On the occasion of the passing of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook ztz”l, it is worthwhile recalling his position on the Zionist movement: It is important to take part in it, but it will succeed only out of holiness * Indeed, secular Zionism succeeded in establishing a state, but only after many crises * Had it not been not for the First World War and the lessons of the horrendous Holocaust, secular leadership would not have succeeded to stand-up boldly against the British in order to achieve a state * To this day, at every crossroad the political leadership has stumbled, and only Providence, with the help of people of faith, has advanced the redemption * Also in today’s challenges, and especially the war against radical Islam, we can succeed only from a standpoint of holiness
Rabbi Kook and Secular Zionism
Despite Rabbi Kook’s support for all those engaged in settling of the Land of Israel and the Ingathering of the Exiles, his assessment was that without a connection to the foundation of holiness, ‘emunah‘ (faith), observance of the Torah and mitzvoth, and the vision of redemption for Israel and the world – the secular Zionist movement would lack the ability to achieve its goal of rebuilding the Jewish nation in its land. He wrote about this in numerous letters, and spoke about it in conversations, sermons and speeches. Accordingly, he initiated the establishment of the ‘Degel Yerushalayim’ movement.
Rabbi Kook also realized that a central feature of righteous gentiles’ support of the Zionist movement was based on their faith in the Bible, and he feared that the more aware they were about the remoteness of the secular Zionist’s leaders from faith in God, they would remove their support for the Jewish people’s request to establish a state in their homeland (Igrot Haraya 3, pg.173). He wrote that a secular program for the Jewish nation could never achieve the fulfillment of Israel’s national objectives (Ma’amarei Haraya, 2, pg.298). “Nothing will be born of our labors if we do not attach to the importance of practical actions, the restoring of the vision of the idea embodied and concealed in them…Not only will it not be beneficial, but will further humiliate the idea, and in the end, cause the termination of the practical actions” (Orot Hatechiya 6).
Indeed, it must be noted that although some of the leaders and supporters of Zionism were totally secular, the Zionist movement as a whole did not detach itself from Jewish tradition. Among its constituents were entirely religious figures, such as the members of the Mizrachi movement, traditional Jews such as the members of Betar, segments of the Labor movement; even secular Jews within the Zionist movement accepted Judaism as the basic culture. Thus, faith and Jewish tradition undoubtedly carried great weight in Zionist activities. Nevertheless, Rabbi Kook estimated that without a deeper connection to Judaism, the Zionist movement would not be able to reach its goals.
The Danger of Detaching Zionism from Holiness
Even as the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa in 1908, Rabbi Kook called upon faithful Jews to build the land both spiritually and physically, combining Torah with ‘derech eretz‘ (worldliness), because all future growth of redemption is dependent on building the country out of true piety. “…for otherwise, it will be taken over by forceful people armed with promiscuity and the ways of the goyim, without a trace of Israel’s true holiness… which will ultimately turn into a destructive force and a monster, and in the end, hate of Jews and the Land of Israel as well, as we have experienced in the past. [If] this impure hand prevails, the magnitude of the disaster will be inconceivable. But I have trust in God, who will not allow our feet to slip, and all who fear the word of God, and desire the salvation of His nation and holy land, will rise to our call, and embark on establishing in Zion a precious cornerstone, revitalizing the ‘New Yishuv‘ on the foundation of purity of faith, connected to the joy of life and its justified desires, and God shall be with us, to rebuild the ruins of our nation for generations.”
Was Rabbi Kook Right?
On the face of it, reality has proven the opposite of Rabbi Kook’s words, for the State of Israel was established, and even continues developing and prospering, although its leaders are unfaithful to Judaism’s sacred beliefs.
Some people simply interpreted Rabbi Kook’s words as being similar to those of many other rabbis, who, in order to encourage their followers to engage in Torah and mitzvoth, always tell them their success is dependent upon it. When speaking with businessmen, they tell them that if they keep Torah and mitzvoth, their business will succeed. When they speak to public figures they tell them that if they keep Torah and mitzvoth, they will be successful in all their undertakings. When they speak to scientists, they tell them that if they study Torah and keep mitzvoth, they will succeed in their research. Indeed, their words are correct, however, they lack an in-depth analysis of reality; rather, they reflect a principled position that only through Torah and mitzvoth can one be truly successful – if not in this world, then in the World to Come. And if not in this generation, then in the End of Days.
Holiness is Essential to Zionism
However, the truth is that in his deep foresight, Rabbi Kook perceived the basic shortcomings of the secular Zionist movement, and even before the First World War, Rabbi Kook clearly understood that the secular Zionist movement would lack the moral strength required to deal with the complex difficulties. True, the secular Zionist movement has great merit for beginning the process of operating in the political sphere, and settling the land on a large, practical scale, but without a deep connection to holiness, its objectives cannot be achieved.
And indeed, Rabbi Kook was right. If not for the First World War, and even more so, the Second World War and the terrible Holocaust that transpired, the Zionist movement would not have achieved establishing the State.
Rabbi Kook, of course, did not count on the Holocaust; he spoke about the responsibility placed on the generation to advance the Jewish nation towards the establishment of a state, even devoid of a terrible tragedy. Therefore, he warned all who would listen that the national movement must be connected to the sacred, and work diligently for the revival of Israel. The plea was directed to both the secular Zionists, and also to the Haredi public, who stood-by idly and did not join the immigration and settlement effort.
Had we succeeded in connecting the holy and the secular, the Zionist movement would have been able to encourage millions of Jews to make aliyah, and as a result, would have been capable of making a significant and compelling claim to the nations of the world to support the realization of the Jewish people’s right to its land – without resorting to the lessons of the Holocaust.
The Failures of the Secular Leadership
Having not merited this, terrible catastrophes befell us, without which the State of Israel would not have been established. The First World War, a conflict more difficult than any previous wars, caused a great shock in the world. Tens of millions of casualties left nations bleeding. Great empires crumbled, and new countries were created. As a result, many people began to alter their way of thinking, and this led to the Balfour Declaration (Nov.2, 1917), according to which Britain received power over all the Land of Israel on both sides of the Jordan River in order to establish a national home for the Jewish nation, a declaration that was later approved by an international conference in San Remo (1920).
But the fact is that within a few years, the Zionist movement let almost all the enormous achievements slip through its hands. First, it agreed to abandon the continuation of the Jewish Legion, created during the First World War with the express purpose of initially helping the British effort to conquer the Land of Israel for the Jews, and afterwards, to serve as the nucleus of a Jewish army that would defend the national home. After that, they ceded the eastern side of the Jordan River to the Arabs. Then, they agreed to limit immigration to Israel, abandoning their claim to reach a Jewish majority and create a Jewish state. Given such a situation, there was no chance of establishing the State of Israel. Then, along came the Second World War, which was even more grueling than its predecessor and for the Jewish nation – the most difficult of all. Six million of our people were murdered with atrocious brutality. Only after the extent of the Holocaust became evident did the majority of the world recognize the right of the Jewish people to establish a state in the Land of Israel.
And yet, the official Jewish leadership did not have the courage to fight for it. It was only thanks to the breakaway organizations, the Irgun and Lechi who had a greater connection to the traditions and sacred values of Judaism, that were the British expelled from the country, enabling the establishment the State of Israel.
Even after the State was established, given that the religious connection to the holy areas of the land was not sufficiently rooted, the I.D.F. was halted in mid-action during the War of Independence, leaving Judea, Samaria, and the Temple Mount in Arab hands.
Years later, during the Six Day War, the leadership also did everything possible to avoid conquering the Temple Mount and Judea and Samaria. They begged Hussein not to join the war, and after conquering Judea and Samaria, they tried to give it back to the Jordanians in exchange for “peace”, and handed over management of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf.
If the position of the secular leadership after the Six-Day War would have been realized, the State of Israel would have withdrawn from Judea and Samaria, and all its population centers would have been constantly threatened by terrorist organizations of the type that arose in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon. The rise and development of the economy would have ceased, and the situation of the State of Israel would have been far worse than it is now because, aside from being threatened by terrorist organizations, the spiritual crisis of relinquishing the holy places would have left a moral and spiritual vacuum that would have undermined the motivation to remain in the country and continue to settle and develop it, as we have witnessed in those detached, secular Jews who are the first to leave the country – even to Berlin.
This is exactly what Rabbi Kook spoke about, and unfortunately, this is what we ourselves have witnessed over the last few generations: at almost every critical juncture in which spiritual strength was required, the secular leadership of the Zionist movement failed. Only by God’s providence, which at times directed events with ‘chesed‘ and ‘rachamim‘ (kindness and mercy), and at other times with ‘din‘ (justice), were we able to achieve the Ingathering of the Exiles, and settling the Land.
In the Merit of People of Faith
It is important to note the merit of ‘anshei emunah‘, the people of faith, who took part in the Zionist movement, many inspired by Rabbi Kook, who, at every crucial juncture, had influence. They did not allow the secular position to rend the bond with Israel’s sacred values, and directed the process towards continuing the building of the nation and the Land. This was the case with Rabbi Maimon in regards to the decision to establish the state, with Rabbi Goren in the Six Day War on the Temple Mount and the Cave of the Patriarchs, and with Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook and his students in settling Judea and Samaria.
Today, as global Islam poses a religious and moral challenge to Western culture in general, and to Judaism in particular, with the focus of the struggle being on the Land of Israel and the Temple Mount, all can understand that only by way of our sacred values can Jewish nationalism be strengthened, the militant Muslim religion be defeated, and faith and peace be brought to the world.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: