Matthew E. Karlovsky
ארץ ציון ירושלים

Zionism and Jerusalem in our time

Jerusalem, our beloved capital of the modern and ancient Land of Israel has many names: Ir David, the City of David, Yerushalayim shel Zahav, Jerusalem of Gold, Har Tziyon, Mount Zion, Har Hakodesh, Mountain of Holiness, Neve Tzedek, the Oasis of Justice.

Jerusalem is one of our core identifiers as Jews. We say “Leshana Haba’a be-Yerushalayim”, Next Year in Jerusalem, every Peasch, and from Tehilim: “Eem Eskachech Yerushalayim, Tishkach Yemini”, If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right arm lose its cunning (Psalms 137:5) To forget Jerusalem is to imply that when Jews live/d outside Israel they concede or are pleased with their exile.

The history of the Jews and ancient Israelites as a unified religious, military and political group came truly together under King David, about the year 1000 BCE when he conquered the city of Jerusalem from the Canaanite tribe, the Yevushim, the Jebusites. The Jebusites held the city and did not fall to Joshua during the conquest of the land when Joshua entered. The Jebusites lived alongside Judah till the time of King David.

Within the city, G-d grants Solomon the honor to build the Temple and where His Presence/Shechinah dwelt. It is this holy connection, imbued with the historical connection that makes this city special forever to the Jews worldwide. It is where we have always directed our prayer, and it is for which we wept, mourned and fast when we remember each year its prior destruction and desolation twice. It is the city that lead the revolt versus Rome in 66 CE and 132 CE and is the city the Romans made an example out of by destroying it, expelling all Jews and changing its name, to subdue revolt throughout the rest of their Empire.

The name Jerusalem appears in the Hebrew Bible/Tanach 626 times. By contrast, it is mentioned zero times in the Koran, and was supplanted by Rome and Constantinople during the early development of Christianity as the central city in their new religion. The yearning for Zion, for Jerusalem, is of and only by the Jews. Jerusalem has never been the capital city for any other group, religion, or country except the Jews, and without the Jews and Jerusalem, the Land of Israel had remained desolate over the millennia.

The name Zion itself is mentioned 154 times in the Hebrew Bible, mentioned many times by Isaiah/Yishayahu, who foretold destruction but then redemption of the Jewish people by describing purging of Zion, Jerusalem, and by extension, the land of Israel of the Jews due to sin against G-d, but in time, a Redemption of Zion and to Zion. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zachariah speak of the return to Zion, to Jerusalem, first and foremost by G-d.

As such, it is G-d truly Who spearheads the Return of Zion, in time when He deems it ready, when His anger of the non-Jews and their treatment of the Jews and their city Jerusalem leads to G-d’s jealously for this return to Zion. Can we consider then G-d to be the First Zionist (both ancient and modern)? Is it not true that G-d yearned for this through the prophets even before the destruction? We derive from G-d’s yearning our own yearning for Zion and redemption of our people to the land, but only after G-d has first chosen the right time for this. This makes Zionism itself, a religious concept at the core of the prophets in the Tanach. It is the foundational premise for modern political Zionism, even if brought about by mainly non-religious Jews, the yearning was based on their religion and history, obvious to the Jews of the 19th century whose parents and grandparents were religious prior to the age of Emancipation.

One of earliest modern Zionists, Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai, a Serbian Jew, acted as the chief rabbi of the Serbian capital in 1825. He witnessed the fervor for national freedom among the Balkan peoples’ revolt against the Turks, and after the famous blood libel of Damascus in 1840, he resolved to promote a gradual return to Zion, to the Land of Israel, by individuals Jews, hoping to gather in the exiles to then bring the Moshiach. He did not call for a mass conquering of the Land from galut, as would be prohibited per halacha, as stated in Ketuvot 111a “shelo yaalu bechoma” – do not come up to storm Eretz Yisrael. His beliefs in gathering in slowly were influenced by the Kabbalists in Jerusalem where he visited and lived for a time. He believed there must be a forerunner settlement in the land, by natural methods, prior to the Redemption of the Moschiah. He lobbied wealthy Western European Jews, wrote pamphlets, and yearned for a common Hebrew language revival. He felt the Jews must look to their ancestral land for their security and freedom. He believed the land must be purchased, as did Abraham and Jacob did by example, not just conquered, but it must be settled prior to the Moschiah. Rabbi Alkalai wrote: Just like when Joshua entered the land- it was already prepared, built up by homes and vineyards. He taught that G-d desired the land to be redeemed in dignity, not by mass Exodus, (which only G-d could orchestrate), but slowly to be built it up with time. All these Zionist concepts were later proposed and made famous by Theodor Herzl in 1896 in his short opus Der Judenstaat. Ironically, Herzl’s grandfather, Simon Loeb Herzl was a disciple and admirer of Rabbi Alkalai. This early modern rabbinic Zionist, perhaps the first one, was a religious man, spiritual kabbalist, and community leader who appreciated and learned from the nations in galut in which he lived. In 1843 he called what we call Zionism, the Third Redemption.

Modern Zionism and the revival of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem was mainly a secular movement at the beginning, but Zionism at its core is Jewish national identity, which transcends all religious affiliations or groups. It was the national identity beaten out of us Jews by 1900 years of exile. Our exile from the Land beat our national identity out of us especially after the fall of Beitar and the short lived Bar Kochva revolt in 135 CE, and then by successive waves of persecutions, conversions, pogroms, libels and holocausts. However, the irony is that it was these repeated very violent events that slowly beat our national identity, Zionism and a return to Jerusalem, back into us. By the mid-1840s this yearning for the land led to a swelling of Jerusalem’s population which became a Jewish majority at that time. The famous religious Lithuanian rabbi, Samuel Mohilver, convinced a young Baron Edmond de Rothschild to fund the early settlers, the Halutzim in the Eretz Yisrael, and in time became the single largest benefactor of the Zionist movement.

To return to the idea of a Return to Zion and Jerusalem, it first needs to be championed by G-d and for this we turn to Zecharyah:

When did Zecharyah prophesize? In the 2nd year of Darius the Great, king of Persia. Darius promoted the return to Zion, to Jerusalem, and gave from the royal treasury to fund the rebuilding of the temple. Zecharyah wrote about the year 520 BCE. In that case, Jews did not re-enter the land by force but were invited by royal decree of the Persian king. Zecharyah does chastise the Jewish people for their lack of enthusiasm to rebuild the temple, even with the help of Darius. Only 42,000 Jews eventually returned to the land to build it up.

But as Zecharyah said, it is G-d who first returns to Jerusalem, and only then can it be built up in Chapter 1:, כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת: קִנֵּאתִי לִירוּשָׁלִַם וּלְצִיּוֹן, קִנְאָה גְדוֹלָה. 14 so the angel that spoke with me said unto me: ‘Proclaim thou, saying: Thus saith the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy;

טו וְקֶצֶף גָּדוֹל אֲנִי קֹצֵף, עַל-הַגּוֹיִם הַשַּׁאֲנַנִּים, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי קָצַפְתִּי מְּעָט, וְהֵמָּה עָזְרוּ לְרָעָה.

15 and I am very sore displeased with the nations that are at ease; for I was but a little displeased, and they helped for evil.

טז לָכֵן כֹּה-אָמַר יְהוָה, שַׁבְתִּי לִירוּשָׁלִַם בְּרַחֲמִים–בֵּיתִי יִבָּנֶה בָּהּ, נְאֻם יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת; וקוה (וְקָו) יִנָּטֶה, עַל-יְרוּשָׁלִָם. 16 Therefore thus saith the LORD: I return to Jerusalem with compassions: My house shall be built in it, saith the LORD of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth over Jerusalem.

יז עוֹד קְרָא לֵאמֹר, כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, עוֹד תְּפוּצֶנָה עָרַי, מִטּוֹב; וְנִחַם יְהוָה עוֹד אֶת-צִיּוֹן, וּבָחַר עוֹד בִּירוּשָׁלִָם. {ס} 17 Again, proclaim, saying: Thus saith the LORD of hosts: My cities shall again overflow with prosperity; and the LORD shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.’ {S}

G-d inspired Darius with the spirit of kindness that provided the initiative for the construction and the supplies, because that is what G-d wanted. G-d speaks through Zecharyah that it is first His desire to rebuild Jerusalem.

Only a remnant returned, only a remnant were “ancient Zionists”, but it was G-d Who desired first to cause it and created the real world events through Darius to bring it about. During the rebuild, the original second Temple was a meager and wooden structure, but slowly after hundreds of years it was built up to 7 times in magnificence. Similarly, how meager were the early settlements on the Land when the small early groups, Bilu-im and Chovevei Zyion, came in the late 1800s, battling swamps and malaria, arid land and no irrigation?

Real parallels to Darius exist to the granting the Jews back then the ability to return to the Land and to Jerusalem, to our modern time with the Yeshuv build-up encouraged as national policy by the benevolent G-d fearing British PM Lord George who granted Lord Balfour the authority to declare a renewed homeland for the Jewish people approximately 100 years ago. Though the British did not fund the project, major Zionists (non-Jewish and Jewish) were British who championed the cause, such as Dr Chaim Weitzman. By the decree of the benevolent British “king” did the Jewish people, again just a remnant, begin to gather into the Land of Israel and Jerusalem to build it up. We see easily the prophecy again of Zecharyah in our time. In our day, G-d has become jealous again about rebuilding His city, and decided in the 20th century to show His Mercy and allow the Yeshuv to grow, prosper through their hands and Gd’s desire, to overcome the enemy in 1948 to be a sovereign entity with Jerusalem as our national and religious capital again. However, G-d was not done, and granted us His Mercy to overcome once more the enemy in 1967 and reunite the city of Zion, Jerusalem under Jewish control. Zecharyah states in Chapter 8:

כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, קִנֵּאתִי לְצִיּוֹן קִנְאָה גְדוֹלָה; וְחֵמָה גְדוֹלָה, קִנֵּאתִי לָהּ. 2 ‘Thus saith the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great fury.

ג כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, שַׁבְתִּי אֶל-צִיּוֹן, וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וְנִקְרְאָה יְרוּשָׁלִַם עִיר הָאֱמֶת, וְהַר-יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת הַר הַקֹּדֶשׁ. {ס}

3 Thus saith the LORD: I return unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem shall be called the city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain. {S}
ד כֹּה אָמַר, יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, עֹד יֵשְׁבוּ זְקֵנִים וּזְקֵנוֹת, בִּרְחֹבוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וְאִישׁ מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ בְּיָדוֹ, מֵרֹב יָמִים.

4 Thus saith the LORD of hosts: There shall yet old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem, every man with his staff in his hand for very age.
ה וּרְחֹבוֹת הָעִיר יִמָּלְאוּ, יְלָדִים וִילָדוֹת, מְשַׂחֲקִים, בִּרְחֹבֹתֶיהָ. {ס}

5 And the broad places of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the broad places thereof. {S}

ו כֹּה אָמַר, יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, כִּי יִפָּלֵא בְּעֵינֵי שְׁאֵרִית הָעָם הַזֶּה, בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם–גַּם-בְּעֵינַי, יִפָּלֵא, נְאֻם, יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת. {פ} 6 Thus saith the LORD of hosts: If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, should it also be marvelous in Mine eyes? saith the LORD of hosts. {P}
ז כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, הִנְנִי מוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת-עַמִּי מֵאֶרֶץ מִזְרָח, וּמֵאֶרֶץ, מְבוֹא הַשָּׁמֶשׁ.

7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts: Behold, I will save My people from the east country, and from the west country;
ח וְהֵבֵאתִי אֹתָם, וְשָׁכְנוּ בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וְהָיוּ-לִי לְעָם, וַאֲנִי אֶהְיֶה לָהֶם לֵאלֹהִים–בֶּאֱמֶת, וּבִצְדָקָה. {ס}

8 And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.

Through these words we see the modern State of Israel thriving, with old and young. It was first G-d’s Will before us, before the Halutzim, before Herzl, and His desire to cause this to happen. In 2019/5779 the Land is now built and continues to be built, and Jerusalem is now built to high grandeur and the jewel of our people. Chapter 8 of Zecharyah is a chapter of comfort, at the end of the exile, G-d directs His zeal to the defense of Jerusalem and vengeance on its enemies.

Once G-d’s Presence rests/dwells in Jerusalem, the status of the city changes and it is once again called a faithful city and the mountain is called “holy mountain”, har hakodesh. G-d must remove first the nations who do evil in order to dwell in it. Then, once G-d resides in the city, a blessing rests upon those people who returned to reside in the city from exile. Because G-d’s promise to return the exiles and redeem the city is so great and incredible, this realization is meant to then strengthen the people’s trust in His fulfillment. We see in our time G-d’s desire to fulfill this promise.

However, many critics of modern Zionism have said that the redemption can only come directly through Torah, and not secular Zionists. This is per the Chafetz Chaim’s commentary on Tehilim 127:1 as he deduces from the line:

א שִׁיר הַמַּעֲלוֹת, לִשְׁלֹמֹה:

אִם-יְהוָה, לֹא-יִבְנֶה בַיִת– שָׁוְא עָמְלוּ בוֹנָיו בּוֹ;

A Song of Ascents; of Solomon.

Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it;

One would think that from this Psalm that a secular Zionism’s founding of modern Israel would never come to pass, that the rebirth must be through pure Torah hands…but just the opposite occurred. If we follow the Chafez Chaim’s logic, because the State of Israel has now come to pass (through mainly secular Zionism), G-d is building His future House through the modern State of Israel. Ironically then, according to the Chafetz Chaim’s teaching the State of Israel itself is proof that we are in the beginning of the Geula, the redemption. It is the first step.

Why do Jews hold Jerusalem so close to our hearts, with love, with yearning, for thousands of years? Jerusalem is G-d’s mountain, G-d’s home, and Zecharyah’s prophecy is reflected in the same words by Isaiah, Yishayahu, chapter 2, and the famous words we recite when we remove the Torah from the aron hakodesh:

א הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר חָזָה, יְשַׁעְיָהוּ בֶּן-אָמוֹץ, עַל-יְהוּדָה, וִירוּשָׁלִָם. 1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
ב וְהָיָה בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים, נָכוֹן יִהְיֶה הַר בֵּית-יְהוָה בְּרֹאשׁ הֶהָרִים, וְנִשָּׂא, מִגְּבָעוֹת; וְנָהֲרוּ אֵלָיו, כָּל-הַגּוֹיִם.

2 And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

ג וְהָלְכוּ עַמִּים רַבִּים, וְאָמְרוּ לְכוּ וְנַעֲלֶה אֶל-הַר-יְהוָה אֶל-בֵּית אֱלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, וְיֹרֵנוּ מִדְּרָכָיו, וְנֵלְכָה בְּאֹרְחֹתָיו: כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה, וּדְבַר-יְהוָה מִירוּשָׁלִָם.

3 And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

What is amazing is that Atchalat d’Geula, the beginning of the return of Jews from exile, follows the special sequence of halacha as described by Ramban/Nachmanides: after the persecution by the nations of world, the Jews will first settle the Land and only then conquer it. This is exactly how it played out in the century leading up to 1948, then with the War of Independence, and then the 1967 Six Day war with ultimate reunification of Jerusalem. This proper halachic sequence, first settle and only then conquer it, incredibly, is predicted by King David in Tehilim 69:36:

לו כִּי אֱלֹהִים, יוֹשִׁיעַ צִיּוֹן, וְיִבְנֶה, עָרֵי יְהוּדָה; וְיָשְׁבוּ שָׁם, וִירֵשׁוּהָ.

36 For God will save Zion, and build the cities of Judah; and they shall abide there, and have it in possession.

Finally, it is befitting to quote again now the chapter that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu quoted during the dedication of the new US embassy in Jerusalem, calling Jerusalem, the City of Truth. PM Netanyahu quoted Zecharyah chapter 8 v 3:

ג כֹּה, אָמַר יְהוָה, שַׁבְתִּי אֶל-צִיּוֹן, וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וְנִקְרְאָה יְרוּשָׁלִַם עִיר הָאֱמֶת, וְהַר-יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת הַר הַקֹּדֶשׁ. {ס}

3 Thus saith the LORD: I return unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem shall be called the city of truth; and the mountain of the LORD of hosts the holy mountain.

In his speech honoring the American Embassy in Jerusalem, by calling Jerusalem the City of Truth, PM Netanyahu conveyed the meaning of recognizing the Truth of Jerusalem, that it is a Jewish city, a city given by G-d to the Jewish people, but a city G-d first chose for Himself. This public recognition of this truth by the United States, the greatest nation in our time, mimicking Darius in his day, and Lloyd George in his, slowly fulfilling step by step the prophesies of Isaiah, Zecharyah and King David, as outlined by Ramban, as brought to pass by David Ben-Gurion, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and finally Brigadier General Motta Gur who uttered “Har Habayit Beyadenu!” “the Temple Mount is in our hands!” on June 7, 1967, brings us yet one step closer to Moshiach in our days, a requirement for full rededication of the 3rd Temple and Jerusalem.

About the Author
Dr Karlovsky is a urologist in Phoenix, AZ and is the Arizona Chapter chairman of Americans For a Safe Israel.