, why should we pick up and go? The video is, while it sounds kinda hopeful, ultimately about disappointment in ourselves and in the course of history.

    If anything positive, this video evokes a Mizrachi vision – that settlement of the Land is good in and of itself, not as part of a messianic process. People like R’ Kook and even more so his son R’ Tzvi Yehuda Kook gave the Shivat Tzion of the 19th century a Messianic reading, and now that we don’t seem to be proceeding towards the Final Redemption, it’s a disappointment, rather than the fulfillment of the Mizrachi dream.

    But that’s just me, I’m a pessimist, and live with the cognitive dissonance between believing myself to be a Zionist, while not feeling a great desire to move to Israel.

  44. Jon: I’ll take dissonance over dismissal (and, boy, are there dismissers, of various stripes) any day. I wrote something very similar to yours a few years before making the move. 🙂

  45. “because the images didn’t match the words, because both represent necessary parts of the process of geulah, both of which have stopped.”

    It hasn’t stopped at all. In fact in a month or so there is a plane filled with 157 Americans who are making Aliyah to join the IDF.

    Someone asked R. Aviner when the Geula started, he wrote 1870s. I’ve seen some say it started in 1917 with the balfour declaration, some say it was in 48 with the declaration of the State, some say it started sometime around 2010 when Israel became the country with the most number of Jews in it, and some say it hasn’t started yet, and won’t start until 50+% of all Jews live in Israel.

    Now is the best time since 1948 to really “make history”, and to be part of the changing of Jewish history forever.

  46. From the ‘ipcha mi’stabra’ department: (with apolgies to the laate Israeli Yated)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Rakeffet-Rothkoff

    “Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff (born Dec 2, 1937[1]) is Professor of Rabbinic Literature at Yeshiva University’s Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Jerusalem. He is a noted scholar, author and teacher who has taught thousands of students throughout his over 50+ years of teaching. He spent four years studying under Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and remained very close to him afterwards.[2] He quotes his rebbi’s halachic and hashkafic views in his lectures.[citation needed]
    Born Arnold Rothkoff, he changed his name to Aaron Rakeffet upon becoming an Israeli citizen.

    Noteworthy Quotations
    “You can not be a good Zionist unless you know Vayoel Moshe by heart. Once you know Vayoel Moshe by heart, with Al HaGeula Ve’Al Hatemura…then you can be a Zionist. Until then you’re a faker. .[17][18][19]”‘

    Now, THAT is something I can relate to. Also nice to see how RHS quotes RYBS’s quote of the SR re why the ‘tziyonim’ left out the ‘Eretz’ in ‘Eretz Yisrael’ when they made their medinoo ha’-re-shoo-oo. The first English Bio of SR has RYBS saying that he became frummer when the SR came to America. IIRC, R Abba Bronspiegel even recalls (in his article in Mentor of Generations) that RYBS used to do make a yearly donation to NK.

    A quick search of R Aviner’s site also reveals some nice and amusing anecdotes about the SR.

    http://www.ravaviner.com/search?q=satmar

  47. Shachar Haamim wrote in part:

    “I stand by my assertion. Sure the OU may pay lip service to the State of Israel at some level (and let’s not forget that there is a certain degree of influence by the Flatbush/Baltimore/Passaic yeshivish non-Zionist crowd in the OU), but institutionally I don’t think that a religious organization that does not educate to Aliyah can be considered Zionist”

    I think that the notion that the “Flatbush/Baltimore/Passaic yeshivish non-Zionist crowd” has any influence in the lay and rabbinc leadership of OU requires evidence of the same as opposed to merely claiming that the same is present.

  48. I thought that the video, with Shlomo Katz’s wonderful Niggunim, was a gorgeous depiction of kibutz Galiyos. It takes a certain lack of Hakaras HaTov to recognize the facts on the ground that the video is depicting in its short sweep of the impact of the sovereigbn State of Israel on Jewish life both in the Land of Israel and the Diaspora.

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