Agudah Breaks From Tradition

Nov. 29, 2007

The Forward reports:

An ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization spoke out at its annual conference against the division of Jerusalem, marking the first time that the traditionally non-Zionist body has taken a public stance on the peace process.

Agudath Israel of America has traditionally steered clear of matters involving Israeli sovereignty, on the grounds that a true Jewish homeland can be established only by the coming of the messiah. At its national convention last week, however, Agudath Israel passed a resolution stating that Israel should not surrender any part of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty and that Americas government should not pressure it into doing so.

The conference came a few days before the Annapolis, Md., peace talks. The Monday before the talks, an Agudath Israel official met with high-ranking members of the Bush administration to press the case.

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath Israels executive vice president of government and public affairs, acknowledged that it is unusual for Agudath Israel to speak out on matters relating to the peace process. But he explained, The issue of Jerusalem is one that is sui generis: It stands on its own. It is the heart of Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel, told the Forward that the resolution passed by acclaim with no objections. The unanimity suggests that the issue of Jerusalem may pull groups into the debate over the peace process that have traditionally steered clear of these matters.

Our comment:

This radical leap taken by Agudah requires some background and explanation. Of course Agudah, since the 1940's, was always a participant in Zionism, but the Forward is correct in calling this latest step a break from their tradition. Whatever Zionist activities the Agudah carried on in the past were done with the pretext of their need to cooperate with the Israeli government in order to "fight from within." But now the Agudah is taking a stance that is actually more Zionist than the Israeli government. They are speaking out in favor of Jewish rule over Jerusalem, whereas the Israeli government is willing to relinquish that rule. How do we explain this?

This step is the culmination of years of propagandizing by militant Zionist writers within Agudah circles. The English-speaking Orthodox world has unfortunately been plagued for the last 17 years by two newspapers, the Yated Neeman and the Hamodia, whose front-page writers never cease to preach the most virulent forms of Zionism. Other Zionist newspapers were always plentiful, but these two in particular contained material geared to the yeshiva and Chassidic communities, and people from those communities brought the papers into their homes and made them the basis for their outlook on the world. The words of Torah and pictures of great rabbis in these papers served as the "mezuzah on the pigsty" to make them appear kosher.

A "division of labor" developed under which rabbis and heads of yeshivas taught their students purely spiritual matters such as the interpretation of texts and Jewish law, whereas worldly and political questions were decided by the activists and newspaper writers. These people were almost invariably Zionists who had never studied the true Torah views of their own rabbis from past and present generations on the subject. Thus for a generation, many Orthodox Jews imbibed their outlook on the political world from Zionists, compartmentalizing their minds such that their Torah and Talmud study was confined to certain subjects and was never permitted to influence their views on Zionism. The unfortunate consequence is the terrible contradiction we see today: Jews who appear fervently Orthodox in all other areas, yet speak out in favor of Israeli rule over Jerusalem at all costs.

We look forward to the day when these newspapers go out of business and Orthodox Jews look only to the Torah and the rabbis for all their views on the world.