On the Division between Zionism and Religion

Abraham Isaac Kook

Date unknown, late 19th–early 20th century

[ . . . ] I find myself obliged to commence with a general preface, which I bring to the fore on each occasion that I have occasion to speak about the way of “the Mizrachi” [movement] and its value: that there is one “statute” that it is obliged, in my view, to engrave on its banner, by means of which alone the light of its inner soul can shine forth upon it, freed from the shackles of self-contradiction weighing heavily upon it. This “statute” is: that “the Mizrachi” should express openly that despite the faithfulness that it always shows to general Zionism, from the aspect of its joining together with it in regard to the philosophy of nationalism and its realization in practice, it nonetheless battles against it in regard to that particular branch which is still solidly engraved within Zionism by reason of its First Congress, which declared that “Zionism has nothing in common with religion.” This decree, in reality, makes all the “Mizrachist” propaganda fraudulent, since “Mizrachi” stands firmly upon the plain of Torah, and the word of the Almighty is a lamp to its feet; and we, all those of perfect faith within Israel, are clearly aware that it is only upon the quality of the faithful connection of the nation, in its entirety, to our Torah way of life—that Torah of the Almighty which is perfect—that the success of Zionism, and the instant prevalence of its force for succeeding generations, depends, and there is no expectation or hope to be entertained by virtue of the abandonment of Torah, and every blossom is bound to be as rottenness and every root as stone—and how will “the Mizrachi” be able silently to transgress this statute, which uproots the entire burden of its soul? In my humble opinion, there is no hope for “the Mizrachi” unless it states in plain terms that for all its love for Zionism in general, and for all that the alien and far-removed deeds and views of many within Zionism cannot cause it any reverse or any waning of strength, thereby allowing it to abandon its diligent work on the plain of national revival in the ancestral land in particular—notwithstanding all this, it battles with all its might against this shameful declaration; and it will neither remain tranquil nor at rest until such time as it has toppled it from the high altar of Zionism, and in its stead will be engraved the statute for Israel as it is in reality: “Remember His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations; the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and established it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying: ‘Unto you will I give the land of Canaan, as the lot of your inheritance.’” The vehement opposition to the aforementioned elevated statute must of necessity project forth through all the corners of the Mizrahi. It needs to be reiterated many thousands of times over, at every assembly, whether a freshly convened one or a preexisting one. [ . . . ]

[ . . . ] Broad general Zionism, by dint of its program, is incapable of speaking in the name of the people as a whole in any manner whatsoever. The clause that “Zionism has nothing in common with religion” represents, in the first place, a complete reversal of what the whole nation has been thinking, imagining, hoping, and believing throughout its generations, and the complete reversal of the noble aspiration that the bien-pensants within Jewry and among the gentile nations have been thinking in relation to the future Jewish destiny in the world. The nation as a whole, for all its greatness and spiritual power, for all the pride of its soul, cannot be limited, in any way whatsoever, exclusively to the narrow circle of the vision of Dr. Herzl of blessed memory, despite all its beauty and strength, in accordance with its worth. Zionism, practical and theoretical, political and diplomatic, and all its various branches together, in the form that they have emerged from potential to material realization to this day, contain within them exalted and superior elements, which we are called upon, from the very depths of our Jewish existence, to support with all the material and spiritual forces at our disposal; but all these in conjunction are no more than the Zionist body. However, we are imminently called upon to inject a spiritual element onto this carved-up corpse, so that it should really become worthy of its name, in such manner that it will acquire for itself, both instantly and for succeeding generations, that great magnetic force that will enable it to draw the entire nation toward it, from their greatest to their smallest, from all the various parties, ranks of men, groups, and scattered, unattached elements, and that it may give the wider world the same concept as the source of Zionism—namely, the sacred, divine source, the Bible—gives to it, along with the full profundity and splendor of tradition. It is not solely the echoed sound of a voice, contending that if the nation that is hated by the world is now in the process of seeking a secure haven of refuge from its persecutors. It is is only right that this eternal movement should have its life restored to it, but it is rather that the holy nation, the special treasure among the peoples, Judah, the lion’s whelp, has awoken from its long, deep slumber, and is now returning to its heritage, to “the pride of Jacob, whom He loves—Selah!” And it is impossible for this spiritual notion to be injected into the movement for so long as the mark of Cain is engraved upon its forehead, declaring that “Zionism has nothing in common with religion.”

[ . . . ] The riots, the delay in further progress, and the cheapening of the value of the revival—all these factors—the results of this fearsome agreed statement, that Zionism has nothing in common with religion, we can see all too abundantly in every corner of the world where the movement exists, and in particular, “Zionism has nothing in common with religion”—can instantly be interpreted to express the idea: “Zionism destroys religion” or “Zionism is a new living entity, which hopes to be constructed upon the ruins of the ancient tradition.” This is already a familiar maxim in the mouths of not just a few upstarts, and the practical results of this are: severing the yoke of heaven, and public denigration of the sacred values of the nation, through the existence of nationalism, in literature, in educational institutions and in numerous corners of the fields of the revival. What do all of these achieve?—An emptiness in the spirit of the nation, despair and enmity and the fury of deadly venom, which is ready to be transmitted as an inheritance to future generations, this being applicable to the entire movement.

[ . . . ] It is not by virtue of the spirit of modern European literature that we yearn to arise and to become a nation—despite the fact that we imbibe all the general humanistic values common among men possessed of high culture—but by virtue of the spirit of our Torah, by virtue of the spirit of our prophets, by virtue of the spirit of the Lord God of Israel resting upon His people, in such manner that it cannot be severed from the Torah and its revival, insofar as it is the heritage of the congregation of Jacob. The divine ideals, which constitute the life of the Torah and of prophecy—these are, by dint of our spirit, the future destiny of the world, for it is our revival that leads towards their realization in life. We aspire to stand at the center of humanity but only with our ancient and exalted standard, which is for us the source of everlasting pride. In the name of our God will we set up our banners, and, as in days of yore, we will not alter or exchange it for another banner, even for the most modern kind. [ . . . ]

[ . . . ] Zionism cannot find its full justification in the fact that it is a “modern” movement, as not everything that is “modern” is correct. Even cruel warfare is “a modern movement,” and in any event look at how much wickedness there is involved in it. And “modernity” per se is still unable to travel entirely along this path without inquiring as to the views of every individual. On the contrary, in a “modern movement,” which is based upon some firm principle, anyone who explicitly destroys that principle, through his disclosed views, by his utterances, and in practical terms, in a decisive manner, cannot be accepted as a befitting force within that movement. The eternal strength of the people of Israel is its spiritual life, through which it fortifies itself with a stronger measure of confidence than all the high walls of all the kingdoms of the gentile nations, and it is inconceivable that this protective wall should become ownerless property, free for anyone who so desires to sling stones at it, to make breaches in it, in a definite and permanent form.

[ . . . ] The question, regarded from the perspective of “statehood” and “religion,” is a complete side issue. The evaluation of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel is inherently manifest, that it stands above any normal measurement of “statehood” and “religion,” and when the spirit of the nation within it becomes fortified as a result of its return to its land and its realm, its valued ancient treasures will begin to emerge into the light of the world, and the spirit of prophecy in its divine majesty will come forth from its hiding place, and will be elevated above all those notions of “freedom of speech,” which are merely apparent and transient, that are operative in countries that are civilized, by the standards of the ethos of our era. And is it not inevitable that, in the course of a certain period of time, a revolutionary religious movement will emerge out of the might of Israel, to purify and to refine all the forms of dross of idol worship and of crass materialism that are circulating within the ethos of the nations and of the various religions, in order to refine all the arrangements of the spirit of mankind, in such manner that it will be adequately prepared for acceptance of the virtues of peace and of absolute liberty, [as scripture declares]: “And I shall remove his blood from his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth, and he too will remain a devotee of our God” and [as the rabbis state]: “The theaters and circuses in places outside the Land are destined to become locations in which the princes of Judah will teach Torah in public” (b.Megillah 6)—whether this be a political type of Torah, bringing good tidings of forthcoming peace and liberty, in accordance with the view of the Tosafists that within [these theaters and circuses] are the ordinary houses of popular associations, or whether it be a spiritual type of Torah, illumined by the purity of the light of knowledge of the divine truth and the love of the ways of the Almighty within the life of both the individual and society at large, in accordance with the view of Rashi in [tractate] Megillah, and it will then become elevated beyond the parameters of this specific question. To summarize the matter: The state will be called “the Land of Israel,” and the valued treasure of Israel, in its purified form, will exercise dominion there; and even if, at the outset, it occasionally suffers from some turbulent winds, all things will ultimately attain a state of tranquility by virtue of the light of life emanating from the soul of the life of worlds, which is about to effect the revival of His especially treasured nation upon its desirable land. [ . . . ]

Translated by
David E.


Abraham Isaac Kook, “Al hafradah bein ha–tsiyyonut ve–ha–dat” [On the Division between Zionism and |Religion], in Yalkut ha–roeh, ed. Yeshayahu Bernstein (Jerusalem: Ha–merkaz ha–olami shel ha–mizrahi ve–ha–poel ha Mizrahi, 1965), pp. 33–37.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 8.

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