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Religious Zionist

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Title: Religious Zionist  
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Religious Zionist

Religious Zionism (Hebrew: ציונות דתית, Tziyonut Datit, or דתי לאומי, Dati Leumi "National Religious", or כיפה סרוגה, Kippah seruga) is an ideology that combines Zionism and Jewish religious faith. Religious Zionists are observant Jews who support Zionist efforts to build a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.


In 1862, German Orthodox Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer published his tractate Derishat Zion, positing that the salvation of the Jews, promised by the Prophets, can come about only by self-help.[1] The main ideologue of modern religious Zionism was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who justified Zionism according to Jewish law and urged young religious Jews to support efforts to settle the land, and the secular Labour Zionists to give more consideration to Judaism. Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner was another prominent rabbi who supported Zionism. Kook saw Zionism as a part of a divine scheme which would result in the resettlement of the Jewish people in its homeland. This would bring salvation ("Geula") to Jews, and then to the entire world. After world harmony is achieved by the refoundation of the Jewish homeland, the Messiah will come. Although this has not yet happened, Kook emphasized that it would take time, and that the ultimate redemption happens in stages, often not apparent while happening. In 1924, when Kook became the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine, he tried to reconcile Zionism with Orthodox Judaism.


Religious Jews believe that Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) was promised to the ancient Israelites by God and the right of the Jews to the land is permanent and inalienable. To generations of diaspora Jews, Jerusalem has been a symbol of the Holy Land and of their return to it, as promised by God in numerous Biblical prophecies. Despite this, some Jews did not embrace Zionism before the 1930s and certain religious groups opposed it on the grounds that an attempt to re-establish Jewish rule in Israel by human agency was blasphemous. Hastening salvation and the coming of the Messiah was considered religiously forbidden, and Zionism was seen as a sign of disbelief in God's power and therefore a rebellion against God. Rabbi Kook developed a theological answer to that claim, which gave Zionism a religious legitimation: "Zionism was not merely a political movement by secular Jews. It was actually a tool of God to promote His divine scheme and to initiate the return of the Jews to their homeland - the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God wants the children of Israel to return to their home in order to establish a Jewish sovereign state in which Jews could live according to the laws of Torah and Halakha and commit the Mitzvot of Eretz Israel (these are religious commandments which can be performed only in the land of Israel). Moreover, to cultivate the land of Israel was a Mitzvah by itself and it should be carried out. Therefore, settling Israel is an obligation of the religious Jews and helping Zionism is actually following God's will."[2]

Religious Jews also disapproved of the Zionists because many were secular Jews or atheists, taking their cue from Marxism. Socialist Zionism envisaged the movement as a tool for building an advanced socialist society in the land of Israel, while solving the problem of antisemitism. The early kibbutz was a communal settlement that focused on national goals unencumbered by religion and precepts of Jewish law such as kashrut. Rabbi Kook's answer was as follows:

Secular Zionists may think they do it for political, national or socialist reasons, but in fact - the actual reason for them coming to resettle in Israel is a religious Jewish spark ("Nitzotz") in their soul, planted by God. Without their knowledge, they are contributing to the divine scheme and actually committing a great Mitzvah.
The role of religious Zionists is to help them to establish a Jewish state and turn the religious spark in them into a great light. They should show them that the real source of Zionism and the longed-for Zion is Judaism and teach them Torah with love and kindness. In the end, they will understand that the laws of Torah are the key to true harmony and a socialist state (not in the Marxist meaning) that will be a light for the nations and bring salvation to the world.

Shlomo Avineri explained the last part of Kook's answer:"... and the end of those pioneers, who scout into the blindness of secularism and atheism, but the treasured light inside them leads them into the path of salvation - their end is that from doing Mitzva without purpose, they will do Mitzva with a purpose." (page 222, 1)


The first rabbis to support Zionism were Yehuda Shlomo Alkalai and Zvi Hirsch Kalischer. They argued that the change in the status of Western Europe's Jews following emancipation was the first step toward redemption (גאולה) and that therefore one must hasten the messianic salvation by a natural salvation — whose main pillars are the Kibbutz Galuyot ("Gathering of the Exiles"), the return to Eretz Israel, agricultural work (עבודת אדמה) and the revival of the everyday use of the Hebrew language.

The Mizrachi organization was established in 1902 in Vilna at a world conference of religious Zionists. It operates a youth movement, Bnei Akiva, which was founded in 1929. Mizrachi believes that the Torah should be at the centre of Zionism, a sentiment expressed in the Mizrachi Zionist slogan Am Yisrael B'Eretz Yisrael al pi Torat Yisrael ("The land of Israel for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel"). It also sees Jewish nationalism as a tool for achieving religious objectives. Mizrachi was the first official religious Zionist party. It also built a network of religious schools that exist to this day.

In 1937-1948, the Religious Kibbutz Movement established three settlement blocs of three kibbutzim each. The first was in the Beit Shean Valley, the second was in the Hebron mountains south of Bethlehem (known as Gush Etzion), and the third was in the western Negev. Kibbutz Yavne was founded in the center of the country as the core of a fourth bloc that came into being after the establishment of the state.[3]

Political parties

The Labor Movement wing of Religious Zionism, founded in 1921 under the Zionist slogan "Torah va'Avodah" (Torah and Labor), it was called Hapoel Hamizrachi. It represented religiously traditional Labour Zionists both in Europe and in the Land of Israel where it represented religious Jews in the Histadrut. In 1956, Mizrachi, Hapoel HaMizrachi and other religious Zionists formed the National Religious Party to advance the rights of religious Zionist Jews in Israel. Other parties and groups affiliated with religious Zionism are Gush Emunim, Tkuma, and Meimad. A radical branch of Religious Zionism, Kahanism, was founded by the Rabbi Meir Kahane. Today, Hazit is the leading wing of this school of thought.

Educational institutions

The flagship religious institution of the religious Zionist movement is "Mercaz haRav" yeshiva (founded by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook). Other religious Zionist institutions are Yeshivat Or Etzion (founded by Rav Haim Druckman, a foremost disciple of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook), Yeshivat Machon Meir, Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Birkat Moshe in Maale Adumim,Yeshivat Har Hamor, Ein HaNatziv Women's Seminary and the Yaacov Herzog Institute for Jewish Studies.


Religious Zionists are often called "Kippot sruggot", referring to the knitted or crocheted skullcaps worn by the men. However, there are also some religious Zionists who wear other types of headcoverings (black velvet kippot, for example), and if a certain person wears a knitted kippa, it does not necessarily mean that he is a religious Zionist.


Many religious Zionists embrace right wing politics, especially the National Religious Party, but they also support the Likud and the National Union. There are also left-wing religious Zionists, such as by Rabbi Michael Melchior, whose views were represented by the Meimad party (which ran together with the Israeli Labor party). Many settlers in Judea and Samaria are religious Zionists, along with most of the settlers forcibly expelled from the Gaza Strip in August and September 2005.

Military service

Religious Jews in Israel are obligated to serve mandatory service in the IDF, like all other adult Jewish males in Israeli society. Certain segments of Orthodoxy defer their service in order to engage in full-time Torah study. Religious Zionist thought advocates that both are critical to Jewish survival and prosperity.

For this reason, many religious Zionist men take part in the Hesder program, whereby they are able to combine military service with Yeshiva studies. Others attend a pre-army Mechina, delaying their service by one year. 88% of Hesder students belong to combat units, compared to a national average of below 30%. In November 2010 the IDF held a special conference which was attended by the heads of Religious Zionism in order to encourage female religious Zionists in order to join the IDF. The IDF promised it would make sure that all modesty and kosher issues will be handled in order to make female religious Zionists comfortable.

While some religious Zionist women serve in the army, most choose national service, known as Sherut Leumi, instead (working at hospitals, schools and day-care centers).

Notable figures

See also



  • The Zionist Idea and its variations - Shlomo Avineri, Am Oved publishing, chapter 17: "Rabbi Kook - the dialection in salvation"

External links

  • Religious Zionists of America
  • Poster of Historic Religious Zionist Leaders
  • A Historical Look at Religious Zionism by Prof. Dan Michman
  • Original Letters and Manuscripts: Zionism, Ben-Gurion on God's Promises Shapell Manuscript Foundation
  • "Kipa - House of Religious Zionism"
  • Official National Religious Party website (in English)
  • Religious Zionism And Modern Orthodoxy, Rav Yosef Blau
  • Modern Orthodoxy vs. Religious Zionism; are they the same thing? Rabbi Yair Spitz
  • Orthodox Zionism, Prof. Eliezer Segal
  • Religious Zionism, Compromise or Ideal?,
  • Religious Zionism: Between Openness and Closedness, Prof. Avi Saguy

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