- All the Questions
Were most gedolim anti-zionist before the creation of the state of Israel. Did most of them then change their mind? What about the Hassidic streams?
Almost all of the gedolim in the Sefaradic countries were enthusiastic about Zionism. Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook was sent by his father to meet and convince the gedolim in Europe about the importance of Zionism, and found that some were in favor (e.g. the Netziv, R. Yitzchak Elchanan Spector, the Avnei Nezer, the Yeshu'ot Malko et al), a handful were against (most notably R. Chaim, R. Elchanan Wasserman, R. YY Schneerson, & the Rogochover), and most took the approach of "lets wait and see". After the Holocaust, almost all who survived (except the Satmar, the Munkatcher, the Griz) agreed that the "God Who runs history" has decided that we must participate with Zionism (e.g. R. Y.D. Soloveitchik, R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, the Chazon Ish, R. YE Henkin, R. Moshe Feinstein, R. MM Schneerson etc.). This is the approach of the Haredi gedolom until today, although many simplistic youngsters in their camp, who see things as black and white, don't realize this significant change among their rabbis, who direct the Agudat Yisrael to even sit in the Israeli govt., and strongly oppose the Neturei Karta. With the large aliya of Haredim from North America, this direction has been strengthened even more, for they were raised to be objectively pro-Israel, without having the anti-drafting issue involved. Regarding the Hassidic streams, as is often the case, there is a world of difference between ideology and the implementation of that ideology. As the saying goes: “Judaism is perfect, Jews are not”. Just as people often join a political or youth movement for the sake of the ideology, but in the end, the “party”, club or sect unfortunately turns from a means into the goal itself (like what happened to communism), so too one must differentiate between the ideology (!) of Hassidism and the particular sects of Hassidim. Their ideology is firmly based upon biblical and rabbinic literature and classic kabbalistic sources, and accordingly are very Zionist, but in practicality, over time, each sect pulls in a different direction, usually having very little to do with ideology (not only on this issue…). Accordingly, to get the authentic and complete “version”, one would be wise to learn the original biblical, rabbinic, kabbalistic and Chassidic sources which are overflowing with love for the Land of Israel, the Nation of Israel, the Hebrew language and redemption, and a clear tolerance even for the secular Jews and the physical world which are generally secular and mundane (that side of life with which nations, including the State of Israel, are preoccupied). Hassidic ideology even takes it a step higher, stressing to reveal the G-dliness in these fields, as well. In short, all of the above is exactly religious-Zionism (as stressed throughout the writings of Rav Kook, who is often based upon davka kabbalistic and Chassidic sources!), but the “political” affiliation unfortunately blinds most Hassidim. The Radziner stream (especially the previous Husiatiner and Sadigora Rebbes) is a famous exception who actually celebrated Israeli Independence Day, but their followers “chose” not to follow their rebbe on these issues, thus “toeing the Haredi party-line”. Even their successor sons dared to disagree (!) with their fathers on this issue. This just proves the point that “it’s hard to take the Jew out of exile, but it’s even harder to take the exile out of the Jew.” That doesn’t mean that religious-Zionism, which is much closer to the original Tanachic (Biblical), rabbinic and Hassidic ideologies, should make the same mistake as the Hassidic sects, and that's why we do suggest to learn chassidut. Just as any objective reading of the Bible shows that the ideal Jew (like Moses, Joshua, and David), who studies as much Torah as possible, also serves in the Jewish army. Here too, most charedim “bend over backwards” to “toe the Haredi party-line”, not only twisting logic but even ignoring and defying (!) all (!) of the sources, by not serving in the Israeli army. As you hinted, their ideology fearing change (Haredi means: Quakers), yearns to maintain the culture of diaspora, and unfortunately overcomes their Jewish and Hassidic ideology. In short, if you want truth, it’s wiser to study and go by the eternal and objective sources and not by the political alliances, or the agenda of the Artscroll (or any other) translator. On the one hand, ba'alei tshuva have a huge advantage of objectivity, on the other hand their lack of Hebrew "locks them" into use of the subjective anti-Zionist translations. In addition, those new-comers to observance often harbor an inferiority complex, feeling that they “must not be understanding the sources properly” if their local rabbi or Hassidic leader teaches otherwise. I hope you succeed in overcoming these valid but unfortunate obstacles to objectivity. If there was no other alternative, we’d be in trouble, but this is exactly the beauty of the “option” of Torah-true religious-Zionism (which is the majority of orthodox Jewry, though living in America, one may not realize that). It’s the opposite of reform- it’s leaving the exile to go forward to the past- to the original. With Love of Israel, Rabbi Ari Shvat