The drive toward moral and political leadership is a long-term trend in Religious Zionism and essentially grows out of the fundamental identity dilemma that characterizes this sector. This dilemma derives from the confrontation of traditional Orthodox Jews with modern Jewish nationalism as the organizing principle of Jewish life. Those groups that carried the Jewish religion as the organizing principle of Jewish life can react to this challenge in one of the following ways:
- One can oppose and reject modern Jewish nationalism.
- One can assign to it a limited instrumental meaning and thereby attempt to enable it to coexist with traditional Judaism.
- One can attempt to effect an integration and unification of religion and modern nationalism. It should be stressed that this is not a return to the traditional conflation of religion and peoplehood (though its proponents sometimes want to present it as such), but an attempt to integrate religion with the ideas of modern nationalism and its institutional structures such as the modern nation-state.
The response of Religious Zionism has been to integrate and unify traditional Orthodox Judaism with modern nationalism. This attempt at integration has been gradual and long term. In the first stage, the Religious Zionist implemented the unification of religion and nationalism at the local and communal level – especially in Religious Zionist kibbutzim and moshavim. It was only in the late 1950s that they started to think about implementing it on the state-wide political level as well, with the emergence of “the generation of the state,” who were organized into the Young Mizrachi Faction within the National Religious Party. This generation was socialized after the creation of the state in 1948 with the state educational system and the IDF playing decisive roles. In the late 1950s, the Young Mizrachi faction began to think about Religious Zionism not as minor partner to Mapai, which politically and ideologically led the Israeli state and society, but as an alternative to Mapai (or part of an alternative) with a different political and ideological vision, one that married religion and nationalism.3 The contemporary Jewish Home Party and its leadership continue this attempt to unify religion and nationalism.
This association with nationalism has resulted in a transformed Jewish theology. At the center of this theology stands the ascription of religious meaning to material, secular, pursuits and activities. Especially those constitutive of nation-building, such as politics, settlement, defense and economic and cultural production.4
The most definitive expression, of this initial drive to morally and politically lead the entire state of Israel was the project of the incorporation and settlement of the Greater Land of Israel. Though the Religious Zionist community provided the most active elements in this project and elaborated its ideological formulation, it did not conceive of it as a project of the Religious Zionist sector alone. On the contrary, they conceived of it as expressing the inner, general will of the entire nation. With the accession of the Likud government in 1977, the settlement of the Greater Land of Israel became official government policy.