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January 4, 2015 1:06 pm

Can Zionism Exist Outside of Israel?

avatar by Shaul Feldman

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Temple Mount. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

As a Zionism activist, I spend much of my time jetting back and forth between Israel and the United States. On every trip, I encounter interesting and passionate individuals who are committed to both their Judaism and the State of Israel.

These individuals are leaders in our Zionist youth movements, organizers of the Celebrate Israel Parade, teachers at the top Jewish educational institutions, and they are the first to spring into action and stand with Israel during her most challenging moments. They are constantly asking themselves (and me) if it is truly possible for Zionism to exist outside of Israel. This question (asked in hopeful tones) is central to their ideology and molds their identity.

The dilemma dates back to the 1800s and the origins of the Zionist movement. After witnessing the Dreyfus affair and anticipating an unprecedented rise in anti-Semitism, Theodor Herzl and his companions formed a movement whose sole aim was to provide safety for all Jews.

When Uganda was offered to the leaders of the Zionist movement as a potential homeland for the Jews, the idea was not immediately dismissed. In its earliest form, Zionism was not tethered to a particular land and focused entirely on the preservation of Jewish life. As such, any safe haven would have achieved the Zionist ideals of the time.

Obviously, the aims of Zionism have since evolved, and it is essential that we understand the ideals of contemporary Zionism in order to ascertain whether it is innately connected to a geographical location.

If we consider Zionism to be the creation of a common culture, a national sense of pride, and unity, then Zionism is something that Jews can rally around and feel connected to regardless of where they may find themselves. In Jewish elementary and high schools across the United States, students are learning about the culture, singing the songs, and developing a connection to their Jewish brethren around the world. As such, we should have no problem labeling them as Zionists.

If Zionism is about the establishment of a national language, then it is also nonspecific to Israel. Hebrew is being taught, studied, and spoken everywhere, and is a central component of Jewish education. Anyone who speaks Hebrew should be deemed an ardent Zionist.

However, if Zionism is about physically building our homeland, then one must live in that place to fulfill the ideal. If Zionism is solely focused on developing the Modern State of Israel “from the inside,” then it would be impossible for Zionism to exist outside of Israel.

Religious Zionism provides us with an additional perspective.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, a Torah luminary and the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, explained that religion and Zionism are innately intertwined. Stated otherwise, he believed that Zionism is a religious issue. Thus, individuals who find themselves embroiled in the constant struggle to safeguard Torah values are not just deeply religious but also true Zionists.

This definition of Zionism is the one embraced by the Religious Zionist Slate, a party in the World Zionist Congress comprised of delegates from America’s foundational religious Zionist organizations who seek to strengthen Israel’s “Jewish soul.” In the upcoming elections for the World Zionist Congress, the Religious Zionist Slate is campaigning under the banner “Vote Torah,” encouraging religious Zionists in America to exercise their right to vote in order to ensure growth and development in Israel, and Jewish communities around the world, that is imbued with the strength of Torah ideals.

Taking this viewpoint into account, it appears as though we have resolved our query.

Parents who educate their children about the history and importance of the State of Israel, explain its centrality to Jewish life as the true Jewish homeland, and set examples for standing with Israel during the best and worst of times can be counted among the world’s proud Zionists.

Families who are always looking towards the East and take every opportunity to visit Israel, support the Israeli economy, and identify with Israel as a central component of their identities are living according to Zionist ideals.

And those who make the effort to support the continued growth of Torah education and the development of religious outreach in Israel as well as the promotion of Aliyah and the security of a united Jerusalem through every means possible – are Zionists in the truest sense, regardless of where they live.

These individuals prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Zionism doesn’t only exist outside of Israel but is alive and well, thriving and growing every day.

Rabbi Shaul Feldman is the Director of Bnei Akiva of the U.S. and Canada. Previously, he held teaching positions at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, Yeshiva University and Torah Mi’Zion Kollel, and spent four years as a Bnei Akiva shaliach. Rabbi Feldman is also the Campaign Chair of the Religious Zionist Slate (, a party running in the World Zionist Congress elections.

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  • By the sons of Korah, a psalm, a song, whose foundation is in the holy mountains. HASHEM loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. The most glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God,Selah. I mention Rahab and Babylon to those who know me, behold there are Philistia and Tyre, with Cush, This one was born there. But of Zion it can be said, Man after man was born in her, and He, the Most High, maintains her thus. HASHEM will count, when He records nations, This one was born there, Selah. But singers as well as flute players, all wellsprings are in you (O Zion). Stone’s Tanach) The Holy One (blessed be He) declares He is the Author of Zionism and it will be His eternal Capital! Yes Zionism can exist outside of Israel–it will exist for eternity!

  • Mickey Oberman

    I am a staunch Zionist.

    I believe most Jews are.
    With the possible exception of those Americans who twice voted for Obama.

    • Mandrake


  • steven L

    Zionism and Israel are like Siamese.
    If one was capable of killing all the Jews on Earth, Israel would have no more meaning. If Israel was in perpetuity devoided of a single Jew, then what? This is the $64K question! This is the essence of the conflict between deism, agnosticism and atheism.

  • kim

    Zionism can exist outside of Israel, it can also exist outside of Judaism.

    • Mandrake

      Sure, Zionism can exist in IS, Iran and without any Jews.

      • kim

        Was just saying you don’t have to be Jewish to believe in Israel and be supportive of it, or contribute to efforts that help the Jews there if you can. If the best thing you can do is go live in Israel, serve in the IDF, build houses, start families, work the land, it would make more sense to be Jewish to do those things I’m sure.

  • Edward Cohen

    “Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, a Torah luminary and the first Chief Rabbi of Israel”.
    Rav Kook was Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine from 1921 till he died in 1935.
    The first Chief Rabbi of Israel was Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog (1949-1959).

  • Ben

    What dilemma? If Zionsm… but if Zionism…. however, if Zionism….

    All arbitrary and defined by non-practicing Jews. Rabbi Motti Berger says that secular political Zionism is nothing but the flip side to Reform Judaism. Reform said that Judaism is a religion and not a nation, while Zionism said that Judaism is a nation and not a religion. From them we are left with post-Zionist and post-religious Jews.

    Zionism like Judaism was defined in the age of ‘-isms’; a transient time. Religious Zionism is just a name for an ancient truth that long preceded the age of ‘-isms’. Am Yisra-el in Eretz Yisra-el, conforming to Ratzon HaShem as deliniatied by Das Torah. That is a unit. We are in exile without the land, the land is in exile without the Jews, and we are both in exile without the Torah State. What we have today is a non-sectarian state with some degree of religious accommodation.

    But a non-religious Zionism is problematic in its claim to the land. Our enemies say that Palestine is not a Jewish place with near-zero disagreement, and our Jewish opposition agrees that Israel is not a Jewish place. Within that some say it is Arab, half Arab, belongs to everyone or no one. his leaves us with little to work with. The world will not be more supportive of us than we are to ourselves.

    The only message of strength and clarity is to the religious Zionists who have another dimension to their ideology.

    • Eric Grosser

      I strongly disagree with your definiton of Religious Zionism as ” Am Yisra-el in Eretz Yisra-el, conforming to Ratzon HaShem as deliniatied by Das Torah.” This completely misses the point. For the past 2,000 years, there were always Jews who lived in “Eretz Yisrael” or dreamed of living here. But the idea of building a Jewish regime, Jewish autonomy in Eretz Yisrael is the basis of Zionism. Only when we have our own army, our own currency, our own language, are we able to serve as the home where Jews from all over the world can come at any time. Perhaps one of the greatest successes of the Zionist movement is the revival of the spoken Hebrew language, which 150 years ago, seemed like a crazy idea.

      In terms of the place of Judaism in modern-Israel, do not forget that 1)All government institutions in the State of Israel observe Shabbat and all Jewish holidays (are closed). 2)A vast nationally-funded network of Kashruth means that ALL food sold in 95% of Israeli grocery stores (all of the main stores) have kashruth hechshers of every variety.
      3)In the army, all food is kosher by law
      4)On Yom Kippur, no non-emergency vehicles travel on the roads
      4)All marriages & divorces are carried out according to Halacha
      5) The vast majority of businesses, including public transportation, close Friday afternoon and only reopen Saturay night after Shabbat is out.
      6)Synagogues/Torah scrolls are subsidized by the State of Israel
      I could go on and on, but let’s agree that Israel is very far from a typical “secular” state.
      I challenge you to find a time in all of Jewish history when there have been so many Jews in Israel observing Jewish tradition as we have today.