— Uriel Simone is a professor of Bible at Bar Ilan University.

Religious Zionism is predicated upon allegiance to the Torah of Israel, to the People of Israel, to the Land of Israel, and to the State of Israel. This quadruple loyalty is unique among the main currents in Jewish life today. Secular Zionism does not see itself as bound to the Torah; it relates to the Torah only as a source of inspiration and not as an authority (as was well-formulated by Yitzchak Meir in the magazine “Emdah,” no. 13). Those who are not Zionist, and certainly those who are anti-Zionist – whether they be secular or hareidi – do not consider aliyah to the Land of Israel and the building of the Land a personal obligation and a national goal. The hareidi sectors do not recognize the religious legitimacy of the State of Israel, its institutions or its laws; a blatant manifestation of this is the willingness of Agudath Yisrael to participate in the coalition, but not in the government. They do not see a religious value to the concept of responsibility and partnership with the entirety of the mostly-secular Klal Yisrael, and therefore close themselves off spiritually; this is manifest in its lack of fulfillment of basic national obligations such as military service.

The quadruple loyalty establishes a heavy yoke of additional obligations, of which members of the religious Zionist stream are quite proud. At the same time, however, it is the cause of great inner tensions, which require hard choices and compromises; this is its chief problem. Religious Zionism is undergoing a severe crisis at present, which, in my opinion, is rooted in its weakened ability to attain the true balance among the four loyalties. When this ability is impaired, the delicate synthesis breaks down into its parts, and more and more people prefer a one-time compromise of one or more of the loyalties, over the constant and consistent compromise required in the struggle to find the proper balance between all of them. At the price of reducing their loyalties, they secure a sense of reassuring consistency, as well as a feeling of exciting extremism, which frequently also leads to even a tinge of haughtiness.

In addition to the tendency to hareidi-ism, which leads to separatism, religious Zionism also suffers from extremism from the nationalist-hareidi sector, which is violating the delicate and proper balance of its four loyalties, and thereby jarring it from within. This extremism, too, is a reaction against compromise, and seeks ideological perfection and total consistency. It does not attain this, however, via a conscious concession on one or more of the loyalties, but rather by a not-so-conscious neglect of the search for balance. This neglect is nourished by the belief that it is possible to intensify one of the four loyalties without significantly affecting the other three. The need to compromise is no longer regarded as an inevitable consequence of the quadruple allegiance, but rather as a weakness of spirit that can and must be overcome. The rest of this article will be devoted to an examination of this position, and to the internal dispute over it within the religious Zionist movement.

Undoubtedly, “The Torah of G-d is perfect, restoring the soul” (Psalms 19,8), and “The judgments of the L-rd are true and are altogether righteous” (ibid.,10); however, the preservation of the Torah by mortal man cannot be other than imperfect (“Our father, our king, remember that we are but dust”), and the fulfillment of its precepts very often requires hard decisions and the obligation to choose.

The Torah does not only recognize the legitimacy of these conflicts, but even counsels and guides us as to how to navigate them. For instance, it differentiates between those commandments that one must be killed before he violates, and those that one must “violate and not be killed” for. One who desecrates the Sabbath in order to possibly preserve a life has not “compromised” the sanctity of the Sabbath, but has rather fulfilled the order of priorities that the Torah itself set for that situation of conflict. This is the case, too, with the various enactments of the Talmud and the many halakhic rulings which were based on a deep understanding of the needs of the generation, and on cautious and responsible use of the concept “It is time to act for the L-rd, they have made void Your Torah” (Psalms 119,126; see Mishnah Brachot 9,5; Tr. Temurah 14b). The story of the clash between the shepherds of Lot and those of Abraham is a clear instance of a collision between two important values, one which requires a choice. It is also a guide for our generation, which faces a not dissimilar situation. The land was promised to Avraham and his descendants (Genesis 12,7), and not to his nephew Lot, who was merely accompanying him. When the clash broke out between the shepherds, Avraham would have therefore been entitled to demand that Lot return to Haran. He did not do so, however, but rather said, “Let there not be strife between us… for we are brothers. Is not all the land before you? Please separate from me – if you go left, I shall go right, and if you choose the right, I shall go left” (ibid. 13,8-9).

Avraham was convinced that making peace with his “brother” took precedence over the immediate exercising of his exclusive right to the Land. For the sake of peace, he even allowed Lot to choose which piece of the Land that had been promised to Avraham he would like. Lot indeed took full advantage of this overwhelming generosity, and did not hesitate to pick the choicest area: “the plain of the Jordan [River, that] was well-watered everywhere, like the garden of the L-rd” (ibid., 10). The question should be raised: Was this “territorial compromise” that was executed by Avraham considered to be a positive act? A resounding “yes” is given in the continuation of the Biblical account, when, immediately after Lot’s departure, G-d again appeared to Avraham and promised him and his descendants the entire Land, “north and south, east and west” (ibid., 14). Not only did Avraham’s temporary concession not affect his eternal right to the Land, but only a short while later Lot lost the portion of the Land that he had chosen, Sodom; it was soon destroyed by G-d because of its wickedness, and Lot’s inheritance was transferred to the lands of Moab and Ammon on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

It is said in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe: “There is nothing more complete than a broken heart.” We may learn from this that one whose heart is not broken, because he chooses to ignore the fundamental human dilemma that is the result of the obligation to choose between clashing positive values, has in truth not attained the perfection and wholeness that he seeks. One whose heart is broken, however, because the love of G-d brings him to hate evil and to refrain from acting wrongly, and who therefore is forced to make agonizing concessions and to accept painful compromises – the brokenness of his heart is his salvation. Indeed, this is the torturous question, one which requires of us to make critical decisions: Does a strong loyalty to the Land of Israel, manifest by an absolute commitment to the integrity of the Land, strengthen or weaken our other loyalties – to our Torah, our People, and to our State? In other words, does the adherence to the wholeness of the Land, to the extent that it becomes a commandment for which one must die rather than violate (the fourth one!), uplift us spiritually or, possibly, bring us to sin?

It seems that it would be very difficult to deny that the adherence of some to the concept of the wholeness of the Land has already severely affected their loyalty to the People and to the Nation. The objective of the Zionist movement is not merely to enable the aliyah of Jews to the Land, in order that they may fulfill the Land-related commandments and exercise their personal and communal freedoms, just as do their brethren in Brooklyn; but also “to be a free nation in our Land” (as we sing in Hatikvah). Our goal is to establish an independent Jewish society that is responsible – under the aegis of our sovereign State – for all areas of life. The State is an indispensable tool for the realization of our national goals, and it is the required framework for the maximal implementation of our unique values. The reason why the hareidi community so distances itself from the democratic form of government is integrally connected with its estrangement from the Nation and the People, and is undoubtedly a major factor in the increasing signs of violence amongst its members. The religious Zionist community, on the other hand, has well understood that even though it is not always easy to reconcile the demands of democracy with the commandments of the Torah, still our loyalty to the State, our responsibility to The People of Israel, and our commitment to the integrity of the Nation demand that we make our utmost effort to do so. Many religious leaders and educators have therefore admitted – most somewhat unwillingly, others whole-heartedly – that democracy embodies values of ethics, justice, and freedom, and that until the days of Messiah there is no better system for the State of Israel, nor is there a better guarantee for the unity of the nation. However, when the settler movement, which set the practical implementation of the ideal of the Wholeness of Eretz Yisrael as its goal, thereby found itself in a frontal clash with the State of Israel, it justified itself via a hareidi-like detachment from the democratic regime. And thus a religious-Zionist generation is brought up, increasingly hearing from its educators and its rabbis that democracy is an alien shoot in the Jewish orchard; that its principles are not just, and that its ways are ineffectual; that its laws are only man-made, and that its courts are not binding; that the freedoms it grants are simply license to lawlessness; that the only regime that is appropriate for us is – the kingdom. The words are less critical, of course, than the actions that are carried out by the sworn proponents of the Greater Eretz Yisrael, beginning with Sebastia, Kiryat Arba and Yamit, and on through the Islamic College in Hevron, the dynamiting of Arab buses, and the efforts to free the prisoners of the Underground, which included the circumvention and violation of laws, the disregard of the legislative and judicial authorities, and the denigration of the civil and military ruling bodies.

The Torah portion of Lech Lecha, in which Abraham is commanded to leave his home and go to the Land that G-d will show him, is a strong indication of the immense importance placed by the Torah on the concept of Eretz Yisrael; the integrity of the Land has been our dream ever since the Covenant Between the Pieces (Genesis 15). However, the defining of this ideal as a practical political objective of absolute and binding religious force, given the current political circumstances, has hurt, and continues to hurt, the integrity of the Torah. The fundamental negation of any concession of a portion of the Land for the sake of peace (and how much more so the definition of the conquest of the entire borders of the Promised Land as an obligatory Positive Commandment – as defined by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, and others) requires, as practical justification, an Arab refusal to make peace with Israel. In this way, Arab extremism strengthens Jewish extremism, in that it allows the latter to place the entire responsibility for the hostilities and the blood that will be spilled in the coming wars exclusively upon the Arab side. Consequently, those who champion the cause of Greater Eretz Yisrael cannot be interested in the encouragement of Arab moderation (which would obligate Jewish moderation in return), and any expression of Arab willingness to make peace with us is considered, by definition, an act of deceit and a trap. And indeed, the political significance of the campaign against the Sinai withdrawal, carried out on behalf of the sanctity of the Land and its integrity, is that there is no place for peace-making in our Land before the Messiah arrives; and its religious significance is that the Torah does not require that we make efforts to reduce the incidence of war between Israel and its neighbors, not from the point of view of “Take good heed to yourselves” (Deut. 4,15), nor from that of “Seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34,15). 1

Furthermore: The religious-Zionist proscription against any territorial or political compromise (including even autonomy), which leaves the military option as the only solution, is joined by a hareidi-like negation of the ethical aspect of the Torah of Israel. As a result, not only is the seeking of peace perceived as a weak-kneed, secular, “leftist” approach, emanating from a simple selfish desire for security and comfort, but other ethical commandments, such as the sanctity of human life – that which was created in the image of G-d – and love for the stranger take on limited halakhic definitions and are rejected as secular, foreign, “humanistic” values. This is the reason why the adherents of the Wholeness of the Land school do not participate in public struggles for “purity of ammunition.” Instead of seeing this as an explicit precept of the Torah – “When you go out to encamp against your enemy, keep thee from any evil thing” (Deut. 23,10)2 – which requires careful and responsible implementation in any given situation, they frequently rely on the words of the Talmudic sage Resh Lakish, who said, “Whoever acts mercifully when cruelty is required, will in the end act cruelly instead of mercifully” (Kohelet Rabbah 7,33). They use this to rebuff any criticism of the actions of military figures, such as the pardoning of the murderer of prisoners-of-war by then-Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan, and to reject any investigation and adoption of its findings, even in the case of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres. The Torah warns us tens of times not to discriminate against the stranger (e.g., “The stranger that dwells amongst you shall be as a native amongst you” – Lev. 19,34) nor to deceive him (“You shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him” – Ex. 22,20). The Sages explained some of these verse as references to one who has converted to the Jewish faith, and others to those who merely observe the seven Noachide commandments, which has led to a certain weakening of the comparison between the strangers who live amongst us to our existence as strangers in Egypt. Onkelos went so far as to translate the word “ger” – stranger – in two different ways in one verse: “And you understand the soul of a ger (stranger), for you yourselves were dayrin (sojourners) in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23,9). However, neither the translation of Onkelos nor the Medrash can change the plain meaning of the verse (as per Rav Kahane, Tr. Shabbat 63a), which is a general ethical charge to refrain from acting towards a minority dwelling amongst us in the shameful manner that we were treated when we resided in Egypt and in our other places of exile.3 This obligation is in effect concerning the Israeli-Arab citizens, who are far from total social and civil equality, and even more so regarding the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, who are totally devoid of fundamental political rights. Because of the danger of the “demographic problem,” which intensifies when there is an attempt to annex to the State of Israel territories that contain 1.8 million Arabs, many Greater Eretz Yisrael loyalists ignore the commandment to love the stranger, and do not hesitate to emulate those who oppressed us during our Exile.4

“A kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19,6) will be established only in the Holy Land. The holiness of the Land is an integral part of the holiness of our society, but under no circumstances can the former override the latter. On the contrary, it is our obligation to ensure that our intense adherence to the ideal of the integrity of the Land does not affect our fulfillment of the dictate, “Your camp shall be holy” (Deut. 23,15). It is engraved upon our consciousness that “because of our sins we were exiled from our Land,” and Jeremiah’s prophecy of the “Temple of the L-rd” (Jer. 7) was set down in writing as a constant reminder against the false reliance upon a protective sanctity, that may cause us to err and to sin. The Torah, too, repeats often that our hold upon the Land is contingent upon the sanctity of the camp, as is written: “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue, that thou may live and inherit the Land which the L-rd thy G-d gives you.” (Deut. 16,20).


1. We have learned in the Medrash Bamidbar Rabbah, Chukat 19,27: “Israel sent messengers to Sichon, saying, allow me to pass through thy land; we will not turn aside into the fields or into the vineyards…” (Num. 21,21). This is mindful of, “Trust in the L-rd and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy security” (Ps. 37,3), and, “Turn aside from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34,15). The Torah did not enjoin us to pursue commandments, but rather said, “When a bird’s nest happens to appear before you” (Deut. 22,6), and “If you meet your enemy’s ox going astray, return it to him” (Ex. 23,4), and other such commandments (Ex. 23,5; Deut 24,20; 24,21; 23,25). If these situations come upon you, then you are commanded, but you need not pursue them. But peace – you must pursue: “Seek peace in your place, and pursue it [even] in another place.” This is how Israel behaved: Even though G-d told them, “Begin to possess [the land of Sichon] and contend with him in battle” (Deut. 2,24), they pursued peace, as is written, “Israel sent messengers to Sichon.”

2. Nachmanides, in his commentary to the Torah, explains this verse as follows: “Rashi explains that the Satan is actively accusatory during times of danger. But I feel that the correct interpretation of this commandment is that the Torah is warning against a time when sin may be prevalent. It is known that soldiers who go out to war will eat whatever abomination becomes available; they will steal, and rob, and will not hesitate even to commit adultery and the like. Though a man may be naturally upright and ethical, he will become angry and cruel when he goes to fight his enemy. The Torah therefore warned us, “Keep thee from any evil thing.” According to the plain meaning, this means to keep away from anything that is forbidden…”

3. These are the words of Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Herzog, Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, in his testimony before the English-American investigative commission in 1946: “False claims have been heard that a Jewish majority would act cruelly to a non-Jewish minority living amongst it. It has also been claimed that the non-Jewish religions would be hurt by the change of the present status of the Land of Israel and its becoming a Jewish community. Claims like these can be sounded only by those who forget that more than 3000 years ago, G-d could think of no better rationale for His commandment to the Jews to love the stranger than the memory of the injustice that was done to them in Egypt out of hate for the stranger. True, our exile has taught us to hate – to hate hatred.”

4. In light of both the open and hidden pressures exerted upon the Arabs of Israel, as in, “Let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply…” (Ex.1,10), it is appropriate to note the words of the Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin), who introduced his commentary “Ha’amek Davar” to the Book of Genesis with the following: “Why did Balaam call our forefathers “upright ones” (see Numbers 23,10), and not use terms such as “righteous ones” or “pious”? The reason is that the Holy One Blessed be He is Himself upright (Deut. 32,4), and cannot tolerate righteous ones who do not walk in an upright, straight path but rather walk crookedly in the ways of the world, even though they may be for the sake of Heaven, for this brings about the destruction of Creation and the ruination of the community of the world. And this was the greatness of our forefathers, that in addition to their being righteous and pious, and lovers of G-d on the highest level, they were also upright and straight, in that they dealt with the nations of the world – even the depraved idol-worshippers – with love, and were sensitive to their needs, for this is what perpetuates the world’s existence. For we saw to what trouble Avraham went to pray for Sodom, even though he despised them and their king for their evil, as is clear from what he said to the King of Sodom. Still and all, he was desirous of their continued existence. And in the Medrash to Vayera (Genesis Rabbah 49), G-d says to Avraham, “You have loved justice and hated evil – you have loved to find merit in my creations, and hated to find fault with them.”