Religious & Zionist

Religious Zionists believe that the Jewish return to Israel hastens the Messiah.

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Kook did not live to see the Holocaust or the founding of the State of Israel. We cannot know how he would have reacted to these events. Kook seemed to believe that the Messiah was coming in his generation, so he did not work out the practical implications of a Jewish state in a non-messianic age. How would he address the complex problems that face the State of Israel today as a Jewish democracy? How would he have responded to the Israeli conquests of 1967? Kook's many followers today in the religious Zionist camp debate his legacy. 

Tzvi Yehudah Kook & Gush Emunim

Kook's son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, believed his father would see the conquest of the entire biblical land of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, as part of the messianic fulfillment. Centered in Merkaz ha-Rav, the yeshiva that his father founded, the younger Kook led a campaign against territorial compromise. 

Following the Israeli conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Tzvi Yehudah Kook's followers were among the leaders of the movement to settle in those areas. His followers founded the political movement Gush Emunim in 1974, following the Yom Kippur War. The party continues to support and build settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and it opposed Israel's return of the Sinai in the 1977 peace treaty with Egypt. Today, members of Gush Emunim are prominent among the settlers whodisobey military commands to evacuate settlements in the territories.


Not all religious Zionists, however, interpret Abraham Isaac Kook's legacy as his son and Gush Emunim do. Rabbi Yehudah Amital established Meimad in 1988 as a religious Zionist alternative to the right-wing Gush Emunim. Meimad believes that the Jewish values of peace and saving lives are more important than Jewish sovereignty over the entire biblical land of Israel.

Although not necessarily opposed to the settlements--Amital himself heads a yeshiva in Gush Etzion, one of Israel's 1967 conquests--Meimad advocates territorial compromise for peace, but does not support the evacuation of Jewish settlements. In addition, Meimad supports the idea of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country--a state that is Jewish in character but does not employ coercive religious legislation.

Diversity & Challenges

Gush Emunim and Meimadare just two parties within the category of religious Zionism today. Religious Zionism faces many political challenges, from the question of the territories to that of how Israel can be both a Jewish and democratic state. There is little consensus among religious Zionists today regarding how to respond to these challenges.

In addition, the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a young man from the religious Zionist movement forced the movement to re-examine its goals and methods. How could a man educated in religious Zionist institutions conclude that murder was religiously justified because the prime minister wanted to trade land for peace? In response to these issues and others, religious Zionism as a political movement is constantly changing.

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Rachael Gelfman Schultz

Rachael Gelfman Schultz holds a B.A. in religion from Harvard University, and completed her M.A. in Jewish Civilization at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a Jewish educator in Karmiel, Israel.