Chairman Weiss: Orthodoxy and the State of Israel

(originally published March 18, 2022 / 15 Adar II 5782)

The Orthodox Jews are by far the biggest and strongest group of Jews who support the State of Israel. Within Orthodoxy, however, there is a theological difference of opinion as to whether the State of Israel is the beginning of the redemption—and whether one supports this state, or, as they describe it, that they support Eretz Yisrael—the Land of Israel—but not the state.

Before Israel became a state, it is likely that a vast majority of Orthodox rabbis did not think the Zionist Jews would be successful in obtaining a country. Their reasoning was based on the fact that so many of the Zionists were not religiously observant and some of them even took on Zionism but dropped their observance.

The first chief Ashkenazi rabbi of what later became Israel was Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook. He became a leader of those rabbis who saw the Zionists in a much more positive light and became de facto head of the Religious Zionist movement.

What Rav Kook saw was there was something the Zionists had that was far greater than their religious observance, which was their settling of the land of Israel despite the poverty at the time and their willingness to risk their lives and fight for a Jewish state. Jewish law says that if someone dies fighting for Israel or by being attacked by anti-Semites, they go straight to heaven, as they are considered holy—regardless of whether they were Sabbath observant.

Sadly, too many Orthodox Jews in Israel not only don’t have their kids serve in the Israel Defense Forces, but they further criticize such service and fail to give thanks to the soldiers who are risking their lives to defend all citizens in the state, including themselves.

Rabbi Berel Wein famously said that the theological debate over who was right about the secular Zionists was ended with the success of Israel’s War of Independence against overwhelming odds and the creation of the State of Israel. A leading British general of World War II had predicted that the state would not last more than two weeks after David Ben-Gurion’s famous proclamation on May 14, 1048.

Israel had no allies at the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel, against overwhelming odds, miraculously destroyed virtually the entire Egypt and Syrian air forces. Israel reclaimed the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as Judea and Samaria, in the war that lasted only six days.

Israel is now a top-10 military power and an economic and technological power, as well. On the country’s 69th birthday, then-Vice President Mike Pence called Israel a miracle at an official administration event that I attended.

Israel is the biggest supporter of Torah study in the world, and Torah study is at its greatest level since the 40 years the Jews spent in the desert after receiving the Torah. Despite all of these miracles that were clearly the result of the actions of God and the great contribution of the Israeli government to Judaism, many Orthodox Jews speak negatively about the state and do not celebrate its miraculous victory in 1948 or that in 1967.

The Talmud tells us that King Hezekiah was a candidate to be the Messiah, but he failed to thank God and say the thanksgiving prayer of Hallel after God struck Sennacherib’s army and destroyed it overnight while it surrounded Jerusalem.

Being Orthodox means seeing God’s hand in the world, and not just for oneself, but for the Jewish people as a whole. Rabbi Aryeh Leib, son of the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hacohen, writes in his memoirs that his father donned his Shabbat clothing upon hearing the news of the British Balfour Declaration that favored a Jewish state and stated that “the matter (of Jewish redemption) has now begun and we should be careful not to ruin this opportunity.”

The creation of the State of Israel and winning back the Temple Mount and Western Wall, as well as the burial places of the forefathers and foremothers of the Jewish people, is a far greater miracle than the Balfour Declaration.

Israel has further experienced a 10-fold growth rate and has seen much of the fulfillment of the prophetic ingathering of the exiles; there are now more than 6,000,000 Jews in Israel, despite there having been only 600,000 at its founding.

It took the Vatican until 1993 to recognize Israel. It is about time that those who are Orthodox but who do not celebrate the extraordinary creation of the Jewish state only a few years after the Holocaust—and the amazing miracle of the victorious Six-Day War—change their attitude and see God’s hand in these successes and celebrate these days.

The State of Israel is not perfect and has made some terrible decisions, but overall, it has done much good and should be judged in the same favorable way we are supposed to judge each other. It is obvious that with all the miracles that have occurred for Israel, God is surely judging Israel favorably, so we should do so, as well.

In the story of the holiday of Purim, which we celebrate this week, Haman tells his wife, Zeresh, about his despondency at having to lead Mordechai through the city square, proclaiming, “This is what is done for the man whom the king especially wants to honor.”

She extraordinarily responds, “If Mordechai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of Jewish descent, you will not prevail against him, but will undoubtedly fail before him.”

Zeresh saw God’s hand and predicted her husband Haman’s ultimate demise, even while he was still the second most powerful person in the country. It is about time we all see and celebrate the far more open miracles of the State of Israel’s formation.

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