Moshe Levinger, who died last week, was the symbolic initiator of the settlement drive in the West Bank, following Israel’s lightning victory in six days in 1967.
With some of his students, reputedly posing as Swiss tourists wishing to hold a Pesach Seder, he booked in at a Hebron hotel in April 1968 – and never left. In an agreement with the Israeli government, the group was transferred to an army base. This became the city of Kiriat Arba and the starting point for settling in Hebron itself 10 years later.
Rabbi Levinger was the son of German immigrants, escaping Nazism in the 1930s. He was influenced by Gahelet, a breakaway of Bnei Akiva, which eventually found a home in Zvi Yehuda Kook’s Mercaz Ha’rav yeshivah in Jerusalem. Kook propagated the displacement of traditional religious Zionism by redemptionist Zionism. This idea found its time in the messianism that grew after the conquest of places of Biblical resonance such as Hebron, Nablus and Jericho in 1967.
While Levinger promoted “religious pride”, he also appealed to many who believed that Israel should retain territory from which Jews had been driven in the past – such as Hebron (1929) and Gush Etzion (1948).
Levinger preached more Zionist religion than religious Zionism – and encouraged the Young Guard of the National Religious Party to ditch both its leaders and its former policies. He was active in the founding of Gush Emunim in 1974 and was politically astute in squeezing concessions for the settlers out of the rivalry between Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres during the 1970s.
Levinger had little time for Palestinian nationalism, which he saw as a stumbling block placed in the path of his aspiration to transform the West Bank of the River Jordan into Judea and Samaria. Levinger’s militancy led to many arrests and imprisonment for short periods. Hit by a rock, he retaliated by shooting a Palestinian shopkeeper in 1989. He agreed to a plea bargain of negligent homicide and was sentenced to five months.
Levinger looked to Nahmanides rather than to Maimonides: the former stipulated that one of the 613 commandments that characterise Jewish practice should be the settling of the Land. Since Levinger’s visit to Hebron in 1968, nearly 400,000 Jews have settled in the West Bank.
Jewish Chronicle 21 May 2015