Key words: religious, Zionism, Jewish nationalism, land of Israel
If we want our students to take a Religious Zionist attitude towards the State of Israel, we shall have to teach it formally, as we do everything else we think important. A Religious Zionism curriculum should be viewed as a course that deals with Israel's centrality in Jewish life throughout the ages. We outline here such a course, one that can be covered in one term at the rate of four or five periods a week. This course can be offered in either the Social Studies department or as part of the religious studies program.
Included in this first section is a geographic overview of the present borders of the State of Israel. It should be emphasized that Israel is the only country in the world that really does not have borders but rather cease-fire lines, and that only now is Israel negotiating recognized borders with her neighbors. The students should become familiar with the different sections of Israel: Galil, Golan, Coastal Plain, etc. they should understand Israel's weather patterns (hence, why and when they say mashiv haru'ah umorid hageshem). This is also an opportunity to review the geography of the whole region, something required even for a world geography course.
Finally, this first section should also deal with the population of the State of Israel. The students should learn how many Jews there are in Israel and what proportion that is of world Jewry, something about which too many Yeshiva high school students are ignorant. One would be surprised to learn that many Yeshiva high school students believe there are between 30-100 million Jews in the world. They should learn how many Arab citizens there are in Israel proper, Judea, Samaria and Gaza. In the course of this population survey, it is useful to explain the difference between Arabs who are citizens and those who are not, how this came about, and the new role in which we Jews find ourselves in Israel: a majority that has to deal with a minority population in our midst, as opposed to 2000 years of being the minority in someone else's midst.
This section should take 5 lessons.
One of the striking ways to reinforce these points is by showing that there are four basic areas of mitzvot in the Torah that are dependent upon the Land of Israel in one way or another:
a) All mitzvot connected to the Beit Hamikdash in any shape or form;
b) All mitzvot connected to having a Sanhedrin court system functioning;
c) All mitzvot connected to the soil of Israel;
d) All mitzvot connected to the running of the government, army, and taxes.
Taken together, these four areas make up approximately 50% of the 613 mitzvot. Another graphic way to make the point of Israel's centrality to Jewish life is by looking at the Shas. Two of the six sedarim of Shas, Kodashim and Taharot, are totally dependent upon the Land of Israel, as is Seder Zera'im (with the exception of Masekhet Berakhot).
The fourth, Seder Mo'ed, is also very dependent upon the Land of Israel. All the special sacrifices associated with each holiday are dependent upon the Beit Hamikdash in Israel, as is aliyah laregel, bikkurim, and the bringing of the omer. The fifth, Seder Nezikin, is also connected, to a large extent, to the concept of a functioning Jewish legal system existing in the land of Israel, headed by the Sanhedrin. Only the sixth seder - Nashim - can be kept almost in its entirety (the exception being Sotah) outside the boundaries of Israel.
This section should take 5 lessons.
This is the time to introduce the secular term, nationalism, which is defined as "devotion to the interests of a particular nation, or the feeling of loyalty and patriotism that exists among members of a particular nation" (Webster's Dictionary). Traditionally, a nation is a group of people who have all three of the following:
a) A common spoken and written language, preferably one that is exclusive to that group;
b) A common and exclusive culture consisting of customs, laws, folklore, holidays, foods, dress, religion, etc.;
c) A common land of origin; a place on the map where a group came from and developed, where their language and culture (civilization) was formed and kept.
Hebrew has been the common and exclusive language of Jews throughout their history. The total way of life Judaism defines clearly gives the Jews their own unique holidays, folklore, language, religion, laws, calendar, customs, dress, foods, etc. this culture has survived even when the Jews lost their own state and hence the comfort of having their culture as the norm around them. Even in the Diaspora, the Jews have maintained a separate and unique Jewish culture. At this junction, the students should be made aware that the differences between Sepharadic and Ashkenazic Jews are far smaller than the similarities between them, such as Hebrew, prayers, calendar, Shabbat, holidays, Torah, Tanakh, and Shas.
Finally, when it comes to proving common land of origin there will be a review of 3,800 years of Jewish history from the days of Avraham until the days of the first aliyah. This section of the course allows the students to draw upon much of the Torah and Nakh that they have been learning since first grade. Dates are given for all the events that the students know about as stories. They are able to understand when the Exodus from Egypt was, when Joshua conquered Israel, when David ruled etc. not only are dates given for all these major events but maps are handed out showing where all these events took place in ancient Israel (Egypt and Sinai as well). Here are some of the highlights the student are taught:
1. The Jews ruled Israel as a sovereign Jewish State, with the Torah as its constitution, from 1273 B.C.E. - 586 B.C.E. and from 165 B.C.E - 63 C.E. At times this state was large, and at other times it was small; at times it was weak, and at times it was powerful; but at all times it was Jewish - with Jewish rulers, Jewish armies, Jewish courts and Jewish law. Hebrew was the official language, the Mishkan and then the Beit Hamikdash stood at the center of its religious life.
2. The Jews had a semi-independent state in Judea from 515 B.C.E. - 167 B.C.E., and then again from 63 B.C.E.- 70 C.E..
3. For 1900 continuous years; from Joshua, in 1273 B.C.E., until the Arab invasion in 636 C.E., the Jewish people constituted the majority of the population in the Land of Israel.
4. The Jewish people constituted a large minority of the population in Israel until Crusaders arrived in 1099 C.E.. It is only from after the Crusades until the first aliyah (1882-1903), that the Jews become a minority group in the land of Israel.
5. During the entire post-Beit Hamikdash period in Israel (including the post-Crusader period), there were four cities in which there was almost always a Jewish population: Yerushalayim, Hevron, Tsfat, Teveriya.
6. The Jewish people established the entity which is called "Israel" by the Jews, the "Holyland" by Christians, and "Palestine" by the Arabs. The Jews united the Galil, the coastal plain, Samaria, Judea and the Negev to create one united country with one government, one legal system, one culture, and one language. For the last 3300 years the only nation to rule Israel as a separate independent country (not a province in a larger empire) are the Jews.
7. Jerusalem was the capital of ancient Israel, Judea, and the State of Israel. No other state or empire ever established Jerusalem as its capital. (The Crusaders had it as a capital of one of the Crusader provinces.)
8. Throughout the entire period of the Diaspora the Jewish people lived vicariously through the land of Israel. Their language and calendar were based on Israel, the prayers for rain (mashiv haruah, as opposed to she'elat geshamim in birkat hashanim) were based on Israel's climate rather than the local one. Prayers expressing our concern both for the welfare of Israel and Jerusalem, and for our longing to return to them have been a daily part of our prayers.
At the conclusion of this segment of the course the students should understand that the Jewish people are indeed a nation, hence Zionism/Jewish nationalism is a most legitimate expression of the Jewish people's special relationship to Zion. The students should understand that Zionism/Jewish nationalism is not some modern phenomenon but rather something imbedded in the fabric of Jewish life.
At this segment the 1950 Law of Return is introduced. Since the Jewish people has been a nation without a state for 1900 years, when that state finally was reestablished every member of the Jewish nation has a state to call home once again.
This section should take 10 lessons.
The answer lies in teaching the history of the Enlightenment, how it led to the French Revolution, which in turn led to the Emancipation of the Jews from the ghettos of Western Europe. The first two men in the modern Jewish period who recognized the significance of the newly attained Jewish political and economic power were two Orthodox rabbis: Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai and Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer. Again, this close examination of the roots of the rebirth of Zionism points to a religious - as opposed to a secular - Jewish source of inspiration. It is very helpful and important to read the actual works of these two rabbis in class and see how their view of Zionism was clearly a natural outgrowth of their Orthodox Jewish view of Judaism and Zion. The conclusion is that modern Zionism is a powerful affirmation of an ancient Jewish idea.
This section should take 6-7 lessons.
During this section of the course, the tremendous religious significance of the reestablishment of the State of Israel is constantly emphasized. Prayers such as "or hadash al Tzion ta'ir," and "veleYerushalayim irkha berahamim tashuv," take on a whole new significance. Finally students are made to appreciate that they are living in a time when the berakha "sheasa nissim la'avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh," takes on a very timely and literal dimension.
This section should take 15 lessons.
In this last section of the course the students learn that the reestablishment of Israel was not the end of a journey but the beginning of a new and long awaited chapter in Jewish history. We are finally the masters of our fate, for better and for worse. We have problems we did not have in 2000 years such as: How do you run a modern Jewish state according to Halacha? How do we deal with many olim who may or not be Jewish according to Halacha? Instead of asking when does one die for Kiddush Hashem we now have the opposite dilemma: When does one have the right to take a life? Our students must understand that while Israel creates many new problems for Judaism, let us thank God that we as a nation are finally in the position to have these problems once again.
His section takes 10 lessons.