It is common for people to speak about Religious Zionism as if it is a monolithic ideological group that shares common assumptions about the State of Israel, secular studies, the army, etc. Religious Zionism is actually made up of numerous smaller groups, some more dominant than others, which all together make up what insiders call the migzar/מגזר, or the sector. One of the most important figures within this constellation is Rabbi Zvi Tau. Rabbi Tau was a student of Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook and an important figure at Mercaz Harav, but in 1997 Rabbi Tau broke away from Mercaz Harav.
In one of the only English treatments of Rabbi Tau, Yehudah Mirsky wrote that educational institutions associated with Rabbi Tau or his students “are characterized by nationalism, a holistic reading of the ostensibly true will of the people, thoroughgoing rejection of any form of academic Jewish studies as well as of literary and humanist approaches to the Bible, and a sacralization of the state and its institutions as such.”
In a recent edition of Makor Rishon, Yoav Sorek wrote an in-depth analysis of recent developments in Rabbi Tau’s philosophy that is bringing him closer to an ultra-Orthodox approach to the state, its institutions, and the rest of the Jewish people. Rabbi Tau is now teaching that Rav Kook’s understanding of the role of the entirety of the Jewish people is reserved for the messianic era. In his article Yoav quotes one of Rabbi Tau’s students who described the ultra-Orthodoxization of Rabbi Tau’s present day teachings in the following manner:
In the past he [Rabbi Tau] had great trust in the Israeli reality…He followed Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook who would insisted that “the people are with us,” because the people knows what is right. Today, in Rabbi Tau’s eyes, there is simply no people with whom to speak. He doesn’t reject the teaching of Rav Kook, but rather turns it into “Messianic halakhah,” something that is essentially irrelavent to reality. The ideal of the unification of the holy and the profane is in his eyes something that is reserved just for supremely righteous people, for a level that doesn’t exist now. The role that Rabbi Tau’s beit midrash fills today on the ideological map is identical to that which Agudath Israel played against Zionism in the past.
If Rabbi Tau was a rabbinic figure who had few disciples, the change in his thought would be of little more than academic interest, but in addition to those who are directly influenced by him, Rabbi Tau has a very large number of disciples and educational institutions that were founded by his disciples in which thousands of people study. Therefore his influence is much larger than those who study in his yeshiva, and Yoav’s article addresses the tensions that some of his students are beginning to feel between the “old” and the “new” Rabbi Tau.
The change in Rabbi Tau’s theology might also have an impact on the upcoming Israeli elections. Rabbi Tau is associated with the Hardal group within Religious Zionism and has become a very outspoken opponent of the Bayit Yehudi party. He has instead thrown his support behind Eli Yishai’s ultra-Orthodox Yahad party which was joined by Yoni Chetboun after he left the Bayit Yehudi.
The article is a must read for anyone interested in the future of Religious Zionism, and Yoav was kind enough to make his article (Hebrew) available in PDF and it can be read here.