Sunday, May 6, 2012

Yom HaAtzmaut – A Historical Perspective Part 4

In this post we will discuss the creation of the Mizrachi Movement (MM) and it’s reaction to political Zionism.

The MM (also known as Religious Zionism) was founded in 1909 by Rabbi Jacob Reines. Rabbi Reines was the Rav in Lida (Lithuania) and established a Yeshiva there. As we mentioned in the previous post, the majority of Orthodox Jewry shunned Zionism because of its secular mandate and anti-religious attitudes. Although Mizrachi did not agree with the philosophies of the Zionists, they chose cooperation over rejection.  They felt that working together with the Zionist organization gave the Jews a better chance of achieving their common goal of Jewish statehood and physical security. Consequently the Mizrachi was constantly at odds with the Agudah regarding the tactics, policies, and goals of the religious yishuv (settlement) in pre-1948 Palestine.

In addition to the above, there is another ideological issue that plays a crucial role in the division between Mizrachi and the Agudah. Although most of the contemporary European gedoley Yisrael of the 19th century denied any connection between Zionism and messianism , there were a few individuals who promoted it most vociferously. Chief amongst them was R’ Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and R’ Yehuda Alkalai. Both characterized the ongoing European aliyot to Palestine as the onset of the messianic process. The European leaders of Mizrachi stood side by side with mainstream Orthodoxy in repudiating the “Messiah link” but the ideas of Kalischer and Alkalai were widely adopted by the grass-roots Mizrachi and eventually found expression in the views of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Kook.

Rav Kook was the most influential Rabbinical figure of Religious Zionism in pre-1948 Israel. He arrived in Palestine in the early 1900’s to become rabbi of the Jaffa community. In addition to his superb scholarship he possessed a sterling character and a boundless love for his fellow Jews. Rabbi Kook was convinced that the messianic era was at hand and that all the events unfolding in the Zionist movement were to be seen in that light. Despite the secular, and even atheistic ideologies of its leaders, Rabbi Kook was convinced that yimos haMashiach would change all this. This belief characterized the nature of pre-1948 Mizrachi and governed all of Rav Kook’s actions on its behalf.

In the 1970's the Mizrachi Movement experienced a fundamental split among the rank and file. Some inclined themselves more towards Chareidi ideology while others leaned more towards secularism and modernity. Today there are several groups amongst the Religious Zionists but it is likely that Rav Kook would have been critical of the policies and actions of the more modern form of the Movement.

This completes our historical overview of the events and people which led up to the establishment of the State of Israel. In the following post we will explain the Chareidi opposition (or in most cases just plain indifference) to Yom HaAtzmaut.

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