Zionism is a diverse movement, made up of various different streams that extend from communist Zionists to cultural Zionists. Due to the early Zionists having never defined Zionism, the movement has accepted many different variations of Zionism and hasn’t banned any particular stream from joining as fellow Zionists. A stream that has a larger than normal following is Religious Zionism. This stream is made up of Zionists who combine their observance of Torah and Halacha with Zionist thought and action.
Within the religious Zionist “camp,” there are even more extensive streams of Religious Zionists. The different streams of religious Zionism might seem too similar for differentiation to someone who isn’t a religious Zionist, but analysis of the different streams demonstrates the different approaches each stream of religious Zionism takes to the overall Zionist movement. Even religious Zionists who are part of one stream might not be aware that other religious Zionists take a completely different approach to Zionism. These different approaches can best be seen in how various religious Zionist scholars and leaders taught Zionism’s role in the Jewish people’s philosophy and daily life.
One of the major differences found between the different streams of religious Zionism is whether Zionism has intrinsic value or is valuable in so far as it serves a greater value. In Halacha and Jewish philosophy there is a division between actions that are ends in of themselves and actions that are means to an end. A well-known example of the division between ends in of themselves and means to an end is the building of a sukkah. Although fulfillment of the mitzvah to live in a sukkah is dependent on building a Sukkah, in Halacha and Jewish philosophy, the action of building a sukkah is considered a “hechsher mitzvah,” a means to the ends of the mitzvah of living in the sukkah and has no intrinsic value in of itself. A division among religious Zionists is whether Zionism, and today’s State of Israel, has value in of itself, or is its value merely one of “hechsher mitzvah,” and a means to another end.
The stream of religious Zionism that maintains Zionism and the State of Israel have intrinsic value perceive Zionism and the State of Israel as part of the redemption process, claiming it is the first step towards the ultimate redemption and the Messianic era. As Rav Boruch Weider, Rosh Yeshiva at Yehivat Hakotel in Jerusalem’s Old City and student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook explained, with the founding of the State of Israel and the beginning of the ultimate redemption, Halacha and Judaism has changed forever. In Rav Weider’s and those in his camp’s view, the founding of the State of Israel was such a momentous event in Jewish history it changed Jewish destiny in the most fundamental of ways – it changed halacha itself.
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and Rabbi Josh Broide hosted Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Jerusalem, on their weekly show, “Behind the Bima.” At one point in the show Rabbi Meiselman, whose uncle was Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, was asked about Rabbi Soloveitchik’s views on Zionism. Rabbi Soloveitchik is considered one of the foremost leading Rabbis of the religious Zionist movement. Rabbi Meiselman qualified his remarks by telling of the many extensive discussions he shared with his uncle about Zionism. The Rabbi Soloveitchik’s position on Zionism, as Rabbi Meiselman explained it, is different than the path many Religious Zionist Torah scholars teach Zionism’s role, and how Rabbi Weider explained it. Rabbi Soloveitchik saw Zionism and the State of Israel as a vehicle to understand Torah and observe more mitzvot. Rabbi Soloveitchik maintained the Zionist movement and the State didn’t have intrinsic value, but was a “Hechsher Mitzvah,” that allowed other mitzvot to be achieved.
The overwhelming approach of religious Zionists today, especially of its leaders and Rabbis is consistent with Rabbi Weider’s approach that Zionism and the State of Israel have intrinsic value. Israel’s Chief Rabbinate included the description of the founding of the State of Israel as “The Beginning of the Redemption” in the prayer for the State of Israel recited by many religious Zionist communities every Shabbat and festival. I discussed Rabbi Soloveitchik’s view with a leading religious Zionist Torah scholar, and he lamented that expressing the view of Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Meiselman can get one pegged as anti-Zionist by many in the religious Zionist community. Instead of celebrating the diversity of views within the religious Zionist camp, it is unfortunate that some prefer to cancel those with differing views than their own.
The religious stream of Zionism is one rich with scholarship, activism, and loyalty to the Jewish State. Its schools, seminaries, and Yeshivot have produced leading Torah scholars and IDF officers. A sizeable percentage of Knesset members boast of being members of the religious Zionist camp, and its popularity has spread outside the borders of Israel. Countless Orthodox Synagogues around the world consider themselves part of the religious Zionist camp and fly an Israeli flag in the front of their Synagogues, right next to the Ark. Religious Zionists and its philosophy will grow richer with the celebration of diversity of thought and opinions within its camp.