Moderate Religious Zionism

Beyond the settler movement.

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The popular image of religious Zionists today is the uncompromising, politically far-right settler in the West Bank. However, as the article below shows, there is another side to religious Zionism. 

Religious Zionism can be broadly defined as a form of Zionism that believes Jewish autonomy in Israel has religious, not just political, significance. However, this is an expansive framework, encompassing numerous groups and ideologies.

Traditional religious Zionism--influenced by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook--understood Israel's religious significance in messianic terms. The settling of the Land of Israel was considered a crucial step in bringing the Messiah, and political events were interpreted through this prism. Israel's victory in the 1967 Six Day War seemed to validate previous settlement efforts, and thus awakened messianic fervor.

moderate religious zionismIn addition, the Six Day War expanded Israeli control of "Greater Israel" to include the West Bank and Gaza, which in turn yielded a parallel expansion of the religious-messianic arena: settling the Palestinian-inhabited, Israeli-occupied, territories became the next step in the messianic project for a large group of religious Zionists. The Gush Emunim movement was founded under this platform in 1974.

Religion as Problem & Solution

A year later, Oz Veshalom-Netivot Shalom was established to present a different vision of religious Zionism. As this group sees it, some religious Zionists--including devotees of Gush Emunim--turned the State of Israel into an end in itself, one that incorrectly supercedes the importance of justice, peace, and life itself.

In the 1990s, Netivot Shalom actively supported the peace process. Its leaders advocated for the creation of a Palestinian state and equality for Israel's Arab citizens. Netivot Shalom directed its platform inward as well, as it tried to cultivate better relationships between Israel's secular and religious Jewish communities.

Netivot Shalom believes that religion is at the root of the Arab-Jewish conflict, but also at the root of its solution. Its leaders suggest that religious fundamentalism is "the greatest threat to possible coexistence" and thus, "the only effective counter arguments would also need to stem from religious tradition."

In a speech at a Netivot Shalom conference, philosopher Aviezer Ravitsky cited an example of this alternative religious tradition. According to Jewish law, all land in Israel must lie fallow during the sabbatical year. However, the ancient Israelites who returned from their exile in Babylonia recognized that this ruling could have negative social implications: poor people who couldn't work their land might starve. Thus the returning Israelites chose not to settle parts of the Land so it would not be officially Israel, and thus available to the poor.land of israel quiz

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Daniel Septimus

Daniel Septimus is Executive Director of The Sefaria Project. Previously, he served as Chief Executive Officer of MyJewishLearning, Inc.