How some Israelis see the sacred in settlements
The expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is driven by more than politics and security concerns. Religious Zionists say settling the land is ushering in a messianic age.
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These religious Zionists describe the redemptive era they espouse as already well under way, and say it includes the coming of the Messiah, who is widely expected to be a human leader; the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem; the uplifting of all peoples; and the establishment of lasting global peace.Skip to next paragraph
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"Everything that happens, there's a divine reason and a divine hand behind it," says David Wilder, spokesman for the Israeli settlers of Hebron. "We believe that our being back here is a stage in the redemption of the Jewish people, which will culminate in some point in time with mashiach," the anointed one, or Messiah.
Evolution of religious Zionism
When Zionism began gathering momentum as a secular European movement to establish a home for the Jewish people, many religious Jews looked askance at it. Many denounced it as a heretical plan to try to hasten God's redemptive process.
Enter Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, a renowned Torah scholar originally from the Russian Empire, who incorporated teachings from the mystical branch of Jewish thought known as kabbalah. He argued that Zionists were an unwitting part of the divine plan to bring the exiled Jewish people back to Israel, or Zion, and that it was incumbent upon religious Jews to take part – and eventually persuade their secular brethren of the divine mission they shared.
He and his son cultivated generations of religious Zionists, including Ben Meir, who arrived from Chicago as a teenager.
On a recent evening, the yeshiva was pulsating with Hanukkah music as the latest crop of students celebrated.
"That's one of my students on the guitar," says Rabbi Yehoshua Magnes with a twinkle in his eye, listening to the concert from his apartment across the street. Surrounded by hundreds of books, he marvels at the depth of Jewish thought and philosophy cultivated during nearly 2,000 years in exile.
He sees the ingathering of the exiles in Israel as part of a messianic process, but says he doesn't know what shape the Messiah will take or when he will come. As for where, he cites a 12th-century rabbi and philosopher from Spain, Rabbi Judah Halevi, who wrote that the land of Israel is the only place where a person can be a prophet – which is to say, someone who has a direct connection with God.
Mr. Magnes refers to a page in the Talmud that says that the Messiah will come on clouds – or on a mule. "If we do it the easy way, then he'll come on clouds.... But if we do it the hard way, we're talking about a lot of suffering," he says.