Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rabbinic Failure to Grasp Complexity

Back in 2005, the following Shabbos speech was delivered about the disengagement.


I do not know the Rav who delivered it, but his reputation is one of a serious talmid chacham and an independent thinker who has the courage to go against the party line of any anyone. In this particular case, he chose to go against the trend in the broader charedi community by openly opposing the disengagement while the vast majority of the charedi community chose to remain silent. For that he is to be commended.

All that being said, I found a number of points in the speech to be extremely troubling, including:

1) a major absence of depth in analysis

2) the contention that those who opposed military insubordination view the State of Israel as of greater importance than Torah

3) the demonizing of those that supported the disengagement

Let us address certain specific arguments made in the speech:

"Clear lack of any logic or benefit –the opposite"

Well, one could argue whether the disengagement was a good or bad idea, but there was certainly some logic to it. There are those who would make the following logical arguments:

1) The State of Israel can not, over the long term, get away with ruling over large populations who have no right to vote. At some point, the world will force upon us a "one man, one vote" policy as they did with South Africa

2) As such, the only way to retain a Jewish State over the long-term is to ensure a very solid Jewish majority over the long-term

3) In order to maintain a very solid Jewish majority over the long-term, large numbers of non-Jewish residents must be removed from the borders of the State of Israel

4) There are only two ways to remove large numbers of non-Jewish residents from the borders of the State of Israel
a. Physically force large numbers of them out of the border
b. Draw, or re-draw, the borders such that large numbers of non-Jewish residents are out

5) 4a. is not happening, whether we like it or not. That leaves 4b. as the only viable option to retain a Jewish state over the long term.

I suppose at least some of the people who held to this logic may have known full well that the disengagement would bring war, and not peace, but believed what they saw as a step critical to retaining a Jewish State to be worth the price of war. I suppose some such supporters of disengagement would have said that they prefer a Jewish State at war over a non-Jewish, or bi-national, State at peace … and for that reason they moved from places like the United States, where they lived at peace in a non-Jewish state, to Israel – a Jewish state at war.

I should also mention that there is a moral issue in ruling over hundreds of thousands of individuals who are not given full citizens rights. I'm speaking of course, of the Palestinians, not of Israeli Arabs. The situation is, of course, extremely complex, but one who sees absolutely no element of truth to the world's seeing this as apartheid is, I think, failing to grasp its full complexity. If you need a non-leftist Rabbi to say this rather than some stam guy named Chuck, click here and read away.

"divrei harav vedivrei hatalmid divrei mi shom'im"—If every frum soldier and every frum policeman would have refused to violate the many Torah prohibitions involved in this tragedy…Woe is to us that we have (brace yourself) emulated the cursed Germans, and have an army and police who just "follow orders".

Hmmm. Talk about demonizing. Comparing our soldiers to the Germans?? Outrageous! What, exactly, were the Torah prohibitions involved in disengagement? Is it forbidden to retreat during a war, which we have been in since 1948? If the government decides to retreat, shall we allow the inhabitants to stay there to be slaughtered, or shall we remove them by force? There are just a few pretty smart Rabbanim who thought the disengagement to be Halakhically permitted. For one example, see http://vbm-torah.org/hirhurei-yom-pekuda.doc (scroll down to the third page), as well as http://www.etzion.org.il/hitnatkut/questions-h.rtf, http://www.etzion.org.il/hitnatkut/sylvetsky.rtf, and http://www.etzion.org.il/hitnatkut/response-h.rtf and decide for yourself..

But, hopefully, over days, weeks, months, realization will set in as to the monstrosity of secular Zionism, seeing what it has become, what it has done, and the impossibility of accommodating it.

Demonizing part II. Secular Zionism is a monstrosity?? Instead of calling them monsters, maybe we should be just a bit thankful to them for having been the primary movers and shakers in setting up a Jewish State such that all of us can live here? Hmmm … let's think about all the Jewish movements that arose in the 19th century. Reform? Failed bitterly. Orthodoxy? Failed bitterly. The bund movement? Reduced to history books. Let's face it. Zionism, driven primarily by secular Jews, is the ONLY movement from that period which succeeded in its primary goal. There are now more Jews living in the State of Israel than anywhere else in the world. And the State of Israel is the only country in the entire world where the Jewish population is growing.

All the Rabbanim who said lo lesarev pekuda, all those who said the army and police are our brothers, we respect them and will not fight them, all those who said STOP instead of GO, the continued supremacy (in the eyes of this segment of the population), of mamlachti over dati—of medina over Torah—is the second direct link. And, though it pains me to say it, perhaps the people of Gush Katif were guilty of this more than anyone- the inability to see and recognize and expose their enemy (the medina) as an enemy. Rather than as a friend who is temporarily doing crazy things. There's a direct link here too. This made it impossible to fight back. This ensured the astounding ease with which it ultimately happened. After all, if France would've sent in Jewish soldiers to destroy Gush Katif, would there be a fight put up? So what is the difference? The 'medina'! Here are people who put their prime Torah value only after their subservience to the medina.

Demonizing Part III. The medina is the enemy?? Need I say more?

All of the Rabbanim who said no to insubordination value the medina more than Torah?? Outrageous! R. Aharon Lichtenstein staunchly opposed insubordination. Does the Rabbi who wrote this speech really believe that R. Aharon Lichtenstein values the medina more than Torah?? Give me a break. See the articles referenced above and decide for yourself.

One can argue legitimately about the wisdom and morality of the disengagement. One can certainly protest the manner in which the disengaged were and are treated.

But one thing is certain: Many of our Rabbinic leaders, even those with the courage to not tow the line of anyone, are essentially incapable of grasping the complexity so necessary as a prerequisite to solid analysis.


  1. How do you manage to praise him for being "an independent thinker", and then criticize him for disagreeing with other rabonim?

  2. I didn't criticize him for disagreeing with anyone. I found fault with the shallowness of his analysis.

  3. This speech/article is very strange. I did go to hear this Rav speak in the days prior to the gerush (yup, I'm one of those...) and was very impressed with him. His thinking struck me as original. He seemed to totally be his own person, as well as genuinely sharing the pain of fellow Jews.
    But I agree with Chuck that viewing secular Zionism and the State itself as some kind of enemy is very painful, and I was sorry to just read it. Though I grew up religious, here in Israel, I was brought up with very definite appreciation, respect and love for the Jews who built up this country and have helped, hand in hand with religious Jews too, of course, "maintain" it all along, as well as for our medinah itself.
    I guess the Haredi - Zioni divide is just too deep to be bridged.

  4. Just for the record, I do believe the treatment of the disengaged was מתחת לכל ביקורת. Even the staunchest supporters of disengagement agree with that, I think.

    I agree that the haredi-Zioni divide is too difficult to bridge ... because the dialogue is only one way. I've seen the chazon ish in almost every Zionist yeshiva I'ver ever visited. I have never, not even once, seen R Kook in a haredi beit midrash.

    I emailed the Rav quoted in this posting almost a year ago, and never heard back.

  5. Interesting what you say about the dialogue being only one way. I guess there is a gradation here. Some non-religious say the same about our dialogue with them, that we (the religious) are not willing to "give up" anything when coming to a hi'dabrut with them. We're so convinced of our "agala me'leah", that we can't go towards them in anything. That is understandable though, because we can't compromise on Halacha (in whatever interpretation).

    As for the Rav quoted, maybe it's worth trying again. He seems like a decent, intellectually honest man. And by now, maybe some of the pain has dulled a bit and he'd be open to explaining his position.

  6. I think the only real difference between us, on the whole, and the haredim is our willingness, IN THEORY, to carry on a dialogue with the hilonim.

    I emphasize "in theory", because I think it is impossible to dialogue by talking "at" the other side, rather than talking "with" them as equals. Were I hiloni, I would have a strong distaste for the relgious for consistently talking down to me.

    We have a tendency to think that we have a monopoly on truth, when the reality is, in my opinion, we have no monopoly on truth OR on Torah. Through political power, we have seized a monopoly on Torah, and I blame both us and them for that ... them for allowing us to seize that monopoly.

    Halacha, when defined in its broadest sense, incorporates meta-values, including achdut.

    If that's not the case, then there can never be achdut. This because the concept of achdut can never exist, in my opinion, without parallel concepts such as compromise, concessions, partial retreat, etc.

    Just my thoughts.

  7. In response to Chuck's comment:"Just for the record, I do believe the treatment of the disengaged was מתחת לכל ביקורת. Even the staunchest supporters of disengagement agree with that, I think."

    As the staunchest supporter of the disengagement in the country, I have to say that while many of those removed from their homes were not treated very well by the government, the situtation might have been different had they all cooperated with the plan rather than fighting it. Think about how much better off they would be if the money spent on the pinui itself could have been distributed instead to the mefunim or spent on creating jobs for them.

    (Not really connected to your initial post, but something that had to be said.)

  8. I've had that thought, though somewhat modified.

    I don't think the gov't would have given the money spent on deploying so many police and soliders to the disengaged, except through very tough negotiations.

    Had the disengaged negotiated hard as a group, they could have, I believe, gotten a much better deal.

    But alas, their Rabbis told them it wouldn't happen ... and they innocently believed.

    That, though, doesn't release the gov't from its moral obligation to have given them a much better deal, in my opinion.

    I, too, supported the disengagement, but I thought the issue too morally, spiritually and politically complex for me to be terribly staunch about it.

  9. I know this is unrelated to the gerush/hitnatkut/disengagement - but since this blog is where one can breathe fresh air, as one reader wrote, I thought you'd all 'enjoy' it.


    The talkbacks are interesting too, regarding prevalence of this custom in the teimani tradition, source in the Zohar etc.. Still, as Chuck says, there are other meta-considerations, besides the strictly textbook-halachic ones. Well, they don't apply here...

  10. As a general comment I don't think it's fair to take a set of speech notes and read in all that you have.

    I would suggest you check the Rav's email address and try again. He typically responds promptly but he's had repeated trouble with his email addresses over the years (probably due to over use) so do yourself a favour, and him the courtesy, and try again.