Universal Religious Zionism

Ideology and Praxis

Table of Contents


1.  The Imperative for Its Existence and Our Proposition

This endeavor represents the emergence of Universal Religious Zionism, a new phase in the evolution of Religious Zionism, achieved through integrating the Divine Sparks hidden in universal values. Just as Religious Zionism emerged in the last century through the synthesis of Judaism and the sparks inherent in national Zionist values, this new chapter builds on that legacy.

Many agree that contemporary Religious Zionism is experiencing an ideological crisis. This is evident in Religious Zionism’s almost obsessive focus on immediate practical activities while neglecting to envision broader spiritual goals for the future.

We have great reverence for those who are immersed in pragmatic endeavors. Their work is vital, but it is far from the only requirement. Progress is stalled without a comprehensive ideological and theological perspective to provide a broader map, and leadership becomes untenable.

Henceforth, we propose a roadmap and a subsequent practical implementation program. This publication is intended to stimulate collaboration with those who share this vision.

The following sections include:

  • An introductory overview of the ideology of Universal Religious Zionism
  • A catalog of universal values proposed for integration into Religious Zionism
  • An initial examination of the sparks that represent the essence of these values in conjunction with their encapsulating shells.

We propose the following:

  • Establishment of hug rayoni, a community of like-minded adherents for the elaboration and advancement of this project. (Although the proposed concept is based on the teachings of Rav Kook, we are open to working with all religious modernists, whether or not they subscribe to Rav Kook’s philosophical tradition).
  • Thoroughly analyze each value to accurately distinguish the spark from its shell and provide authoritative sources for such analysis.
  • Formulate educational courses on these topics.
  • Disseminate these courses to the Religious Zionist community.

Project Goals:

  • To formalize, structure, and promote the modernist strand within Religious Zionism.
  • Establish this strand within the spiritual leadership of Israeli society.
  • Strengthen the connection to Judaism for those “universalist Jews” who have been hindered by the absence of universal values within Judaism, similar to how Rav Kook’s Religious Zionism helped attract many non-religious Zionists of the new generation to Judaism.
  • Facilitate the evolution of Judaism through a holistic understanding of the Divine Sparks.
  • Lay the foundation for the next phase of Judaism’s influence on the Western world.

We do not expect this new strand to subsume the entirety of Religious Zionism. Nevertheless, this strand must be represented on the world’s religious map.

Consequently, we do not seek to change the beliefs of those who do not subscribe to this approach. Our goal is to shape this approach for those who are interested.

2. Naming the Movement: Drawing from Rav Kook’s Terminology

In 1921, Rav Kook named his institution Yeshiva Merkazit Olamit (Central World Yeshiva). From the beginning, this name was rendered in English as The Central Universal Yeshiva.

Olamit (global) indicates its comprehensive view of the world and universal, global values. Merkazit (central) is an appeal to the spiritual center of this world, the Land of Israel, and its values.

Over time, the yeshiva’s name changed to Merkaz haRav in the everyday language of Rav Kook’s institution.

This name change was not accidental but in keeping with the initial phase of spreading Rav Kook’s teachings. For such a profound spiritual light to permeate society, it first had to shrink to merkazit (central), integrate with Zionism, and gradually expand to olamit (global), embracing universal values and influencing humanity.

Over the past century, the first stage, merkazit, has already been achieved. However, the prevailing disregard for the olamit aspect during this stage hinders further progress today. Therefore, it becomes imperative to reintroduce the concept of olamyut, or universalism, as the direction of development for Religious Zionism in the present era.

Today, a significant number of modernist rabbis advocate the integration of universal values into Judaism. In practice, however, they remain fragmented and insufficiently visible to form a movement. A major challenge is the lack of a common name. A phenomenon without a name cannot reach its full potential – a concept without a label cannot take root in the public consciousness.

The term “olamit,” coined by Rav Kook, signifies universality, and it is appropriate to adopt it as the name for the emerging movement. One of the key principles of religious modernization today is to embrace the entire universe, recognizing all its components as manifestations of God rather than limiting interest to religious tradition. 

3. Fundamental Tenets of Universal Religious Zionism

3.1 Integration of Universal Values into Judaism

Many Religious Zionists and Modern Orthodox individuals already value universal values such as science, technology, art, “living in purity and beauty,” environmentalism, democracy, etc. However, there is a significant difference between understanding that “this is part of my life” and recognizing that “this is also part of my Torah.”

Just as in the previous phase of Religious Zionism’s evolution, a significant breakthrough was achieved when Rav Kook’s school elevated national values from “this is part of my life” (a perspective already held by the early Mizrahi) to “this is also part of my Torah.” Today, a similar paradigm shift is needed with regard to universal values.

This transformation:

  • Changes our perception of those values. As values are analyzed and isolated, the Divine Spark is released from its shell, facilitating its spread in the religious world.
  • Unifies the sparks of these values with other elements of Judaism into a harmonious system, resulting in (a) the values realizing a much greater potential and (b) the pursuit of equilibrium with other values and sparks.
  • Changes the attitude toward these values. For many, religious values have a greater significance than simply pragmatic values.
  • Provides religious individuals with the motivation to explore and develop the relevant aspects of life, as was previously the case with Zionist values.
  • Changes the societal perception of religion, which is no longer seen as a separate sphere divorced from life, but as one that is interwoven with all aspects of our existence. This strengthens the population’s positive attitude toward religion.

In the process of shaping Judaism, we are also evolving ourselves.

3.2 Universal Religious Zionism is Based on Concepts of Rav Kook and Other Modernist Thinkers

As early as 1910, Rav Kook proposed a developmental program for Judaism based on integrating the values central to the three major ideological groups within the Jewish people: Orthodox, Nationalist, and Universalist (Shmona Kvatzim 3:1-2). The past century has witnessed the first phase of this integration – the merging of Orthodox principles with national values – which forms the basis of contemporary Religious Zionism. In light of this phase’s achievements, we believe it is time to embark on the second phase: the fusion of Religious Zionism with universal values.

The integration in this second stage should also draw on the teachings of other great spiritual leaders: R. Soloveichik, R. Reines, R. Uziel, R. Ashkenazi (Manitou), and others, not necessarily limited to rabbis or even Jewish sources. Rav Kook emphasized that his disciples should not limit their learning to his teachings alone, as following a single spiritual authority can lead to distortion. Instead, each individual should strive to create his or her unique synthesis of the teachings of various spiritual leaders.

So, what are universal values?

  • At this point, we are referring to the incorporation of sparks from the values of Western civilization – the de facto leading civilization in both the material and spiritual realms. (The concept of the West encompasses the entire Judeo-Christian civilization that emerged during the Middle Ages and the modern era).
  • This is consistent with the approach of Rav Kook, who, when discussing the integration of the values of the three groups of world Jewry, had in mind the liberal-universal group oriented toward Western values.
  • We recognize that these values do not encompass all of humanity’s values and that Eastern civilization has tremendous achievements and unique values.
  • However, at this initial stage, we can only focus on those values that occupy our spiritual landscape and with which we are reasonably familiar. The Jewish people are now part of Western civilization, not Eastern.
  • Consequently, we must delegate the task of extracting sparks from the values of the Eastern civilization to other scholars and perhaps to future generations.

3.3 We Are Also Connected With God through Civilization As Part of Creation

The traditional approach is based on communication with God through Revelation, that is, through religious tradition. Many modernist rabbis have already pointed out that this approach is too restrictive. Our connection to God should be through Revelation and Creation (human, nature, Universe). Both channels are divine because God created the Torah and the entire world, necessitating the religious appreciation and study of both.

We want to expand this thesis: Creation includes not only nature and each person with their inner world but also civilization as a whole. Since God has given human beings creativity, all the products of civilization, including science, technology, art, social life, and more, are integral parts of Creation.

Certainly, civilization is not given from above in a ready-made form; it is a collaborative creation of both God and humanity. Similarly, religious tradition is not simply given from Heaven in a complete state; it is also a joint creation of God and humanity.

Therefore, there is no basis for claiming that all Divine Light is contained exclusively in religious tradition. Religion must assimilate sparks of Holiness from the world and civilization for a meaningful dialogue with God.

3.4 Judaism Evolves Through Our Efforts

Religious people often mistakenly perceive tradition as static and unchanging, where only the form of expression evolves while the content remains unchanged.

We assert that tradition blends an unchanging core with a dynamic system of laws, perspectives, and opinions. Orthodox Judaism is not a static set of doctrines – it’s a constantly evolving system. It comes from Heaven, yet it is a joint creation of God and man.

In the realm of religion, it is vital to foster the understanding that Judaism has always evolved and changed in the past and continues to do so today. What’s more, we are active participants (not passive observers) in this evolution: each of us is not just a “cog” but a “little engine” that drives Judaism in a direction based on our individual perspectives. Even if an individual does not innovate in the realm of ideas, his or her support of the new ideas generated by others contributes to the advancement of Judaism. Each of us plays a role in shaping the Judaism of tomorrow through our individual choices today.

Therefore, if in the past the primary task of a religious individual was to “observe the commandments as best as possible and study to know,” today the task has evolved to “study to observe the commandments more consciously and to advance Judaism.”

4. Additional Principles

4.1 Individual Religious Autonomy and Ethical Sensibility

We emphasize the following principles:

  • Legitimizing and respecting a religious individual’s personal choices in controversial religious matters, as opposed to pressure from religious authorities.
  • Avoid ostracizing individuals who hold views far from the center but within the bounds of acceptability within a broad Orthodox spectrum.
  • In cases of conflict between halacha and ethics: While Jewish religious law is paramount, it should not override ethical sensibilities. God reveals Himself not only through tradition and the external world but also within the human soul. It is necessary to strive for a synthesis of halacha and ethical sensitivity. We will explore this issue further below (see the discussion of value A-3).

4.2 Evolution of Halachic Methodology and the Changing Status of the Rabbi

As we witness the growing independence and religious autonomy at the individual level, a transformation is taking place in the classical approach to halachic decision-making and the status of the rabbi.

Many modernist rabbis today recognize the difference between the Torah of the Land of Israel and the classical approach. As a result, rabbis recognize that adequate halachic solutions are impossible without including meta-halachic considerations. The number of halachic problems of all kinds is escalating with the continuing development of Jewish life in Israel. We must openly acknowledge that Jewish life in Israel is different from that of the era of the Acharonim and represents an entirely new stage in the development of Judaism, including Halacha. Its contours are still in the process of being defined.

In Halacha, the role of a rabbi should not be merely to render a verdict but to elaborate on the problem and propose options for its solution. This process should include not only the interpretation of traditional texts but also the expertise of specialists in all relevant fields. Subsequently, each individual is empowered to decide which solution to adopt, guided by the various explanations of rabbis.

There is a growing trend toward a significant diversity of opinion within communities, as opposed to the past when there was a uniformity of position within a single community. It is essential to recognize and respect this diversity.

We need to recognize that not all problems can be solved. In the past, there was a belief that an authoritative rabbinic figure or the most prominent authority of a particular country and generation should answer all questions, as the community relied on their guidance to determine the right path. Today’s reality, however, is different. We recognize that there are questions for which we do not currently have adequate answers. This applies to philosophical issues, such as the relationship between the Tanakh and modern historiography, and to social issues, such as religious attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identity. Nevertheless, today’s lack of clear answers should not deter us from asking questions and engaging in discussion. We must learn to grapple with these challenges and remain hopeful that solutions will gradually emerge.

4.3 Current Challenges and Conceptual Development for the Next Phase

As noted above, we focus on the next stage in developing Religious Zionism, not on addressing current practical issues. While we are grateful to those who deal with current problems, we believe that addressing today’s challenges alone is insufficient to prepare for tomorrow. Therefore, in the following sections, we do not address current problems; our goal in this context is different. Theorists contemplating future development and practical operators of today complement each other in their respective roles.

4.4 The Uncompromising Orthodoxy of Universal Religious Zionism

Although we stated this at the outset, we wish to reiterate it to avoid misunderstanding: Universal Religious Zionism is an Orthodox concept. The expansion of Judaism takes place through adding values within the confines of Halacha, setting boundaries that are not to be crossed.


  1. a) This does not mean that Halacha remains stagnant. Halacha evolves, but this evolution occurs through intra-halachic mechanisms within Orthodox Judaism.
  2. b) Universal values integrated into Judaism should not be central to the religious system. Such an imbalance would be destructive. The foundations of Judaism remain the same as in traditional Religious Zionism, while the sparks of universal values enrich the overall system.
  3. c) We realize that some universal values could be Trojan horses carrying in them ideologies undermining the essence of Orthodox Judaism. It is not our intention to advocate the integration of such values. Our primary focus is on integrating those “safe” values that resonate positively with us and have gained significant support within the Modern Orthodox sphere.

5. Universal Religious Zionism in the Development of Judaism and the State of Israel

In the history of the State of Israel, we can identify several distinct stages, each characterized by unique goals for Religious Zionism. At the same time, at each stage, Religious Zionism operated on two levels: supporting the current stage of development of the state and preparing for the next.

The titles we use here for these stages – “Saul,” “David,” and “Solomon” – are our conceptualizations. They are based on the fact that Rav Kook previously referred to Herzl’s Zionist movement as “Mashiach ben Yosef,” or the “modern King Saul.” Similarly, the ongoing development of the State of Israel can be paralleled to the three kings of the ancient unified Kingdom of Israel.

For more on this concept, click here.

These are the phases in chronological order:

Stage 1 (from the 1900s to the 1970s), “Saul”: national stage, “safe haven state.”

The task of Religious Zionism was to participate in the broader Zionist movement, which included settling the Land of Israel, agriculture, economy, army, state preservation, etc. This stage was completed. At the same time, Rav Kook’s school cultivated the integration of Zionist values into Judaism in preparation for the second stage. This preparation included internal development that also supported the implementation of Stage 1.

Stage 2 (from the 1970s to the present), “David”: national-religious stage, “national missionary state.”

The mission of Religious Zionism is to transform the State of Israel from a “safe haven state” into a “state for the revival of the Tanakh.” It aims to be a driving force in the development of Judea and Samaria, to fully connect the people of Israel to this part of the Land of Israel, and to imbue all aspects of the state with a sense of mission, not just destiny. The leading force in this process is the settlement movement. This phase is currently active.

However, Religious Zionism has so far been able to influence only one segment of Israelis – those who cherish national values – but has failed to reach the other segment of the population, which is aligned with universal values. Therefore, it’s crucial today to begin to integrate universal values into Judaism in parallel with support for national values and the settlement movement. This will serve as a preparation for the third stage.

Stage 3, “Solomon”: Universal-religious stage, “universal mission state.

The first step in this stage is to attract universalist Jews to Judaism, which can only happen if Judaism embraces universal values. The further development of this stage is Israel as a spiritual center for humanity, not only for the Jewish people.

6. The Issue of Integrating Universal Values That Seem to Contradict Torah

At first glance, many universal values seem to contradict the Torah, leading to resistance from the religious community. But in the early 20th century, during the previous phase of the development of Religious Zionism, a similar problem arose with national values, many of which also seemed to contradict the Torah. Nevertheless, Rav Kook’s school successfully extracted and integrated the sparks of these values.

We are not suggesting that these national or universal values be incorporated directly into Judaism in their non-religious forms. Rather, our task is to separate the spark from the shell, connect the spark to its Jewish source, and then integrate that spark into Judaism.

For a more detailed examination of the process of extracting and integrating the spark, see

– In English: “Religious Zionism of Rav Kook” at this link

– In Hebrew: התפתחות היהדות בימינו על פי תורת הראיה קוק “The Development of Judaism in Our Time According to the Teaching of Rav Kook” at this link

7. A Systematic Approach to Integrating Universal Values

Numerous authors have previously examined the relationship between various universal values and Judaism, resulting in a plethora of publications on the subject. However, we appear to be the first to consider this integration systematically. We present a comprehensive framework for discussion and invite collaboration with those who find this approach helpful.

8. Maintaining Balance Amidst Contradictory Values

In Jewish law, contradictions are resolved by halachic authorities. However, when faced with conflicting values, individuals may decide for themselves.

There is an essential distinction between Halacha and a system of values and ideals. Like any legal system, Halacha seeks to resolve contradictions because the law cannot function effectively if one of its articles contradicts another. When such a contradiction arises, the intervention of an authority is required to make a decision.

However, contradictions are essential to values and ideals because they reflect real-life conflicts. An example of such a contradiction is between chesed (mercy) and gevura (justice). These contradictions must be embraced. They should not and cannot be resolved objectively. Instead, each person should determine how to navigate these conflicts in his or her way in each specific situation.

Of course, there are contradictions between Orthodox, national, and universal values, as well as within each group. But this is no reason to abandon the spark within universal values.

  • Contradictions possess intrinsic value

The existence of contradictions is a value in itself: it creates space for independent decision-making, which is the basis for growth and maturity.

(For example, Rabbi Nachman of Breslav sees contradictions as one of the manifestations of the Kabbalistic principle of Empty Space, which is the only possible means of constructing a “personal universe.”)

  • No value has absolute dominion

No value should prevail over others or be regarded as absolute. If a value attempts to absorb more Divine Light than it is designed to contain, it explodes from within, resulting in shvirat kelim (the breaking of the vessels.) Consequently, values must limit and balance each other and be realized as a complex system in equilibrium.

And this entire value system should be externally bounded by Halacha.

9. Two Groups of Universal Values Awaiting Integration into Judaism

In the future, we envision the integration of sparks from all universal values into Judaism. According to Rav Kook, such integration is essential for Judaism to be relevant to the revival of the Jewish State. However, not all sparks can be fully integrated at this stage of development. Integration must be gradual, in keeping with the Jewish people’s growth and the sparks’ maturation within their respective host values.

In the contemporary Western world, there is a deep divide between adherents of conservative and liberal ideologies. As a result, even within the Modern Orthodox community, there is strong resistance to those universal values that the conservative camp believes the liberal camp is trying to impose on them.

We will not discuss all the problematic values here – that is a separate topic. However, strong opposition or lack of support means that integration of such values is not possible at this stage. Therefore, it would be constructive to begin promoting the integration of sparks from those values that do not cause opposition and to postpone the integration of values that drive strong disagreement to the next stage of development.

This is not only a pragmatic approach but also one that honors the essence of these universal principles. We consider values that do not provoke opposition to be ripe for integration. Integrating other values requires further development of society and transformation of the values themselves before the sparks within them mature and become ripe for integration.

Meanwhile, among the universal values that are ripe for integration, we distinguish two groups:

  1. Undisputed universal values: These values do not provoke antagonism in the Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox world and can therefore be developed and implemented.
  2. Disputed universal values: These values provoke opposition in the Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox world but also enjoy considerable support. These values must be discussed and actively developed. Gradually, their implementation will become possible.

(We are not discussing universal values already widely accepted in society, such as the prohibition of murder and the ethical treatment of animals. In addition, we are not discussing universal values that are inherently part of the Torah value system, such as the commandments related to helping others and practicing charity. Our focus is specifically on those values and ideals that have not yet been fully integrated into Judaism and require further exploration).

9-A. Undisputed Universal Values

Values we categorize as undisputed are widely accepted within Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox circles. While these values may be practiced in everyday life, they are not yet formally integrated into the religious context of the Torah.

A large number of Religious Zionists and Modern Orthodox are passionate about the advancement of science and the arts. However, only a tiny fraction recognize the inherent religious value of these fields, primarily because the religious context for these fields remains underdeveloped. The integration process, therefore, involves internalizing these values within the realm of religion, moving them from the secular (hol) realm to the sacred (kodesh).

In this context, Rav Kook’s famous statement about the evolution of Judaism becomes relevant: “The old will be renewed, and the new will be sanctified” (הישן יתחדש והחדש יתקדש). Here, the new values (hadash) are envisioned as transitioning from the secular to the sacred, and our task is to facilitate this transformation.

The values considered in this category include

A-1. Science and Technology: The Physical Transformation of the World

A-2. Critical Thinking: Doubt, Disagreement, and Conflict

A-3. Ethical Intuition: Recognizing the Inner Voice, Even When It Contradicts Halacha

A-4. Aesthetics and Art: Cultivating Beauty in All Aspects of Life

A-5. Personal Responsibility: Accountability to Self and Society

A-6. Leisure Travel: Appreciating the World through Direct Experience

A-7. Games: Play as Self-Expression.

A-8. The Pursuit of Material Success

These values are not uniquely Jewish; they are evident and universal to all advanced humanity. Since they do not evoke opposition, they can and should be prioritized for integration. However, it is essential to recognize that even this undertaking will require considerable effort.

In the following section, we examine these values individually and suggest approaches for their integration into Torah.

9-B. Disputed Universal Values

The second group includes values that, while controversial and thus subject to debate, still enjoy substantial support within the Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox communities.

These values are wrapped in a harder shell than those in the first group, often making them appear unfavorable or objectionable to the religious community. However, significant religious forces recognize the spark contained in these values and are eager to promote them.

A sharp distinction between the spark and the shell is necessary for these values. It is crucial to work with those who understand these values and are willing to develop and promote them together rather than argue with those who disagree.

It is important to note that the very discussion process will change our understanding of these values, allowing us to identify the sparks and extract them from their shells.

This group, in our opinion, includes

Predominant values of contemporary Western civilization:

B-1. Feminism

B-2. Vegetarianism

B-3. Environmentalism

Values of individual freedom, autonomy, and tolerance:

B-4. Ideals Precede Commandments

B-5. Individual Freedom, Respect for Religious Choice

B-6. Empowered Decision-Making

B-7. Tolerance and Anti-Fanaticism

B-8. Progress

Values inherent in the relationship between the individual, the community, and the state:

B-9. Democracy

B-10. Human Rights

B-11. Ethnic Fraternity

Values implicit in the relationship between Israel and humanity:

B-12. Universalism

B-13. Cultural and Religious Diversity

B-14. Interfaith Engagement

10. Tools for Evaluation of Universal Values

To assess the sparks contained within universal values – as Rav Kook did with national values – we should draw upon the full complexity of Jewish thought: the Tanakh and its commentaries, the Aggadah, the Kabbalah, and the philosophical literature.

There are certain concepts and tools that we find particularly essential and helpful in this assessment. Rav Kook already used some, and this set of tools should be systematized, discussed, and expanded upon.

Below are examples of these tools and their applications.

  1. a) Tzelem Elohim (In the Image of God)
  • Meaning: Humanity is created in God’s image, warranting respect.
  • Application: Adequate quality of life has both pragmatic and religious value. This gives religious value to aesthetics, a “beautiful life,” and “positive hedonism” in general.
  • Example from the Talmud: “I go to the public baths to properly care for my body, for it is the image of God.”
  1. b) Imitatio Dei (Imitation of God)
  • Meaning: To grow closer to God by taking on His qualities.
  • Application: Science and technology empower humanity and bring us closer to God’s “Almighty” attribute. Similarly, art brings us closer to God’s “Creator” attribute. The latter applies to both the creation and appreciation of art.
  1. c) Nesira (“sawing off,” splitting, separating)
  • Meaning: A Kabbalistic concept based on the story of Adam and Eve. It represents a shift from a “back-to-back” connection, the fundamental physical unity, to a “face-to-face” connection, a psychological unity resulting from free choice.
  • Application: Atheism represents a move away from the “back-to-back” connection with religion, paving the way for a “face-to-face” connection, i.e., post-atheistic religiosity.
  • The value of voluntary observance of commandments. For a choice to be truly free, there must be a diversity of opinions in society. Therefore, the departure of some individuals from the observance of the commandments is a necessary step toward more authentic and comprehensive observance by others.
  • Art breaks taboos (in the realm of sexuality and other areas) that serve as a “back-to-back” connection, and based on this rupture, a “face-to-face” connection can be built in the future.
  1. d) Chutzpah Ikveta de-Meshicha (The insolence of the beginning of the messianic times)
  • Meaning: According to the Talmud, chutzpah (impudence) will increase at the beginning of the messianic era.
  • Application: In the messianic era, disobedience to spiritual authorities is part of the Divine plan, not a mistake. Despite the negative connotation of chutzpah in the Talmud, the Tanakh presents the concept in a positive light (Jeremiah 31:34). Chutzpah, seen as a necessary component of the messianic process, is elaborated upon extensively by Rabbi Kook.
  • At the beginning of Jewish history, the Torah presents the people as a flock needing a shepherd (Numbers 27:17). This could be compared to young schoolchildren who require consistent and strict supervision from their teacher. By the time they reach their senior year, however, a high degree of independence is expected of these students. Similarly, the messianic age is characterized by a widespread dominance of chutzpah, representing each person’s independence in spiritual decisions.
  1. e) Expansion of the Vessels
  • Meaning: An individual can absorb as much Divine Light as his soul’s capacity allows, which is true of society.
  • As stated in the Talmud (Berakhot 57b): “A beautiful environment expands a person’s consciousness (daat).”
  • Application: Engaging in science, art, and similar activities expands the soul’s capacity. Today, at the dawn of the messianic process, there is much more Divine Light than in previous eras. As a result, we need larger vessels capable of receiving and containing this Light.
  1. f) Divine Origin and Significance of Global Trends
  • Significance: According to Maharal, global trends in human development are not accidental but come from a Divine source. Rav Kook later expanded upon this idea.
  • Application: There’s a special significance in analyzing the values formed within the global human development trends. These trends cannot be overlooked.


The following section offers preliminary suggestions for analyzing the universal values in Groups A and B, including their sparks and shells. This suggestion will require further development and refinement.

== Group A: Undisputed Values ==

A-1. Science and Technology, the Physical Transformation of the World

The Divine Sparks in the realm of science and technology to be incorporated into our religious understanding include

  • The advancement of civilization is one of the Divine aspects of humanity. God’s first commandment to man was to “have dominion over the world” (Genesis 1:26). In his classic work, The Lonely Man of Faith, R. Soloveichik thoroughly explained this aspect through the concepts of the First and Second Adam.
  • God interacts with the world through two main channels: Creation (studied by science and art) and Revelation (studied by religion). Both channels allow for the knowledge of God through His message to mankind, thus allowing for dvekut or clinging to God. This manifests as the “ecstasy of knowledge” that carries religious value in science and art. To deny the religious value of science and art is to refuse to hear the voice of God (or, more accurately, one of His voices).
  • Science and technology are essential to the fulfillment of life, and this has profound religious significance. As beings created in the image of God, it is our inherent responsibility to live in dignified conditions and to strive to maximize our potential through the advances made possible by science and technology.
  • Science helps expand human understanding and perspectives and serves as a vessel for perceiving the Divine Light. Without such expansion, religious concepts often remain primitive. The Vilna Gaon emphasized this by stating, “One who is ignorant of science greatly hinders his understanding of Torah. Rav Kook echoed this sentiment in various works, including Shmona Kevatzim 1:118.
  • The expansion of vessels was not as critical in earlier times when Jewish life underwent minimal changes (until the 18th century). However, it has become increasingly important in later periods. It is especially important today because of the rapid development of civilization and the immense Divine Light present in the messianic process.

The Shells of Science and Technology

Similar to other ideals, the shell of science lies in absolutization, especially the absolutization of contemporary methods within the field as the “most correct.”

In the field of science, it manifests itself in the following ways:

  • The belief that science alone is sufficient to understand everything. If something is unknown today, it will eventually be known using today’s scientific methods within today’s scientific paradigms.
  • The attempt to apply scientific criteria to all aspects of life, including religion, often leads to dismissing any knowledge that falls outside the realm of science as not being real knowledge.
  • Since mainstream science today adheres to a causal (rather than teleological) view of the world, it is absolutized, and any teleological (i.e., religious) view of the world is declared inherently false.

A-2. Critical Thinking: Doubt, Disagreement, and Conflict

The Divine Sparks within these values include:

  • Recognition that truth is ever-evolving, not absolute

Critical thinking involves questioning all claims. No truth is infallible, and evolution is constant. This evolution is a divine quality, as Rav Kook elaborated (see, for example, his discussions of shlemut ve-ishtalmut, Shmonah Kvatzim 4:68).

  • The antidote to fanaticism

Critical thinking is essential to mitigate dogmatism, which is unwavering conviction in one’s views. It is the assertion that my understanding is unquestionably correct, and there is no other valid understanding.”

At the same time, fanatical beliefs don’t have to be extreme – there is fanaticism in centrist views.

  • The Spiritual Importance of doubt

Rav Kook asserted that every statement about the Divine is inherently flawed (an inevitable conclusion from the impossibility of a finite human comprehending the infinite Divine). Doubt helps us avoid absolutizing our beliefs. Thus, doubt is an essential component of sophisticated faith.

This insight leads to the concept of “post-atheistic faith.”

  • The spiritual merit of conflict

Nachman of Breslov discusses the growth and development of the autonomous individual in the “void” created by the conflict between authorities.

The Shells of Critical Thinking

Excessive criticism or negating the objectivity of moral norms and fundamental values. Particularly in contemporary times, neo-Marxism uses critical social theory to dismantle the achievements of Western civilization.

A-3. Ethical Intuition: Recognizing the Inner Voice Even When It Contradicts Halacha

When our ethical intuition conflicts with religious law, it is crucial to understand that while Halacha is of the utmost importance, it should not suppress ethical sensitivity. God manifests Himself not only externally, in the form of religious tradition or Halacha, but also internally, in the human soul, as ethical feeling.

Individuals in tune with their inner selves will not go against their ethical convictions, often based on intuition. If they were to do so, they would risk spiritual destruction, rendering their religious observance essentially meaningless.

In Jewish sources, the theme of individuals disagreeing with God on ethical issues is recurrent, from Abraham and Moses to later Hasidic traditions. The argument is made against the “external manifestation of God” while relying on the “internal manifestation of God in the human soul,” that is, the individual’s ethical sensibility rooted in intuition.

When individual ethical convictions conflict with Halacha, the goal should be synthesis, not merely compromise. While compromise may seem productive in the short term, synthesis allows for integrating differing viewpoints, leading to a more substantial, lasting resolution.

The Shells of Ethical Intuition

The drawbacks of ethical intuition arise when this sense becomes misguided due to an inadequate understanding of the situation, superficial thinking, personal bias, and hasty labeling.

For example, it’s common for a person, uninformed about a particular situation in a distant country, to declare based on ethical intuition: “Since this is colonialism, I’m against it” – without realizing that such a label hinders their ability to understand the problem.

A-4. Aesthetics and Art: Promoting Beauty In All Facets of Life

This category encompasses a spectrum of interrelated values – the pursuit of beauty in all its forms – that are difficult to separate so that we can consider them as a whole.

Divine Sparks in these values include

  • Art as a likeness of the creators and the Creator

In the Torah, God is primarily portrayed as the Creator of the world (Boreh, Yotser). Creativity enhances the similarity between man and God, thus bringing man closer to God. The additional light received through this closeness is a source of joy and fulfillment in the creative process.

  • Self-realization

This means the value of realizing the potential that exists within each individual.

(Much has been written on this subject and needs to be systematized).

  • Without the development of creative potential, the progress of the world and the individual toward God is impossible

One of God’s purposes in creating the world was to provide human beings with the opportunity for growth so that they could draw closer to Him.

Art contributes significantly to developing an individual’s creative potential, which in turn finds application not only in artistic endeavors but also in various aspects of life.

  • Art as knowledge of humanity and God

Art is a fundamental and distinctive way of gaining insight and understanding of oneself as a human being, including through self-expression.

Because of the inherent similarity between man and God, art is one of the ways to gain knowledge of God.

  • Knowledge beyond logic through art

Art affirms supra-logical ways of knowing that transcend the limitations of pure logic. It allows for a deeper understanding of the world by tapping into intuitive and emotional realms beyond rationality. In this way, art expands our knowledge and perception, offering unique insights and perspectives that cannot be derived from logical reasoning alone.

  • Art nurtures the imagination, and without it, progress is impossible

Imagination is crucial to all progress. Especially in the religious context, imagination is essential to advancing the messianic process.

  • Beauty as a Divine attribute

People universally experience joy when they observe natural beauty, regardless of their level of education or sophistication.

From a materialistic perspective on evolution, such a sense of awe serves no purpose and provides no evolutionary advantage. Therefore, it could not have evolved “materialistically” through evolution. Therefore, this sense of awe is religious in nature and comes from the Divine (rather than social) source.

Without the appreciation of beauty, our sense of the Divine is diminished.

  • Noah’s will: Japheth shall dwell in the tents of Shem

Therefore, Judaism must learn art, aesthetics, and science from the world’s nations.

If Japheth does not dwell in our Jewish “tent of Shem,” our tent is not in order.

  • Beauty expands human consciousness

The Talmud speaks of how the beauty of life (beautiful objects, beautiful homes) expands human consciousness.

This implies an expansion of the vessels of the soul, which affects one’s ability to perceive the Divine Light.

Art and aesthetics are essential in this expansion; no substitute exists.

This is especially important today, for without the “expansion of the vessels,” it is impossible to contain the Divine Light of the return to the Land of Israel.

  • The Religious Significance of Music

Music was used in the training of the prophets (1 Samuel 10:5).

Music played an essential role in Temple worship, as evidenced by the various instruments described in the Psalms. The captivating power of music drew many people to the Temple, resonating beyond its walls and reaching even those who could not enter its sacred precincts.

The power of art and beauty to inspire and uplift people is profound.

Perhaps the ability of beauty to resonate with every soul can be attributed to the multi-layered structure of the soul in Kabbalah.

  • The Jewish mission to be a light to the nations requires the mastery of beauty

If we, as a people, do not master beauty, we will not be able to communicate our message in a way that resonates with others, and our message may go unheard.

  • Socrates’ notion of the beauty of truth and the consideration of beauty as one of the criteria of truth.

One interpretation of the phrase “the medium is the message” is that the presentation or packaging is not just a technical aspect but an inseparable part of the message itself.

  • Aesthetics, cleanliness of the streets, “living in purity and beauty”

Israel faces a significant problem of neglect of aesthetics, evident in places like the center of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where wires, dusty windows, and rusty bars on facades are familiar sights. Such conditions would be unacceptable in many European cities. In addition, mountains of garbage are in the streets, alleys, and parks. The underlying reason is a lack of social demand for beauty and cleanliness.

A potentially significant contribution of Judaism could be the internalization and cultivation of the religious value of beauty and aesthetics within society.

  • A sage who comes out with a stain on his clothes defiles the name of God.” (Shabbat 114a)

Those around the sage associate his appearance with the Torah he represents. Extending this principle and applying it to public spaces in the Land of Israel is crucial. Everyone must recognize that litter in the Land is a desecration of the Divine Name.

  • “To live in purity and beauty”

Just as science contributes to enriching life, so do purity and beauty. Without them, life remains incomplete, and their importance extends to religion. As human beings created in the image of God, we should live in dignified conditions that reflect the essence of our divine nature.

  • Ownership of the Land of Israel

The cleanliness of the Land of Israel is closely related to a sense of ownership and responsibility. Just as individuals take pride in keeping their homes clean, the question arises as to whether we can truly claim ownership of the Land if we fail to maintain its cleanliness.

The Shells of Aesthetics and Art

  • Art often promotes ideas that contradict the principles and commandments of the Torah

This is indeed a challenging issue. Moreover, there are among us sophisticated, highly cultured individuals, well versed in the arts, who later in life embraced religion and rejected art altogether because of these conflicts.

But this problem cannot be avoided. We must learn to engage with art, even when it challenges our religious beliefs, or we risk remaining narrow-minded and unable to appreciate the Divine Light fully.

Therefore, it is not advisable to dismiss the issue of contradiction, but it is equally wrong to allow it to hinder our understanding of the religious significance of art.

  • Exploring the complex role of nudity and impropriety in art

Yes, this is also a complex issue. However, nudity and impropriety are also part of the human experience and, therefore, should be meaningfully addressed within the realm of religion rather than ignored or pushed aside.

On an individual level, each of us finds ways to navigate this contradiction. However, there are no ready-made answers for formulating integration at the theological and social levels.

A-5. Personal Responsibility: Accountability to Self and Society

  • The problem of avoiding personal responsibility

In contemporary Western society, individuals tend to avoid responsibility for their lives and circumstances by blaming society, a difficult childhood, or the natural environment. While it’s essential to recognize the influence of social conditions, it’s also important to reintroduce the concept of personal responsibility into the social consciousness. This includes the collective responsibility of society and not shifting blame to external factors.

  • The issue of shifting responsibility to erev rav

Unfortunately, even among religious individuals, there’s a problem of abdicating responsibility due to a misinterpretation of the Vilna Gaon’s mystical concept of erev rav. As a result of this misunderstanding, responsibility for problems within the Jewry is attributed to erev rav, so-called “non-genuine” Jews.

This avoidance of responsibility has had destructive effects on all social groups that have adopted this perspective.

Strengthening personal responsibility will contribute to the positive development of religious society and can significantly impact the non-religious world.

A-6. Leisure Travel: Appreciating the World through Direct Experience

There is a well-known parable: A righteous man enters Paradise, and God asks him, “Have you seen my Alps? I have made them so beautiful, specifically for people.”

There is no substitute for direct encounters with nature in diverse environments and foreign cultures. Reading, studying, or listening to travel stories can’t fully replicate the transformative power of personal travel experiences. Travel is an extraordinary means of broadening our worldview and deepening our appreciation of the world. Ultimately, it expands our capacity to absorb Divine Light.

Indeed, to neglect the beauty of the natural and cultural world through travel is to turn away from a divine gift!

A-7.  Game: Play as Self-Expression

Play has been a basic human need and a means of self-expression throughout history.

Johan Huizinga thoroughly analyzed the role of play in culture and society in his work Homo Ludens (Man the Player): Culture originates in play and bears the nature of play. Without maintaining a certain degree of playful behavior, culture in its broadest sense is untenable.

Jewish tradition also mentions the importance of play and the principle of play as divine:

  • God “plays with Leviathan” (Ps 104:26, Leviathan symbolizes a powerful impulse of the natural, material world).
  • Isaac “plays with his wife” (Gen 26:8): The connection between play, sexuality, and laughter.

This theme has not been fully developed in Judaism.

The Shell of Game

The shell of the concept of the game appears in a situation where winning becomes more important than life outside the game. For example:

  • Harming one’s body to win a game, as often happens in professional sports.
  • Gaming addiction.
  • Violence in games is often accepted and even idealized as bravery. The disregard for the potentially harmful aspects of gaming is vividly captured in the famous Roman expression “bread and circuses.
  • The problem of spectator violence in stadiums.

A-8. The Pursuit of Material Success

  • Religious ideals are often thought to favor altruism, marking self-interest as somehow reprehensible, at least from a religious point of view.
  • Protestantism, however, argued for the religious value of economic success.
  • In the 18th century, Adam Smith introduced the idea that self-interest drives economic progress.
  • Perhaps the overemphasis on altruism is rooted in a perceived aversion to material pursuits, which are seen as distant from the Divine. This contradicts the understanding of the world, including the economy, as a critical aspect of God’s revelation to humanity.
  • In Judaism, the religious value of economic prosperity has consistently been recognized, exemplified by the character of Yosef Ish Matzliach (Joseph the Successful Man) (Genesis 39:2). In Judaism, economic success has been an essential value for the individual, while in today’s world, it also has societal significance.
  • Consequently, it is crucial to cultivate an understanding of the religious value of self-interest as a foundational principle for fulfilling the commandment of man’s dominion over the world, for building an economically prosperous society that guarantees individuals a dignified standard of living (which, as we have already pointed out, has religious value in itself), and so on.
  • As with all other values, making self-interest absolute can be dangerous. But doing the same with altruism can be equally destructive. A balance between self-interest and altruism is therefore essential.

There are many facets to this balance between self-interest and altruism. For example:

  • Balancing hedonism and asceticism.
  • In business: balancing profitability and corporate social responsibility in various aspects (charitable activities, the demand for a positive social impact of business, etc.).
  • The practice of intentional poverty for the sake of Torah study raises some concerns: doesn’t poverty tarnish the image of Torah, distort its proper understanding and social status, and consequently affect its ability to impact the world?
  • Promoting social understanding of the need for all aspects of such a balance as a specific facet of the general need for a balance of values is important.

The Shell of the Pursuit of Material Success

The shell of the pursuit of material success is not simply trivial greed but rather an ideology that prioritizes the acquisition of material possessions and financial success above all else. Within this ideology, self-worth and social status are measured primarily in terms of material wealth, and all other human achievements are considered valuable only if they have a corresponding material equivalent.

== Group B: Disputed Values ==

The sparks of the first three values in this section – feminism, vegetarianism, and ecology – are of paramount importance. There is a wealth of ideas about these values in the literature that need not be repeated here. Therefore, we have made only a few notes, focusing primarily on the shells that hide these sparks.

B-1. Feminism

Feminism and the changing role of women in Judaism are among the most widely discussed topics today. Therefore, it is essential to recognize that modern feminism, like other universal values, consists of both a spark and a shell.

The Shell of Feminism

A notable example of such a shell is the ideology of radical neo-Marxist feminist movements. These groups seem to focus less on promoting women’s progress and more on fomenting conflict between the sexes.

Therefore, it’s essential to encourage women’s active participation in religious life while challenging these neo-Marxist notions.

B-2. Vegetarianism

This universal value is the focus of Rav Kook’s article, “A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace.”

The Shell of Vegetarianism

  • Some proponents of vegetarianism espouse an ideology filled with hostility toward “meat eating.” It’s important to understand that vegetarianism is an ideal that need not be aggressively promoted.
  • A religious perspective should emphasize that an obsession with vegetarianism is misguided and that aggressive anti-meat agitation is unacceptable.

B-3. Environmentalism

It is a blemish on Judaism that it has not yet fostered a religious, environmental movement!

A religious approach to ecology should support a balanced perspective between “working” the garden (i.e., transforming the world) and “guarding” it (Gen. 2:15).

The Shell of Environmentalism

The noble intent of environmentalism is perverted when it devolves into the idolization and worship of nature, akin to neo-paganism. This distortion detracts from responsible stewardship and instead fosters an unbalanced reverence for the natural world. Such misguided reverence often leads to mindless opposition to fossil fuels, ignoring the complexities of energy production and consumption.

B-4. Ideals Precede Commandments

  • The Interrelationship of ideals and commandments

It is a universally accepted notion that the heart of any doctrine lies in its values and ideals, with laws serving as logical derivatives of these ideals. A key problem with Judaism is that it is often portrayed as a commandment-centered system, inadvertently bypassing the ideals that should underlie those commandments.

This perspective distorts Judaism: in the Torah, the Book of Genesis comes first, focusing on ideals, while the Book of Exodus, focusing on commandments, comes later. The emphasis on the priority of the commandments is a common theme among many Diaspora authors. However, this perspective becomes less relevant when Judaism and the Jewish people return to the Land of Israel.

  • Crafting the system of ideals in Judaism

The Jewish tradition offers a wealth of books devoted to analyzing and systematizing commandments. Conversely, few books analyze ideals, and no books define a system of ideals.

Typically, classical literature discusses two types of ideals: (a) hidur mitzvah, the pursuit of the optimal fulfillment of commandments, and (b) middot, personal qualities. Unfortunately, little consideration is given to other ideals, resulting in an unbalanced presentation.

It is important to emphasize that many ideals cannot be reduced to either commandments or middot; ideals should be considered and nurtured as a category in their own right.

(For more details, see the article “The Relationship Between Ideals and Commandments in Judaism” https://www.jewishideas.org/article/relationship-between-ideals-and-commandments-judaism)

  • Balancing the halachic and non-halachic aspects of Judaism

Judaism has two primary facets: Halacha and “the rest,” which refers to a vast body of non-halachic teachings that includes aggadah, ethics, philosophy, mysticism, ideals, reflections, and narratives. Both are roughly equal in importance and scope. However, because the non-halachic component does not have a universally accepted name, it creates the mistaken impression that Halacha is the primary part of Judaism while other aspects are secondary.

Contrary to this misconception, the non-halachic portion is just as essential and extensive as the Halacha. Consequently, a common name should be agreed upon for the entire non-halachic content of Judaism. The most appropriate name under consideration is Machshevet Israel (Jewish Thought). (Including the Tanakh in Machshevet Israel is somewhat unconventional and warrants further discussion).

Halacha serves as the boundary of Judaism, while Machshevet Israel constitutes its content. A crucial goal is to ensure that these two parts are perceived in balance in the public consciousness.

  • Shift in the components of Judaism upon return to the Land of Israel

An emphasis on Halacha is characteristic of Talmudic and galut Judaism (Judaism of exile). In exile, Halacha prevails because it separates the Jewish people from the surrounding life and culture to ensure their survival. The instrument of this separation is the “four cubits of Halacha,” a notion that remains central to Haredi Judaism today.

In the Land of Israel, however, Judaism and connection to God permeate every facet of society and the land itself. As such, the emphasis on Halacha increasingly clashes with the spiritual needs of society. This is one of the reasons why in Israel, despite the general recognition of the importance of religious traditions, there is a strong tendency to distance oneself from the religious establishment and a prevailing negative sentiment toward it. This distortion needs to be corrected.

The Shell of Ideals Preceding Commandments

The danger of overemphasizing values and ideals in Judaism is the potential neglect of Halacha. Reform Judaism embarked on this path of rejecting Halacha by illustrating the need to maintain a balance between ideals and commandments.

B-5. Individual Freedom, Respect for Religious Choice

The Jewish tradition contains profound wisdom about the criticality of individual and collective freedom. Despite this, everyday religious life often prioritizes Halacha and the significance of its laws, which are typically articulated in terms of restrictions rather than freedoms. This dichotomy often leads to misunderstandings among individuals and larger societies.

It is, therefore, imperative to clarify and emphasize the religious value of freedom, not only for the advancement of society and the State but also for the development of religion itself.

  • The merit of freely chosen observance

The intrinsic value of voluntary observance of the commandments must be brought to the fore. For such a choice to be truly free, diverse perspectives must be allowed to flourish within society. Consequently, the choice of some not to observe the commandments can pave the way for more authentic and complete observance by others. This notion is embodied in the concept of nesira: breaking with the “back-to-back” observance of commandments, which offers no choice, and instead fostering a “face-to-face” engagement.

  • Freedom and autonomy as prerequisites for growth

True freedom involves the absence of an overbearing “overseer,” allowing individuals to make their own choices, take responsibility for those choices, and learn from their mistakes. This fosters personal growth and maturity – an indispensable prerequisite for drawing closer to God, the ultimate purpose of Creation.

The Shell of Individual Freedom in Religious Choice

An overemphasis on independence and sincerity in choosing a religious path can lead to inadvertent neglect of the Torah’s structure, potentially fragmenting the unity of the Jewish people. For example, eliminating the requirement of get for a valid divorce could inadvertently lead to an increase in the number of mamzerim.

Thus, the challenge is to strike a delicate balance between individual choice and preserving the national framework, a discussion that deserves careful consideration.

B-6.  Empowered Decision-Making

The discourse on the freedom and responsibility of individuals to make their own decisions, as opposed to mere compliance with authority, has been addressed previously. Please refer to section 4.2 entitled “Evolving Halachic Methodology and the Status of the Rabbi.

B-7. Tolerance and Anti-Fanaticism

Tolerance entails not only allowing the free expression of alternative opinions but also recognizing their value and constructively discussing their drawbacks.

  • The classical approach to tolerance in Judaism and the changing situation today

Tolerance has been an integral aspect of Jewish tradition since the Talmudic era. However, it was primarily a matter of tolerance within Judaism rather than tolerance of outside ideas.

Today, the landscape is evolving, requiring tolerance toward ideas beyond tradition. Judaism should gradually shift from an attitude of fighting other points of view to one of fostering mutual understanding and cooperation.

  • Tolerance in the teachings of Rav Kook

Rav Kook explains that religious tolerance should exceed the standards of the secular world: “I recognize the right of others to their opinions, but their opinions are of no interest or importance to me.” According to him, the ideal religious tolerance is: “I recognize the right of others to their opinions, and since Divine Truth is infinite, their understanding also contains a part of the truth. Therefore, it interests me, and I should learn from it.

Rav Kook also states that since Divinity is infinite, and each concept captures only a limited aspect of it, we should enrich our understanding by borrowing insights from others and the wider world.

The Shell of Tolerance

Tolerance inherently runs the risk of leading to a loss of self. Respect for the views of others should not lead to disregard for one’s own beliefs.

B-8. Progress

  • The religious significance of progress

The path of the Western tradition is being followed globally today, placing value on continuous progress in various fields, including science, art, technology, society, and personal growth. This global trend, which began centuries ago, continues to strengthen.

We have previously emphasized that, according to Maharal and Rav Kook, these global trends cannot be mere coincidences but originate from a Divine source. Rav Kook emphasized that progress is a divine attribute and should be recognized as a religious value.

When religion fails to recognize the significance of progress, it opposes this global trend, loses relevance, and diminishes its appeal and social role.

  • The fallacy of the “return to the past” religious doctrine

One of the significant problems of religion is its tendency to yearn for and idealize a return to the past. However, this is not only unattainable but also spiritually misleading because it ignores the progress made on the development path. The path of historical development is a crucial aspect of the dialogue between humanity and God and cannot be ignored.

The Shell of Progress

The shell of progress is created when we make this value absolute and reject anything that does not evolve.

B-9. Democracy

  • Democracy is necessary for social development

Everyone agrees that at the individual level, freedom and the ability to make independent decisions are critical to personal growth and development. However, this principle also applies at the societal and national levels.

The religious value of democracy lies in its ability to empower both society and the individual to participate in decision-making, which is the foundation for the spiritual maturation of a collective.

In ancient times, when society was less spiritually developed, democracies functioned less effectively and did not last. Today, with greater spiritual development among the populace, democracies are proving more successful than dictatorships and other forms of authoritarian rule.

  • Advancing democracy by increasing the level of self-governance in society.

Since maturity is achieved through independent and responsible decision-making, society should strive for maximum self-government at all levels to achieve spiritual development. Decisions on a wide range of important issues should be entrusted to the citizens rather than determined by bureaucrats.

The Shell of Democracy

Despite its merits, democracy has many flaws. Its pitfall lies in the absolute deification of the current form of democracy. To improve democracy, we must study it much more deeply than the religious world does today.

B-10. Human Rights

Human rights is rooted in the Torah’s notion that humans are created in God’s image and likeness. In the West, human rights have been proclaimed and developed based on the Biblical perspective. In Judaism, however, the development of human rights has not received the attention it deserves. This is an issue that needs to be rectified today.

  • Overcoming statism

In essence, human rights protect the individual from the state. To ensure this protection, it is essential to overcome the mentality of statism – excessive deference to the state. In Religious Zionism, the State of Israel has a spiritual significance, often seen as the “throne of the Most High on Earth. However, this view should not lead to an overemphasis on the centrality of the state. The “throne of the Most High” symbolizes the state as an entity, not its specific institutions or decisions. To oppose them is not to oppose the state.

It is essential to learn to rely less on the state and to become less dependent on it, striving to promote values and projects through society rather than relying solely on the government.

The Shell of Human Rights

In the Western world today, there are instances of abuse of the concept of human rights, the “dictatorship of minorities” being one of the examples. Maintaining a balance – respecting human rights without exaggerating and abusing them – is essential.

B-11. Ethnic Fraternity

It is indeed a significant challenge within the Jewish religious world to maintain a sense of national Jewish brotherhood in relation to those who actively oppose the Torah and Jewish tradition.

Within religious communities, there are often calls to exclude such groups, deeming them no longer part of the people. Extreme versions of this mindset label such individuals as amalek or erev rav.

Such an approach is fundamentally flawed. These individuals can no more be expelled from the people than the willow can be removed from the arba minim, the assembly of the Four Species during Sukkot symbolizing the unity of the Jewish people. In classical interpretation, the willow’s lack of fragrance and flavor symbolizes the absence of Torah study and good deeds, which today would correspond to a disconnect with the Torah and inappropriate behavior. Yet, without the willow twigs, it is impossible to fulfill the commandment of the four species.

The term “TziBuR” (society) encapsulates this idea, acting as an abbreviation for tzadikim, beinoniim, u-reshaim (the righteous, the average, and the wicked). It does not simply imply that society consists of all three groups but underscores that all three are necessary components for society to function properly; without them, the system is incomplete.

Despite their opposition to what we deem right, these groups possess positive qualities contributing to the broader picture. While they may present challenges, they are necessary.

A parallel idea is portrayed in the commentary on the composition of aromatics for incense (Exod. 30:34), where the “galbanum” is an unpleasant-smelling plant that, when combined with other ingredients, enhances the overall pleasing aroma of the mixture. Just as without “galbanum,” there would be no appropriate incense, and there would be no righteous life without some level of impropriety within the Jewish people.

Therefore, for the progression of the Jewish collective, it is essential to nurture a sense of national unity and brotherhood, even with such Jews.

The Shell of Ethnic Fraternity

In some instances, an excessive sense of solidarity within Jewish communities can hinder the acceptance of constructive criticism. Criticisms directed towards Jewish individuals are occasionally mislabeled as anti-Semitism. Similarly, critiques of Israel should not automatically be regarded as anti-Semitism, as they can genuinely aim at addressing and improving Israel’s shortcomings.

  • Indeed, it is a significant challenge within the Jewish religious world to maintain a sense of national Jewish brotherhood in the face of those who oppose the Torah and Jewish tradition.
  • Within religious communities, there are often calls to exclude such groups, to consider them no longer part of the people—extreme versions of this mindset label such individuals as Amalek or erev rav.

Such an approach is fundamentally flawed. These individuals cannot be excluded from the people any more than the willow can be removed from the arba minim, the gathering of the four species during Sukkot that symbolizes the unity of the Jewish people. In the classical interpretation, the willow’s lack of fragrance and flavor symbolizes the absence of Torah study and good deeds, which would correspond to disconnection from the Torah and inappropriate behavior today. However, without the willow branches, it is impossible to fulfill the commandment of the four species.

  • The term “TziBuR” (society) encapsulates this idea, serving as shorthand for tzadikim, beinoniim, u-reshaim (the righteous, the average, and the wicked). It does not simply imply that society is composed of all three groups but emphasizes that all three are necessary components for society to function properly; without them, the system is incomplete.

Despite opposing what we consider right, these groups possess positive qualities that contribute to the larger picture. They may present challenges, but they are necessary.

  • A parallel idea is presented in the commentary on the composition of aromatics for incense (Exodus 30:34), where “galbanum” is an unpleasant-smelling plant that, when combined with other ingredients, enhances the overall pleasing aroma of the mixture. Just as there would be no proper incense without “galbanum,” there would be no righteous living without a certain level of unrighteousness within the Jewish people. Therefore, the progress of the Jewish collective needs to foster a sense of national unity and brotherhood, even with such Jews. Chabad-Lubavitch’s non-judgmental and disarmingly friendly attitude toward all Jews, including anti-religious ones, has allowed the movement to win hearts across the spectrum of Jewry. This is the best example of creating a true Jewish brotherhood.

The Shell of Ethnic Fraternity

In some cases, an excessive sense of solidarity within Jewish communities can hinder the acceptance of constructive criticism. Criticism of Jewish individuals is sometimes mislabeled as anti-Semitism. Similarly, criticism of Israel should not automatically be considered anti-Semitism, as it may genuinely seek to address and improve Israel’s shortcomings.

B-12. Universalism

  • The universalism of truth

By its very nature, truth is universal, intended for all humanity. Therefore, when religion fails to appeal to all of humanity, it signals a deficiency in its teaching.

  • The contrasting perspectives of Tanakh and Talmud

The worldview presented in the Tanakh sees the people of Israel as dwelling in their land, just as other nations dwell in their territories. The purpose of the Jewish people is to share the Divine Light – the teachings of the Torah – with all of humanity.

The Talmudic worldview, on the other hand, takes a very different perspective. In this view, Jews are in exile, a minority within an often hostile host nation. The primary goal is preservation, which is pursued by maintaining separateness. Consequently, the universal message to humanity is not expressed or emphasized.

Throughout the exile, many parts of the Tanakh received little attention, and the spiritual focus of Judaism was on the Talmud. With the end of the exile and the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, the Tanakh regained its central ideological place in Judaism. Now Israel must reclaim its universal appeal to all humanity.

  • Judaism embraces universality: The Noahide Movement and dialogue with Christianity

One of the most significant phenomena today is the Noahide movement, which refers to non-Jews who adhere to Judaism. Teaching Torah to Noahides plays a unique role in developing Judaism itself, as it requires engagement with all of humanity, not just the Jewish audience. In addition, since the halachic aspects are less critical to Noahides than to the Jewish world, teaching them Torah requires a greater focus on ideals and universal values.

Similarly, the intensifying and evolving dialogue with Christianity requires reliance on universal values. (Further details will be discussed below.)

The Shell of Universalism

The shell of Universalism takes the form of Cosmopolitanism, which disregards the uniqueness of nations and cultures.

The spark of “national universalism” should be extracted from the shell, in which the uniqueness of individual cultures and nations forms the basis for broader universal values. For example, in the biblical context, Saul was an ordinary king, just like “all the other nations.” On the other hand, David and Solomon stood out as unique national leaders. Their spiritual heritage is of great significance to humanity precisely because of their uniqueness and originality, whereas Saul’s global significance is much less.

“National universalism” emphasizes that the distinctive characteristics, contributions, and individuality of nations and cultures are vital to the development of all humankind.

B-13. Cultural and Religious Diversity

  • A parallel between appreciation of diversity and tolerance

In a non-religious context, diversity is understood as everyone having a right to their own position. In a religious sense, diversity is necessary to understand the Divine fully.

  • Approach to and borrowing from other cultures

In ancient times, a negative attitude toward foreign cultures was justified because an isolated environment was necessary for initial growth.

In messianic times, however, the attitude becomes positive: if one’s world is already formed and resilient enough, there is no risk of its dissolution, so it is safe to understand and borrow positive aspects from the worlds of others.

The Shell of Diversity

Viewing all cultures as equal can lead to a diminished sense of the importance of Judaism and a weakened perception of the unique mission of the Jewish people.

B-14. Interfaith Engagement

Historically, Judaism’s interaction with Christianity could be characterized as ambivalent.

  • Christianity has served as the primary channel through which Jewish values have reached humanity.
  • Conversely, Judaism was persecuted by Christianity.

However, the nature of this relationship has changed in modern times. Most of the historical conflicts have either been resolved or are in the process of being resolved. Moreover, the devout segment of the Western Christian world actively supports both the Jewish people and the State of Israel and is eager to engage in dialogue with Judaism.

Such interaction facilitates the development of Judaism and the global understanding of Torah concepts.

The Shells of Interfaith Engagement

Interfaith engagement should not lead to covert proselytism, which can reopen old wounds and hinder the healing process between Judaism, Christianity, and other religions.


I am grateful to Alex Shlyankevich, with whom we collaborated on this text, for our fruitful

discussions and his valuable contributions. Alex Shlyankevich was also responsible for the

English translation of this text, a task that required a deep understanding of the subject matter.

His efforts have been instrumental in bringing this work to a broader readership, and I could not

be more appreciative of his dedication and skill.

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