Rise of the Religious Zionists in Israel
“In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11).
Shortly after Israeli National Security Minister Ben Gvir descended from the Temple Mount in January, he received a letter from the Jewish organization, Returning to the Mountain, asking him to approve a Passover Sacrifice on the Temple Mount on April 5, 2023, the day of the Jewish Passover. This would be the first sacrifice on the Temple Mount since the destruction of Jerusalem on the 9th of Av in 70 AD (Ezekiel 24:1-2). Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf also sent a letter to Gvir, requesting that the official address of the government campus change from “East Jerusalem” to simply, “Jerusalem.”
These examples indicate a rise in religious Zionism in Israel and within the government. Once confined to the fringes of Israeli society, ultranationalists1 have now entered the center of public life, mainly due to the election of Ben Givr, an ultra-Orthodox Jew. The group claims primary responsibility for the recent election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister.
In his first public remarks after the election, Netanyahu said that he would pursue policies that would appeal to a wide consensus of the Israeli public. In an exclusive interview with religious podcaster Jordan Peterson, Netanyahu defended Israel’s exclusive rights to the land, using the Bible as a primary source of his contention. Mr. Ben Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of belonging to a terrorist organization — the ultranationalists — now serves in a high government position. Religious ultranationalists believe that modern Israel represents God’s fulfillment of His biblical promise to return the land to the Jewish people, and to return Torah belief to the land. However, Ben Givr has publicly renounced his affinity to terrorism.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Religious Zionism “aims to restore not only Jewish political freedom but also Jewish religion in the light of the Torah and its commandments. For Religious Zionism, Judaism based on the commandments is a sine qua non (an essential thing) for Jewish national life in the homeland.”
Religious Zionism was one of several movements that developed with the increase in anti-Semitism throughout 19th century Europe, when many religious Jews began suggesting that the return of Jews to Israel represented the heralding of a Messianic era. In 1922, the group focused on Orthodox settlement in Israel, and in 1956 came under the umbrella of the National Religious Party, which only recently became active in Israeli politics. The Mizrachi organization2 held its first world convention in 1904 and developed the movement’s platform, which focused on observance of the commandments and the return to Zion as the beginning of redemption of the Jewish people.
(1) Ultranationalism means that Jews have exclusive rights to sovereignty over both Eretz Israel and the entire nation of Israel, and have exclusive loyalty to the idea of Zionism.
(2) Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines was one of the first rabbinic supporters of Herzl’s Zionist movement. He founded Mizrachi — the first institutional body of Religious Zionism — and believed that a Jewish state could provide a Mizrachi,or “spiritual center” for the Jewish people).
The Reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu
The 2021 Israeli Democracy Index — an annual study by the nonpartisan Israeli Democracy Institute — found that 75.9% of Jewish Israelis aged 18-34 self-identify as moderate right (34.9%) or right (41.0%), compared to the 56.6% of Jewish Israelis 55 and above who identify with the right (Zionism). It is notable that this result includes a high percentage of the younger generation born in Israel — 78% according to the Jewish Virtual Library. The Israel Democracy Institute estimates that some 70% of Israel’s total youth population identify with the Orthodox viewpoint.
The (re)election of Netanyahu provides a marked change in the influence of Religious Zionism. Almost one-third of Knesset members (the Jewish congress) are Orthodox Jews from various denominations. Mr. Ben Gvir opposes recognizing anything but Orthodox Judaism as legitimate. He claims that Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the United States according to Pew Research, undermines rabbinic tradition. Eliezer Rodring, a newly elected Orthodox councilman in Kiryat Arba said, “We won’t have laws executing someone for not observing the Sabbath. The idea is to connect the people of Israel to the Torah of Israel.”
Israel’s Blindness Departing?
“I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery … a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved … as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob’” (Romans 11:25, 26 NASB).
Paul says that the blindness (a partial hardening) of fleshly Israel will remain until the completion of the Church, when deliverance will then come out of Zion. However, since the beginning of the restoration of Israel’s homeland in 1878, and especially with worldwide Aliyah since 1948, there has been a special light shining upon the long-blinded Jewish people regathered to the promised homeland. They are being prepared to be an example to the nations when the full establishment of God’s kingdom comes following the final battle of Armageddon. Although scriptures indicate that general recognition of Messiah will only come through the restored Ancient Worthies, it seems evident that the reestablishment of the nation and the growth of religious Zionism is a beginning as we approach closer to the final days of the Gospel harvest.
“Behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, “when the city will be rebuilt for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will go out farther straight ahead to the hill Gareb; then it will turn to Goah. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the LORD; it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever” (Jeremiah 31:38-40 NASB). Jeremiah prophesied that the descendants of Jacob (Israel) would receive the city of Jerusalem (all parts) forever. We see today that the battle over the rightful heirs of Jerusalem are the Jewish people, and that soon, when the Church is completed, Jehovah will reveal Himself there.
During their dispersion, Jews have become acquainted with the customs and cultures of virtually all nations. The Jewish people will thus be equipped to encourage the people of all nations wherein they were scattered for centuries. Most Christians who claim to be Zionists teach that the Jewish people are now already a light and a blessing to the world (Isaiah 42:6; Zechariah 8:13). While it is true that the nation has produced an extraordinary amount of knowledge and technology, Messiah’s Kingdom is when Israel will become a light, leading the world into worship of the true God. “At that time they will call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of the LORD,’ and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the LORD; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart. In those days the house of Judah will walk with the house of Israel, and they will come together from the land of the north to the land that I gave your fathers as an inheritance” (Jeremiah 3:17, 18).
Ezekiel 38 describes a climactic time when Israel is attacked by the hosts of Gog. It is then that the Lord will show Himself to the world in a way it has never before seen. The defeat of Gog will be a defeat of all rebellion against Him. (Psalms 21:8, 9) The result will be that Jehovah will be magnified, and Israel will be recognized and sanctified to the top of the nations (Zechariah 14:2, 3, Ezekiel 38:16). All Israel will turn to Him and mourn for and accept their Messiah (Zechariah 12:9, 10). Our generation has witnessed great changes in the land of Israel. We are now witnessing another distinct turn of events. Certainly, this is an indication that the completion of Christ’s Church is near! Let us renew our own commitment to run our race with renewed fervor.