Rabbi Shlomo Goren (1917-1994) served as the first Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces from the time that it was founded in 1948 for approximately two decades. He then went on to become the Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel. Rabbi Goren wrote extensively on the subject of Jewish law’s approach to war and political conflict.
For centuries, Jews were at the mercy of local rulers in contending with the hatred and discrimination of the surrounding Christian and Muslim worlds. Rabbi Goren believes that the right of the Jews to establish a sovereign state for themselves in the historical Land of Israel will soon bring the Messiah.
The following is an excerpt of “Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Torah Sage and General,” a book by Shalom Freedman, which presents a fascinating portrait of his life and a moving description of the values that he stood for.
Rabbi Goren divided Jewish history after the people of Israel’s post-Sinai entrance into the Land of Israel into three periods. The first period in which he includes the time of both the First and the Second Temples (with a brief interruption of seventy years of exile) is the period within the Land.
For one part of this period – the First Temple era – it is likely that a majority of the Jewish people were in the Land of Israel, while it is known that during the longer Second Temple period, the majority of Jews were outside the Land.
Rabbi Goren indicates that they were nonetheless still considered part of the community of Israel, of the Jewish nation. In his view, there can be no Jewish national entity outside of the Land of Israel.
The second period of Jewish history is that which comes with the fall of the Second Temple. This is the period of exile in which Jews are driven from the Land of Israel, in which the great majority live outside the Land, and there is no Jewish power or rule within the Land.
For Rabbi Goren, this period of exile ended in 1948 with the creation of the modern state of Israel. However the exact definition and meaning of this transition is a subject of controversy. Rabbi Goren did not adopt the view of many Religious Zionists and speak of this period as the beginning of the Redemption. He does not claim it to be the clear and definite beginning of the Messianic era.
His understanding of the period, an understanding largely taken from his reading of the Talmud Yerushalmi, is that the period is an intermediate one between the Exile and the Messianic era.
As Rabbi Goren understands it, the Talmud Yerushalmi indicates that an independent Jewish political entity and the building of the Temple will take place before the actual advent of the Messianic era. The actual reestablishment of the House of David and the true beginning of the Messianic era, which are the true beginning of the third phase of Jewish history, will come after the Temple and the state are in place.
This means that for Rabbi Goren it is not correct to consider the creation of the State of Israel as the sign that the Messianic era is already here. It is rather the indication that should certain conditions be met – the achievement of true Jewish sovereignty in the Land, the majority of Jewish people dwelling within Israel, the building of the Temple – that the Messianic era will come soon thereafter.