Ultra-Orthodox & Anti-Zionist

Groups like Neturei Karta and the Satmar Hasidim bitterly oppose the modern State of Israel.

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For the groups discussed below, opposition to the State of Israel is not just academic. They have publicly burned the Israeli flag and  allied themselves with the Palestinian leadership and cause. Neturei Karta's  website states: "We seek to live in the land of Palestine as anti-Zionist Jews. To reside as loyal and peaceful Palestinian citizens, in peace and harmony with our Muslim Brethren." The following article discusses the reasons for their anti-Zionism. Reprinted with the permission of The Continuum International Publishing Group from The Encyclopedia of Judaism, edited by Jacob Neusner, Alan Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green.

The anti-Zionist world-view of the ultra-orthodox groups Neturei Karta and Satmar Hasidism perceives Zionism and the estab­lishment of the State of Israel as an anti-messianic act, conceived and born from sin. These groups vigorously deny the very legiti­macy of the collective political return to the Holy Land and to Jewish sovereignty. For them, this is the handiwork of humans, violating the Jewish people's oath of political quietism.

In the words of the Midrash (as expounded by Rashi), the people were adjured not to return collectively to the Land of Israel by the exertion of physical force, nor to "rebel against the nations of the world," nor to "hasten the End." In short, they were required to wait for the heavenly, complete, miraculous, supernatural, and meta-historical redemption that is totally distinct from the realm of human endeavor. This waiting over two millennia manifests the very essence and singularity of the Jewish people, expressing their faith in divine providence, in the assurance of the prophets, and in messianic destiny.

In this understanding, the Jewish people have been removed from the causal laws that govern nature and history and are exclu­sively bound by another set of religio-ethical laws within a causal process of reward and punishment, exile and redemption: "Unless the Lord build the house, its builders labor in vain; unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman keeps vigil in vain" (Psalms 127:1).

Accordingly, any Jewish political re­vival that is not messianic intrinsically rep­resents a denial of divine providence and of the hope of redemption; it is a betrayal of the destiny and uniqueness of Israel. The attempt to hasten the End, to return by physical power to the sphere of political--and certainly mili­tary--history is a collective revolt against the kingdom of heaven, an aggressive aspiration to overstep human boundaries into the realm reserved for God--just like the deeds of the generation of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1 -9). This is an act of the devil, a demonic outburst of unclean forces that may not be corrected. It is ultimately doomed to failure, regardless of human deeds: "The Lord shall rebuke you--the Satan who has chosen Jeru­salem" (paraphrasing Zechariah 3:2).

In other words, these groups' fierce oppo­sition to the state of Israel is not directed against its secular nature or its laws and mores but, rather, against its very existence, regardless of its nature. In the words of the late Satmar rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum, "even if the members of the Knesset [Israeli parliament] were righteous and holy, it is a terrible and awful criminal iniquity to seize redemption and rule before the time has come."

According to this logic, the concepts "Torah state" or "halakhic state" [one run according to Jewish law] are oxymorons; any Jewish state prior to the messianic age--by the very nature of its human, natural, mundane provenance--undermines and denies the Torah and takes a stand against the halakhah. The faithful, therefore, are not enjoined to struggle for the refashioning of the Jewish character of the society and the state but are required to unqualifiedly isolate themselves, to separate themselves socially from the majority of the people of Israel and politically from the State of Israel. Consequently, any use of Zionist budgets and institutions is utterly forbidden, the members of these circles doing their ut­most to deny themselves any benefit from them.

In this orthodox anti-Zionist view, then, the only hope for the Jewish state is its total destruction: "But [we] need mercy that this kingdom will be destroyed only by a force from above, by the Lord, may He be blessed, not by the [non-Jewish] nations; for if, God forbid, this is to be done by the nations, it will, of course, constitute a great danger for [the people of] Israel." The Zionist endeavor is destined to make way for the true, com­plete, miraculous salvation, for the redemp­tion that will rise on its ruins as its total negation.

Numerically speaking, this ideology is marginal. All told the extremists number today 20,000 in Israel and several tens of thousands in the United States and in Europe. But their indirect influence--the chal­lenge posed by their radical views--is widely felt in ultra-Orthodoxy. They project an image of consistency and unwavering faith of a kind of avant-garde whose demands disturb the bourgeois complacency of others.

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Dr. Aviezer Ravitzky

Dr. Aviezer Ravitzky is the Saul Rosenblum Chair of Jewish Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Jewish Thought at Hebrew University. He is the author of Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism and History and Faith: Studies in Jewish Philosophy.