Scott Kahn
Director of

The Fall – and Rise – of Religious Zionism

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I am a proud religious Zionist – but I am not proud of the direction in which the religious Zionist community is moving.

I am a believing religious Zionist – but I do not believe in some of the simplistic ideas professed by many within the religious Zionist world.

I am a committed religious Zionist – but I am not committed to many of the policies advocated by politicians speaking in the name of the religious Zionist population.

Religious Zionism should be intellectually sophisticated and religiously profound, a deep and meaningful way of life combining the mystical yearning of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook with the halachic sophistication of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, a deep love of the People of Israel and the Land of Israel with a universal vision of worldwide morality and Godly living, a recognition of the special mission of the Jewish People with the knowledge that individuals and societies outside our batei midrash profess ideas and ideals that can contribute to a more sanctified world, a drive to build an exemplary society embodying justice, compassion, and love with an acknowledgement that our unique role is to sanctify the divine Name everywhere.

Religious Zionism, I fear, has exchanged these lofty ideals for a shallow and self-satisfied religiosity, the heavenly voice of Jacob for the power hungry hands of Esau. Blinded by a love for the Land, we too often forget the holistic outlook that realizes that placing one value above all others is nothing less than idolatry.

Religious Zionism has too often sunk into militarism, a sense of absolute confidence in the Israel Defense Forces that echoes the Biblical warning, “My strength and the power of my hand provided me with all of this prosperity!” (Devarim 8:17) I am positive that religious Zionists would argue strenuously against this characterization, saying that they know that the strength of the Israeli army comes from God alone… yet how are they so sure that yesterday’s divine protection will be equally present tomorrow? Do they remember that Joshua’s army, fresh off the miraculous victory over Jericho, fell victim to the small town of Ai? Are they so self-righteous that they assert that what transpired because of one man’s sin (Joshua 7:1) could never take place in the modern State of Israel?

Religious Zionism recognizes the sanctity of the Land of Israel, yet religious Zionism and territorial maximalism need not go hand in hand. In his fine work Six Days of War, former Ambassador and Deputy Minister Michael Oren describes the National Religious Party’s threat to leave the government in 1967 should the government vote to go to war, despite the army’s warnings that that Israel had no choice but to fight, as well as the NRP’s subsequent reluctance to fight Jordan and conquer Jerusalem’s Old City – not because of a fear that Israel would fail, but because of the potential adverse reactions from other countries. This does not mean that the National Religious Party was correct in its dovish political positions; it does indicate that religious Zionism is not inherently wedded to the concept of Eretz Yisrael HaShleima – the full Land of Israel – regardless of the potential consequences.

I have much more to say on this subject; in fact, I started to write an article about a specific instance of these unfortunate tendencies earlier today, and realized that it was incomplete without a few paragraphs that explain my general distress, and – crucially – what I hope Religious Zionism can and should be instead.

I hope to publish that article in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll offer three short selections from important thinkers of the previous century who, in my estimation, offer a counterbalance to many of the attitudes prevalent in the religious Zionist world today.

What drives the Left? Is it just emptiness, as those on the Right tend to say? I don’t think so. What, then, is the Left’s source in holiness? The Left sees with its eyes the dishonesty in the Right, the zealousness, the foreign fire. It revolts against the dogmatic and irrelevant toughness, which says, in effect: The truth is like this – not because it is actually like this, but because it has to be like this, because it couldn’t possibly be otherwise. In this truth, the Left sees falsehood; the more that [the Right sees] this truth as more absolute, more total, more self-assured, more zealous, more smug – the more it appears in the Left’s eyes as more false.

(Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg (Rav Shagar), Briti Shalom, p. 229)

…These are some of the serious questions that beg to be discussed – seriously, soberly, softly, and without sloganeering. And if the answers offered are concise, clear, crisp, and uncomplicated – you may be quite sure they are crude and misguided, just plain wrong. Do not trust them! Life is complex. It is filled with paradox, riddled with ambiguity, suffused with subtlety and nuance, and simplistic answers are dangerously misleading. Never must we entrust our national lives or treasure in the hands of people with primitive perspectives.

(Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Seventy Faces, volume 2, p. 234)

Perhaps, in order for religious Zionism to continue to exist, we must declare the existence of a different religious Zionism, in which there is a more precise hierarchy of values, and in which there is more responsibility and circumspection. We must project a world view that combines hope and security with responsibility and faith.

(Rabbi Yehuda Amital, Commitment and Complexity, p. 118)

Israel’s current existential crisis offers an opportunity for new thinking and new approaches. We are on the cusp of developing a new spiritual reality, should we seize the moment. Religious Zionists must reclaim the depth and profundity that is their birthright – and now is the ideal time to begin.

About the Author
Rabbi Scott Kahn is the CEO of Jewish Coffee House ( and the host of the Orthodox Conundrum Podcast and co-host of Intimate Judaism. You can see more of his writing at