First, the word "Zionism" refers to the right of every Jew to live in Jewish Israel. Zion recalls the Sacred Mount that was and will one day be upon Mount Zion. We all agree on the meaning of the word. With regard to this original intent, most Jews have always been Zionists. Each year at the Pesach Seder Diaspora Jews all pledge: Next year in Jerusalem! This is Zionism.
The question is whether Israel's rebirth was religiously permissible before the coming of the Messiah. Even the most rabidly anti-Zionist Jews agree that once King Messiah is ruling, Israel is ours and will be established as a theocracy (of some sort) throughout all the Land G-d gave to our Patriarchs. So on this we also agree.
Most Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews today are Zionists. Most anti-Zionist Jews, like those in the image to the right, are also Orthodox Jews. We simply have a different understanding about Israel's rebirth and authenticity.
This debate stems back to the late 1800's. While Zionism is as old as Judaism itself, the people we now call "Zionists" began in the late 1800's. Most of them were Western political activists, and most were religiously agnostic Socialists. They wanted the nation reestablished on purely political grounds, as a sort of ethnic Jewish worker's paradise. To that end they created the collectivist Kibbutz movement etc. While there were many religious Zionists even then, most Zionist leaders were secular at that point.
Many of Traditional/Orthodox Jews questioned how a secular movement could establish a religious country as described in our prophecies. How could Agnostics merit the coming of Messiah? For this reason, many religious Jews at the time opposed the early Zionist Movement. Some even argued that their efforts might hinder the Redemption. Their hesitancy, at that time, was completely understandable.
Most of those who opposed early Zionism, like Chabad for instance, later embraced the Zionist movement once Israel became a reality in 1948. We must understand that the Israel that now exists is NOT the foretold Israel of prophecy. So while we point to 1948 (when Israel was reborn politically) as prophetically significant, and that date is, we do not claim that the messianic era began then. For that we are still waiting.
Rav Kook, a pious “Religious Zionist” and the first modern Chief Rabbi of modern Jerusalem, considered this seeming contradiction. He concluded that because the Jewish people did not yet merit the coming of Messiah and yet faced such extreme dangers in countries around the globe, HaShem (G-d) used the secular Jews like Hertzl, Ben Gurion, and the others to lay the ground work for what will one day become a truly Jewish Israel that will control all of the borders given to us by HaShem under the reign of Melech HaMashiach ben David (i.e. King Messiah, son of David). In the meantime, Jews are encouraged to practice teshuvah (repentance) and embrace Torah in order to merit the coming of HaMashiach ben David.
While most religious and secular Jews are now to some degree Zionists, there remains certain Heredi (i.e. ultra-Orthodox) Jews who continue to reject the existence of Israel. There are two main reasons for this ongoing rejection:
Torah warns: And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you" -- Genesis 12:3
These Jews have allowed their pride and interpretive opinions to lead them to treason against the One they claim allegiance to. They are very pitiable and we pray they will wake up.
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Rabbi Shlomo Nachman