The Case of American Religious Zionism

Center for Israel Studies Yom Iyun Explores History of Religious Zionism in America

Few things divide and provoke American Jews like the question of Zionism.  Though many wish to remember otherwise, this was also the case before the founding of Israel in 1948; and, though many wish to forget, the story of Zionism in America belongs not just to Labor Zionism, dominated by culturalists and secularists, but also to Orthodox Jews.  Recently Yeshiva University’s Center for Israel Studies held a study dayon the history of religious Zionism in America.  The questions raised by this history have profound implications for the future of Jews and of Israel.

According to Rabbi Yosef Blau, president of the Religious Zionists of America and mashgiah ruhani—spiritual advisor—of Yeshiva’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), the religious Zionist, or Mizrahi, movement began in Europe at the turn of the 20th century and arrived in America on the eve of World War I.  American Jews generally, and Orthodox Zionists in particular, were split between the earlier German generation and the newly arrived East Europeans.  Zionism was further split between Orthodox Zionists and the largely non-Orthodox American Zionist mainstream.  During World War I, amid the fragmentation, cut off from the European leadership, the Mizrahi movement foundered.

But important foundations within Orthodoxy were laid.  One was the “auxiliary” Mizrachi Women’s Group, fiercely independent and hardly auxiliary.  Other foundations were the Teachers Institute at what would become Yeshiva University, the newly established day schools dedicated toIvrit b’Ivrit, or teaching Hebrew in Hebrew, and the B’nei Akiva religious Zionist youth movement.  After the war, the Mizrahi movement was rejuvenated through partnerships with Yeshiva University and RIETS. Read the full article at Jewish Ideas Daily

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