Changes in the Understanding of Work in Religious Zionist Thought: Rabbi T.I. Thau as a Case Study
… it is impossible for the salvation of Israel to sprout properly unless a fundamental, well-conditioned grafting of the two powers takes place, the sacred and the profane … they complete each other; only when combined do they fulfill their task in a perfect way.27
2. The Value of Work
R.Yehudah staunchly defends the construction of Israelite life. He is committed to seeing to it that the nation should not lose its sanity and that it should not, for sheer revulsion from the evil perpetrated by state authorities, become accustomed to hating all things, recoiling from all this-worldly matters and the needs of natural life.
When he emerged from the cave, he [R. Shimon bar Yochai] made light of all those improvements of the world which he saw about him: “They abandon life eternal and involve themselves in life temporal.” Whereupon did God put him back in the cave, “To destroy My world did you come forth?! Return you to your cave!”
Thereupon is the practical Torah appointed and this is its task, to build up Israelite life in health, in stability and according to a natural and upright order of proceeding. Individuals like R. Shimon bar Yochai and his son may flee into the cave, but woe is the nation that in its entirety flees and hides. In running away, it severs itself from the needs of real and natural life; it will defeat itself and cause itself harm greater than any decree or trouble from the without.48
R. Shimon bar Yochai’s great revulsion from all world mending is very dangerous … and though we are repelled by this-worldly concerns, yet is that not the case but when they are severed from the sacred and placed in opposition to it; but when the sacred is the heart and center of life, then do all bodily matters and the building up of the material also have great value.
When the Torah is not understood in all its truth, it is taken to be spirituality pitted against the real world and all its needs … while in truth there is no gulf between them, and the one can reinforce the other. The two need to combine to achieve the great purpose of the people, the purpose of “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” The special ability of the Israelite nation consists in its capacity to bring together the life of the body and the soul in actuality, uniting the national idea and the idea of the Godly.50
Studying the professions in the Land of Israel plays a doubly important role: first, in terms of the Commandment of settling the Land, for through the various professions will the Land be built up and developed, and second, in terms of the dignity of the Land, for then people will never say that not a single shoemaker or builder is to be found in all of the Land of Israel. Skilled workers will then not need to be brought in from distant lands.51
3. The Value of Hebrew Agricultural Work
The focus on developing and increasing the abilities of science and technology brings spiritual destruction with it, and abases the spirit of man. Humanity deludes itself into thinking that it is progressing and elevating itself, while in reality it is becoming more and more enslaved by the proliferation of wants and innovated ways to respond to them… to the point of being unable to do without them.55
…the individual and society wallowing in their weakness, in jealously, hatred and competition, pursuit of gain, pleasure and glory … so does moribund Western culture march on, in despair and hopelessness, toward degeneration, similar to Babylon and Rome at the end of their days.
The destined purpose of the Jewish People as an agricultural nation is puzzling, since ordinarily, agricultural peoples are primitive and undeveloped, while nations which engage in industry and trade are the ones who have a developed and progressive culture … but in the life of the Israelite nation the opposite process is taking place: its talents and the qualities of its soul find their realization and come to completion specifically in the way of life which has tilling the soil as its central founding element.57
A nation engaged entirely in working the soil and having no commercial ties with other nations is engrossed in its own life, and does not encounter the ideas or opinions that are common in other societies and cultures … such a nation has no cultural fertilization or spiritual enrichment from human culture beyond its own specific locale.58
There are infinite life treasures within us—treasure troves of Torah, of prophecy, of the Holy Spirit, of prophetic ethics and of the knowledge of God which is unique to us, and if we draw upon them and bring them to realization, as we have been commanded by the Torah and as the nature of our national soul inspires us to do, then will we rise to stand at the pinnacle of human culture … until they have the power to light up all the dark recesses of the world and to turn this entire world into a Garden of Eden.59
The Israelite nation does not need fertilization by other peoples in order to enhance the supreme value which is unique to it … The spirits of the nations are alien to the spirit of this people; they are not appropriate for its elevated status and its sanctity.
The agricultural mode of life in particular, which establishes the Israelite nation in isolation and on its own, is the one fitting for it, insofar as it makes its cultural development possible from within its own inner stores and its supreme morality, rather than deriving it from the culture of other nations and their ways. Therefore, the main and central business of the nation is in working the soil and raising livestock, while trade and industry, which bind with the nations of the world, are secondary and additional to the principal element …60
4. Summary and Discussion
The heroes of the “seed of beast” are crying out, without any clear or thought through utterance, to the “seed of man’ to come and complete them… Completing the seed of beast requires a spiritual manifestation total and perfect. Not of the proponents of average views aimed at compromise who want to resemble and imitate the heroes of the profane, adding to them the gem of Judaism, the Torah and the Commandments, will the mending and the mutual completion come. The heroes of the physical will not be built up except through the mightiest of the noble … for only complete, perfect characters act well upon each other.93
Conflicts of Interest
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For work in Jewish texts, see (Noybert 2015). Note that “work”, “skilled labor”, “craft”, and “the way of the earth” are all terms referring to physical labor.
Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, version B, 21.
Kiddushin 29b and Rashi’s commentary ad loc.
Mishnah Peah 1:1.
The Mishnah enumerates a series of values, but work is not included among the items listed.
Mishnah, Ethics of the Fathers 4:10.
Shulchan ‘Arukh, Orach Chaim 156:1.
For the Hovevei Zion, Jewish Emancipation and increasing productivity, see (Goldstein 2016).
The Hebrew word ‘aliyah [lit., ascent] is used as a term to refer to Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel. The wave of immigration known as the Second Aliyah took place in 1904–1914; the Third Aliyah is associated with the years 1919–1923. See (Ettinger 2005). The idea of increasing labor productivity had a profound impact on the Second Aliyah, as well.
“Zionism” is the term typically used to refer to the national movement emerging in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1800s in support of reestablishing a sovereign Jewish political state in the Land of Israel; Theodor Herzl (1860–1904) was the movement’s founder. See (Shimoni 1995).
Ibid., “A Little Reflection,” p. 128.
Ibid., “Work,” p. 194.
Cf. the interpretive insights proposed in Boaz Neuman, The Pioneers’ Desire (Tel Aviv, 2009) [Heb.].
“Torah” (lit., “teaching”) as a term is used to refer to the way of life and thought within the framework of the Jewish religious tradition and Halakhah (Jewish Law), which is based on Biblical texts and rabbinic writings. The term is used both as a noun and as an adjective. See (Neusner 2004).
For a discussion of developments in Jewish traditional thought in response to the impact of the Protestant work ethic on contemporary capitalism in America, see (Mashiach 2018).
On Rabbi Reines’ understanding of work, see (Mashiach 2018).
R. Avraham Yitzhak ha-Kohen Kook (ReAYaH, 1865–1935), a leading Jewish thinker of the modern period and author of numerous works on Torah subjects, founded the Chief Rabbinate in the Land of Israel, which he headed during 1921–35. See (Mirsky 2014).
R. Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook (RTziYaH, 1891–1982), head of the yeshivah at Merkaz ha-rav in Jerusalem, was one of the most prominent religious Zionist leaders of the 20th century. See (Shtemler 2014).
The term “yeshivot of the line [ha-kav]” was coined to refer to those traditional Torah academies which follow R. Thau as their spiritual leader. 1997 saw a split in the yeshivah at Merkaz ha-rav in Jerusalem. R. Thau and many of the yeshivah’s students and rabbis seceded to found Yeshivat har ha-mor. The background for this was the establishment of a teachers’ seminary at the yeshivah, a step which R. Thau saw as tantamount to placing “a graven image in the sanctuary,” since setting up a seminary is an infringement upon the “purity of the sacred,” a principle he upholds as ruling out making utilitarian use of Torah study. For the controversy and the split, see (Abramovitz 2006, pp. 35–40).
R. Kook, Essays by ReAYaH, Bet El, Aviner, 1984 [Heb], pp. 234–36, “Unity and Duplicity.”
Ibid., p. 257.
R. Kook, Eight Collections [Heb.] I, Para. 834; see also Binyamin Ish Shalom, R. Kook between Rationalism and Mysticism [Hebrew] (Tel Aviv, Am Oved, 1990), p. 316.
RTziYaH, Talks by R. Tzvi Yehudah: Exodus (Jerusalem, 5758) [Heb.], p. 386.
Idem, To the Pathways of Israel (Bet El, 5762) [Heb.], Part I, p. 259.
Idem, Talks by R. Tzvi Yehudah: Exodus, p. 413.
R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times (Jerusalem, 5754) [Heb.] X, p. 78.
A statement along the same lines is also to be found in the Sages; see Genesis Rabbah 11:6.
R. Thau, p. 77.
Ibid., p. 84.
Nachmanides, The Book of the Commandments, Forgetting the Positives 4.
The idea is already present in the teaching of R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook (R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook 2005).
R. Thau, Bearing His Sheaves (Jerusalem, 5768) [Heb.], p. 89; see also ibid., p. 113, Addendum 5.
1762–1839, Hungary; an eminent rabbinic leader of the modern period, also known as the “father of Jewish Orthodoxy.” See (Kahana 2015).
Chatam Sofer, New Insights on Tractate Sukkah [Heb.] 36a.
R. Thau, Bearing His Sheaves, ibid., and see also ibid., p. 116, Addendum 6.
Idem, To the Faith of Our Times X, p. 79.
R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times X, p. 55.
R. Kook, Eight Collections [Heb.], Part I, para. 834.
R. Thau, ibid., p. 60.
Ibid., p. 186.
R. Thau, Bearing His Sheaves, p. 91.
Ibid., p. 13, based on a passage quoted from R. Kook, Essays by ReAYaH, p. 179.
R. Thau, ibid., p. 16.
Ibid., p. 22.
Ibid., p. 28.
Ibid., p. 42.
Ibid., p. 43, based on the words of R. Kook, The AYaH’s Spring, Berachot II, p. 411.
R. Thau, ibid., pp. 46–47.
Ibid., and see also ibid., p. 57.
Ibid., p. 34.
Ibid., p. 89, and see also p. 113, Addendum 5.
Chatam Sofer, ibid.
R. Thau, Bearing His Sheaves, p. 113, and see also ibid., p. 116, Addendum 6.
R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times X, p. 60.
Ibid., p. 186.
R. Thau, Bearing His Sheaves, p. 28.
Ibid., p. 34.
Schwartz, pp. 92–103.
R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times I, p. 12. The original source is in the Yerushalmi, Berakhot 1:1.
R. Thau, And Your House and Your Kingdom Assured (Mitzpeh Ramon, 5775) [Heb.], p.20. For more on Redemption in his teaching, see Abramovitz, pp. 1–40.
R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times I, p. 148. See also p. 23.
Idem, And Your House and Your Kingdom Assured, p. 26.
Ibid., p. 7.
Ibid., p. 11.
Idem, To the Faith of Our Times I, p. 121.
Schwartz, pp. 83–92.
Ibid., p. 120.
In this connection, see (Fisher 2009). Fisher suggests that R. Thau perceives the State of Israel as ongoing Divine revelation and the unfolding of Israel’s history as a realization of the Divine will, according to which Redemption is to manifest itself gradually, taking advantage of natural, rather than of obviously miraculous means to progress. Understanding this involves revolutionizing people’s ways of thinking, appearances of gradual evolutionary change notwithstanding. “Purity of the sacred” and separation from the profane, as part of this process, will affect the entire world. See: R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times II, p. 131.
Ibid. II, p. 96. See also Schwartz, Land of Reality and the Imagination (Tel Aviv, 5757) [Heb.], pp. 115–16.
Elsewhere he summons: “Know your land! Not in the sense of geography and defining flowers and insects, but knowing the land in its essence, its special ability, and its sanctity” (R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times II, p. 80).
Jeremiah 31:26. For “the seed of man and the seed of beast,” see also R. Thau, ibid., p. 34; ibid. VIII, pp. 103–16.
Abramovitz, pp. 206–26.
R. Kook, Essays by ReAYaH, pp. 234–236, “Unity and Duplicity.”
Ibid., p. 257.
R. Kook, Eight Collections [Heb.] I, Para. 834; see also Binyamin Ish Shalom, R. Kook between Rationalism and Mysticism (Tel Aviv, 1990) [Heb.], p. 316.
RTziYaH, To the Pathways of Israel (Bet El, 5762) [Heb.], Part I, p. 259.
On RTziYaH’s understanding of labor, see (Mashiach forthcoming).
R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times I, p. 111.
R. Thau, Lessons in Notebook 41 (Jerusalem, 5771) [Heb.], p. 10.
R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times X, p. 111.
Ibid. VIII, p. 161.
R. Thau, The Banner (Jerusalem, 2010) [Heb.], p. 71.
R. Thau, To the Faith of Our Times II, p. 75.
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Mashiach, A. Changes in the Understanding of Work in Religious Zionist Thought: Rabbi T.I. Thau as a Case Study. Religions 2018, 9, 284. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9100284
Mashiach A. Changes in the Understanding of Work in Religious Zionist Thought: Rabbi T.I. Thau as a Case Study. Religions. 2018; 9(10):284. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9100284Chicago/Turabian Style
Mashiach, Amir. 2018. "Changes in the Understanding of Work in Religious Zionist Thought: Rabbi T.I. Thau as a Case Study" Religions 9, no. 10: 284. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9100284