Letters to the Editor

American Jews and the Disengagement

I read with interest the debate between Rabbi Emanuel Feldman and Rabbi Yosef Blau (“Did American Orthodox Jews Forsake Their Israeli Brethren?,” winter 2005), regarding the failure of American Jews to react to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Rabbi Blau purports to speak for American Modern Orthodoxy in saying “Territorial compromise is halachically acceptable if it promotes security.”

Despite my reverence for my mashgiach and for the Rav, whose views Rabbi Blau accurately reproduces, my views on the subject differ. Since the Oslo Accords, I have felt shock, gradually changing to anger, disappointment and disgust at the Israeli government’s actions. Rabbi Blau is well aware, as are we all, that territorial compromises have never led to peace and security.

In the 1990s, I felt angry at the Peres/Rabin government for leading Israel toward self-destruction. Like many American Zionists, I looked to Sharon as a savior, a hard-line right-wing hawk who was a friend of the settlers. It is now clear that he was no better, if not worse, than his predecessors. Personally, I feel more betrayed than ever. I suspect there are many who agree with my viewpoint. Perhaps that is why more and more American Modern Orthodox Jews feel that while “Israel is a wonderful place to learn Torah … they return to the United States [to] … settle permanently.”

Rabbi Blau’s statement that “American Religious Zionists have always publicly supported the Israeli government” effectively consigns American Jewry to being a blind ostrich, mindlessly rubber-stamping its approval while Israel self-destructs. We have no obligation to agree with the Sharon government in this foolish and dangerous decision.
Ariel Fischer, MD
Suffern, New York

When Duncan Hines and Stella D’ora threatened to go dairy, the Orthodox community sprung into action and fought the “travesty.” And what happened when thousands of Jews were cruelly thrown out of their homes, over thirty shuls burned to the ground and pieces of Eretz Yisrael handed over to our enemies? If such a significant and traumatic event didn’t touch a raw nerve in the Modern Orthodox community, then indeed I believe that American Jews should keep to themselves and let Israeli Jews worry about the big issues facing Am Yisrael. As Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, z”l, himself wrote in Kol Dodi Dofek (Hebrew ed., p. 84; my translation): “I fear that we, the [American] religious Jews, are to this day entrenched in a blissful slumber.”
Chaim Leichman

I found it astounding that only a handful in the Orthodox community understood what the disengagement was all about. It was not about security or economics or not being able to live with Arabs, but about ridding this country of the religious members of society and incapacitating them by expulsion.

There is a struggle for the soul of Israel, as both writers note. However, the soul of Israel is alive and well in the religious youth who are willing to defend their right to be. It is the total letdown by the religious leaders, both here and in America, which is the saddest part of it all.

Yes there are now groups aiding the expellees, but it is too little too late. In fact, I have received more mailings from American religious organizations asking for aid for victims of Katrina than for aid for the Gush Katif expellees.

Dr. Pesach Aceman
Editor, Gush Katif web site www.katif.net
Yishuv Bar Yochai

Rabbi Blau’s “rejoinder” to Rabbi Feldman while rich in background material is rather poor in relevance. In true yeshivah fashion Rabbi Blau presents the difference between American Religious Zionists and their Israeli counterparts as emanating from a well-known machloket Rishonim, namely that between Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, z”l, and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, z”l, and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, z”l. However, the “Messianism” of the former and the preference of the latter for “the people over the Land” do little to shed light on the issues raised by Rabbi Feldman. Indeed, shortly after the Sharon Plan was made public, Rav Ovadiah Yosef (not known to be a follower of Rav Kook), in a derashah in Jerusalem, urged all MKs to vote against the plan on the grounds that its implementation would clearly endanger the lives of large segments of the Jewish people (not merely the settlers). And, Rav Yosef added that the Torah tells us “lo ta’amod al dam re’echa, you shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed” (Vayikra19:16).

This was Rav Yosef’s judgment after he personally received the views of different military experts including those of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. One might have expected the avowed followers of Rav Soloveitchik to have voiced the same concerns. After all it was the “people,” our brothers and sisters, who were involved. And in matters of pikuach nefesh we go lechumra and shaiv ve al ta’aseh adif (abstention is preferred).

We American-born rabbis in Israel who led congregations in the United States certainly appreciate the sensitivity of our colleagues in America who, in spite of their feeling “at home,” fear the charge of “dual loyalty.” This might explain their reluctance to organize large-scale public demonstrations on Israeli issues. My complaint, however, is that there was not a greater effort made by these rabbis to truly understand the Sharon Plan in all of its ramifications and possible consequences, to penetrate the media “spin” and convey this information to their constituents and take a stand.

Rabbi Blau juxtaposes Rabbi Feldman’s “certainties” (which today are always suspect) to the politically correct posture of the American Religious Zionists with their tentative “concerns” for the arguments in favor of the Sharon Plan, which he pronounces “legitimate.” Well, “legitimate” they certainly are but are they valid, valid enough to support a plan that clearly endangers the lives of entire segments of the Israeli people?
A bit of thought beyond the slogans will have shown that:

1. Withdrawing from Gaza and settlements in Northern Shomron do nothing to change the “demographic reality.”
2. There is no advantage to having “defined borders” if they are not recognized by your neighbors. (The Sharon withdrawal was unilateral.)
3. If the choice is between our ruling over one–and-a-half-million hostile Palestinians or their being free to bomb us to bits, I for one have no moral problem in choosing the former.

Our fear is that the difference between us Modern Orthodox Religious Zionists here and you Modern Orthodox Religious Zionists there is not one of “passion” but one of interest. I hope we are wrong.
Shubert Spero
Irving Stone Chair
Bar-Ilan University

Rabbi Blau responds

The passion of the letter writers reflects a certainty that unfortunately I do not share. The Israeli elections demonstrate that the broader Israeli population also does not agree with their perceptions. Even after Prime Minister Sharon became incapacitated, after Amona and after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, the voters selected the parties that supported the disengagement, while those who opposed it did poorly. The number of religious Knesset members increased while the anti-religious party Shinui disappeared, indicating that religion was not an issue. It is illogical to assert that most Israelis and their political candidates, including former generals and heads of the Israeli secret service, simply do not understand the security ramifications of the disengagement.

Social concerns regarding the aged and the poor were important to voters, as they are in Judaism. This should have helped Mafdal-Ichud Leumi, as two of the Mafdal candidates had shown leadership in legislating on behalf of the handicapped and elderly in the last Knesset. The perception that Religious Zionism is primarily concerned with territory ironically led to the two not being re-elected.

Those who are convinced that keeping land is a halachic absolute, and who listen only to those security experts who agree with their approach, dismiss anyone who has an opposing perspective. Since they assume that no rational person could disagree with them, they conclude that anyone who does not see retaining every meter of the land as the supreme value, is acting either out of hatred to Judaism or because of monetary gain. This is both absurd and dangerous. As I indicated in my article, the real issue to contend with is the Jewish character of the State. Tragically, the members of the Religious Zionist community who are critical to this struggle are out of the mainstream of Israeli political life.

A photo essay in the winter 2005 issue entitled “JLIC Program Endowed in Honor of Heshe and Harriet Seif” neglected to mention the OU’s partner organizations in the JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) program: Hillel and Torah MiTzion, both of which are integral to JLIC’s success.

This article was featured in the Summer 2006 issue of Jewish Action.