Bnei Akiva’s core values stem directly from our rich ideology.
Torah Va’Avodah , which translates as Torah and work, is an ideal which we try to live our lives by. The learning, practising and teaching of Torah should be combined with a desire to build up and contribute to the Land of Israel as much as possible.
As a pioneering Religious Zionist youth movement, Bnei Akiva believes that it is a central commandment of Judaism to make Aliyah to the Land of Israel and maintains that the future of the Jewish people is tied to the State of Israel. Bnei Akiva feels that Jewish youth in the Diaspora should be educated to realise that the State of Israel needs them, and that they, in turn, need it. In the early years of pioneering, Avodah was clearly understood as meaning agricultural work, as reflected in the symbolism on the “Semel”. In more recent years, there has driven a shift in ideology towards a broader definition of working for the development of the country.
Similarly, the original socialist aims of Bnei Akiva are also taking more of a back-seat. Up to the 1980s many Bnei Akiva members joined religious Kibbutzim in Garinim (groups). They were either groups based on army service together in Nahal or they were groups that came on Aliyah to Israel together. Since the 1990s, Bnei Akiva members now typically settle in development towns, settlements and cities. They are active in all areas of Israeli life including security, hi-tech, education, academia and many more fields.
The “Semel”, Bnei Akiva’s emblem, is made up of different objects each relating to a different aspect of the group’s ideology. The farming utensils and the wheat sheaves relate to the original agricultural perspective of the ideology. The two tablets of stone in the center relate to the Torah perspective. The two perspectives of Torah and Avoda are united together by the ribbon which says Bnei Akiva on it – symbolizing that the two aspects can only and must work hand in hand. The letters on the two tablets are the Hebrew letters ‘Taf’ and ‘Ayin’ standing for Torah veAvoda (“Torah and work”).
Story of Rabbi Akiva
As the name translates – “the children of Akiva”, the idea of Bnei Akiva relates directly to the story of Rabbi Akiva. At the age of 40 years old, after growing up tending flock, he changed his ways and decided that he needed to find out the essence of the Jewish faith. The story is told of how it happened:
One day while attending to his flock, he noticed a rock onto which droplets of water kept dripping. He thought that if something as soft as water can penetrate this solid rock and cause it to erode, so can the Torah penetrate into me – a shepherd who at this time was solid in his ways. Thus we strive to be like Rabbi Akiva for his three qualities: (a) his love of Hashem, a steadfast devotion to the Torah and his ultimate martyrdom at the hands of the Romans, (b) his love of Israel and his fight for its independence, (c) his love of labour and his respect for it, remembering always his early life.