The Religious Zionist Approach To Jewish Law

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

When I look at the halakhic writings that have emerged from the Religious Zionist sector in Israel, I am sometimes highly uncomfortable. In a recently published Orthodox Forum book, Religious Zionism Post Disengagement: Future Directions, there is an article by Dr. Aviad Hacohen that helped me understand what has made me uncomfortable and why it should not bother me. (The article is in the book [link] and available for download here: link)

Dr. Aviad does an excellent job of outlining the unique Religious Zionist approach to halakhah and has helped me to articulate what I consider to be the right way to do Religious Zionist halakhah and the wrong way. Religious Zionist authorities are different for a number of reasons that are not important for this discussion: the topics they generally discuss, the media that they use, the language they utilize. What is relevant to our discussion is that they recognize that halakhah has to be practical for an entire country, including its government. This is something generally ignored by Charedi authorities.

However, the way I see it, there are two ways to do this. One is to decide in advance what the country needs and then to back into the halakhic reasoning. This approach essentially hijacks halakhah and forces it to reach political conclusions. I see this as an invalid process. The other way is to incorporate that national need as one of the concerns in the question. When any authority addresses a practical question, he has to look at the entire situation and take into account all of the details that might not be directly relevant but can influence the outcome. In the case of a national question, the national needs have to be incorporated as a factor.

MOSHE POSTS: One example the first type of psak that Gil is talking about (a psak forced to fit the national interest) might be the fact that the rabbinate paskened that the 1st war in Lebanon (early 80’s) was a milchemet mitzvah, when in fact it wasn’t so clearly defensive in nature and scope..but they needed to pasken that way b/c we can’t have milchemet reshut nowadays without a sanhedrin. So a rabbinate which works for the government is going to be inherently nogeah badavar. [But that’s just me playing devils advocate based on an argument I heard from someone else before. I actually agree that the 1st Lebanon war was a milchemet mitzva. But I see how it might be a stretch].

An example of the latter, where nation interest is just one factor (a snif lehakel, if you will) is probably the heter mechira. There are good grounds for it, but the national interest pushes the case over the top if you’re a religious Zionist.

Overall, I think R. Gil makes an excellent dichotomy here, it really hits the nail on the head with RZ psak, something I’ve thought about before myself but couldn’t articulate.

JOSEPH KAPLAN WRITES: So let me ask Gil a more specific question: if one looks at a teshuva on a national/community issue, how can one determine from the teshuva (or, can one determine from the teshuva) whether it is "backing in" or "incorporating"?

RAFAEL WRITES: Reb Gil, with Dati Leumi poskim, there is also the issue of how much modern or academic methods of study effect their psakim, withou the question of national or state imperatives. For example, Rabbi Yuval Sherlo’s methodology is certainly different than Rabbi Shlomo Aviner’s or Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s. Rabbis Aviner and Melamed use traditional methods of determining halochoh, not so Rabbi Sherlo.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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