(Photo: Howie Mischel)

And Your Children shall Return to their Own Borders


Anyone who hopes to thoroughly deal with the question of “what is Religious Zionism” and “who is a Religious Zionist” cannot be satisfied with an abstract or theoretical discussion but must rather examine the way Religious Zionism has left its mark on the real-world return of Am Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael in our time and its impact on the Torah, the nation and the Land. 

One great enterprise in which Religious Zionism has played a foundational role and likely would not have occurred without it is the settlement of Yehudah and Shomron (Judea and Samaria). My goal here is not to list the historical or geographical facts of the settlement movement, but rather to examine the idea behind the movement and use it to shed light on the uniqueness of Religious Zionism, which challenges the premises of ‘safe haven Zionism’ and establishes in its stead a new but ancient alternative: ‘redemptive Zionism’.

The settlement of Yehudah and Shomron after the Six-Day War began with a handful of young dreamers who went up, a few months after the war, to reestablish the homes of their parents that were destroyed in Gush Etzion in 1948. Since then, the settlements have grown and flourished from a small, tender seedling to a large enterprise of about 300,000 souls [currently, there are about 500,000 Jews living in these areas – Ed.]. Today, the movement is like a tree with deep and powerful roots which no wind can succeed in uprooting.

Now, after over forty years of successes and failures, achievements and crises, we can look back with satisfaction: we climbed the mountain and succeeded! We merited, with Hashem’s kindness, to withstand the double challenge of Psalm 24: “Who shall ascend the mountain of Hashem, and who shall stand in His holy place?”

Climbing the mountain was certainly difficult. Kol hatchalot kashot, all beginnings are hard and demand effort and courage. But no easier, and perhaps even more difficult, is the task of standing on top of the mountain and holding onto it permanently. Because in a certain sense, kol hatchalot kalot, all beginnings are easy; the enthusiasm and joy of youth inherent in the act of pioneering obscures the hardships and difficulties. But [as the poet Rachel Bluwstein writes,] as the years go by, “the gold is hidden and the peaks have become a plain.” Routine can gnaw at and cool the initial enthusiasm, and those who have climbed the mountain may get lost in smallness and descend from the very mountain they climbed.

This is why the challenge hidden in the second part of the verse is so great: “and who shall stand in His holy place?” For this, not only the precious qualities of “he who has clean hands and a pure heart” are needed, but also the third trait listed in the Psalm: “who has not taken My name in vain, and has not sworn deceitfully,” someone who not only promises but knows how to fulfill, with sacrifice and diligence.

From this perspective, we can say confidently that after forty years of climbing the mountain, the stability and strength of the settlement movement is no longer in doubt. No sane person can any longer claim that this movement is a passing episode of some crazy settlers who jump frantically from hill to valley and who will ultimately come down from the mountain and return to their homes.

In many ways, the settlers of Yehudah and Shomron are continuing the legacy of the great early pioneers of Zionist history, before and and after the founding of the State, who settled the Galil and the Negev, on mountains, lowlands and valleys. Many of the tests these earlier generations had to overcome are being repeated in the settlement of today: the physical difficulties, the security dangers, the societal challenges, the struggle with government institutions, and more. But there are also significant differences, some due to the passage of time, but the most important of which go to the heart of the issues.

The Jewish settlers of Yehudah and Shomron have been defined, through all the years, by a great faith in the word of G-d, who has returned the captives of His people and returned His children to their borders. Its founders saw the Six-Day War as a critical part of the process of our return to the Land and felt deeply that the redemption of Yehudah and Shomron in the war obligated them to act. Not to abandon these lands to our enemies but to settle them, as the prophet Yirmiyahu called out to the people of Israel: “Return, O virgin of Israel, return to these, your cities” (Yirmiyahu 31:20). For the founders of Jewish settlement in Yehudah and Shomron, the Zionist idea does not stem from the need to find a safe haven for the Jewish people, as Theodor Herzl and Max Nordau argued, nor from the desire to rebel against the old world and to build a new society in Israel, as so many from the second and third Aliyot imagined they would do.

The settlement movement was led from the very beginning by the students of the great “seer”, Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook and his son, Rav Tzvi Yehudah, who continued his path. Before the eyes of all those who climbed the mountain were the powerful and penetrating words of Rav Kook in his letter to the leaders of Mizrachi almost 100 years ago. In this letter, Rav Kook strongly rejected the saying that prevailed in the Zionist movement of the time, that “Zionism has nothing to do with religion”. In its place, he wrote that “the source of Zionism is the Tanach” – that only the Tanach gives deeper meaning to Zionism.

More than this, Rav Kook strongly rejected belief in Zionism as a safe haven for Jews: “The desire of a hated nation to find a safe haven from its pursuers is not enough to infuse this extraordinary movement with life. A holy nation and the segulah of all peoples, the lion cub of Judah has awoken from its long slumber and is returning to its inheritance, ‘to the pride of Ya’akov whom He loves’ (Tehillim 47:5)”.

This great spirit beats in the heart of those who climb the mountain and is the inner point that gives life to the settlement movement, even as it has grown tenfold and many of its newer settlers know little of Rav Kook’s words.

It is worth noting that settling the Land with an outlook of Biblical faith did not begin with Gush Emunim in the wake of the Six-Day War but rather is rooted in the accomplishments of the early Religious Zionists, such as the religious kibbutzim and the moshavim of HaPoel HaMizrachi, who built settlements throughout the Land.

At the same time, something significant changed in the wake of the Six-Day War. Before the war, Religious Zionism was merely one voice in the larger Zionist movement. After the war, it became the dominant voice of Zionism, leading the settlement movement and determining the agenda of the Zionist movement. If before the war Religious Zionism served as a bridge between different parts of the nation, after the war it became the bridgehead of the nation, shaping the orientation of the entire State.

The difference between ‘safe haven Zionism’ and ‘redemptive Zionism’ is not merely theoretical, but has several practical consequences. ‘Safe haven Zionism’ is driven by the fear of antisemitism, and so in places where antisemitism is not open or widespread – like America and Canada – there should be no need to promote Aliyah. And if living in Israel should prove to be more dangerous than living in exile, there is no reason to remain here. But according to the worldview of ‘redemptive Zionism’, a Jew has no place in exile. The motivation to make Aliyah is driven by the desire to be attached to the Land and the nation. 

‘Safe haven Zionism’ does not assign any unique importance to the Land, and certainly not to every inch of Eretz Yisrael, and so it will happily give up Yehudah and Shomron, for the Land is merely a means to a different end. By contrast, ‘redemptive Zionism’ sees the attachment of the nation to its Land as having inherent value. The bond between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael is like that between the body and the soul; uprooting Jews from any part of the Land is like cutting a limb off a man’s body.

The most important difference is that ‘safe haven Zionism’ reduces the mission of Zionism to ensuring the physical security of the State, ignoring the question of the State’s Jewish character and culture. But for redemptive Zionists, the ingathering of the exiles and the establishment and security of the State are merely the first steps – each significant in their own right – of the return to Zion. “The song is not over, it has just begun.” We still await many more stages of redemption, establishing a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”, the return of G-d’s shechinah to Zion, the establishment of the Davidic kingdom and the building of the Beit HaMikdash – the key to repairing the world with the kingdom of the Almighty…

The struggle between these two forms of Zionism is at the center of today’s political and social debates. The spiritual and educational world woven and shaped by the settlement movement poses a great challenge to the broader Zionist movement, forcing it to ask itself from whence it came and where it is headed. This is not an easy struggle; the settlement movement has increased passion and Jewish identity, but it has also caused painful reactions and animosity that reached their peak during the forced separation from Gush Katif and other settlements.

Nevertheless and despite everything, the great settlement movement in Yehudah and Shomron serves as a solid rock in the middle of a stormy sea, calling out to our mother Rachel: “Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for your work shall be rewarded, says Hashem; and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, says Hashem; and your children shall return to their borders” (Yirmiyahu 31:15–16).

And to all the weak-minded who seek, G-d forbid, to uproot the children from their borders… [know this]: “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our G-d shall stand forever” (Yishayahu 40:8).


Translation by Rabbi Elie Mischel from “Ha’Agalah HaShlishit: Tzionut HaDatit B’Yameinu Mahu”, 353 (2009).

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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