Haredim and Zionism
From the start of political Zionism in the 1890s, Haredi leaders voiced objections to its secular orientation, and before the establishment of the State of Israel, the vast majority of Haredi Jews were opposed to Zionism. This was chiefly due to the concern that secular nationalism would replace the Jewish faith and the observance of religion, and the view that it was forbidden for the Jews to re-constitute Jewish rule in the Land of Israel before the arrival of the Messiah. Those rabbis who did support Jewish settlement in Palestine in the late 19th century had no intention to conquer Palestine and declare its independence from the rule of the Ottoman Turks, and some preferred that only observant Jews be allowed to settle there.
During the 1930s, some European Haredi leaders encouraged their followers not to leave for Palestine where the Zionists were gaining influence. When the dangers facing European Jewry became clear, the Haredi Agudath Israel organization decided to cooperate with Zionist leaders to an extent in order to allow religious Jews the possibility of seeking refuge in Palestine. Some Agudah members in Palestine preferred to form an alliance against the Zionist movement with Arab nationalists, but this never occurred. Around 80% of European Haredim perished in the Holocaust. A study in late 2006 claimed that just over a third of Israelis considered Haredim to be the most hated group in Israel. According to a 2016 Pew survey, 33% of Israeli Haredim say that the term Zionist describes them accurately.
After the creation of the state, each individual movement within Orthodox Judaism charted its own path in their approach to the State of Israel.
Early opposition to Zionism
In 1889, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveichik proclaimed that early Zionist initiatives resembled the 17th-century false messianic sect which was headed by Sabbatai Zevi. His son Rabbi Hayyim Soloveichik further warned: “The people of Israel should take care not to join a venture that threatens their souls, to destroy religion, and is a stumbling block to the House of Israel.” When the Zionists in Brisk claimed that Zionism would stem the tide of Jewish assimilation, Soloveichik felt that what mattered most for Judaism was the quality, not the quantity of it.
Powerful condemnations of political Zionism continued into the twentieth century. In 1903, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn of Lubavitch published Kuntres Uma’ayan, which contained a strong polemic against Zionism. He opposed the Religious Zionist movement, and was deeply concerned that secular nationalism would replace Judaism as the foundation of Jewish identity. Rabbi Baruch Halberstam (d. 1906) took a leading role in opposing Zionism, in line with the position held by his father, Hayyim Halberstam of Sanz.
In 1912, Haredi leaders in Europe founded the Agudath Israel organisation which hoped to find a “solution to all the problems facing the Jewish people in the Spirit of the Torah.” From the outset, the Agudah vehemently opposed the Zionist movement’s replacement of the historic religious bond to the land of Israel with secular nationalism. Israel Meir Kagan stated that the fate of the Jewish nation was to remain in exile until the arrival of the Messiah. But with the spread of anti-Semitism in Europe, some Orthodox leaders became more favourable towards the aims of Zionism. Rabbi Isaac Breuer implored Agudah members in 1934 “not to leave Jewish history to the Zionists”, hoping that religious Jews would assist in establishing a Jewish homeland. Others remained staunchly opposed, chief among them the rabbi of Munkács, Chaim Elazar Spira (d. 1937), who was the fiercest opponent of Zionism among Hasidic rabbis. Spira saw Zionism as a denial of the Divine Redemption and faith in the Messiah. He even objected to Agudath Israel because of its support for immigration to Palestine. In 1936, he initiated a publication against the Zionist enterprise which was endorsed by 150 rabbis. During the wartime period, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (1875–1941) of Baranowicze wrote a pamphlet in which he blamed the Zionists for the persecution of Jews in Europe. He rejected the notion that a secular Jewish state could be considered the “advent of Redemption.” The goal of Zionism was to uproot religion and Jewish tradition. At the 1937 Agudath Israel Great Assembly in Marienbad, most discussions were devoted to the question of the Jewish State and the Nazi rise to power in Germany, and increasing anti-Semitism in Poland and Lithuania. Palestine beaconed as a refuge for the religious European masses whose situation was gradually worsening. While the majority of attendees rejected the establishment of a secular Jewish State on principle as well as on practical grounds, a minority, which was influenced by the dire situation, was in favour of it.
Concern in Palestine
Within Palestine itself, the Old Yishuv was alarmed by the influx of non-religious Jews who wished to establish a secular state in the Holy Land. The chief rabbi of the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem, Rabbi Joseph Hayyim Sonnenfeld, often referred to the Zionists as “evil men and ruffians” and claimed that “Hell had entered the Land of Israel with Herzl.” Sonnenfeld did not want the Orthodox Jewish community to become subject to secular Zionist authority. The spokesman for the anti-Zionist Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem, Dr Jacob Israël de Haan, endeavoured to form an alliance with the Arab nationalist leadership and hoped to reach an agreement that would allow unrestricted Jewish settlement in Arab lands in return for the relinquishment of Jewish political aspirations. In June 1924, de Haan was assassinated by the Haganah after having conveyed his proposals to King Hussein and his sons, Faisal and Abdullah.
The 1929 Palestine riots and the Nazi rise to power led to a crisis within the anti-Zionist Agudah camp. Some still hoped for a Jewish-Arab alliance against the Zionists, while others, such as Yitzhak-Meir Levin and Jacob Rosenheim faced a difficult dilemma. They felt that such an alliance would not be accepted by the masses of Haredi European Jews, yet they did not wish to cooperate with the Zionists. Moshe Blau, another Agudah member, contended that, “No matter how much the Haredi hates the non-religious, heretical, apostate Zionists, he hates the despicable Arab a hundred times over.” The brutal murder by Arabs of dozens of Haredi Jews in Hebron and Safed put an end to the possibility of negotiation with the Arabs. In 1937, the Central Committee of Agudath Israel in the Land of Israel issued a declaration claiming that independent Jewish rule would pose a danger to Orthodox Jewry. It stated:
Agudath Israel in the Land of Israel rejects outright any attempt at despoiling the Land of Israel of its sanctity and considers the proposal to establish a secular Jewish state in Palestine as a hazard to the lofty role of the Jewish People as a holy nation. Agudath Israel in the Land of Israel declares that Orthodox Jewry could only agree to a Jewish state in all the Land of Israel if it were possible for the basic constitution of this state to guarantee Torah rule in the overall public and national life.
The Agudah in Europe grudgingly began to cooperate with the Jewish Agency and other Zionist bodies in an effort to alleviate the situation facing European Jews. In response to this, Amram Blau and Aharon Katzenellenbogen of Jerusalem broke away from Agudah in 1938 to form Neturei Karta who refused to have any dealing with the Zionists. During the 1940s the Neturei Karta became increasingly critical of the Agudah’s position and in 1945 they succeeded in expelling Agudah members from the Edah HaChareidis. In 1947, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky petitioned the UN on behalf of his 60,000 strong community that Jerusalem not be included in the Jewish state and pleaded that the city be placed under international control.
Aftermath of the Holocaust
Before and during the Second World War, Haredi opposition to the Zionists persisted. But after the war, the devastating consequences of the Holocaust softened the position of many towards Zionism. The ultra-orthodox in Eastern Europe had perished in vast numbers; whole communities had been wiped out. One rabbi, Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, hiding in Budapest in 1942 and witnessing the persecution of the Jews, renounced his previous hostility to the Zionist movement, and instead strongly criticized the Orthodox establishment for not taking the lead in re-establishing the Jewish homeland.
After World War II, many Jewish refugees found themselves in Displaced person camps. The Zionists controlled a camp for Jewish refugee children near Haifa, Israel where they operated an anti-religious policy in an effort to cut off Haredi children from their spiritual roots. To a large extent they were successful, and many children from Haredi homes were “poisoned against religion”.
The relationship between Haredim and Zionism became more complex after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Some Haredi groups adopted a pragmatic position, and involved themselves in the political process of the state by voting in elections and accepting state funding. Others have maintained a more hardline rejectionist position, refusing all funding from the Israeli state and abstaining from taking part in the political process. The positions of specific Haredi groups are discussed in greater detail in the remainder of the article.
There is also a growing group of Orthodox Jews known as Hardalim. They are Religious Zionists who moved in their religious observances towards Haredi Judaism. Philosophically, however, they form a part of the Religious Zionist world, and not of the Haredi world.
United Torah Judaism and Shas, which advocate for a halachic state, are the only two Haredi parties in the Israeli Knesset. In addition, even the anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidim do take part in municipal elections in some places, such as the Haredi stronghold of Bnei Brak.
Notably, there is a substantial difference in the positions taken by Ashkenazi and Sephardi Haredim, the latter generally being quite supportive of Zionism.
There are many different ideological reasons for religious opposition to Zionism; however, the main two are most widely expressed by Hasidim and Lithuanian Haredim.
The overarching motive behind Haredim’s opposition to Zionism stems from a historical animosity and rivalry between orthodox observant Jews and secular progressive forces throughout Jewish Exile history. Many Haredim see Zionism as another battle against forces within who are out to redefine and eradicate traditional Judaism.
However, there is also an Halachic standpoint which makes the case against Zionism even if Israel would – hypothetically – have been a theocracy, where Israel would have been governed under strict Jewish laws.
Historically, many dynasties in Hasidism have expressed anti-Zionist opinions because of the “Three Oaths”. The Talmud, in Ketubot 111a, mentions that the Jewish people have been bound by three oaths: 1) not to ascend to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) as a group using force; 2) not to rebel against the nations of the world; and 3) that the nations of the world would not persecute the nation of Israel excessively. Some consider the establishment of the State of Israel to be a violation of these oaths. The first Haredi anti-Zionist movement was Agudath Israel, established in Poland in 1912. Haredi groups and people actively and publicly opposing Zionism are Satmar, Toldos Aharon, Neturei Karta.
Lithuanian Haredim, sometimes called mitnagdim, take a different approach to their beliefs from their Hassidic counterparts. Lithuanian religious Jews oppose the state not because of the three oaths midrash but because they feel that Zionism epitomizes secularity and Jewish desire to be void of Torah. Many Lithuanian religious Jews, such as Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, have been involved with Zionist politics as Israel progressively becomes more Jewish-oriented.
Amongst the Ashkenazi Orthodox rabbinical leadership, religious Zionists form a minority. Generally speaking, most Sephardi Haredi authorities have never shared the anti-Zionism of their Ashkenazi counterparts, and some (such as the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu) are strongly affiliated with Religious Zionism, taking a similar stance to the Hardal movements.. However, there are anti-Zionist elements in the Sefardic communities as well. It is known that the late Baba Sali supported and celebrated the anti-Zionist views of the Satmar Rebbe.
Current positions of Haredi groups
Groups which do not recognize Israel
Groups which oppose secular Zionism, but recognize Israel
The Agudat Israel is an international organization (with an Israeli association) of various Haredi groups, mainly from the Lithuanian yeshiva communities and Hasidic groups such as Ger and Belz. It initially adopted a stance of disregard for the State of Israel, motivated by pragmatism. They attempted to influence the politics of the State of Israel from within, by participating in national elections and sending their representatives to the Israeli Knesset, but still did not take full part in it by not serving in its military, and not celebrating any of the State’s official holidays. They are adamantly opposed to serving in the military, because they see it as not as worthwhile as learning Torah. Today, the organization has shifted over time to somewhat supportive of the state, although not officially recognizing itself as a pro-Zionist party. The Agudat Israel party in the Knesset is represented as United Torah Judaism, a collective party of Agudat Israel and Degel HaTorah. It tries to influence the Knesset with a pro-Judaism outlook, by mainly focusing on funding for Jewish education (yeshivas), exemption from military service for Haredi yeshiva students, and trying to strengthen Israel’s Jewish identity.
One of the American leaders of the Lithuanian Jewish world, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895–1986), expressed something approaching ambivalent support of the State of Israel, saying that it is proper to pray for the Welfare of the State of Israel, so long as one does not call it the “first flowering of the Redemption”. (The reference is to the standard Zionist Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel, which refers to the State as the “first flowering of the Redemption”.) In a responsum to a question whether it is permissible to pray in a synagogue which displays an Israeli flag, he writes: “Even though those who made the flag for a symbol of the Israeli state were wicked people … to make a fight over this is forbidden.”
Anti-Zionism does not translate to personal antagonism, and Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the Mirrer rosh yeshiva, openly displayed thanks to soldiers of the Israeli army.
The Soloveitchik dynasty of Lithuanian Haredi Judaism is known as one of the most elite scholastic dynasties in all of Orthodox Judaism. The dynasty split into two groups in the 20th century, as parts of the Soloveitchik Rabbinical family veered away from their anti-Zionist tradition set by Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, and adopted views aligned with Modern Orthodox Judaism and Religious Zionism. Ironically, the Zionist faction of the Brisker dynasty was centered in the United States, and the anti-Zionist faction was, and continues to be, centered in Israel. Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik and Rabbi Dovid Soloveitchik, who lead two of the Brisker yeshivos in Jerusalem, continue to be outspoken opponents of Zionism.
While ideologically opposed to secular Zionism, the moderate Hasidic groups of Ger, Breslov, Vizhnitz, Belz, and Klausenberg do vote in the Israeli elections, support religious Zionism, and accept Israeli government funding. Ger and Belz are two of the most influential movements behind the Israeli political party Agudat Yisrael, which, together with the Lithuanian Degel HaTorah, forms the United Torah Judaism party. Prominent Gerrer rabbi, Yitzhak-Meir Levin, was a signatory to the Israeli Declaration of Independence. He also served as Minister of Welfare, though today, members of Agudat Israel prefer to serve as Deputy Ministers, or in Knesset Committees. These groups do not observe any days associated with the state, and neither do they recite the Prayer for the State of Israel.
Agudat’s position evolved into one generally cooperative with the State of Israel, with an emphasis on supporting religious activities within its borders and the maintenance of Haredi institutions. Some rebbes affiliated with Agudat, such as the Sadigura rebbe Avrohom Yaakov Friedman, took more hard-line stances on security, settlements, and disengagement.
Chabad, also known as Lubavitch, Habad and Chabad-Lubavitch (חב”ד), is an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement. Chabad is one of the world’s best-known Hasidic movements, particularly for its outreach activities. It is one of the largest Hasidic groups and Jewish religious organizations in the world.
The fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn (1860–1920), also known as the RaShaB, published Kuntres Uma’ayan, the beginning of which contains a strong polemic against secular Zionism. He was deeply concerned that secular nationalism would replace Judaism as the foundation of Jewish identity. The seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, as wells as his predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, nonetheless insisted on trying to increase the observance of the Torah in Israel, both among individuals as well as to make the state’s policies more in line with Jewish law and tradition, He also expressed overwhelming support for the State’s military endeavors, and vehemently condemned any transfers of land as against Jewish law. His reasoning was based on the code of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch which states that the Sabbath must be violated (carrying weapons) by the residents of a Jewish community (in any country) that borders a hostile gentile settlement, even if they are threatened in the most subtle manner. He viewed the whole of Israel as such a community, and that was the impetus for his support. He argued that the safety of the Jewish people was paramount, and the physical presence of so many Jews in the land meant that its borders had to be protected as a matter of course. At the same time, he also drew support for his statements from the notion in the Torah that the land of Israel was given to the Jewish people, and that inherent Jewish ownership of the land could not be superseded by mere political interests. Nevertheless, he refused to call the state by name, claiming that the holy land exists independent of any authority that sees itself as sovereign over the land. The Lubavitcher Rebbe embraced the land of Israel as place where God can always be found, no matter how secular some of its inhabitants may be. He was a man who is believed by his followers to have loved every Jew, and to have especially loved Israel.
Many Chabadniks in the world live in Israel, and there are a great deal of Chabad houses there. Their young men serve in the Israeli military. In line with the late Rebbe’s instructions to vote for a party that refuses to support giving away parts of the Land of Yisrael as part of any peace negotiations, Chabad does not endorse any particular party in the election process.
Chabad Yeshiva students have been joining the IDF in record numbers. There are Chabad synagogues that celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut.
Chabad Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg spoke at Yom Hazikaron Ceremony in Jerusalem in 2011. He also lit one of the torches at the Zionist state ceremony commemorating Israel Independence Day on behalf of his grandson, Chabad Rabbi Moshe Hotzberg.
Chabad Rabbi Sholom Lipskar celebrated Jerusalem Day at Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem, the most prominent yeshiva in the Religious Zionist world.
In 2011, Rabbi Menachem Brod of Kfar Chabad, who is a spokesman for Chabad, says the group is Zionist in its support for Israel. He stated: “When the average Israeli citizen says ‘Zionism’, he is referring to love of the land, strengthening the state, and being close to the nation and the land, to military service. If all this is Zionism, then Chabad is super Zionist!”
Groups generally supportive of Zionism
Chardal Jews usually refers to the portion of the Religious Zionist Jewish community in Israel which inclines significantly toward Charedi ideology (whether in terms of outlook on the secular world, or is their stringent (machmir) approach to Halacha); however, it is sometimes used to refer to the portion of the Charedi Jewish community in Israel which inclines significantly toward Religious Zionist (Dati-Leumi) ideology. Chardal is an initialism of the words Charedi and Dati-Leumi.
Main article: Sephardic Judaism
Sephardic Haredim are generally supportive of Zionism and the State of Israel, certainly more so than their Ashkenazi counterparts. The number of outspoken opponents of Zionism among Sephardi or Mizrahi rabbis is far lower than among Ashkenazi rabbis, and these constitute a small minority of the Sephardi Haredi leadership.
The Sephardi Haredi political party in the Knesset is Shas, which represents the vast majority of Sephardi Haredim, and is headed by Aryeh Deri. In 2010, Shas joined the World Zionist Organization, and officially became the first Zionist Haredi party. The party’s long-time spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, opposed saying Hallel in the Yom HaAtzmaut prayer service, but writes that, “One may say Hallel after the completion of the prayers, without the blessing…” While in the past, when he served as Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, he wrote that one should say Hallel (though without the blessings preceding and following it), he later changed his position.
Shas is the dominant umbrella organization and political party among Sephardic Haredim, and represents an overwhelming majority of the Sephardi Haredi population. In 2010, Shas joined the World Zionist Organisation, and became the first officially Zionist Haredi political party. According to Shas MK Yaakov Margi, Shas has long operated as a Zionist party: “There’s nothing earth-shaking about saying Shas is a Zionist party. We operate as such, we join governments and are partners in the Zionist experience, (our members) serve in the army. There’s nothing new here.”
There are a number of Sephardic organizations and rabbis who actively oppose the state, such as Rabbi Yaakov Hillel and the Edah HaCharedit HaSefaradit. They draw their ideology from the writings of Sefardi leaders such as the Ben Ish Chai, who lived before the State of Israel was founded, and the Baba Sali, who openly praised the book VaYoel Moshe of the Satmar Rebbe.
Haredi newspapers in Israel
The main Haredi newspapers, Hamodia, HaMachane HaHaredi, and Yated Neeman, occasionally publish articles strongly criticizing Zionism, naming it a “heretical movement”. They sometimes refer to the country as “Israel”, and at other times will only refer to the geographical entity as “Eretz Yisroel”. The Israel news columns are almost exclusively right of centre, lambasting Arab terrorism. Articles about outreach movements in Israel and Israeli culture are very common, and are shown without ideological bias.
Haredi books about Zionism
Several books on the issue of Zionism were written by different rabbis.
Sefer Vayoel Moshe
Vayoel Moshe was written by the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum (1887–1979). It consists of three parts: Maamar Shalosh Shevuos (three oaths), Maamar Yishuv Eretz Yisroel (settling the Land of Israel), and Maamar Loshon HaKodesh (the holy language). The first part, discusses the three oaths mentioned in Ketubot 111a – that the Jewish people are not allowed to ascend to Eretz Yisrael by force, that the Jewish people are not allowed to rebel against the nations of the world, and that the Jewish people may not by their sins delay the coming of Moshiach, the Jewish messiah. It is primarily a book of Halacha (Jewish law). Rabbi Teitelbaum refers to Religious Zionism as a major desecration of God’s name, blames Zionism for the Holocaust, and refers to Zionist leaders such as Theodor Herzl as “heretics”.
Kuntres Al HaGeulah VeAl HaTemurah
Also written by the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, this small book consists of inspirational polemics against Zionism. He wrote it in 1967 as a rebuttal to those who said that the Six-Day War was a divine miracle that showed God’s support for the State of Israel. Teitelbaum wrote that he did not believe anything miraculous had occurred; small but advanced armies often defeat far larger ones. However, for those who insist that the Israeli victory was a supernatural event, it should be viewed as a test from God to see whether the Jewish people would follow the Torah or be led astray by miracles which seemed to support Zionism in the eyes of the masses. He compared this to the miracles that are often done by idolaters in support of their religions, inasmuch as Judaism is not based on miracles, but rather the national revelation on Sinai.
Eim HaBanim Semeicha
Eim HaBanim Semeicha was written by Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, and published in 1943. Teichtal grew up as a staunch anti-Zionist Chasid of the Munkatsher Rebbe. However, during the Holocaust, Rabbi Teichtal changed his position from the one he espoused in his youth. The physical product of that introspection is the book, Eim HaBanim Semeicha, in which he specifically retracts his previous viewpoints, and argues that the true redemption can only come if the Jewish people unite and rebuild the land of Israel. Many of his coreligionists viewed the book with skepticism, some going so far as to ban Rabbi Teichtal from their synagogues.
In the book, Rabbi Teichtal strongly criticizes the Haredim for not supporting the Zionist movement. When it was written, it was a scathing criticism of the Jewish Orthodox establishment, and Agudat Israel in particular.
It is clear that he who prepares prior to the Sabbath will eat on the Sabbath (Avodah Zarah, 3a), and since the Haredim did not toil, they have absolutely no influence in the Land (of Israel). Those who toil and build have the influence, and they are the masters of the Land. It is, therefore, no wonder that they are in control… Now, what will the Haredim say? I do not know if they will ever be able to vindicate themselves before the heavenly court for not participating in the movement to rebuild the Land. (p. 23)
Involvement with the State of Israel
Among Haredi anti-Zionist movements, opinions differ on what attitude to take now that a state exists. Some movements remained actively anti-Zionist, while others lowered their voice; some refuse to vote, while others do vote; some accept money from the government, while others will not.
Many Hasidic Rebbes with followers in the land of Israel, including the Gerrer Rebbe, the Belzer Rebbe, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, and others have encouraged their followers to vote in Israeli elections. Lubavitcher Hasidim are encouraged to join the Israeli Defense Forces, in order to ensure the state’s security (inasmuch as the State’s security is inextricably entwined with the safety of the Jewish people who live within its borders).
Meanwhile, the Edah HaChareidis Rabbinical Council of Jerusalem and its associated communities, including Satmar, Dushinsky, Toldos Aharon and Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok, do not vote and do not accept government money. Around election days, posters by the Edah HaChareidis are posted throughout Haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem proclaiming that it is forbidden to vote in the elections, and that doing so is a grave sin. The Edah HaChareidis and its affiliated movements have permitted cooperating with the Israeli police under extenuating circumstances.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia