Modern Orthodoxy vs. Religious Zionism (part 1)

Modern Orthodoxy and Religious Zionism are not the same thing. There is a lot of overlap but they are not the same.

Modern Orthodoxy, as I understand it (and possibly even practice it), answers the question: “How can I be an Orthodox Jew and also be a Modern person?”, or, in it’s more sophisticated version “How does Modernity and the changes it brings with it impact Orthodoxy?”.
Being a Modern Orthodox person means understanding that developments of Modernity can and should impact us as Orthodox people as they too are part of how Hashem “speaks to us”. That means that the shift in the role of women in society should impact Jewish thought and practice. It means that the role academia plays in modern life should impact the way we view general studies. It also means that the development of Zionism and The State of Israel – also products of Modernity – should impact our religious outlook and observance.
But, at the end of the day Modern Orthodoxy is dialectical. It is constantly trying to balance conflicting ideals and resolve contradictions. “Torah vs. Science”, “Rights vs. Obligations“, “Individual vs. Communal”, “Consumerism vs. Idealism“, “Self Actualization vs. Self Sacrifice”, “Universalism vs. Particularism“, “Heteronomous Morality vs. Autonomous Morality“, etc…
Modernity and Orthodoxy are separate, dialectical entities, which need to be reconciled and many a time this split manifests itself in a schizophrenic religious identity. This also accounts for Modern  Orthodoxy’s continuous decline in the US; it is too indecisive, too contradictory, too unsure of itself as all to often by trying to be “also this and also this” it ends up being not enough of either.
The question Religious Zionism is answering, on the other hand, is “How does Modernity serve as a vehicle for the realization of Judaism?”
Religious Zionism, is not at its core, dialectical. I can best describe it in the first person.

I don’t know myself as a Jew without Zionism and I don’t know myself as a Zionist without Judaism. I don’t know myself as a Jew without Zionism, as the return of Am Yisrael to history and the rebirth of the State of Israel serve as one of the foundations of my belief in Hashem and Jewish commitment.
I don’t know myself as a Zionist without Judaism, as Torah and 2000 years of Jewish prayer and observance serve as the justification for our return to the land, for what has been – and still needs to be – achieved.
The two are so intertwined that they are one in the same and – for me – indistinguishable.

The yearning and motivation to return to the Land of our Forefathers, to be sovereign and have a national identity there, are not a product of Modernity, just expedited and executed by it.
The relationship between “Religious” and “Zionism”, therefore, is not dialectical rather that of synthesis. They inform, enhance and empower each other as they are one in the same.
The Modern Orthodox Jew finds himself torn between two worlds while the Religious Zionist Jew lives in a (philosophical) state of unity.

Based on all this, a Modern Orthodox Jew, by definition, would be a Zionist but a Religious Zionist would not necessarily be of a Modern orientation.
As stated at the beginning of this post, there is a lot of overlap between the two philosophies. People can comfortably prescribe to both and many do, as they are by no means contradictory.
That have been said, understanding the differences between them can explain many of the tensions and issues being debated in the public sphere of these communities both in Israel and North America. I hope to expound on them in a future post.
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6 responses to “Modern Orthodoxy vs. Religious Zionism (part 1)

  1. Anonymous

    so if religious Zionism is one and the same why do we have two different words to describe what is essentially, in your words, the same thing?
    further, 250 years ago, would a religious person be lacking in his yiddishkiet because Zionism didn't exist yet?
    finally, is a frum person who does not consider himself a Zionist lacking in his yahadut in your eyes?

  2. Dear Anonymous, thank you for your question. I value the discussion.
    Regarding your questions:
    1. I don't see myself as a “religious Zionist”. I see myself as a Jew. Period. “Religious Zionism” isn't a “real” term, just as “Orthodoxy”, “Frum” or “Yeshivesh” aren't. There is no Halachik definitions to any of these terms. They are terms we make up about ourselves (and more commonly others make up about us) to distinguish ourselves from the “other”, whoever that “other” may be.

    2. Zionism as in the yearning to physically return to the land of Israel as a fundamental aspect of what Torah and Yahadut are, has always existed, including 250 years ago. It just hadn't materialized into a political force yet.

    3. Again, depends what you mean by the word Zionism. I will put it in the following way – if a Frum person does not recognize that the State of Israel is a monumental religious event of enormous religious significance and therefore feel gratitude to Hashem for it he is – at best – delusional about understanding reality, or – at worst – Kofer in Ma'as'e Hashem and, in my eyes, no different than a Mechalel Shabbat BeFarhesya who is denying the acts of Hashem in Ma'as'e Bereshit.
    To what is this similar? to a person who because of his disorderly conduct was thrown off a passenger train. He sits huddled in the cold snow praying for another train to come by. As the hours go by he begins to imagine the big, beautiful and luxurious train that will save him from the cold. As the hours continue and his condition worsens – the more beautiful and even magical the savior train becomes. Eventually, a simple train comes by, slowing down when the conductor sees the man. “jump on” calls the conductor. “I'm waiting for a REAL train”, yells back the man. The train is long, with many, many cars but the man refuses to jump on. He's gotten used to the cold. He's grown quit comfortable in it. He knows he was on his way somewhere else initially but prefers to stay where he is saying “I'm waiting for a REAL train to come and get me”…
    Like I said – somewhere between delusional and the worst kind of ungratefulness.
    I am Melamed Zchut, though, that even someone Frum can be a Tinok Shenish'Ba…

    I hope this clarifies my opinion a bit better and welcome the continued discussion!

  3. Anonymous

    The way you place this particular mitzva on a pedestal is indicative of how unbalanced the Torah can become when it is twisted by holding onto preconceived opinions. It is also indicative when you look at how the the rest of the Torah is kept by the community who claims to keep this one so well. just look at the state of tzenius, limmud hatorah or even shmiras shabbos that you used as an example. The blatant amhaaratzus in sectors of this part of klal yisroel would be sad if it wasn't so tragic!
    What I am saying is, if the shiras hamitzvos of ALL 613 along with all the drabonos etc. would be le'tiferes then if you would then say yishuv haaretz is on the level of shabbos, which the chofetz chaim says is the “store sign” of a yid, then I can hear your opinion even if I might not agree. sadly, tragically it's not. it's somewhere between a delusional and the worst kind of yahadus!
    A second point, while you may express any opinion of myself and others like me, you mustn't forget that there were many great gedolim of the calibre of Reb Yoel of Satmer zatzal etc who held the opinion that zionism is an mitigated disaster for am yisroel. I would be interested if your last part you wrote about such people was meant to include these gedolim as well? I would hope not, as that would be equivalent me saying such things about gedolim like Harav Kook zatzal.
    I am Melamed Zchus, though, that even someone Mizrachi can be a Tinok Shenish'Ba…
    Zei gezunt (excuse the Yiddish) and a'gut voch (I hope you survived the snow!)

  4. Anonymous

    one correction, it should have said “unmitigated”

  5. 1. I don't see it as an individual Mitzvah. That would be like saying that emphasizing Shmirat Shabbat is making Shmirat Torah unbalanced. I'm not just talking about the individual Mitzvah of Yishuv Ha'aretz. I'm talking about much, much more than that. I'm talking about the fact that when the first Jew was spoken to for the first time he was told to go to Israel because only there can the destiny of Am Yisrael in the world can be fulfilled. I'm talking about the fact that a third of Shmone Esre talks about the return to, or the building of, Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalaim. I'm talking about a massive chunk of Torah being completely irrelevant because people choose to remain in Galut when all they need to do is hop on a plane. Mitzvat Yishuv Ha'aretz is a Nafka Mina of this as well. For a longer explanation of my understanding of this see here:
    It's a bit long (and a bit more extreme) but clarifies how I see it.
    I'm Moch'e on your characterization of what you call the “Mizrachi” community. I'm not sure who and how you are trying to generalize such a diverse group. The extremes that exist in what is called the Tadi Le'Umi” world are no less than the ones that exist in the Charedi world, possibly even more. You have everything from Tzniut standards that are similar to those of Me'ah She'arim (in Yishuvim in the Shomron) to extremely lax standards (in the Kibbutz HaDati). You have almost every variant of Hakpada in a community you are trying to paint in a unifying brush.
    You either are not familiar with many people from this community and are relaying what other people have told you, are stuck in a reality of 30 years ago or are making it up. It is Hotz'at Shem Ra of the worst kind – on a Tzibur. The amount of Torah institutions, Torah that is being learnt, Sefarim being written, Chessed organizations (geared at all of Am Yisrael), etc… in this “community” do not fall (and in some areas surpass) what is being done in any other community.

    2. Greater people than the Satmer Rav have made greater mistakes. Especially when it comes to Eretz Yisrael. For example – The Meraglim. Datan and Aviram. Korach. All tremendous Talmidei Chachamim. Even so, they made grave mistakes that caused tremendous casualties, in body and spirit, to Am Yisrael.
    And see what the Or HaChaim HaKadosh says on VaYikra 25, 25 about the mistakes the future Gedolim will make regarding not returning to Eretz Yisrael.
    I'm not necessarily saying that this is the case of the Satmer Rebbe, as it is not for me to judge others, let alone a Talmid Chacham of his caliber. I bring it just to prove that the mere fact that he was a Gadol doesn't – in any way – make him immune to making massive mistakes, especially when it comes to Eretz Yisrael.

    Shavu'a Tov to you as well!

  6. Pingback: Modern Orthodoxy Vs. Religious Zionism (Part 2) | Torah & Judaism Today

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