Letters to the Editor

The Day After

In response to Yaakov Eisen’s article “The Day After: A Religious Zionist Youth Speaks Out” (summer 2006), our office received many letters. Below represents but a sampling of the letters we received. Ed.

You are to be commended for your courage in printing Yaakov Eisen’s powerful article about the disillusionment felt by many Israelis after last summer’s expulsion from Gaza. That expulsion was a major strategic and moral blunder on the part of the Israeli leadership, and this summer, as I write this, Israel has been forced to re-enter those abandoned areas to clear them of the daily Kassam rocket attacks—some of them launched from the very homes of the Jewish pioneers who were forcibly evicted from them by Israel.

American Jews are habituated to dutifully answering “Amen” to everything done by the Israeli governments. The Land of Israel is sacred and is the dwelling place of God’s Shechinah on earth, but when secular Israeli governments betray the very basis of this holy land, and when they callously destroy the lives of 10,000 Jews in search of an ephemeral accommodation with our blood enemies, such unquestioning loyalty is not warranted. Israel and the Jewish people would be better served by honest and searching criticism of self-defeating actions of the Jewish State.

This is precisely what Yaakov Eisen does. His searing words are a cry from a broken heart. They should be read and digested by anyone who cares about Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael. If the article is painful to read, that is only because it mirrors the pain of recent events in Israel. Such pain, inflicted by Jews upon other Jews, threatens the Jewish future infinitely more than the threats of our external enemies.

A tip of my yarmulke to Jewish Action for doing the unpopular thing and publishing this article.

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman

Eisen’s brilliant, accurate, honest and sensitive article explains exactly how and why the tragedy of the expulsion of thousands of Jews from their homes in Gush Katif became a reality.

I made aliyah in 1971. Israel is my home. I’ve never looked back. However, I cannot deny the shame and despair I feel for a system, a government and a police, as well as the media, the courts and the leaders—both political and religious—that allowed this travesty to happen. Eisen expressed for me, in his article, the pain and disillusionment that I feel “a year after.”

I thank him for putting into words what I personally experienced. I pray that our youth who fought so valiantly against the danger and injustice of leaving Gush Katif will become the leaders of an Israel of which I will feel prouder.

Yehudit Miller

My heart aches for young men like Yaakov Eisen. His article brought back memories of those cruel days as we awaited our expulsion. I still shudder and cry myself to sleep as I relive those days of our betrayal by the Israeli government and our rabbinical leaders.

Yaakov Eisen was one of many people who lived in our house in Gush Katif during those days. His courage, kindness and strength made that period bearable.

Yaakov Eisen represents those youths who are our hope, who see right from wrong. May Hashem grant us the privilege of seeing many Yaakov Eisens leading our country.

Rachel Saperstein
(Formerly of Neve Dekalim)
Nitzan, Israel

Eisen’s article evoked much sorrow in my heart for him and for those who agree with him. Eisen’s anguished cry is one of ultimate yaiush (loss of hope) regarding Israel. He has concluded that the government, army, police, courts, media and Religious Zionist leadership are corrupt, misguided and criminally guilty of ruining the country. A modern-day Samson, his blind rage motivates him to call for the destruction of the current order, and he prays that “…our generation wrests the reins of power from both the secularist oligarchy and our own detached and antiquated leadership.”

Eisen’s call should not be heeded. Indeed, it should be widely circulated and roundly condemned as an abject lesson. Did Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues yield to hopelessness after the destruction of the Temple? Did Rashi “throw in the towel” after the bloody Crusades ravaged Western Europe? Did Rabbi Aharon Kotler and Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik give up after the unprecedented ravages of the Shoah? No. Each of them absorbed the blow and moved on to rebuild.

Hysterical reactions, however understandable in light of the agonies of the Gaza disengagement, have little value in the story of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Nothing is accomplished by yielding to anarchistic impulses, compounded with egotistical, delusional self-aggrandizement. Eisen and his cohort know the right way to run the country? Let us see what will happen after they have done so for one week’s time. Confronted with a witch’s brew of external attack, internal strife and existential threat, coming to grips with the reality of running a modern state in a politically charged global environment not yet graced with the appearance of the Messiah, Eisen and his comrades will become caught in the same quicksand that ensnares the current governmental and religious leadership of Israel, with little ability to act any differently.

Views similar to Eisen’s have been heard since the Gaza disengagement from religious and lay leaders in the United States, as well as from a significant segment of the Israeli people. As a people, we must contend with this trend toward hopelessness and counter it. May Hashem give us the wisdom to accomplish this.

David Jacobowitz
Teaneck, New Jersey

It was extremely disturbing to read the angry words of an obviously bright, talented and extremely capable young man, Yaakov Eisen. Disturbing because of the depressing tone and vitriolic words about the IDF, and because Jewish Action provided him with a forum and thereby publicized the hopelessness and the fury. It was clear from the editorial note at the beginning of the article that the words were published with some hesitation. Would that that hesitation had resulted in the article being discarded rather than published.

There is legitimate anger, resentment and sadness following the disengagement—or expulsion—from Gush Katif. With hindsight it appears that, simply from a pragmatic point of view, the entire effort may have been misguided. This is in addition to the human tragedy involved, a tragedy which was compounded by the government’s failure to provide adequately for those who were uprooted from their homes and deprived of their livelihoods.

None of this, however, justifies the systematic denigration and defaming of the IDF and its soldiers, not to mention the entire government of Israel. As Rav Shlomo Chaim HaKohain Aviner has said in response to legitimate criticisms of IDF actions, the Israel armed forces are kadosh—holy. They made possible the creation of the State of Israel. They defend five million Jews in the State of Israel. They operate with the highest level of ethics and morality of any armed force in the world.

The Jenin operation, which was so cruelly disparaged by Eisen, was a glowing example of the kiddush Hashem of the IDF, which risked the lives of young men in house-to-house fighting against terrorists rather than shelling and bombing indiscriminately and thereby destroying innocent lives along with the terrorists. How dare Eisen sully the sacrifice of the twenty-three young men who died in that operation? How dare he refer to this as “a perverse morality?” Quite the contrary, this morality was a sanctification of God’s name by people who are impugned by Eisen for their “leftist values” and the “secular domination of the government.”

What right does the author have to ridicule the values of the religious IDF officers who participated in the disengagement willingly or reluctantly? What right does he have to ascribe their participation to protecting their livelihoods and their chances for promotion in the army? This is not protection of one’s livelihood; this is simply making sure that an army will be able to function effectively in defense of the Jewish people and the Jewish State.

It was sad to see the disillusionment of this young man. It was disappointing to see how a man who was reared in the spirit of uncompromising ahavat Yisrael—love of all Jews, including those with whom one disagrees—in the yeshivah established by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, bitterly criticizes all Israelis except his own cohorts.

In the end, one feels terribly sad about what has happened to Yaakov Eisen and others who think like him. But, in this writer’s opinion, his words did not deserve to be disseminated to a wider reading public. In a world where Israel has to fight a constant battle for its survival, we should be promoting positive, hopeful and optimistic solutions to the problems that confront the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein
New York, New York

Yaakov Eisen responds

First, I gratefully acknowledge the letters of endorsement for my article by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, Yehudit Miller and my family’s hostess in Gush Katif, Rachel Saperstein. I also greatly appreciate the additional supportive letters that came from both Israel and North America. It may seem petty in this light to quarrel with the excoriating letters of David Jacobowitz of New Jersey and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of New York. However, a number of salient points demand attention.

Mr. Jacobowitz has sadly missed my article’s point entirely. The only references to “despair” appear in his letter (and perhaps his view of current events, which underlay it). My article conveyed no such message. I simply recorded a factual description of events I, as a young man in the State of Israel, experienced personally. Mr. Jacobowitz, at a convenient distance of 6,000 miles, may choose to ignore events here and their inevitable implications; my friends and I cannot. Everything I expressed regarding my relationship to the State derives directly from those events.

My article voiced no despair, because I feel none. On the contrary, I believe my generation is the solution. Hence, my article’s proactive thrust, which Mr. Jacobowitz chose either to ignore or to caricature. I am optimistic but also realistic. Of the personalities Mr. Jacobowitz cites, Rabbi Akiva likewise did not despair. However, apart from raising a generation of Torah scholars, he attempted to redress a desperate situation by spearheading a revolt. Rashi, Rav Kotler and Rav Soloveitchik could respond to their generations’ travails only through study and teaching, since, tragically, in exile, they had no means through which to change their circumstances more actively. Unlike Mr. Jacobowitz, my friends and I, thank God, live in Eretz Yisrael, the land God designated for our national mission on behalf of our people and the entire world. We have not only the wherewithal but also the obligation to pursue an active course in fulfilling this God-given assignment.

I very much hope we all remember the expulsion and destruction of Gush Katif—which undoubtedly rank among the most egregious offenses committed on a national plane by Jews against their own people—as an eternal disgrace in our nation’s chronicles. This is not a statement of resignation. It is the conviction of those sincerely dedicated to Jewish survival who fear the devastating consequences of a repeat of this travesty, should we ever forget its lessons.

Rabbi Lookstein’s response to my article was admittedly far more dismaying. First, I was shocked that a celebrated leader in a country renowned for championing freedom of expression chose instead to urge discarding and disregarding a perspective with which he disagrees. Advocating the suppression of dissenting views is ironically reminiscent of precisely the sort of counterfeit democracy practiced by the institutions of the state he upholds here, which allow government-sanctioned broadcasts but ban a station like Israel National Radio (Arutz Sheva).

More substantively, deeming the Israel Defense Forces intrinsically “holy” is fundamentally misguided. The IDF’s indisputably prodigious historic merit notwithstanding, an army is a means to an end. Viewing it otherwise and according to its actions a priori legitimacy is an inversion of temporal and eternal values and tantamount to idolatry. Ultimately, as even the United Nations concedes in the inscriptions on its Isaiah Wall, our goal is beating swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks (see Yeshayahu 2:4 and Michah 4:3). Whatever holiness we ascribe to our army, then, derives from the holiness of its actions—not vice versa. A morally repugnant deed remains so, unlegitimated by its perpetrators’ identities, roles or broader intentions. Failure to countenance this essential distinction is at the root of all the war crimes of history.

Even more perplexingly, Rabbi Lookstein execrates my labeling as “a perverse morality” the government’s decision, during the “Chomat Magen” Operation of 2002, to sacrifice our finest youth in lethal urban battles only to protect the well-being of sworn terrorists and their families. His indignant accusation—that I “sully the sacrifice of the twenty-three young men who died” in the operation in Jenin—only obfuscates the real issue. Obviously, we salute and revere every soldier who answered his people’s call and forfeited his life on their behalf. But does our holy soldiers’ selfless dedication excuse an official policy that was callous or even murderous?

Moreover, Rabbi Lookstein’s moral perch, in advocating jeopardizing our best sons in lieu of those of our most ruthless foes, might seem less sanctimonious were it less convenient. However, from a safe distance of 6,000 miles, he can rest assured that the boys sent, God forbid, to their deaths will include neither his children nor his grandchildren, all ensconced comfortably upon the fleshpots of exile. Perhaps he would be surprised to learn that we who actually defend this country with our lives rather than our tongues would prefer remaining alive to his magnanimously extolling our politically correct deaths. In fact, most Israelis across the political spectrum share my sentiments—with the glaring exception of the leftist elite, whose children somehow seem almost invariably to elude combat service. (Consider, for example, the military service or lack thereof of the current prime minister and his children.) Brigadier General Erez Gerstein h.y.d., the late commander of the security zone in Lebanon, commented ruefully, “In Israel, they have compassion for the wrong mothers.” He himself was later killed by a roadside bomb.

More essentially, however, apart from such issues as our living and dying, which Rabbi Lookstein may consider mundane or academic, my definition of morality is determined by the Torah. Clearly, the Torah’s morality forbids endangering Jewish soldiers to protect a wicked enemy’s family members. As Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai rules, “[Even] the best among heathens in time of war—you shall kill!” (Soferim 15:10; see also Mechilta on Shemot 14:7 and Tanchuma Beshalach 8). (For further elaboration, see the comments of Rashi on Shemot 14:7; Tosafot on Avodah Zarah 26b, s.v., “Velo”; Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, Sefer Havikuach; Rabbi Mordechai ben Hillel, Sefer HaMordechai on Avodah Zarah, ch. 2, sec. 814; Rabbeinu Bachyai ben Asher on Shemot 14:7 and Maharal of Prague, Be’er Hagolah, Be’er 7.) The alternative—a warped display of compassion for the cruel and cruelty for the compassionate—is a profanation, not a sanctification, of God’s Name by those who ordered it, our holy soldiers’ martyrdom notwithstanding.

Finally, Rabbi Lookstein, by mentioning the issue of refusal to obey orders, compels me to clarify the relevant facts. First, I should answer his accusative question, “What right” do I “have to ascribe [IDF officers’] participation to protecting their livelihoods and their chances for promotion in the army?” I reply simply that I have no such right. I merely reported faithfully what we heard repeatedly in Gush Katif from the officers themselves, under the best of circumstances, in justifying their actions.

Pertaining also to obeying or disobeying the expulsion orders, Rabbi Lookstein tacitly refers to Rabbi Aviner’s public repudiation of Rav Avraham Shapira’s ruling on this subject. Yet, we should undoubtedly consider Rabbi Aviner’s dissent in light of his own evaluation of their relative statures: “The first disparagement is the expression ‘Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and Rav Shapira.’… It is impossible to count me, the small one, with the gadol in Yisrael and great gaon [Rav Shapira], as if all faces are equivalent. The blurring of [disparate] levels is the source of many tribulations. ‘Yerushalayim was destroyed only because they equated the small and the great’ (Shabbat 119b)” (Itturei Kohanim, Tevet 5760). By his admission, Rabbi Aviner is not a colleague but a disciple of the rabbis, led by Rav Shapira, who explicitly forbade obeying the expulsion orders.

Indeed, like Yerushalayim, Gush Katif “was destroyed only because they equated the small and the great.” As it is clear in retrospect, had all the self-proclaimed disciples of Rav Shapira and others deferred to their teachers’ rulings and forbidden abetting the expulsion and the destruction, Gush Katif and its now homeless refugees would still be flourishing today. Moreover, the army and nation would have been strengthened rather than devastatingly compromised, had unambiguous lines been drawn in deference to unequivocal Torah prohibitions. For Rabbis Lookstein and Aviner, this realization may have required (quoting Rabbi Lookstein) “hindsight”; Rav Shapira explicitly anticipated it. Unfortunately, as I stated, “Low-level neighborhood rabbis, who would unhesitatingly defer to more learned rabbinical leaders with basic halachic questions, arrogated to themselves supreme authority, blithely ignoring their own teachers, forbidding soldiers to disobey expulsion orders and forbidding civilians to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.”

In conclusion, despite Mr. Jacobowitz’s and Rabbi Lookstein’s vituperations, I remain simultaneously optimistic and realistic. After all, we must predicate true optimism upon realism. Starry-eyed credulity precipitated the devastation of the Yom Kippur War thirty-three years ago and of the last war, this past summer. May we all have the insight and foresight that are acquired through confronting the challenges of living here—to learn the lessons of the past and properly evaluate the present as means to building a brighter future, together, here, in the land God gave us.

The author is currently completing advanced combat training in “Nahal Haredi,” the Netzah Yehuda Battalion of the Kfir Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces.

This article was featured in the Spring 2007 issue of Jewish Action.