As right-wing opposition mounts to Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to dismantle settlements, several leading Modern Orthodox authorities are staking out a more moderate position.
Three prominent rabbis — Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor and president emeritus of Yeshiva University; Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, head of Israel’s Har Etzion yeshiva, and Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, a former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel — issued a joint declaration this week blasting the calls of right-wing Orthodox rabbis who have demanded that Israeli soldiers and settlers resist carrying out any evacuations of settlements.
“Recent calls for insubordination, in the event that Israel Defense Forces be employed to implement a planned withdrawal from [Gaza], are deeply disturbing and dismaying,” the three rabbis wrote. They added that such “selective insubordination cannot in this case be countenanced on either moral or [rabbinic legal] grounds.”
In a telephone interview, Lamm described the declaration as a “necessary statement” meant to counteract those Israeli rabbis who were usurping the government’s function of deciding what course is best for safeguarding lives and the future of the nation.
A former Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel, Avraham Shapiro, and several colleagues recently called publicly for resistance to evacuation on the part of soldiers and settlers, spurring talk of an Israeli civil war.
“There’s no room for encouraging or engaging in political or physical violence,” Lamm said. “It’s not for rabbis to determine national military policy.”
Lamm added that the declaration was necessary given the rabbinic statements that led to political unrest, which culminated in the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Orthodox Jew in 1995.
“After the assassination of Rabin, we don’t dismiss ideas in the community that could lead to a tremendous [desecration of God’s name],” Lamm said.
The argument that Lamm, Lichtenstein and Bakshi-Doron have with the calls for insubordination of Shapiro mirrors an earlier theological conflict between two of Orthodoxy’s leading Zionists in the 20th century, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook. A theoretician of mysticism who was the chief rabbi of Palestine in the early 20th century, Kook developed a mystical concept elevating the holiness of the land of Israel above many other religious values. On the other hand, Soloveitchik, a Lithuanian rationalist, did not give the holiness of the land such primacy.
The three rabbis’ declaration comes as the Orthodox Union, the largest Orthodox synagogue body in America, approved a resolution taking no position on the Sharon disengagement plan, while reiterating its view “that questions of Israeli foreign policy and domestic security are best left to the citizens of Israel and the State of Israel’s democratically elected institutions.” Given the opposition of many American Orthodox supporters of the settlers, some observers had expected the O.U., whose General Assembly met in Jerusalem this week, to come out against the Sharon plan and its provisions for settlement evacuation. But the O.U., which represents about 1,000 congregations, contented itself with expressing solidarity with the settlers who are about to be evacuated as part of the plan.
At the behest of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the American-born chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, the O.U. added language to a general resolution on peace and security, saying, “The debate in Israel over the disengagement from Gaza and parts of the [West Bank] has evoked strongly held feelings within the Orthodox Union family. The intensity of these emotions is compounded by the profound identification that so many in our community feel with the plight of Jews who face removal from their homes in areas that resonate in Jewish history, after Israel encouraged their presence.”