The Religious Significance of Israel

Rabbis Kook and Soloveitchik offered differing views on what the modern state means theologically.

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"That Israel is being subjected to severe trials in its formative years does not negate the miraculous manifestations of Divine favor which have been showered upon the state. Clearly, this is middat ha-din, not hester panim."

In his essay "Kol dodi dofek" ("The voice of my beloved knocks"), Soloveitchik utilizes the Purim story, in which natural events are appreciated as expressions of God's providential design, for understanding the theological significance of contemporary events, just as the tradition understood that God worked His redemption for Israel through the ac­tions of King Ahasuerus, so too we can sense God acting once again in history through the United Nations' decision on the partition of Man­datory Palestine. Soloveitchik once again hears the voice of his beloved God in the events of contemporary Jewish history that have changed the social and political condition of the Jewish people.

For Soloveitchik, the state of Israel has made Jews less vulnerable to physical persecution. It has also aroused a new sense of Jewish identity among Jews who were being carried along on a strong current of assimilation. The rebirth of the state of Israel has shattered the Christian theological claim of God's rejection of the Jewish people as witnessed by their endless suffering and wandering. These and other factors are strong indications for Soloveit­chik of God's providential involvement in contemporary Jewish history.

Soioveitchik pleads with the community to see in the rebirth of Israel an invitation by God to a new and deeper relationship of love. We must "open the door" to go out to meet our Beloved. We begin to demon­strate our responsiveness to God's invitation to renew the love affair between Israel and God by settling the Land and by becoming respon­sible for the political and economic development of the Jewish state.

For Soloveitchik, the shared suffering and common historical fate of the Jewish people represent what he calls brit gorul, a covenant of des­tiny, which is the foundation for the important halakhic category of collective responsibility (kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh). Care for others, feelings of empathy, and a sense of solidarity are not secular categories in Soloveitchik's appreciation of halakhic Judaism. Indeed, the cove­nant of Sinai requires that the covenantal community have a deep sense of solidarity. Political action that seeks to achieve a secure home for the Jews, thereby giving dignity and new vitality to Jewish communal life and identity, thus acquires religious significance and can he understood as mirroring God's providential love for Israel. Soleveitchik's hope is that the community in Israel will find the way to move from a shared covenant of destiny to it shared covenant of meaning, brit ye'ud, based on the halakhic framework of Torah.

Soloveitchik and Kook have provided conceptual frameworks within which religious Jews can attribute religious significance to the rebirth of Israel initiated by people in revolt against their tradition. Soloveitchik's framework assumes the halakhic significance of a shared covenant of destiny and adopts the model of Purim in which God can manifest Himself through the natural unfolding of historical events. Kook's offers a dialectic messianic understanding of Jewish history and of Zionsism.

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Rabbi David Hartman

Rabbi David Hartman is the founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He also served as a professor of Jewish thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a visiting professor at the Universities of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles.