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What's the Difference Between Zionism and Biblical Judaism?

Shortly following the October 7th depraved attacks on Israel, a longtime friend and former co-worker, a Christian man, sent me this question:

Judah, what is your perspective on the difference between Zionism and Biblical Judaism?

 I responded,

Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people should return to Israel.

The Bible certainly aligns with that: the Law prescribes many commandments that can only be kept in Israel. The Psalms talk about Israel as the place where God set his name forever. The prophets talk about God regathering the Jewish people into Israel. Zechariah speaks of a future where the Jewish Messiah reigns from Jerusalem.

So I think Zionism and Biblical Judaism are mostly aligned.

There are undoubtedly variants of Zionism that don't align with the Bible. For example, some religious Jews mistreat foreigners, Arabs, and Christians, all under the umbrella of Zionism.

Maybe I'll write a post about it; hard to fit in a reasonably short message.

My friend responded,

Please do write about it Judah.

I'm watching these folks:

They look to have good hearts. This is all so confusing.

Here's the post he's referring to by @TorahJudaism account:

Understandable: he sees a video of what appears to be religious Jews calling for the dissolution of the nation of Israel, labelling Israeli Jews as "Zionists and thief settlers." 👀 

I responded,

Yeah, I know the account.

What you need to understand about this group is they don't represent mainstream Judaism. They are to Judaism what Jehovah's Witnesses are to Christianity: a small fringe sect.

There are 2 such anti-Zionist groups in the Jewish world: Neturei Karta and Satmar. They believe only Messiah could recreate Israel, and since Messiah hasn't yet appeared (in their view), Israel is illegitimate.

These groups often meet with Iranian ayatollahs, Palestinian terrorist organizations, and far left anti-Zionist groups. This has led to them being deeply ostracized by both secular and religious Jews.

You can read more about them here.

Before diving in, a few notes about anti-Zionist Jewish groups.

First, size:

Courtesy of Elder of Zion

The anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect makes up an extremely small minority of Jews.

The comparison to Jehovah's Witnesses is generous. For frame of reference, Jehovah's Witnesses cult make up less than 0.3% of all Christians. The anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect makes up an even smaller percentage (0.04%) of all Jews by an order of magnitude. There are just 5,000 of them worldwide. This tiny sect does not represent the Jewish world or Judaism.

Secondly, the owner of the referenced Twitter account, @TorahJudaism, was seen posting pro-Erdogan dictatorship, pro-Turkish propaganda calling for the reinstitution of an Islamic caliphate, even on Shabbat. (Orthodox Jews do not use electronics on the sabbath.) An exposé later revealed the Twitter account to be run not by Orthodox Jews, but by Turkish Muslims hoping to stir opposition to Israel. The owner of the account later partially acknowledged this.

All that said, let's return to the original question: is Zionism Biblical?

Zionism is the belief that Jews should return to Zion (Israel).

Return is an important word here. Historically, Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel going back nearly 4,000 years. So when we talk about Zionism, we mean Jews returning to Israel. We do not mean, as some critics say, a colonization or occupation of a foreign land. It's returning to our own historic homeland.

And if our critics insist on decrying colonialism, we must remind them of the Islamic conquest and colonization of the Levant some 2,000 years after the Hebrews arrived in the land of Canaan.

Zionism - Jews returning to Israel - is that Biblical?

Absolutely so.

From the very first book of the Bible through the final chapters of the Tenakh/Old Testament prophets, God continually speaks about His promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people, including passages about returning to that land. The whole arc of the Biblical story is fixed within that context. Here are a few examples:

  • In the beginning chapters of the Bible, God promises Abraham and his descendants the land of Israel (Gen 12:7)
  • God reiterates his promise to Abraham and says that the land will be "an everlasting possession" for his descendants. (Gen 17:8)
  • God commands the Hebrew slaves to go into the land and possess it, and that God himself will be with them. (Deut 9:1-6)
  • During the exodus, God reiterates his promise again, telling the people to live in the land and take possesion of it. (Lev 20)
  • After Moses' death, God tells Joshua and the Israelites that he is giving them the land of Israel, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Joshua 5)
  • The books of Judges, Kings, and Chronicles tell of the early leadership of the people in the land of Israel.
  • The books of prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel warn the people to stop sinning and turn back to God, lest they be taken away from the land of Israel: "Return, backsliding children," declares the Lord, "For I am your Husband. I will choose you and bring you to Zion." (Jeremiah 3:12)
  • The same books of prophets speak of a future when God will call Jews back to Israel. "The days are coming when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess." (Jeremiah 30)
  • The same prophets speak of a coming Jewish King of Israel who will reign over all nations from Jerusalem (Zech 14)
  • God speaks of a future where the Jewish people will be united as they return to the land of Israel. "Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, where they have gone. I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel, and one king will be king to them all." (Ezekiel 37)
  • The historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the Jewish return from Babylonian captivity to the land of Israel. (Nehemiah 1)
  • Many of the psalms also speak about the land of Israel and confirm God's ongoing promise of the land to the Jewish people. In the Psalms, God installs his King in Zion (Psalm 2), he affirms the land of Israel as His promise with the Jewish people (Psalm 105), the psalmist calls the people to consider Zion and admire its beauty (Psalm 48), says Zion is to be the "joy of the whole earth" (Psalm 48:2-3), that God established Jerusalem forever (48:9), that God choose Zion as his dwelling place forever (Psalm 132), it's the place where God lives with his people (Psalm 87), commands us to pray for Jerusalem (Psalm 122), that Jerusalem ought be our highest joy (Psalm 137), and that God has promised Zion to the Jewish people forever (Psalm 105):

I could also cover New Testament passages confirming God's election and promises to the Jewish people as well (e.g. Romans 9, Galatians 3, and others), but this goes beyond the question from my friend.

In this 5 minute video, apologist and Bible scholar Dr. Michael Brown shows that God himself is a Zionist:

So central to the Bible is the land of Zion that some anti-Zionist Jews silence themselves or mumble quietly when reading the parts of the Bible that doesn't fit their anti-Zionism:

This same anti-Zionist group did it in English. When they got to the part where God gives the land of Israel to Abraham's descendants, the man reads in English, "God came to him [Isaac] and told him, 'Don't go to Egypt. Stay where you are'...and uh and I'm skipping a lot of parts here...gave him a lot of blessings [nervous chuckle] for his kids."

The Bible is centrally and almost redundantly Zionist, as God himself promises repeatedly the land of Israel to the Jewish people, both as an eternal possession and something to be returned to after exile. 

Modern Zionsim, then, is the rebirth of a very old, Biblical idea: that Jews should return to Israel. Modern Zionism's rebirth in the late 1800s and early 1900s was undoubtedly a move of God among secular and religious Jews alike. Mere decades before Hitler seized power, Jews like Theodore Herzl petitioned kings, presidents, prime ministers and even popes for a Jewish return to the land of Israel. Had world nations listened, could the Holocaust been avoided?

The horrors of the Holocaust only stoked the desire to return to Israel. After Hitler, it became clear to humanity that Jews could not count on the safety and goodwill of the nations of the world. On May 14th, 1948 -- just 3 years after the devastation of the Holocaust -- the state of Israel finally was born anew thanks to the Zionist pioneers who are now honored in Israel and by Jews worldwide as heroes and forerunners. To this day, there are monuments, memorials, even whole cities in Israel dedicated in honor of these Zionist pioneers.

Among Jewish followers of Jesus, we attest in near unanimity with the rest of the Jewish religious world that God is in the business of ending the Jewish exile and returning Jews to Zion. It's my conviction that authentic Biblical faith is ardently and unapologetically Zionist: embracing the Jewish return to Israel as part of God's overarching plan for humanity. Its culmination will see the triumphant reign of the Jewish King Messiah, ruling the world from Zion.

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