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The Cultural Character of a Jewish State

A Jew praying Shacharit on the side of the road, via Creative Commons

Neither Am (Nation), Eretz (Land), nor Torah can exist in a vacuum. In fact, no two of these things can exist without the third. Am Yisrael was formed around Torah and only Torah dictates Am Yisrael’s membership and conduct while Torah is protected, actualized, and fulfilled by Am Yisrael, ensuring its survival not merely as a historical relic or decorative ornament but as Torat Hayyim, the Living Torah. Eretz Yisrael is defined by the words of Torah and actions of Am Yisrael, without them, Eretz Yisrael is not a unique or separate land from its surroundings. The mitzvot of the Torah for Am Yisrael can only be fulfilled properly in Eretz Yisrael, Rav Avraham ibn Ezra said as much in a commentary on Devarim 4:10. In a commentary on Devarim 11:18, Rashi elaborates that the only reason Jews should continue fulfilling mitzvot outside Eretz Yisrael is “so that these shall not be novelties to you when you return.” Without Eretz Yisrael, Torah and Am Yisrael remain unable to realize their purposes and become obsolete.

Am, Eretz, and Torah are all mutually codependent because none of them are independent entities. In fact, all three are part of the same entity; Yisrael. The three elements of Yisrael are each wholly indivisible internally and as a part of Yisrael. They compliment each other and ensure the continued existence of each other.

An inability to accept this concept has been the root of establishment Zionist failure since its inception. Specifically, this failure has expressed itself in a deep ambivalence towards Eretz Yisrael and Torah, abandoning Eretz Yisrael in the Uganda Plot, in the Sinai, South Lebanon, Gaza, and Oslo retreats, and rejecting Torah in the maintenance of foreign, Western legal dominance even after the state was created. More recently, this failure has become, in some circles, a rejection of Jewish national identity in favor of a hollow, Western conception of civic citizenship.

In the early 20th century, Rav Avraham Yitzhak haKohen Kook diagnosed Zionism as soulless on these grounds. Their leaders may have been passionate and their tactics may have been effective, but they lacked the knowledge and appreciation for the deeper ramifications of their stated aim of a Jewish state. To them, Eretz Yisrael was a foreign asset to be conquered, bought, and sold and Torah a passe antiquity to be referenced and ignored when politically convenient.

Rav Kook did not see Zionism as a destructive lost cause as many of his contemporaries did, but as a political tool to be used for great good or unfathomable devastation. To steer Zionism towards the former and away from the latter, Rav Kook sought to utilize the Jewish people and Jewish culture, to create a cultural hegemony of Jewish affirmation to further and spread holistic Jewish consciousness. For Rav Kook, the greatest danger Zionism posed was its growing influence combined with its incomplete and corrupted worldview, but this danger could too become a great source of course-correction for the Zionist movement and for Yisrael as a whole.

Rav Kook’s strategy is not primarily that of maneuver, but that of position. As the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci would write decades later, positional rather than manueveral focus is the key to a successful movement, a concept that was lost on Karl Marx himself. Political maneuver does not exist in a vacuum, it exists only when its executors have the position necessary to maneuver, not merely in government but in every institution of the body politic. Politics is not primarily about winning elections or starting revolutions, but filling job posts, dominating cultural institutions, and ultimately establishing cultural hegemony- complete and unopposed cultural dominance from every point of the political sphere. From this point, one can maneuver without domestic consequence. This is the true goal of any intelligent political movement.

Rav Kook understood that he could not maneuver, or block the maneuver of his opposition, without position, without the capability to influence. In this Section I: Eretz Yisrael, Chapter 2 of Orot m’Ofel, Rav Kook began with settling up the battle for the soul of Am Yisrael in the era of Zionism; one side that understands the inherent, indivisible wholeness and unity of Am, Eretz, and Torah and those are too preoccupied with foreign, modern ideologies to recognize this reality. Then, Rav Kook establishes this other side as a practical threat that must be opposed, reminding the reader of its consequences by alluding to the Uganda Scheme. Finally, Rav Kook begins to chart the path forward:

“We do not negate any conception based on rectitude and awe of Heaven, of any form, only the aspect of such an approach that desires to negate the mysteries and their great influence on the spirit of the nation. This is a tragedy that we must combat with counsel and understanding, with holiness and might.”

Kook, 114-115

Rav Kook asserts that the Truth must be fought for in the area of public influence “in holiness;” by lighting the nitzotz tamidim, the “eternal sparks” of connection and fever that exist within a Jew’s nefesh elokit, his inherent Jewish soul/identity. Additionally, this must be done in “might;” this movement cannot afford to be a defensive, reactionary movement. The movement which Rav Kook is proposing must be on offense, aggressive, proactive, and constantly seeking growth within the hearts, minds, and, most importantly, institutions of Am Yisrael.

It is due to this political mindset that the Rav Kook’s camp has grown in size and influence so much in the short history of the State of Israel. In Rav Kook’s lifetime, this mindset led him to establish two key institutions to increase his influence; the Rabbanut Raishit L’Yisrael (The Chief Rabbinate of Israel) and the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. Both of these institutions were designed to be universal authorities for all of world Jewry with ties to many political institutions, namely religion, education, and government, to unite a divided body politic under his influence to the end of spreading holistic Jewish consciousness.

Today, Rav Kook’s contemporary cultural warriors find themselves in a good place. They have made inroads with Haredi communities, maintained their cultural power through the standing of the Rabbanut, and increased their share of Israel’s demographics through birthrates, aliyah, and Jewish education. However, Am Yisrael remains split between the two camps Rav Kook recognized over a century ago. Through Rav Kook’s roadmap, it is incumbent upon the Jews of Emunah to fully reject foreign corruption and uplift their fellow Jews so that they can do the same, “with holiness and might.” Everything is on the table, every social institution from government to sports to music and television to education for the cause of holistic Jewish consciousness. Through every institution, foreign culture must be thrown out and authentic Jewish culture and understanding instated.

In practical terms, this means every social institution, every facet of public life, utilized for kedusha, for holiness, grounded in the common pursuit of holistic Jewish consciousness. Education centered around teaching children Jewish pride, practice, and history, instructing children how to be a good Jew before they learn how to become a good employee. Law enforcement and military are grounded in their role as the executors of the will of the Jewish people and her state and all the responsibility that entails, the successors to the legendary Jewish warriors of yore. Corporations forced to put the public, national, Jewish goods above mere profit margins. Media and entertainment centered in Jewish values and pride, the fulfillment of purpose, and the pursuit of truth. Sports an avenue for the rejection of spiritual-physical dualism, an affirmation of the holiness of the body and of action. This is a hegemony of Jewish affirmation, each institutional beam supported by the other, with the state too using its power to support this structure. This hegemony is necessary as a cultural foundation for a Jewish state, to create a society in which a Jewish state is not merely a formal reality but a substantive one based on holistic Jewish consciousness.

About the Author
Jesse Edberg is a member of the Religious Zionist Party's youth wing. He has previously served as a spokesman and graphic designer for the Yamina Youth and has written for such publications as The Post Millenial and The Israel Press. Jesse is a student at the Tulane University of Louisiana where he is pursuing a degree in political science.
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