A Response to Rabbi Gil Student


Fyi, in Shul today, someone brought to my attention a 35 page essay written by Rabbi Gil Student. It was taken off of his blog (title of blog is Torahmusings.com). The essay is titled "Religious Zionism Debate." I would highly recomment that you read it in its entirety, if you haven't already. Links can be found to the far right on the Torahmusings page, where you scroll to "Major Treatments," under which it reads "Religious Zionism Debate," under which you will see links of I to XVII. I happened to notice that one of the items quoted from an anti-zionist position was the exact quotation from your website that talks about the meeting of the gedolim in 1938 where they rejected a zionist state. There are a number of quotes from Rav Teitlebaum and his sefer, in the context of discussion and debate, and a good analysis on the positions of gedolim of the past century, as well as analysis of a number of the Torah sources that are key points of debate.

The source for your point of view is largely your understanding of the oaths. After weighing many of the sources in question revolving around the oaths, I've decided that the "religious Zionist" view is more compelling to me. I think R. Student's analysis and give and take on the subject is on target. As do I think his analysis of the subject of weather or not R. Shneerson can be the Mashiach is also on target.


I read Rabbi Student's essay and have posted it below with my responses. There is a lot of material here that you and I have been over already, as well as some new material. I don't expect you to get convinced by what I say. We have already discussed the oaths at length and I know that your point of view is well-informed. However, there are many other people in the world who would benefit from reading this discussion. So without further ado, here's Rabbi Gil Student:

The Religious Zionism Debate
I. Heresy

R. Yoel Teitelbaum, the "Satmar Rav," in his Va-Yoel Moshe, Ma'amar Gimmel Shevu'os, chs. 40-42 (in the Ashkenazi 5760 edition, pp. 51-57), discusses whether there can be Ge'ulah (ultimate redemption) without Teshuvah (communal repentance). He points out that this is debated in Sanhedrin 97b between R. Yehoshua and R. Eliezer, with the former allowing for redemption without repentance and the latter requiring repentance before the final redemption. Generally speaking, we follow R. Yehoshua over R. Eliezer. However, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Teshuvah 7:5) seems to follow R. Eliezer:

The Torah has already promised that Israel will repent at the end of her exile and will then be redeemed immediately, as it is written, "And it shall come to pass when all these things have happened...and shall return to the Lord your God...and then the Lord your God will turn your captivity, and have compassion on you, and will return and gather you from all the nations, amongst whom the Lord your God has scattered you" (Deut. 30:1-3).

The Satmar Rav explains that the Rambam is not actually taking sides in the debate between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua. Those two sages were discussing whether repentance is required before the arrival of Eliyahu and the messiah. However, all agree that repentance is required after the messiah comes but before the final redemption. Redemption is, after all, a process that requires time. First the messiah will come, then there will be wars, and then the redemption will take place. R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua only debate whether Eliyahu and the messiah will come specifically after widespread repentance or even without such an occurrence.

The Satmar Rav (ch. 42, p. 56) takes this a step further. Since the Rambam quoted a verse to support his view that repentance must precede redemption, anyone who disputes this point is contradicting an explicit Pentateuchal verse and is, therefore, a heretic. The clear implication is that Religious Zionists, who believe that the return to the land of Israel is part of the redemption process, are heretics since widespread repentance has (unfortunately) not yet occurred.

II. Prior Responses

However, the Satmar Rav certainly knew that his argument had already been answered almost 100 years earlier. R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, in his Derishas Tziyon, ma'amar 1, Rishon Le-Tziyon additions, 1:10 (Etzion 2002 edition, pp. 60-61), addresses this issue and gives an answer similar to the Satmar Rav's, in fact extremely similar albeit 100 years earlier. R. Kalischer explains this according to his general view that there are a number of steps within the redemption process, i.e. a number of redemptions with only the last one being the final redemption. He has a number of proofs for this theory, which I hope to address in a future post.

R. Kalischer suggests that R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua were debating whether an earlier step in the redemption requires repentance. However, both agree that the final redemption certainly requires repentance. This explanation is much smoother within the language of the debate than the Satmar Rav's because the Gemara only mentions whether redemption requires repentance; the messiah is not named at all. According to the Satmar Rav, that the entire debate revolves around the messiah, it is a little difficult that the messiah and Eliyahu are not mentioned at all.

R. Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, in his Em Ha-Banim Semeihah, ch. 1 (Mekhon Peri Ha'aretz 1983 edition, pp. 78-80), offers a different approach. He explains that the Rambam is following a third Tannaitic view, that of R. Yehudah in Yalkut Shimoni (2:595), that repentance must absolutely precede redemption and if Israel does not repent, it will not be redeemed. According to R. Teichtal, the events will proceed as follows: the Jewish people will return to the land of Israel, Eliyahu will come and lead the people to repentance, the messiah will come and usher in the final redemption. Thus, repentance will precede redemption but not the return to the land of Israel.

Neither of these standard Religious Zionist views, both published before the Satmar Rav's anti-Zionist book, contradict the verse quoted by the Rambam or the Rambam himself. Therefore, neither of these views can be called heretical.

III. The Rishonim

R. Menahem Kasher, in his Ha-Tekufah Ha-Gedolah, ch. 6 (pp. 95-115), addresses this issue at length. He quotes (p. 104 n. 28) the Satmar Rav's view with astonishment because it seems to label the views of Rishonim (medieval authorities) as heretical, as R. Kasher demonstrates at length.

The Ramban, in his Sefer Ha-Ge'ulah (Kisvei Ha-Ramban, vol. 1 p. 277ff.), discusses this issue at length and clearly considers R. Eliezer, the sage who said that redemption does not require repentance, to have been the winner of the debate. The Ramban continues with a discussion about how the good prophecies of redemption must come true regardless of how bad the Jewish people may or may not be, as opposed to bad prophecies that can be annulled. At no time does the Ramban mention the messiah. While he may be discussing an early stage of redemption, he is clearly speaking of redemption and not the arrival of Eliyahu or the messiah.

The Ramban's student, R. David Bonfil, in his commentary to Sanhedrin, states clearly that "there is no condition in the future redemption and it was a decree that contained a swear [which therefore must come true]." Again, he only talks of redemption and not the arrival of the messiah. And specifically without repentance. Furthermore, about this very issue he brings the verse(s) that the Rambam brings in Hilkhos Teshuvah.

The Radak, in his commentary to Isaiah (59:16), points out that the verses in Deut. 30 imply that repentance will precede the return from exile. However, the verses in Isaiah imply that it will not. This contradiction, he states, forms the basis of the debate between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua. "They were unsure whether the return from exile will be through repentance or not, and this is because of the contradiction between the verses." The Radak then offers a reconciliation of the verses, namely that most of the Jewish people will repent after they see the signs of redemption (which is R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer's approach--no coincidence there).

Clearly, there are rishonim who hold of this view that the Satmar Rav claims contradicts an explicit verse and is blatant heresy. His condemnation falls a bit flat after reviewing this evidence.

R. Kasher has more to say on this topic, and more proofs to his position (see here for a brief summary), but they are not necessary for our purpose. It is clear that, on this point, the Religious Zionist view(s) are not heretical and have substantial basis in the sources.

Rabbi Student's analysis is misleading because he is not starting with the foundation of the anti-Zionist position (i.e. the Three Oaths). He is starting with an attack on the Satmar Rav's proposed answer to a question. Let us get the context here.

There is an explicit Gemara the Three Oaths in Kesubos 111a prohibiting a return to Zion en masse before the redemption. The question is why the Rambam doesn't codify this Gemara in his Mishneh Torah. The Satmar Rav proposes that the Rambam didn't need to bring it because he already states that teshuva must precede the geulah. Therefore, anyone trying to gather in the exiles without repentance is denying this principle, and is thus a heretic.

Rabbi Student has made it seem as if the Satmar Rav held that the fundamental reason why Zionism is wrong is that it conflicts with the principle that teshuva must precede geulah. So if we can show that there are indeed valid opinions that geulah or some part thereof can come without teshuva, then we have disproven the Satmar Rav, and Zionism is okay.

But this is a serious error. The fundamental reason why Zionism is wrong is because it violates the Three Oaths. That is unchangeable. Now, there is the academic question of why the Rambam did not mention the Three Oaths in Mishneh Torah. The Satmar Rav proposed that the Rambam did not need to mention them because he held that to violate them would be an act of heresy. If there are other Rishonim who held that all or part of the geulah could happen without teshuva, then they obviously disagree with the Rambam. If they were writing a code of law, they would have no choice but to include the Oaths.

However, Rabbi Student could have posed the question differently: according to those Rishonim who say geulah could happen without teshuva, why does this not violate the Oaths? This is really not a question at all, because the oaths prohibit us from doing something before G-d does it. When G-d does it there is no violation of the oaths. So when the Ramban says geulah can come even without teshuva, he means that G-d might bring the geulah without teshuva. He does not mean that we ourselves could initiate the geulah on our own without teshuva.

This leads to the question of what is called "G-d doing it". G-d controls world events, so the Zionists will claim that He made the entire modern return to Zion happen. The answer to this is that we Jews have an halachic system, and it is unnecessary to read G-d's mind in order to follow it. "What business do you have with the secrets of the Merciful One?" say our Sages. Following the Torah is not dependent on one's interpretation of world events. If the oaths prohibit us from founding a state through warfare, we may not found a state through warfare and then just claim that G-d was helping us do it. Therefore, we must conclude that "G-d doing it" means nothing less than G-d sending the messiah or Eliyahu in a way that is unambiguous to all (i.e. proven messianic status).

Another possible answer is that the Ramban held that the Oaths only prohibit founding a state through warfare (such as the Zionist state), but mass immigration to Eretz Yisroel with permission from the ruling power is permitted. According to this, part of the geulah could begin without the messiah, with the ruling power granting this permission. However, there is strong evidence that the Ramban held that any mass immigration, even peaceful, violates the oaths see Sefer Hageulah (Kisvei Haramban v. 1 p. 274) where he says that the exiled Jews in many countries did not immigrate to Eretz Yisroel although Cyrus gave them permission to do so, because they feared the oaths.

Furthermore, the Ramban as quoted by Rabbi Student says that "the good prophecies of redemption must come true regardless of how bad the Jewish people may or may not be, as opposed to bad prophecies that can be annulled." The good prophecies of redemption include the prophecies about the coming of the messiah and his rule. Thus we cannot say that he means merely that an ingathering of the exiles under a gentile power will happen without teshuva, but the rest of the redemption must wait for teshuva. He is saying that all of the redemption could happen without teshuva. The same is true of Rabbi David Bonfil.

The Radak, on the other hand, says that repentance will have to occur at some stage in order for the redemption to proceed. The part that may come without teshuva might be an ingathering of the exiles under gentile power, or perhaps the coming of the messiah. In either case, this does not contradict the oaths.

The Derishas Zion and the Eim Habanim Smeicha say that even the Rambam could agree that the ingathering of the exiles could happen without teshuva. But then we would have to know how that ingathering escapes the oaths. The answer is that we know that these two scholars held that the oaths do not prohibit immigration with permission. They do, however, prohibit a military takeover of the land see Eim Habanim Smeicha p. 176 and Kisvei Harav Kalischer p. 204.

The Derishas Zion and the Eim Habanim Smeicha will have to face another question: why doesn't the Rambam mention the oaths? Since they disagree with the Satmar Rav's premise and say that ingathering of exiles can happen before teshuva, then there is no way for a person to know just from reading the Rambam's code that it is forbidden to conquer the land with military force. The Rambam should not have left out this important halacha, which both the Derishas Zion and the Eim Habanim Smeicha agree is halacha. They will have to find a different answer to that question.

The Religious Zionism Debate II
I. Early Permission to Return

R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, in his Derishas Tziyon, ma'amar 1 ch. 2 (Etzion 2002 edition, p. 40), quotes from the Ramban's commentary to Shir Ha-Shirim 8:13 (in Kisvei Ha-Ramban, vol. 2 p. 516) that the beginning of the redemption will be with the help and permission of Gentile governments. R. Hayim Dov Chavel, the editor of the Ramban's collected writings, points out in a footnote to this passage that we have merited seeing this literally fulfilled.

R. Kalischer also quotes from R. David Kimhi (Radak)'s commentary to Tehillim (146:3) that, just like the Babylonian exile was ended through the Gentile king Cyrus, the final exile will also be ended through Gentile kings who will send the Jews back to their homeland.

This, R. Kalischer claims, proves that the redemption will begin with the Gentile nations giving the Jews permission to return to the land of Israel. He evidently found these two sources (and a Yerushalmi that we will hopefully address in a future post) extremely convincing, as he repeatedly referred to them and even quoted them in an 1836 letter to Baron Mayer Amschel Rothschild (printed in the Etzion 2002 edition of Derishas Tziyon, pp. 292-293).

R. Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal cites these two sources also, in his Em Ha-Banim Semeihah 1:15 (Mekhon Peri Ha'aretz 1983 edition, p. 131), quoting the Ramban in almost the exact same language as R. Kalischer (which makes me think that he copied them right out of Derishas Tziyon, which is understandable given that he wrote it during the Holocaust and away from his library).

II. Late Permission to Return

R. Yoel Teitelbaum, in Va-Yoel Moshe, Ma'amar Gimmel Shevu'os, ch. 68 (in the Ashkenazi 5760 edition, p. 84), points out that R. Kalischer quotes the Ramban imprecisely. What the Ramban actually wrote was that there will be a preliminary and small return to Israel and then, after the Mashi'ah arrives, the Gentile nations will give permission to the rest of the Jews to return to Israel. This is significantly different from what R. Kalischer understood the Ramban to mean. This is not referring to the beginning of redemption, but later in the process and subsequent to the arrival of Mashi'ah (ben David).

R. Teitelbaum further points to Radak's commentary to Isaiah 66 in which it is made clear that the Radak, too, was referring to permission to return to the land of Israel after Mashi'ah comes and not to a pre-messianic return.

In other words, these two important sources do not prove what R. Kalischer and R. Teichtal say they do.

III. Clarification

What is surprising is that R. Menahem Kasher, in his Ha-Tekufah Ha-Gedolah, 7:1-6 (pp. 116-119), quotes these sources as well, even though he certainly had read R. Teitelbaum's work (he sometimes quotes it, albeit as an unnamed source and in order to refute it). How could he do so after R. Teitelbaum clearly demonstrated that these sources are inapplicable?

The answer, I believe (and after consultation with others, this seems to be the consensus), is that while R. Teitelbaum's comments are entirely correct, they are also entirely beside the point. He is assuming that R. Kalischer et al's proof is from the timeline presented by those scholars: they expect the initial return to be pre-messianic and with Gentile assistance. This, R. Teitelbaum shows, is incorrect. However, that was never the intention.

The Rambam writes in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 12:2:
...The plain meaning of the words of the prophets seems to indicate that the war of Gog and Magog will take place at the beginning of the Messianic Era. Before the war of Gog and Magog, a prophet will arise to set Israel right and prepare their hearts... There are Sages who believe that Eliyahu will appear before the coming of the messiah. Nobody knows these things until they actually happen, because the prophets couched these matters in obscure phrases, and even the Sages have no set tradition about them, just their interpretation of the verses. That is why they have different opinions about these things."

In other words, neither the Sages of the Talmud nor subsequent commentators knew the exact timeline of the Messianic Era. They attempted to discern it through analyzing the Bible, but that is not an exact science.

Therefore, R. Kalischer was not basing his view on the exact timeline of the Ramban and the Radak. He certainly did not take their assessments of the order of events leading up to the redemption as authoritative, as the Rambam instructed. His proof, however, was from the concept that both the Ramban and the Radak embraced--that the return to the land of Israel will be with the assistance and permission of Gentile nations. That this can happen before Mashi'ah arrives, he proves from elsewhere. This will, God-willing, be the subject of my next post on this subject. However, he did prove conclusively, and even R. Teitelbaum will agree to this, that the return to the land of Israel, whenever it happens, can be with the permission of Gentile nations. Thus, rather than being disproven, his point on this matter was accepted as correct.

R. Teitelbaum could have answered that he understands the Rambam differently. In a few places in Va-Yoel Moshe, Ma'amar Gimmel Shevu'os (e.g. ch. 61, p. 75), R. Teitelbaum applies the Rambam's above statement only to events after Mashi'ah has arrived. He would not allow it to refer to pre-messianic events. However, this is very difficult because the Rambam begins by applying it to whether Eliyahu will come before or after Mashi'ah, so clearly it can refer to events prior to the messianic revelation.

The Satmar Rav does not allow the Rambam's statement that "we do not know the order" to apply to events before the coming of mashiach, because some events (such as gathering the exiles and fighting wars) would involve abrogation of the oaths and we have no right to do this on our own. However, an event that involves no abrogation of the oaths, such as the coming of Eliyahu, could happen before mashiach.

The Religious Zionism Debate III
I. The Redemption Process

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Berakhos 1:1) tells the story of how R. Hiyya Rabbah and R. Shimon ben Rebbe were walking together at dawn and saw the sunrise. R. Hiyya Rabbah said that the rise of the sun is similar to the Redemption of the Jewish people: "So is the redemption of Israel. At first, little by little (kim'ah kim'ah), as long as it continues it gets bigger and goes further."

Midrash Tehillim (18:36) states:
R. Yudan said: One verse says "migdol" (2 Samuel 22:51) and another says "magdil" (Psalms 18:59) because the redemption does not come to this nation at one time but little by little (kim'ah kim'ah). What is "magdil" (increases)? Because it increases and continues before Israel... What is "migdol" (tower)? Because Mashi'ah will be like a tower for them.

In other words, there will be a process of Redemption. The question, though, is whether this process will culminate with the arrival of Mashi'ah or will begin with it. This is one of the main fundamental areas of dispute between the Religious Zionists and the Anti-Zionists.

II. Pre-Messianic Redemption

The most powerful argument that R. Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer brings that the Redemption will begin before the messiah arises is somewhat complex (Derishas Tziyon, ma'amar 1 ch. 2, Etzion 2002 edition, pp. 40-41).

The Mishnah (Ma'aser Sheni 5:2) tells of a rabbinic enactment regarding the bringing of fruits from the fourth year in the life of a fruit-bearing tree to Jerusalem. R. Yossi states that this post-destruction (of the Second Temple) enactment contains an internal condition that when the Temple is rebuilt, the enactment will be automatically nullified. Yet, the question begs to be asked: Why cannot the Mashi'ah, with his authoritative court, merely annul the enactment? Why is there a need for the enactment to be automatically nullified? The Talmud Yerushalmi on that Mishnah quotes R. Aha who explains, "This means that the Temple will be rebuilt before the kingship of the house of David." The important Tosafos Yom Tov commentary to that Mishnah expands on this and states, "It will be that until the kingship of the house of David, our enemies will have a little lordship over us, just like there was at the beginning of the Second Temple."

It is clear from this Yerushalmi and Tosafos Yom Tov that there will be some sort of limited Jewish sovereignty in Israel and the Temple will be built before Mashi'ah arises.

Before we let Rabbi Student go any further, let us understand that this Yerushalmi and Tosafos Yom Tov, no matter how you read them, do not provide any permission for today's Zionism. On the contrary, they show that it is wrong. Because why did the Tosafos Yom Tov have to say that "our enemies will have a little lordship over us, just like there was at the beginning of the Second Temple"? Why didn't he simply say that there will be a sovereign, independent Jewish state before the coming of mashiach, and that state will make war on the entire Muslim world by conquering the land, demolishing the Dome of the Rock and building the Temple in its place? The answer is that he knew that the Three Oaths would prohibit that. This was his problem in learning the Yerushalmi: how will it be possible to build the Temple without violating the oaths? His solution: the enemies will give us permission to do it.

To be sure, this still seems to go against the Satmar Rav's opinion that mass immigration and forcing the end are forbidden even with gentile permission. This is why the Satmar Rav says that this Yerushalmi is either not halacha or must take place after the appearance of mashiach, before his kingship, as Rabbi Student will soon quote. But even taking it at face value, without the Satmar Rav's explanations, the Yerushalmi and the Tosafos Yom Tov do not condone today's independent Zionist state, which was established through military force.

There are also biblical passages that clearly imply that the Jewish people will return to the land of Israel before Mashi'ah comes. For example:

The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him and say: ...After many days you shall be mustered; in the latter years you shall go against a land restored from war, a land where people were gathered from many nations on the mountains of Israel, which had long lain waste; its people were brought out from the nations and now are living in safety, all of them. You shall advance, coming on like a storm... to assail the waste places that are now inhabited, and the people who were gathered from the nations, who are acquiring cattle and goods... On that day when my people Israel are living securely... you will come up against my people Israel... so that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I display my holiness before their eyes...

(Ezekiel 38:1-3, 8-9, 12, 14, 16)
It seems that the war of Gog and Magog, which precedes the rise of the Mashi'ah, will take place in the land of Israel after Jews have returned to settle it.

I do not know what source Rabbi Student has that the war of Gog and Magog will precede mashiach. There are two Talmudic sources that say it will happen after mashiach is already here: Avodah Zarah 3b says that in the future gentiles will convert. The Gemara objects: we don't accept converts in the days of mashiach! (So it is clear this is talking about after mashiach's arrival.) Answer: they will convert on their own; they will put tefillin on their heads and arms and tzitzis on their garments. Once they see the war of Gog and Magog, he will say to them, "Against what have you come?" They (Gog and Magog) will answer, "Against Hashem and His mashiach." Then each of them (the converts) will cut off his mitzvah and leave.

Sanhedrin 94a says that G-d wanted to make Chizkiyahu mashiach and Sancheriv Gog and Magog.

The Satmar Rav (Vayoel Moshe maamar 1, chapter 24) also says that the war of Gog and Magog will take place after mashiach. He quotes the Targum Yonasan on Shir Hashirim 8:4 which seems to imply otherwise: "The king mashiach will say, I adjure you, my people, house of Israel: why do you fight with the nations of the world to go out of exile? And why do you rebel against the armies of Gog and Magog?" It sounds like the war between Israel and Gog and Magog will begin before mashiach comes, and then mashiach will come and tell the Jews to stop fighting. The Satmar Rav explains, however, that the same wicked nations who, after mashiach, will wage the war of Gog and Magog exist before the coming of mashiach, and will afflict the Jewish people then as well.

The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 12:2) says that "from a simple understanding of the words of the prophets it appears that in the beginning of the days of mashiach will be the war of Gog and Magog". Rabbi Student might reply that the Rambam meant in the beginning of the days of mashiach, before mashiach comes. But read further in the Rambam: "Before the war of Gog and Magog a prophet will arise to straighten Israel..." meaning Eliyahu. Then he says, "Some of the Sages say that before the coming of mashiach, Eliyahu will come." Now, if the war of Gog and Magog is before the coming of mashiach, and Eliyahu is before the war, then clearly Eliyahu is before mashiach. Why then does the Rambam use the words "some of the Sages" which imply that this is not identical to or at least not dependent on what he said until this point?

Furthermore, the Rambam follows this up with his famous words that no one knows how these things will happen, and their order is not important to our faith. Thus it is unwise for the Zionists to bank their actions on the assumption that Gog and Magog precedes mashiach and hence the verses of Yechezkel must be talking about a Jewish state before mashiach.

R. Teichtal, in his Em Ha-Banim Semehah 2:15 (Mekhon Peri Ha'aretz 1983 edition, p. 132), quotes the Gemara in Megillah (17b) that says "Once Jerusalem is built, David comes, as it says 'Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king' (Hosea 3:5)." Rashi explains, "After they will return to the Temple, they will seek God and David their king." Clearly, first the Jews will return to Jerusalem and the Temple will be rebuilt, and then the king from the house of David, Mashi'ah, will arise.

R. Teichtal (2:2, p. 94) also quotes the following Rashi on Psalms (70:1), that is based on a Midrash Shohar Tov:
I saw a parable to a king who became angry at his flock, broke the pen and sent out the flock and the shepherd. After time, he returned the flock and rebuilt the pen, but did not mention the shepherd. The shepherd said, "Behold, the flock is returned and the pen rebuilt, but I am not remembered." Similarly, above it says "For God will save Zion... and they that love his name shall dwell therein" (Psalms 69:36-37). The pen is rebuilt, the flock is collected and the shepherd (this is David) is not mentioned. Therefore, it says, "Of David, to make memorial" (Psalms 70:1).
In other words, first Israel will be rebuilt and the Jewish people gathered into it, then Mashi'ah will arise.

It is very unlikely that an isolated Midrash Tehillim is saying something that flies in the face of what Chazal tell us in every other place - that moshiach is the one who will gather in the Jewish exiles. Rather, Dovid with his holy inspiration saw a beautiful vision of the redemption: "For G-d will save Zion, and He will build the cities of Yehuda, and they will dwell in them and take possession of them. And the seed of His servants will inherit it, and those who love His name will dwell therein." But Dovid noticed that he was not mentioned. This caused him great distress. He was afraid Hashem had never forgiven him for his sin and had rejected him and his descendent, moshiach. Therefore he prayed and offered Hashem the argument about the flock, the pen and the shepherd. Hashem accepted His argument and assured him that his descendent, moshiach, would in fact lead the ingathering of the exiles.

The reason why people are confused by this Midrash is that often we take our vision of the redemption and project it into the past, as if everyone always knew what we know today. Actually, during Dovid's lifetime it was far from clear that he would be chosen by Hashem to be the dynasty to last until moshiach. Many great people doubted him, like Shimi ben Geira. Dovid himself had doubts as to whether he would survive Avshalom's rebellion (Shmuel II 15:25). We see that many times in Dovid Hamelech's life, he had doubts about himself. For example, the Gemara in Shabbos 30a relates that Dovid asked Hashem for a sign of proof that He forgave him for his sin. Hashem gave the sign in Shlomo Hamelech's time, when the doors of the Beis Hamikdash opened only after Shlomo mentioned Dovid's name. Then all Dovid's enemies' faces turned black. Until then, it seems, it was not clear.

Bereishis Rabbah 64:10 tells of how in the time of R. Yehoshua ben Hananiah, the Jews almost rebuilt the Temple. Yet, there was no Mashi'ah at that time!

Pesikta Rabbasi ch. 37 states: "When the king messiah is revealed, he will come and stand on the roof of the Temple and speak to all of Israel and tell them, 'O humble ones, the time of your redemption has arrived.'" Clearly, the Temple will be rebuilt before the Mashi'ah is revealed.

There are many other passages indicating that either the ingathering of the exiles or the rebuilding of the Temple will take place before the Mashi'ah arrives. These are taken by some Religious Zionists as an indication that parts of the Redemption can occur before Mashi'ah comes. Granted, he will come. However, the return to the land of Israel and, possibly, the rebuilding of the Temple can take place before Mashi'ah arises.

III. Contrary Indications

There are, however, passages that indicate to the contrary. Yoma 5b asks a question about how the priests will don their priestly garments in the Temple and answers that, at that time, Moshe and Aharon will be there to teach it to them. The implication is that the Temple will not be built until after the resurrection of the dead. While it could be answered that the resurrection of the dead will also precede the arrival of Mashi'ah, and there is a passage in one of the Rambam's letters that can support this possibility, it seems most likely that this will not be the case and that the passage is implying that the Temple service will only start after Mashi'ah's arrival.

Similarly, Vayikra Rabbah 9:6 states that Mashi'ah will come and build the Temple. It cannot be any clearer than that.

IV. Resolutions

Based on Religious Zionist writings, these can all be explained by stating either that there will be different stages in the Redemption and more than one ingathering of the exiles. Perhaps there will be one ingathering, then the Temple will be rebuilt and Mashi'ah will arise, and then a final ingathering of all the rest of the Jews. (See Em Ha-Banim Semehah, p. 95ff.)

Alternately, one can say that if the Jews merit redemption, it will be speedy and Mashia'h will arise first and cause everything to happen immediately. Otherwise, which seems to be the case today when not everyone is observant, there will be a lengthy historical process culminating in the arrival of Mashi'ah and the final Redemption.

The Satmar Rav struggles with these sources and insists that no part of Redemption can happen before Mashi'ah arises. He suggests (Va-Yoel Moshe, Ma'amar Gimmel Shevu'os, ch. 60, in the Ashkenazi 5760 edition, p. 72) that there was a dispute among the Sages of the Mishnah over whether the Temple can be built without Mashi'ah. While the halakhic conclusion is that it cannot, this debate explains the sources implying that it can. This is a very difficult answer, and does not explain why post-Talmudic authorities, such as Rashi (on Psalms 70:1), continued to quote the non-normative view that the Temple can be built before Mashi'ah arrives.

The Satmar Rav (ch. 61, p. 74) offers another explanation. He suggests that perhaps the Redemption is a long process that starts with Mashi'ah beginning his reign that eventually spreads out to include a vast kingdom. The sources implying that Redemption will occur before Mashi'ah arises refer to after his crowning as king but before his reign spreads throughout the world.

Again, if the Satmar Rav's goal was to prove conclusively that Religious Zionism is invalid, indeed heresy!, he does not seem to have done so conclusively. Quite the opposite. His explanation of the sources, while more or less viable, is much less plausible than that of the Religious Zionists.

Since this is a discussion of whether the Zionist state is permitted or forbidden, let us keep focused on the main passage in the Talmud that seems to forbid the Zionist state: the Three Oaths. Is Rabbi Gil Student, in bringing this material about the Temple being built and the exiles being gathered in before mashiach, claiming that this shows that the Three Oaths were a rejected halachic opinion? Clearly not, because he says that the Satmar Rav was the one who introduced the idea that there may have been a dispute here. He himself prefers to say that everyone agrees that the exiles could be gathered and the Temple built without mashiach, at least in a scenario in which the Jewish people would be unworthy to have mashiach at the outset. So if all the Talmudic Sages agreed to this idea, how is it consistent with the Three Oaths? Is not destroying a non-Jewish shrine and building the Temple in its place a violation of the oaths according to all?

Of course, Rabbi Student has his own way out of the oaths, as we will see below. He holds that they are not halacha at all, but rather a statement of nature. Thus he would say that the oaths tell us that destroying the mosque and building the Temple will not succeed until the right time, but if we do it and it succeeds, that shows that it was the right time.

But since anti-Zionist authorities did not understand the Oaths that way, I would assume that Rabbi Student wants us to accept his current argument about the Temple being built independently of his position on the oaths below. That is, even without reading the next section, we should be convinced that Zionism is plausible, more so than the Satmar Rav's feeble attempts to explain away these sources.

Furthermore, these sources about the Temple being built before mashiach were originally cited not by Rabbi Student in 2005 but by Rabbi Kalischer in 1862 and Rabbi Teichtal in 1943. These authors did not even know about the Maharal's commentary, first published in 1960, which forms the basis for Rabbi Student's approach to the oaths. Their arguments were certainly not predicated on saying that the oaths were anything other than halachic.

(Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who also uses the Maharal to say that the oaths are non-halachic, writes that this could have been the intent of Rabbis Kalischer and Teichtal when they cited the oaths as practically applicable. Yes, it could have been, but since those two early writers of Religious Zionism do not take the trouble to say so explicitly, or make any attempt to explain away the oaths, for that matter, we can assume that they did not feel that an halachic interpretation of the oaths would pose a problem to their view.)

This being said, how then are the oaths consistent with this material about building the Temple? The Satmar Rav's two explanations, quoted by Rabbi Student, take care of this problem nicely. If there is a dispute as to whether the Temple can be built before mashiach, we who rule halacha in accordance with the oaths hold like the opinion that it cannot be built. This is born out by the long list of authorities who cite the oaths as practical halacha. The fact that Rashi quotes a non-normative opinion in his commentary to Tanach should not bother us too much it is not the first time!

If mashiach will come, the Temple will be built, and then mashiach's kingdom will spread, we can justify fighting the gentiles to build the Temple, since mashiach will be here and the oaths will no longer apply.

On the other hand, if we don't accept the Satmar Rav's answers, we are stuck with the question of how we can gather the exiles and build the Temple without violating the oaths. The answer will have to be that the gentile nation ruling over Eretz Yisroel will give us permission, and that the oaths only prohibit these acts when done against the will of the nations. As I stressed above, even according to this we cannot justify the current Zionist state which was founded and continues to exist only through warfare.

Again, Rabbi Student has confused his readers by painting the Satmar Rav as struggling to defend himself against these powerful sources quoted by the Zionists. He finds the Satmar Rav's answers "more or less viable" but "much less plausible than that of the Religious Zionists." But on the contrary, it is the Zionists who are struggling to defend themselves against the Three Oaths. In their defense, their early writers came up with sources showing that with gentile permission, gathering the exiles and building the Temple would be permitted. The Satmar Rav shows us that these sources may not be compelling. But even if they are, they do not help today's Zionism, because such gentile permission was never given.

The Religious Zionism Debate IV
The Three Oaths, Part I

I. The Oaths

The Gemara in Kesuvos (111a) quotes R. Yossi ben R. Hanina: "What are these three oaths? One, that Israel should not rise with (or like) a wall; another, that God had Israel swear not to rebel against the nations; another, that God had the nations swear not to subjugate Israel overmuch."

These three oaths are taken by the Satmar Rav as implying a prohibition against the Jewish people returning as a group to the land of Israel. While we may return as individuals, mass immigrations, and certainly the erection of a Jewish state, violate the oath against rising with (or like) a wall.

While this passage seems like an aggadic passage, there are two responses to this objection. First, there are a few posekim who cite it. Second, there is no such thing as "just" an aggadic passage. Aggadah informs our religious outlook and cannot be ignored!

Most significantly, the Satmar Rav quotes the Maharal of Prague's treatment of these oaths in his Netzah Yisrael, ch. 24. The Satmar Rav explains the Maharal's difficult words as implying that these oaths represent absolute prohibitions that one must sacrifice one's life before violating. In technical terms, these oaths are yehareg ve'al ya'avor. It is better to be martyred than to violate these oaths.

The Satmar Rav's treatment of this subject is lengthy, erudite and simply brilliant. One can only be amazed by the breadth and depth of his thinking. However, this does not mean that his analysis is conclusive. It seems he overlooked or, more likely, did not have available to him an important source that refutes his analysis.

II. The Maharal

The Maharal's commentary to Kesuvos was published from manuscript for the first time in, I believe, 1960. In that commentary, which is now ubiquitous and readily available for anyone to verify, the Maharal explains these oaths allegorically, as is his general approach. These were not literal oaths which a biblical obligation prohibits us from violating. Rather, these are Divine decrees about the exile. The exile will last as long as God has determined, not one moment less or more. Thus, the Maharal explains (and this is all explicit), the oaths that Israel should not rise with (or like) a wall and may not rebel against the nations means that we will not be able to shorten the exile. It will end when God has decided it will end and not any time sooner. The third oath, that the nations may not subjugate us overmuch means that they will not be able to lengthen the exile. The overmuch, evidently, refers to the time of the subjugation. The exile will end at the appropriate time, not sooner and not later.

This explanation is significantly different from the Satmar Rav's. Indeed, as R. Shlomo Aviner points out (Kuntres She-Lo Ya'alu Be-Homah 13:5-6), this explanation of the Maharal, that the oaths represent Divine decrees and not prohibitions, might very well be the intent of the authors of the halakhic responsa that the Satmar Rav quoted.

For example, R. Shlomo ben Shimon (Rashbash) Duran (Responsa Rashbash, 2) wrote:
However, this commandment [to move to Israel] is not a communal commandment to all of Israel in this exile, but is entirely prevented (nimneis) as the Sages said in the Gemara in Kesuvos in the last chapter, that it is one of the oaths that God had Israel swear--that they would not hurry the redemption or rise with a wall. Just see what happened to the descendants of Ephraim, who tried to hurry the redemption.

It is quite possible that the Rashbash is saying that we cannot move to Israel en masse because it will not work. We are exempt from this communal commandment because its fulfillement is (or was) currently impossible, since the oaths are a Divine decree preventing such a mass immigration. There is no evidence that he held that such a mass immigration is forbidden, only that it is impossible. The same can be said for R. Yitzhak ben Sheshet (Rivash) Prefet (Responsa, 101).

The Rambam, in his Iggeres Teiman (ch. 4, Qafah edition, p. 55), writes:
Because Shlomo knew with Divine inspiration that this nation, once it is ensnared in exile, will plot to awaken before the appropriate time and will be destroyed through this and will fall into troubles, he warned about this and made it vow -- allegorically (al derekh mashal) -- and said, "I adjure you, O you daughters of Jerusalem" (Song of Songs 2:7).

The Satmar Rav finds this significant: The great Rambam explicitly quotes the Three Oaths! However, the Rambam states that they are allegorical. The Satmar Rav (Va-Yoel Moshe, Ma'amar Gimmel Shevu'os, ch. 36, in the Ashkenazi 5760 edition, p. 47) explains the allegorical aspect of these oaths as meaning that, in truth, the oaths are only binding on the generation that took the oaths (his reasoning is actually much more elaborate). Therefore, these are not legally binding oaths, "only" allegorical but still very serious matters.

This seems, in my opinion, to be a somewhat forced reading of the phrase "al derekh mashal." That is not the standard way the Rambam allegorically interprets aggadic passages. It seems to me more likely that he understood the oaths in a manner similar to the Maharal: The oaths are Divine decrees that the exile cannot be shortened. Our efforts to do so will only end in disaster.

III. More Maharal

While the Maharal is quite explicit in his commentary to Kesuvos, he also has a long discussion of the Three Oaths in his book Netzah Yisrael, ch. 24. The discussion there is very complicated and somewhat ambiguous. This format does not lend itself to extensive textual explanation, so I encourage my readers to explore R. Menahem Kasher's Ha-Tekufah Ha-Gedolah, ch. 14, where this great sage delves into the language of the Maharal and offers a much more compelling explanation of the Maharal's words that, importantly, are consistent with his commentary to Kesuvos. Anything to the contrary yields a contradiction within the Maharal's own writings. Also critical is that the Maharal is no longer understood as being of the surprising opinion that Jews should choose to be martyred rather than mass-immigrate to Israel.

IV. History and the Oaths

According to the Maharal, as explained above, the Three Oaths refer to a Divine decree that the exile has a pre-determined length and we cannot shorten or lengthen that time (excluding, presumably, a mass repentance). Any attempts to immigrate en masse to the land of Israel will fail unless the time for the exile has ended.

Evidently, if we immigrate en masse and do not fail, the time of the exile has ended! The existence of a huge portion of the Jewish people in the land of Israel, expected to be the majority within the next 15 years, indicates that the Divine decree of the exile has been fulfilled and our punishment has ended.

One critic has suggested that Religious Zionists read the Maharal as referring only to a Divine decree, rather than a prohibition, and then they reject the Divine decree. That is not at all the case. Rather, they are saying that the Divine decree has finally, and thankfully, ended (as everyone agrees it eventually would). The reality of the state of Israel is proof of it.

So let me get this straight: Any attempts to immigrate en masse to the land of Israel will fail and end in disaster unless the time for the exile has ended. But we have no way of knowing whether the time of the Divine decree has ended unless we try. Then if we succeed, that is proof that the Divine decree has ended.

That is like saying: here is a gun with a hundred bullets in it and one blank spot. Don't fire the gun at your head, because it will probably kill you. But if you do fire it and it doesn't kill you, you will know that you got the blank. At the same time, you were a fool for trying.

Here too, the Three Oaths tell us that Zionism was a very foolish enterprise. The fact that it happened to succeed does not change that.

First of all, I do not know of any Zionists who look at things this way. Religious Zionists invariably respect the early Zionist leaders, at least the religious ones. I don't know a single Zionist who will say, "Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Kalischer and Rabbi Teichtal were all fools and were encouraging the Jewish people to almost certain destruction. If I had lived in their time I would have fought against them. Only they happened to get lucky, and that's why I today am a Zionist."

Secondly, Rabbi Student writes that the reality of the State of Israel is proof that this attempt succeeded and the decree has ended. But the saga of the State of Israel is still going on. How does he know that it will not end, G-d forbid, in disaster?

In short, the Maharal may say that the oaths are a decree, not a prohibition, but for practical purposes this changes nothing because it is foolhardy to attempt to go against a Divine decree in the hopes that by some stroke of luck he will hit the right moment. The intent of the oaths was not that the Jewish people should sacrifice their lives many times until they chance upon the right moment, but rather that they should wait passively for G-d to bring the redemption when the right time, known only to Him, arrives.

When the Rambam says that Shlomo Hamelech adjured the Jewish people allegorically, he means simply that the entire Shir Hashirim is written in metaphorical language, comparing the Jewish people to a woman and G-d to a man. There is no indication here that the Rambam holds like this Maharal.

The Maharal in Netzach Yisroel, who according to the Satmar Rav says that one must be killed rather than violate the oaths, is not a contradiction to the Maharal's commentary on Kesubos. G-d warned the Jews not to try to end the exile early because it would lead to disaster. This is not an oath, a prohibition, but rather a warning. He warned them even "in a generation of shmad" even if the exile is at its worst and the nations are killing Jews, they should not try to end the exile early, for the consequences would be even worse.

The Religious Zionism Debate V
I. The Many Flavors of Zionism

Until now, we have discussed two attitudes towards one of Zionism:

1. Messianic Zionism -- The belief that the resettling of the land of Israel and the establishment of the state of Israel are the beginning of the Redemption. According to proponents of this view, we are already experiencing the beginning of the Redemption, as the Gemara in Megillah (17b) states: "The beginning of Redemption is war." The wars Israel is currently fighting are the wars during the Redemption. This view led to the following phrasing of the blessing for the state of Israel that is recited in many synagogues: "Our Father in heaven, the rock of Israel and its redeemer, bless the state of Israel, the beginning of the sprouting of our Redemption (reishis tzemihas ge'ulaseinu)."

2. Anti-Zionism -- The conviction that the state of Israel is a satanic creation that is based on evil and brings destruction to this world. Proponents of this view would like to see the state of Israel dismantled, but only the (crazy) ultra-extremists want the Palestinians to have control of the land. Those who share this belief refuse to recognize the state of Israel and do not use its currency. They certainly do not serve in the government, and generally do not vote in Israel's elections.

Rabbi Student implies that standard, sane anti-Zionists would like to see the state dismantled, but only on condition that it falls into the hands of someone other than the Palestinians. The fact is that we want the state dismantled, and after that it is none of our business who gains control, any more than it is our business who controls Iraq, Iran or Australia. We are not going to make any conditions. Anyone who makes conditions is in effect a Zionist because he is saying, I will give it away but only to so-and-so, as if he had the ownership and the right to decide.

The Satmar Rav did write (Al Hageulah V'al Hatemurah, Chapter 44) that it would be possible to solve the problem peacefully through the United Nations. But surely the United Nations would not maintain control of the land for very long. They would reach a decision on who should rule it, and implement that decision. Of course, Jews in their role as an exiled people could send representatives to the U.N. to request that whoever gains power treat the Jews nicely. But to do more than that would be stepping out of our exilic role.

These are certainly not the only views on the subject. There is a spectrum of religious approaches to the state of Israel between these two extremes, and the following two are only two general categories that are not meant to be exhaustive (based on R. Yehuda Henkin's Bnei Banim, vol. 2 ma'amar 2; he then proceeds to suggest a fifth approach that I do not describe here). Every thinker has his own nuanced approach.

3. Non-Zionism -- The belief that a secular state of Israel has no religious significance. It has political significance, in that Jews are generally treated well by this government and many lives have been saved by it. However, it is not a "Jewish" state in the sense that being "Jewish" requires subjugation to the laws of the Torah, which the state of Israel does not have. However, culturally and religiously, Jews have fared well under this government, even though at times the state of Israel has been antagonistic, to say the least, towards religion and religious Jews. Non-Zionists might be classified as Zionists by some, in that they encourage living in Israel and treasure the land of Israel. They also participate in the government, just like they would in the government of any land in which they live.

One cannot maintain a neutral position on the issue of a possible violation of the Torah. One must either hold that it is permitted or forbidden.

When Rabbi Student defines non-Zionism as the belief that a secular state of Israel has no religious significance, he means significance in terms of the final redemption. But it definitely has significance in that it might be a violation of the Three Oaths. With this in mind we must divide the people he calls "non-Zionists" into two categories: 1) Those who believe the State of Israel is not a violation of the Oaths, yet has nothing to do with the redemption. 2) Those who believe it is a violation of the Oaths, yet will participate in the government as they would in any other land. It is those in this second category who are truly non-Zionists: in theory they oppose the State but in practice they play along with it. Those in the first category are Zionists; we might call them Non-Messianic Zionists.

But to maintain a neutral position is untenable. No religious Jew would look at Jews who violate Shabbos and say, "I'm a non-violator of Shabbos. I'm not anti-violating Shabbos; I just hold that their violation has no religious significance."

4. Hopeful Zionism -- The view that the current return to the land of Israel might be the ingathering of exiles and the state of Israel might lead to the Messianic Era. We don't know. It might and it might not. We'll just wait and see. In the worst case, the state of Israel is simply a temporary respite from our long exile that we should enjoy and treasure while it exists. In the best case, it is the forerunner of the Messianic kingship that will usher in the Redemption.

In my opinion, for what little it is worth, history needs to have a voice in distinguishing between the different views. What might have seemed tenable when the state of Israel was first declared may be seem quite implausible after 57 years of existence. It seems hard to me to consider the state of Israel a satanic creation when it allows, and supports!, the study and living of Torah on an unprecedented scale. I am not aware of any other country in history that has funded through tax dollars so vast a number of people studying Torah. The extent of such support is simply staggering. Additionally, there is no other country in the world where people can live and practice religion as Jews with such freedom. To someone raised in exile, the freedom to be Jewish in Israel is almost palpable and is certainly easily recognizable.

Rabbi Student underestimates the innovative tactics of the Satan, who will go very far in order to push his merchandise. It is well known that the Baal Shem Tov called the Satan the slaughterer of the world (based on Shabbos 73b), who paints a sin as a mitzvah to make it more appealing.

Also, let's take the Satan out of the picture. May a Jew commit a sin and justify it by doing a mitzvah? It is well-known that the Talmud invalidates the stolen lulav because a mitzvah done through a sin is rejected by G-d. The Torah says (Devarim 10:17) that G-d does not take bribes, and Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher and the Seforno explain this to mean that He will not take a mitzvah as a bribe to look away from a sin.

Rabbi Yisroel Salanter said: Sometimes a person wants to do something he knows is against the Torah, because he says it will bring a great spiritual benefit it will save Yiddishkeit. But consider the following parable: A king once sent his minister to meet with the king of another country. Before he left, the king warned him, "If the ministers of that country make a bet with you, do not accept it!" He warned him again, and a third time, "Whatever you do, do not make any bets with them!" So the minister went and completed his mission, and when he was about to leave, they said to him, "You are a hunchback, aren't you?" "That's not true," he said. "We'll bet you a million silver pieces," they said. He remembered the king's warning, but said to himself, "This is a bet I can't lose. Why shouldn't I accept and gain a million silver pieces for the king's treasury?" He accepted the bet; they took off his clothes and saw that he was not a hunchback. They paid him the million pieces, and he went home satisfied that he had done a good thing. When he told the story to the king, the king said, "When I warned you not to bet, I knew what I was talking about. The ministers of that country bet me 100 million silver pieces that they could make my minister take off his clothes. Now you have brought me a million, but I am losing 99 million!" Here too said Reb Yisroel if someone thinks that doing something the Torah prohibited will bring a great benefit, then we must tell him: That benefit that you see, the Torah also saw, and yet the Torah prohibited it. Obviously, the end result will not be benefit, but damage. (Kovetz Maamarim, p. 128)

Rabbi Student was unsure whether the state emanated from Hashem or from the Satan, so when he saw that they support Torah he concluded that it must be from Hashem. But why do we have to be passive observers of history? Let's take responsibility for our actions. We, the Jewish people, made the state. It may have been permitted or forbidden. To use the state's support for the Torah as proof that it is permitted is like saying that the end justifies the means, a principle that is foreign to Judaism, as demonstrated above.

When the State was established, the Chazon Ish heard that the Brisker Rav was feeling ill. He sent him a message, You need not fear the State, for we have a rule that a decree usually becomes annulled (Kesubos 3b). So the State will not last long. The Brisker Rav told the messenger, Go back and tell the Chazon Ish that it is true that a decree is usually annulled, but that would only apply here if the community considered the State an evil decree. However, I fear that the community does not think of it as a decree at all, and religious Jews will join the Zionists in running their state. Not only that, I fear that the wicked will be nourished from our holiness, from the yeshivos and chadarim that they support. If so, it will be a bitter decree for us. Go and tell the Chazon Ish that I fear that this evil decree will remain until the coming of moshiach! (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk v. 4, p. 209)

Far from seeing the state's support for Torah study as proof of its legitimacy, the Brisker Rav saw that support as a mitzvah that would give the state the merit to last longer whereas the Brisker Rav preferred it would come to an end.

II. The Gedolim

To which approach do the great Torah scholars of the past half-century subscribe? There is no single answer to that, because, unsurprisingly, great thinkers often disagree. Those who wish to rewrite history have to deal with two things. First, the explicit statements we will quote shortly that prove the contrary. Second, the following question: Who was holier and smarter -- the Satmar Rav or Rav Kook? The Satmar Rav, we know, was an ardent Anti-Zionist. Rav Kook was a Messianic Zionist, on the other side of the spectrum. So who was greater?

Anyone who dares to answer that question should be kicked in the rear. Both scholars were great in their own ways, and no one has the right to disqualify either of them. On the occasion of Rav Kook's fiftieth yahrtzeit, R. Nissan Alpert eulogized him and began by pointing out that both Rav Kook and the Satmar Rav were outside of the mainstream on this issue. There is no reason that one's teachings should be excluded from the community any more than the other's.

Calling Rav Kook a Messianic Zionist is confusing the issue, because Rav Kook did not live to see the establishment of the state in 1948. Certainly for his time he was a Messianic Zionist, but it could well be that his Zionism was confined to philosophy and encouragement of the Zionists, and did not extend to practical law. Would he have held that the War of Independence did not violate the oaths? There is no way to prove that.

In fact, Rav Kook wrote clearly against founding a state through warfare. In his commentary on the Siddur, Olas Re'iyah, on the blessing after fruit from the Seven Species, Rav Kook quotes the Gemara in Berachos 41b, which says that if one has dates and pomegranates, he should make the blessing on the dates because although they are mentioned last in the verse (Devarim 8:8), they are closer to the word haaretz, "the land." He explains that, metaphorically, the first half of the verse refers to religious Jews who want Eretz Yisroel for its mitzvos and spiritual qualities. The second half refers to Jews who want Eretz Yisroel for its physical qualities and as a haven for Jews. A secular Zionist may be on a lower spiritual level than a religious Jew in exile who is not interested in settling the land, but since he is closer to Eretz Yisroel, his actions do more to advance Judaism's spiritual goals. However, we must "achieve this through love and peace, not to ascend as a wall and not to rebel against the nations of the world, but rather to increase our strength and inner boldness, even our physical strength, for this will lead us to our spiritual goal. Not by might and not by power, but by My spirit, said Hashem."

So as much as Rav Kook tried to reconcile Zionism and Judaism (to the point of writing some things - along the lines of the above praise of secular Zionists - that were condemned by all the gedolim of his time), he was honest enough not to ignore the Three Oaths or explain them away.

He didn't realize that the Zionism he supported was leading to military conflict, and neither did anyone else. Everyone at that time (he passed away in 1935) thought that the British would give the Jews Palestine as their homeland and there would be no wars. It was only with the Arab riots in the years 1936-1939 that this picture began to change. As a result of the riots, Britain revoked the Balfour Declaration and eventually left the Zionists to fend for themselves.

To paraphrase Rabbi Student, those who wish to rewrite history in order to find a heter for Zionism have to deal with two things: they must find gedolim who lived during 1948, and those gedolim must have ruled that what was done at that time was halachically permissible. It is not sufficient to quote rabbis who lived before that time who were positive about Eretz Yisroel or even about the Zionist movement. And it is not sufficient to quote rabbis who made a positive comment about the Zionist state but did not rule halachically that it was permitted to found it. This must be kept in mind as we read the list below.

In a recent article in the journal Modern Judaism, Dr. Zvi Kaplan points out that the Satmar Rav "opposed the Ultra-Orthodox non-Zionists, who participated in the electoral process without sharing in the ideals of Zionism, and the Religious Zionists with equal vigor... Rabbi Teitelbaum saw the Zionist and non-Zionist Orthodox as enemies from within" (p. 170). Va-Yo'el Moshe was written as much, if not more, against Agudath Israel as it was against Mizrachi!

Even if this is so, it does not mean that the Satmar Rav's general view about Zionism was a fringe view not accepted by the majority of the Agudah gedolim. The Agudah gedolim agreed with most of the major points of Satmar Rav's view, and it was only the issues of elections and taking money that they differed. Possibly the Satmar Rav focused his energies on reaching them because he felt that they were more within reach than the Mizrachi Zionists.

The same is true today: it is easier to talk against Zionism to an Agudah person than to a Mizrachi person, because the Mizrachi person will say, "My teachers taught me differently," whereas the Agudah person won't be able to say that.

To the point, though, the record is clear that many Gedolim took positions closer to the center. For example, R. Tzvi Pesah Frank and R. Isser Zalman Meltzer were sympathetic to the state of Israel. Even R. Hayim Shmulevitz made public statements about the positive value of the state of Israel. R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin was a Messianic Zionist and, as a Lubavitcher, he was castigated by his rebbe for this belief. The Lubavitcher Rebbe sent him harsh letters on this subject that were eventually printed in Likkutei Sihos. R. Yehiel Mikhel Tukaczinsky was a Zionist, as is evident in his Ir Ha-Kodesh Ve-ha-Mikdash. R. Meshulam Roth was also a Messianic Zionist (see this letter). Well before that, R. Meir Simhah of Dvinsk (see this letter) and R. Shlomo Ha-Kohen of Vilna were enthusiastic supporters of Mizrachi, as were R. Hanokh Henokh Eigus of Vilna (the Marheshes) and R. Moshe Shmuel Glasner (the Dor Revi'i). A comprehensive history of the Mizrachi movement was published in Sefer Ha-Mizrahi (Mossad Ha-Rav Kook, 1946). The chief rabbis of Israel, in particular Rav Kook and Rav Herzog, were first class Gedolei Torah. Notable also was R. Shaul Yisraeli and today's R. She'ar Yashuv Cohen, R. Shlomo Aviner, R. Aharon Lichtenstein and R. Hershel Schachter.

R. Moshe Feinstein was asked about the prayer for the state of Israel. He said that it should be modified to indicate a Hopeful Zionist view, instead of a Messianic Zionist approach. The text, as he recommended, is as follows: "Our Father in heaven, the rock of Israel and its redeemer, bless the state of Israel that it become the beginning of the sprouting of our Redemption (she-t'hei reishis tzemihas ge'ulaseinu)."

This story must be verified before we can accept it as fact.

R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin was adamantly opposed to the position of the Satmar Rav. He wrote:
I was shocked to read in Chomoteinu of Cheshvan 5719 the slanderous notion that we are required to give our lives (limsor nefesh) to frustrate and resist the efforts of the State of Israel in its struggle against those who would rise up against them. This was stated as a p'sak din based on what we learn that Israel is restricted from rebelling against the nations (Ketubot 111a)...

Now all the rabbis who were opposed to Zionism and the establishment of a state took up that position until the time that it was officially founded. Once the state was declared, anyone who plays into the hands of the nations of the world even where there is no imminent danger, is clearly a moseir and rodeif. All the more when there is danger to destruction of life in so doing... Surely, those who recently emigrated must be very weary of the state's efforts to strip them of their Torah way of life, but to proclaim that anyone who aids the state is a rodeif, well such talk is the severest form of redifa.
If I'm not mistaken, this is Rav Henkin calling the Satmar Rav a rodef (pursuer)!

Yes, but in the same breath he says that up until the founding of the state, many rabbis were against it, and he leaves the impression that he agrees, or could agree with that view. It is merely on the issue of pikuach nefesh that he disagrees with the Satmar Rav. This is a view held by some rabbis and certainly deserves to be one of Rabbi Student's categories: the Pikuach Nefesh view.

The problem with this view is the inconsistency between the words and the actions of those who espouse it (not necessarily Rav Henkin, who was a widely respected talmid chacham, but others who follow in his footsteps). If they really believed in this argument, then at the same time as they support the IDF, they would be working hard to get Jews out of the State as fast as possible. Because even when a sin is permitted because of danger to life, it's always better to find a way to avoid it. These rabbis would tell everyone with a foreign passport to return to their home country. They would set to work right away with whatever lobbying power they have in Washington to get America to let in more Israeli Jews. They would set up networks to find them all jobs and housing. There are already some countries such as Germany and Russia that are actively trying to get Israeli Jews to come to them. These rabbis would be focusing on building the Jewish communities in those countries and encouraging Jews to go there.

But no one is working on any of the above. In fact, the very same rabbis who say "pikuach nefesh" are sending their sons and daughters to study in Israeli institutions. Many of the children stay on and make "aliyah". Would a rabbi send his children to a place where no kosher food is available and they would have to eat treif because of danger to life?

And to those who say, "Well, they're running a state anyway. My being there doesn't add to it." First of all, they definitely do add to it. Just think of all the Orthodox Jews who go to Hebron, the Western Wall and other popular sites, and all the troops the army has to deploy to protect them. And the settlements east of the Green Line, including Kiryat Sefer, Beitar, Har Chomah, Pisgat Zeev, Maaleh Adumim and so on are the focal point of the dispute with the Palestinians right now. Many of the settlers are Western-born Orthodox Jews.

A large part of the state's economy is based on tourism. If tourism were to stop, a lot of people would not be able to make a living, and would be forced to leave. People go where there is opportunity.

Furthermore, even if someone is doing an sin "anyway", Jewish sensitivity has always dictated that a Jew not be hypocritical and make use of the sin. In certain cases such as Shabbos, Chazal codified this into law: if a Jew turns on a light on Shabbos, no Jew is allowed to use the light. Even if a Jew does work on Shabbos to save a life, a healthy person is not allowed to benefit from that work (Chullin 15b). The reason given is "lest he come to add more for him". In other words, Chazal knew that the excuse of "he's doing it anyway" is prone to be misused and the boundaries of what "anyway" means can be blurred.

R. Yehi'el Ya'akov Weinberg, author of Seridei Esh, wrote an essay titled "Herzl, the Man of Religion" (now in Kisvei Ha-Gaon R. Yehi'el Ya'akov Weinberg, vol. 2 p. 298ff.). After that essay, the editor of that volume (Dr. Marc B. Shapiro, who kindly sent me a copy of the book) collected a number of pro-Israel and pro-Zionist statements of R. Weinberg. One example is from the journal Ha-Pardes (Nissan 5726), in which R. Weinberg opposed the establishment of Israel Independence Day as a religious holiday because it was done unilaterally by the Israeli Rabbinate, without approval from other great scholars. In that letter, R. Weinberg expresses his great joy at the establishment of the state of Israel.

It is also no secret that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik was a Zionist. While he was not a Messianic Zionist, he was a leader of the Mizrachi organization. R. Walter Wurzburger, in assaying the various approaches to Zionism, describes R. Soloveitchik's view as follows (God is Proof Enough, p. 90; for another discussion, with relevant citations, see R. Mayer Twersky, "A Glimpse of the Rav" in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik:Man of Halacha, Man of Faith, pp. 116-119):

On the one hand, he categorically refuses to treat the establishment of the State of Israel as a Messianic event. For all his enthusiasm for an independent Jewish State, he was not prepared to accord it the preliminary status of Atchalta De'Geulah (the beginning of the Redemption). On the other hand, he was unequivocally opposed to the do-nothing passivity of the pietists as they await the arrival of the Messiah.

I personally saw both R. David Lifschitz and R. Ahron Soloveitchik recite hallel on Israel Independence Day (see here and here). See the biographical article of R. Lifschitz by his son-in-law, Dr. Chaim Waxman (here): "Eretz Israel and Medinat Israel were among his greatest loves throughout his adult life." Dr. Waxman also wrote to me about the joy R. Lifschitz had when he saw his grandson, R. Ari Waxman (now a rebbe in Yeshivat [Hesder] Sha'alvim), in an Israeli army uniform: "Reb David was also incredibly proud of Ari for being a soldier in the Israeli army."

R. Ovadiah Yosef has expressed great appreciation for the state of Israel. See, for example, his responsa on whether to recite hallel and she-heheyanu on Israel Independence Day (Yabi'a Omer, vol. 6, Orah Hayim nos. 41-42). In the journal Torah She-be-Al Peh (16, 5734, pp. 19-20), R. Yosef wrote: "I wish to emphasize first that the state of Israel and independent Jewish reign in our holy land is of the highest historical and religious significance."

But later in that response (section 5), Rabbi Yosef bases himself on a announcement issued in 1949 before the first Knesset elections, signed by rabbis, urging Jews to vote for the United Religious Front. Rabbi Yosef writes that he read about this announcement in Rabbi M. Kasher's book Hatekufah Hagedolah. There Rabbi Kasher states that over two hundred rabbis from all over Eretz Yisroel, from all circles, signed on the announcement, which began with the words, "We thank Hashem that we have been privileged, through His great mercy and kindness, to see the first buds of the beginning of redemption, with the establishment of the State of Israel."

But the historian Tzvi Weinman later showed Kasher's claims to be a falsification of the facts. In an article published in Digleinu (Shvat 5739) during Kasher's lifetime, and later in his book Mikatowitz Ad Hei B'Iyar (pp. 134-136), Weinman showed that the original declaration read not "beginning of redemption" but "beginning of the ingathering of the exiles". Furthermore, the declaration was sent to the rabbis to sign, together with a notice that if the rabbi did not reply in the negative, his silence would be taken as consent to the declaration. (This explains why the signature of Rabbi Menachem Kuperstock appears despite that fact that he passed away 2 years earlier.) Furthermore, the declaration was sent in three different versions were sent to different rabbis, and many of the rabbis signed on versions that did not include any positive words about the state, just about voting for the United Front. The 1949 activists who posted the announcement in the streets took all the signatures and put them under one declaration. Furthermore, there were actually two other announcements published at the time of that election, one signed by roshei yeshivos and one signed by Chassidic rebbes. Kasher took all the names of the signatories on all three announcements and claimed that they had all signed the one calling the state "the beginning of redemption".

Other than this evidence from Kasher's book, Rabbi Yosef, quite uncharacteristically for someone with his breadth of knowledge, does not give any Talmudic arguments or proofs to explain why it is permitted in his opinion to found a state.

In another place (Techumin 5749, "On Giving Over Territories of Eretz Yisroel for the Sake of Saving Life", section 7 pp. 44-45), Rabbi Yosef takes a compromise position. He says that the oaths are in force today and prohibit Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, where the nations of the world oppose Israeli rule. However, the oaths do not prohibit sovereignty over pre-1967 land, because most of the nations agree to it.

R. Ya'akov Kamenetsky writes in his Emes Le-Ya'akov Al Ha-Torah (Exodus 12:2 n. 17):
It is incumbent on us to understand that the establishment of the state of Israel in our day, after the the great destruction and despair that overtook the remnant, and given the desperate and destroyed status of Russian Jewry, God caused the establishment of the state of Israel in order to strengthen the connection to Judaism and to sustain the link between the Jews in exile and the Jewish nation.

To put this statement in context, we must read another statement of Reb Yaakov, quoted in the Artscroll biography, p. 209:

If one asks an average student, Reb Yaakov said, which is worse - for a Jewish man to marry a gentile woman or to marry a Jewish woman who does not observe the laws of family purity - he will likely respond that the latter is worse since it involves the more serious punishment of kareis. But in fact the former is a graver sin with consequences far beyond the personal tragedy of its perpetrator. The children of one who marries a gentile will not be Jewish, whereas one who marries a Jewess at least ensures that his offspring will be Jewish (see Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Issurei Biah, 12:7) Similarly, he concluded, recognition of Israel's role in preventing millions of Jews from losing any connection to the Jewish people must mitigate our kana'us, even as our love for our fellow Jews in Eretz Yisroel must "not blind us to their shortcomings."

So Reb Yaakov's views on the role of the state of Israel in Jewish history are an analysis of the results of the sin of founding a state, not of the sin itself. The end doesn't justify the means. There is no justification to commit the sin of founding a state just because the Jews there or in elsewhere will be better off. Reb Yaakov himself clearly states that the creation of the State was a sin, just as not observing family purity is a sin. If there was some good result from the sin, that may be part of G-d's plan, but it doesn't change the fact that it was a sin.

Along the same lines, the Brisker Rav pointed out that according to the Rambam, Christianity and Islam were also part of Hashem's grand plan, because they brought the idea of G-d and the Torah to the ends of the earth, thus preparing the way for Moshiach. Yet that does not mean we should support the spread of those religions.

R. Eliyahu Dessler has two relevant letters, from 1948 and 1949, that were published in Mikhtav Me-Eliyahu, vol. 3 pp. 349-353. He writes that he is hesitant to call the establishment of the state of Israel and the ensuing military victory the beginning of the Redemption, but he considers it a possibility (i.e. a Hopeful Zionist position). He also has harsh words for anyone who refuses to see G-d's miraculous intervention in this, considering them heretics who reject Divine Providence.

Anti-Zionists do not refuse to see G-d's hand in history, but they do refuse to draw halachic conclusions from what G-d does.

R. Avraham Yishayahu Karelitz, the author of Hazon Ish and a close colleague of R. Dessler's, also took the position of Hopeful Zionism. The following letter from R. Zvi Yehuda, who was very close with R. Karelitz at the end of the latter's life (he passed away just five years after the establishment of the state of Israel), was published in Tradition 18:1 (Summer 1979):

Based on my intimate closeness to Hazon Ish at the time, I am in the position to deny categorically such a libelous and disastrous rumor [that he predicted the destruction of the state of Israel in the near future]. Hazon Ish was the paradigm of a halakhist; he never assumed the role of prophet or soothsayer... Nor was the great sage Hazon Ish (and claims to the contrary by partisan ideologians notwithstanding) imbued with any negative or hostile attitude to the State of Israel. He genuinely loved Jews and welcomed indeed anything that may save their lives or improve their lot. The current "oral tradition" circulated within some yeshiva (or "kollel") coteries, that Hazon Ish was against the State, and even proclaimed its doom and decreed its fall within a prescribed span of time, is no more than a vicious lie--perpetrated by the zealots through a deliberate distortion, and received by the naive on the basis of an unfortunate misunderstanding...

Thus we examine the meaning of the State of Israel by halakhic categories: Is it really, from the point of view of our limited human judgment, the beginning of redemption? Is it certainly and clearly a positive, constructive redemptive act?

'Time will tell.' This is the gist of Hazon Ish's response, that by malice or stupidity (or both) is now distorted and repeated as if it were a terrible pronouncement of doom.

The above was written by Rabbi Tzi Yehuda Kook, a strong Messianic Zionist. For the sake of fairness, we should also provide the quotes from the Chazon Ish as they are reported by non-Zionists. References to the Chazon Ish foretelling the downfall of the state probably refer to one of the following stories:

When the State was established, the Chazon Ish heard that the Brisker Rav was feeling ill. He sent him a message, You need not fear the State, for we have a rule that a decree usually becomes annulled (Kesubos 3b). So the State will not last long. (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk v. 4, p. 209; see above for the Brisker Rav's response to this)

Reb Yoel Kluft once asked the Chazon Ish, "The Mishnah says that one may not raise sheep and goats in Eretz Yisroel, because they often consume the grass of other people's fields. But the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 409:1) says that nowadays this law does not apply, since it is unusual for a Jew to own land in Eretz Yisroel. What about today?" The Chazon Ish replied, "The Zionist state does not change the halacha. How long will their state last anyway - fifty years?" (Maaseh Ish, v. 4, p. 228)

In response to Rabbi Kook's argument that the Chazon Ish "never assumed the role of prophet or soothsayer", it might be said that in the first story, the Chazon Ish firmly based his prediction on a quotation from the Gemara. It is not a prophecy but a fact of Torah. In the second story, the "fifty years" was not said as a prediction of doom but an expression of his view of the temporary nature of the state within the big picture of Jewish history and Jewish law.

This list could continue almost endlessly (UPDATE: see here for two additions). My point, which I think has been firmly established, is that the Gedolei Torah had different views on the subject of Zionism, with many of them taking positions throughout the spectrum. The statement that I have seen in the comments section and elsewhere, that the Gedolim were all opposed to Zionism, is simply factually incorrect. They were, by and large, against the Anti-Zionist approach of the Satmar Rav. However, as R. Nissan Alpert said, that view is also part of Torah, just as is Rav Kook's Messianic Zionism.

The Religious Zionism Debate VI
I inadvertently omitted two important and great scholars from my previous post on this subject.

The following is from the definitive biography of R. Eliezer Silver--R. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, The Silver Era, pp. 262, 274, 302:
Another time [R. Eliezer] Silver was in a quandary within himself and with his associates [was] regarding a Bonds for Israel dinner in his city. Every year Silver publicly supported this event and attended the dinner. In 1964 the guest of honor was to be Nelson Glueck, the president of the Hebrew Union College. Many Orthodox Jews felt that Silver should not be present at an affair honoring such a prominent Reform Jewish personality. Nevertheless, Silver did attend, since his concern for the cause and feeling of communal responsibilities won out. At the affair, when questioned about his presence, Silver declared, "How could I stay away from a dinner aiding the State of Israel?..."

Silver also exerted his influence in the determination of Agudat Israel and Agudat Harabanim policy towards the formation of the Jewish State. Silver himself had always been in favor of such a state, despite his Agudat Israel ties. Following the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Silver marched in a New York Zionist parade in its support. When Chief Rabbi Abraham Kook visited the United States in 1924, the Agudat Harabanim invited him to address its convention...

Silver's letter [in opposition to Satmar anti-Zionist activities] did not abate the course of action of the Satmar element. It did, however, strengthen the more moderate forces in American Orthodoxy. His viewpoint was widely cited in Mizrachi circles. Silver later participated in a Mizrachi conference. Afterwards, at an Agudah conclave, there were those who desired to disbar Silver. It was reported that Rabbi Kotler opposed this request...

R. Pinchas Teitz's daughter, Dr. Rivkah Blau, wrote the following in her biography of her great father, Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah, pp. 150-153:

After the Shoah the significance of whether Israel would win recognition as the Jewish state was so strong that R. Teitz left a radio on in his study over Shabbat, November 28/29, 1947, in order to hear the vote in the United Nations...

When it became clear that there would be a Jewish state of Israel again, R. Teitz thought it was time for a completely new approach.

He called his 1948 essay "A Key [or, An Opening] To Redemption" and applied halakhic analysis, in the tradition of the Rogatchover [with whom he was very close - GS], to the new situation. He began with a question: do the remarkable events indicate the Redemption, the beginning of the Redemption or a chance, with the "key" or "opening" now available to usher in a period of redemption? His response, in my translation and paraphrase, was:

First, how did our generation merit these events? The end of the exile has come because of the halakhic rule that if one deserves two punishments, one gets the harsher punishment immediately and does not ahve to udnergo the lesser punishment. When we were sent into exile and given into the hands of Job's Satan, we would endure all kinds of offliction, but, like Job, we were supposed to survive. Between 1935 and 1945, we learned that there is no place on this globe, however cultured and democratic, to have an exile. If the world could cold-bloodedly stand by while six millioni were murdered, there is no safe place for Jews. The punishment of death incorporates all other punishments; the Shoah was the absolute, the maximum, and covers the end of exile as well. In ten years, we suffered a concentrated exile equal to that of all the preceding centuries. Now it is time to go to a city of refuge...

R. Teitz went further in defining how that era would register in history in an essay for the New Year 5709 [October 1948] on "The State of Israel and the Torah-Jew." He asked, "Will we be a generation of mourners for the great destruction" or "a generation of redemption, of builders who establish the foundation for the Jewish future?"...

He thought that the founding of the state of Israel eliminated most of the differences between Agudath Israel and Mizrachi, which had centered on the question of whether there should be a Jewish state at all. Once this question had been answered with a fact, the parties should cooperate. R. Teitz met regularly in 1948-49 with a group trying to create a united religious front in Israel, but the two groups elected to remain separate.

The Religious Zionism Debate IX
It seems my work is now being done by others. Readers responded giving me the following interesting information:

I. R. Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz

From Artscroll's Reb Shraga Feivel: The Life and Times of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the Architect of Torah in America, pp. 331-332, 335-336,
On Friday, November 29, 1947, the United Nations debated the issue of partitioning the British Mandate for Palestine into two countries, one Arab and one Jewish. Reb Shraga Feivel prayed fervently for partition. He had no radio in his house, but that Friday he borrowed one and set it to the news, leaving it on for Shabbos. He waited with such tense anticipation to hear the outcome of the U.N. vote that he did not come to shalosh seudos. When he heard the U.N.'s decision to establish a Jewish state, he stood up and recited the blessing ÔØÕÑ ÕÔÞØÙÑ Who is good and Who does good...[3]

Four days after the United Nations vote, on 19 Kislev, Reb Shraga Feivel spoke in Bais Medrash Elyon, to present his talmidim with a Torah perspective on the event. He began by emphasizing that in the absence of prophecy no one could interpret the U.N. declaration with any certitude.[7] Nevertheless the whole tenor of his remarks reflected his hope that the moment was a positive one for the Jewish people.[8] He described three aspects of the final redemption: the redemption of the Land, the ingathering of the exiles, and the return of the Divine Presence to her proper place. The redemption of the Land is the first of the three...

In a similar vein, he also explained why the secular Zionists might have been chosen to play such a fateful role in the history of the Jewish people... Divine Providence might have arranged that the secular Zionists play a major role in the redemption of Eretz Yisrael precisely in order to maintain their connection to Klal Yisrael.

In a conversation with the Satmar Rav, shortly after his talk on the U.N. declaration, Reb Shraga Feivel was subjected to the sharpest criticism for his "Zionist leanings." Later he told his family, "I could have answered him Chazal for Chazal, Midrash for Midrash, but I did not want to incur his wrath, for he is a great man and a tzaddik." He added with a twinkle, "And besides, he has a fiery temper"...

[3] In 1948, after the Arabs attacked the newly declared Jewish state and soldiers were falling on the battlefield, several roshei yeshiva taunted Reb Shraga Feivel for having recited the blessing. Reb Shraga Feivel turned to Rabbi Aharon Kotler, who agreed with him that the favorable U.N. resolution was indeed worthy of the blessing. Rabbi Nesanel Quinn.

Reading further in the biography, we see some of Reb Shraga Feivel's reasons for being a Zionist:

Without losing sight of the antireligious nature of the leaders of the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael, he nevertheless saw the creation of a Jewish state as an act of Providence and as a cause for rejoicing. At the very least, there would now be one country in the world whose gates would be open to the thousands of Holocaust survivors still languishing in Displaced Persons Camps in Germany and Austria.

Reb Shraga Feivel gave voice to the ambivalence with which religious Jews around the world greeted the creation of an independent Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael nearly two millennia after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash by Titus army. On the one hand, there was the recognition that the new state led by those raised in ideologies hostile to Torah was not the return of the Davidic kingdom for which they had prayed so long. Yet coming a scant three years after the greatest tragedy in modern Jewish history, it was hard not to hope that the new state was a harbinger of a new life for the survivors.

In a famous parable, Reb Shraga Feivel compared the new state to a breech birth. When a baby is born normally, head first, Reb Shraga Feivel said, the delivery is easiest and safest for the mother, and augurs best for the future development of the infant. In the context of the establishment of Jewish political sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael, a head-first birth would have been one in which the great Torah leaders the true heads of the nation led the way. But even in a breech birth, despite the danger to the infant, one can still hope that it will live and be healthy. Perhaps Chazal were referring to the legs-first manner in which the new state was born, Reb Shraga Feivel concluded, when they said (Yalkut Shimoni to Amos, 549), In a generation that rejects Hashem, expect the footsteps of Mashiach,

Four days after the United Nations vote, on 19 Kislev, Reb Shraga Feivel spoke in Bais Medrash Elyon, to present his talmidim with a Torah perspective on the event. He began by emphasizing that in the absence of prophecy no one could interpret the U.N. declaration with any certitude. Nevertheless the whole tenor of his remarks reflected his hope that the moment was a positive one for the Jewish people. He described three aspects of the final redemption: the redemption of the Land, the ingathering of the exiles, and the return of the Divine Presence to her proper place. The redemption of the Land is the first of the three. The Sages (Megillah 17b) explain why the blessing over fruitfulness of the Land (Birkas Hashanim) comes before the blessing for the ingathering of the exiles. The prophet Yechezkel says, And you, mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and lift up your fruits to My people Israel, for they are soon to come (Yechezkel 36:8). In other words, the physical rebirth of the Land and its release from foreign domination is the prelude to the return of the exiles. (See p.x )

Reb Shraga Feivel suggested that the present moment paralleled the return of the exiles from Babylonia under Ezra and Nechemiah, which had come about only through the permission of a gentile ruler, King Cyrus. Just as Cyrus in his time had his own reasons for allowing the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem, so the nations of the U.N. no doubt had interests of their own that they sought to advance by allowing a Jewish state. But, in the final analysis, the heart of a king is in Hashems hands; He directs it where He wants (Mishlei 21:1).

Reb Shraga Feivel followed his comparison of the U.N. and Cyrus to its logical conclusion. While agreeing that the Torah leaders of the past two generations had been absolutely correct in directing their followers to have nothing to do with the Zionist movement, the question of the hour was: What should the Torah world do now after having witnessed Heavenly intervention? To that question, there could be only one answer: It was incumbent upon all bnei Torah to do everything in their power to ensure that the voice of Torah increase and be heard in the new state:

It is our duty to participate in the building of the State, physically and spiritually&The choice is in our hands. Will we make ourselves a high wall and go up, as they failed to do in the days of Ezra&? If causeless hatred prevails among us, the arousal of Divine favor from above could all be lost. We must be the pioneers of Torah. We must form a nation worthy of the Land, a nation of Torah.

The thrust of his remarks was that the future of Eretz Yisrael would be determined by the response of religious Jews to the new opportunity. If they rose to the challenge, he suggested, it would be possible to create a land filled with Torah. Reb Shraga Feivel noted that those who failed to take advantage of Cyrus permission to return to the Land are severely criticized in both the Gemara and the Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabah 8:9). The Sages give the following interpretation to the verse in Shir Hashirim: If her faith and belief are strong as a wall we shall become her fortress and beauty, building her city and Holy Temple, but if she wavers like a door, with fragile cedar panels shall we then enclose her. The Talmud (Yuma 9b) comments that if Israel's faith had been strong like a wall and the people had unanimously followed Ezra back to Eretz Yisrael, they would have been privileged to have the full glory of the Shechinah in the Second Beis Hamikdash, just as it had been in the First. But since only a small minority followed Ezra, the Shechinah was lacking in the Second Temple. Instead of being like silver, which never rusts, the people were likened to cedar, which warps and rots. Those who remained in Babylonia, writes Rashi (to Yuma 9b), prevented the Shechinah from returning to dwell in the Second Beis Hamikdash. Reb Shraga Feivel strongly implied that the Jewish people should not miss such an opportunity a second time by remaining aloof from the fate of the Land or being reticent about going there.

In response to those who claimed that Providence would not have made the United Nations the instrument to make such a gift to the Jewish people, Reb Shraga Feivel compared the current phenomenon to the events of Purim. In that miracle, the Sages saw Hashem working His will through Achashveirosh, clearly an unworthy person. Do Chazal not tell us, he asked, that the first steps of the final redemption will go very slowly, to be followed by a sudden burst of light, just as the sun suddenly appears in the morning? (Midrash Shir Hashirim 6:10, Yerushalmi Berachos 1:1, Yerushalmi Yoma 3:2.)

He did not deny that there was merit in opposing views, nor did he think that his reading of events was beyond question. To those close to him he admitted that others might be right from a logical point of view, but nevertheless maintained my heart tells me that our approach is the right approach.

Of course, he did not let his feelings alone guide him. In Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto's Daas Tevunos, he found support for his view. There the Ramchal specifically describes the period of Ikvesa d'Meshicha (the time before the coming of Mashiach) as one in which Hashem does not guide the world according to the normal calculations of reward and punishment. At that time, events will take place regardless of the merit of the generation.

And in the writings of his beloved Reb Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin he found a hint that there would be a time in which the aggressive stance of the Zionists would succeed. After the sin of the spies, Moshe Rabbeinu warned those who regretted their original lack of faith that they should not attempt to go into Eretz Yisrael by force: vehi lo sitzlach, it will not be successful. Reb Tzadok Hakohen adds, however, Now it will not succeed, but there will be another time when it will succeed. That will be in the time of the footsteps of Mashiach.

According to this account, Reb Shraga Feivel was clearly in either the Messianic or non-Messianic Zionist camp. Although most of his statements (the comparison to a breech birth, the comparison to Cyrus, the quotation from the Midrash and Yerushalmi that the final redemption will develop slowly, his noting that the blessing over the land comes before the blessing of the ingathering of exiles) imply that the State had to do with the geulah, some of his statements (that now there would be a place for refugees) imply that it did not. Probably he was not sure about this; he speculated about the geulah aspect, but at least he felt sure that the state was a good thing, an opportunity granted by Hashem to the Jewish people. As far as addressing the central question of Zionism the Three Oaths he does almost nothing. The only thing he said that might be called an attempt to address that question is the quote from Reb Tzadok.

What Reb Tzadok actually writes (in Tzidkas Hatzadik 46, written 1848, first published in 1913) is that the "mapilim" knew that their act was against the will of Hashem, but justified it based on the statement of Chazal, "All that the host tells you to do, you must do, except for leaving (Pesachim 86b). They understood this to mean that for the sake of coming close to Hashem, one may sometimes violate the command of Hashem; we need not listen when He tells us to leave Him. Despite these good intentions, they were punished severely for their sin. But Moshe said to them, "And it will not succeed" - this time it will not succeed - hinting that there would come a time, in the era known as "the Footsteps of Moshiach," when such a sin would have success. In the Footsteps of the Moshiach, chutzpah will increase (Sotah 49b). That is the time when such a brazen idea to conquer the land in violation of Hashem's command will meet with some success.

In other words, he does not say that the sin will be permitted in the footsteps of moshiach; he only says that it will be successful then.

Along these lines, I contacted a grandson of R. Mendlowitz and he reported to me the following:
My father a"h told me many times that Zeide would definitely have said Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut (he was niftar in Sept. 1948).

My Zeide was known to have said that when Israel was recognized as a Jewish state that there was no greater simcha in his life.

On his deathbed, on practically his last breath, he instructed that his son-in-law Rabbi Alexander Linchner was to go to Eretz Yisroel and "tut epes far de Sfardishe kinder" (do something for the Sephardi children). He knew the children were shipped off to secular Kibbutzim, and their Tefillin confiscated.

In other words, he knew about the anti-religious forces in Israel but still considered the state to be a major step towards the redemption, if not already a part of it. And he voiced these views in public and directly to the Satmar Rav.

Note also that R. Aharon Kotler agreed with R. Mendlowitz that the UN vote was reason to recite a blessing of ha-tov ve-ha-meitiv in thanksgiving!

II. R. Avraham Weinfeld

R. Avraham Weinfeld, a prominent posek from Monsey, wrote a long essay about the state of Israel in 1957 that was published in the journal Ha-Ma'or and then, along with his subsequent responses to critiques, in his Lev Avraham (nos. 129-131). In response to an anti-Zionist essay, he posits that it is impossible to determine who is correct over the religious status of the state of Israel. Those who think they can prove it either way are driven by their emotions and not Torah sources. Therefore, "there is no room to establish a holiday nor to decree a fast. All we can do is pray to God that it be for good."

Interestingly, at the end of his original essay he has two "blurbs" from Gedolim who read his essay and shared their reactions. R. Reuven Grozovsky and R. Yisrael Weltz agreed with what he wrote.

It is not accurate to say that Rabbi Weinfeld's position is that "it is impossible to determine who is correct over the religious status of the state of Israel." In halacha, poskim do not shy away from issuing a ruling just because there is weighty evidence on both sides of a question. Rather, what Rabbi Weinfeld says is that the halachic question is a non-question since it has already been decided by the secular Zionists who do not ask halachic questions. The only question left is: what is the meaning of this in G-d's grand plan. On this Rabbi Weinfeld says that there is no conclusive answer. Here is the quote:

It is now more than eight years since the Zionist leaders declared a Jewish state in a part of Eretz Yisroel. Since that time opinions in the Jewish world have been divided. Some say it was good; they see it as the beginning of redemption, that Hashem has visited His people after two thousand years of exile, and this is the beginning of the sprouting of the awaited redemption, may it be revealed soon, our days amein. And some say it was bad, that the entire existence of the State is against the Torah, it is the work of the Sitra Achra, the work of Satan was successful, and it is the last trial before the coming of the righteous redeemer, so that the Jews should be selected and cleansed and merit redemption, and fortunate is he who withstands this trial, and does not recognize the Zionist state; he will be among those who are left in Zion and Jerusalem, holy is he called, may it come soon in our days amein.

But I with my poor mind do not understand why there is any question here at all. The question would have applied if we had merited that the Jewish people was on its proper level, faithful to its G-d and its holy people, and the true gedolei yisroel were the leaders, and the people presented them with this question: Is it permitted to establish a Jewish state before the coming of Moshiach, or not? Then certainly we would have to consider whether this was a violation of the Three Oaths with which the Holy One, blessed is He, adjured Israel (Kesubos 111a), and also whether it is permitted to throw away Jewish lives by sending them to war for the sake of the existence of the State, if without the establishment of the State there is no danger to the Jews and thus it does not fall under the category of killing in self-defense. Then the gedolei yisroel would issue their ruling according to daas torah. But now that, unfortunately, we were not privileged to this level, and the leaders of the State are non-religious, and they did and do everything according to their own wishes, and we are not consulted by them as to what the Torah view is, and we have no power to change the course of events and their free will, and we stand before a fact, that they have established a state on a portion of our holy Land we have no question before us if it is permitted or forbidden, for this question has already been answered by those who do not ask questions. It remains for us only to determine our position and our relationship to this fact which they have placed before us. This question is already out of the realm of halacha that can be determined from the sources of Torah. In this matter we grope like a blind man in the dark, without clear knowledge if this is a punishment or a kindness. Therefore we must admit without embarrassment that we do not know the meaning of this fact, and we cannot know it without prophecy or divine inspiration. For only a prophet can say for sure that it is the beginning of the redemption. For without prophecy, how do you know? You want, you hope that it will be the beginning of redemption, but how do you know? Perhaps it will be, G-d forbid, the opposite.

And on the other hand, how do you know for sure that it is not the beginning of redemption? Yes, I understand that this is not how you imagined the beginning of redemption would look. This is not how you understood the Biblical verses and statements of Chazal. Is it possible that salvation should come from the wicked and the heretics? Do we not say, from the wicked comes wickedness? Yes, my friend, you are surely right. This is not what we thought, what we dreamed, what we hoped for. But tell me, my friend, does this mean we can reject it with complete certainty? Do we then understand everything else? Is this not included in the ways of Hashem, which are far from our comprehension? It is very possible that, had we repented completely, all would have taken place with G-d's favor, as it says, I will show wonders like the days when you left the Land of Egypt. But now that we were not privileged, sin caused that it is beginning with Hashem's face hidden. Have we the nerve to say before Hashem, This is not what I wanted! Look, my friend, at the words of the Rambam (Melachim 12:2): Some of the Sages say that before the coming of Moshiach, Eliyahu will come. And all these things and the like, no man will know how they will come about until they come about, for they are cryptically worded by the prophets, and the Sages as well did not have a tradition about these things So it is explicit in the words of the great Rambam that we do not know how these things will happen.

End of quote

Here we have an exposition of the position that we need not consider the question of the Jewish state on halachic grounds, since no one asked us. An analogy would be if a secular Israeli astronaut went up into space, and a rov wrote a whole sefer explaining that its forbidden to go to space because of the danger and other reasons. We would say, that's not a good use of your time, since no observant Jew has yet considered going to space, so the halachic question has not been asked. Rather, we should think more about the philosophical question: what does it mean that man is traveling to space? Here too, the lack of any halachic response frees us to think about how a Jewish state fits into the process of redemption. Is it a step towards redemption, or away from redemption? Is it a reward, a punishment, or a trial?

The problem with Rabbi Weinfelds analysis is that it was written in 1956, when the Zionist State was relatively new. The Zionist movement and the State were then synonymous. The Agudists, and certainly not those to the right of Agudah, did not consider the State their own. It was founded by and for secular Zionists. Those who favored participation in the government saw it only as a tool to temper the anti-religious nature of the Zionists, and to obtain funds.

Today, most of the original Zionists are no longer alive. Zionism, as a movement, is fading away, is almost gone. Instead we have a State of Israel which has become the status quo in the world, containing religious and non-religious Jews. There are still struggles over what kind of state it should be, but as far as the State itself, almost no one sees that as the pet project of a secular movement. The State is merely the democratic system in which all the Jews who have settled in Eretz Yisroel live. So the question of whether the State is permitted is just as much our question as it is the secular Jews question.

In fact, it is really only our question, for in the long run, only what Torah Jews do is seen as a lasting act of Jewry. If a group of secular Jews found a communist government in Russia, or man a mission to Mars, it is not looked at as a Jewish project. The Zionists are somewhat different, since they at least claim to be acting in the name of the Jewish people, but the world is not fooled. If no religious Jew participates in it, then it is seen as a breakaway sect or an offshoot of the Jewish people, not the Jewish people proper. That is how the world sees it, and that is certainly how Hashem sees it, for He knows who the real Jews are.

Moreover, the population of the State of Israel is gradually changing. New Jewish immigrants are mostly religious, and religious Jews have a much higher birthrate than the non-religious. There is, boruch Hashem, a movement of baalei teshuva. More and more children from non-religious homes are going to religious schools. The non-religious are leaving the country, or even if they stay, losing their Jewish identity, intermarrying. The adherents of movements favoring the return of the West Bank, or creating one binational state, are invariably non-religious. Thus, the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish state is in religious hands.

One cannot blame Rabbi Weinfeld in 1956 for not seeing it this way. But with our hindsight we see the secularist movement disappearing in smoke, in the manner of all breakaway Jewish movements, and giving way to a single state, a ship on the stormy waters of international conflict, with all its members competing for control, all its members uniting against the common enemy. Today it is our state just as much as it is theirs, and if it is halachically forbidden to have a state, then we will have to answer to divine justice just as much as them, and more. For most non-religious Jews grew up in non-religious families and cannot be blamed for their actions to the degree that religious Jews can. We who were taught halacha, and keep halacha in all other areas, will be the ones to be blamed if having a state is a violation of halacha. Thus, this is most certainly a relevant halachic question, it is most certainly being asked by those who do ask questions, and it must be answered.

It must also be said that although perhaps the secular Zionists would have achieved statehood in 1948 even without the support of religious Jewry, the fact is that the Mizrachists worked alongside the Zionists almost from the inception of the Zionist movement, and the Agudists from the late thirties onward, to achieve the state. The Agudists in 1947 did not tell the United Nations that the Torah forbids us to have a state, and on the contrary, they appeared before the committee and pleaded with them to grant the Jews a state. Yitzchok Meir Levine, representing the Agudah, signed the Declaration of Independence. Thus, there were many, many halachically observant Jews who played an active role in founding the state. Why then does Rabbi Weinfeld state unequivocally that no one asked the halachic question? Couldnt all these observant Jews have benefited from a clear halachic ruling on this matter?

In fact, we know that some of them did ask. In the years between the end of the War and the establishment of the State, the Agudist activists in Eretz Yisroel (Levine, Rosenheim, Blau and others) made great efforts to convene the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah and discuss the monumental issues of the time. But a full meeting never took place, and the various gedolim, when asked individually about the issues, tried not to say much. This story has been researched by Tzvi Weinman in his excellent book Mikatowitz Ad Hei Iyar, chapters 6-7. The point here is only the show that, contrary to Rabbi Weinfelds contention, the halachic question was relevant to observant Jews, they did ask, and they deserved an answer. And today, as we said before, given the new meaning the State has taken on for world Jewry, the question is more relevant than ever.

Religious Zionism Debate X
The Three Oaths, Part II

(see here for Part I)

R. J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, vol. 1 pp. 14-15:
The prime argument cited in objection to the War of Independence, and indeed to the very establishment of the state itself, is based upon a literal understanding of the Talmud, Ketubot 111a. In an aggadic statement, the Talmud declares that prior to the exile and the dispersal of the remnant of Israel, God caused the Jews to swear two solemn oaths: (1) not to endeavor to retake the Land of Israel by force, and (2) not to rebel against the nations of the world. Rabbi Zevin [Torah She-be'al Peh 5731] maintains that these talmudic oaths are not binding under circumstances such as the ones which surrounded the rebirth of the Jewish state. In support of this view he marshals evidence from a variety of sources. Avnei Nezer, Yoreh De'ah, II, 454:56, notes that there is no report in any of the classic writings regarding an actual assemblage for the purpose of accepting these oaths, as is to be found, for example, in the narrative concerning the oaths by which Moses bound the community of Israel prior to the crossing of the Jordan. The oaths administered before the exile are understood by Avnei Nezer as having been sworn by yet unborn souls prior to their descent into the terrestrial world. Such oaths, he argues, have no binding force in Halakhah.

The Avnei Nezer puzzles over the punishment for the oaths. If the oaths are not halachic, he asks, how can there be a punishment?

By the gazelles and by
the hinds of the field...if you will fulfill this oath, well and good. If
not, I will release your flesh to be like the gazelles and the hinds of the
filed; as Rashi explains "Free for all to take..." It is not understood exactly why this result will occur.
However, it can be understood according to what is explained
in the Tikkunei Zohar that R. Elazer asked Rabbi Shimon his father, 'If
someone dies between his thirteenth and twentieth birthday, which sin
caused his death? R. Shimon replied: "A wicked person's own sins trap
him." True God does not punish him actively. Nevertheless, He removes His
protective governance from him... Now R. Elazar's
words can be understood, for even after the oath, the man's body has no
sin for not fulfilling it, for the person's body did not accept the oath.
The soul too has no punishment if it goaded the man towards good and the
body did not listen. What was its sin? For the body as well, there is no
punishment, as mentioned above. Nonetheless, the connection between man
and his Maker has been ruptured, in any case. For if the soul has not
fulfilled its oath, the soul has been distanced; and if it fulfilled the
oath but the body didn't listen to it, the body didn't listen to it,
then the body distanced itself from the soul. And since the connection
has been ruptured, God's supervision has been removed from him and he is
left as ownerless as the wild animals that have no soul. That is why God's
supervision does not apply to the particulars of each animal but only to the
preseveration of the species, as the Ramban, the Rambam and the Chinuch
wrote. So too with the human being if the soul is not within him that
brings him close to God. This is the reason why Scripture chooses the
language, "by gazelles or by the hinds," for it teaches about detachment
from holiness that is God's supervision. For it is written regarding a
sacrificial animal that is redeemed after being found to have a
disqualifying blemish: "However, just as the gazelle and the hind are
eaten..." For in the first-born or tithed animal, or other sacrificial
animals, through a blemish and by redemption, the holiness of the
sacrifice is removed from it."

The Avnei Nezer asks the old question of when and where the Jews accepted these oaths. This question has several other answers:

1) The Midrash says (Shemos 28, on the posuk 20:1) that the Prophets were all standing at Har Sinai and they heard there all the words of prophecy they would ever say. Thus the book of Shir Hashirim, in which the Three Oaths are written ("I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, not to arouse or awaken the love before it is desired" 2:7) was really first brought down through Moshe at Sinai, and only later publicized by Shlomo Hamelech. (Introduction to Vayoel Moshe, p. 17)
2) Rabbi Dov Ber Treivish, rav of Vilna during the Gaon's lifetime, in his commentary Shir Chadash on Shir Hashirim, answers that at Mt. Sinai and again in the land of Moav, we accepted the entire Torah with a covenant and an oath. Included in that oath was the warning that if we would not keep the Torah, all the misfortunes listed in Parshas Bechukosai and Ki Savo would come upon us. These misfortunes culminate in our going into exile and living under the nations (Vayikra 26:33 and Devarim 28:64). Therefore, included in the oath of the Torah is the acceptance of the yoke of exile, not to rebel against it, and not to attempt to end it on our own.
3) The Satmar Rav's own conclusion (Vayoel Moshe Chapter 80) is that the oaths are not a separate and distinct halachic prohibition; rather the violation of the oaths is a form of heresy, and the punishment given by the Talmud is the punishment for that heresy.

Even according to the Avnei Neizer who says that the punishment mentioned in the Gemara is not a punishment for a sin, but a cause-and-effect - we cut our connection off from Hashem and He takes away His providence from us that's still not a very good thing to have happen, is it?

Similarly, the Maharal of Prague in his Commentary on the Aggada, Ketubot 111a, and in chapter 25 of his Nezah Yisra'el, interprets these oaths as being in the nature of a decree or punishment rather than as injunctions incumbent upon Jews in the Diaspora. There is obviously no transgression involved in attempting to mitigate the effects of an evil decree. A third authority, R. Meir Simchah of Dvinck, author of the Or Sameah, accepts the premise that these oaths do apply in a literal sense. However, he expresses the opinion that following the promulgation of the Balfour Declaration, establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine no longer constitutes a violation of the oath concerning rebellion against the nations of the world. The text of Or Sameah's statement on this improtant issue is reprinted by Z. A. Rabiner, Toledot R. Meir Simhah (Tel Aviv, 5727), p. 164. Rabbi Zevin adds that this argument assumes even greater cogency subsequent to the United Nations resolution sanctioning the establishment of a Jewish state.

There is yet another line of reasoning on the basis of which Rabbi Zevin denies the binding nature of these oaths at the present juncture of Jewish history. He advances a forceful argument which, particularly in the present post-Holocaust era, must find a sympathetic echo in the heart of Jews who have witnessed an unprecedented erosion of all feelings of humanity among the nations of the world which permitted the horrendous oppression and torture of the Jewish people. The Talmud, loc. cit., records that the two oaths sworn by the people of Israel were accompanied by a third oath which devolved upon the nations of the world; namely, that they shall not oppress Jews inordinately. According to Rabbi Zevin and others who have advanced the same argument, these three oaths, taken together, form the equivalent of a contractual relationship. Jews are bound by their oaths only as long as the gentile nations abide by theirs. Persecution of the Jews by the nations of the world in violation of this third oath releases the Jewish people from all further obligation to fulfill the terms of their agreement.[4]

Regarding the interdependence of the oaths of the Jews and the nations, let's go back to the source of this concept.

For behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and a razor shall not go up on his head, for the child will be a nazirite of G-d from the womb, and he will begin to save Israel from the Philistines. (Shoftim 13:5)

The simple meaning of the word yachel is begin, as we have translated it above. But the Gemora (Sotah 10a) explains a different level of meaning: yachel can also mean it is nullified, namely, the oath of Avimelech was nullified. Scripture is about to relate the story of Shimshons life and how he terrorized the Philistines. Avraham Avinu and Avimelech, king of the Philistines, had made a sworn covenant with each other (Bereishis 21:23). But since the Philistines fought with and subjugated the Jews, thus violating the oath, the Jews were released from their obligation to keep the oath, and Shimshon was permitted to do what he did.

Some Zionists claim that there is a similar relationship between the oaths of the Jewish people and the nations (Kesubos 111a). The Jewish people was prohibited under oath from going up to Eretz Yisroel as a wall, rebelling against the nations, or forcing the end of exile. The nations were prohibited from subjugating the Jews too much. The claim is that since the nations violated their oath by killing six million Jews, the Jewish people is no longer bound by its oaths.

One need not look far to see the fallacy of this argument. Avraham and Avimelech swore not to harm one another, so when one harmed the other the covenant was broken. But why does one nation harming the Jews in exile give the Jews the right to take Eretz Yisroel away from a different nation that occupies the land? Why should one nation suffer for the violation of another nation?

Furthermore, Rabbi Shmuel ben Yitzchak Yaffe in his commentary Yefeh Kol to the Midrash Shir Hashirim points out that since there is already an oath not to rebel against the nations, the oath about going up as a wall cannot mean only taking the land by military force, because that would be superfluous it would be included in the general prohibition on rebellion. Rather, it means that any effort to take possession of Eretz Yisroel, even with the approval of the nations living there, is forbidden. With this in mind, one cannot possibly say that the oaths are some sort of deal between the Jews and the gentiles, for the oath prohibits Jews from taking the land even when gentiles allow it. The violation of this oath is not a sin against the gentiles, but a sin against Hashem Himself. Violation of the oath against forcing the end, which includes false messiahs and, according to Rashi, even excessive prayer, is certainly not a sin against the gentiles but against Hashem Himself.

Also, although the great destruction wrought by Germany is the worst our people have ever suffered, there is no reason to say that previous massacres such as the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, the destruction of Beitar, the Crusades and the massacres of 1648 (Tach Vetat) did not constitute a violation of the gentiles oath. Why then did the Zionist idea sprout only in this most recent century? In previous generations not only was such an idea never entertained, but it was expressly forbidden by the greatest Torah sages of the time. The Amoraim lived after the Roman massacres and yet they recorded the Three Oaths in the Gemora as practical law. The Rambam knew of the early Crusades and also terrible persecutions in his own lands by the Muslims, and yet he warns the Yemenite Jews not to violate the oaths. The same is true of other Rishonim such as the Rashbash (siman 2) and the Rivash (siman 101), and more recent poskim such as the Avnei Nezer and Rabbi Shmuel Salant, who deal with the oaths as practical halacha.

Until now I have used logic to explain why their argument is flawed. Now I will review the historical record to show that no Jewish sage or commentator in the pre-Zionist era ever made this argument. Every source text that the Zionists can find falls into one of three categories: 1) Reference to an action by G-d, not an annulment of the Jewish oath; 2) Reference to the annulment of the oath prohibiting rebellion against the nations. 3) Reference to the annulment of the oath against excessive prayer. But no one has ever said that the oaths against going up as a wall and forcing the end of exile through action were subject to annulment when the gentiles violate their oath.

We begin with the Midrash, Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2:7: "Rabbi Yossi bar Chanina says: There are two oaths here, one for Israel and one for the nations of the world. He made Israel swear that they would not rebel against the yoke of the kingdoms, and He made the kingdoms swear that they would not harden their yoke upon Israel, for if they would harden their yoke upon Israel, they would cause the end to come not in its proper time."

The Midrash does not say that the oaths are a covenant between Israel and the nations, nor does it say that if the nations harden their yoke upon Israel the oath is annulled. It says only that if they harden the yoke, G-d will bring an early end to the exile.

Similarly, the Shitah Mekubetzes in Kesubos 111a says in the name of the disciples of the Rashba: "I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my Beloved, what will you tell Him? That I am lovesick." (Shir Hashirim 5:8) The Jewish people is speaking to the nations of the world, after the Holy One, blessed is He, made the nations swear not to afflict Israel too much, lest they cause Him to arouse their love before its time, because the Holy One, blessed is He, cannot bear to see Israel in great distress and not save them, as the Gemara says (Sanhedrin 97b), "When the time to redeem them arrives, the Holy One, blessed is He, will raise up a king whose decrees are like Haman's and he will bring them to repent, and then immediately they will be redeemed."

Here again, it is clear that G-d will be the one to bring the redemption before its time. In passing, we note that the Shitah Mekubetzes states clearly that redemption, even when early, must be preceded by repentance.

That G-d will bring the redemption and not the Jews is also clear from the Pnei Yehoshua on Kesubos 111a. The Pnei Yehoshua asks how the oath on the nations of the world fits in with the verse "do not arouse or awaken the love before it is desired" which refers to the redemption of the Jewish people. He answers that if the nations afflict the Jews too much, "they will cause the Holy One, blessed is He, to hasten to bring the redemption before its time, as we find in the case of the Egyptian exile."

(The Pnei Yehoshua also asks how the oath against revealing the secret to the nations has to do with the redemption. He answers based on Rashi's second explanation, that "the secret" refers to the reasons behind the Torah. When the gentiles learn the reasons and secrets of the Torah, they will come to recognize the great love between G-d and the Jewish people, and they will then stop ruling over them and will arouse the redemption before its time. Thus Chazal with their holy inspiration foresaw today's situation, where 85 million Christians are strong supporters of Zionism and push the Jewish people out of exile prematurely, all due to the fact that they have read the Torah and recognize that the Jews are G-d's beloved people.)

Now we move on to the second category: those who write that the oath on rebellion against the nations becomes annulled when the nations violate their oath. As we wrote here two years ago, the oaths not to go up as a wall and not to force the end are not for the benefit of the gentiles, and thus they cannot be part of a deal between the gentiles and the Jewish people. Rather, G-d gave us these oaths for our own benefit, so that we should not try to redeem ourselves at the wrong time. But the oath prohibiting rebellion against the nations might be, logically speaking, part of such a deal with the nations. Of course, if one nation violated its oath, that would not permanently annul the oath of rebellion against the nations, nor would it give the Jews the right to rebel against a different nation; but there might be a temporary relaxation of the Jewish oath with regard to the offending nation.

This is what the Rabbi Shimshon Chaim Nachmani writes in his commentary Zera Shimshon (published in 1778) on Megillas Esther 9:1. Scripture tells us that on the 13th of Adar, the very day that the Jews' enemies had planned to destroy them, the exact opposite happened: the Jews destroyed their enemies. The Zera Shimshon comments that Scripture goes out of its way to say that "the opposite happened" because if not for this, the Jews would not have had the right to lift up their hands against the gentiles. But now, since the gentiles planned to kill the Jews, the Jews were permitted to kill them. Because it states in the thirteenth chapter of Kesubos, "What are these three oaths? One that the Holy One, blessed is He, made Israel swear not to rebel against the nations of the world, and one that He made the nations of the world swear not to afflict Israel too much." And the Shulchan Aruch says (Yoreh Deah 236:6), "When two people swear to each other and one violates his oath, the other is also permitted and needs no annulment."

Note that of all the oaths in Kesubos, he only quotes two: the prohibition to rebel against the nations, and the nations' oath. He does not quote the oath prohibiting mass immigration to Eretz Yisroel, nor the oath prohibiting us to force the end, because those oaths have nothing to do with the nations and are not subject to any deal with them.

In passing, we note that the Zera Shimshon assumed that the oaths would have applied to the Jews in the time of Haman despite the fact that the king gave them permission to fight back, and despite the fact that their lives were in danger. Thus the very same Zera Shimshon that Zionists trumpet as one of their proofs, besides not being any proof at all, actually contradicts two of their most central claims.

Finally, we have those who say that when the nations violate their oath, the Jews are allowed to pray excessively for the redemption, something that they are ordinarily prohibited from doing under the oath "that they should not force the end". These are Rabbi Shlomo Kluger in Maaseh Yedei Yotzer on the Hagadah, and Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein in Avkas Rochel 9:1. This does not mean that the Jews are permitted to take any action towards the redemption! The difference between being permitted to pray and being permitted to take action is simple: taking action toward the redemption is tantamount to heresy, but violating the oath through excessive prayer is not, since on the contrary, prayer strengthens the Jew's belief that G-d controls all events and only He can end the exile. Therefore, as long as the gentiles treat the exiled Jews in accordance with G-d's decree and did not exceed their limit, G-d does not want us to pray for the end of exile, since the exile was His plan and is for our benefit. But when the gentiles exceed their limit, their actions emanate from their own free will and not from G-d's decree, and so we may pray to G-d to save us from them (Vayoel Moshe 1:79).

[4] See also R. Aaron Soloveichik and R. Meir Blumenfeld, Shanah be-Shanah, 5734. For additional sources regarding the applicability of these oaths, see R. Menachem Kasher, Milhemet Yom ha-Kippurim (Jerusalem, 5734), pp. 63-83; and R. Shmuel ha-Kohen Weingarten, Hishbati Etkhem (Jerusalem, 5736). R. Chaim Vital, Ez Hayyim (Jerusalem, 5723), p. 3, quotes Beraita de-Rabbi Yishma'el, Pirkei Heikhalot, which declares that the oath remained in effect only for a period of one thousand years; see also Zohar, Parshat Va-Yeira, p. 117a.
Note that this contradicts what Frumteens says about R. J. David Bleich:
Refutation # 3 - There is no shita in the world that says if some nations get togethr and vote that Jews should get EY they can. The shita says that if they can take EY peacefully without resistance then it would not violate the Oath. But that did nto happen here. There was a war - the war of '48, where 6,0000 Jews were killed. The Arabs, who were living in and around the land, did not give the Jews any permission to take it. Other countries did, and there is no such halachic status that the UN is like some kind of Sanhedrin Hagadol that can bind other nations to its decisions (any Zionist can tell you that). In any case, there is no comparison to a Coresh or any other "peaceful ascent", since - hello!! - in order to create the State of Israel they had to fight a bloody war with the Arabs!!!. So why in the world is that called a "peaceful ascent"?

If the Zionists were weaker they never would have been able to create a State - it all depended on their Yad Hachazakah.

No shitah ever found or imagined ever permitted such a thing. Not the Avnei Nezer, not R. Meir Simchah, nobody.

In fact, rabbi J. David Bleich - of YU, NOT Satmar, had long ago pointed out this absurd usage of Rav Meir Simchas letter. Quote:

"This observation (of Ohr Someach) is entirely inappropriate in the context of this discussion. This observation, uttered upon promulgation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in a peaceable manner with full permission of the mandate authority would not contravene the Three Oaths. The statement is both unexceptional and entirely inapplicable under other circumstances. Moreover, it explicitly recognizes the binding nature of the oaths." (Journal of Halachah and Contemporary Society XVIII p.108).

His point is that the circumstances that the Ohr Someach's statement was referring to were not the circumstances that came about.
That is not what R. Bleich wrote in that journal. His brief comment was in response to a critique of a previous article of his on giving back territory to Arab countries. R. Bleich wrote that the Three Oaths can be seen as permitting giving back the land. Someone responded that according to the Or Same'ah the oaths no longer apply. R. Bleich answered that, according to the Or Same'ah, the oaths do still apply but never prohibited the establishment of the state of Israel.

If that was the context of Rabbi Bleich's statement, so be it. But note that he says "a Jewish homeland in Palestine in a peaceable manner with full permission of the mandate authority would not contravene the Three Oaths". He implies that a state established through warfare would not necessarily fall under the Ohr Somayach's ruling. The other piece by Rabbi Bleich, quoted above by Rabbi Student, is actually a quote from Rabbi Zevin, and thus is not necessarily Rabbi Bleich's own point of view. Rabbi Zevin is the one who uses the Ohr Somayach as a source text to permit the actual state that arose in 1948.

The Religious Zionism Debate XII
R. Yehudah Levi, Facing Contemporary Challenges, pp. 17-18 (the book has approbations from R. Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg and R. Ovadiah Yosef). Note the lack of objections due to the Three Oaths:
We lack prophets who can interpret the ways of Providence for us. Nevertheless, whoever opens his eyes will see that the establishment of a Jewish state in the Holy Land is an event of historic proportions. Anyone denying this is only deceiving himself. Even regarding the British Mandate, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the great leader of the old Yishuv in Jerusalem, admonished:
Where are the Torah-true Jews of the Diaspora? Do they not see here the finger of God.... Let us imagine a small cloud being seen after two thousand years without rain. Will not everyone say with great excitement: "Perhaps... perhaps after all?" Is the Mandate not at least such a cloud?
He also regarded the building of the Land through settlements throughout the whole country as athchalta di-geulah (the beginning of the Redemption), despite the sorry state of Torah education and observance in those settlements.[10]

After the state's founding, the "finger of God" became even more evident. Rabbi Dessler, author of Mikhtav MeEliyahu and distinguished mashgiach (mentor) of Ponevezh Yeshiva, said:
A great kindness [from on High]... our nation's settling in its own state in the Holy Land. --From this we must draw conclusions and establish emunah [faith] in our hearts. Woe to him who comes to the Day of Judgment still too blind to see this concrete fact.[11]
Rabbi. Y.Tz. Dushinsky, the successor of Rabbi Y.Ch. Sonnenfeld, wrote in the same spirit:
The only hope to save the situation is, if our brethren who are aware of the sanctity of the Land and want it to be built on the basis of Torah and our heritage... all of them unite to build the ruins and plant the desolate areas, to repair her moral ruins. That they participate in the settling of the Land with dedication and loyal love.... To put up new Torah-true settlements and to see to it that God's Torah be complete--covering all aspects of life and building of the Land of Israel.[12]
Even more explicit are the words of Rabbi Tzevi Pessach Frank, author of Har Tzevi:
It is now almost two years that we were privileged to see how God remembered His people to succor them with the beginning of Redemption.... As it was during the first redemption in the days of Joshua, thus we have seen the beginning of his final redemption.[13]
Rabbi E.M. Bloch, Rosh Yeshiva of Telz, wrote similarly:
Despite all the flaws and defects in the leadership of the State of Israel, its very existence, which came about through obvious miracles, has importance which we have to relate to with recognition and satisfaction. And this recognition we must express publicly.[14]
On another occasion he said, "The healthy elements among the Jewish people bear great responsibility regarding... the survival of the Jewish state."[15]

[10] HaIsh 'al HaChomah, Pt. 2, p.313.
[11] Quoted from R. E.E. Dessler, Mikhtav MeEliyahu, Pt. 3, p.352.
[12] R. Y.Tz. Dushinsky, letter to Tageblatt (15 Shevat 5694). Facsimile published in HaModia' (30 Tishrey 5754 / 15 Oct. '93).
[13] R. Tz.P. Frank, Kerem Tzion 11:17 #1.
[14] . E.M. Bloch, letter of 5714, brought in Mitzvoth HaShalom, p. 605.
[15] Alumni Union of Yeshiva Telz of Cleveland, Bulletin, Teveth 5747.

"Note the lack of objections due to the Three Oaths." That's exactly my point. These rabbis didn't discuss the permissibility of founding a state in view of the Three Oaths. They didn't quote the oaths and then explain exactly why they don't apply. They weren't discussing halacha. They were discussing history from an observer's standpoint.

Rabbi Sonnenfeld and Rabbi Dushinsky shouldn't have been mentioned here at all since they were not discussing the idea of a Jewish state, but rather the British Mandate.

The Religious Zionism Debate XIII
The Frumteens moderator has selectively quoted from the historical record in this post, ommitting material that completely undermines his claim that all of the Gedolim oppose any form of Jewish state in the land of Israel before the messiah arrives. He writes as follows:
In the summer of '37 at the third Kenesia gedolah of the rabbinical leaders of Agudath Israel held in Marienbad, which included hundreds of rabbis, heads of yeshiva religious academies and grand rabbis of Chassidic communities from a number of countries. Rabbi Aharon Kotler attended this convention.

From the journal Hapardes (Year 11, Issue 7) describing the convention:

"Rabbi Wasserman, Rabbi Kotler, Rabbi Rottenberg from Antwerp, and rabbis from Czechoslovakia and Hungary were unanimous in rejecting any proposal for a "Jewish State" on either side of the Jordan River, even if it were established as a religious state because such a regime would be a form of heresy in our faith in the belief in the coming of the Messiah, and especially since this little "Jewish" state would be built on heresy and desecration of the Name of G-d.

The late Rabbi Shlomo Rottenberg (a historian and author of Toldos Am Olam and other works), who also attended the Convention in '37 used to say that he could still remember what was discussed there, and the harsh opposition of these rabbinical leaders to a "Jewish State" that is a violation of the Three Oaths mentioned in the Talmud. (Rabbi A.L. Spitzer)

What the moderator fails to mention is that these rabbis were outvoted!!! That's right. The issue of HaPardes that the Frumteens moderator quotes is available online here (PDF) and the relevant passage is on page 8. After the part quoted/translated by the Frumteens moderator, the article continues:
Arguing against them were the Admo"rim from Boyan and Sadigora, Rav Tzirelson (the president of the [Agudath Israel] congress), Rav Levin from Reisha (the head of Agudath Israel), and Rav Sorotzkin, [who said that] it is possible to agree, according to the laws of the Torah, to the establishment of a Jewish state in its portion of the land of Israel without denying the belief in the coming of the redeemer. There is no need to be concerned that the non-religious will chase, through the Jewish state, the religion. Therefore, it is forbidden to push off entirely the matter of the Jewish state; rather we must pursue expanding its borders and ensuring that the laws of a Jewish state will be founded on religion and tradition. And to protest that they did not ask Haredi Judaism and did not include its leaders in this discussion.

And those saying yes won!

"Those saying yes won" is the Hapardes's own assessment. Actually, the resolutions issued by the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah are very vague. Here they are (as translated by Joseph Friedenson in A Concise History of Agudath Israel, published in 1968 as part of the Yaakov Rosenheim Memorial Anthology):

1. The Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah declares: Our land was given to us by the word of G-d, as an eternal covenant, in order that we should there carry out His mitzvohs, and live a life based on Torah principles. The Jewish people is, therefore, forever bound with every fibre of its soul to the Holy Land. When we were driven from the Land because of our sins, G-d promised, through the prophets, that he would redeem our Land through moshiach, and this is one of the essential beliefs of our faith. The right of the Jewish people to the Holy Land is a principle of our Torah, enforced by the words of our prophets. The existence of the Jewish state is assured only if the laws of the Torah are recognized as the basic law of the land. A Jewish state not based on the laws of the Torah, is a denial of the source of our peoplehood and its very essence, and threatens our existence as a people.

2. The Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah insists that the boundaries of the Holy Land have been established by the Creator, and recorded in the Torah for all time to come. The Jewish people cannot possibly compromise these borders.

3. The Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah insists that it is contrary to the laws of Torah to negotiate the destiny of the Holy Land, which is the possession of the entire Jewish people, without the participation of representatives of religious Jewry, and any such negotiations would do violence to justice and law.

4. The Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah urges Jews throughout the world, in these trying hours, to aid Agudath Israel to rescue the spirit of Torah and Emunoh, which is embodied in the religious Yishuv. We look to this Yishuv with the faith that the Kingdom of G-d will manifest itself in the Holy Land, to which the entire world will look for direction. (pp. 34-36)

Based on these conclusions, the Political Commission of the Knessia Gedola declared that, The Knessia Gedola cannot give its approval to a Jewish state as outline in the Peel Commission report, and supports the continuation of the Mandate. Nevertheless, the Knessia Gedola rejects the limitations placed by the British government, upon immigration and the purchase of ground, and urges further negotiations to find a solution to the religious and material needs of the Jewish people and a means of assuring the historic right of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel which is based on Torah.

End quote from Friedenson.

So practically speaking, the Moetzes resolutions are against the proposal for a Jewish state, although they do not say what the anti-Zionist rabbis at the convention said, that any Jewish state is a denial of the coming of mashiach. Thus the resolutions represent a sort of compromise between the two sides a statement that everyone could agree to. This is far from the simplistic statement that the anti-Zionists were outvoted or that those saying yes won.

And of course, even those who said yes to a Jewish state established peacefully by the British government would not necessarily have said yes to a state established through military conflict.