For the Land Shall Be Full of Judaism

The State of Israel, does indeed have major accomplishments to its credit in all areas, and this remarkable success is a cause of wonder across the globe. Without going into detail here, this little country has become an international empire in several fields. And yet its worldview, even today, is diametrically opposed to the concept of am haTorah, “the people of the Torah,” which is itself the secret of our survival.

Seventy-five years! This is indeed a moment to pause and reflect on the time that has gone by, and perhaps to ask what a Jewish state actually is.

Perhaps it would be easier to ask the inverse question: What is a Jewish state not?

Despite all the fascinating vicissitudes the state has undergone since its establishment, or perhaps because of them, those of us who are haredim lidvar Hashem – who anxiously observe the word of God – remain divided about the Zionist ideology embedded in the state’s foundations. It is a worldview according to which the establishment of a state for the Jews is in and of itself the sole solution to the Jewish people’s problems and a remedy for its two millennia of suffering among the nations. According to this worldview, the very fact of having returned from the abnormality of exile to the normality of a people living in its land will make this people like all the other nations of the earth.

And we disagree with this. Completely.

The State of Israel, thank God, does indeed have major accomplishments to its credit in all areas, and this remarkable success is a cause of wonder across the globe. Without going into detail here, this little country has become an international empire in several fields. And yet its worldview, even today, is diametrically opposed to the concept of am haTorah, “the people of the Torah,” which is itself the secret of our survival.

The great rabbis of recent generations, both before and after the founding of the state, fought the Zionist idea unequivocally, viewing it as a danger to the Jewish people’s continued existence. For there is no real difference between the unprecedented mass assimilation of Jews around the world and a collective assimilation within a state whose foundations are not those of the Torah given at Sinai. A Jewish state whose legal system, even after 75 years, is that of the nations of the world; a state where the removal of Shabbat observance from the public realm has lately become a liberal ideal – a flag waved by those holding the reins of power; and more. Moreover, the country’s entire way of being is not Jewish, despite the loud assertions that it is a Jewish and democratic state.

Democratic – perhaps. Jewish – certainly not, although most of ha’am hayoshev b’Zion, the people of Zion, despite not being fully Torah-observant, is traditional and wants to remain Jewish. Nevertheless, the people have only limited influence on the blatantly secular apparatuses of power and on the media and the media’s “accomplices,” who aggressively strive to shape our entire mode of being in the image of their non-Jewish agendas. Let us not dwell here on these painful subjects.


Despite the vehement opposition voiced by Maran (Our teacher and rabbi) the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Kagan) zatzal (of righteous memory), by his student, the holy gaon (genius) Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman HY”D (may God avenge his blood), by the great rabbi of our generation, Maran the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz) zatzal, and by all the other sages of the Torah and of Hasidut – who, again, regarded the existence of a Zionist state in Eretz Israel as a spiritual danger – it is interesting to look at how they expressed themselves on the topic when the historical events that caused the British Mandate for Palestine to collapse brought us to the point of no return at which the state was founded.

Thus I recall a statement by the Chazon Ish, after independence was declared, to the effect that although the state’s establishment was a chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name, as its foundations were ones of denial of the Torah, nevertheless, at the historic juncture of 5708 [1948] the alternative to David Ben-Gurion proclaiming statehood could, Heaven forbid, have been the annihilation of the Yishuv by the Arab rioters and the Arab armies – and this, said the Chazon Ish, was not in accordance with the Divine will.

The State of Israel thus became an inevitability. The Chazon Ish added, however, that this state would live by the sword from without, and by discord from within. Although some saw this additional remark by the Chazon Ish as a malediction, a curse that such would be the state’s destiny, this was, of course, not the case. Close associates of the Chazon Ish at the time explained to me that he believed this would be the state’s reality – not as a curse, but to ensure that people wouldn’t think the redemption had come and, with it, tranquility. The ongoing turbulence that would mark the state’s history, particularly in the security sphere, would remind everyone that the redemption had yet to arrive and that we should continue to await it.

The Chazon Ish’s fierce opposition to Zionism and to the Zionist state was completely separate from his concern for the Jewish Yishuv in Eretz Israel. Despite the Zionist state’s ascendancy, it never for a moment occurred to him that we should, God forbid, leave Eretz Israel and not live here. And when the holy Admor of Satmar zatzal quoted Maimonides’s teaching that it is forbidden to live in a state whose residents are evil and that one should flee to the desert, the Chazon Ish answered: “The batei midrash (study halls) and the yeshivot are themselves the deserts to which we flee.”

And not only that. When Ben-Gurion wanted to draft Haredi girls into the army at all costs and the Chazon Ish launched an all-out war against this plan, the climate in Israel was harsh. There were publicists in the Haredi press who wondered aloud whether we would have no choice but to leave Eretz Israel. The Chazon Ish was far from favoring such an idea. To the contrary, those who asked him whether it was a propitious time to immigrate to Eretz Israel, he would respond: “Nothing has changed that impedes aliyah.” That is, the struggle we are waging against the danger of military conscription is indeed a struggle but is completely unrelated to the obligation to live in Eretz Israel.

Another thing: Rabbi Mendel Kasher arrived during the period of the great struggle and toured the entire country. Afterward he visited the Chazon Ish, expecting him to say something about the horrible situation, but to his surprise, Maran said to him: “You’ve surely seen how the words of Caleb, son of Jephunneh and Joshua, son of Nun – ‘The land […] is an exceeding good land’ – are being fulfilled to the utmost.”

Even before the founding of the state, while discussions about its establishment were underway at the end of the British Mandate, the gaon Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zatzal, head of the Ponevezh Yeshiva, whom we remember with fear and trembling, enthusiastically declared that a state was going to be created. He saw this as the imperative of the hour: The situation of the small Haredi community was terrible. Its young people were flocking to the underground movements fighting the British. Others were enraptured by the Zionist ideals of settlement and conquering the wilderness. Yeshiva study declined to a worrying degree. “If a state is established,” the Rabbi said, “things will calm down and our youth will return to the yeshivot to study.”

An interesting anecdote shows the degree to which concern for the entire Jewish people governed the hearts of the Torah giants entrusted with the nation’s leadership. I heard this anecdote from a Haredi functionary who traveled from Eretz Israel to Marienbad (in today’s Czech Republic) to serve as a delegate to the great Agudath Israel congress before World War II. One of the issues most passionately debated at this congress was that of the state being founded by the Zionists in Eretz Israel, following the Peel Commission’s decision to establish two countries in the land, a Jewish one and an Arab one. Tempers flared. One of the most fervent opponents of Agudath Israel supporting the establishment of a Zionist state in Eretz Israel was the holy gaon Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman zatzal HY”D, who spoke harshly against the idea, declaring that a Zionist state would manifestly not be a Jewish state.

The aforementioned functionary heard that after the stormy meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Agudath Israel’s “Council of Torah Sages”) on this issue, the Chief Rabbi of Lithuania, Rabbi Avraham Shapiro zatzal, author of the Devar Avraham, asked, “Rabbi Elchonon, if a man tells a woman, ‘Behold you are consecrated to me if a Jewish state is established in Eretz Israel’ and a Zionist state is subsequently established, is the woman consecrated or not?” That is, will the Zionist state be considered Jewish for purposes of the wedding’s validity? Rabbi Elchonon thought for a moment and replied: “That is a question indeed.” The Devar Avraham responded: “Rabbi Elchonon, for one woman this is a question, but for the possibility of saving hundreds of thousands of Jews it is not a question?!”

At that point in time, Hitler, may his name be erased, had already risen to power, and the Jews of Germany were seeking means to escape the coming calamity. Had a Zionist state been established at that time, huge numbers of Jews would presumably have been saved.

These are three of the many examples of how Torah giants displayed responsibility toward the entire Jewish people, despite their opposition to the Zionist movement.


Seventy-five years have passed.

Seventy-five years, and the doctrine promulgated by Maran the Chazon Ish has proven itself. This doctrine held that the war on Zionism should be waged not through violent demonstrations of power or endless confrontations with the authorities, but rather by spreading the light of Torah on all levels. It held that we must wage the war solely by establishing more yeshivot, more Talmud Torahs, and more Bais Yaakov schools. By fostering Torah study to the fullest degree throughout the public realm, as a preventive war.

And although we faced trials in our youth that today’s young people cannot even imagine, the revolution led by the Chazon Ish was successful.

We remember, though with little pleasure, the early years of the state. The Haredi public was an object of contempt. These were the dark times when the Mapai and Mapam governmental machine violently compelled hundreds of thousands of olim to abandon religious observance – mainly immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, but not only them. The Mapai/Mapam elite were perfectly prepared, for instance, to bend Romanian olim to their will as well.

Yeshiva students were small in number and denied civil rights, and most Haredi youth dropped out – and this is without mentioning the spiritual state of some of those who did remain within the walls of the beit midrash.

But little by little the change occurred. Today, as the state marks its 75th year of independence, and despite all the negative aspects of its spiritual condition, Torah study is flourishing from Dan to Eilat. A glorious return-to-religion movement has sprung up from within the secular public. In our younger days we could never have imagined such a development. Only the Ponevezher Rav zatzal believed that this would happen and said that tefillin would have to be prepared for the kibbutzniks as well. Indeed, recent years have seen even some blatantly radical and anti-religious leftist kibbutzim do a U-turn. Incredible as it may seem, this is today’s reality. Synagogues have recently been built on many kibbutzim, with prayer services being held in some of them at least on Shabbatot. There are almost no kibbutzim that don’t have at least one hozer biteshuva or newly religious member.


What, then, is a Jewish state, in my view?

It is, of course, a state that operates according to the Shulchan Aruch, on the basis of Halacha. This, it appears, will happen only once the Messiah has come, but that is not the answer we are waiting for. In the meantime, until the Messiah does come to redeem us, may it happen speedily in our days, we will make do with a different kind of “Jewish state.”

In a Jewish state, young people have to know what being “Jewish” means and what “Judaism” is. If they don’t, on what basis will the state be considered Jewish?

What is the situation today? On the one hand, the vast majority of today’s youth truly have no idea what being Jewish is, and what Judaism is. On the other hand, more and more young people are truly interested and want to understand what those concepts mean.


This is the complex picture of the state in its 75th year. The governmental establishment with its powerful institutions (the Knesset, the judicial system, the military, the media, etc.), as well as various militant and vocal secular population groups, are drifting ever farther from even the most minimal engagement with Judaism. At the same time, however, a movement is underway among the people itself – a gradual return homeward, toward a Jewish state.

Rav Moshe Grylak is Editor-in-Chief of the weekly magazine Mishpacha.