(Photo: Yeshiva University Archives)

The Return to Zion

Rav Soloveitchik on Religious Zionism and the Role of Mizrachi

Beginning in the late 1930s and continuing for several decades, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik delivered the keynote address at the annual conventions of the Mizrachi Organization of America. Delivered in Yiddish, the Rav’s mother tongue, each address was a tour de force of brilliant Torah learning, offering incisive insights into the meaning of Religious Zionism, the State of Israel, and Mizrachi’s critical role in shaping the future of the Jewish people.

Originally published in Yiddish in 2021 by OU Press and Ktav Publishing House under the title Droshes Vegn Shivas Tziyon un Kiyum HaUma, OU Press will soon release The Return to Zion: Addresses on Religious Zionism and American Orthodoxy, an English translation (translated by Shaul Seidler-Feller and Dr. Arnold Lustiger). World Mizrachi is proud to partner with OU Press in publishing this landmark work.

In commemoration of Rav Soloveitchik’s 30th yahrzeit, we are honored to share excerpts from this historic publication.

 

A Call to Return Home

Should we leave the great work of building the Land of Israel, with all of its historical complications and paradoxes and with the immensely significant influence it will exert on the lives of Jews in the Diaspora, in the hands of non-religious youth? At a harat olam hour, in the most critical period of our history, should we hide in caves and shadows? And later groan about the desecration of Shabbat in the Land of Israel?

(“And a Man Wrestled with Him until the Break of Dawn”, May 1946)

The Torah will not find its actualization in the Land of Israel through rabbinical assemblies, nor through advice given by privileged New Yorkers to the fighters on the barricades in Jerusalem, nor by writing flowery articles. Rather, it will be achieved only through participating in the building of the land, by hewing stones and draining swamps, defending cities and colonies, through work and self-sacrifice. Neither Zionist political leaders nor plain intellectuals will impart their seal upon the Land of Israel.

(Jewish Sovereignty and the Redemption of the Shekhinah, June 1948)

One can only exert influence on the Land of Israel through building, creativity, labor, and practical accomplishments in the plain sense of those words (without exegesis) – not through wearying, unhelpful pronouncements. “Carve for yourself two tablets of stone” (Shemot 34:1). Moses! If you want Jews to follow you and to accept the tablets for all time, so that they not break once again, then “carve for yourself ”: hew them on your own, hack the mountains, plant vineyards and orchards, pave roads, build colonies, go to the Negev, protect the Judean hills, stand with your rifle and guard the land. Then “I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered”: I will chisel the Aseret haDibrot on the stones that you have carved. Without the “Carve for yourself,” the Jewish people would not have received the completed tablets, even if the giver were joined by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the preacher Rabbi Soloveitchik.

(Zionism and the Mizrachi from the Perspective of a Raven Head and a Dove Head, April 1954)

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s class at Yeshiva University, 1960. (Photo: Yeshiva University)

The Significance of the State of Israel

I cannot explain it myself, but it is intuitively clear to me that the historical phase that has lasted these past eight or nine years – you can call this the phase of hester panim, in which G-d’s presence is hidden from our sight – has passed. Maimonides understands hester panim as a period when historical events become chaotic, wild, absurd, arbitrary, and cruel; when all rationality and comprehensibility are shed (Moreh Nevuchim III:51). When I remember the entire Nazi era with its animal-like insanity and the casual indifference of the Christian world, I can only describe it using the words of the verses in Parashat Vayelech that Maimonides cited: “Then My anger will flare up against them, and I will abandon them and hide My countenance from them. They shall be ready prey; and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they shall say on that day, ‘Surely it is because our G-d is not in our midst that these evils have befallen us.’ Yet I will keep My countenance hidden on that day” (Devarim 31:17–18). “That day,” the dreadful day of hester panim, lawlessness, and all-consuming anarchy, has passed. Never again will this happen in Jewish history…

True, today we are bleeding profusely in the Land of Israel, the precious blood of “the dear children of Zion” (Eichah 4:2). But these sacrifices are not sacrifices of hester panim, which are not accepted, toward which G-d does not turn – “but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed” (Bereishit 4:5). Rather, they are fragrant offerings, through which we build a glorious future and which bring to the Jewish name honor and praise. Perhaps even today the middat haDin, the attribute of judgment, still prevails, and the Knesset Yisrael suffers and bleeds. But one cannot consider this the hester panim of Treblinka and Dachau. One must always distinguish between hester panim and middat haDin. Hester panim means aimless, crazy sacrifice; middat haDin means purposeful sacrifice. The progression of Jewish history has ceased to be chaotic, insane, and absurd. It now has a sense of purpose and significance. It has a direction and an objective.

(Jewish Sovereignty and the Redemption of the Shekhinah, June 1948)

Let me clarify why I feel so connected to the Mizrachi. 

First, rabbotai, simply as an expression of gratitude, of historical appreciation. “I accounted to your favor the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride – how you followed Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (Yirmiyahu 2:2). The Mizrachi and HaPoel HaMizrachi built the Land of Israel at a time when other religious groups still kept the building of the land at arm’s length. Yes, “You distinguished.” Providence selected them as partners in the great miracle of the redemption of the land, which is being realized now before our very eyes.

I say this not so much with joy as with pain, because I would have preferred that all religious groups would have contributed to the work in which the G-d of Israel is interested – and, seemingly, highly interested. For how else can we explain the great miracle that is the State of Israel? Are you really going to tell me that the Master of the Universe is not building the Land of Israel? Heaven forbid! “Unless the L-rd builds the house, its builders labor in vain on it” (Tehillim 127:1). But who is actually participating in the building? The sinners. Are you really going to tell me that the Master of the Universe is not defending the Land of Israel from all of its enemies? Who is protecting the Land of Israel? The State Department, the Security Council, [John Foster] Dulles, Churchill, Eden? I wish that all Orthodox Jews, from the Neturei Karta to the Rabbinical Council of America, would grasp that the State of Israel, with all of its deficiencies, has accomplished something that no human fantasy could imagine: in a historic way, it has sanctified G-d’s Name in the face of the Christian world.

During the Hitler era, thousands of missionaries and plain theologians, including the great Karl Barth, would regularly claim that the words of the New Testament and the [blood] curse of That Man [Jesus] were being fulfilled. The Jewish people was being obliterated because it had not accepted the Nazarene. Lectures to this effect could be heard on America’s greatest university campuses. Speakers would read aloud chapters from the New Testament and compare them with the facts being reported in the newspapers. I myself had to debate with many Gentiles about this. Jewish boys and girls were being influenced by such messaging. The youth began asking questions, big questions, historic questions. And within the specific climate of the American Jewish community, with its neurotic fear of antisemitism and its glorification of Christianity, in which Reform clergymen played a large part, there loomed the danger of extinction. The shtiblech of Williamsburg and a proclamation by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis would have helped little in this connection. Jews were on the verge of losing their faith in Eternal Israel. 

Do you know who, with a single declaration, negated all of their theological claims and arguments? The people assembled at that late Friday afternoon gathering at which Ben-Gurion presided and which declared Israel’s independence. You know who else? The Jewish army, the girls and boys with their rifles and self-sacrifice. “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt” (Yehoshua 5:9). In fact, they put Christian theology on the defensive. It is an open secret that the opposition to the Land of Israel on the part of the Vatican and enemies from certain quarters in America actually derives from a deep awareness that if the State of Israel remains a reality, part of Christian theology, from That Man down to the great Scholastics, is void. Take away the State of Israel, Heaven forbid, and a wave of assimilation and apostasy, the likes of which we have never seen before, would inundate American Jewry. The Tituses of yesterday and today would once again bellow: “Where is their G-d, the Rock in whom they sought refuge?” (Devarim 32:37; see Gittin 56b). And this cry would echo from one end of the earth to the other. The Mizrachi understood this then, continues to understand it now, and does not allow itself to be deterred or led astray. It deserves credit for this, and I feel that my place is with it.

(Zionism and the Mizrachi from the Perspective of a Raven Head and a Dove Head, April 1954)

In the last two thousand years the Jewish people played no role in the historical arena. Revolutions transpired, worlds have been destroyed and rebuilt – our people played no role; we lived in obscurity, in anonymity. And now, a great miracle happened that our people somehow emerged from the shadows, from the anonymity in which it lived for so long, and is now in the center of the universal stage of historical occurrence…

Chazal said – and it is already in the Bible that we may find this criterion – that redemption related events must excite universal wondering and amazement. They must puzzle the peoples of the earth, they must fascinate them and also frighten them. Many will admire, some will envy, and some will begin to hate the Jewish people with a greater intensity and greater fury, but everybody must be somehow involved in the great events. “Then shall they say among the nations, ‘The L-rd has done great things for them’” (Tehillim 126:2).

(Reflections on the Six-Day War, June 1967)

Rabbi Soloveitchik at his home in Boston, 1945. (Photo: Rabbi Samuel Stollman)

On Secular Zionism

How can the Zionist Organization of America – from which the Land of Israel now demands not only money and political pressure but, more importantly, pioneering spirit, human souls, and practical participation in the building of the land – approach a young American Jew, who has no inkling of the G-d of Abraham, is less familiar with the Bible than the average Protestant, and does not even know about the existence of the Torah or about the most significant events in Jewish history (like the destruction of the Temple), and inspire him with Zionist ideology, calling upon him to sacrifice for the cause? How can the radical movement, the camp of secular Judaism, explain to such an ignoramus, such a heathen, the importance of secular Jewish culture? How can the so-called modern, Americanized Orthodoxy, which stares wide-eyed at Mount Sinai and speaks with angels, cultivate a traditional Jewry in a vacuum of ignorance, in chaos, in which the first, axiomatic ideals and truths do not exist? How can the rabbinic organizations, old and young, speak of the wisdom of the Torah, convene Torah gatherings, debate Torah matters, and assert optimistically that, thank G-d, Torah is surviving and thriving in America, when ninety-nine percent of our generation knows less about Judaism than an educated, cultured Gentile?

(The Letters of Creation: Jewish Axioms and Education in America, October 1944)

It appears that the modern Jew is a victim of the same tragedy suffered by the mighty Shimshon when he, inebriated and lulled by Delilah’s professions of love, revealed the secret of his strength to the seductive Delilah: “No razor has ever touched my head, for I have been a nazirite to God since I was in my mother’s womb. If my hair were cut, my strength would leave me and I should become as weak as an ordinary man” (Shoftim 16:17). Rapt in a state of delight and pleasure on Delilah’s knees, he lost the crown of his head: “She lulled him to sleep on her lap. Then she called in a man, and she had him cut off the seven locks of his head” (16:19). “It shall remain consecrated until the completion of his term as nazirite of the L-rd, the hair of his head being left to grow untrimmed” (Bamidbar 6:5). And when Shimshon sobered from his intoxication, he discovered two things:

First, that the Philistines’ manner of relating to him had not changed. “She cried, ‘Shimshon, the Philistines are upon you!’” (16:20). The seductive Delilah continued ridiculing him. And second, “For he did not know that the L-rd had departed from him” (ibid.). Shimshon could no longer perform the trick of pulling “the tendons apart, as a strand of tow comes apart at the touch of fire” (16:9). No holiness, no “seven locks of his head”; now he was hopeless and despondent. 

The modern-day Delilah – false, seductive European culture, with its assurances and its coquetry, with its professions of love and its secretiveness – has lulled Yisrael Sava to sleep, duped him into divulging his secret, shaved off his mysterious hair, which had connected him with the past and with the future, and begun tormenting him. 

In their encounters with Gentiles, the leaders of the secular Jewish movements can sense that the “seven locks of his head” are missing. All of them, including the Zionist leaders, have, on Delilah’s knees, lost those seven holy, mysterious locks, and without them, “his strength slipped away from him… He awoke from his sleep, thinking he would break loose and shake himself free as he had the other times. For he did not know that the L-rd had departed from him” (16:19–20). The movement to return to Zion, in particular, must possess the seven locks of Samson, for it faces a great battle. And who will rediscover this mysterious hair if not us, the representatives of Orthodoxy? 

We must not fool ourselves; we should not expect any sort of sudden salvation or comfort to come from the nations of the world even after there is peace, once Hitler, may his name be blotted out, and his gang of villains are in Gehenna. We know well the two-faced politics of English governments; our friends in Washington, too, have little understanding of Zionism and of the idea of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. I do not speak here in despairing, pessimistic spirits, Heaven forbid. I am not one to be overly taken with Delilah’s flirtations, nor do I lose resolve when she reveals her true face. I know that the Master of the Universe will fulfill His covenant, and His prophecies have more power than the [1939 British] White Paper. Still, we must be realistic and not adopt foolish, fantastical hopes. “The honor will eventually come” (Nedarim 62a), but the road to redemption will be long and difficult. The question is: how will we hold onto the Jewish masses, who are, unfortunately accustomed to cheap effects and silly sentimentalism? On what can one base an ideology that would enable them to weather all the fluctuations and disappointments? On what? On the Friday night “Shalom Aleichem,” or on [Nathan Alterman’s] “Shir ha-Emek?” 

The Zionists employed a particular strategy in founding their movement to return to Zion. Herzl, too, was tripped up by this. It is the negative method of returning to Zion. On this view, antisemitism is a natural phenomenon, and only the Land of Israel can solve the problem. I am basically in partial agreement with this outlook. There exists an eternal hatred for the Eternal Nation, which neither Sholem Asch’s Nazarene nor the Institute of Jewish Affairs will defeat. But this is a faulty ideological basis for such a powerful movement as that which seeks to return to Zion. 

First, this is an outlook that is foreign to the Anglo-Saxon Jew generally, and to the American Jew specifically, who believes that, notwithstanding various periodic antisemitic outbursts, the majority of the American population will not allow itself to be led astray by antisemitic demagogues. True, the American Jew knows that social antisemitism will always exist, but he does not believe – and I likewise do not believe – in the possibility here of the type of bestial antisemitism that can be found in Europe. Especially after Hitler gets his just deserts, antisemitism will not assume zoological proportions, despite all the dark forces at work in America… 

Morai ve-rabbotai, no great ideological movement can be founded upon dread. It is too lowly an emotion to serve as the basis for great ideals and a national movement. Such an ideology and worldview must draw on more elevated sentiments than fear: on love, on moments of spiritual uplift, on a drive toward holiness…

The ideology of building the land can only be based upon the ideology of the land’s holiness. A Jew who believes in the land’s holiness knows, too, the halachah that the second sanctification of the land in the days of Ezra was in effect “in its own time and for all time” (Rambam, Hilchot Terumot 1:5), and so he cannot despair, for “You, O L-rd, are enthroned forever, Your throne endures through the ages.” Even if many White Papers, filled with antisemitism, seek to shatter the divine throne, they will not prevail. “Hatch a plot – it shall be foiled; agree on action – it shall not succeed. For with us is G-d!” (Yishayahu 8:10).

(The Parchment Is Consumed, but the Letters Fly Free, January 1944)

All of the dreams about a secular Judaism in America have shown themselves to be false, hollow dreams. Not even Zionism will be able to exist here if it takes on a completely secular form. The fact that the second generation of American Jews are committed to Zion despite being distant from Judaism proves nothing. They were raised in Jewish homes. Their parents brought the Zion ideal with them from the old country. As a result, these fundamentally religious sentiments passed to their children. They demonstrate their sense of religious belonging through their loyalty to Zion (“Moses only became wealthy via the waste of the tablets” [Nedarim 38a]). The third generation, which is not frum, already lacks this relationship with the Land of Israel.

(Questions Posed to the Mizrachi as a Servant before the King, November 1955)

Rabbi Hershel Schachter with Rabbi Soloveitchik.

On the Western Infatuation with the Arab Cause

There is a certain tendency among all the great powers to flatter the Islamic world. Europe is in ruins, its culture in decline; it is weak and insecure, and it seeks the favor of the East. Esau joins forces with Ishmael; in the meanwhile, Jacob is entirely repudiated. Whatever the reasons – imperial interests, economic concerns – the Arabs are now the darling child of the Western world. Society ladies prance about them.

(Recognition of the Present and Vision for the Future, June 1945)

The Return to Zion: Addresses on Religious Zionism and American Orthodoxy, soon to be published by OU Press in partnership with World Mizrachi.

The Significance of “Mundane” Zionism

The Jews sanctified the Land of Israel twice, the first time in the days of Joshua and the second in the days of Ezra. When one compares the two eras from a secular-historical standpoint, from a political-economic perspective, the second entry into the land, Ezra’s sanctification, is no more than a pale reflection, a weak echo, of a great and glorious epoch, such that the comparison itself arouses gloom. 

In the days of Joshua, the nation was young, filled with an aggressive, militant spirit, and pounced on the Land of Israel like a youthful desert lion, defeating thirty-one kings, claiming one victory after another… They were proud and youthful, pugnacious and courageous, filled with all the romanticism of a nation stepping out onto the historical stage and enjoying the respect, awe, and admiration of its neighbors. “Dread of you has fallen upon us, and all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before you” (Yehoshua 2:9). 

In the days of Ezra, the ten tribes were entirely absent, having been exiled to Halah and Habor… A segment of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin wanted no part in the return to Zion, the Second Temple, or the redemption. They were happy sitting by their fleshpots in Babylon, Persia, and Media. Cyrus, Darius, Ahasuerus, and the other kings altered their edicts seven times a day, each new declaration repealing the previous one: one moment immigration was allowed, the next, they issued a White Paper halting entry… And the internal situation? Economic hardship and spiritual impoverishment, intermarriage and ignorance, lack of language and tradition. And above all, “we have become a mockery” (Nechemiah 3:36): we have become objects of shame and derision. 

Nevertheless, Maimonides, the great Jewish teacher, the pillar of the halachah, comes along and rules that “the first sanctification… was in effect in its own time but not for all time,” whereas the “second sanctification is in effect forever, both in its own time and for all time” (Hilchot Terumot 1:5). You hear? Joshua’s sanctification via capture and military victory, undertaken in an unbridled, gushing, enterprising spirit of conquest, when proud prophets, warriors, elders, students of our teacher Moses, and heroic legions seized the Land of Israel, was no more than a temporary phenomenon: Nebuchadnezzar abrogated it. But Ezra’s sanctification, which came about through daily, small-scale, unheroic, painstaking work, through disappointments and despair, intercession with and requests from the authorities, insults and humiliation – that remains forever: neither Titus nor Hadrian, neither Islam nor the Crusades, neither Turkey nor even the [British] Colonial Office can undo it…

Joshua’s sanctification was not the result of hardship but of historical success during glorious moments of Jewish history – none of which is forever. Ezra’s sanctification, by contrast, came about through occupation, settling the land, through the word of G-d, through adversity, martyrdom, spiritual pain and despair, mockery and derision. Ezra’s sanctification emerged from crisis, tribulation, and subjugation. Redemption born of suffering, the messiah born following birth pangs, are eternal – sanctification for all time!

(Recognition of the Present and Vision for the Future, June 1945)

Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Samuel Belkin at a Yeshiva University Rabbinic Almuni conference, 1966.

On Mizrachi’s Mission

The responsibility for leading the fight lies with the Mizrachi. The Mizrachi is the only Orthodox party that can gather around itself a respectable, organized Orthodoxy. Already at the 1939 convention in Atlantic City I stated that the Mizrachi Organization must become a powerful instrument not only for the building of the land but also for the building of the nation. For we find ourselves faced with Achad Ha’am’s question: what happens “if the nation is destroyed?” 

The Mizrachi must be the great Orthodox party that represents the interests of Yisrael Sava with dignity. And if this was true in 1939, before the destruction, how much more so today, when the parchment has been consumed but the letters fly free and must be rescued? Neither the Jewish radicals nor the formalistic Hebraists will save the historical Jew, Yisrael Sava, from destruction; only Torah-true Jews and the tradition will do so. Great and expansive will be Orthodoxy’s work in all areas. 

(The Parchment Is Consumed, but the Letters Fly Free, January 1944)

The difference between the Zionist Organization and the Mizrachi is this: while the first can maintain its financial-political apparatus without any ideology, because there are certain factors like antisemitism, the Jewish sense of inferiority, fractiousness, and anxiety that contribute to the upkeep of a dry party skeleton, the Mizrachi cannot expect the same. The Mizrachi movement cannot count on negative factors; it must have positive content, which is the opposite of ignorance…

The Mizrachi ideology cannot harmonize with illiterate piety. Zealotry that is not based on true Jewish axioms (not to speak of a deep, colorful worldview) absolutely cannot join the Mizrachi. Piety that constantly revolves around questions of shaving one’s beard during Sefirah and eating American cheese or ice cream cannot relate to a movement that dreams of redemption… 

A political party must become a movement – not of traditionalists, conservatives, and status quo men, who are bereft of vision and do not dream, but of pioneers and trailblazers, visionaries and those endowed with ruach ha-kodesh. We must shatter the petty traditions of ignorance, passivity, indifference and skepticism, unwitting resignation and plain old cowardice. Kingship, redemption, and Torah are bound up with the ideal of prophecy, with the music of the future, of the “lyres, timbrels, flutes, and harps,” with the notes of “the days to come” (Yishayahu 2:2), with the dream that “the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” This movement must fulfill Samuel’s words: “The spirit of the L-rd will grip you, and you will speak in ecstasy along with them; you will become another man”!

(The Letters of Creation: Jewish Axioms and Education in America, October 1944)

I wish to speak here of the Mizrachi as a Torah movement, for otherwise neither the Mizrachi nor any other Jewish movement has a future. Ignorance destroys not only traditional, positive Judaism but even Jewish heresy and rebellious sinfulness. Soon, we will have neither Talmudists nor rebellious sinners, and the loss of both of them upsets me. With respect to Torah scholars, you understand: without them, a Jewish world is completely inconceivable to me. But I would want rebellious sinners as well, because they demonstrate best that Judaism is alive and that there is a Being against whom to rebel. I think highly of the Wise Son, as well as of the Wicked Son. I am always afraid of the Simple Son (in general, one must fear a stupid person) and of the Son Who Does Not Know How to Ask. Both the Wise Son and the Wicked Son can build the Land of Israel. The Simple Son and the Son Who Does Not Know How to Ask, however, will not succeed in doing so.

(Recognition of the Present and Vision for the Future, June 1945)

Morai ve-rabbotai, happy are we that we merited to see that today the Knesset Yisrael can interpret “the great, mighty, and awesome” according to its simple meaning, in the sense of physical and political might and heroism. This is an atchalta di-ge’ulah. Today, together with Moses, we sing: “I will sing to the L-rd, for He has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver He has hurled into the sea” (Shemot 15:1). The heroes of the Land of Israel sanctify G-d’s Name. But not for one moment can we forget that “the great, mighty, and awesome” must become an expression and manifestation of a much higher idea, and this idea must not be lost. Otherwise, it will turn into idolatry, the deification of the state. Therein lies the principal task of the Mizrachi. 

(Jewish Sovereignty and the Redemption of the Shekhinah, June 1948)

Rabbi Soloveitchik, Rabbi Chaim Heller and Rabbi Theodore Adams.

On Israel vs. the Diaspora

Unfortunately, the way modern Judaism, even frum Judaism, is developing in the Diaspora, it is missing this three-dimensional perspective. It is limited to lines and planes. Judaism has become fossilized in the beit midrash, cemetery, and ceremonial forms. I am not saying that these things are unimportant, but they are very far removed from reflecting the beauty and splendor within Judaism. This is Judaism without gusto, profundity, and loftiness – flat, monotone, and gray. Is it any wonder that the younger generation does not want to hear from us, and it is difficult to entice its members to come to the synagogue? The young people going out into the street, full of sociopolitical problems and doubts, philosophical questions and queries, hear nothing from our modern rabbis and non-Orthodox clergymen but a couple hackneyed phrases and banal sayings. Why is that? Judaism, instead of being a worldview, has become a cult religion, that which Judaism despises to no end.

In my opinion, it is here that the religious conception of the ideology of the return to Zion lies hidden. I do not refer simply to the mitzvah to settle the land or to other mitzvot connected with the land. Much more depends on this: the entire character of Judaism and its essence. Will Judaism remain a unidimensional line or a two-dimensional plane, or will it be transformed into an all-encompassing space – long, wide, and deep, with distant horizons and unending boundaries – in a word: a true worldview? I believe that, even with the best of intentions, Diaspora Jewry cannot accomplish this. Observance can exist but not a multidimensional Jewish society.

(“And a Man Wrestled with Him until the Break of Dawn”, May 1946)

In the Land of Israel, the Orthodox have a fighting chance. The character of Jewish life there will not crystallize in two or three years. It will be generations before a portrait of the Yishuv will come into focus. And if we want the foundations of social life in the Land of Israel to be Torah foundations, then we can fight ideological battles with the secularists. That is how the prophets behaved, and that is how Chazal behaved in the Second Temple period. In a Gentile environment, by contrast, you have no ability whatsoever to wage war against idolatry. On the contrary, go fight the spirit of Christmas, which inundates every house here… Here, you can shut yourself off, isolate yourself from the street, but you cannot fight it. In the Land of Israel, you have an opportunity to fight for Judaism.

(“He Sets His Sights on Wisdom, Knowledge, and Skillful Enterprise”, January 1948)

We often say that we, the Jews of exile, dare not mix ourselves into the affairs of the Land of Israel. This is simply because, in a formal-legal sense, we are citizens of another country! On a social-philosophical level, too, will the Jew in exile have nothing to do with the political nation-state that, over the course of time, will appear in the Land of Israel? Does this mean that there will be a split in the Knesset Yisrael, and we will be classified into two groups? Heaven forbid! The Knesset Yisrael must remain united. “And who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth?” (Shmuel II, 7:23).

(Jewish Sovereignty and the Redemption of the Shekhinah, June 1948)

 

● Special thanks to Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff for providing photos of Rav Soloveitchik for this article.

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