The Religious View of the Secular State of Israel

The Religious View of the Secular State of Israel

Rabbi Ari Shvat

Rabbi Ari Shvat

Whether due to modern technology or our national renaissance, our generation has merited (through G-dly necessity![1]) to clarify an abundance of contemporary halachic issues which are either uniquely modern or have been “out of commission” for centuries. Entire volumes have been written dealing with various topics regarding the observance of shabbat and kashrut in the modern home or in the Israeli army. Nevertheless, the issue of how to relate to the very existence of the secular State of Israel and the justification for our support, maybe the most basic point of contention between the different streams of religious Jewry, remains, surprisingly and unfortunately, almost untouched territory.

In addition to this unfortunate void, the aftermath of the tragic uprooting of Gush Katif, and the subsequent reassessment of many religious–Zionists regarding their relationship to the government or State of Israel,[2] only strengthens the need to clarify this most basic of questions.

In this article, we will summarize the arguments of those who are opposed to the modern secular State of Israel, we will base our support for the State of Israel upon the biblical and rabbinical sources, through which we will attempt to evaluate her importance in the eyes of the Torah.

1. The Arguments Against

a) The Irreligiousness of the State

  Most of the opponents of Zionism and the State of Israel come with the painful claim that the state is not “religious enough”. For example, in one of the few halachic responsa which touch upon the rabbinic evaluation of modern g’dolim regarding the State, Rav Moshe Feinstein replies to a question regarding a shul where they wished to place an Israeli flag (together with an American flag), next to the Ark as follows:

“And even though those who made this flag and symbol of the State of Israel were bad people (רשעים), in any case they did not consider it (the flag, A.C.) to be a holy item, which if they had done so, would have led to suspect that it is like idolatry… (but) it is like every secular object… and if it was possible to dismiss the entire matter of the flag without causing an argument, so there will not be any memory of the actions of the bad people, this would be the correct thing to do, but Heaven forbid causing an argument about this”.[3] Rav Moshe infers that the Israeli flag should not be flown, even outside the shul!

Similarly, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook often mentioned that at the beginning of the Zionist movement, there were only two great rabbanim, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk and Rav David Freidman of Karlin, who opposed it.[4] When asked to explain their opposition, he replied “What? Are we lacking reasons to oppose it?!”[5]

b) The Prohibition on Establishing a State before Mashiach

 The second argument comes from a minority of rabbanim, headed by R. Yoel Moshe Teitelbaum of Satmar, who claim “our argument and war against the Zionist Sate is not because it is not religious enough, rather we disagree with the very essence of its establishment, even if it was ultra-religious”.[6] So writes the Satmar Rebbe:

“And even if all the members of the government were beloved, all of them pure, even like the mishnaic and talmudic sages – in any case they have taken the rule and the freedom into their own hands before the time has arrived, this is considered “forcing the end” (דחיקת הקץ) which is a denial of the truth of our holy Torah and of our faith”.[7]

  This is mainly based upon the g’mara on the pasuk, “I made you swear, daughters of Jerusalem, that you shall not awaken My desire before its time”,[8] according to which, when Hashem exiled the Jewish people, He made them promise “that they will not “force the end” and that they will not rise up against the wall” (Rashi: together, by force).[9]

  This midrash is not ruled as halacha by the Rif, the Rambam or the Rosh, nor is it mentioned at all in the Tur or the Shulchan Aruch. Any inclination to accept it as halacha has already been dismissed by just about all of the poskim of recent generations for many reasons:

1. It is an agadah and not halacha.[10]

2. A gradual aliya is not considered “together by force”.[11]

3. Since the nations gave us permission in the Balfour Declaration and as ratified by the San Remo Conference, to build a Jewish Homeland in Israel, any aliya is no longer “by force”. [12]

4. It is explicit that the oath only applies only “until the day when I will remember you”, and this day has already arrived: the permission of the nations is G-d’s “remembering”;[13] the “revealed sign of the end” through the flourishing of the land of Israel, proves that this is the time of the “remembering”;[14] the horrors of exile which forced hundreds of thousands of Jews to flee to Israel is the “remembering”;[15]  the mass awakening (even of the irreligious[16]) to return and build the Holy Land is definitely from Hashem. [17]

5. The gentiles did not observe their promise there (“that they will not subject/oppress the Jewish people too much”) which exempts Israel from her oaths, as well. As the Shulchan Aruch rules, “two people who simultaneously swear to do something, and one of them breaks his promise, the second is automatically exempt and there is no need to annul his vow”.[18]

6. The Vilna Gaon explains “not to go up against the wall”, refers specifically to theחומות ירושלים – the “walls of Jerusalem”, not to rebuild the Temple, before its time.

7. The actions of Rabbi Akiva, and most other sages of his generation, in the Bar Kochba rebellion, prove that there is no need to wait for miracles and wonders, and that there is certainly no prohibition to rebel against the non-Jews, and take the Land by force. This is ruled as halacha in the Rambam.[19]

  A lengthy discussion of this agadah will only mislead the reader to think that there is a legitimate basis to the fear of “the three oaths” and therefore we will suffice with this brief synopsis. The reader who wants to learn more is referred to the booklet by Rav Shlomo Aviner, “Shelo Ya’alu Be’Choma”, where, in the name of different great rabbis, he dismisses the “fear of the three oaths” (in the words of the author of the Or Sameach[20]), in thirteen different ways. In addition, we will see below that we are informed that not only is it not prohibited, but in fact, before the establishment of the kingdom of Mashiach, a previous state will, in fact, be established.

However, there are those who claim that such a state must be ruled only by one who is a descendant of the tribe of Yehuda and of King David, as it has been promised that “the scepter shall not leave Yehuda”.[21]

2. Chanuka – A Model for Celebrating Israeli Independence

We can find the answers to the aforementioned oppositions to the State of Israel- the existence of a state not based on the laws of the Torah and leadership of someone who is not from the house of David- in the words of the Rambam summarizing the reason of celebration on Chanuka:

  “In the period of the second Temple, the kings of Greece issued decrees against the Jews, invalidated their religion, and did not allow them to observe Torah and miztvot. They confiscated their money and their daughters, and they broke into the sanctuary and defiled the pure. And the Jews suffered greatly, and they were very intensely pressured. Until the G-d of their fathers’ had mercy on them and rescued them from their hands and saved them, and the sons of Chashmonai the high priests, rose up and killed them (the Greeks) and saved the Jews from their hands, and they appointed a king from the priests, and Jewish sovereignty returned for more than 200 years until the destruction of the second Temple”. [22]

  The Rambam specifies that the Hasmoneans were priests – what difference does it make if they were from the tribe of Reuven or Shimon, or if they were Kohanim, Leviim or Israelites? And, in case we did not notice the first time, the Rambam repeats the fact once again: “and they appointed a king from the priests”. The Rambam is undoubtedly relating to the halachic problem posed by the appointing of a king who is not from the tribe of Yehuda, who is not the mashiach (“the anointed” one”). The Ramban also refers to this problem in his commentary on the blessing of Ya’acov to Yehuda “the scepter will not leave Yehuda, nor the ruler from between his legs”:[23]

  “And in my opinion, the kings who reigned over Israel (the Kingdom of Israel, as distinct from the Kingdom of Judah) from the other tribes after David, disobeyed their father (Ya’acov) … and when the people of Israel continued to crown kings from the other tribes, king after king, and did not return to the kingship of Yehuda, they transgressed (his) will and were consequently punished… this was also the cause of the Hasmonean’s punishment, because they were extremely righteous people…and nevertheless, they received a significant punishment… because they reigned even though they were not descendants of Yehuda and the house of David, and they completely “removed the scepter”. And it is also possible that they sinned in their kingship because they were also priests… they should not have ruled, just done Hashem’s (Temple) service”.

As for the Rambam, his opinion is even more severe than that of the Ramban, inferring that it is even asur m’d’oraita:

  “We are warned not to appoint a king who is not from the people of Israel… it is already known from the books of the prophets that David and his descendants merited the kingdom forever. For all those who believe in the Torah of Moshe, the greatest of all the prophets, the king can only be from the descendants of Shlomo. And anyone who is not from this honorable descent, regarding kingship is considered “a foreigner”, just as anyone who is not a descendant of Aharon is called “a stranger” regarding the service in the Temple. This is clear and there is no doubt whatsoever.” [24]

  Clearly, when the Rambam emphasizes twice (!) that the Maccabees were priests, and they established a kingdom from the priests, he is saying, “I am not naïve. I realize that this is problematic”. Yet, despite the fact that it was forbidden, nevertheless, we celebrate the fact that “Jewish sovereignty returned”. National independence is so important, that it is better to a have a non-ideal Jewish government, than not to have a Jewish government at all. If this is the Rambam’s opinion regarding the Hasmonean dynasty, there is no reason that his approach to the present State of Israel would be any different, in that regard.

  And should the critic of the State of Israel base his claim on the Ramban who says that the Hasmoneans sinned in the very essence of their kingship, he will find his answer at the end of that very paragraph:

  “From here they learned that a king from the priests is not anointed… for this is the honor of Yehuda… and therefore, even if the Jews appoint a king from the other tribes, as a necessity of the period, he is not anointed so that he won’t have the glory of “kingship”, rather they should be like judges and officers”.

   We see that, in the Ramban’s opinion, the punishment of the kings of Israel and of the Hasmoneans was because they were anointed with oil and claimed “the glory of kingship”. Even more problematic, the Maccabees were priests, who are only meant to be anointed for a different purpose, the service of Hashem. However, someone who is needed to rule for a certain period, neither he nor the nation are transgressing the prohibition. Just as it is allowed to appoint judges (like Yehoshua, Gidon, etc.) and officers who are not from the family of David, so too, having a prime minister is allowed, for they are far from being “kings”.

  In addition, it should be noted that the Ramban himself is the one who particularly emphasizes, that the mitzva of conquering the Land of Israel, which applies in all generations, is “not to abandon her to the hands of any other nation”.[25] In other words, we are obligated to have Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. If necessity dictates to have a leader from a different tribe (e.g. if we do not know who is from the family of David, or if that descendent is not competent nor popularly accepted), not only are we allowed, but we must appoint a leader from another tribe. Even then, we should not crown him as king. In today’s reality, the democratic process solves the halachic problem of the forbidden monarchy, in a very elegant way, and obviously poses less of a problem, than that of the Maccabean dynasty.

Moreover, the opinion of the Rambam and Rabman, that the Maccabees sinned, is not accepted by all of the rishonim. In the opinion of the Ran, “the scepter will not leave Yehuda” is not a commandment, and not even a warning, and accordingly, there was no transgression at all. [26]

  The Rambam also refers to the question of the non-religiousness of the state in his words about the kingdom of the Hasmoneans. He inserts the historical fact, that the kingship of the Hasmonean’s continued for more than 200 years, into his halachic work. What connection does this historical fact have to halacha?

  It seems that the Rambam comes to emphasize that we must thank Hashem for every single year of Jewish sovereignty, even if it was temporary and eventually ended, and if its spiritual level is lacking, like the Hasmonean dynasty. The majority of the kings of this dynasty were Sadducees, Hellenists, and some were even idolators![27] Not to mention the bloodshed and moral corruption between man and his fellow man. The g’mara states that the figure of 200 years of Hasmonean rule includes 103 years that the kings were from the dynasty of the wicked Herod and his family![28]

 According to the Rambam, there is an obligation (and even a precedent), to celebrate all 200 years of Jewish independence, even if that government is far from ideal! Consequently, how much more do we have to give thanks for a state that is simply irreligious, not idolatrous, and democratic, thus avoiding the problem of crowning a “non-Judean” king.

The question is, why does the Rambam consider Jewish sovereignty to be so important, even justifying the religiously problematic?

3. The State – An Answer to Anti-Semitism

  Upon examination, we find that the Rambam, in that very source, already explains the reasoning behind the cardinal importance of having a Jewish State.[29] He points out that the battle for the establishment of the state of the Hasmoneans, was to alleviate several problems:

  “… the kings of Greece issued decrees against them… confiscated their money and their daughters… And the Jews suffered greatly, and they were intensely pressured”.

Under foreign rule, the danger to our physical existence as a nation was very real. We have learned from our history in exile, that a Jewish state, with a Jewish army are inevitably the only answer to anti-Semitism. On both a national and individual level, only self-reliance and self-defense enable the fulfillment of “… and you shall live by them”;[30] “do not stand by the blood of your friend”;[31] “saving Jews from an enemy who comes against them”;[32] “to save the pursued”;[33] “your eyes should not have pity”.[34] If we had had a Jewish state, the fate of European Jewry at the time of the Holocaust could have been completely different.

4. The State- Insures Freedom of Religion

The Rambam mentions an additional problem that necessitated the battle for independence: “… the kings of Greece issued decrees against the Jews and invalidated their religion, and did not allow them to observe torah and miztvot… they broke into the sanctuary and defiled the pure”.

   This attack on our religious freedom is not an insignificant matter, as the Rambam writes elsewhere:

   “Because of this, all of the Jews, their prophets and sages, yearn for the days of mashiach. So that they will be freed from rulers who do not allow them to fulfill torah and mitzvot, and they will find rest, and advance in wisdom so that they will merit the world to come… The days of mashiach are in this world, and the world will continue as usual, only the sovereignty will return to the Jews, and our early sages have already said: “the only difference between the days of mashiach and this world is the servitude to other nations”.[35]

  Here we have another reason why the modern State of Israel is vital, in that it insures religious freedom, with no fears of decrees forbidding the fulfillment of torah and mitzvot, the kidnapping of children to serve in foreign armies for decades, or persecutions forcibly converting to Christianity, Islam, or Hellenism. Although the idea of outlawing mitzvot sounds extremely outdated, until very recently in the Soviet Union, it was illegal to circumcise Jewish children or not to work on Shabbat. Although the communists claimed to grant freedom of religion, and gave plausible explanations to these prohibitions (as did the Greeks and Romans, respectively), that doesn’t solve the problem!

5. The State – An Answer to Assimilation

Even today, when freedom of religion is basically a universally accepted concept, there is still a need for a Jewish State. Today, we have the opposite problem, that of “too much freedom of religion”, or assimilation.

Every person is influenced by his surroundings. Accordingly, chazal instruct us: “do not befriend an evil person”;[36] “woe to the wicked and to his neighbor”;[37] “even if you will give me all of the gold, silver and precious stones in the world, I will only live in a place of Torah,”[38] and more. The rate of assimilation and the percentage of intermarriage in the diaspora attest to the problem of Jews living amongst non-Jews. The fear of assimilation due to peer pressure and influence is not only an important concern,[39] but is actually cited in the Mishna Brura, “One should not live in a city where the market day is on Shabbat, as it is impossible not to sin”.[40]

   From here we see the obligation to live specifically in a Jewish State, as indeed the Rambam instructs:

  “Even if there were to be two Jewish states, and one of them has better deeds and is more precise in their performance of mitzvot than the other – a G-d fearing person is obliged to leave the city whose actions are worse and move to the superior city… This is true even when there are two Jewish states. But, if the place is amongst non-Jews, how much more so that a Jew who lives there is obligated to leave and go to a good place (i.e. to the only Jewish state) as David said: ‘for you have exiled me today from being in the inheritance of Hashem saying: go and serve other gods’.[41] From here we see that living amongst non-Jews is considered as serving other gods”.[42]

  It is true that our state is unfortunately not living up to all of our spiritual expectations, nevertheless, there is no other place in the world where the Jewish holidays and shabbat, kashrut and the jewish customs are the state’s culture, even of the irreligious. If a Jew must choose between being embarrassed of his brit milah or a place where one is embarrassed if he is not circumcised, the preference is obvious. No other country in the world would even consider producing 300% more dairy products for the week of Shavuot, nor eliminate daylight-savings-time in order to ease the Yom Kippur fast. Thank G-d, we have merited to see the center of torah learning and the yeshivot return to Zion, fulfilling the messianic words of Yishayahu: “for the Torah will go out from Zion and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim”.[43]

  The advantages mentioned here by the Rambam, attest to the essentialness of the State of Israel, even if it were to be located in Uganda!

In this context, it is interesting to note that the earliest documented connection between the Jewish people and the nation of Khazar who converted to Judaism, is when R. Chasdai ibn Shafrut, heard a rumor of the existence of that Jewish kingdom. Immediately, he dispatched a letter to the king stating that he wanted to ascertain whether it was true, “For if I knew that it is correct, I would be disgusted with my honor and abandon my high post,[44] leave my family and hasten over the mountains, oceans, and dry land, until I arrived to your kingdom”.[45]

In other words, just as we saw in the Rambam’s correspondence, if there is a Jewish state, even if it were a far and difficult journey, even if it were not even in the Land of Israel, we should all be living there (if impossible to make aliya).[46] How much more so, when the only Jewish state in the world is in the Holy Land of Israel.

6. Sovereignty in the Land of Israel is a Mitzva

  Up to this point, we have seen that the State of Israel, even if secular, is important as a means to guarantee both our physical and spiritual existence. On a completely different plane, we learn that there is an obligation from the Torah that the Land of Israel be under Jewish rule. In other words, the State of Israel is an ideal in of itself, not just a necessary median to alleviate the difficulties of anti-Semitism and assimilation. As the Ramban says:

  “We are commanded to inherit the Land that Hashem gave to our forefathers, to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, and not to abandon it in the hands of the other nations or to desolation. And He said to them: ‘and you should inherit the Land and settle in it, because I have given you the Land to inherit.’[47]… This is what our rabbis call milchemet… chova (an obligatory war) as the war of Yehoshua to conquer (Israel)… understand, that this mitzvah is to conquer …this is a positive mitzva for every generation”.[48]

  There are two components to this mitzva:

  1. “and you should inherit”- “and not to abandon it in the hands of the other nations”, “conquer”.
  2. “and settle in it” – “(not to abandon it…) to desolation”.

In other words, just settling the Land of Israel is not enough, it also needs to be under Jewish rule. Similarly, Rav Yisrael Yehoshua Trunk of Kutna wrote a century ago:

  “The main part of the mitzva is the inheriting and settling, as one does in his own property, to conquer the land of Israel so that it will be under our sovereignty, not the pointless arrival of today (written in 1891/ תרנ”א, when the land was under Turkish rule, A.C.)”.[49]

  “All of the poskim, rishonim and achronim” (in the words of the Pitchei Teshuva)[50] maintain this mitzva of living in Israel like the Ramban. Even Rashi, who explains in his commentary on the Torah that “and settle in it” is only a promise, holds that the conquering is a mitzva,[51] as is also explicit in his commentary to the g’mara, where he defines mitzvat “yishuv Eretz Yisrael, to chase out the gentiles and settle Jews there”.[52]

  Even Rav Yitzchak DeLeon, who is famous for his lone (and rejected)[53] opinion that during the exile there is no mitzvah to live in Israel, would admit that in our time, with the advent of the State of Israel, it is obligatory, once again. In his opinion the Rambam does not count this as one of the 613 mitzvot because it does not apply to all the generations, and will only apply “when we will not be enslaved/subject to the other nations”.[54] If so, today, when there is once again Jewish sovereignty, the mitzva applies as it did in the period of the Tanach, even according to R. Yitzchak DeLeon.[55]

7. Independence as a Kiddush Hashem

In addition to the “technical” problems of assimilation and anti-Semitism, being subservient to the gentiles poses a theological problem, as well. We find written regarding the period of exile, “And there you will serve gods made by hand (man)”, is translated by Onkelus, “And there you will serve those who serve idols”.[56] The idea is clearly that if we serve those who serve other gods, we indirectly are serving those idols, strengthening the belief in those religions to be thought superior to the G-d of Israel, chalila. As the representatives of the G-d of Israel in the world,[57] the international status of Israel is a reflection upon Him, for better or worse. Not only do our individual or national actions make a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s Name) or Chilul (desecration) Hashem in the world, but our status as seen in the eyes of the gentiles reflects and influences how they view Judaism and the “Jewish” G-d.

We find throughout the Tanach, that when Israel loses a war, the refrain of the gentiles was: “Hey Jew! Where is your G-d?![58] When the Babylonians defeated us and send us to exile, it is referred to as a Chilul Hashem, for the gentiles taunt us. “ויחללו את שם קדשי באמור להם עם ה’ אלה ומארצו יצאו!”, “and they defiled My Name when they are told: ‘This is G-d’s nation? And they were exiled from their Land!'”[59] The commentaries[60] explain: “They (Israel) humiliated My Honor. How? When their enemies said about us: their G-d wasn’t capable of saving neither His Nation nor His Land!” In other words, “Our god is stronger than the Jewish G-d, for we won the war!”

The same is true regarding more modern religions, as well. Before the founding of the State of Israel, Christians often “proved” their religion based upon the doctrine of the “wandering Jew”, never to return to the Holy Land, as punishment, in their opinion, for our rejection of their god/messiah. Islam, as well, likes to see their successful military campaigns as proof that “god is Muslim”. Contrarily, the formidable and independent State of Israel and Israeli army’s trouncing our Islamic enemies, serve as theologically problematic, to say the least, for our “monotheistic competitors”.

In a similar vein, the g’mara explains the reason we don’t say hallel on Purim.[61] Despite the fact that Megilat Esther concludes with the Jews enjoying even superior status in Persia,[62] nevertheless, as long as we are under foreign rule, and “we are servants of Achashverosh”, we are unable praise Hashem as if we are “servants of Hashem” (the opening phrase of hallel). Only one who has no other master, no division of loyalty between his nation and his G-d (note the case of Jonathan Pollard), can serve Hashem wholeheartedly. “Whoever lives in Eretz Yisrael is as if he has a G-d, and whoever lives in chutz laAretz, is as if he has no G-d, as it is written ‘…to give you the Land of Israel, to be your G-d”.[63]

In Israel, our loyalty to the nation of Israel, not only doesn’t contradict our faithfulness to Hashem, but on the contrary, expresses it. For example, one who gives his life for the nation is considered as if he was killed על קידוש ה’, in the sanctification of G-d’s Name, for they are one and the same. “ישראל ואורייתא וקודשא בריך הוא, חדש הוא”, “Israel, the Torah and G-d are one and the same”.[64] This parallel is even found in the Tanach, “And you shall serve Hashem your G-d and Israel His nation…”[65] Although this may sound at first blasphemous, upon understanding that Jewish nationalism and Jewish religion are intertwined, it is logical.

As we have seen, even if not faced with the dilemma of dual loyalty, the ideal of serving G-d wholeheartedly, plus the ideal of Kiddush Hashem, the positive reflection upon the G-d of Israel, are other advantages of having a strong and internationally respected independent Jewish State, albeit a non-ideal one.

8. The State of Israel in the Process of Redemption

  The most explicit sources regarding the status of the modern day secular State of Israel, are in connection with her role in the process of redemption, as envisioned from the outset and passed down through rabbinic tradition.

 The Maharal explains that it is possible to know how the redemption will be by looking at it’s opposite, the exile. Exile is characterized by three aspects, exile from our natural place; being scattered;[66] and servitude to another nation. Conversely, the signs of redemption are: the return to Israel; the gathering and unification of the nation; and independence.[67]

  The role of independence in the process of redemption is not just a philosophical idea, rather it is also well-based in practical halachic ramifications. The Shulchan Aruch rules: “one who sees the cities of Judea in their destruction must say: ‘your holy cites have become a desert’,[68] and tear his clothes”.[69]

  What is the halachic definition of “destruction” which obligates this tearing of one’s clothes? The g’mara learns about the law of tearing garments in mourning from the story of the people who came to Gedalia and tore their clothes on the “destruction” of Mitzpeh,[70] despite the fact that many Jewish residents remained there.[71] From here the achronim learn that “even if Jews live there, they are considered to be in their destruction, because Arabs rule over them”.[72] Clearly, independence is seen as the opposite of ,”חורבן” “destruction”, and consequently, with today’s independent State of Israel, we no longer need to tear our garments.[73]

Thus, rules Rav Moshe Feinstein that “even though, through our many sins, we still have yet to be redeemed, one should not tear his clothes when he sees Yerushalayim, because, in Hashem’s kindness, it has been gloriously built up, and is not under the rule of non-Jewish nations”.[74]

  Can the end of the churban, independence, occur, before the arrival of the mashiach? This is also answered explicitly by the Maharal:

  “And in the future, the messianic kingdom which will be re-established, will be a new kingdom, which will come out from the previous kingdom that preceded it. This is because the holy kingdom of Israel, which has an inherently G-dly level, will grow from within an unholy kingdom”.[75]

  350 years before the declaration of independence of an irreligious state, the Maharal already writes about the necessity of the appearance of “an unholy kingdom”! How did he know?

  His source is apparently the words of the prophet Micha who prophesies: “And you, barn of the flock, fortress of the daughter of Zion, your flock will return to you, and the first kingdom will arrive, the kingdom of the daughter of Yerushalayim”.[76] The Malbim, in his commentary on this verse explains that the redemption will come in three stages, symbolized by the transition from a small and smelly “barn” to a majestic “fortress”, as follows:

a. In the beginning “daughter of Zion your flock will return to you” – that the exiles will begin to be gathered. Afterwards:

b. “and the first kingdom will arrive” – a small government will be set up, which has a small amount of rule and leadership, just as the Jews had in the early days before they had a king, when they had judges leading them. After that:

c. there will be a “kingdom of the daughter of Yerushalayim” – they will have an eternal kingdom, that of the house of David, the king of mashiach will rule over this permanent kingdom.[77]

  Thank G-d, we have already merited in our days to see the first two stages – the ingathering of exiles and the first government.

It should be recalled, that when the Malbim differentiates between “government” and “kingdom” this is not just because it must happen in this order (gradually). In addition, this is exactly what the Ramban prescribed – that we only have the right to appoint a “government” who is not from the tribe of Yehuda, as they do not have “the glory of kingship”.

  The Netziv also makes this differentiation between “government” and “kingship” in his commentary on the verse “when you will come into the land… and you will say: I will appoint a king over me like all of the other nations… you shall surely appoint a king over yourself…”[78] There is a famous disagreement in chazal if this is a mitzva or an optional act. The Netziv explains ingeniously, that the Torah purposely leaves room for both explanations:

  “’… and you will say’…it sounds like this is not a mitzva to appoint a king, rather that it is optional, like ‘and you will say: I will eat meat etc.’ On the other hand, chazal tell us that there is a mitzva to appoint a king, and if so, why does it say ‘and you will say’? It seems that because the leadership of the state differs, depending on if it is ruled according to the will of the king or by the people and their representatives. There are some nations who can not cope with having a king, and there are others which, without a king, are like a ship without a captain. (Leadership) can not be forced by a positive commandment… it is impossible to command them to appoint a king as long as the people have not decided to bear the yoke of a king , having seen the surrounding countries being run in a more proper order (written barely a century ago, the Netziv is clearly referring to democracy).”[79]

  If we summarize the entire picture, we are told how the first government which comes in the wake of the ingathering of exiles (Micha) will look. It will not be a monarchy but a democracy (Malbim and Netziv), small and irreligious (Maharal and Malbim), and the kingdom of mashiach will gradually grow out from it. All of this is in addition to what we have already seen, that the major change in the days of the mashiach is independence – “the only difference between the days of mashiach and this world is the servitude to other nations”.

  We will end with the words of Rav Yitzchak Herzog, the Chief Rabbi at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, in his response to soldiers in the War of Independence:

  “And there is no need to clarify that what the Rambam writes: ‘and he should know that he fights for the unification of Hashem…’, is not intended only regarding a war against the nations who decreed to make the Jews leave their religion – as he is talking even about a voluntary war, which is to extend the borders of Israel – but, as the Zohar says ‘the Torah, the Jewish people and Hashem are all one’… As much as the Jewish people, who are yearning for the unification of Hashem, will become great, especially in the land over which which Hashem constantly watches, the day will come, of which it is said ‘on that day Hashem will be one and His name will be one’,,,

  And if you will say, unfortunately today there are many Jews, even in Israel, who do not follow the Jewish beliefs, do not say so, for our great teacher (the Rambam) already wrote ‘the Torah has already guaranteed that the Jewish people will repent at the end of their exile’.[80]

  And in my opinion there is no doubt that the establishment of the State of Israel in the Land of Israel as a sanctuary and shelter for the Jewish people is the stage of the end of the exile, after which the redemption will arrive. And anyone who brings the end of the redemption nearer, hastens the redemption of the Jewish people, and quickens the spreading of the unity of Hashem among all of the nations of the world”.[81]

  The importance of the present State of Israel, even if far from being ideal, can be summarized as follows:

1. As guaranteeing religious freedom.

2. As answering the problem of assimilation in the non-Jewish countries.

3. As  the world center of Jewish atmosphere and Torah.

4. As a haven to answer the problems of anti-Semitism in exile.

5. As fulfilling the mitzva from the Torah of conquering the Land of Israel.

6. As a vital part of the redemption process.

7. As an essential framework through which the G-d of Israel is seen in the modern world. An end to the chilul Hashem of exile.


[1]  See the article “HaDor- The Generation”.

[2] This differentiation, between the State of Israel which we support, as opposed to the government and their policies, many of which we may oppose, is a simple but cardinal distinction, which many, unfortunately, confuse. Governments come and go, as do their policies; some are more conducive to the ideals of Torah, and some less. Nevertheless, very few have actually contradicted halacha, as the uprooting of Jewish settlement in Gush Katif and the “outposts” on the mountains of Yehuda and Shomron.

[3]Resp. Igrot Moshe, O.Ch. vol. I, 46. This letter was written in the year 1957/5717, and it is possible that with the changes in the State – a general improvement in Israeli society regarding its view of Torah and mitzvot (compared with the days of Ben-Gurion and his quest to forcibly create a “new Jew”), the ba’al t’shuva movement, the entrance of even the charedi parties into all of the recent governments – Rav Feinstein may have changed his view on the State of Israel accordingly. So it seems from his response to his grandson who enlisted in the Israeli army, which is published in T’chumin 5, pp.11, and so it seems also from his response in Or. Ch. 4, 70, 11, which was written in the year 1979/5739.

[4]  It should be noted that R. David of Karlin, Shivat Tzion (ed. R. A. Slutzky), 1891/5651, vol. I, p. 18, originally supported the Chovevei Zion, yet had second thoughts upon seeing the predominately secular participants in the Zionist movement. On the other hand, the Netziv of Volozhin, R. Meir Leibush Malbim, R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (known for his authorship of the Or Same’ach and Meshech Chochma), R. Yitzchak Elchanan Spector of Kovno, and many other g’dolim of that generation, continued their support, despite that problem, as seen in their letters of approbation in the aforementioned Shivat Zion.

[5] Iturei Kohanim 80, Cheshvan, 5752, p.20.

[6] From the pamphlet “Be’ur al Ha’Atzmaut”, edited by “Yirei Hashem”, Yerushalayim, 1970/5730.

[7] R. Y.M. Teitelbaum, VaYoel Moshe, p. 93.

[8]  Shir HaShirim 2, 7.

[9] K’tuvot 111a. Our printed Shas Vilna reads: “שלא יעלו ישראל בחומה”, while others,שלא יעלו כחומה””, “as a wall”.

[10] Resp. Avnei Nezer, Y. D. 454; Pnei Y’hoshua, K’tuvot 112a. See also R. M.M. Kasher, Ha’Tekufa Ha’Gedolah,  p.167.

[11] Resp. Rashbash 2, as is clear from Yoma 9b.

[12] Resp. Avnei Nezer, Y. D. 453; Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk cited in Ha’Tekufa Ha’Gedolah p.174; R. Y. Teichtel, Em Ha’Banim S’meicha, p. 290. Earlier rabbanim have already proved that the redemption will come through the permission of the other nations, as in the time of King Koresh (Cyrus) – see Radak, T’hillim 143) the commentary attributed to the Ramban, Shir Ha’Shirim 8,13; Rav Sa’adyah Gaon, Emunot V’Dayot ch. 8. See  R. S. Aviner, “Shelo Ya’alu ba’Choma”,  p.7.

[13] ibid.

 [14]  Sanhedrin 98a from Y’chezkel 36,8 and Shelo Ya’alu, see above footnote 11, pp.11 and 13.

[15]  Shelo Ya’alu, see above footnote 11, p. 18. The Rashba’s students, Shitta M’kubetzet, K’tuvot 111a, point out that this is the basis for the oath of the gentiles there (“that they will not subject the Jewish people too much”)  in the pasuk (“that you shall not awaken My desire (for Israel) before its time”). For if they oppress us too much, it basically “forces” or awakens Hashem to redeem His children, even if it be before the predetermined time.

[16] Resp. Yeshu’ot Malko, Y.D. 66.

[17] Kuzari 5, 27; Or Ha’Chayim, Vayikra 25, 25; the Netziv in his letter in Shivat Zion, see footnote 4, vol. I, p. 17; Shelo Ya’alu, see above footnote 11, p. 9.

[18] Shulchan Aruch, Y.D. 231,1.

[19] Rambam, Hil. Milachim 11,3.

[20] Cited in Shelo Ya’alu, see above footnote 11, p. 6.

[21] Breishit 49, 10, and the Ramban there.

[22] Rambam, Hil. Chanukah 3,1.

[23] Breishit 49, 10. It should be noted that Ramban apparently was not familiar with the Book of Maccabees I, where it explicitly states that the Maccabees themselves, the sons of Matityahu, did not call themselves “king”, but rather “נשיא”, president, or “ראש”, head. Only from their descendent Aristobulus and on, did the rulers refer to themselves as kings. This is an important לימוד זכות and justification for the Maccabean heroes.

[24] Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Lo Ta’aseh 362.

[25] Ramban, Additions to Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitzvat Aseh 4.

[26] Drashot HaRan, Drasha 7.

[27] See the ref. “Chashmonaim” and “Hordus” in the Encyclopedia Otzar Yisrael.

[28] Avodah Zara 9a.

[29] Rambam, Hil. Chanuka 3,1.

[30] Vaykira 18, 5.

[31] Ibid, 19,17.

[32] Rambam, Hil. M’lachim 5,1.

[33] ibid, Hil. Rotze’ach 1,6.

[34] ibid.

[35] Rambam, Hil. T’shuva 9, 2.

[36] Avot 1,7.

[37] N’ga’im 12, 6.

[38] Avot 1, 9.

[39] See, for example, G. Perl and Y. Weinstein, “A Parent’s Guide to Orthodox Assimilation on University Campuses”. The authors, graduate students at Harvard and MIT respectively, warn Jewish parents of the moral and spiritual corruption that awaits their children should they direct them, as is often the case, to elite secular universities.

[40] Mishna Brura 307, 16.

[41] Shmuel I 26, 19.

[42] Iggeret HaShmad, Mossad HaRav Kook, 1981/ 5741, p. 64.

[43] Y’shayahu 2, 3.

[44] R. Chasdai ibn Shafrut held a position equivalent to foreign minister and chief advisor in the court of the caliphs Abed el Rachman the III and the IV, of tenth century/4700 Spain.

[45] The entire letter is brought in the Vilna 5665/1905 edition of the Kuzari, p. 5.

 [46] However, if a Jewish state existed outside of the Land of Israel, yet it is possible to live in Israel despite the absence of a Jewish state, the Rambam himself in Hil. M’lachim 5, 12 rules: “One should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a city which is mainly idolaters, and should not live outside of Israel, even in a city which is mainly Jews”. In other words, the “atmosphere of the Land of Israel” is preferable over “a Jewish atmosphere”. This is despite the importance that the Rambam attributes to the influence of the surroundings, as we saw in his letter, see footnote 42, and in Hil. De’ot 6, 1. It is of interest that the Rambam’s source, Tosefta Avodah Zara 5, 2 and K’tuvot 110b, that the Land of Israel is more important than living in a Jewish state, is the same pasuk – “for you have exiled me…saying: go and serve other gods”. Indeed, this is the original drasha on the pasuk, and not as he cites in his letter.

[47] Bamidbar 33, 53-54.

[48] Ramban, Additions to Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 4.

[49] Resp. Yeshuat Malko, Y. D. 66.

[50] Pitchei T’shuva, E. H. 75, 6. This is also the summary of the Sdei Chemed , vol. 9, pp. 182-183, in the 1967/5727 edition.

[51] Rashi on Bamidbar 33, 53.

[52] Rashi on Gittin 8b, see also on Y’vamot 64a. From his commentary on these g’marot, which are a more reliable halachic source than his commentary on the Torah, it is explicit that Rashi holds there to be an obligation to live in the Land, and a sin to live in chutz LaAretz.

[53] See footnote 50.

[54] Megilat Esther, commentary on Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, additions of the Ramban, Mitzvat Aseh 4.

[55] The Megilat Esther mentions three phrases describing the period when the mitzvah will apply again as follows: “this mitzvah does not apply until the arrival of mashiach”; “when we won’t be enslaved to the other nations”; “particularly in the time when the temple exists”. It is not clear whether the Megilat Esther means that we explicitly need all three stages – independence, mashiach and the building of the temple –or, more likely (as is more common), he simply uses all of these expressions interchangeably in describing ימות המשיח, “the messianic period”, which is already here (see the article “Atchalta DeGe’ula- Not Just Another False Messiah”). It is also more logical that R. DeLeon does not continue to prohibit mass aliya before the fulfillment of all three phrases, because the building of the temple, according to the Rambam (whose opinion R. DeLeon is explaining), is an obligation upon man to build. Accordingly, if we have independence, this is already considered “the end of days” (as we cited in the Rambam’s opinion above, see footnote 35) and consequently, the mitzva of living in and conquering Israel is once again obligatory. Even though the opinion of the Megilat Esther, who disagrees with the Ramban, is explicitly rejected by the poskim (Shulchan Aruch, E.H. 75, 3; O. Ch. 248, 4; see footnote 50, and Kol HaTor, p. 534, who was angered greatly by anyone who thought to exempt himself from aliya because of this lone and rejected opinion, even calling them “m’raglim”!), we brought his opinion because of the irony, that even he, who is usually cited as the source of the anti-Zionists, today would apparently obligate aliya en masse to Israel.

[56] Targum Onkelus, Dvarim 4, 28.

[57] For example: T’hillim 148, 13, “and He raised the horn for His Nation, for Bnei Yisrael, His intimate Nation”; Dvarim 14, 1, “You are sons to Hashem your G-d”; ibid, 7, 6, and 14, 2, “G-d chose you , from among all  the nations, to be His treasured Nation”, Y’shayahu 43, 21, “This Nation I created for Myself, they will tell of My praise”.

[58] For example, T’hilim 42, 4, “My tears were (constant) like bread day and night, when they taunt me all day, “Where is your G-d?”; ibid 137, 3, “On the shores of Babylon… our captors asked us mockingly to sing, “Sing us some of your songs from Zion; ibid, 42, 11, “… my oppressors taunted me, “where is your G-d?!”

[59] Y’chezkel 36, 20.

[60]  Ibid, Rashi, Radak, Metzudot, Malbim. See the article on “The Exile-Mentality and National Pride”, where we expounded upon this cardinal point.

[61] Megila 14a.

[62] Esther 8, 17, “… and many of the people converted to Judaism, for the fear of the Jews fell upon them”.

[63] K’tuvot 110b based upon Vayikra 25, 38.

[64] Zohar, cited below in footnote 81. T’hilim 79; Baba Batra 10b. Even one who was passive while murdered by gentiles is considered slain על קידוש ה’, Resp. Chatam Sofer, Y.D. 333; R. A. Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The ‘Kedoshim’ Status of the Holocaust Victims”, Gesher  9 (5745), pp. 99-108.

[65] Divrei HaYamim II, 35, 3.

[66]  The difference between the first two aspects can be seen in the aftermath of the destruction of the first Temple, where we were exiled from Israel yet we went together to Babylon, without being scattered.

[67] Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, ch.1.

[68]  Y’shayahu 64, 9.

[69] Shulchan Aruch, O. Ch. 561, 1. The reason for this unique mourning specifically regarding the cities of Judea is because as the national capitol, her fall is especially significant. This point is directly connected with our topic, proving that the fall and rise of our national independence are a central expression of whether we are in galut or ge’ula. See footnote 72.

[70] Yirmiyahu 41, 5.

[71] Moed Katan 26a.

[72]O. Ch. 561 in Beit Yosef, Bach, Magen Avraham, Taz and Mishna Brurah. See the Bach and Eliya Raba, why destruction depends on a lack of sovereignty.

[73] Unfortunately, the advent of post-Zionism has brought new phenomenon, where Israeli political leaders initiate a voluntary exile, handing over Bethlehem and part of Chevron to the terrorist Palestinian Authority. There is a difference of opinion regarding whether one must once again rend his clothes upon seeing these areas. Rav Mordecai Eliahu, Kol Tzofayich, P. VaYigash 5763 maintains that one must wrend his clothing in those specific areas for they are no longer under Israeli rule, and so I heard in the name of R. Dov Le’or, as well. On the other hand, I have heard in the name of R. Ovadia Yosef that since the Israeli army enters, raids, and arrests in those areas as they wish, it is still considered under Israeli rule and consequently, there is no need for kriya.

[74] Resp. Igrot Moshe, O. Ch. vol. iv, 70, 11.

[75] G’vurot Hashem, chap.18.

[76] Micha 4, 5.

[77]The Malbim adds that similar prophecies are found elsewhere, as well, see Y’chezkel 44, 23-24; 36, 24-25; Amos 9, 11. That the kingdom of the house of David will be revealed gradually, and that at the beginning it will only be a small state, which will progressively develop until it will be the kingdom of Hashem.

[78] Dvarim 17, 14.

[79] Elsewhere, the Netziv, Shivat Zion, see footnote 4, vol.I, p. 71, castigates those who say “it is fitting that this great thing (the redemption) should happen differently… the way they imagine it (should be), for Moshe was punished for this…”.

[80] Rambam, Hil. T’shuva 7,5.

[81] Resp. Heichal Yitzchak, O. Ch. 37, 6.

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