Throughout my time in Israel, I constantly debate a question back and forth in my head: Am I a Religious-Zionist?
I believe that the land of Israel was promised by God to Abraham. I don’t know how that promise translates into practical terms in today’s geopolitical reality. I also don’t think it’s my job to know: That promise was made by God, to be fulfilled by God. As a human being, it’s not my responsibility to worry about it or to take a role in its fulfillment.
Similarly, there is a religious concept of “commanded war” if the Jewish sovereign community in the land of Israel is attacked by a military enemy. This means that helping to defend the State in a case of emergency may be a religious obligation. However, it is not always clear under what circumstances this obligation applies and how to translate it into today’s concrete geo-political realities.
Certainly, the concept of conquering the land from the Seven Nations mentioned in the Torah does not apply today, when those nations are no longer here, and it may never have applied beyond the initial conquest of Israel when the Jewish people crossed the Jordan River led by the prophet Joshua -thousands of years ago.
The Torah is full of religious precepts (mostly: religious ethical precepts) that it lists as kinds of conditions for Jews maintaining control of the land. The flipside of God’s promise to give the Jewish people the land is the promise to expel them if they don’t observe these precepts. So in a condition of Jewish sovereignty over Israel, I am obligated to try to obey those precepts.
I believe that the Messiah could come at any moment. I don’t think that as a religious Jew I know in any way what the Messianic era will look like. I believe that as a religious Jew, I am not supposed to think too hard about that, but am instead supposed to focus on worshipping God given the current non-Messianic circumstances. In some way beyond my comprehension, every time we strive to observe mitzvot and to be ethical people we contribute to the coming of the Messiah -that is where my obligation to strive to bring about the Messiah ends.
I do not believe that the obligation to settle the land is in force at this time. This belief (or lack thereof) is, in my eyes, not a religious innovation, but rather, a mainstream religious Jewish position that has become less popular in the modern era, with the advent of Zionism/Religious-Zionism.
Nevertheless, I do believe that there is religious value in living in the land of Israel. This too, is a mainstream Jewish position -one that has become denigrated by the rise of religious anti-Zionism. The State of Israel has instrumental religious value in that it facilitates Jews living in the land of Israel. Hypothetically, this instrumental religious value could be facilitated by any state that allowed Jews to live in/emigrate to the land of Israel -even if that state isn’t Jewish. But given 2,000 years of Jewish history, it is a realistic fear to worry that even the most liberal, tolerant, non-Jewish state could enact anti-Semitic policies under certain crisis circumstances. Germany, for example, was a liberal, open society and home to a thriving Jewish community before the rise of the Nazis.
So where does that leave me? I have long said that I am religious and a Zionist, but not a Religious-Zionist, because I do not see inherent religious value in the State of Israel.
Given Israel’s current political climate, it is not clear to me what that label means anymore, or who gets to claim it.
But one thing I feel more strongly than ever, is that we need more religious voices that are willing to speak up on the importance of being able to distinguish between the “Religious” and the “Zionist”, or we risk conflating both, and in so doing, lose an important part of each.