I read an article, “Who Broke their Vow First? The ‘Three Vows’ and Contemporary Thinking about Jewish Holy War,” by R. Reuven Firestone on the Three Vows and the concept of Holy War in Judaism. For those of you who have dealt a little with discussions on Jewish religious approaches to Zionism and the existence of the State of Israel, the Three Vows probably sound familiar, but for those of you who haven’t, I can shortly explain that they are three ‘vows,’ which are based on three verses in the Song of Songs, interpreted as God forbidding the Jewish People to immigrate to the Holy Land as a ‘wall,’ as well as not to ‘rebel’ against the nations, and the nations not to ‘overly succumb’ the Jews.
It is a very interesting article, which is part of the book “The Just War: Violence in Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” where Firestone reviews the basic understanding of the concept of ‘Holy War’ in Judaism and according the Hebrew Scriptures, the basis for the Three Vows, as well as later reactions for or against them, as well as interpretations of them, particular in the period of 1948 to recent days.
I can strongly recommend it for anyone wanting to get an idea of religious Zionist approaches and thoughts both on the State of Israel as well as the Three Vows.
Anyway, the article made me think a little on my own position as a religious Jew and as a Zionist. Not that I haven’t thought so much about it before or that I wouldn’t be able to explain my position, but still, the article did make feel more clear about some points.
As you might have noticed I formulated my position as a religious Jew and as a Zionist, not as a religious Zionist. There is a reason for that, namely that I differ on my positions between the two, not being a religious Zionist Jew, but rather a religious Jew and a Zionist. Sounds confusing? I know, and I see why. The thing is, I am a Zionist because I believe that Jews, as well as every other people out there, be it Italians, Tibetans, Kurds or Samis, not necessarily based on the expulsion of others, but rather as defining a homeland for them and their’s. I’m not going into so much details about that here, nor about how I differ between ‘people’ (as in German ‘Volkschlag’), ‘ethnicities,’ and ‘races.’ Rather that this is a pragmatic approach, which is not motivated or based on my religious faith. And I am a religious Jew, because I believe in God and that He gave the Torah as a Divine Guidance for His People. I’m not going into details about what I mean by this either, for anyone being curious enough, you are more than welcome to ask.
So on the one hand I am a Zionist, and on the other a religious Jew. The two of those don’t necessarily have to be opposed, but they are differing approaches to how I view myself, my people, the existence of a ‘Jewish’ state, and our relation and responsibilities to God.
I would define the difference between my position, as a Zionist, and a religious Zionist, as a religious Zionist believing that the State of Israel is the beginning of redemption, seeing that this is a Divine Plan, or something the like. In that sense the State of Israel, while not being the Land of Israel (Medinat Yisrael vs. Eretz Yisrael), is inheriting some kind of divinity. That is, as a Jew you are supposed to be loyal to it.
I don’t see it that way, I see the State of Israel as a state, a Jewish one (whatever that means), as I see Denmark as a Christian state, both being secular, but both giving a special place for Judaism and Christianity respectively as the main religions, but not the only religions. Neither do I see the State of Israel as the beginning of redemption, though I certainly pray for its wellbeing, as I did and still do with Denmark, and for the whole humankind. For example, when I pray the ‘Birkat HaMazon,’ the prayer said after eating bread, the Koren Siddur, which I use, has the addition of blessing Israel being the beginning of the Redemption, which I have used as title for this post, though this is in no way standard for the most Siddurim. This addition I don’t pray, though I do pray for the wellbeing of the soldiers in IDF, who are ‘standing guard’ over Israel.
That also mean, which I believe has been the case until now at least, that you never will see me use any religious arguments for Israel’s presence in the West Bank/Yehudah v’Shomron, though I do believe that it is good and right of Jews to live here, but not only Jews, and not necessarily under Israeli authority.
So in conclusion, being a religious Jew and a Zionist, does not necessarily makes you a religious Zionist, though that certainly most often is the case. And, I have to stress, this also mean that I’m leaning to a separation of state and synagogue, letting religion be part of the private sphere of life (not invisible though, nor ignored, on the contrary), at least until the Coming of Mashiah, may it happen speedily in our days, BE”H. Until then I’d rather support a secular state for the Jews and its citizens.