Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Orthodox Zionists Suffer a Crisis of Faith in the Wake of the Gaza Withdrawal

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September - October

Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank has prompted an emotional and ideological self-examination for many Orthodox Zionists, who for three decades believed that by expanding settlements they were reclaiming the nation’s biblical birthright and hastening the messianic age. When Israel won control of the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war, religious Zionists interpreted it as proof of their ideology.  

Some Orthodox Zionists, such as Rabbi Yisrael Rosen of Alon Shvut in the West Bank, says that leaving the settlements over the Green Line and returning to Israel proper is “going into exile,”  

The Jerusalem Report (Sept. 5, 2005) declares: “The disengagement from Gaza and the Northern West Bank has undermined the relationship of many in the religious Zionist camp with the state they viewed as the vehicle for the Jewish people’s redemption. As their shock and sense of betrayal deepen, the community faces gripping questions of where to turn and what to believe. ... After Sharon’s announcement 18 months ago, displays of religious fury with the state escalated: Pro-settler rabbis called on Orthodox soldiers to disobey orders connected with the withdrawal. Spiritual leaders delivered sermons questioning the secular state’s authority to give up parts of the divinely granted homeland. Former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu declared that the disengagement simply would not happen. Orthodox women held nightly vigils at the Western Wall; tens of thousands prayed for miracles. But the prayers weren’t answered ... and the Whole Land of Israel idea has been repudiated by the state — which religious Zionists have seen as sacred and as a divine vehicle for fulfillment of Biblical prophecy — the crises has only deepened.”  

Hebrew University philosopher Moshe Halbertal sketches out four separate paths that this fractured community may take: A minority of Orthodox Zionists, he predicts, will perceive the clash over the disengagement as a “culture war between Jews and Hellenizers, meaning gays or Russian immigrants,” sense that living in Israel is some form of “internal exile,” and move toward ultra-Orthodoxy. Next, he says, will be a small extremist apocalyptic group determined to “force the redemption” by any means — even deliberately provoking a confrontation with the Muslim world. A third group is likely to start a “type of New Age Hasidism ... as a replacement for the failed philosophy” of redemption through settling the land. The fourth and largest sector, he says, will “not break the bond with mainstream Israel. His evidence is that the heads of the majority of hesder yeshivot, which combine military service with religious studies, did not support the call of some influential rabbis to disobey army orders to take part in the pullout.  

Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky, a Contributing Editor to The Jerusalem Report, (Sept. 5, 2005) writes: “The uncomplicated identification of the Torah of the Land of Israel with an increasingly sectoral project of settling the West Bank and Gaza has proven to be not only a poor guide to the concrete realities facing us, but has corrupted the power and beauty of the idea of the Land of Israel itself. On the other hand, the Jewish bookshelf actually groans with Hilkhot Galut and we have much to learn from that library. The painfully learned and deeply compelling lessons of the Jewish people’s millennia of exile — skepticism toward power, the moral perspective of the outsider, the deep awareness of complexity, the recognition that one’s dreams will not be fulfilled tomorrow — all these have been steadily vanishing not only from religious Zionism, but from much of Israeli society and culture as a whole. It is time all of us, religious and secular alike, learn those lessons anew ...”  

Rabbi Michael Melchior, a leading Orthodox dove and former deputy minister of Diaspora affairs, told The Forward (Sept. 9, 2005): “They (religious Zionists) feel that what is being done is to crush the ethos, the narrative of religious Zionism. So disengagement is seen as a step against religious Zionism. It is seen as a breach of the narrative that goes into all fields of life, even theology.” According to this view, Melchior said, “Sharon is interfering with the messianic process.”Rabbi Elisha Aviner, a teacher at the yeshivah at Ma’aleh Adumim and pulpit rabbi of a large modern Orthodox congregation in the settlement’s Mitzpeh Nevo neighborhood, predicts that the disengagement will “crush the dynamism and spirit” of Orthodox Zionism. “What is Ariel Sharon doing? Between the Arabs, Russian new immigrants, ultra-Orthodox and post-Zionists, who’s left who believes in Zionism these days?” he asks.

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.