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Definitions II

Definitions II

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah and Galilee Diary)

One should never occupy oneself with the legends and midrashim relating to the messianic age, and should not consider them as central beliefs, as they foster neither love of nor obedience to God; likewise one must not calculate the end - as our sages said, "accursed be those who calculate the end." One must simply wait and believe... -Rambam (Maimonides) Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 12:2

Because of its commitment to the state of Israel, and to having that state function as a modern, democratic, Jewish state, Orthodox Zionism was from the beginning viewed positively by many "secular" Israelis. While these Orthodox aroused opposition and resentment sometimes by their insistence on public observance of religious strictures (no El Al planes on Shabbat, no pork...), they were also respected as loyal, constructive citizens who were generally moderate in their Orthodoxy (witness the Orthodox kibbutz movement), and who shouldered their full share and even more than their share of the sacrifices needed to build the country. Indeed, since the beginning of Zionism, the stridency of the polemic between the different strands of Orthodoxy (pro- and anti-Zionist) has been greater than that between the Orthodox and secular wings of Zionism.

The problem is that for the past two thousand years, it seems that whenever we have messed with messianism, the outcome has not been good. Jesus, Bar Kochba, Shabbetei Zevi, enlightenment, socialism - whenever we (or some of us) became convinced that a particular leader, or policy, or movement had the power to redeem us, redemption only ended up receding farther into the future, and there was a lot of collateral damage. So while it is very inspiring to recite the standard Orthodox Zionist blessing for the state that refers to Israel as "the first flowering of our redemption," there is also a potential danger in believing that we live in messianic times. Thus, when the amazing victory of 1967 gave apparent support to the belief that we could hear the messiah's footsteps, it intensified the old and powerful dilemma that attends outbreaks of messianic fever: what means are justified to move the process along?

And so today, Orthodox Zionism is itself subdivided into different strands: There are those who are sure they have figured out God's plan, and who know that we are experiencing the redemption. Our having attained sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel is clearly proof that that is what God wants - and thus we are forbidden to partition it, regardless of what realpolitik or common sense or the world might argue. This view characterizes the supporters of the settlement of the territories occupied in 1967, and in its extreme form has led to various extreme manifestations such as the Jewish terrorists of the mid 80s, and Yigal Amir's assassination of Yitzchak Rabin.

On the other hand there are the moderates, trying to continue the tradition of seeking a synthesis between Orthodoxy and the complex, modern reality of life in a democracy, in some kind of harmony with the world, trying to advance redemption not by reclaiming all the land of the biblical promise, but by trying to build a sustainable state that manifests Jewish moral values.

Meanwhile both of these strands of Orthodox Zionism are further subdivided by halachic issues having little to do with messianism - they continue to struggle to define their relationship to cardinal issues of the modern world such as the place of women, the treatment of homosexuals, and nature of rabbinic authority, the degree of openness to western culture in general. Every community, every family, indeed every individual represents a different set of compromises. Not to mention the constant traffic of people changing, moving from one community or one ideology to another.

Indeed, they really are not all the same.

Published: 3/16/2010

Categories: Reform Judaism, Israel
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