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The Birth of the Jewish State: Rabbinic Views and Perspectives 

Compiled and translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski 


Photos: Gedolim Portraits

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (Lithuania, 1892-Bnei Brak, 1953) The mashgiach of Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Rabbi Dessler wrote the following during Israel’s War of Independence (Elul 5708, September 1948): 

What we are in the midst of now in the Holy Land is difficult to describe as “the beginning of the Redemption” (atchalta d’Geulah) but it certainly represents great kindness. [We have gone] from one extreme to the other—from the extreme of suffering, the destruction of six million of our brethren, to the opposite extreme—the settling of our people in our state in the Holy Land . . . . Woe unto he who comes to judgment and is still so blind so as not to see something as clear as this (Michtav Me’Eliyahu, vol. 3, p. 352). 



Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer (Lithuania, 1870-Jerusalem, 1953) studied in Volozhin under the Netziv and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. While in Volozhin, he was a member of the secret society Nes Tziona, part of the religious Chovevei Zion movement. In 1897, he was appointed head of the yeshivah in Slutzk and subsequently became rav of the town as well. In 1925, he moved to Jerusalem where he headed the Etz Chaim Yeshiva. Renowned as one of the greatest sages of the generation, Rav Isser Zalman was head of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael and author of Even HaEzel on the Rambam. Rabbi Reuven Katz, one of Rav Isser Zalman’s students from Slutzk, author of Degel Reuven and rav of Petach Tikvah, wrote the following about his illustrious teacher:  

How great was the joy of the elder sage of the generation that he merited to see with his own eyes the establishment and formation of the State of Israel. We cannot deny that many wholly religious Jews were fearful of the founding of the State because they were concerned that a spirit of heresy and anarchy would reign in it. Indeed, this fear was not entirely in vain . . .  But nevertheless, his heart rejoiced to see the great event of the founding of the State. In the purity and goodness of his heart, with the clarity and straightness of his mind, he knew and understood that this revolution in the status and destiny of the nation could not have occurred by chance, without the guiding providence and explicit will of the Creator. The formation of the State was a product of the world’s Conductor who anticipated and foresaw this time, and therefore we cannot ignore or oppose its existence    . . .  (p. 245).   

Likewise, in his eulogy for Rav Isser Zalman, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog described how he had organized in his home leaders of the Yishuv who would oppose the recommendations of the British Peel Commission, which would have created a Jewish state in a small portion of the Biblical Land of Israel. “Suddenly,” said Rabbi Herzog, Rav Isser Zalman entered the room and, trembling, requested: “A state is something that we have not had for nearly two thousand years, and now it is being offered to us, albeit on a small scale for now. Please do not push it off. It is evident that it is from Heaven and it is a sign of the atchalta d’Geulah” (Techumin, vol. 19, p. 270).  

Rav Isser Zalman’s son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, rav of Rechovot and founder of Yeshivat HaDarom, told the following story about his father: During the 1948 War of Independence, Rav Isser Zalman was injured by a shell fragment. While he was recovering, a visitor expressed his concern about the fact that the State was run by non-religious Jews. Rav Isser Zalman responded that we cannot advise G-d on how to run the world. “We can’t understand everything. Generations of holy, righteous people longed for these great days but didn’t merit it. This generation did. Why? Probably because that is G-d’s will” (R.M. Kasher, HaTekufah HaGedolah, p. 308). 


Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tukachinsky (Lithuania, 1871-Jerusalem, 1955) studied in and subsequently headed the Etz Chaim Yeshiva of the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem. A prolific author, he wrote many books related to the Land of Israel and its sanctity. The following is excerpted from the introduction to his Sefer Eretz Yisrael, which he completed on the final day of his life and which was published posthumously, within weeks of his death, in 1955.  

Anyone who is accustomed to viewing the reality of our world not as routine occurrences but who instead sees in all of existence—the revolution of celestial bodies and the development of each clod of earth, in each molecule and atom—wonders beyond comprehension, sees too in the history of Israel, in its annals from the beginning of time, in both the radiant luminosity and the melancholy gloom, a sublime process that has no precedent or parallel among the nations of the world. Through this, he realizes that the current shift is the first budding of the prophetic vision: “. . . and I will turn your captivity, and gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, said the L-rd; and I will bring you back unto the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive” (Jeremiah 29:14). After the ingathering of exiles, we will, with G-d’s help, reach the next stages until the ultimate redemption, “and you shall know that I, the L-rd, am your Savior, and I, the Mighty One of Jacob, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 60:16) . . . . Today, with the establishment of the State of Israel, the gates of the Land are open to the scattered people of Israel, and the time is not distant when the Land of Israel will once again be, with G-d’s help, the home and capital for the nation (Sefer Eretz Yisrael, pp. 9-14). 


Rabbi Dr. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (Poland, 1884-Switzerland, 1966) studied in the Slabodka Yeshiva under Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, “the Alter,” and Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein. He was the rector, or rosh yeshivah, of the Hildesheimer Seminary in Berlin, and after the Holocaust he settled in Montreux, Switzerland. The author of Seridei Eish and Lifrakim, he was a deeply original thinker and posek respected across the Orthodox spectrum. The following excerpts convey his attitude toward the establishment of the State.  

Is this already the beginning of Redemption (atchalta d’Geulah)? If you like, but if you are afraid of using this term so as not to belittle our hope and our all-embracing [Messianic] mission, you can call it by another name. I would call it the “key of redemption” (maftei’ach shel Geulah), a term found in the Midrash. We received the right keys in our hands. Jerusalem—the majority of it—now belongs to us, and it is the seat of a Jewish government. There gather and dwell the best of our people that survived . . .  We have merited what hundreds of generations in Israel have only dreamed of . . .  The key of redemption is in our hands . . . Political Zionism has achieved its purpose. It has attained more than its founders could have dreamed. Now it is time to implement a new plan, the plan of our first redeemer [Moses] (Kitvei HaGaon Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, vol. 2, pp. 362-363). 

We were not only “few against many,” but a small settlement of less than a million souls, with a few hundred rifles, fighting against six nations of 100 million Arabs with armies and planes and tanks. We had, at the beginning, almost nothing, and they arose to swallow us alive and throw us into the sea. 

For any Jew whose heart has not frozen completely, it is not necessary to explain the fullness of the blessing which the State of Israel has brought us. Our renewed State in the Land of our forefathers has revived and brought independence to our people dwelling in Zion; to the exiles of Israel dwelling in foreign lands, it has brought honor and glory. The great debate about whether to recognize a State that, to our sorrow, was not founded upon Torah and mitzvot dissipates like smoke in face of the living reality of a Jewish state power, with a full-fledged security apparatus that, with unmatched dedication, guards over our lives and the lives of our children inside the Land, and the honor and rights of those outside of it.  

The reestablished Land is holy to us. Besides for its intrinsic holiness, [produced] by the word of our G-d, the G-d of our forefathers, and besides for [the holiness that stems from] the mitzvot that depend upon it, it has also been sanctified by holy Jewish blood, by the blood of the pioneers who dedicated their flesh and blood to drain the malaria-infested swamps and transform them into flowering and flourishing Gardens of Eden for us and for those who come after us. It was sanctified by the blood of our warriors who fought the wars of our nation, for the conquest and freedom of the Land, in order to establish a shore of refuge and a remnant in the Land of our fathers for the nation adrift, anguished and persecuted (Sinai: A Journal for Torah and Jewish Studies, vol. 44, p. 127). 


Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (Vilag, Hungary, 1886-Brooklyn, New York, 1948) 

Reprinted with permission from Reb Shraga Feivel: The Life and Times of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the Architect of Torah in America, by Yonoson Rosenblum, with permission from the copyright holders, ArtScroll/ Mesorah Publications, Ltd. 

On Friday, November 29, 1947, the United Nations debated the issue of partitioning the British Mandate for Palestine into two countries, one Arab and one Jewish. Reb Shraga Feivel prayed fervently for partition. He had no radio in his house, but that Friday he borrowed one and set it to the news, leaving it on for Shabbos. He waited with such tense anticipation to hear the outcome of the U.N. vote that he did not come to shalosh seudos. When he heard the U.N.’s decision to establish a Jewish state, he stood up and recited the blessing “Who is good and Who does good”. . .  Four days after the United Nations vote, on 19 Kislev, Reb Shraga Feivel spoke in Bais Medrash Elyon, to present his talmidim with a Torah perspective on the event. He began by emphasizing that in the absence of prophecy no one could interpret the U.N. declaration with any certitude. Nevertheless, the whole tenor of his remarks reflected his hope that the moment was a positive one for the Jewish people. He described three aspects of the final redemption: the redemption of the Land, the ingathering of the exiles, and the return of the Divine Presence to her proper place. The redemption of the Land is the first of the three . . . In a similar vein, he also explained why the secular Zionists might have been chosen to play such a fateful role in the history of the Jewish people . . .  Divine Providence might have arranged that the secular Zionists play a major role in the redemption of Eretz Yisrael precisely in order to maintain their connection to Klal Yisrael.  

He had no radio in his house, but that Friday he borrowed one and set it to the news, leaving it on for Shabbos. He waited with such tense anticipation to hear the outcome of the U.N. vote that he did not come to shalosh seudos. When he heard the U.N.’s decision to establish a Jewish state, he stood up and recited the blessing ‘Who is good and Who does good’ . . . 

In a conversation with the Satmar Rav, shortly after his talk on the U.N. declaration, Reb Shraga Feivel was subjected to the sharpest criticism for his “Zionist leanings.” Later he told his family, “I could have answered him Chazal for Chazal, Midrash for Midrash, but I did not want to incur his wrath, for he is a great man and a tzaddik.”  . . .  In 1948, after the Arabs attacked the newly declared Jewish state and soldiers were falling on the battlefield, several roshei yeshiva taunted Reb Shraga Feivel for having recited the blessing. Reb Shraga Feivel turned to Rabbi Aharon Kotler, who agreed with him that the favorable U.N. resolution was indeed worthy of the blessing. . . . Once full-scale war broke out after the State of Israel declared its existence on May 14, 1948, Reb Shraga Feivel’s thoughts were never far from Eretz Yisrael. A group of students saw him outside the Mesivta building one day talking excitedly with Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr and gesticulating rapidly with the newspaper held in his hand. “If I were your age,” he told the students, “I would take a gun and go to Eretz Yisrael.” . . . Just two weeks after the Declaration of Independence, the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, fell to the Arabs. Every Jew living there was either killed, taken prisoner, or exiled from the ancient walls of Jerusalem. After the Shabbos-eve meal, as he reached the words “Have mercy, Hashem, on Israel, Your nation, and on Yerushalayim, Your city,” in Bircas HaMazon, Reb Shraga Feivel burst out in violent sobbing, which brought on a massive heart attack. The doctors were immediately summoned and had him carried to his bed with orders that he must remain absolutely still.   

 . . . Even when he was under the oxygen tent, those attending him saw his fists beating on the side of the bed and heard him repeat over and over again, “Vos vet zein mit Eretz Yisrael? —What will be with Eretz Yisrael?”   


Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Jerusalem, 1915-Jerusalem, 2006) was one of the most prominent posekim of the twentieth century, and author of the many volumes of responsa Tzitz Eliezer. In 1952, he published Hilchot Medinah, dedicated to the halachic questions raised for the first time in two millennia by the founding of the State of Israel. The following is excerpted from his introduction to the work, Mevo She’arim:  

When the L-rd returned our captives like the streams in the Negev, He granted us the joyous song of the harvester, after his sowing with tears. The atchalta d’Geulah (beginning of Redemption), the founding of our State, on part of our Holy Land, with our own government—in seeing these wonders, even the nations point and say, “The L-rd has done great things for them” (Psalms 126:2). New horizons of halachah have been opened before us and we have been presented with a great mission, extending to vast dimensions, to deal with and delve into areas of halachah which for almost two thousand years were merely “laws for the Messianic era.” Suddenly, like dreamers, we have seen with our own eyes the wonder of the Master of wonders; in the flash of an eye, this has become a duty of the first order, whose fulfillment cannot be delayed by a moment. For we need a state like we need air to breathe, and [these laws] are the fortresses of strength in the construction of our new lives; the character and nature of the state—and its existence—depend upon their implementation, building an edifice for eternity. 


Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman (Lithuania, 1886-Bnei Brak, 1969), known as the Ponevezher Rav, studied under Rabbi Eliezer Gordon and Rabbi Shimon Shkop in the Telshe Yeshiva, as well as under the Chafetz Chaim in Radin. In 1919, he was appointed rav of Ponevezh, a major hub of Lithuanian Jewish life. He served as a representative of the Agudah in the Lithuanian Parliament. Rabbi Kahaneman’s family and community were wiped out in the Holocaust but he was saved and made his way to Palestine, where he reestablished the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. The following is excerpted from the Ponevezher Rav’s letter to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in 1959 in response to Ben-Gurion’s question of “Who is a Jew?” 

Allow me to add a few words to your Honor [Ben-Gurion], which flow from the heart’s depths. I see in the vision of the return to Zion and in our generation the revelation of the light of Divine Providence holding our hands and walking us through the scalding waters which have arisen to swallow us. I see G-d in every movement of the people who dwell in Zion. I am confident that your Honor sees the matter, for who, like you, the captain standing at the helm of the ship of the nation, can see as clearly the great miracles of each moment and each hour? We are G-d’s people, and our Land is a heaven-land . . . Let us go out to greet the Holy One, let us accept and draw close to the Divine Providence extended to us, let us meet our brethren, the Children of Israel, on the pathways of eternity of our people—His Torah and His mitzvot—to the complete redemption speedily (Kovetz Mihu Yehudi, p. 55). 


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli (Slutzk, White Russia, 1909-Jerusalem, 1995): The rosh yeshivah of Mercaz HaRav and author of many sefarim, Rabbi Yisraeli wrote: 

Perhaps they will say, “But we have not yet reached the full redemption” —but why should we devalue the incomplete salvation, even if we are looking forward to a full salvation? Why should we be ungrateful and not recognize the kindness revealed to us? Through acknowledgment to the Giver, the gates of kindness and mercy are opened to bestow upon us further blessings and success. In my humble opinion, this is but the counsel of Satan, to diminish G-d’s gift in our eyes, offering different excuses to ourselves, even though every eye can see how they do not stand up to logical scrutiny (Chavot Binyamin, §13). 



Photo: Flash90

Rabbi Dr. Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch (Montreal, Canada, 1928-Maaleh Adumim, 2020), Rabbi Rabinovitch was the rosh yeshivah of Birkat Moshe in Maaleh Adumim and the author of Yad Peshutah on the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. The following is from his work, Mesilot Bilvavam, translated by Rabbi Elli Fischer:  

The establishment of the State of Israel, the ingathering of the exiles, the prosperity of the Jewish State, and the triumph of the IDF over powerful enemies are manifestations of G-d’s might and awesomeness, which enable us to face new challenges every day. 

There is one simple and basic fact that is there for the whole world to see. It is so simple and so obvious that millions upon millions of people all over the globe see it and acknowledge it: The State of Israel exists, and it bears G-d’s name though its very existence and very name. It has restored G-d’s crown to its former glory . . . 

The story of Israel’s rebirth signifies the renewed manifestation of G-d’s majesty, not only for us, but for others as well. The man of faith is also the man of truth. Not only does he believe, he also bears witness, and his testimony can be trusted to confirm his faith. “You are My witnesses, says the L-rd, and I am G-d” (Isaiah 43:12). The Sages explain: “When you are My witnesses, then I am G-d, but when you are not My witnesses, I am, as it were, not G-d!” (Sifrei, Devarim 346). This is the great paradox of faith! G-d’s revelation only becomes revealed if we are aware of it and bear witness to it. G-d is our Redeemer only if we hear His promise as a commandment that must be fulfilled: “He says to Jerusalem ‘Let it be inhabited,’ and to the cities of Judah ‘Let them be built’” (Isaiah 44:26) . . . .  

It is clear that Zionism has much in common with other national movements. There is also no doubt that its thinkers meant to provide a shelter for the homeless. Nevertheless, above all, it was a historic need to fulfill the covenant between G-d and His people. For the believer, there is a religious imperative and a religious value in having a total societal framework in which the Torah can operate. Zionism offered the only possibility for meeting this need within the framework of the new political conditions. If the Torah sits abandoned in a corner, even if it is cloaked in gold and scarlet, it cannot bear “faithful testimony.” For its testimony to be heard, it needs an independent people living in its sovereign state and building its life according to the Torah’s values . . . . 

The challenges we face are very great indeed. The existence of the State makes possible the fulfillment of the Torah’s greatest aims: the ingathering of the exiles, the building and cultivation of the Land, and the fashioning of a just society that sanctifies G-d’s Name for all peoples to see. We have the responsibility of realizing these aims. To achieve them we will need all the abilities and all the talents of all Jews everywhere, and we hope that, with G-d’s help, the realization of these goals will usher in the Messianic era. 


Rabbi Yehoshua Hutner (Warsaw, Poland, 1910-Jerusalem, 2009) A student of the Chafetz Chaim and Rabbi Shimon Shkop, Rav Hutner served for half a century as the director of Yad HaRav Herzog and its many projects (including, most notably, the Encyclopedia Talmudit). He moved to Jerusalem in the 1930s. On the 25th of Elul 5755 (1994), he wrote a letter to an acquaintance describing the miracles of the War of Independence and of the founding of the State (published in HaMaayan, Nissan 5777). 

Is there any doubt that the whole year 5708 [1948], and especially the summer months of that year, was one long and sustained great miracle, the salvation of the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, that to this day still cannot be fathomed? One living in Jerusalem in the summer of 1948 felt the explosions overhead on all sides of the [Jordanian Arab] Legion, and the danger of the city’s conquest, and the danger of its inhabitants being killed by the Egyptians as well as the Arab Legion . . . . We were not only “few against many,” but a small settlement of less than a million souls, with a few hundred rifles, fighting against six nations of 100 million Arabs with armies and planes and tanks. We had, at the beginning, almost nothing, and they arose to swallow us alive and throw us into the sea. [America declared an embargo against us and forbade selling even one rifle to us. Salvation came by miraculous means, for anyone who wants to see clearly, in that G-d advised Stalin . . . to send us weapons through the Czechs.] G-d turned distress into salvation, and our enemies fled for their lives. Is there any Jew of intelligence, who has even a small flicker of simple faith without mixing in politics, who would not admit to the miracle visible to all the nations, unless he has placed upon his face an eightfold veil and refuses to see reality?  . . . 

In truth, the miracle of Yom Ha’atzmaut 1948 and the miracle of the salvation of 1948 are miracles for all time, for the salvation of the Torah and the nation, even when most of the [government] ministers fight against the Torah, as I will prove . . . The more they have fought against the Torah and religion from the left, the more Torah and religion have grown from the right, and the sum total is the victory of the Torah of the nation in its Land through the heretical government—even though their intent is the opposite! Is this not the greatest miracle? But to see it, one must look carefully, for without deep examination one sees the opposite . . . 


Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski is executive editor of OU Press.


More in this section:

Medinat Yisrael: Through a Torah LensRabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik; Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog; Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin; Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank; Rabbi Yehuda Amital; Rabbi Yaakov Friedman; Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein

The Return to Zion—An Excerpt by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik

Voices of Faith: Memories of 1948 by Rabbanit Miriam Hauer, Rabbanit Puah Shteiner and Rabbi Berel Wein; interviews by Toby Klein Greenwald

A Bridge of Paper by Charlotte Friedland


This article was featured in the Summer 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
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