Why are so many Jews in favor of Zionism, if it is against Judaism?

12/01/06

Dear Rabbi,

Very good website. However, I would like to know what has got so many Jews to be in support of Zionism (propaganda,etc) and how you are helping reduce this.

Thank you. People like you make the world a better place.

A.F.

Dear A.F.,

Regarding non-religious Jews, one need not be too puzzled, since they do not care about any of the laws of the Torah. Why should they care about the laws prohibiting a Jewish state? They were convinced that Zionism would be a good way to keep Jews safe, and even now that they have been proven wrong, it is hard for them to admit the mistake and harder still to back out of the mess they are in.

The question of how religious Zionists square their Zionism with Judaism is more complex. There are three parts to the answer, and they are all true in varying degrees, depending on the person or group.

1) We find many groups of Orthodox Jews today who believe and practice the Torah, and yet want to subscribe to a different ideology as well. These people will take the Torah and twist it until it fits their agenda. For example, Jews who want to believe the theory of evolution will open up the book of Genesis and reinterpret it to fit with their view. The Jewish feminists will try to keep Jewish law and at the same time make changes to fit modern times: women leading the prayers in the synagogue, etc. Here as well, religious Zionism is a hybrid ideology, an attempt to believe in the doctrine of Zionism which originated in secular minds, and preserve allegiance to the Torah at the same time. Since they have this agenda, they approach the classic texts with this in mind (and a healthy dose of ignorance). Whoever is familiar with the Talmud knows that there are ways and means of misinterpreting the words in almost every area. The Talmud itself (Eiruvin 13b) says that there was one scholar who could come up with 150 reasons that a dead lizard should be ritually clean (when in fact the Torah explicitly says that it is not clean).

This is true of the leaders of religious Zionism. The followers, however, usually know nothing about the texts and sources, and are just continuing in the way they were raised.

2) The second part of the answer is that Zionism does hit on certain themes that are central to Judaism, and without careful thought one could mistake it for true Judaism. Jews do in fact hope to return one day from exile and settle Palestine. (However, this will be an act of G-d, not a political or military movement.) Judaism does make a point of seeing G-d's hand in history. Thus Zionists will say that all the events leading to the foundation of the state were really G-d manipulating history. However, many wicked people have also succeeded, clearly with G-d's help, for mysterious reasons, and so success is no proof of correctness. There is a lot of material in the Torah and Talmud in praise of the Land of Israel, which could be misdirected toward building a state when we are really supposed to be in exile. The Bible is full of stories of Jews fighting wars, which can lead one to be proud of the Israeli army. The religious Zionist leader Meir Kahane once wrote (in frustration) that the reason why the charedi (=strictly Orthodox) world is not Zionist is because they have not really spent time reading the Bible; instead they spend all their time on the Talmud. The truth is, however, that the Biblical verses are taken out of context by Kahane and his ilk.

3) Prominent rabbis of the so-called "Modern Orthodox" Jewish world (which tends to be Zionistic) such as Joseph B. Soloveitchik have seen that the Jewish people was swept away with pride in the Zionists and their military victories. Non-religious or marginally religious Jews were at their low point in Jewish pride and faith in G-d after the Holocaust, and then the State of Israel lifted them up. To encourage people like this to stay Jewish, their leaders espoused Zionism and tried to brush under the table the arguments against it.

Thank you for your interest.