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What do you think of the Eim Habonim Smeicha?

May 21, 2008

I am not interseted in debate I only have one question. What do you think of the sefer, "Eim Habonim Smecha?"

Dear Mr. Gershuni,

The sefer Eim Habonim Smeicha never gives a halachic ruling to permit what happened in 1947-1948. The sefer was written in 1943. It is not a halachic work but rather a sefer to encourage moving to Eretz Yisroel and settling the land, something that was never halachically forbidden by any posek, because according to the author it will help bring the redemption closer.

The author, Rabbi Y. S. Teichtal, was a great posek himself and the author of responsa. But he writes (in his second introduction, p. 32 in the 1983 Pri Haaretz edition) that until the war he was busy with talmidim and never had a chance to sit down and think about the "life questions of our entire holy people, for it is mitzvah that can be done by others, and one must not neglect Torah study because of it." But now, during the great turmoil of the war, when he could no longer focus on deep Gemara study, and the talmidim were scattered, he began to think about the big picture of Jewish history and the promised redemption. In other words, he saw the entire subject of his sefer as a non-halachic subject, a question of speculation about the Hashem's grand plan for Jewish history.

The only halacha question he rules on is the question of immigration and building the land en masse with permission from the ruling power. In permitting this, he continually refers to two precedents for this: the return of Ezra under Cyrus, and the permission granted briefly by the Roman emperor to build the Temple under Rabbi Yehoshua. He also cites (p. 94) a proposal by Rabbi Hillel of Kolomaya to buy out Eretz Yisroel from the Sultan of Turkey, as well as a settlement founded by Don Yosef Hanasi in the 1500's (p. 118).

Regarding this question, he addresses two sources used by the anti-Zionists the Ahavas Yonasan and the Chasam Sofer and he rebuts them by saying that they are referring only to a peaceful period of exile, not to a tumultuous time like WWII (ch. 3, pp. 147-8).

But he seems to have been rather naïve or removed from the current events of his time. Did he not realize that Britain had taken back its promise in the May 1939 White Paper? Had he not heard that they had limited immigration to 15,000 a year for five years and afterwards none at all? Did he really think that a Jewish state, or even a Jewish homeland to which most Jews in the world could come, could come into existence and stay in existence without war against the Arabs, both local and surrounding?

Indeed, Rabbi Teichtal himself forbids any war before the coming of moshiach, calling it a violation of the oath against going up as a wall (ch. 3, p. 176). He also prints as an approbation on his work a letter written in the 1860's by Rabbi Chaim David Chazan, originally written to Rabbi Hirsch Kalischer, in which Rabbi Chazan writes that we must not miss an opportunity given from Heaven to return from exile, but on the other hand we must not go up "not by might and not by power, G-d forbid, to rebel against the nations of the world and kindly monarchs, or, G-d forbid, to go up on the walls, to fight with the government, but rather to do the Creator's will on our own with the help of kindly monarchs and their complete goodwill" (p. 9).

The explicit target for his polemic is Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro of Munkacz (the "Minchas Elazar"), who according to Rabbi Teichtal opposed the building of Eretz Yisroel because he held that the final redemption would take place miraculously, not through a gradual and seemingly natural process (ch. 2 p. 98 and ch. 3 p. 163). A good part of the Eim Habonim Smeicha is dedicated to disproving this idea and showing that the redemption will not be quick and miraculous. He even says that the Minchas Elazar would have agreed with him, if only he had recognized the world as "lo zachu", or if he had lived to see the horrors of the Holocaust. But even if we are to accept all of Rabbi Teichtal's proofs, this has no bearing on the halachic standing of the oaths, which even according to him prohibit military action. The current state, which was founded through warfare ("beyad chazakah") and continues to be maintained through military action, would be forbidden even according to him.