The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy


The Failure of Israel’s Rabbis

Filed under: Oslo/Peace ProcessJewish Leadership — eidelberg @ 12:50 am Edit This

Edited transcript of he Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, December 1, 2008.

(Dedicated to the Courageous Rabbis to which this Essay does not Apply).

Why is Israel retreating toward its 1949 armistice lines? Why is it undoing the miracle of the Six-Day War of June 1967?

One reason is the non-Torah orientation of Israeli prime ministers. The trouble with this answer is that in June 1967, a national unity government, which included the National Religious Party, unanimously agreed to relinquish the Temple Mount to the Muslim authority. This is not all.

The ultra-orthodox Shas party, by joining the Rabin-led coalition government after the 1992 elections, enabled that government to initiate the catastrophic Oslo Agreement of 1993. This agreement has undermined Israel’s retention of Judea and Samaria. Similarly, the ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism party, by joining the Sharon-led coalition government in 2004, enabled that government in 2005 to implement Israel’s “disengagement” or retreat from Gaza, hence to expel 8,000 Jews from their homes, a crime that has no name.

These are wrenching facts. They make us wonder about religious parties and their rabbinical leaders. Is there something inherently wrong with religious parties participating in the formation of secular-led governments?

I once asked a renowned Talmudic scholar whether Israel would be better off without religious parties. He said the issue is problematic. While it might elevate and enlarge the religious community, it might have the opposite effect by diminishing the funding of various religious functions, above all education. The issue far exceeds my knowledge. Nevertheless, let me explore one political aspect of the issue.

In his Mishneh Torah (Book of Judges, Chapter 2:14), Maimonides lays down the following law: “A Torah scholar is forbidden to sit in judgment unless he knows those who are to sit with him, lest those associated with him be not qualified, and he would thus be not a member of a tribunal but a party to a confederacy of faithless men.”

Presumably, every rabbi is familiar with this law. Hence, if we limit ourselves to logic—but bearing in mind that life is more complex than logic—no Torah-true rabbi would ever sit on Israel’s Supreme Court, which has always been dominated by secularists. Indeed, the Court has frequently and deliberately issued rulings that violate the Torah.

Since the same may be said of Knesset legislation, it logically follows that no genuine Torah scholar would enter that assembly. He would therefore avoid politics. Thus, if a rabbi becomes a member of the Supreme Court or of the Knesset, one may wonder whether he was either ignorant of the nature of politics or animated primarily by the desire for prestige or power.

Of course, a religious person may enter politics to promote Torah ideas and values, or to counter the influence of politicians indifferent to, or scornful of, the Jewish heritage. But despite his good intentions, he cannot avoid diminishing the dignity of the Torah by engaging in the vulgar rivalry of parties, especially over the public purse. Moreover, he may be involved in coalition agreements requiring him to collaborate with anti-Torah parties or to vote for measures that violate Torah principles.

No religious party can escape the fact that the struggle for power, hence egoism, dominates politics. Politicians couch this struggle in rhetorical or honorific language. They are ever posturing about “justice” or about “peace” and “democracy.” The first casualty of politics is truth.

Notice how Israel’s religious parties refrain from exposing the fraudulent nature of the government’s policy of “land for peace.” Even if a religious party were to express reservations about this policy, still, to be a part of that government not only dignifies and perpetuates a deadly charade, but it places the Torah on the same level as a party platform. The second casualty of politics is Jewish honor.

The surrender of Jewish land to Arabs is primarily the result of the government’s obtuse, egalitarian mentality, uncontested by the nation’s prominent rabbis. I mean rabbinical leaders who failed to proclaim on every public forum that it is sheer folly and shameful as well as a desecration of God’s Name to negotiate with Arabs who vilify Jews and who are committed to Israel’s destruction.

To tell the nations, as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir did, that “everything is negotiable,” is to confess that nothing is sacred, indeed, that Israel can be bought—an attitude that degrades the Chosen People and the Torah. Yet there was hardly a word of protest by the guardians of the Torah. Is it any wonder that the Olmert-Livni government—sustained by Shas—has shamelessly offered Eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to Arab thugs?

Not only did rabbis fail to denounce the policy of “everything is negotiable,” they unwittingly contributed to that disgraceful policy! When rabbinic scholars gratuitously declared that Jewish land may be exchanged for peace in accordance with the concept of pikuach nefesh (danger to Jewish life), the ordinary man could readily and erroneously conclude that Judea and Samaria, along with the Temple Mount, are expendable.

Had these rabbis proclaimed that the Arab appetite for Jewish land is insatiable, hence, that it is precisely the surrender of Jewish land that constitutes pikuach nefesh, they would have reinforced the common sense of most Israelis who reject the self-effacing and suicidal policy of “land for peace.” That policy really means nothing less than trashing the Jewish heritage for peace.

Most Israelis have no illusions about the deadly intentions of the Arabs. But Jewish pride and the nation’s will to resist Islamic imperialism have been eroded—and not only by secular governments devoid of honor and courage, but by the failure of rabbinical leaders to denounce the spineless policy of appeasement pursued by those governments.

Of course, some rabbis, having held aloof from politics, adopted the condescending view that to criticize the government’s “land for peace” policy is to enter the political arena. The Land of Israel, however, is preeminently a Torah issue. Whatever one may think of Zionism or the modern State of Israel in relation to the redemption of the Jewish people, one cannot live in this country and be silent about the genocidal objectives Israel’s Arab-Islamic neighbors. For rabbinic leaders to refrain from telling the truth on the grounds that this will “irritate the goyim” is to ignore the fact that Jewish self-effacement only arouses Arab arrogance and incites Arab aggression.

And for religious parties to participate in a political system whose leaders preach the immoral doctrine that “everything is negotiable” is to collaborate in the demoralization of the Jewish people.

Now, with an election before us, the rabbis have the best opportunity to stand up and tell the truth about negotiating with the Palestinian Authority. Probably most rabbis hope Binyamin Netanyahu will be Israel’s next prime minister. This hope requires no courage on their part. The question is whether Netanyahu’s policy of “reciprocity” in negotiating with the Palestinians is not a façade for appeasement? Surely the rabbis should be asking Netanyahu this question.

On January 2nd of this year, Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe reportedly told a conference of rabbis in Tel-Aviv: “Government leaders should be hanged for negotiating with the Palestinians” (The Jerusalem Post, January 3). Some may say this statement constitutes incitement, a criminal offense. Year after year, however, Israeli prime ministers have been inciting Arabs by releasing Arab terrorists. Releasing Arab terrorists, as well as giving their leaders Jewish land, may be deemed acts of treason under section 99 of the Penal Law. That section prohibits acts that give assistance to an “enemy” in war against Israel; and the law specifically includes a terrorist organization. Such assistance has been the direct result of negotiations between Israeli prime ministers and the Palestinian Authority.

Rabbis: No one expects you to imitate Pinchas. But Jews are in desperate need of truth. The concept of pikuach nefesh has metamorphosed into the concept of “collateral damage” which, in the minds of timid politicians and pliant generals, is now saving the lives of our enemies. Israel is threatened with annihilation. This fact makes nonsense of those who speak of “proportionality” in waging war against genocidal enemies.

Only hypocrites, ignoramuses, and decadent humanists use such concepts when confronted by a religion whose disciples have slaughtered 270 million “infidels” during the past fourteen centuries. Rabbis should bring this piece of history to the attention of Israel’s political and military leaders. It’s a matter of pikuach nefesh.