From the Desk of Rabbi Moshe Hauer

The Gift of Israel

Shehecheyanu v’kiymanu v’higianu lazman hazeh, latkufah hazot, lamakom hazeh.

We are a blessed generation, living the dreams and prayers of millennia. Seventy-five years ago, the State of Israel was declared as a Jewish homeland on our ancestral holy land. Since that time, that besieged and impoverished State of 600,000 has grown to become the home of a near majority of the Jewish people; it’s an active and vibrant spiritual center and a hub of industrial, scientific, agricultural and economic innovation for the world. While we mark this milestone in the dark shadows of profound internal strife and external threats, we must not fail to express our deepest gratitude to G-d for the unique privilege of living in this period of history in which we have been restored to our Land and our Land has been restored to us.

True gratitude requires recognition and appreciation of every dimension of the gift. That recognition allows us in turn to utilize the gift to the fullest, as well as to identify and navigate its associated challenges. Toward that end, we need to consider what we have gained from our return to Eretz Yisrael and from the creation of Medinat Yisrael.

Maharal of Prague1 observed that galut, the exile of the Jewish people, includes three principal negative components: national subjugation, dispersion and dislocation from our home. Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman2 insightfully notes that these elements are included in the blessing we recite in the daily Amidah prayer in which we ask G-d to end our exile: “Sound the great shofar of our liberation (from subjugation), raise the flag that will unite our exiles (from dispersion), and gather us (from dislocation) to our Land from the four corners of the earth.” Each of these three elements has deep and visible contemporary resonance, and each represents a component of the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.


Cheiruteinu/Liberation: Providing Refuge

While the initial seeds of our return to Zion were rooted in a love for the Land, the driving forces in the creation of the State were antisemitism and the Holocaust. It was antisemitism that moved Herzl to create the Zionist movement, and it was the Holocaust that drove the United Nations to grant our people a place of refuge. The thousands who arrived in Palestine to escape Russian pogroms and persecution before and after the turn of the twentieth century became the more than one hundred thousand who arrived in the State of Israel from the DP camps in Europe. Jews persecuted and made unwelcome in their countries of residence now had a place that would unconditionally welcome them home.

. . . it appears that G-d’s interim solution to the challenge of assimilation . . . was the creation of the Jewish State.

The Law of Return codified this dimension of the State of Israel, granting immediate citizenship to any Jew who asked for it. Millions did, coming in waves from North Africa and the Middle East, Argentina and France, Ethiopia and the Former Soviet Union. The Law of Return was in a sense expanded by the heroic Entebbe rescue operation in July 1976, which demonstrated the principled commitment of the State to the safety and the rescue of Jews everywhere, not only allowing them to return but also bringing them home.3

As North American Jews who tend to view aliyah as an expression of idealism, we must not lose sight of the lifesaving and liberating role the State of Israel has played, recognizing that it is this form of aliyah that has been numerically dominant in the story of the modern return to Zion.


Kibbutz Galuyot/Unity: Powering Jewish Identity

Israel has been a significant unifying force in Jewish life. We can never cease to be amazed by the literal ingathering of the exiles from all four corners of the earth that we encounter in any visit to an Israeli market, hospital, prayer service or Knesset subcommittee. But it goes far beyond that.

On the day that King Solomon built the Beit Hamikdash, he defined it as the place toward which Jews everywhere would direct their prayers. “That you will hear the pleas of Your servant, of Your people Israel, that they shall pray via this place.”4 Jerusalem, the city that binds us all together, k’ir shechubrah lah yachdav,5 became the tel talpiyot, the hill toward which all mouths turned in sincere prayer.6 Every synagogue in the world is built with an orientation that places the holy ark on the front wall such that it directs the congregation in prayer toward the unifying spiritual center of the Jewish people, the Temple in Jerusalem.

In contemporary Jewish life, the unifying power of the Land and the State of Israel has become even more tangible.

In an oft-quoted comment, Rabbi Saadia Gaon declared in the twelfth century that “it is only through the Torah that our nation is a nation.”7 This is an unchanging truism that describes what has enabled Jews to survive as a people throughout millennia of exile and dispersion in foreign lands. We took the Torah with us wherever we went, rejoicing in its study and disciplined in its observance, thereby maintaining our distinct identity. But that commitment to Torah has weakened significantly over the past two centuries as Jews throughout the exile have become increasingly alienated from Torah knowledge and observance. Given that tragic reality, how would the Jews—the people whose nationhood is realized only through the Torah—survive as a people?

G-d in His ultimate kindness and visible providence provided the solution in the form of the renewed national interest in the Land of Israel. As Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, the founder of Religious Zionism, wrote, the Zionist movement helped people who were running from their identity as Jews to instead embrace it.8 This phenomenon has continued visibly since the founding of the State, as for the vast majority of Diaspora Jews it is not Judaism but the State of Israel—both concern for its safety and pride in its accomplishments—that has united and galvanized them as Jews and served as the most effective anchor of their Jewish identity. In a pragmatic sense, it appears that G-d’s interim solution to the challenge of assimilation and the preservation of Jewish identity was the creation of the Jewish State.9

The critical role of Israel in forging Jewish identity is underscored in the most practical sense in the Taglit-Birthright Israel project. This effort targeting young adults takes them to Israel for ten days of immersion in the Jewish story and exposure to Israelis and Israeli life. The project has broadly united the organized Jewish community, which sees it as an effective tool to enhance the Jewish identity of those who are not ready to make a significant personal commitment to Judaism. Birthright trips are not just a nice idea. In the two decades of their existence, studies have shown that Jews who participated in Birthright Israel trips were more likely than peers who applied but did not participate, to marry somebody Jewish, feel a deeper connection to Israel and observe Jewish holidays.10 These statistics are elevated significantly for MASA programs that provide a variety of extended immersive Israel experiences.11

The State of Israel’s role in strengthening the Jewish identity of Diaspora Jews was acknowledged and formally codified in the Nation-State Law adopted by the Knesset in 2018. There it is declared that “the State shall act in the Diaspora, to strengthen the affinity between the State and members of the Jewish People,” and “the State shall act to preserve the cultural, historical, and religious heritage of the Jewish People among Jews of the Diaspora.”12 While during the first decades of the State, Israel’s survival was significantly dependent on material and political support coming from Diaspora Jewry, today the situation is somewhat reversed as the Jewish identity of large segments of Diaspora Jewry depends on the State. Racheim al Tziyon ki hi beit chayeinu.

This notion should not only be a cause for gratitude and part of our expression of appreciation for the gift of Israel. It must also guide our behavior, our communications and our policies. Preserving that sense of identity between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel is a paramount responsibility that both Israeli and other Jewish leaders must have top of mind. And while it would be self-defeating to compromise elements of the State’s Jewish character for this purpose, sensitivity in communication and in implementation of policies can go a long way toward maintaining Diaspora Jewry’s essential bond and identification with Israel.


L’Artzeinu/To Our Land: Building a Jewish State

A complete Jewish life can only be achieved in the redeemed Land of Israel.13 This is not only due to the inapplicability of the Land-based and Temple-based mitzvot outside of Israel, but because when we live under the authority of other nations, the societal environment, character, values and laws are defined by those others. In that context, the most Jews and Judaism can hope for is the freedom to practice our faith within the narrow confines of religious and ritual study and practice. In our own land, however, we can create a holistically Jewish state, with an environment, character, values and laws that are informed by our own texts and traditions.

There is a power to living in the land of our ancestors, speaking their language, and being surrounded by landmarks . . .  that tell the Jewish story.

This does not imply religious coercion, but rather investment of Jewish and religious character. There is a power to living in the land of our ancestors, speaking their language, and being surrounded by landmarks, institutions and even street signs that tell the Jewish story. There is a richness to living in a society where the rhythm of the calendar of civic and professional life is set by Shabbat and yamim tovim, and where the lyrics of the popular music are derived from Biblical verses. There is a force to being part of a country that assumes responsibility for the material safety of Jews everywhere in the world, while nurturing within its own borders an astounding renaissance of Jewish learning and living. And there is depth to being part of a body politic where the moral and legal debates in the legislature, courts, hospitals and military draw upon Jewish sources for their resolution.

The Jewishness of Israel is of value even as we acknowledge that Judaism in the modern State does not have the final word on any of these issues. The State of Israel is not a theocracy, and even the government’s most religious members—whether from the Chareidi or Religious Zionist parties—are politically libertarian and do not seek to compel individual halachic observance, while understanding that on questions of law and values the State’s legislature and courts will consider Western values alongside the religious. Nevertheless, since its inception the State has upheld its public religious character in the manner of traditional Orthodoxy, promoting this at times by law, as in the case of public transportation on Shabbat, and at times by popular consent, as in the case of the universal and voluntary abstention from driving private automobiles on Yom Kippur.


Opportunities and Challenges

While each of these three dimensions represents an aspect of the outstanding gift that is Israel, these very same issues intersect with each other in ways that have created fundamental and even existential challenges for the State.

l For decades, world Jewry has debated whether halachic Jewishness—in the form of maternal ancestry or Orthodox conversion—should determine eligibility for the Law of Return, or whether the law should be more liberally applied to anyone who could be subject to persecution due to their connection to the Jewish people.

l The ongoing debates over the Kotel revolve around the value of an embrace of Jewish religious pluralism in pursuit of Diaspora Jewry’s broader identification with the State versus the internal negative impact of that embrace.

l Finally, in the prevailing tense climate resulting from the growing numbers and power of the Chareidi and Religious Zionist populations, how do we promote the Jewish character of the State without stirring feelings and accusations of religious coercion?

As in all cases of competing values, even when we feel that we have clear answers to these questions, consideration of all the relevant values moves us to approach the questions with greater sensitivity and nuance, allowing us the possibility of reducing, even if not eliminating, the necessary costs of these difficult choices. That is a worthwhile exercise.

The gift of our return to Eretz Yisrael along with the creation of Medinat Yisrael has given us so much to be grateful for. We need to proceed thoughtfully to maximize the benefits of this gift for each and every Jew and for Klal Yisrael as a whole.


  1. Netzach Yisrael, ch. 1.
  2. Ibid., Machon Yerushalayim ed., n. 47.
  3. This principle was subsequently codified in the Basic Law: Israel—The Nation State of the Jewish People, 6a.
  4. Melachim I 8:30.
  5. Tehillim 122:3.
  6. Berachot 30a.
  7. Emunot v’Deiot 3:7.
  8. Ohr Chadash al Tziyon, Introduction, pp. v-vi.
  9. Political philosopher Leo Strauss wrote the following in a letter to the editor in the January 5, 1957 issue of National Review: “The moral spine of the Jews was in danger of being broken by the so-called Emancipation which in many cases had alienated them from their heritage, and yet not given them anything more than merely formal equality; it had brought about a condition which has been called ‘external freedom and inner servitude’; political Zionism was the attempt to restore that inner freedom, that simple dignity, of which only people who remember their heritage and are loyal to their fate, are capable… I can never forget what it achieved as a moral force in an era of complete dissolution. It helped to stem the tide of ‘progressive’ leveling of venerable, ancestral differences.”
  12. Basic Law: Israel—The Nation State of the Jewish People, 6b-c.
  13. The Chafetz Chaim wrote an abridged Book of Mitzvot, including only those commandments and prohibitions that apply outside of Israel. His compilation included less than half of the mitzvot, 77 out of 248 positive commandments and 194 out of 365 prohibitions.


Rabbi Moshe Hauer is executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. 

This article was featured in the Summer 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
We'd like to hear what you think about this article. Post a comment or email us at