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Messianic Zionism: UNCP religion professor’s second book is published


Dr. Motti Inbari’s second book on Israel religion, politics and history probes the connection between a messianic religious movement and the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967.  

In “Messianic Religious Zionism Confronts Israeli Territorial Compromises” (Cambridge University Press), Dr. Inbari notes the war, which greatly expanded Israel’s borders, galvanized the messianic movements and stoked their expectations.

The movement, which had been a “marginal voice” without a viable political wing, began to push for new settlements and influence in Israeli politics. However, as the government returned land to the Palestinians and disbanded settlements in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the author weighs the ensuing disillusionment.

“This was perceived among religious Zionist circles as a violation of God’s order,” Dr. Inbari said. “This process raised difficult theological questions. Was the State of Israel no longer to be considered a divine tool for the redemption of the Jewish people?”

Dr. Inbari, who teaches religion at UNC Pembroke, was born in Jerusalem and educated at the Hebrew University there. His first book, “Jewish Fundamentalism and the Temple Mount: Who will Build the Third Temple?” also reported on a sensitive issue critical to the tinderbox that is the modern Middle East.

“The events of 1967 and 1974 (Yom Kippur War) gave a boost to the views of this group, and this is where my story begins,” Dr. Inbari said. “They fueled an idea that god’s hand delivered the victory, and the redemption was moving forward.”

Religious beliefs turned into political ideology, Dr. Inbari said. His book explains how this messianic movement, once invigorated, dealt with events that did not meet their dream for Israel.

“The messianic religious Zionists found themselves with a reality that no longer matched their faith,” he said. “How do the faithful cope with prophetic failure, and how it influenced their religion is the heart of the book.”

Dr. Inbari refers to the conflict in psychological terms as “cognitive dissonance.”

“Do they stick to the old way with more passion and zeal?” he asks. “In many cases the believers remain unmoved.”

The scholar offers several paths for disillusioned believers when a central tenant of their faith collapses. The author theorizes that believers may “rationalize” the conflict, saying the “prophesy did not fail, but continues on a level that is not yet visible,” he said. “The realization of prophecy is one step closer.”

Among the reactions of the messianic Zionists that Dr. Inbari analyzes is the political response.

“This response acknowledges the set back, and the way to fix it is through politics,” he said. “This takeover of the state could be accomplished through or against the political system.

“The last response is to withdraw and wait to seize control of the state,” Dr. Inbari said. “It could be compared with radical Islamic movements.”

The fallout from territorial compromises is evaluated in later chapters against the possibility of a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the last chapter, Dr. Inbari also takes a look at how this issue has affected U.S. religion and politics.

Dr. Inbari examines the American “evangelical response,” which has been widely reported in the U.S. media.

“Both American evangelicals and messianic Zionists share in the belief of that “end days” are imminent,” he said.

The 1967 Israeli victory created the feeling among evangelists that the rise of an anti-Christ was coming true, and the takeover of the Temple Mount renewed the idea that it would be rebuilt, Dr. Inbari said. American evangelicals, who wield considerable political influence in the U.S., have allied themselves to Israel.

The link between a Christians and Jews is a topic that the religion professor is considering for a future book, he says. Before that happens, Dr. Inbari will write a third book on the large and influential Satmar sect of Hasidic Jews.