Didn't Rabbi Chaim Sonenfeld say that we can see the hand of G-d in Zionism?

03/12/07

Regarding R. Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt"l, I found the following quote in a sefer about his life, on the subject of Zionism:

In a letter to his brother, Shmuel, in Czechoslovokia, dated Elul, 1903, R. Chaim wrote:

"I have received your letter and wish you, first of all, a mazel tov on the birth of your granddaughter...May her parents be privelaged to raise her to a Torah life, marriage and good deeds. In these times, this is the most important blessing.

It appears that all of you are excited by Zionism, but I am afraid you miss the fundamental point. Zionism without the observance of the Torah's mitzvos has no value. If I would be able to argue the point with you in person, you would certainly come to agree with me.

Indeed, if we would be enthusiastic about observing the mitzvos of the holy Torah, if we would faithfully observe Shabbos and Yomim Tovim, abide by the Torah's marriage laws, and carefully refrain from eating unkosher food -- and then yearn to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the land in order to more properly fulfill the mitzvos -- then the bond forged between the people and the land would be truely powerful. It would then be founded upon religion and it would strike roots deep enough that it would not be easily swayed and uprooted.

However, a zionism based on nationalism, while disdaining religion and mitzvos, deprives itself of its very source of existance. We already lived once in this land as a seperate nation with nationalistic roots, yet our departure from Torah then caused its destruction and our exile from our land.

In truth, in the thirty-one years since I have arrived here, greater changes have taken place than in the previous thousand years combined! Beyond doubt, more than one thousand Jewish buildings have been built. The expansion of the Holy City, the recent construction of magnificent buildings beyond our wildest hopes, the continuing construction of railroads, the new settlements, areas desolate for generations now verdant and alive -- IS IT POSSIBLE NOT TO SEE THE HAND OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE IN ALL THIS? (my caps) We must work at settling the land with an attitude of trust in G-d Who gave us His holy Torah. Certainly if we are fairthful to it, we will merit to dwell here securely and will always find favor and mercy 'for He will command His angels, etc....' (Psalms 91:11)

The perspective expressed here in 1903, when the Zionists were as yet an insignificant force in Palestine, always remained R. Chaim's position. Decades later, when the Zionists had seived political control of the land, R. Chaim would fearlessly reiterate his original position that, despite its apparent success, Zionism devoid of Torah does not have the ability to endure. Even many Zionist leaders were forced to express their admiration and reverence for R. Chaim, their implacable opponent, whose opposition so clearly flowed from his perception of this fundamental truth, undiluted by any personal interests or considerations."

Now, while the above comments are no endorsement of Zionism, they are certainly a bit more docile in a number of ways than many of the selected quotes on your website made by other great Rabbi's, including R. Chaim. It sounds like what is inferred from the above letter is that "if Zionism was based upon Torah, it could succeed." He didn't say it outright, but it sounds to me clearly inferred.

Of course, there are many Torah sources debate on their own merit concerning these issues, some of which have been elaborated upon on this site. However, I just wanted to interject here the above quoted slightly different, more subdued attitude of one of the great Rabbi's who was well recognized as being "anti-zionistic" for the sake of balance.

Of particular note is R. Chaim's words, "is it possible not to see the hand of Divine Providence in all this?" That does not sound like R. Chaim was referring to the sitra d'achra.

Rabbi Zonenfeld said that one could see the hand of Hashem in the settlement of the land, only he wanted it to be religious. There is nothing problematic in this, because settling the land is fine as long as it done within the parameters of Jewish law. The early Zionists came with permission from the Turks or the British, they purchased their land legally, and their only violations of halacha were in their private lives; the settlement of the land was not a sin.

However when they began to negotiate for a state in the late 1930s (Rabbi Zonenfeld passed away in 1933) and certainly when they fought for their state in 1947-8, they were violating the oaths.

The Rambam in Hilchot Avoda Zora, ch. 10 and in Hilchot Melachim speaks about a time when "yad yisrael takifah" meaning "when we have the power (over the land of Israel)." He does not use the term when Moshiach is here. Why does the Rambam use such a phraseology if he is holding that the only way that the oaths can be abrogated is via Moshiach?

The Rambam's practice is to talk generally about all times of Jewish history. For example, he will not talk about sacrifices and say, "when moshiach comes". He will just say, "at the time when the Temple exists." Here too, he says "when Israel is strong" to cover all the periods of history when Jews were permitted to control the land - First Temple, Second Temple, Third Temple.

There is an interesting Rambam that sheds light on this question. Before he begins listing the 613 mitzvos, the Rambam writes a long introduction in which he explains 14 rules by which he decided what counts as a mitzvah. At the very end of that introduction, he says that he will specify which mitzvos only applied in Temple times. But with certain mitzvos, it is obvious and unnecessary to specify:

It is known as well that prophecy and kingship have departed from us until we repent of our sins, which we continue to commit, and then He will atone for us and have mercy on us, as He promised us... and it is known that war and conquest of cities can only take place with a king and with the counsel of the Great Sanhedrin and the Kohein Gadol, as it says, "And before Elazar the Kohein he will stand." Since this is so well-known, I do not need to write regarding any positive or negative mitzvah that depends on sacrifices, Temple service, the death penalty, the Sanhedrin, a prophet, a king or an optional war, that it only applies when the Temple is standing, because that is obvious.

So perhaps the Rambam held that since he states that a king is the one who initiates a war (Hilchos Melachim 5:1-2), he did not need to mention the Three Oaths, which forbid the waging of wars - wars against the nations or for the conquest of Eretz Yisroel - since today there is no king and it is obvious that there can be no wars.