Gush Emunim: Roots and Ambiguities by Janet O'Dea

Gush Emunim: Roots and Ambiguities

The Perspective of the Sociology of Religion


Janet O'Dea



on the Jewish People, Zionism and Israel
Volume 25, Number 2
pp. 39-50

Lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations (Num. 23:9). Balaam's prophecy, spoken during the wanderings of the children of Israel in the wilderness, became the fact of Jewish experience throughout history. Jews did become separate from the nations of the world, physically and spiritually. Centuries of antagonism, reinforced by the ideas of chosenness and, divine vocation, built up within Jews an historical consciousness of pride in their own destiny and hostility towards those who denied it. The historical precipitates of existence as a "nation alone" have resonance among all Jews. In modern times, even after the establishment of the State of Israel, the peculiarity of Jews as individuals and as a collective has been heightened rather than diminished.

We introduce an examination of the Gush Emunim (Block of the Faithful) movement with the prophecy of Balaam because it expresses the prototypical psychological, sociological and theological stance which underlies the movement. Furthermore, the sensibility it expresses motivates the radical response of the movement. We shall attempt to understand the background of this response, which is rooted in the anxieties facing Israelis in the midst of the complicated realities of life in the modern Jewish state. We shall then try to show that the extreme interpretation given to Jewish particularity, isolation and triumphant redemption, by Gush Emunim leaders, provides a mechanism to overcome these anxieties.

In sociological literature, beginning with Emile Durkheim, anomie is used to refer to a situation of partial or total collapse of social structures which provided the individual with support. Anomie also describes the breakdown of the consensus which provided the individual with meaning, orientation, and norms. It is the second aspect of anomie which is of interest when we recall the doubt, discontent, and fears which arose in Israel following the Yom Kippur War, reversing the triumphant confidence of the post-'67 period. The flow of articles after the Yom Kippur War seeking to explain the failures—social, political, military, and cultural—and questioning the fundamental meaning of the Zionist enterprise, reflect the concern and deep anxiety which has afflicted those whose confidence in the Jewish state and the values it embodied had been shaken. It is in this situation of partial anomie, when consensus on values and meaning is threatened and when men are searching for certainty and security, that a sectarian movement may arise.

The expansion of the control of Jews over the Land of Israel, the addition of Judea, Samaria, the Golan, Sinai, and the whole of Jerusalem—following the victory of 1967—was seen by many religious Israelis as confirmation of the continuing messianic process. However, the Gush Emunim movement was officially founded only in February 1974. The internal Israeli debate over conditions for peace, aroused by the American peace efforts through Henry Kissinger, led to strong opposition to the return of any conquered land. Rather than as a protest to internal failures of the government which preceded the Yom Kippur War, Gush Emunim emerged in support of a conservative government position. It was not a radical response to the crisis represented by the war, but a radical response to the possibility of changing the cease fire lines of the 1967 war. The root of the dissatisfaction was in the seeming weakness of the government and those Israelis who were willing to negotiate territories. The organization of the movement around the issue of the Kissinger negotiations must be seen as an effort to maintain the status quo, and thereby ward off any reversal of the process of retaining the territories of Eretz Yisrael, which to the members of Gush Emunim, represented a clear sign of the messianic process. No other issues aroused by the Yom Kippur War were involved in the Gush Emunim organization.

The spiritual leadership of Gush Emunim grew up in the Jerusalem yeshivah of Rav Kook, nurtured by the teachings of his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook. An examination of statements by Kook, fils, as well as those of some of his followers, reveals the basic ideas which have given the movement its strength and dynamism. The intellectual foundation is quite simple and may be sketched briefly.

To the religious, who saw in the reunification of Jerusalem a major step in the process of national redemption, the near debacle of Yom Kippur day and the tremendous physical and psychological suffering which followed, presented a special challenge to the messianic interpretation of the history of the State. "A man of Israel, who believes that the events concerning the life of the Jewish people are directed by divine providence naturally asks what is their meaning. . . The question which is being asked in these days whenever I meet citizens and soldiers is what is the meaning of this war? The question is posed against the background of our certain faith that we live in the period of the beginning of the redemption. Everything which occurred until now strengthened our inner certainty that we were indeed in the midst of the beginning of redemption. Against the background of this conviction and against the background of the Six Day War that taught us that war has a purpose, conquering the land, the present question has two parts: 1) What is the purpose of the Yom Kippur War? The land was already in our hands and therefore, why another war? 2) A more difficult question: Has a regression taken place, God forbid? Does not the outbreak of the war and all its sad occurrences present the possibility that there has been a regression in the divine process of redemption?" 1 This poignant statement expresses concisely the doubts whjch have been aroused among all Israelis, and among the religious in particular.

The first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, interpreted the return to Israel as a messianic phenomenon, whose beginnings were slow but whose forward direction was certain. On the basis of this understanding of history, Kook legitimated cooperation with secular Zionists, who were aiding in the divine plan, and were thus unwitting agents in the sacred process. The biblical covenant was being fulfilled anew in the Holy Land where the ideal of creating a kingdom of priests and a holy nation was being realized. The followers of Kook understood the messianic significance of the Jewish State, and their role in it, as being to further this process. Thus, the general transformations in Israeli society following the '67 war fitted into the messianic pattern, but the events of the Yom Kippur War came as a tremendous shock.

Foremost in the Gush Emunim thinking is the notion of the incontestable right of the Jewish people to the land, and the duty of every Jew to inhabit and reposses every portion of the ancestral inheritance. In his "Proclamation to the World" Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook states: "That all peoples of the earth may know . . . all this land is ours, absolutely, belonging to all of us; it is nontransferable to others even in part." Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to the children of Israel legitimate this claim. In order to widen the base of the claim to the entire land, Kook cites examples of international recognition of the Jewish right: the League of Nations, a statement by Lloyd George. and even Arab admissions that the Jews must return to their ancestral homeland. However, it is not the external reference which is decisive but the internal. The Jewish people, on the grounds of its ancient kingdoms, within the space where its prophecy flourished, where its Holy Temple was erected, "have continued and are continuing to build and to be built through the awesome wonders of the Lord, in the holy labour of reconstructing our nation and our homeland, our Torah and our moral culture . . . " 2

The inner spiritual connection between the Jews and the land is a theme winding throughout the writings on the primacy of the land. The bond between the people and the soil is "meta-historical" deriving from God's election of the Jews and his vision of their destiny in the Holy Land.3 The inherent nature of the people's connection with the land explains the natural desire of the Jews of Russia, who lack all formal Jewish education, to come to Israel, when they become conscious of their identity as Jews. The Russian immigration is referred to many times, because it supports the notion of an unbreakable tie between Jews and soil.

Hanan Porat speaks of the relationship of the Jew to Israel as analogous to that of man and woman, and of Jerusalem as a "maiden whose time is ripe but whose husband has not yet come." The coming of the husband alludes to the redemption of the Jews from exile, God from exile, and eventually of the world from its alienation. Only he who grasps this inner meaning of the land to the Jew and the sacred significance of the historical return, can understand the total devotion of the righteous in redeeming the land, against any opposition.4

Two medieval sources are cited to justify the expanding settlement of the land and its messianic grounding. First, Nahmanides, "father of the restoration following the second destruction" has taught that the commandment of settling the land is one of the 613 commandments of the Torah, a positive command "to inherit the land . . . and not to leave it in the hands of others among the nations or to leave it desolate . . . " 5 Second, Maimonides is cited to demonstrate that the restoration of the land as a sovereign Jewish entity is indeed the beginning of the messianic age. In the last chapter of the Yad haHazakah, Maimonides states that "there is no difterence between this world and the world to come except that the rule of the nations will be removed." Because this has happened and is continuing to happen in Israel today, it is a sign that the beginning of the messianic process is occurring.6 The fact that Maimonides has stipulated elimination of oppression and Jewish sovereignty as preconditions of the messianic age removes any doubt that he regarded the liberation of the land as any less important than did Nahmanides.

Those who doubt that the establishment of the state is indeed the beginning of the messianic process are referred to two visible signs, predicted in the Bible: 1) that the land will produce fruits in plenty and 2) that Jews from all over the world will be ingathered to the land. These visible signs have been actualized. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was convinced that the return to Eretz Yisrael of many Jews, and their success in agricultural production indicated clearly that the redemptive process was manifest. This conviction is held by his followers. According to Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, no one faithful to the tradition can doubt that the messianic process has begun. Rabbi Zefania Drori cites Rabbi Abba, in the Talmud, that we can recognize the "revealed end" when the land yields fruits in plenty. "This is occurring, thanks be to God, before our eyes, and there is no ground for any doubt or question which would counter our happiness and our thanksgiving to the Redeemer of Israel, although we still pray for the final redemption." 7

The rabbinic statement that fulfillment of the command to inhabit the land is equivalent to fulfilling all other commandments strengthens the conviction of those who urge all Jews to struggle and sacrifice for this cause.8 When opposed by anyone, Jew or non-Jew, in fulfilling this most important commandment, the resort to force is not only legitimate but is encouraged as a demonstration of full devotion to the ideal. "I will not enter into a terminological debate over the concept of a war of brothers. A war may be required; our bodies, our limbs, all of us—is required." 9 "The borders, these kilometers, are sacred and cannot be relinquished by those who consider themselves representatives and guardians of the entire Jewish people." 10 "The land was first acquired through a promise to the ancestors and now is acquired through the conquest of their sons." 11 Therefore, the descendants of David must follow in his footsteps through military victory. And remembering the silence which cost 6 million lives, Jews must shake heaven and earth in order to achieve the goal of total Jewish survival today.12 Conquest, war, follows from the "facts of Jewish inheritance." It is the obligation to fight until all of the land of Israel is in the hands of the Jewish people and free from the rule of the strangers, an obligation incumbent upon anyone born Jewish.13

It is this trust in the ultimate value of the commandment, of the ultimate value of Jewish liberation and rule in all of the land of Israel, which determines the attitude of Gush Emunim leaders towards those whom they perceive as opponents.14 Anyone who questions the interpretation of the messianic process, of the right to use force against the decisions of the governmcnt, of the right to conquer territories not inhabited by Jews, is deprecated vehemently, even on an ad hominem basis. Even when a discussion is held politely, the attitude of Gush Emunim representatives is derogatory towards those who do not accept the position, which seems so obvious to them.15 Doubters are labelled "vulgar," "petty," and "simple-minded," and thereby dismissed.16 Rabbi Z.Y. Kook states that the government must represent the people. When it ceases to do so, it no longer exercises a claim over its citizens.17 Ministers who have betrayed the trust, lost direction, and who thereby profane the name of the God of Israel, must be fought.18 Against an order which threatens to "steal" parts of Judea and Samaria from the people, Kook and his students see themselves as a wall, negating with words and action the policies they oppose.19 They are confident that the thieves, and those who submit to them, will be cursed by God.20

Rabbi Z.Y. Kook has justified his own heavy involvement in politics as necessary because of the current crisis, and he encourages among his followers the willingness to fight and perhaps to die for the eternal truth they defend.21 The ultimate value assigned to the redemption of the sacred land in the Gush Emunim program requires total dedication to the point of martyrdom.

Two religious-moral questions are posed by the leaders of Gush Emunim in regard to war for the sake of settlement. As to whether martyrdom is permitted for this commandment, the answer is yes, because this is a situation of emergency where force may be used to counter force. The positive commandment of inheriting the land is of such absolute value that it justifies any means and any sacrifices. The answer to the second question, whether a war between brothers (fellow Jews) is permitted, is also affirmative for the same reason: the importance of the commandment.

The self-appointed representatives of world Jewry are forbidden to relinquish even one kilometer of the sacred soil, even if this requires war against a weak government which orders Israeli soldiers to oppose the settlers.22 Gush Emunim sees itself as a spiritual elite forced into politics by the urgency of the hour.23 They are the true Zionists in a country of backsliders. The Israeli government is depicted as having strayed from the evident meaning of Zionism, lacking inner vision and understanding, and therefore, lacking the dedication necessary to maintain the messianic process. For this reason, they must be stopped by those who are rooted in Jewish sources, understand the politics of the Beyond, and are willing to act.24

Ernst Troeltsch, the seminal sociologist of religion, has characterized a sect as a religious group which emerges in reaction to compromises made by established religious institutions, regarded by the sectarians as corrupt or degenerate. In separating themselves from these institutions, the sectarians attempt to return to the pristine religious ideas, to maintain a spirit of renewal, and to construct a voluntaristic, egalitarian and exclusivistic organizational structure, girded by ascetic discipline. Refusing accommodation or compromise, the sectarians try to withdraw from the secular sphere and defend what they regard as the authentic experience, the ideas and forms of the original religious movement.

Gush Emunim resembles a sect in its character as a voluntaristic militant Úlite, defending the nationalistic-messianic ideals of Rabbi Kook—as interpreted by his son—withdrawing from any compromises which would violate their ideals, and maintaining a revolutionary Úlan emanating from the sense of self-certainty in their sacred goal and their own value as agents in the redemptive process. The exclusivistic tendency has been modified, obviously, by the desire of the Gush to convert others to their tenets, and to draw the nation into the sacred process, whether through force or argumentation.

In fact, because of the alliance with right-wing political factions, Gush Emunim has made its own compromises with secular power. Further, Gush Emunim leaders have maintained links with the elders in the National Religious Party in order to acquire positions of power within that very religious establishment which defends the status quo. Nevertheless, there is an exclusivistic core in Gush Emunim: in the demand for uniform commitment to political action, total dedication to a political program, and single-minded acceptance of the teachings of Rabbi Z.Y. Kook with no room for dissent. The revolutionary momentum of the movement has been abetted by success in creating settlements, in raising popular support, and in avoiding routinization and normalization by encouraging a defensive crisis mentality.

It is the social and psychological ground of this sectarian phenomenon which is most important, since it explains, in part, both the motivation underlying the dedication of members of Gush Emunim and the wide tolerance and even encouragement which the movement has received from the Israeli population. Gush Emunim represents a recrystallization of attitudes, a resolute stance around certain ideas, and a reconstruction of social solidarity in the face of the anomie, experienced after the Yom Kippur War. It is not the messianic interpretation of the Jewish state which is new, but rather the radical inisistence that the borders are the key to this drama. What is also new is the fervent enthusiasm with which this idea of reconquest and resettlement of the territories is grasped and the radical dedication of the group which holds it. Such enthusiasm can be explained only in light of the symbolic elements which are triggered by the religious symbol of the land.

Eretz Yisrael, to its fullest biblical boundaries (wherever one draws the line), has become the rallying symbol of the Gush Emunim movement. The land serves as a symbol of Jewish survival, whose importance overrides political realities and overshadows other religious issues. The land, as formulated in the ideology of Gush Emunim, revives deep-seated Jewish memories and catalyzes pent-up resentment and rage. The group memory of persecution, of being pushed around, of being nowhere at-home, surfaces in the refusal to leave any area of what is considered rightfully Jewish space—"Judenrein." The rage surfaces in the refusal to accept any foreign or internal intervention in determining the fate of the Jewish people. Never again will Jews be moved from their legitimate habitation; never again will they accede to oppressive enemies threatening their survival. These attitudes are shared by all Jews with an historical memory, even with one that reaches back only to events of the past 30 years. Thus, the land comes to symbolize the entire conflict between Jew and non-Jew and between faithful Jews and those whose loyalties waver. Towards the external enemy the answer is the triumph of David over Goliath. Towards the internal, it is the victory of the Maccabees over the Hellenizers.

The residues of the Jewish group memory feed the responses of Gush Emunim members to the symbol of the land and they draw many non-members to sympathize with those willing to fight the battle for Jewish honor. The frame of reference in which the issue of the territories is perceived is determined by the deeply rooted prototype of "Jew versus world." Strengthened by an increasing sense of isolation which in fact did emerge as a political reality after the Yom Kippur War, the profound Jewish feeling of alienation issued for many in an angry determination to go it alone, to act according to internal will, according to internal self interest, and to triumph over all opposition. Within this context, the ability to replace a symbolic response with a realistic one or to distinguish new elements in a situation which recalls old conflicts, proves to be very difficult.

In the mood of messianic fervor, and determined by the residues of a tragic history, the members and sympathizers of Gush Emunim reject outright any intrusion of non-Jewish elements into Israeli life. They have withdrawn from a world, which in the past oppressed them and in the present would press upon them intolerable compromises. Gush Emunim approaches mundane politics, the Israel government, and the American government with a "trained incapacity" to disentangle real from symbolic. They have opted for a one dimensional integralist mode of understanding, and regard western political considerations and western cultural influences as a threat to be warded off completely. Therefore Israeli officials who deal with the American government, representing pragmatic secular values, are condemned as anti-Jewish, confused, and lacking authority over those faithful to the authentic Jewish truth. Anyone who deals with Henry Kissinger—who functions as a devil symbol—the incarnation of western pragmatism, western culture, "the husband of the goyah" and a traitor to his people,25 is immediately contaminated. Thus, the battle over "the land" becomes a battle for moral legitimacy. Yielding a "foot of soil" is tantamount to forfeiting true Jewish values. The compromises are agreed upon by those influenced by degenerate western ideas and embodying degenerate western culture. The fierce defensiveness of Gush Emunim is founded upon profound national, social and religious antipathy to the non-Jew, and equally upon fear of the possibly unsettling or disintegrative effects of western culture. Before these threats, the posture assumed is complete sectarian closure. It is a well-known phenomenon in the history of religions that the oppressed are drawn to a redemptive religion which promises relief from frustrations and suffering, and release from subjugation. The coming of the kingdom is linked to the freeing of the native land and the tomb of the ancestors.

The cost of the biblical leap in religlous consciousness was the tenuousness of belief. The world was no longer "full of gods, visible and manipulatable." After all rational arguments, the evidence for faith is faith itself, and not knowledge attained through the natural intellect of man. Because doubt and uncertainty are dialectically inherent in the biblical stance, social consensus of ideas, and behavioral patterns among those who had experienced the presence of the mysterious transcendent God was necessary to bolster the fragile base of the original experience. However, human forms relativize the absolute and dilute the mystery of transcendence.

The danger to religion comes from its externalization and the identification of non-empirical insights into transcendence with empirical social and cultural forms. This danger is intensified in a period when social consensus breaks down, when popular opinion is differentiated, and when religious ideas and values compete with other ideological options. The religious response in this situation may be to attempt to understand the implications of change and appropriate them within the religious systern, or to deny all change and proclaim the inerrancy of the tradition. An example of the latter alternative is the American Fundamentalist movement of the late 19th and 20th centuries, which attempted to restore absolute fidelity to the biblical word, traditional morality, and conservative politics against the challenges of science and liberalism. Men who had grown up in a tight Protestant culture, and who lived with a sense of millenarian hopes, confronted a society marked by rapid technological change and secularization in all areas of life. The fundamentalist sought to protect himself from such transformations, to guard his own "possessive experience" 26 by drawing the line tightly on biblical literalism and by condemning all changes in religion as infidelity. The fear of doubt, strain, and ambiguity led to a wooden interpretation of the text and a mechanized rigorous discipline, both of which inhibited the development of religious consciousness itself. The inability to maintain interior commitment without external protection, such as linguistic literalness, and the need to restore the old cultural context, eyen if this meant the preservation of obsolete forms, reveals a basic vulnerability to change. The fundamentalist tries to encapsulate religious life, and to prevent, through religious fiat or government legislation, any element which would destroy the old relationship of community, tradition, and belief. He is driven to stop change, and to avoid disorientation by trusting completely in the record of God's mighty acts among men in the past and the prophetic predictions for the future. Those who could be "terribly unsure are condemned to be doubly sure." 27

If the methods adopted by the fundamentalists bear clear similarities to those of Gush Emunim, the motivations are also similar. Reliance upon a univocal interpretation of traditional texts, use of force when pressed, opposing the adversaries by invoking the wrath of God and condemnation, are methods of men who must block doubt and alternative options. Concentrating upon one symbol, which is not merely a concretization of the religious relationship but also an externalization, the leaders of Gush Emunim betray a tremendous social and psychological need to enforce closure. In the midst of upsetting social and spiritual problems, it is not surprising that men seek to erect a shelter. This tactic is an especially convenient means for a religious group whose members' background is in the direction of consensus and security. Acquisition and settlement of the territories, dedication to the land, provide a center for religious life and community, deflecting attention from problematic intellectual, cultural, and political issues which rend the society. Reading the statements of Gush Emunim leaders, one is impressed by the certainty which they find in their ideas and the fervor with which they defend their positions. In contrast to the reflection of a Dr. Herzog28 or Rabbi Yehuda Arnital,29 there is in Gush Emunim no self-questioning or wrestling with the pressing dilemmas inherent in Israeli life or with long-range religious problems posed by life in a modern Jewish state. Rather, the posture is absolute complacency in a rigidly held set of convictions and a strident militancy of true believers.

The community which forms around the symbol of the land, nurturing a millenarian spirit, restores the sense of purpose, interpersonal relations, and individual fulfilment—within a whole which becomes a home for the individual, protecting him from aloneness and offering him significance. The member becomes dependent upon his community, deriving from it his self-definition and role. The cohesion of socio-geographic limits adds to the solidarity of the Gush Emunim community. Members share a common space, speak in the common tongue of messianism, and as a remnant which must be saved, have a common goal related to ultimate significance. The determination and enthusiasm of the movement is further reinforced by a common discipline, the location of a common enemy, and recently, by actual victories in the political sphere. The idea that Israel possesses sacred qualities as God's chosen people, and a sacred destiny, runs throughout the writings of Gush Emunim, and undergirds their unity. Again, a prototypical symbol is revisited and radicalized in its contemporary implications. Given the sense of isolation experienced in Israel following the Yom Kippur War, this particular idea has special resonance for a nation feeling itself forced inward and seeking meaning and community in its own past. The determining principles are "the truth of the Jewish people" 30 and "the inner goals of Jewish history." 31 This solipsistic subjectification of knowledge and morality, the mystification of history, permit one to avoid dialogue and to avoid confrontation with external moral and intellectual demands. The content of one's ideal is not the issue, but rather the force of one's commitment to them.32 One can rely on one's own spirit and dedication without testing reality, because no reality outside the Jewish national soul is recognized.

The irony in the Gush Emunim solution is that in protecting religious values conceived as absolute, the basic disarticulation between religion and society is in danger of being lost. In linking itself with specific government programs, in identifying itself with specific social values, a religious group risks becoming a mere reflection of mundane values or even a cover for mundane strivings. In this regard, it is interesting to note the role which messianic Judaism, through the interpretation given to it by Gush Emunim, plays in furthering right-wing political interests. This instrumental function has been recognized by significant politicians and journalists, who actively praise and support this religious movement, expressing admiration for the idealism and vitality of this young pioneering advance guard, but who feel no necessity to share the religious ideas and orientation represented by Gush Emunim. Equally interesting is the willingness of Gush Emunim itself to accept this alliance without I making any spiritual or value demands on those with whom they join forces. The instrumental function may not be manifest either to Gush Emunim leaders or their allies, but in fact, religion is being manipulated to serve rightist nationalist purposes.

The Hebrew breakthrough to a transcendent God not only separated out the transcendent dimension from the immanent vitality and life forces of the world, but also distinguished the ethical demands of the transcendent from specific historical social orders. By placing empirical society under the judgement of a transcendent ethic, prophetic religion introduced a method of critique whose social implications cannot be exaggerated. It is necessary for religion to accommodate itself to empirical situations and even to legitimate social institutions. However, such legitimation must always be related to a transcendent demand, and cannot submerge the critique of society and authority which is inherent in a religion of transcendence. The dilemma is the degree to which religious interests may be reconciled to secular interests without truncating the unique prophetic character of a religion which is based upon an ongoing encounter with transcendence.

It is this prophetic function which is threatened by Gush Emunim's single-minded identification of a particular political position with God's absolute will. When membership in the believing community comes to represent political interests, mundane ambitions find expression under the guise of religion. The religious aura contributes an emotional quality which exacerbates and embitters conflict, making realistic evaluation and adjustment of interests more difficult. Further, the identification of religion with specific political policies risks losing the prophetic and judgemental functions of religion. In interpreting settlement and conquest as holy acts determining the course of redemption, the danger is loss of all discrepancy between empirical goals and the transcendent measure. Prophetic criticism calls attention to this discrepancy between finite rights and obligations of the social system and various particular interests, and the infinite demands issuing from a transcendent source. "We associate God and religion with all that we are fighting for . . . our cause, we love to think, is especially God's . . . The whole fabric is Providential. God, God is in it, everywhere . . . every drum beat is a hymn, the cannon thunder God, the electric silence, darting victory along the wires. is the immediate greeting of God's favoring work and purpose.33

The sentiment of pride and self-assurance reflected in this quotation, not only eliminates the inscrutability of the ways of the Lord, but also eliminates any distance between the values of religion and social-political policies. Despite its conflict with the existing government, Gush Emunim advocates a position which itself represents an accommodation of the transcendent with the mundane, an identification of the transcendent with particular cultural forms, and a self-certainty by the finite about the infinite. It thus sacrifices the prophetic edge and the perspective of the humble. It encourages a complacency in attainments, a satisfaction in what are taken to be self-evident goals, a zealous pride in concrete actions, while destroying the disarticulation between the transcendent and the mundane or empirical.

Another irony in the Gush Emunim solution is that in interpreting Jewish messianism fundamentalistically, and in concentrating all energy on one element—settlement—of the total messianic complex, the possibility of a genuine confrontation with other interpretations of messianism and with other critical religious issues is foreclosed. No one can doubt the sincerity and spontaneity of the response of Gush Emunim, but one can doubt the religious creativity of the movement. One can ask in what way has thinking on the messianic nature of the State and the religious "turning" (teshuva) of its citizens been furthered by the reflection of the leaders of Gush Emunim.

Belief is rooted dialectically in doubt. Therefore, the tendency towards achieving absolute certainty, towards enforcing closure in thinking, towards blocking out differing interpretations, is a constant phenomenon in the history of religious groups. In the process of attaining such total belief, the openness of an interior relationship to transcendence may be sacrificed. One may ask whether this interiority, the aspect of conversion or return to sincere belief and practice, which is one sign and prerequisite of the messianic process, is being sacrificed for the others, the settlement and productivity of the land. Thus, one may question whether the concrete symbol of the land functions as a vehicle to the sacred, or whether it is a delimitation of the religious experience, around which a symbolic saturnalia is occurring.

By assuming the posture of a people that stands alone, operating according to its own laws, the inner destiny of a peculiar nation, and locked in combat with any force challenging this law, Gush Emunim offers a haven for those suffering from disorienting changes and contingencies, which are part of Israeli life at this moment. However, the haven is fragile. The wolf's blast, in the form of a conflict over a peace settlement may blow the whole house down. By deflecting attention from the painful and confusing developments which are part of Jewish consciousness in Israel today, and which mark the expansion of human counsciousness of the modern condition, Gush Emunim manifests the irresponsibility of a group impervious to challenges which could clash with established formulations. Further, by concentrating only on the aspect of settlement, Gush Emunim selects and distorts the fullness of the messianic complex and prepares the way for a crisis in its own religious consciousness.

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About the Author

Dr. Janet O'Dea is Research Fellow at the Van Leer Foundation, Jerusalem, and teaches the sociology of religion at the School for Overseas Students of the Hebrew University. She taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is the author of "Readings in the Sociology of Religion" and a study of Yehezkel Kaufmann's Golah Ve'nekhar (Exile and Alienage). Dr. O'Dea is a member of "The Jerusalem Group for National Planning", working on Israel-Diaspora relations.


1. Yehuda Amital, Hama'alot Mima'amakim (A Song of Ascents Out of the Depths—an allusion to Psalms 130, 1). Jerusalem 1974, p. 12.

2. Jerusalem Post, 1/4/74.

3. Hanan Porat, Petahim, March 1975, p. 4.

4. Ibid., p. 7. Rabbi A.Y. Kook interprets the verse from Song of Songs 5:2 as meaning that God, as the lover, calls upon his people to return to the land. This return, which Rabbi Kook rejoiced in seeing, signified to him the commencement of the messianic period. Zvi Yaron, Mishnato Shel Harav Kook, Jerusalem 1974, p. 263.

5. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Maariv, 5/6/74.

6. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Hamedian Kehil-kaymut Hason Hageula, Mitzpe, 1952, pp. 226. 227; Rabbi Z. Drori, Maariv, 7/18/74.

7. Rabbi Z.Y. Kook, Hazofe, 1/26/75; 3/17/75; Rabbi Z. Drori, ibid. The Talmudic quotation: Sanhedrin 98, b.

8. Rabbi Z.Y. Kook, Maariv, 5/6/76.

9. Ibid.

10. Rabbi Z.Y. Kook, Hazofe, 12/22/75.

11. Rabbi Z. Drori, op. cit.

12. Rabbi Z.Y. Kook, Maariv, 5/6/74.

13. Ibid.

14. Chaim Peles, Hahitpathut hadialektit shel haraayon hatzioni, De'ot, 1976, p. 333.

15. Shdemot, No. 58 (1976), pp. 31-48.

16. Rabbi Z. Y. Kook, Hazofe, 12.12.74; 2/19/74.

17. Ibid., 7/19/74.

18. Ibid., 2/13/74.

19. Ibid., 8/14/74.

20. Ibid., 8/4/74.

21. Maariv, 5/6/74.

22. Ibid.

23. Hanan Porat, Shdemot, op. cit., p. 46.

24. Rabbi Z. Drori, Maariv, op. cit.

25. Goyah: a Gentile woman. Rabbi Z. Y. Kook, Maariv, 8/2/74; Hazofe, 8/20/74.

26. Eric Vogelin, The New Science of Politics, Chicago 1952, p. 122.

27. Reinhold Niebuhr, Shall we Proclaim the Truth or Search for It, p. 345. Quoted from Willard B. Gatewood, Controversy in the Twenties; Fundamentalism, Modernism, Evolution. Vanderbilt 1969, p. 46.

28. Yaacov Herzog, A People that Dwells Alone, London 1975.

29. Yehuda Amital, op. cit.

30. Shdemot, op. cit.

31. This idea is discussed by Israel Yaacov Yuval, Morasha, No. 9.

32. Nathan Rotenstreich, Moznayim, Vol. 42 (1976), 243-248.

33. Horace Bushnell, in Sidney Mead, The Lively Experiment, New York 1963, pp. 142-143.

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