It's a Good Time to Review the basics of Zionist Religious Nationalism, Zionist Mysticism and Zionist Philosophers

It's a good time (after an election) to recall some basics about Zionist Religious Nationalists, Zionist Mystics and Zionist Philosophers.

I recommend The Zionist Idea by Arthur Hertzberg.

-Part 7: Religious Nationalists, Old and New -397
-YEHIEL MICHAEL PINES 1842-1912 -406
-ON RELIGIOUS REFORMS (1868-1871) -409
-The Religious Idea -409
-Methods in Reforms -410
-THE LAND OF ISRAEL (1910-1930) -419
-THE WAR (1910-1930) -422
-THE REBIRTH OF ISRAEL (1910-1930) -424
-LIGHTS FOR REBIRTH (1910-1930) -427
-SAMUEL HAYYIM LANDAU 1892-1928 -432
-JUDAH LEON MAGNES 1877-1948 -440
-"LIKE ALL THE NATIONS?" (1930) -443
-MARTIN BUBER 1887-1965 -450
-THE JEW IN THE WORLD (1934) -453
-HEBREW HUMANISM (1942) -457

The early forms of religious Zionism beginning with Mohilever and continuing with Pines, Kook, Buber and others -- which led to the organization called Mizrachi and other religious arms of the movement - were peripheral to the success of Zionism overall, but important for its ultimate inclusiveness and definition.

Hertzberg summarizes Mohilever as follows:

SO FAR the selections in this reader and the biographical sketches at the head of each selection have seemed to tell the story of the Zionist idea in a straight line: it began with certain stirrings in the minds of men of religion (e.g., Alkalai and Kalischer) and went on to express itself as a secular nationalism, though Zionism always more or less assumed, and was in tension with, emotions derived from religion. This impression needs to be qualified. Religious Zionism -- that is, not mere traditional piety about the Holy Land but a conscious blending of orthodoxy in religion with modern Jewish nationalism -- has been an important, albeit minority, trend throughout the history of the modern movement.

The seminal figure in its development, the immediate ancestor of this tendency in its existing form, was Rabbi Samuel Mohilever. He played a central role in the development of pre-Herzlian Russian Zionism, the Hibbat Zion movement, and lived long enough to announce his adherence to Herzl and to help his newly founded organization absorb the older one.

Mohilever was born in 1824 in a village near Vilna, the intellectual center of Lithuanian Jews. He was so brilliant a student of the traditional talmudic curriculum that he was ordained a rabbi at the age of eighteen. At first Mohilever refused to practice this calling and instead was a merchant of flax for five years. Business reverses and the death of his well-to-do in-laws constrained him to accept the office of rabbi in his home village. A period of six years there was followed by successive calls to ever larger communities. In the 1870's, when he first displayed signs of an active interest in work for the Holy Land, Mohilever was the rabbi of Radom in Poland. Already notable not only as a scholar but as a communal leader, he was elected to a much larger post, also in Poland, in Bialystok, which he occupied for fifteen years until his death in 1898.

Mohilever was moved to practical Zionist labors by the pogroms of 1881. Tens of thousands of Jews had fled across the Russian border to Galicia, in the Austrian-held part of Poland. Mohilever attended a conference of western Jewish leaders that was called on the spot, in Lemberg (the capital of Galicia), to decide what to do with these refugees. He suggested, without effect, that they be diverted to Palestine. On this journey Mohilever also visited Warsaw, where he had better success; he was instrumental in organizing there the first formal section of the then nascent Hibbat Zion. While in Warsaw, he convinced two of his most distinguished rabbinic colleagues to join with him in issuing a call for emigration to Palestine, but these men soon fell away from such activities. The Hibbat Zion movement was dominated by secularists like Leo Pinsker, and Mohilever remained one of the few distinguished figures among the rabbis of the old school to be active within it.

His decision to remain in Hibbat Zion, side by side with avowed agnostics who did not live in obedience to the Law, was the crucial turn in the history of religious Zionism, for it determined not only its future as an organized "party" but also the nature of the problems it would have to face henceforth. On the one hand Mohilever, like his successors to the present, had to do battle with the ultra-orthodox; it was no small matter for an undoubted pietist to announce that all Israel was in peril and hence "would we not receive anyone gladly and with love who, though irreligious in our eyes, came to rescue us?" Even seventy years later, though this fight is now largely won, there are still those among the orthodox who do not accept the notion of a Jewish national loyalty that all should share, which is greater than religious differences. On the other hand Mohilever inevitably exercised constant pressure -- and here too he has been followed by his successors -- on the national movement to be more responsive, at least in practice, to the demands of orthodox religion. This note is sounded in what was in effect his testament, the message to the First Zionist Congress that he sent through his grandson (the selection below is a translation of that entire text). Earlier, in 1893, a long series of differences between him and the main office of Hibbat Zion in Odessa, which was largely secularist, had led to a decision of the movement to create another center, headed by him, to do propaganda and cultural work among orthodox Jews. This office was given the Hebrew name Mizrahi (an abbreviation for merkaz ruhani, or "spiritual center"); when the presently existing Zionist organization was refounded in 1901 by Rabbi Jacob Reines and others of Mohilever's disciples, they continued the name, the spirit, and the stance.

It should be added that Mohilever was active not only in organizational and propagandistic affairs but also in the labors in behalf of colonization in Palestine. His single greatest service in this field came early, in 1882, when he went to Paris to meet the young Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Mohilever convinced him to take an interest in the struggling settlers in the Holy Land; Rothschild remained, until his death in 1934, the greatest single benefactor of the Zionist work there.

If you are interested in Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism (and who isn't these days?) then you will relish the writing of Rabbi Kook. Hertzberg describes:
MODERN ZIONIST THOUGHT is the creation of a whole gallery of passionate and extraordinary men, but even among them a few stand out as originals. Abraham Isaac Kook is one of this handful.

Kook cannot be explained from the outside in -- if he can be explained, at all -- by a listing of the facts of his life, the influences that touched him, and the antecedents of his thought. The essence of Kook is within. He was a mystic whose entire career was determined by experiences of inner illumination; he was a religious Zionist engaged not in defending the ritual observances -- though, of course, he practiced and preached them with unique fervor -- against secularism but in living out an approaching "end of days." Kook's view of Zionism, and his most important acts as the first chief rabbi of Palestine after the British mandate, make sense only if we understand that he was certain that the present generation was the one foretold in prophecy as the age of the coming of the Messiah. He could therefore both seriously prepare himself for future office as priest of the restored cult in the Temple in Jerusalem and accept all builders of Palestine, heretics included, as unwitting instruments of the ever more manifest Redemption. These are both part of the same whole to use a technical term, of his "realized eschatology."

Kook speaks mystically and repeatedly in his work of Eretz Israel the biblical name for the land. He says for example, "A JEW CANNOT BE as devoted and true to his own ideas, sentiments, and imagination in the Diaspora as he can in Eretz Israel. Revelations of the Holy, of whatever degree, are relatively pure in Eretz Israel; outside it, they are mixed with dross and much impurity. However, the greater is one's yearning for and attachment to Eretz Israel, the purer his thoughts become, for they then live in the air of Eretz Israel, which sustains everyone who longs to behold the Land."

Kook also preached that war in the world was a sign that the mystical messianic age has come when, "All the civilizations of the world will be renewed by the renascence of our spirit. All quarrels will be resolved, and our revival will cause all life to become luminous with the joy of fresh birth. All religions will don new and precious raiment, casting off whatever is soiled, abominable, and unclean; they will unite in imbibing of the dew of the Holy Lights, that were made ready for all mankind at the beginning of time in the well of Israel. The active power of Abraham's blessing to all the peoples of the world will become manifest, and it will serve as the basis of our renewed creativity in Eretz Israel. The destruction of our day is a preparation for a new and unique renascence of the deepest dimensions."

Above all Kook is sure that Zion is central to the ultimate redemptions as he says, "The spirit of Israel is attuned to the hum of the redemptive process, to the sound waves of its labors which will end only with the coming of the days of the Messiah."

Kook speaks realistically and mystically at the same time as he says, "DESPITE THE GRAVE FAULTS of which we are aware in our life in general, and in Eretz Israel in particular, we must feel that we are being reborn and that we are being created once again as at the beginning of time. Our entire spiritual heritage is presently being absorbed within its source and is reappearing in a new guise, much reduced in material extent but qualitatively very rich and luxuriant and full of vital force. We are called to a new world suffused with the highest light, to an epoch the glory of which will surpass that of all the great ages which have preceded. All of our people believes that we are in the first stage of the Final Redemption."

More outspoken religious leaders such as Landau spoke of Torah fused with Avodah (labor) as the ultimate route to redemption: "In this sense -- but only in this sense -- the Torah is more than the command which individual Jews, the national vanguard in the Holy Land included, must obey; it is the primum mobile, the essential element, and the efficient cause of the national revival. It is more than the signpost and mold of individual and collective life; it denotes the ultimate spiritual source of the movement - Torah cannot be reborn without labor, and labor, as a creative and nation-building force, cannot be reborn without Torah -- Torah which is the essence of the Renaissance."

Some religious leaders foresaw the years of strife between Jews and Arabs and spoke out. Rabbi Magnes did so at great cost. Hertzberg describes, "In Palestine Magnes's political beliefs made him a figure of great controversy. Contrary to most Zionist opinion, he doubted that a Jewish state in Palestine could be established -- certainly not peaceably. The only hope that he saw for the implementation of the Jewish aims essential to him was in a binational state. The essay, in which he first gave full public expression to his views, is in itself an historic document. There had been bloody outbreaks by the Arabs in August 1929, triggered by wild tales that the Jews intended to seize the Mosque of Omar and throw it down in order to clear its site for the rebuilding of the Temple."

Magnes said about the ideal Zionist that, "when he goes voluntarily as a Jew to repeople his own Jewish Homeland, it is by an act of will, of faith, of free choice, and he should not either will or believe in or want a Jewish Home that can be maintained in the long run only against the violent opposition of the Arab and Moslem peoples. The fact is that they are here in their overwhelming numbers in this part of the world, and whereas it may have been in accord with Israelitic needs in the time of Joshua to conquer the land and maintain their position in it with the sword, that is not in accord with the desire of plain Jews or with the long ethical tradition of Judaism that has not ceased developing to this day.

The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber developed a notion of Hebrew Humanism saying things like this:

According to the ideas current among Zionists today, all that is needed is to establish the conditions for a normal national life, and everything will come of itself. This is a fatal error. We do, of course, need the conditions of normal national life, but these are not enough -- not enough for us, at any rate. We cannot enthrone "normalcy" in place of the eternal premise of our survival. If we want to be nothing but normal, we shall soon cease to be at all.

The great values we have produced issued from the marriage of a people and a faith. We cannot substitute a technical association of nation and religion for this original marriage, without incurring barrenness. The values of Israel cannot be reborn outside the sphere of this union and its uniqueness.

Buber also tried to reassure Gandhi (a vocal opponent of Zionism and of the aspirations of the Jews) of the constructive nature of Zionism. He sent to Gandhi, "The Jewish farmers have begun to teach their brothers, the Arab farmers, to cultivate the land more intensively; we desire to teach them further: together with them we want to cultivate the land -- to "serve" it, as the Hebrew has it. The more fertile this soil becomes, the more space there will be for us and for them. We have no desire to dispossess them: we want to live with them. We do not want to dominate them: we want to serve with them...."
(originally posted 2/26/2007)

1 comment:

Reuven Chaim Klein said...

I also wrote a post about this recently, see here.