BY DOV LIPMAN APRIL 23, 2012
I am a Zionist on every level. This created a challenge for me when I studied in a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshiva in Jerusalem where rabbis never mentioned Israel’s Memorial Day, Israel’s Independence Day, or Jerusalem Day. No prayers were said for the state or on behalf of the IDF soldiers. These omissions disturbed me but my arguments about the magnitude of our return to Israel and Jerusalem fell on deaf ears.
Why? Because “the state is secular,” it is a non-kosher entity. Any official acknowledgment of its holidays and the recitation of special prayers associated with the state would be giving legitimacy to a body which was foreign to Torah and the values the yeshiva espoused. On that basis, my pleas were entirely ignored.
This was unacceptable to me. While I needed no sources to validate what I knew to be right, since the primary message conveyed in a haredi yeshiva is that the Torah is the wellspring for our ideologies and must serve as our guiding light through life, I decided to explore what Torah sources had to say about Zionism and the role which the State of Israel plays in our faith. Perhaps this could sway my mentors and friends. This search led to remarkable results.
The most glaring sources relate to the flourishing of the fruits of Israel. The Bible relates in Leviticus 26:32 that while the Jews are in exile, Israel will remain desolate. The implication, taught outright by the 11th-century Spanish rabbi and philosopher Bahya ibn Paquda (Rabbeinu Bachya in his commentary to Genesis 17:8), is that the reversal of that desolation indicates the end of the exile. This sign is stated more clearly by the prophets. Ezekiel (chapter 36), Isaiah (chapter 51), and Amos (chapter 9) all describe the growth of trees and fruits in Israel as an indication of the arrival of the messianic age.
In yeshiva, great weight is placed on talmudic teachings. Turning to the Talmud for clarification, I found that the most obvious sign of the redemption is that the fruits of Israel will grow once again (Tractate Sanhedrin 98a). The Talmud also teaches in Tractate Megilla (17b) that the final redemption begins with the ingathering of the exiles, followed by the flourishing of the fruits of Israel, and concludes with the arrival of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple.
This idea was concretized by the revered Rabbi Akiva Eiger just 200 years ago when he taught that if we succeed in growing fruit in Israel then the final redemption is imminent (as related by his student, Rav Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, Shivat Zion, volume 2, pp. 51-52).
No one can refute the reality that after thousands of years of desolation, Israel is now flourishing and producing fruits. Anyone who agrees with the most basic haredi tenet, that the words of the Bible, Prophets, Talmud and the great rabbis serve as the basis of our faith, must conclude that the flourishing of trees and fruits in Israel indicate that we are experiencing a significant step toward redemption.