Who is a Zionist?

I try to keep up on Israeli politics and I will sometimes see a reference to "non-Zionist Orthodox parties." I don’t understand how people who live in Israel can be "non-Zionists." What is the definition of Zionism, anyway?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people should have a homeland in Israel.

It's impossible to say that Orthodox Jews are opposed to the concept of Zionism, because the very idea for Zionism comes from the Bible. God made a covenant with Abraham, promising him and his descendents the Land of Israel (Genesis 15:18).

Torah Jews believe that the Jewish community in Israel is part of the Divine plan for Jewish redemption. One of the great wonders of Jewish history is how the Bible foretells the Jews' return to the Land. As a first phase of redemption, God promised to in-gather all the exiles. (see for example Deuteronomy 30:1-5, Jeremiah 16:14-15, Jeremiah 31:6-7, and Isaiah 27:12)

The question, however, regards the second part of God's covenant with the Jewish people, which mandates that Jewish existence in Israel is predicated on observing the commandments. The Torah makes this clear in many places, for example Leviticus 18:28 and Deut. 11:17.

Modern Israeli society is based largely on Western ideals, even when they conflict with those of the Torah. For example, the Jewish system of jurisprudence is the basis for every great legal system in the world. The Romans derived their judicial system from the Torah, as did the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution. But instead the modern Israeli legal system originally adopted Ottoman law! The state has at times even made tactical decisions that devalued fundamental principles of Jewish life.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are now living in the Diaspora because if the goal of life is Western ideals and material success, then there's a better version available in Los Angeles!

This in no way minimizes the great things that Israel has achieved. Indeed, the first 60 years of the modern state have been miraculous. Israel has succeeded in making the desert bloom, and in building the finest hospitals, roads, schools and industry – even amidst hardship, terror and wars. For Jews around the world, Israel has been the spark for renewed Jewish identity.

My own organization, Aish HaTorah, believes that the State of Israel is a Divine gift. Aish celebrates Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, and proudly flies the flag of Israel 365 days a year above its World Center at the Western Wall. And we pray daily for the protection of Israeli soldiers who put their lives on the line for the Jewish people.

And yet, Orthodox Jews would favor an Israeli society that recognizes God and Torah as the primary driving force of the nation. This means basing the laws of the State on Judaism (e.g. observance of Shabbat and Kashrut in public) – though of course non-coercive for private individuals. And the schools would place more emphasis on Torah learning.

It has been said that the Land of Israel is the "body" which hosts the Jewish nation, while Torah is the "soul." A body without a soul is empty. We yearn for a restoration of timeless Jewish values and wisdom, to fully complete the modern Jewish renaissance in Israel.

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