Question: Is it appropriate to celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel which was established according to secular values? Would we celebrate Chanukah if the Macabees were interested in defeating the Greeks in order to run a secular Israel? Is not an essential aspect of Chanukah the fact that the defeat of the Greeks led to the re-establishment of the Temple?s services and other religious activity?


The recognition that the State of Israel is a holy precept of the Torah is not always understood. A superficial perspective sees shortcomings in the State of Israel, and an absence of Torah ideals. However, the level of Torah observance in Israel is not even one aspect of the redemption of Israel which begins with the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in the Land.[1]

All of the Rishonim and Achronim (the early and later Torah authorities) agree that the commandment to settle the Land of Israel is a positive commandment of the Torah, applicable at all times.[2] In delineating the mitzvah (commandment), the Ramban emphasizes that it is not only a mitzvah incumbent on the individual, but a national obligation as well, requiring that the entire Land of Israel be in Jewish hands, in a national sense, under Jewish statehood, and not in the hands of any other nation.[3]

Problems and shortcomings are sure to be corrected with time. The important thing to realize is that the institution of Jewish statehood is holy. Out of the holiness of the mitzvah comes the holiness of the State.[4]

The intrinsic value of the State is not dependent on the number of observant Jews who live here. Naturally, our aspiration is that all of the Jewish People embrace the Torah and the mitzvoth. Nonetheless, the State of Israel is holy, whatever religious level it has.

There are religious Jews who express a type of criticism, and say, ?If the State and its lifestyle were run according to our way and spirit, we would accept it. Until then we abstain from it. However, anyone who refuses to recognize the State of Israel does not recognize the return of the Divine Presence to Zion.[5]

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would emphasize to his students that, ?Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day) is the celebration of the existence of our State. With this, it must be remembered that our statehood does not start from Ben Gurion?s proclamation in the Tel Aviv Museum. Rather, it evolves from the holy words of the Ramban that we are commanded by the Torah to possess and dwell in the Land.?[4]

Even though there are aspects of the State of Israel which are not yet in line with the Torah, every Jew should have a fundamental joy with its establishment. Only out of this positive orientation, this ?ayin tova,? can we overcome the problems we face.[6]

Regarding the question whether we would celebrate Hanukah if the Macabees had set out to establish a secular state, the Rambam emphasizes that our celebration of Hanukah and the reason we say Hallel is over the return of the Kingdom to Israel for over two-hundred years.[7] During that period, many of Israel?s rulers were vehemently secular. King Yannai, grandson of Simon the Macabee, slaughtered on Sukkot all of the Orthodox Jews praying on the Temple Mount.[8] The Saducees overran the Sanhedrin and used it as a tool to kill the Orthodox leaders.[9] The High Priesthood was seized by power-grabbers, many of them Saducees who were opposed to the Torah.[10] Herod the Great (the great murderer) killed all of the rabbis, save one, Bubba Ben Butta, whom he blinded by gauging out his eyes.[11] Yet, still the Rambam rules that we are to celebrate the return of Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel. This is why we say Hallel on Hanukah, because of the absolute value of establishing Jewish rule in Eretz (the Land of) Yisrael.

In contrast to the voices which sought to find fault with the Zionist State and its secular character, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook taught his students to see the events of our time with an enlightened understanding of our history.

?Secularism does not lessen the essential holiness of our State,? he said.[4] ?In the Talmud, our Sages explain that all of the material used in building the Temple became sanctified only after it was set into place.[12] We build with the secular and sanctify it afterward. The Temple was built in this fashion, and this is the way the redemption of Israel develops, in stages, a little at a time.[13] The building of Eretz Yisrael is accomplished by every segment of the nation, by the righteous and by the less righteous. We build with the non-holy, even though this causes complications and problems, yet little by little, all of the various problems will vanish, and the sanctification of G-d will appear in more and more light.?


1. See the Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, Chapter One. There, he clearly states that the three elements of redemption are (1) Jewish unity (2) return to Israel (3) Jewish independence.

2. Pitchei T?shuva, Even HaEzer, Section 75, sub-section 6.

3. Ramban, Supplement to the Sefer HaMitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandment 4.

4. See the book, Torat Eretz Yisrael, by Rabbi David Samson, Chapter 13.

5. Eretz Hemda, by HaRav Shaul Yisraeli, Vol 1, Gate 1, Sub-section 6.

6. Pirke Avot, 5:19.

7. Rambam, Laws of Hanukah, Ch. 3:1.

8. Josephus, Wars of the Jews.

9. Megilat Taanit, Chapter 10.

10. Rambam, Laws of Yom Kippur, 1:7.

11. Baba Batra 3B.

12. Meila 14A and 14B.

13. Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot,1:1.

Rabbi David Samson is one of the leading English-speaking Torah scholars in the Religious-Zionist movement in Israel. He has co-authored four books on the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook and Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. Rabbi Samson learned for twelve years under the tutelage of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook. He served as Rabbi of the Kehillat Dati Leumi Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem, and teaches Jewish Studies at Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva Institutions.