Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Rabbi of Frankfurt (1808-1889)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch devotes a long section of his book Horeb (pp. 460-461) to the obligation of Jews to seek the welfare of their government (Yirmiyahu 29:7). If this applied under the Babylonians, who exiled the Jews by force, all the more so in our current countries of residence, in which we settled by choice. If this applied in Babylonia, where Jews were sent for a pre-specified period of 70 years, all the more so today, when the length of our exile has not been revealed to us. For hundreds of years, Jews have honored and loved the rulers of the countries in which they took refuge, and followed all their laws faithfully.

Israel’s nationhood does not depend on a common land, writes Rav Hirsch. Even when the Jewish people lived on its own land, it was not the land that united them. The land and the external trappings of statehood were only a means to better fulfill the obligations of the Jews. The Torah was not given for Eretz Yisroel; Eretz Yisroel was given for the Torah!

The Torah united all the individual Jews and made them a nation, and therefore even after they were distanced from their land and deprived of sovereignty, they are a nation, not primarily because of their past, nor because of their future, when they hope Hashem will return them to their land, but because they are the bearers of an eternal tradition, a people that fulfills its covenant with Hashem. It was thanks to this identity that they have been able to maintain their existence despite the destruction of their land and sovereignty.

When we mourn the destruction of the Holy Land, Jerusalem and the Temple, we are not mourning any physical weakness that led to our defeat, but rather we affirm that the destruction was a punishment for our sins, and it is over those sins that we cry. Whatever tragedies befell us, we accept lovingly, knowing that they are the chastisements of a loving Father to induce us to improve our ways.

When we pray that Hashem return us to our land, we are not motivated by a desire to become a powerful nation among nations, but to be united as a nation in order to fulfill the Torah’s commandments completely.

But this Torah commands us that as long as Hashem does not call us back to the land He set aside for us, we have to remain living in the countries Hashem has chosen for us, have a love and loyalty to those countries, and dedicate all our powers and money to the welfare of those countries.

The Torah obliges us, further, to allow our longing for the far-off land to express itself only in mourning, in wishing and hoping; and only through the honest fulfillment of all Jewish duties to await the realization of this hope. But it forbids us to strive for the reunion or possession of the land by any but spiritual means.

Three oaths – say our Sages – Hashem made Israel swear in the lands of its exile: 1) That the children of Israel should not immigrate by force, with an outstretched arm, to build the walls of the land of their inheritance. 2) That they should not rebel against the nations, but rather be loyal to the country that accepted them as residents. 3) That the nations should not afflict the people of Israel too much (Kesubos 111a). The Jewish people's fulfillment of the first two oaths is confirmed in the pages of history. And as to the third oath, let the nations judge themselves.

In 1864, Rav Hirsch wrote to Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, founder of Chovevei Tzion: "My mind is too small to recognize the good and truth that will result, according to you, from your efforts in colonizing Eretz Yisroel. What you consider a mitzvah and a great obligation, does not seem so in my humble opinion. I have no knowledge of secret matters, and I see nothing better than to continue on the road paved by our fathers and predecessors, who made it their goal only to improve our Torah observance, and to look forward to the redemption, which might come any day, if we only listen to G-d's voice. They never approached redemption through the improvement of the Holy Land, only through the improvement of our hearts and deeds." (Shemesh Marpei, p. 211)

Near the end of his life in 1886, Rav Hirsch wrote to Rabbi Yaakov Lipshitz, personal secretary of Rabbi Yitzchok Elchonon Spector, “I was completely opposed to Rabbi Kalischer on this subject. More than three or four times he wrote to me and sent me his books and pressured me to take a leading role in his movement to settle Eretz Yisroel, until he finally came to me and accused me of delaying the redemption. And I asked him to leave me alone on this matter, for what they consider a great mitzvah is in my eyes no small sin, and therefore it is impossible to reach common ground.” (Shemesh Marpei, p. 216)

In his commentary to the Siddur (p. 703), Rav Hirsch speaks about the tragedy of Beitar. The fourth blessing of Birkas Hamazon reads, “He did good to us, He does good to us, He will do good to us; He bestowed upon us, He bestows upon us, He will bestow good upon us forever.” Rav Hirsch explains that this threefold repetition was intended to combat a heretical idea. The blessing was composed after the uprising of Bar Kochba, when the Romans gave the Jews permission to bury their dead.

“When, during the reign of Hadrian, the uprising led by Bar Kochba proved a disastrous error, it became essential that the Jewish people be reminded for all times of another important fact; namely, that Israel must never again attempt to restore its national independence by its own power; it was to entrust its future as a nation solely to Divine Providence. Therefore when the nation, crushed by this new blow, had recovered its breath and hailed even the permission to give a decent burial to the hundreds of thousands who had fallen about Betar as the dawn of a better day, the sages who met at Yavneh added yet another blessing to the prayer for the restoration of Jerusalem. This fourth blessing is an acknowledgement that it has always been G-d and G-d alone Who has given us, and still gives us to this very day, that good in which we have had cause to rejoice; and that for future good, too, we may look to none other but G-d, and none besides Him. (Commentary to the Prayer Book, p. 703)

Rabbi Julius Hirsch
Rabbi Julius Hirsch

His son, Rabbi Julius (Yehuda) Hirsch (1842-1909), wrote a commentary on the Book of Isaiah in his father's style. On Chapter 35, verse 4 he writes as follows:

Tell those of overhasty heart: “Be strong, fear nothing! Your G-d is here; retribution will come, brought to bear by G-d; it will come and become your salvation." (Isaiah 35:4)

“Those of overhasty heart are good-natured people who are prone to act hastily – “the head follows the heart.” Every thinking, observing Jew must realize that it is the deviation from the path of faithful performance of our duties that led to our exile, and only return to G-d and His Torah can put an end to our misery.

And again: be strong, remain firmly committed to your heritage, do not fear the inadequacy of your actions, G-d is omnipresent to judge your deeds and the wrong done to you. The dream of the revival of your national existence will become reality only with the help of G-d – Who will also judge the surrounding nations for their deeds. Only when G-d brings about the salvation will it be enduring.

This thought motivated our Sages as they convened in Yavneh to add the fourth blessing to our grace after meals. The uprising against Hadrian led by Bar Kochba proved to be a fatal error. Many thousands of bodies lay unburied in Betar, serving as a silent and moving reminder to the Jewish people never again to attempt to regain its national independence by its own power. When, years later, permission was given to bury the corpses, it was welcomed by the downtrodden nation as the beginning of better times. This stressed the need for the repeated warning that only Divine providence could secure Israel’s national future.

Rabbi Mendel Hirsch

Another son, Rabbi Mendel Hirsch, wrote a commentary on the Haphtoroth, the weekly readings of the prophets that follow the Torah reading. In the following comment he echoes his father's words in Horeb that Israel's nationhood does not depend on a common land:

The existence of all other nations is based on their having a country of their own, and their rights and laws grow out of their national life. That is why their existence and history comes to an end as soon as they lose their common country. But Israel’s “common country” is the Law of G-d. Through the Law it became a nation in the wilderness before it had a country, yea, it received its country itself only for the expressed purpose of keeping that Law. That is why its national existence was not attached to the continuance of its possession of its land, and until this very day it forms the world-historic wonder of the continued existence of a nation scattered amongst all the other nations for thousands of years after it had lost its own common land. But that loss had to occur after it had worshipped the possession of land and riches as the highest goals, but the Torah of G-d had become held in contempt as being a hindrance to attaining them and disturbing in enjoying them. That loss itself was a necessity for Israel to regain itself. (The Haphtoroth, p. 303 on Haphtorah Bamidbar, Hoshea 2:7)