Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Religious Zionism Debate

I. Heresy

R. Yoel Teitelbaum, the "Satmar Rav," in his Va-Yoel Moshe, Ma'amar Gimmel Shevu'os, chs. 40-42 (in the Ashkenazi 5760 edition, pp. 51-57), discusses whether there can be Ge'ulah (ultimate redemption) without Teshuvah (communal repentance). He points out that this is debated in Sanhedrin 97b between R. Yehoshua and R. Eliezer, with the former allowing for redemption without repentance and the latter requiring repentance before the final redemption. Generally speaking, we follow R. Yehoshua over R. Eliezer. However, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Teshuvah 7:5) seems to follow R. Eliezer:

The Torah has already promised that Israel will repent at the end of her exile and will then be redeemed immediately, as it is written, "And it shall come to pass when all these things have happened...and shall return to the Lord your God...and then the Lord your God will turn your captivity, and have compassion on you, and will return and gather you from all the nations, amongst whom the Lord your God has scattered you" (Deut. 30:1-3).
The Satmar Rav explains that the Rambam is not actually taking sides in the debate between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua. Those two sages were discussing whether repentance is required before the arrival of Eliyahu and the messiah. However, all agree that repentance is required after the messiah comes but before the final redemption. Redemption is, after all, a process that requires time. First the messiah will come, then there will be wars, and then the redemption will take place. R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua only debate whether Eliyahu and the messiah will come specifically after widespread repentance or even without such an occurrence.

The Satmar Rav (ch. 42, p. 56) takes this a step further. Since the Rambam quoted a verse to support his view that repentance must precede redemption, anyone who disputes this point is contradicting an explicit Pentateuchal verse and is, therefore, a heretic. The clear implication is that Religious Zionists, who believe that the return to the land of Israel is part of the redemption process, are heretics since widespread repentance has (unfortunately) not yet occurred.

II. Prior Responses

However, the Satmar Rav certainly knew that his argument had already been answered almost 100 years earlier. R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, in his Derishas Tziyon, ma'amar 1, Rishon Le-Tziyon additions, 1:10 (Etzion 2002 edition, pp. 60-61), addresses this issue and gives an answer similar to the Satmar Rav's, in fact extremely similar albeit 100 years earlier. R. Kalischer explains this according to his general view that there are a number of steps within the redemption process, i.e. a number of redemptions with only the last one being the final redemption. He has a number of proofs for this theory, which I hope to address in a future post.

R. Kalischer suggests that R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua were debating whether an earlier step in the redemption requires repentance. However, both agree that the final redemption certainly requires repentance. This explanation is much smoother within the language of the debate than the Satmar Rav's because the Gemara only mentions whether redemption requires repentance; the messiah is not named at all. According to the Satmar Rav, that the entire debate revolves around the messiah, it is a little difficult that the messiah and Eliyahu are not mentioned at all.

R. Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, in his Em Ha-Banim Semeihah, ch. 1 (Mekhon Peri Ha'aretz 1983 edition, pp. 78-80), offers a different approach. He explains that the Rambam is following a third Tannaitic view, that of R. Yehudah in Yalkut Shimoni (2:595), that repentance must absolutely precede redemption and if Israel does not repent, it will not be redeemed. According to R. Teichtal, the events will proceed as follows: the Jewish people will return to the land of Israel, Eliyahu will come and lead the people to repentance, the messiah will come and usher in the final redemption. Thus, repentance will precede redemption but not the return to the land of Israel.

Neither of these standard Religious Zionist views, both published before the Satmar Rav's anti-Zionist book, contradict the verse quoted by the Rambam or the Rambam himself. Therefore, neither of these views can be called heretical.

III. The Rishonim

R. Menahem Kasher, in his Ha-Tekufah Ha-Gedolah, ch. 6 (pp. 95-115), addresses this issue at length. He quotes (p. 104 n. 28) the Satmar Rav's view with astonishment because it seems to label the views of Rishonim (medieval authorities) as heretical, as R. Kasher demonstrates at length.

The Ramban, in his Sefer Ha-Ge'ulah (Kisvei Ha-Ramban, vol. 1 p. 277ff.), discusses this issue at length and clearly considers R. Eliezer, the sage who said that redemption does not require repentance, to have been the winner of the debate. The Ramban continues with a discussion about how the good prophecies of redemption must come true regardless of how bad the Jewish people may or may not be, as opposed to bad prophecies that can be annulled. At no time does the Ramban mention the messiah. While he may be discussing an early stage of redemption, he is clearly speaking of redemption and not the arrival of Eliyahu or the messiah.

The Ramban's student, R. David Bonfil, in his commentary to Sanhedrin, states clearly that "there is no condition in the future redemption and it was a decree that contained a swear [which therefore must come true]." Again, he only talks of redemption and not the arrival of the messiah. And specifically without repentance. Furthermore, about this very issue he brings the verse(s) that the Rambam brings in Hilkhos Teshuvah.

The Radak, in his commentary to Isaiah (59:16), points out that the verses in Deut. 30 imply that repentance will precede the return from exile. However, the verses in Isaiah imply that it will not. This contradiction, he states, forms the basis of the debate between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua. "They were unsure whether the return from exile will be through repentance or not, and this is because of the contradiction between the verses." The Radak then offers a reconciliation of the verses, namely that most of the Jewish people will repent after they see the signs of redemption (which is R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer's approach--no coincidence there).

Clearly, there are rishonim who hold of this view that the Satmar Rav claims contradicts an explicit verse and is blatant heresy. His condemnation falls a bit flat after reviewing this evidence.

R. Kasher has more to say on this topic, and more proofs to his position (see here for a brief summary), but they are not necessary for our purpose. It is clear that, on this point, the Religious Zionist view(s) are not heretical and have substantial basis in the sources.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More