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Messianic Approaches


Studies in Contemporary Jewry : Volume V: Israel: State and Society, 1948-1988
"2. At the other end of the ideological continuum, we find an opposing image of historical reality, one, paradoxically, that shares an identical theological premise with the former school of thought. Receptionist Zionism, from the school of the Merkav Harav Yeshivah and Gush Emunim, perceives the Zionist enterprise and the establishment of the State of Israel as a messianic step, conceived and born in sanctity. At bottom, it also denies the legitimacy of any Jewish renewal or return to Zion that is not within the category of the decisive, ultimate redemption; it does not, however, admit to any dichotomy between the current and the messianic return. In the words of Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Hakohen Kook, the late head of the Merkaz Harav Yeshivah, `Our reality is a messianic reality' and `The true redemption is revealed in the settlement of the Land and the rebirth of Israel in it.' Accordingly, we are called on to discern in the as-yet incomplete processes of the present far more than meets the eye. The return to Zion and Jewish political independence are intrinsically sanctified because they embody a human response to a divine call. This is not insolence toward heaven or `hastening the End`; on the contrary, the country is built by force of the redeeming divine Providence, which leads by `historical necessity' and by `cosmological decisiveness` toward perfect fulfillment in all spheres, both material and spiritual.”

Messianic Approaches

To understand the full significance of this conception it should be contrasted with two religious philosophies opposed to it, which are espoused by those located at the two poles of the Jewish religious ideological axis: the Neturei Karta and Satmar hasidim, on the one hand, and the school of the Merkaz Harav Yeshivah and the leaders of Gush Emunim, on the other.

1. The anti-Zionist haredi worldview of Neturei Karta and Satmar hasidim perceive the Zionist enterprise and the establishment of the State of Israel as an anti-messianic act, conceived and born of sin. It vigorously denies the very legitimacy of the collective political return-the handiwork of man-to the Holy Land and to Jewish sovereignty. The Jewish people had been sworn to political quietism. They were adjured, in the words of the Midrash (as expounded by Rashi), not to return collectively by the exertion of physical force to Eretz Israel, not to 'rebel against the nations of the world' and 'not to hasten the End.' In short, they were required to wait for the heavenly, complete, miraculous, supernatural and meta-historical redemption that is absolutely distinct from the realm of human endeavor. Such waiting over two millennia is the manifestation of the very essence and singularity of the Jewish people; it expresses faith in divine Providence, in the assurances of the prophets and in the messianic destiny.

The Jewish people have been removed from the casual laws that govern nature and history, and they are bound, in an exclusive manner, by another set of religio-ethical laws within a casual process of reward and punishment, exile and redemption: 'Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain; unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman keeps vigil in vain' (Ps. 127:1). Accordingly, any Jewish political revival that is not messianic intrinsically represents a denial of divine Providence and of the hope of redemption, and is a betrayal of the destiny and uniqueness of Israel. The attempt to hasten the End, to return by physical power to the sphere of political-and certainly, military-history is a collective revolt against the kingdom of heaven, an aggressive aspiration to overstep the boundaries into the realm reserved for the Holy One, blessed be He-just like the deeds of the generation of the Tower of Babel. It is depicted as an act of the devil, a demonic outburst of unclean forces, which may not be corrected; it is ultimately doomed to failure, regardless of human deeds: 'The Lord shall rebuke you-the Satan who has chosen Jerusalem.'

In other words, their fierce opposition to the State of Israel is not directed against its secular nature or against its laws and mores, but rather against its very existence, regardless of its nature. In the words of the late Satmar rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Moshe Teitelbaum, 'Even if the members of the Knesset were righteous and holy, it is a terrible and awful criminal iniquity to seize redemption and rule before the time has come.' According to this logic, for example, the concepts 'Torah state' or 'halakhic state' are contradictions in terms; and Jewish state prior to the messianic age-by the very nature of its human, natural, mundane provenance-undermines and denies the Torah and takes a stand against the halakhah. The faithful, therefore, are not enjoined to struggle for the refashioning of the Jewish character of the society and the state, but are required to isolate themselves unqualifiedly, to separate themselves socially from the majority of the people of Israel and politically from the State of Israel. Consequently, any use of the budgets and institutions of the Zionists is utterly forbidden and the members of these circles do their utmost to deny themselves any benefit from them.

In short, the only hope for this state lies in its total destruction, 'But [we] need mercy that this kingdom will be destroyed only by a force from above, by the Lord, may He be blessed, not by the [non-Jewish] nations; for if, God forbid, this is to be done by the nations, it will, of course, constitute a great danger for Israel.' The Zionist endeavor is destined to make way for the true, complete, miraculous salvation, for the redemption that will arise on its ruins, as its total negation.

2. At the other end of the ideological continuum, we find an opposing image of historical reality, one, paradoxically, that shares an identical theological premise with the former school of thought. Receptionist Zionism, from the school of the Merkav Harav Yeshivah and Gush Emunim, perceives the Zionist enterprise and the establishment of the State of Israel as a messianic step, conceived and born in sanctity. At bottom, it also denies the legitimacy of any Jewish renewal or return to Zion that is not within the category of the decisive, ultimate redemption; it does not, however, admit to any dichotomy between the current and the messianic return. In the words of Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Hakohen Kook, the late head of the Merkaz Harav Yeshivah, `Our reality is a messianic reality' and `The true redemption is revealed in the settlement of the Land and the rebirth of Israel in it.' Accordingly, we are called on to discern in the as-yet incomplete processes of the present far more than meets the eye. The return to Zion and Jewish political independence are intrinsically sanctified because they embody a human response to a divine call. This is not insolence toward heaven or `hastening the End`; on the contrary, the country is built by force of the redeeming divine Providence, which leads by `historical necessity' and by `cosmological decisiveness` toward perfect fulfillment in all spheres, both material and spiritual.

This philosophy also accords inherent religious content to the fact of Jewish political sovereignty, a normative meaning that is not conditional on specific laws and mores of the state or on the choice and decision of members. According to the logic of the Neturei Karta, the original sin is rooted in the very existence of the state and cannot be corrected or purified, but according to the logic of the messianic approach, the positive essence of the state cannot be destroyed or damaged. The Zionist enterprise will inevitably lead to repentance and redemption. The times are those of the ultimate realization of history, the revealed End from which there is no turning back; its beginning guarantees its end. True, it is within our power to accelerate this process or to delay it, to remove obstacles in its path or erect them. But nothing can alter its preordained direction or its inevitable destination. A favored metaphor used to explain this idea is that of a person travelling on a train who can assist or hold back the engine`s progress but who is powerless to change the course of the tracks or the final destination of the journey. They have been laid in advance, by the Cause of all causes, leading toward repentance and redemption.

The common denominator of these two conceptions is that, a priori, they impart theological significance to the very existence of the State of Israel; both react to historical events through the messianic perspective and the hope of redemption and both reject any return to Zion and Jewish revival that are not complete and ultimate. Each adopts an out-and-out deterministic approach to the historical process; the future is fixed and clearly revealed in accordance with ultimate destiny and the fate of the Zionist enterprise is predestined and predictable, either as a curse or blessing, according to the inherent religious essence.”

Studies in Contemporary Jewry : Volume V: Israel: State and Society, 1948-1988
Peter Y. Medding, Oxford University Press (July 13, 1989) pp. 96-8





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