How to react? First of all: with humility, realizing that we all have what to learn and improve. We must relate to those who disagree, with love and respect, and attempt to appreciate their point of view by understanding where it is coming from, what outlook it is based upon, and even learning the function this opposing view has in the greater scheme of the Redemption process itself.
The sources of fully understanding the depth of this amazing process and its goal are found in the inner depths of Torah, the Kabbala, and it is incumbent upon the great Torah giants to familiarize themselves with these sources, but for us there are many books available which expose these topics on our level. One of these is an extremely important work that deals with these issues, written by a great Torah scholar who himself held the views you are referring to. The book has been translated recently to English and I highly recommend you read it. It is called: Eim Habanim Semeichah, by Rabbi Teichtal (Av Beit Din and head of the yeshiva in Pishtian, Hungary, and author of halachic responsa and other works; murdered in the Holocaust), 2000. (Further references are from this English edition, EHS.)
There are a few topics which need to be discussed to properly answer your question, yet in the present framework we will only scratch the surface of two of them.
1) Why do many reject the State of Israel as beginning of redemption? (Ramifications of the expectation of redemption by miraculous means.)
2) What is the religious value of national independence – statehood?
1) There are certain factors which combined to produce a mindset that makes it difficult to properly understand and evaluate the events of our era. One of these is the expectation of the redemption coming through miraculous means. The reasons for the development of this expectation are described in the introductory section, “Historical context” of EHS (pp. xiii-xiv). One of those reasons is that redemption coming through human efforts became an impossible option.
The inner desire to return to Zion always existed, but after two millennia without Eretz Yisrael as a part of our daily lives, this most basic ideal became a dream-like hope for the future. As the contrast between the ghetto reality and the hope of restoring the Davidic Dynasty grew, so did the expectations of a miraculous Redemption, for it seemed that it could come in no other way. In the last centuries of Galut we were so detached from the period of Jewish sovereignty, that the concepts of Redemption became transformed into surreal, almost mystical concepts. The thought of our active participation in bringing it about was replaced by the simple faith that G-d would bring the Redemption when He so desires, without our political involvement, physical labor and self-sacrifice in the effort to regain sovereignty over our land. Moreover, any attempt to participate in the redemption process was seen as heretical, as if saying that G-d can’t bring redemption without us, as if He needs our help!? Also as a response to the false messianic movements, the “leave it to G-d” approach was emphasized.
And so, when one entertains the conception of redemption as coming by miracle, “leave it to G-d,” and expects the Redemption to come all at once, “all or nothing” – then considering all that is lacking today in the State of Israel, this is certainly not “all,” therefore it is “nothing.” It is obviously NOT what we have been praying for. To recognize the “Beginning of redemption” assumes there are stages of a process that has begun, but that is ruled out when expecting everything to be complete all at once. All the more so when redemption comes about through secular – and even anti-religious - men!!
Ironically, this very waiting-for-miracle mindset was part of the cause that the Zionist movement became dominated by the secular. Those with the miracle mindset maintained their belief that action on our part was unnecessary or prohibited. Thus a “sit back and wait” approach dominated the religious camp (see EHS, p. 23), who were therefore against doing and building ourselves. The doing was therefore done by those who did not believe in a G-d that would do it for them.
Thus we see that the expectation of miracles brings to the conclusion that this is not redemption.
Upon study of the topic, however, one finds that the Redemption is indeed a natural, dynamic, developmental process which requires our efforts to bring it about (see Index of EHS, p. 538, under the words “Redemption, depends on Israel’s initiative.”). In the beginning of the Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachot 1:1) we are taught by Chazal that the redemption is like the sunrise which advances slowly slowly, stage by stage. The final redemption is learned there from the prototype of the redemption of Purim, a natural process, without the Name of G-d explicit, as in Megillat Ester. The simple conclusion of this teaching of redemption coming as a process in stages is that even though it is not complete, it does not mean it has not begun. To the contrary. Stage development means that it begins incomplete and develops toward completion and perfection.
(The Rabbis also give us keys to recognize the stages of this process and to understand their significance, and WHY the redemption comes in stages, naturally [to uplift all and reveal that ALL is from Hashem, even that which seemed so human, devoid of Divine content. This progression , ultimately reveals (retroactively) that "ein od milvado" - there is nothing “outside” of G-d’s plan (Ramchal, Derech Hashem, Daat Tvunot)]. More specifically, from Biblical sources down to modern ones, we find that the general stages are delineated by two phases: first the physical redemption and then the spiritual redemption [see Yechezkel chapters 36 and 37]. The physical redemption includes the return – Teshuva - to our existence as a nation, having a government and army, dealing with agriculture and industry, which is the foundation of our ultimately becoming “A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation” [Shmot 19:6], down to individual teshuva. [A list of Rabbis that said redemption will come as a natural process in stages requires a separate study (see Lintivot Yisrael of Rabbi T.Y. Kook, I:191ff.)]).
Another basis for assuming this cannot be redemption is the thought that redemption depends on teshuva, and since we are not all religious, therefore there can be no redemption. The question of redemption and teshuva was discussed in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b) and concludes with Rabbi Eliezer’s accepting Rabbi Yehoshua’s opinion that it is not dependent on teshuva (see version in Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:1, and Korban HaEda commentary there, Yad Rama on Sanhedrin.). However, when the Redemption comes “in its time” (see Sanhedrin 98a), “Not for your sake... but for My Holy Name’s sake” (Yechezkel 36:22), it comes even when we are unworthy (there are too many sources to cite that write this conclusion explicitly – see R. Filber’s Ayelet HaShachar, chapter called “Third Return to Zion,” sec. 2, for the citation of some of them.).
2) The religious value of national independence – statehood.
This issue touches on the deep study of the lofty role and ideal of the Jewish people as a NATION. After living for 2,000 years without a state and our national institutions we got used to thinking of Torah as guidance for the individual – Shabbat, tefillin and kosher food. This abnormal existence became second nature and we began to believe that there is nothing more to Torah. The truth is, however, that Judaism is not just a religion for individuals, but first and foremost we are to be, as stated above, “A KINGDOM of Priests and a Holy NATION.” “This NATION have I created unto Me, they shall tell My praise” (Yishayahu 43:21). Without going into the almost endless sources on this important topic, let it suffice to summarize: The nation is the vehicle which receives and expresses G-d’s name-ideal in the world. The Maharal of Prague and the Or Sameach write: “G-d does not rest His name on the individual, rather upon the NATION.” Nationhood according to Torah sources is not a new, secular idea or simply a political aspiration, rather it is the major element in the fulfillment of the Divine goal. And nationhood is defined as Jewish sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael. That is why exile is called a desecration of G-d’s name in Yechezkel (ch. 36).
The lack of Jewish statehood has far-reaching ramifications, and touches upon the highest spiritual foundations of Torah, but it finds practical expression in the realm of halacha. The first mitzvah we are commanded to do upon entering Eretz Yisrael is to appoint a king (Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:1). Actually, our independence ushers in the Messianic era, as our Sages said: “The only difference between this world and the days of the Mashiach is the subordination to other kingdoms” (Brachot 34b). An independent Jewish government is thus not just a political accomplishment or system to facilitate the improvement of the lives of its citizens, but rather the beginning of the redemption, as the Rambam writes (Laws of Kings 12:1. There we see from the Rambam and the verses he cites that the return of Jews to Eretz Yisrael is itself the Messianic process and the first sign of redemption, as you stated in your question.). The Rambam in many places emphasizes the importance of Malchut Yisrael, Jewish kingdom. He states that we celebrate Hannuka because “Malchut Yisrael returned for over 200 years” (when those 200 years include a kingdom of Kohanim and not of Davidic descent, and also the reign of Herod, who was not the most righteous man, to put it mildly, especially after killing the rabbis of his time!).When delineating the reasons we fast and mourn of Tisha b’Av, the Rambam (Ta’aniyot 5:3) elaborates at length on the fall of Beitar and “the great king” of Israel (Bar Kochba) and compares it the destruction of the Temple! He also states there (5:2) the reason for the fast of Gedalya because it was the fall of the last remnant of Jewish self-rule. The Ramban (Mitzvah 4) defines the commandment of the settling of Eretz Yisrael as “not leaving it in the hands of any other nation,” that is, Jewish sovereignty.
The Gemara in Tractate Megilla (14a) says the reason we don’t say Hallel on Purim is because we were still subordinate to Achashverosh and thus cannot say that we are servants of G-d! When we are under foreign rule our inner content cannot come to full expression, similar to a great artist whose hands are tied behind his back who cannot reveal his talents. Thus the existence of a Jewish state affects G-d’s name which is revealed through our kingdom.
The Talmud (Moed Kattan 26) states that upon seeing destroyed cities of Yehuda we must rent our garments, as is done when a relative has passed away. What is the halachic definition of destruction that requires this mourning? Is it simply when a Jewish town is in ruins with no Jewish presence? Or is it considered destroyed even though it is built up and inhabited by Jews, but under foreign rule? Rabbi Yosef Karo suggests both possibilities and concludes like the latter. Such is the law in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 561 as defined by the Be’er Heitev and the Mishna Brura. The latter writes: “Even if Jews are dwelling there, since the Arabs are in control over them, this is considered destruction.” Again we see that the return of Jewish sovereignty has positive halachic, spiritual meaning.
One might claim that all this is only when we are a holy kingdom living according to all the Torah laws. As mentioned, the Rambam considers the “non-holy” kingdoms of Herod and Bar Kochba spiritually significant. There are actually many sources which define even non-religious sovereignty as Malchut Yisrael (see the famous responsa literature of Rabbi Waldenburg, Tzitz Eliezer, X:1,3). Indeed, the kingdom we have today is not the ideal state, but, as stated above, the sources tell us that this is a process, and “even though it is not complete, it does not mean it has not begun.” The secular reborn state is like a child that will ultimately grow up to be a great scholar, but presently cannot even read or write. He goes through stages, from physical, motor development to intellectual and spiritual prowess. Unaware of his future role he sometimes uses his developing energies in undesirable directions or even destructively. We have to appreciate what G-d has given us so far and thank Him for giving us this long-awaited baby. We must continue to work for the full development of this kingdom of G-d by making every effort to educate and redirect all of its G-d given powers to the proper goals.
Regarding your question about arguing the topic with others who do not see what you see, let me add a personal note. When I was young - and naןve - I would try to “prove” to the religious anti-Zionists the case of the Divine significance of the Redemption process we are witnessing. It seemed so obvious and simple to prove, with all the sources and amazing reality of G-d’s hand in modern history “on my side.” I went to speak to great Torah scholars and leaders in Bnei Brak, and a head of a famous kolel spoke with me for 7 hours! (Only later did I realize that besides a vehement and emotional discourse of how evil a secular state is, I heard no sources that deal with the issue showing whether or not the redemption can indeed commence with a secular beginning.)
I still believe we have to educate, and realize now the even greater need to reveal to Am Yisrael its true essence which is coming to expression in our national rebirth, but to convince those who believe they have all the truth is usually a waste of time (although it does provide an educational experience). As Rav Teichtal writes, “Therefore, those who have a predisposition on this matter will not see the truth and will not concede to our words. All the evidence in the world will not affect them, for they are smitten with blindness and their inner biases cause them to deny even things which are as clear as day” (EHS, p.49).
Seeing beyond the external, secular faחade of this historical development requires a certain level of vision, perspective, like the “X-ray” vision of Rabbi Akiva, that can “see” the future redemption and laugh when on the surface is apparent to “regular” eyes only destruction, which brings other Torah giants to cry (Makkot 24).
(The plaguing question: How can it be that great Rabbis do not see what seems obvious to those of much inferior Torah scholarship and piety? Don’t they know all these sources etc. etc.? There are other reasons of Divine Providence behind this phenomenon. But one thing is clear, this is nothing new. It has always been so [see Me’Afar Kumi by R. Tzvi Glatt].)
In conclusion, we cannot judge the religious significance of the State of Israel only by what is presently revealed, for the Rabbis have taught us that the generation of the Mashiach is “bad on the outside and good on the inside” (Tikkunei Zohar, Tikun 60). We must develop the eyes of Emunah to see that inner good and to guide it to fuller expression. We must learn to see the whole goal that is unfolding before our eyes and therefore view the present as a stage in an ongoing process towards complete redemption. As the Chafetz Chaim stated: “The advent of the Mashiach, which is the revelation of the Divine Presence in the world… will require a measure of understanding on the part of the individual before he will be capable of appreciating it. One who gives no thought to the matter [of the Redemption] will obviously not feel anything [when it arrives]” (Cited in Beit Hashoeva p. 12).
[The above was just an opener. There is so much more depth and breadth to the topics I mentioned and to others I did not mention regarding how G-d brings Creation to its destiny that He has in store, way beyond any ideal or utopia our limited understanding and perception can conjure up. We must try to continuously grow and search out the Torah view of redemption – what is its true source and where is it going - for oursleves, and to be able to help our nation understand itself and its goal.
May we indeed see the completion of the Redemption, speedily in our days, Amen.