Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Conquest by commandment?

On the religious rationale for Zionism

To read this article is to understand why the best hope for peace and justice in Israel may lie in the fact that although Israelis themselves appear to be becoming more religious (and more Orthodox), the formerly unconditional support from American Jews has begun to dissolve as the latter become more secular. Thus it is that Zionism’s most ardent patrons of today are not Jewish at all but members of the right-wing Christian fundamentalist bloc now intent upon making of the United States a theocracy second to none in its resolve to defy reason in the name of a perverse and malevolently misguided faith. However, this faction will also slowly drown in the U.S.’ rising tide of rationalism as its stalwarts die and are not replaced. In the short term, this may lead to alienation and isolation — which probably will mean more repression and abuse directed against Palestinians — but it will eventually also mean less zeal in support of Zionism.

Ha'aretz cartoon: Rabbis send in the army

Ha’aretz cartoon: Rabbis send in the IDF.
[ Image Source ]

To understand why I say this, one must be cognizant of the essentially religious character of Zionism, as explained in this article. Ultimately, the imperative to expand, conquer and occupy the whole of Eretz Yisrael (the traditional Land of Israel as defined in the Bible) is not a product of a post-World War II search for a Jewish homeland in response to persecution, pogroms and the Holocaust; it is a religious mandate.

Biblical Israel: one interpretation

Biblical Israel: one interpretation.
[ Image Source ]

According to Rabbi Eliezer Melamed (and many other religious authorities), Jews are compelled not only to live in Israel and to overcome all resistance to their controlling all of its biblically defined territory, but also to make their homes throughout, even in its deserts and wastes: To do this is a mitzvah, a commandment from God. And so important is this commandment, according to many rabbis, as to be equal in weight to all other mitzvot combined. And herein lies the engine that drives “settlers” (more accurately colonizers) to seize and occupy Palestinian territories, each of them convinced that, according to Melamed:

Those who live in other places in Israel that are more isolated from Jewish presence and are surrounded by enemies, are fulfilling the mitzvah to an even greater extent. The wise sages have said that Eretz Yisrael is only acquired through pain and suffering; the greater the suffering, the greater the reward.

As long as colonizing all the land within the borders of biblical Israel remains a sacred religious trust, as long as those who push the boundaries of Israel forever outward are honored in their faith, as long as leaders of that faith explicitly condone “transgressions” in the pursuit of this supreme mitzvah, there can be no hope for peace. It is impossible to sway with reason or even necessity those who believe they live by a higher authority. It is only possible to do one thing: remove their support from abroad. As more American Jews become more skeptical about the mitzvah of Zionism, and generally more secular, we can hope that the torrent of money that has made Zionism possible will shrink to a trickle, and the colonizers will find themselves constrained by realities over which their highest mitzvot have no effect.

Originally published as a review of a yeshiva.org article on religious motives in Zionism.
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