What defines today as exile? Why can't the State of Israel qualify as exile?

08/03/07

Dear Rabbi,

How do you define "the exile?" Do you mean, all or even
the vast majority of Jews living outside of Israel? Such is not the case
today, obviously, and is a thing that even according to you is not a sin
for Jews as individuals to live in the land of Israel. Or does it mean when
we have full sovereignty? Such was not the case when they built the 2nd
Beis Hamikdash. Indeed, even in that time many Jews did not return,
including the better quality Jews of Babylonia. So you could still say that
the Jewish people were still "in exile" even as those who returned and built
the Beis Hamikdash (sad to say) were not the best of Jews. As a side note,
the Gemora says that there was once a Jew from Bavel who eventually came to
Israel and while there attempted to help Reish Lakish up from bathing.
Reish Lakish refused to take his hand and said, "How I hate the Jews of
Bavel! Had they returned when they should have, the Shechinah would have
returned and never left..." So, how do you define "the exile?" It seems
that, according to your understanding, in order to permit even an
individual Jew to even so much as live in the land of Israel, he would also
need prophetic instruction first. After all, it was Yirmiyahu's prophecy
that gave the Jews of Bavel permission to move back to Israel. Yet, you
yourself said that bizman hazeh living in the land as an individual is
permitted(!) So on the one hand, you are saying that we need a prophecy to
build the Beis Hamikdash based upon Yirmiyahu's prophecy; yet on the other
hand you are saying that it is permitted to move to live in Israel as an
individual even without such prophecy having been given???

Dear Meir,

Ending exile is defined as a group of Jews, even if not the majority of the Jewish people, founding a government in Eretz Yisroel. This was done in the beginning of the Second Temple, although they were not truly independent as you say. But as individuals, Jews are allowed to live in Eretz Yisroel this is Rabbi Zeira's opinion in Kesubos 110b as opposed to Rav Yehuda, and this is how the halacha is ruled.

The question of exactly how many individuals may live in Eretz Yisroel, and what level of organization they may have, before the settlement crosses the line out of exile, is a difficult one. And I am aware that defenders of the Agudah approach have made just this argument to explain how the State of Israel escapes the Three Oaths see Rabbi Chaim Dov Altusky, Chiddushei Basra, Kesubos 111a. He takes this argument so far as to say that the State of Israel's submission to America on various occasions (such as in the Sinai/Suez campaign of 1956) is enough to call it exile.

During the course of history, the Jewish people moves among three political positions: 1) In exile, wandering among the nations, at the mercy of their hosts. 2) In their land as an independent kingdom, but not more powerful than any other country. 3) The most powerful kingdom in the world. The third position was reached briefly in the time of Shlomo Hamelech (Megillah 11b), and will be reached again when Mashiach comes (Rambam Melachim 12:4). The second position was the position of the Jewish kingdom in the Second Temple period and in much of the First Temple period. The first position, exile, has been our position since the destruction of the Second Temple. Rabbi Altusky is suggesting that since we expect to reach 3) in the Messianic era, to use our own powers to bring our position up to 2) is not called forcing the end.

He has a point certainly the second political level is not the end. But here we are treading on the thin ice of taama dekra, trying to rule halacha based on one particular understanding of the motive behind the halacha. How can we be sure that with the words, Do not force the end, Hashem meant, do not reach Level 3)? Perhaps He meant, do not leave exile before the time. Certainly Level 2) is not synonymous with exile. Is France in exile? Is England in exile? These countries were also expected to consult with America and the U.N. before making a military move. These countries were also rebuked in 1956.

One might argue that the Zionist state grovels before America more often than most other countries. This is, in fact, the pet complaint of the religious Zionist press in the United States. Whenever the Israelis are restrained from full retaliation, it provoke their ire. They accuse the world of being anti-Semitic, because it doesnt let the Zionist state do whatever it wants. This anti-Semitism, they say, is most prevalent in European countries, but even some American politicians are guilty of it. So perhaps Rabbi Altusky accepted this complaint as true, but turned it into an advantage, from an halachic standpoint: Because they are constantly restrained by the world, they are really still in exile, still on Level 1).

The flaw in this argument is that any independent country in the same position as the Zionist state would do the same. The Zionists knew in the 50s that they were caught at the front of the cold war between the two nuclear superpowers. The Soviets were against them, so they could not afford to lose the support of the other superpower, America. The same logic was behind the long delay before the Zionists attacked at the beginning of the Six-Day War.

Since the 60s, the State has been heavily dependent on America for money and arms. Noam Chomsky writes:

Prior to 1967, before the special relationship had matured, Israel received the highest per capita aid from the U.S. of any country. Commenting on the fact, Harvard Middle East specialist Nadav Safran also notes that this amounts to a substantial part of the unprecedented capital transfer to Israel from abroad that constitutes virtually the whole of Israels investment one reason why Israels economic progress offers no meaningful model for underdeveloped countries. It is possible that recent aid amounts to something like $1000 per year for each citizen of Israel when all factors are taken into account. Even the public figures are astounding. For fiscal years 1978 through 1982, Israel received 48% of all U.S. military aid and 35% of U.S. economic aid, worldwide. For fiscal year 1983, the Reagan administration requested almost $2.5 billion for Israel out of a total aid budget of $8.1 billion, including $500 million in outright grants and $1.2 billion in low-interest loans. (The General Accounting Office has informed Congress that the actual levels of U.S. aid may be as much as 60% higher than the publicly available figures.)

Thus it is only natural that the Zionists should at least make a show of consulting America at every step. But is this an exilic act? No, this is what any independent state would do if placed in their position.

It is true that there are certain levels of semi-independent behavior that are tolerated even during exile. In Babylon, the Jewish people had their own exilarch. In medieval Spain and later in Poland, the kingdom granted Jewish courts the right to enforce their own laws. Today in New York we have a system of Jewish anti-crime watchmen. Rabbi Altusky is certainly correct that this behavior must cross a certain line to be considered forcing the end. But we have no way of knowing where that line is. It would be very presumptuous to assume that establishing an independent state on a level with, if not more powerful than, most other countries of the world today is not crossing that line. In such situations, our only safe route is to continue in the way of our ancestors through the centuries of exile, doing nothing that we did not see them doing. Todays Zionist state certainly represents a level of independence unprecedented in Jewish exile. Thus, to permit it by calling it exile is a step we cannot take. Rabbi Altusky as well did not write his words as a ruling, but merely as a possibility, intended to stimulate further study.

This is an interesting perspective and understanding. In any case, however, the overriding issue is if we are to say that sovereignty and abrogation of the oaths must "wait
for Mashiach to do it," then the obvious question becomes what gives
Mashiach permission to abrogate the oaths any more than any other Jew?
Mashiach is a human being who is bound by halachah as any other human being.
We are forced to say that he can abrogate them only because G-d tells him he
can do so, meaning that he must be a prophet whom G-d speaks to.
Apparently, this is like a horas sh'a, if you hold that the oaths are in
the category of an halachic mitzvah. (Interestingly, if you don't say that
Mashiach abrogating the oaths is comparable to a horas sh'a, then what you
are saying is that 1) The oaths are in the category of one of the 613
mitzvot, yet 2) When Mashiach comes, he will do away with this mitzvah
forever. But can one really permanently do away with one of the mitzvot of
the Torah, even someone of the stature of Mashiach? Then again, if you do
say that is like a horas sh'a, if he then can abrogate the oaths on that
basis as a temporary measure, then after he abrogates them in order
accomplish what he needs to accomplish the Jewish people will then once
again be obligated to observe the oaths?! Of course, to say so would be
completely contradictory to the idea of geula. I think you see what a
dangerous thing it is to refer to the oaths as being on the level of the 613
mitzvot).

So, how will this manifest itself? Apparently, if I may conjecture your
way of thinking, someone must come to a group of very learned Rabbi's, if
not the entire Jewish people in a public manner, and tell them that G-d has
given him prophetic ability (I say with tongue in cheek, I can only imagine
how well that will go over...). They will then trust him enough to test him
with the "sniff and judge" test, and then if and when he passes this test,
he can then compel all of Israel to observe the Torah, take over the
country, fight the wars, etc. Even with all that, he could still not
succeed to a good enough degree and die or be killed beforehand, as the
Rambam points out. Of course, this is not the same sequence of events
that happened in Bar Kochba's case, as we have discussed. For, as
Sanhedrin 93b states, Bar Kochba first ruled for 2 1/2 years (I have read
from a secular source that he was made into a Nasi, but other Torah sources
refer to him as a King, fyi). In that time period he had successfully
driven out the Romans. As the Midrash explains, Bar Kochba caught boulders
that were catapulted at him by the Romans and hurled them back at them,
killing many. It was for that reason that R. Akiva thought he was the
Mashiach, says the Midrash. Yet, Bar Kochba was never tested for prophetic
ability only until after he proclaimed himself in front of the sages to be
definitely the Mashiach. That event occurred after he had already
successfully fought and ruled for 2 1/2 years. From all that you have
written, what you seem to be saying is that one must first prove himself to
have prophetic ability before taking any action that will define himself as
Mashiach (as noted by the Rambam).

You seem to have mistaken notions about my views. I do not say that Moshiach must be a prophet at these early stages. The fact that he brings all of Israel to teshuva is enough proof for him to continue and fight the wars. This is how the Rambam rules, in accordance with the Yerushalmi. The Bavli holds that he must also pass the sniff and judge test, but even the Bavli agrees that he need not pass that test right away at the beginning, as you rightly point out. His right to abrogate the oaths stands only on one thing: his ability to make everyone keep the Torah.

You call the abrogation of the oaths a hora'as sha'ah. But that's not the right concept. Think of Moshe Rabbeinu telling the Jews in Bamidbar 14: "Do not go up and do not fight, for Hashem is not in your midst." And then, 39 years later, he told them to cross the Jordan and fight the Canaanites. This is not hora'as sha'ah; the idea here is that there are different periods in history, in which we play different roles. We need a prophet or someone authorized by G-d to tell us which role to play. In the case of Moshiach, he might not be a prophet, but his authorization from G-d will come in the form of his succeeding in making all Jews keep the Torah.

You have said numerous times that Bar Kochba did not fulfill this criteria of making the Jews keep the Torah before he fought his wars, and you quote the Midrash which says that Rabbi Akiva believed him to be moshiach solely on the basis of his fighting ability. But I think I once quoted you the Tzror Hachaim by Rabbi Avraham Loewenstam (written in 1820) who asks how Rabbi Akiva was allowed to support Bar Kochba in light of the oaths, and answers that the oaths did not apply to Bar Kochba for a different reason: because the city of Beitar, in which Bar Kochba reigned for two and a half years, had never been conquered by Rome at all. Beitar was a living remnant of the Jewish kingdom that had existed before the destruction of the Temple. Evidence to this can be found in the words of the Midrash Eichah (2:2): Fifty-two years Beitar lasted after the destruction of the Temple. And why was it destroyed? Because they lit candles to celebrate the destruction of the Temple. The Midrash goes on to explain that they rejoiced that Jerusalem was gone, and now Beitar would be the commercial center of the Land. Thus, Beitar had been a Jewish center all along, and so in that region the exile was not considered to have begun.

Furthermore, it could be that Bar Kochba did use his leadership to make the Jews keep the Torah. He then went on to fight the Romans, and when he was successful at that, Rabbi Akiva concluded that he was moshiach. Thus the Midrash is telling us the second step followed by Rabbi Akiva's conclusion; the first step is assumed and not written explicitly in the Midrash.

Being that you are a student of the Satmar Rav and I am not, and I
presume that he was an expert on all (or at least many) areas of the Torah,
I ask you how he would explain how it was possible for members of the tribe
of Yehuda to become so cowardly in handing Samson over to the Philistines,
and saying to Samson: (Judges 15:11), "Are you unaware that the Philistines
are rulers over us? What have you done to us?" And this was long before
the oaths in Kesubos. So, according to the Satmar Rav, how could they
possibly think that way?

Revenge is rooted in Israel and in their great leaders. We find this
with Samson. After he "smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter"
(Judges 15:8), the base men of Yehudah came to hand him over to the
Philistines, claiming fearfully (Judges 15:11), "Are you unaware that the
Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?" Samson replied,
"AS THEY DID TO ME, SO I DID TO THEM." This tzaddik took zealous revenge
for the Jewish people all his life until the day he died (Judges 16:28): "O
L-rd G-d, remember me and strengthen me, I pray to You, just this once,
O G-d, that I may be this once avenged of the Philistines for one of my two
eyes." We can say that he sought revenge for only one of his two eyes which
the Philistines knocked out, because he knew that what they did was partly
punishment for his deeds. As our sages said (Sotah 9b), "Samson rebelled
through his eyes' (Judges 14:3): 'Get her for me, for she is pleasing in
my eyes.' Therefore the Philistines knocked out his eyes." Even so, being
a "G-d of vengeance (Psalms 94:1), G-d responded to this request by Samson
for revenge against the enemies of G-d and Israel.

Dear Meir,

You ask about Samson and the men of Yehuda. I don't think the Satmar Rav says anything on this, but I once heard the following explanation: Samson was different from the other judges in that his role was not to lead the Jews to battle and conquer the enemy, but he was to fight them alone. He was a kind of terrorist: he wrought destruction on the enemy as a one-man army, so that only he would be to blame, and the Jews would not suffer retaliation from the Philistines. Thus, he made his first fight against them look like it was just a personal vengeance for discovering the answer to his riddle in an unfair way. He second fight was another personal vengeance for them killing his wife and father-in-law. And the Jews caught him and handed him over to the Philistines, to make it clear that they were not behind his actions. This way the Philistines never fought back and killed Jews, they went only after Samson himself. This was G-d's plan for Samson, and it is alluded to in the words, "He bites the ankles of the horse, and its rider falls backwards" (Bereishis 49). He didn't fight them head on, he fought them like a snake on the ground.