As the Redemption of Israel continues to unfold each day in the Holy Land, and as we approach Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), it is an appropriate time to review the foundations of Religious Zionism and “Torat Eretz Yisrael.” We will present our exploration of this all-important theme via a series of essays on the recently published English translation of the book “The Dawn of Redemption,” by HaRav Yaacov HaLevi Filber, which is entitled “Ayelet HaShachar” in Hebrew.
The book, originally published four decades ago in Hebrew, has become a staple in Religious Zionist yeshivot in Israel and home libraries. A close student of Rabbi Kook’s son, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Rabbi Filber has been a longtime teacher in the Rabbi Kook Yeshiva High School adjacent to Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. The book’s translator, Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, is a well-known Torah educator in his own right. In addition to his own writings, his expert translations include the definitive biography of Rabbi Kook “An Angel Among Men” and tthat of the book “Eim HaBanim Semeichah.”
While the establishment of national Jewish Life in the Promised Land is the most fundamental theme of the Torah and the Prophets, its learning went neglected during the long centuries of Exile from our Land. Instead, yeshiva studies concentrated on the Talmudic treatises dealing with the commandments which could still be fulfilled in foreign lands, such as property laws and laws of marriage, kashrut, the laws of Shabbat and the like.
As the Exile dragged on and on, and a return to the Land of Israel seemed impossible for the downtrodden Jews, the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to the leading of a full Jewish Life became almost forgotten. In order to lessen the feeling of impotency which plagued the oppressed and scattered exiles of Zion, a belief was formulated that Mashiach would one day miraculously appear to whisk the Jews back to Israel. Until that would occur, the ingathering and rebuilding of Jerusalem was reserved to the recital of daily prayers, often void of real desire and intention since the possibility seemed so remote and unattainable.
The idea that the Jews could participate in the dream of Redemption by physically returning to Israel was rejected by a large segment of the Orthodox world, save Torah Giants such as Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, author of “The Kuzari,” the Ramban, The Gaon of Vilna, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, and others who strongly refuted this passive “wait-for-Mashiach” philosophy, maintaining that Mashiach would come on the heels of our true heartfelt yearning and concrete settlement of the Land.
The resistance of the Haredi world to any actual participation in salvation from Galut (Exile) became even stauncher when the secular Zionist pioneers joined the early religious settlers in returning to Eretz Yisrael. As the idealistic and energetic Zionist Movement attracted more and more secular thinkers and the youth inspired by them, the anti-Zionist camp became even more adamant in its opposition, declaring that the Zionists would destroy the nation’s commitment to Torah.
While Rabbi Kook was as haredi as the detractors of Zionism, he chose to praise the positive contributions of the secular pioneers such as their dedicated settlement and cultivation of the Land which he viewed as a necessary and inherently-religious stage in the process of Redemption encompassing all aspects of the Jewish Nation, from the down-to-earth physical restoration of the Land and the concurrent spiritual revival leading to the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, may it be soon.
Much of the Haredi world condemned him for this. Even today his many books are banned from Haredi yeshivot where the foundations of Religious Zionism are considered anathema. On the other extreme of the Jewish community, many secular Jewish philosophers and leaders of the Reform Movement embraced Rabbi Kook as if he shared their liberal and “worldly” views. This too was a very great distortion of the uncompromised Torah beliefs of Israel’s first Chief Rabbi.
Since much of Rabbi Filber’s treatise on Israel’s Redemption is based on Rabbi Kook’s understandings of the subject, we will begin the review of his book, “The Dawn of Redemption” with a letter written by Rabbi Kook which explains his orientation to the Torah and to the tenets of secular Zionism. The letter which appears in the Introduction to the book was translated by Rabbi Moshe Lichtman:
“Much to my chagrin, I found out… that [people] are attributing absurdities to me, things that could never even enter my heart, God forbid. With all my love for the rebuilding of the Holy Land and the revival of the Nation upon it, which we are witnessing with our own eyes in our times – the wondrous deeds of He Who is Perfect in Knowledge, the Redeemer of Israel, may He be blessed – I constantly proclaim and let people know, wherever my words can reach, that the most important foundation of the redemptive process, with the sprouting of its salvation, is the connection to holiness and clinging to Hashem, may He be praised, through His holy Torah and the entire sanctity of Israel, from beginning to end.
“We need not be taken aback by the chutzpa (arrogance) that has intensified specifically in [this period of] ‘the footsteps of Mashiach.’ Instead, we are obligated to engage, in large measure, in the building of the Holy Land, its settlement and development. And all of our actions must be done in accordance with the Torah and its commandments, without deviating to the right or to the left, even regarding a light Rabbinic injunction or a small matter related to a holy Jewish custom. Only in this way will we succeed and be a splendid paragon for all the builders of Eretz Yisrael.
“Unfortunately, however, there are many mistaken individuals, as well as those who mislead others, who want to extrapolate from statements of admiration for the building of the Land that I have expressed orally or in print, as if there is some compromise here, God forbid, or some kind of approval [on my part] of the backslidings that several sectors of the builders have undergone, regressing from the ways of holiness, to a greater or lesser degree. God knows that my heart is incessantly pained [by this].
“I hereby proclaim and say: My dear brothers, be strong and courageous concerning the sanctity of Israel, [to follow] in the holy ways that our sacred ancestors and rabbis taught us. Just add to this a connection to the Holy Land and its construction, which is something that has been renewed in our times, in accordance with God’s wondrous ways. There was no possibility of this occurring in earlier times, before the time to favor [Zion] arrived (cf. Tehillim 102:14), the time about which it is written, ‘For Your servants have desired her stones’ (ibid. 102:15).
“All of the frivolous customs that are against halakhah and against our holy customs, which even Torah Jews have begun to adopt – even those who have a connection to the fear of God and observe Jewish traditions, whether they are yeshiva students or other youngsters, Sephardic Jews or those who belong to other groups – all of this is against my spirit and aspirations. I object to them and explicitly disclaim anyone who says anything in my name that supports these obstacles, God forbid.
“May Hashem inspire all of our children to return to Him and His holy Torah with all their hearts and all their souls – to gird themselves with sacred vigor and with the glory of the Torah. [May they] also endeavor [to participate in] the holy enterprise of the return of Israel to its holy soil.
As all God-fearing people who tremble at the word of the Lord and anticipate His salvation [stemming] from holiness, I too sign with a faithful blessing from the Holy Mountain of Jerusalem, may it be rebuilt and reestablished, speedily in our days. Amen.”
The book, “The Dawn of Redemption” is available at: http://toratzion.com/
Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Jewish Culture and Creativity. Before making Aliyah to Israel in 1984, he was a successful Hollywood screenwriter. He has co-authored 4 books with Rabbi David Samson, based on the teachings of Rabbis A. Y. Kook and T. Y. Kook. His other books include: "The Kuzari For Young Readers" and "Tuvia in the Promised Land". His books are available on Amazon. Recently, he directed the movie, "Stories of Rebbe Nachman."