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Rabbi Kanievsky and the Ban on Arab Labor

05/30/08

Did you happen to read the full text of what Rav Kanievsky recently
stated concerning employing Arabs, and even any gentiles in Israel?

Yes I did and here is what I responded to another person who inquired about this.

It is true that as a general rule in the world, one should try to hire Jews rather than non-Jews in order to give them a livelihood. But as in all matters of charity, one must keep in mind the consideration of "eivah" that one's charity should not lead to non-Jews hating Jews. For example, when confronted with several poor people asking for donations, one should not give only the Jews and leave out the non-Jews, because that would lead to hatred. Here too, if it will lead to hatred, then he should not discriminate.

I would not have been surprised if Rabbi Kanievsky had told the administrators privately nisht tzu dingen zei. But according to the article, he told them 1) to fire their current Arab employees, and 2) to publicize his decision. These two aspects of the decision shocked me.

Also, he was quoted as saying that "we are at war with the Arabs." I think it is the Zionists who are at war with the Arabs, and anyone using the word "we" is identifying himself as a Zionist. I respect Rabbi Kanievsky, and have studied some of his Torah works; as such, I would like to be "melamed zchus" and say that he was misquoted by the reporters on this last point.

Dear TTJ,

You seem to me to have a one-minded one-track approach at play. There
is indeed a view also based upon Torah that we are indeed at war, a
milchemet mitzvah. I've heard it explained by Rabbi Frand and others as
such. You want to take their words and claim that they didn't mean what
they said? Well, then I'll come back and say that whatever Rav Teitlebaum
said must have been misquoted and that whoever edited his works must have
erred too, in their typically overzealous manner. How would that go over?

You want to hold otherwise, fine for you. But that is what I said
earlier concerning these issues; I think it very wrong to take a zealous
one-minded view on this issue when there are any number of ways of looking
at it, as we have discussed. Obviously, if there are scholars who hold
that today's situation is a milchemet mitzvah, then they have what to base
it upon, as we have discussed such sources at various times. You don't like
those sources or you think it is the wrong understanding of them, that's
fine for you. I understand you have your makorim and understandings to hold
by. But for someone such as yourself to say to others that a view such as
that of R. Kanievsky is a view that is absolutely wrong, no way, no how, or
is "shocking," or must have been misquoted somehow, that is the problem.
By saying it that way, you are inferring that you are a greater scholar
than he is. You should rather challenge R. Kanievsky to a debate,
privately or publicly, or else to question him face to face, than to claim
that his view is absolutely wrong or "shocking" without debate. Or else you
could just say that "it is possible that he is in fact right, since I'm
sure he has his source material to hold by such a view, although I hold
otherwise based upon my understanding of the souces."

You are implying that R. Kanievsky must be a "Zionist" because he
considers the Jewish people to be in an halachic state of warfare with the
Muslim-Arabs. Thus, you are trying to portray a Torah shita, of a gadol no
less, that he adheres to, as not being based upon an honest view of all of
the sources on the subject, but rather it "must be" due to the influence of
the "Zionists"and "Zionism" wherefrom you claim he has a natural, inherent
or an evolved bias towards. In other words, your view is "It's my way or
the highway..." as a prerequisite to any discussion/debate. And then you
claim that you respect him after labeling his shita as a non-shita because
"it's my way or the highway"(?)

Look, Rabbi Kanievsky didn't write a book or a teshuva expressing the shitah that the Jewish people is in an halachic state of war, bringing the kinds of sources you have brought. We're dealing with a single comment recorded by a reporter. All I'm saying is that from all that I've read about him in the past I have no reason to believe that he is a believer in this shitah. As such, I'd prefer to let this one comment pass and not get so excited about it. I think Rabbi Kanievsky himself and other gedolim would also prefer that people judge their views based on what they themselves write and publish, not based on the press and media.

If and when he writes about it at length, citing reasons and sources, then I agree with you that it should be debated respectfully, as with any other Torah topic.

As to calling a believer in this shitah a "Zionist", we've been over this before and I think I explained to you that the term doesn't imply that bias influenced halacha, but rather that a certain halachic conclusion falls into a certain category. For example, you might call a rabbi who paskens that one can and should make an eiruv in a certain city a "pro-eiruv" rabbi. That doesn't mean that he has a bias toward having an eiruv and this led him to pasken the way he does.

What have you read about him in the past? Tell me some examples and who
wrote what you read about him. Someone in the MEDIA wrote it perhaps? And
you believe what the media wrote about him in the past? Why should you
believe what was written about him by the media, when you yourself admit
that we shouldn't believe what the media says? If so, you are
contradicting yourself.

Also, and more importantly, I think that if a prominant Rav like Rav
Kanievsky is quoted by the media as having said something that is rather
provocative like this in all its details, and he is quoted as giving it
permission to be said in public when asked his permission, then logically
and from a Torah perspective were this an exaggeration or falsification of
the media interviewing him, and considering the gravity of the issue, he
would be compelled to retract whatever he honestly wanted retracted from
what the media stated to show the public his true Torah beliefs, weather
via his own media moguls or to his talmidim of which there are many, or
whatever other source. He should even go so far as to file a law suit
against the media that misquoted him on such a serious issue were that the
case, not so much to win the case for money but to prove that he did not
make such statements. This is not a personal matter where he could claim
the right to forego his kavod should someone write a personal attack piece
against him. This is a national matter since it influences a Torah
viewpoint upon the masses of readers. Until he does any of this, I think
we can safely believe what was stated by the media is fact, just as you for
whatever reason believe what was written about him in the past is fact. And
just as one can believe that all that is written in Rav Teitlebaum's sefer
is not a forgery of his most zealous followers. Note, too, that despite
the implications of his words, R. Kanievsky was not quoted outright as
saying that Arabs must be expelled from Israel or killed, and he even gave
some small room of permission in certain circumstances to hire a gentile
worker over a Jew, so that if the press really wanted to turn R. Kanievsky
into a rabid-pro-zionist as you claim, they could have gone even further to
paint him in that image.

What sources do I have on Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky? Firstly I have a book called Derech Sicha which is a compilation of answers he gave to questions he was asked orally. The book is very thick and contains a wide range of subjects, approached from angles of halacha, hashkafa and advice and yet it contains nothing on the subject of State of Israel and nothing about its wars. The closest it comes to that subject is a discussion about whether "the heart of kings is in the hand of Hashem" applies to Israeli leaders, and whether we should rejoice in the downfall of a particular "leftist" leader (probably Ehud Barak). So it seems that he follows a practice of not expressing any opinion on our subject, at least publicly.

Secondly, there is a man named Rabbi Avraham Chazan, alias Yoel Elchanan, who leads an anti-Zionist movement for Israelis, and on his website www.yoel-ab.com he says that he went to Rabbi Kanievsky and received a blessing and endorsement of his work.

Third, if close family members' positions are any indication, we know that his father, the Steipler, in Karyana D'igresa discusses the sefer Vayoel Moshe in relation to the question of participating in Israeli elections, and says: "I don't understand [the Satmar Rav's argument] because certainly it was forbidden to make a state but now that it exists why should it be forbidden to participate?" See here for Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky's own explanation of these words of his father. His uncle, the Chazon Ish, was also known to be strongly opposed to Zionism and certainly did not look at the wars as a mitzvah.

In general, if the wars are milchemes mitzvah, every young man should go to the army, regardless of whether they are studying Torah. We never find such an exemption in the Torah or Talmud. So any gadol who tells his students not to go to the army under any circumstances, even now that they have Nachal Charedi, clearly does not hold that it is milchemes mitzvah.

Nevertheless, I agree that this should be ironed out, and I am planning to send Rabbi Kanievsky a letter asking him if he really made this statement and what he meant.

I wrote to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky the following letter: "To the honor of the Rav shlita. I heard that the Rav paskened that yeshivos may not employ Arab workers because of the danger, and that he added, "We are at war with them." I want to ask if what I heard is true. And if it is, I ask: How is it possible to say that we are at war with the Arabs? We, Jews who keep Torah and mitzvos, talmidim of the gedolim such as the Chazon Ish zt"l and the Brisker Rav zt"l, did not establish the state, and we are not at war with any nation in the world. The Zionists are the ones who aroused the Arabs' anger, to the point where they murder Jews, r"l. And therefore, it seems, it would have been more accurate to say that the Zionists are at war with the Arabs, and since the Arabs do not distinguish between Zionist Jews and non-Zionist Jews, therefore we must be careful and not be soicher. And if I have erred, may the Rav forgive me and place me on the true path."

Today I received his reply, four words: "Ani lo amarti kein" I did not say that.