Published in The Jerusalem Post on July 23, 2000
For many Religious Zionists, a diplomatic process which abandons much of Judea and Samaria, not to mention parts of Jerusalem, is theological cataclysm. An earthquake with far-reaching ideological ramifications. After all, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. God’s own redemptive hand had returned us to our Biblical birthright!
Not surprisingly, Religious Zionist thinkers are scrambling to re-interpret the times. A quick survey of opinion among several leading philosophers and rabbis reveals utter confusion and deep disagreement within the Religious Zionist ideological camp.
Start with Rabbi Chaim Druckman MK (NRP), head of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva and Yeshivat Or Etzion, one of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook’s most profound disciples. Based on Rabbi Kook’s teachings, Rabbi Druckman has been speaking for thirty years about the unstoppable “messianic process” of redemption underway; an inexorable process which runs according to a “messianic clock” that can’t be turned back.
The return of Jewish life to Judea and Samaria was part of this unassailable process, according to Rabbi Druckman and his colleagues in Gush Emunim. Kedumim, Bet El and united Jerusalem were proof that we were on a one-way journey, with no layovers, to even more complete redemption.
So where do the Oslo and Camp David withdrawals fit into this messianic process? Well, the messianic process it is still alive, insists Rabbi Druckman, but it going through a corrective phase. Basing himself on the medieval Jewish philosopher Abravanel (*Yeshuot Meshicho* chapter five) and some kabalistic writings, Rabbi Druckman now posits the need for the messianic “vessel” (the state and society of Israel) to undergo a “cleaning-out” process before the “vessel” gets filled with the ultimate Judaic content of the full messianic era.
In Rabbi Druckman’s words, “the abandonment by Israeli society of core Jewish and classical Zionist values, including the grave deterioration in appreciation for the Land of Israel” is part of a theologically-mandated dark period, a purgatory and cleansing interval, on the road to better times.
This frightening, knotty thesis of “required ruin before reconstruction” has been picked up by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and other prominent thinkers in Rabbi Kook’s messianic camp. Funny how none of them spoke of “required ruin” before Oslo.
On the far opposite side of the philosophical spectrum is Yoske Achituv, ideologue of the Religious Kibbutz Movement. Achituv, an expert on Maimonides, a prolific writer and a religious-secular dialogue activist, rejects Rabbi Druckman’s “illusionary messianic Zionism” all-together.
“God didn’t bring us back here in 1948; God didn’t give us Jerusalem in 1967; and neither God nor some ‘messianic process’ is taking Judea and Samaria away from us now”, proclaims Achituv. “History has no meta-physical meaning; good things happen in Jewish history because good Jews act appropriately – that’s all. It is folly for human beings to attempt to identify Divine processes in history”.
“I believe that the State of Israel has the potential to be part of the promised ultimate redemption”, continues Achituv. “But my vision of redemption involves more than Israeli sovereignty over land, however Biblically-attached we are to that land. Redemption involves the creation of a moral Jewish society, a light unto the nations. Changes in our borders out of political necessity does not affect or impair my belief in Judaism or God one whit”.
“Both Druckman and Achituv speak utter nonsense”, thunders yet another leading Religious Zionist thinker, Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun (one of the founders of Gush Emunim and Ofra, now a maverick supporter of the peace process). “Both unforgivably strip God out of the equation. Rabbi Druckman says that everything happening is terrible and evil, therefore God has to step out of the picture while the laundry is done or discarded, creating darkness. Achituv denies the role of Divine Providence in Jewish history.”
“Neither knows how to read the Bible”, counters Bin-Nun. “The Bible teaches us that Jewish history has ups and downs, successes and setbacks, even with God hovering in the background. The crises we experience don’t wipe away the grandeur of God’s Providence. The Israelites (in the books of Joshua and Judges) suffered many defeats at the hands of the Philistines. But this does not erase the reality of the Exodus from Egypt, the law-giving at Sinai or the miraculous conquering of Canaan. So too with the establishment of Israel and the victory of 1967”.
Bin-Nun, who once wrote that Oslo was a miracle just like the Six Day War, goes one gigantic theological step further. “The Heavens are awakened by human action and accept what the majority of the Jewish People in Israel decide. And the majority here seems to support continuation of a peace process. Ipso facto, this desire becomes God’s will too. So the peace process is a Divinely-confirmed decree. We can participate in it and help shape it, but not fight it”, says Bin-Nun.
“And one more thing: how dare the messianic rabbis preach doom and gloom to our community!”, roars Rabbi Bin-Nun. “Is everything today in the State of Israel really so terrible, compared to the pre-1948 or 1967 years? Was there not even greater anti-religious hatred and division back in Brenner’s time? Did we not build magnificent communities in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem, most of which will stay ours, even under Barak’s terms for peace? Did we Religious Zionists not build ourselves up through the settlement effort and contribute greatly to broader Israeli society?”
“Indeed we did. We are *not* at an apocalypse because of Oslo or Camp David. Not at all”, concludes Bin-Nun.