Bible Commentator

Special Stories

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

Special Stories #5 – August 14,  2005 - The Disengagement – Part III

The Extremist Rabbis:


The wisdom of the Talmud is its acceptance of multiple interpretations.

Rabbi Babya ben Asher (a thirteenth century commentator whose Torah text was approved by the Rambam and is the one we read today) stated ‘The scroll of the Torah is [written] without vowels, in order to enable man to interpret it however he wishes . . . without vowels man may interpret it [extrapolating from it] several [different] things, many marvelous and sublime.’

We know that many serious conflicts were argued among the Talmudic Sages for the ‘sake of heaven’. To determine the halakha the Sanhedrin (Jewish legislature) voted democratically and the final halakha was that voted by a majority. Some who refused to accept that democratic ruling were excommunicated. Rabbi Eliezer who disputed a ruling after it was voted was excommunicated despite a bat kol – voice from heaven – stating his view was correct (BT Baba Metzia 59b).  In the great conflicts between the schools of Hillel and Shammai the former was almost always held to be valid; Hillel was the more lenient and he was humble. Despite the rule favoring Hillel we are told ‘These [Hillel] are and those {Shammai} are the words of the living God, but the Halakha is in accordance with Bet Hillel’ (BT Erubin 13b). Both rulings can be true but only one is valid.

Former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira has recently stated “Woe be unto a soldier or policeman and woe be unto his soul if they take part in this atrocity, . . . [You] must do everything in their power" to prevent soldiers or policemen from destroying or removing their property from their homes, and warned that whoever hands over lands to non-Jews "will not have clean hands – not in this world and not in the next."

Both Shapira and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu called on soldiers to refuse to carry out orders to evacuate settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Shapira's position on the issue of relinquishing territory, however, represents an unbending choice of the Land of Israel over the Jewish state, and his demand that soldiers who would be his followers refuse their commanders' orders presents them as Jewish soldiers, with an untenable dilemma.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, an outspoken opponent of disengagement, has nonetheless strongly opposed the calls for refusal. Indeed he has said that, however acute the pain, settlers, when a soldier comes ultimately to evacuate them, they must leave in such a way as to ensure there can be no possible deterioration into conflict. He understands the importance of the State of Israel to the Jewish people.

Tragically for the delicate fabric of relations between religious Zionism and the democratic state, not nearly enough rabbis have had the courage, wisdom and responsibility to take the same public position.

It may be that the majority of Modern Orthodoxy agrees with Rabbi Aviner; it is difficult to know how many agree with Rabbis Shapira and Eliyahu about refusal.

Former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, leader of Shas has said

that it is permissible to surrender land if doing so would prevent bloodshed; presumably political authorities would determine security decisions.  

What has happened to conflicts for the ‘sake of heaven’?

The religious Zionist camp and the National Religious Party (NRP), unlike the haredi leadership, joined forces with the secularists who founded the Jewish state, and set out to serve as the bridge between religion and the democratic nation – even serving in the IDF. It exalted not only the Land of Israel as holy but also the secular state that facilitated the establishment of the State as a home for those of the world's Jews who chose it. There function was to educate the secular about Judaism. The NRP seem to have given up that function in favor almost exclusively of the particularism of the holiness of the land. That is why there is a yawning gap between the Modern Orthodox and the secular. It was not so when Avraham Yitzhak Halevi Halevi Kook was Chief Rabbi and when Dr. Joseph Berg was head of the National Religious Party. During the days of Dr. Berg (a scholar in Judaism) as opposed to the days of Effi Eitam (a chozer be’teshuva – a born again), the Rabbis did not control political decisions. Both Rabbi Kook and Dr. Berg understood the importance of all Jews and not just the Orthodox.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that refusing to negotiate with Babylon would destroy the [first] Temple. It did. Hillel’s disciples (particularly Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai) said fighting the Roman’s would destroy the second Temple. It did. In both cases zealotry cost us the land and many lives.

Both Jeremiah and Hillel believed peace was a Jewish value and both understood that peace requires compromise. Rabbis Shapira and Eliyahu’s ruling revoked the National Religious Party’s covenant with the State. What if some of their followers (disregarding the Rabbi’s ruling against violence) act violently against Police or soldiers?

A 54 year old right-wing activist set herself ablaze attempting suicide Wednesday during an anti-pullout protest in the Negev town of Netivot. She was seriously wounded, suffering from burns on 60-70% of her body.

Or what if some 16-21 year olds do as they have threatened and to take their surfboards out to sea on evacuation day and commit mass suicide?

If the disengagement goes peacefully (as we all hope) the possibility of civil war may be averted. If not the Rabbis can be held responsible for a Jewish schism. They are posting all over Israel signs primarily in orange with some blue stating “Two People, Two States”. Are they suggesting a Jewish religious state and a Jewish secular state? Is that what Modern Orthodoxy really wants?

What of the Rabbis who claim the disengagement will not happen (Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, head of the Beit El Yeshiva stated that "those that try to uproot us will be answered by an evil angel."); are they not the equivalent false prophets? Remember Hananya, the false prophet in Jeremiah’s time who proclaimed we would defeat the Babylonians; and Menachem during the Roman war who claimed to be bringing in redemption and the messianic age and Bar Kokhba’s messianic claim. All were not only wrong all died as a result but more importantly were disastrous to Jews.