Zack Rothbart

Is there only one religious Zionism?

Kippah shop in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda Market, 2012 (Racheli Belifante Afoota / Pikiwiki Israel / CC BY 2.5)

In early 2021, a relatively fringe group of Jewish nationalists went ahead and did perhaps the most brilliant political rebranding act in Israel’s history. They called themselves The Religious Zionist Party. The new name implied many things. Firstly, the definite article “the” (even more prominent in the Hebrew version of the name, which is simply “The Religious Zionism”), implies that there is no other religious Zionist party, no other religious Zionism and, in effect, no other political representation for religious Zionists, except THE party.

Moreover, it co-opted the name of a rather broad and diverse ideology, implying that anyone who subscribes to religious Zionism in any form in some implicit way does or certainly should support this new political party. I have no doubt that this rebranding – one of various factors – significantly contributed to the party’s unprecedented rise in power.

Besides “brilliant branding choice,” perhaps the only word that can accurately describe the act is “hijacking”.

Dr. Yochanan Ben-Yaacov, and educator and long-time religious Zionist activist, led the Bnei Akiva youth movement in Israel in the 1980s, advised prominent National Religious Party (Mafdal) Education Minister Zevulun Hammer, and helped re-establish Kfar Etzion following the Six Day War. He recently called the current self-proclaimed Religious Zionist Party “disastrous to the State of Israel,” going so far as to call it “distinctly anti-religious Zionism.”

The implication of the party’s new name is, of course, that The Religious Zionist Party represents all religious Zionists, as well as religious Zionism as a concept, ideology and movement. Even if the party does enjoy significant support from people identifying as such, these implications are still patently untrue, yet they will become reality more and more if dissenting voices opt to leave the camp in whole or in part.

Some recent reports have mentioned religious Zionists opting to change the style of kippa they wear, or remove it altogether. 

While few if any arbiters of Jewish law see wearing a kippa at all times as a binding religious obligation, and the weave, color and fabric are even further removed from the religious commandments that guide observant Jews in daily life, their cultural symbolism in Israel is extremely significant.

It’s depressing – and somewhat sickening – to think that at least some of our fellow religious Zionists who don’t subscribe to the political rebrand are relinquishing part of their identity rather than fighting for it.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook, considered by many to be the most important spiritual leader in the history of religions Zionism, once wrote, “The pure righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom.”

Would it not make more sense, then, from an ideological and educational perspective to double down not just on kippa-wearing, but on other public and private acts of observance, not simply to be politically provocative, but in order to declare clearly that “The Religious Zionism” isn’t the ONLY religious Zionism?  Wouldn’t the best way to fight the hillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) represented by many political leaders be to increase kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name), baseless love and unity by showing in word and action that the grandstanding, corruption, bigotry and division unfortunately exemplified and supported by many in Israel’s ruling coalition is not the way of Torah and Judaism – Zionist or otherwise?

About the Author
Zack Rothbart is a Jerusalem-based writer and publicist. He is currently Senior Strategist at Concrete Media, and previously served as the National Library of Israel's international spokesman. Zack tries to learn something from everyone, and lives with his endearing and thought-provoking family, for which he is grateful. Feel free to email him via the "Contact Me" link above.
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