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Confused about Balfour, UN, Ponevecz, and other topics

May 8, 2008

Even though I have the same views as you, one thing I have not been able to answer is the fact that if we were given the Balfour Declaration, how are we actually transgressing the Oaths, as the nations of the world (or the ruling nation Britain) gave the Jews permission to go there and create a state. So I suppose my question is, what specifically have we transgressed?


The British did originally promise the Jews a homeland (which might have meant a state of some size), but they took back this promise with the 1939 White Paper. In 1947 they turned over the problem to the U.N.

The nations in the U.N. who voted in favor of a Jewish state did not include the nations ruling over the land, meaning the Arabs who lived there and the British who ruled it until then (the British abstained in the vote and did nothing to help carry out the U.N. resolution). In the end, the Zionists did have to fight for their land, first against the local Arabs (Palestinians) and then against the surrounding nations. That is definitely "with a strong hand" and a rebellion against the nations.

Furthermore, not everyone agrees that going up "as a wall" means by military means. The Avnei Nezer is the only one who says that. Others (Yefeh Kol, Ahavas Yonasan) understand it as any mass immigration.

Also, do not forget about the other oath, which prohibits forcing the end. Founding a state before the coming of Moshiach certainly falls under that category. Even the Avnei Nezer only says that the oath against "going up as a wall" becomes permitted when the nations give it to us, which would mean that mass immigration is permitted according to him, but not founding a state.

Furthermore, the borders of the Jewish state proposed by the UN are a far cry from the borders actually conquered by the Zionists. The U.N.'s Jewish state was made up of a thin strip along the coast, the Negev desert, and a strip in the northeast. These three pieces are barely connected. And all of Jerusalem and its environs were to be deep within the Arab state.

Thanks. However I am not sure this has put my mind at ease, the fact still remains that the Balfour Declaration was issued and visas granted, then when the White Paper was issued, I understand that this would be a violation, however after the Holocaust (whatever a person's opinion on it, it was a time of great atonement), the UN granted Israel some borders. These were, as you said, expanded, however some was given back and the rest were held onto as a result of the US issuing its veto at the UN, so it could be argued that really until 2004 when the world court ruled on this matter against Israel, that they were in fact not in breach of the nations, as even if a veto is issued, that is just one of the checks and balances of the UN. This raises the question of what the violation really is, is it the existence of the state itself (which was given by the nations who had won it in war) or is it the expansion of the states borders that are the issue? The Zionist argument sometimes seems more simple to me.

As a side issue, why are none of the Chareidim talking about this? My Rabbi, who is Chareidi, said that after the '67 War, the Ponevezher Yeshiva flew the Israeli flag. He said he had heard it was to thank the state for its kindness, however he wasn't sure this was the reason. All the Rabbis that I have asked drop comments and quote Gemara's indicating that we are in for trouble, however when asked directly they just say that we do not really know what is happening and are waiting to see. Of course, I do not believe this, however there must be a reason why they are silent on this issue, they are certainly not silent on, say, Chabad. I am very interested to hear on any reasons for this that you have heard directly/indirectly from Gedolim.


The nations in the U.N. who voted in favor of a Jewish state did not include the nations ruling over the land, i.e. the Arabs who lived there and the British who ruled it until then (the British abstained in the vote and did nothing to help carry out the U.N. resolution). In the end, the Zionists did have to fight for their land, first against the local Arabs (Palestinians) and then against the surrounding nations. That is definitely "with a strong hand" and a rebellion against the nations.

The U.N. is, to use the words of former Irish ambassador Connor Cruise O'Brien, "essentially a spiritual institution that can deliver a blessing or a curse." The U.N. has no real power and usually does not back up its blessings and curses with military force. At least in this case it did not. The Zionists founded the state with their own military force; it was not given to them on a silver platter by anyone.

To make it more clear: it doesn't say anywhere that if someone grants the Jews a state, it is permitted. What Rashi says is that aliyah bechomah is forbidden when it is "beyad chazakah" with a strong hand. The Avnei Nezer understands this to mean war. So, theoretically, if the ruling power had handed the land to the Jews and there had been no war at all, it would have been permitted according to this opinion (not to make a state which is dechikas haketz but just to go there en masse). But the fact is that there was a war in 1948. It was not a defensive war because it was sparked by the Zionists declaration of a state. A defensive war would be if there had already been a state, established without any war with the consent of all parties, and then later a war broke out.

Also, do not forget about the other oath, which prohibits forcing the end. Founding a state before the coming of Moshiach certainly falls under that category. Even the Avnei Nezer only says that the oath against "going up as a wall" becomes permitted when the nations give it to us, which would mean that mass immigration is permitted according to him, but not founding a state.

I added on the part about the expanded borders as an extra. Even a stubborn person who would disagree with me and see the UN as "giving" the Jews a state would still have to admit that they didn't give them the expanded borders. You are arguing that later the UN was unable to disapprove of it because of the US veto. However, failing to disapprove is not the same thing as approving, and is certainly not the same thing as giving.

By the way, which U.N. resolution are you referring to? Do you mean Bernadotte's proposed treaty of June 1948? That was blocked in the U.N. General Assembly by a third of its member states, chiefly the Arab nations, Israel, and the Soviets.

You say the Zionist argument is very simple, but keep in mind that they are the ones saying a "chiddush" and we are merely defending the simple meaning of the text. The Gemara gives us a prohibition to force the end of exile and to ascend en masse to Eretz Yisroel. For hundreds of years nothing close to this happened. For hundreds of years Eretz Yisroel was a nearly empty land, with a tiny Jewish population. Suddenly in our century, the very thing we were warned against actually comes true. Suddenly, almost half the world's Jews are in Eretz Yisroel, running their own state, established through warfare. I don't know about you, but to me it's abundantly clear that this is what King Solomon and the Gemara were referring to with their semi-prophetic inspiration.

And now the Zionists come with teirutzim, with chiddushim, to wiggle out of this problem. Of course a sharp scholar can always think of 150 ways to declare a lizard clean (Eiruvin 13b) but a lizard remains a lizard.

One reason rabbis don't speak about this is that they don't want to alienate their students and congregants. You have to realize that the Zionist movement and State hit the Jewish people at the time they were least able to deal with it. A long period of spiritual decline in Europe, followed by the Holocaust, left the Jewish people reeling, and whatever rabbis were left were struggling to rebuild Yiddishkeit on new soil. If we look today at Jewish communities around the world, we should really be impressed at how well they succeeded. But they could only do so much, and they felt that if they took up the fight against Zionism as well it would endanger their chances of success, and Klal Yisroel might never be rebuilt.

Once a talmid chacham from London asked the Brisker Rov, "The Rov has a great influence that extends to the whole world. Why dont we hear from him clear positions on the problems of the hour? The Brisker Rov replied by telling a story: 'When Baron Rothschild visited Eretz Yisroel, he inquired who the greatest man among the Jews was, and he was told, Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin. So he went to visit Reb Yehoshua Leib, and when he came into his house he was astonished at the poverty and the simplicity of the house and furnishings. 'Rebbe, he asked, I heard that you are the greatest of the Jews of this generation, so how does it befit you to live in such a dwelling?' Reb Yehoshua Leib replied, 'What you heard that I am the greatest of the Jews is false. And as to your question about the house, let me tell you that had I not lived like this, I would not have merited to be even the little that I am. So too, concluded the Brisker Rov, I say to you: what you say that I have great influence in the world is false, but the little influence that I do have is only because of my general silence. Had I not been silent, I would not have had even that. (ibid. p. 253)'"

This story is representative of how many anti-Zionist gedolim saw things. Today that logic is much less compelling because Klal Yisroel is boruch Hashem, much healthier than it was in 1950, and most religious Jews really do want to hear their rabbis' opinions not just on the kashrus of a chicken but on the big questions of the world.

A second reason why gedolim kept silent is that they didn't see the State as our violation. "It's the non-religious Jews who made the State, not us." They said, "...and our job is only to determine how we should relate to the state once it has been made." As an example of someone who thought this way, I quote you the words of Rabbi Avraham Weinfeld.

Born in 1930 in Kasho, Slovakia, Rabbi Avraham Weinfeld was 14 years old when the Germans deported his entire town to Auschwitz. There he lost his parents and all his siblings. After the War, in 1947, he settled in America and dedicated his life to learning Torah and serving Hashem. The following piece, written when he was 26 years old, appears in his Shailos Utshuvos Lev Avraham, siman 129.

Our holy Torah is a Torah of life, encompassing our whole lives, from the day of birth till the last shovelful of earth in the grave, with mitzvos and good deeds through which a person gains life in this world and in the next. All these mitzvos and prohibitions are explicit and explained in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, Sifra, Sifri and Mechilta etc. and explained by the Gaonim, Rabbanan Savorai, and Rishonim, until the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries, and after them our teachers the Acharonim from whose mouths and writings we live, and based on whose words there is an solution to all new questions that come up in our daily lives, using the rules of Torah to compare one thing to another. And if at times there arise complex questions for which it is hard to find an explicit source in the Talmud and Poskim, then we must to present our questions to the great Torah scholars of each generation, and they rule according to their opinion, daas Torah and the way their opinion leans, and in their great wisdom there is a comparison and a source in the holy Torah from which to produce a ruling.

However, there are times when Providence Above places us in a situation upon which it is difficult to rule based on clear halacha alone, because it is impossible to find sources and reliable roots from the words of Chazal and Rishonim, for the main purpose of halacha is to rule on what is forbidden or permitted, obligated or exempt, and the like, but to solve these matters there is not always an exact solution founded on halacha, and only a true prophet can say definitively what this situation means and what it will lead to, and so the scholars who know the law of the holy Torah are forced to fulfill the statement of Chazal (Derech Eretz Zuta 3, quoted in Berachos 4a), Teach your tongue to say I dont know. The word teach was carefully chosen, because this requires much learning this I dont know is the fruit of study and toil to analyze all the seeming proofs and to reach the conclusion that they are not enough to tip the scales and come out with a clear halacha. The ultimate knowledge in this case is to know that we do not know, and whoever says I know is mistaken.

Let us take for example the recent events in Europe, the destruction of six million of our Jewish brethren, among them righteous and pious people, holy people, children who did not taste the taste of sin. The great question burns in our minds: Why did Hashem do so to this people? Why such anger? We who are believers, the children of believers, try to find answers according to the Torah, to understand what caused this great destruction. But after all the answers have been said and said again on this subject, it is clear as the midday sun that there is not a single gadol who can stand up and say definitively, I know what the cause of this complete annihilation was. No! We all say, we certainly believe that Hashem is righteous, G-d of trust, doing no injustice, and all that He did to us was just. But to understand that we cannot do. We cannot understand Hashems ways. The ways of Hashem are hidden, for My ways are not your ways, My thoughts are not your thoughts. To know this thing is above are human comprehension. Just as we cannot comprehend Hashem Yisborachs essence, so too we cannot comprehend His ways. This is among the things that the Ancient One hid, and it is glory for G-d to conceal the thing.

The same applies to our current subject: 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-ds 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 Hashems 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.

And in truth, all the proofs that they bring from Biblical verses, both those in favor of Zionism that this is the way of redemption to come little by little, and those against that one cannot hope that salvation should sprout from sinners all can be refuted, none are conclusive. The matter remains in doubt, until the righteous teacher comes, and Eliyahu the Tishbite will solve all questions and doubts, and the truth will be revealed, may it be soon in our days amein. This must be our position with regard to the fact of the State, since we have no prophet, and none of us knows with clear knowledge. The wise at that time will be silent, and fulfill the verse, Trusting (tamim) you shall be with Hashem your G-d, and he will not try to tell the future, but pray to Hashem Yisborach that all be well.

And we must know that knowing this matter is not a principle of Judaism, and the lack of this knowledge will not harm us at all in keeping the charge of Hashem and fulfilling His mitzvos and the whole Torah. We have before us explicit mitzvos of which we have clear knowledge as to what is forbidden and permitted, what is a mitzvah and what is a sin. This is what we should occupy ourselves with day and night, and leave the doubts and the hidden matters to Hashem our G-d, and to us and our children the revealed matters. As Chazal said (Berachos 10a), What have you to do with the secrets of the Merciful One? Do what you were commanded to do, and the Holy One, blessed is He, will do as He pleases.

The conclusion here is that according to Torah, the matter is in doubt; therefore the best thing is not to act at all. We should not rejoice and make a holiday with Hallel and thanksgiving on their Day of Independence. We should also not call for a fast day. We should only pray to Hashem that it should be well, as said.

Therefore, I do not find any basis in the Torah for those who constantly proclaim that they do not recognize the State and the non-religious government. This whole weapon of recognition or non-recognition was imported from the gentile world; we do not find in the Torah, Shas or Poskim any such concept or laws, when to recognize or not recognize a state. It is only the custom that the gentiles use for propaganda, and the non-religious in Eretz Yisroel used it against the British government.

This is the end of the quotation.

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, thats 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 travelling 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. Many of the new Jewish immigrants are 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.

You wrote: "my Rabbi who is Chareidi, said that after the '67 War, Poneves flew the Israeli flag, he said he had heard it was to thank the state for its kindness, however was not sure of this reason."

According to my rabbi, Rabbi Ozer Yonah Kushner, who was close with the Poneveczer Rav, the flag was flown not only after '67 but every year on Yom Haatzmaut (and continues to be flown to this day). The reason is simply because the government gave more money to yeshivos that flew the flag. The Poneveczer Rav was anti-Zionist but he held that he had to take their money in order to rebuild Torah.

The Poneveczer Rav built many yeshivos using money from the Zionist government. Every time he made a gathering to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone of one of his buildings, a small group of Neturei Karta members would attend, holding signs saying that they protested against the acceptance of the money. Their protests often disturbed the festivities. Someone asked the Poneveczer Rav, "Why don't you do something about it? Make sure they don't come!" "If they wouldn't come on their own," answered the Poneveczcer Rav, "I would pay them to come! I want everyone to know that what I'm doing is only bedieved - not the right way to do things, but necessary because of the difficulty of the times."

Perhaps in consistency with the Poneveczer Rav's wishes, a few students always go up on the roof and take down the flag and burn it.


Thanks Hersh

Shavua Tov! I realise that I am taking up much of your time, and if you are too pressed, I will not take offence if you stop answering my emails.

You have a letter from the Ohr Somayach but don't the Zionists bring a letter from him stating that after the Leauge of Nations mandate the fear of the oaths is gone?

I was also told that the Gra in Kol HaTor states that if we do not return to Israel on our own, we will be forced to return by the severe decree of the gentiles. The religious Zionists then try and attribute this to the Holocaust. They also quote a few quotes from students of the Gra saying that Yoel 3:5 For in Mount Zion and Jerusalem there will be those who escape saying that this particularly worried him ie. That a refuge would be found in Zion

(This I found a little puzzling as I had always thought that Neteuri Karta were descended from students of the Gra)

Also, I was told of a Rabbis sermon this Shabbat, where the Rabbi claimed that since the majority of Rabbis now encourage people to move to Israel, and live there, and accept the state (not the government, but the state), this meant that it now falls under the rules of the majority and only people who have the mesora, ie Satmar and others, should not accept it (he is a Rabbi who claims he is Mizrachi in philosophy, however not part of the organisation)

One more point, you have a speach up on your website from Rabbi Gifter, I told a Sephardi Rabbi about it last October, who asked the Rosh Yeshiva where we live, who learned in Telsh (this man is a very holy Tzaddik, however is now in Olam Habba). He said that he believed the Rav, was not against a state, just didnt want it to be run by secular people, and said there was a letter he wrote (the person who repeated the story back to me, was unsure of what this letter said, however I assume it was to support his point).

I dont doubt the authenticity of the speech, however is this in fact the case, that he supported a place where the religious ruled.

Thanks for your excellent questions.

The letter quoted by Hatekufah Hagedolah, according to which he said that the "fear of the Oaths is gone" after the Balfour Declaration was approved by the League of Nations at San Remo, is unreliable. The letter was originally published in the Mizrachi newspaper Hator in 5682 issue 3, and according to the book "Rabbeinu Meir Simcha" by Z. A. Rabiner (p. 162), the circumstances surrounding its writing are as follows:

"In the year 5681 Menachem Mendel Finkelman came to Reb Meir Simcha as an emissary of the Zionist Organization in Latvia, and read him sections of current newspapers describing the violence in Eretz Yisroel. Mr. Finkelman told Reb Meir Simcha that he had come on a mission from Riga to ask him to write a public announcement asking Jews to contribute to the Keren Hayesod, which enabled the building of the Land. On Motzaei Shabbos after havdalah he turned to his rebbetzin and asked her to give him paper, a pen and ink, and he said to Finkelman, 'My practice is to think about divrei torah on Shabbos, and after Shabbos I write them down. I have done the same with your request about Eretz Yisroel. On Shabbos I thought about what to write, and now after havdalah, I will write the letter.' After Reb Meir Simcha finished writing the letter, he gave it to the rebbetzin to affix his seal, which she had in her possession. The rebbetzin noticed that the letter was written in faded ink, and she commented to Reb Meir Simcha that it was not respectful to write such an important letter in such ink. 'What can I do?' said Reb Meir Simcha. 'I have no ink but this, and it is already midnight and all the stores are closed.' And he told the rebbetzin not to delay giving the letter to Finkelman."

This tale that the letter was written at the request of the Zionist Organization of Latvia - should arouse our suspicion since the Ohr Somayach fought against the Zionist movement fiercely. If he had come out on his own and written a letter saying that after the Balfour and the Mandate immigration is permitted and encouraged, that might be believable. But according to the Zionists, the letter was written FOR them. Sounds fishy.

There is one reliable letter from the Ohr Somayach on the subject of Zionism, printed in the book "Mara D'ara Yisroel". In 1892 Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Slutzky, a leader in the Chovevei Tzion movement, published a sefer entitled Shivas Tzion. He asked various gedolim for letters of support. The following is the letter sent to him by the Ohr Somayach in 1891, taken from Mara DAra Yisroel, v. 2 p. 22):

You have asked me, my friend, and pleaded with me to express my opinion about the new movement that has arisen in our times, combining writing and action to found settlements and plant vineyards in the Land of the Deer. Its members are known as Chovevei Tzion, and you wish to know my opinion of them.

Know, my friend, that it is unnecessary to stress the greatness of this mitzvah, for what Jew would entertain a doubt about this& (here he continues to speak of the greatness of Eretz Yisroel and the Jewish peoples connection with it).

But although the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisroel may be considered equal to all the mitzvos, the mitzvah of learning Torah is equal to all the mitzvos&

To take away from the support of the scholars who learn day and night from the Kupas Rabbi Meir Baal Haness, from every penny the scholars learn a hundred chapters is a tremendous sin, too great to bear. Both things are acts holy to Hashem and one should not infringe on the other. If the settling of Eretz Yisroel is holy to Hashem, the study of Torah and the support of scholars in the Land is holy of holies. Seek out the welfare of the Land, may Jerusalem be on your hearts. But the spirit is embittered to see that when a man supports the thousands of poor Jews who live from the Kupas Haramban, or one rov who, based on his study of halacha, is stringent about work in Shemittah, the writers come out against him and heap disdain and hate upon him, calling him a hater of Zion.

Imagine, my friend, if Rav Yehudah, who held it was forbidden to go back to Eretz Yisroel until the redemption, were alive today. What would they think of him? Even though the sages of his generation did not agree with him, they did not come out against him with insults, but rather, when they went to Eretz Yisroel they would keep it a secret from him. They said, Rav Yehudah is different, for Eretz Yisroel is dear to him. (Berachos 43a) That is, since due to his halachic opinion he was not able to go up to the Land, he strived always to think of it and remind himself of it. Perhaps this is why they said that Ulla was beloved to Rav Yehudah (Chullin 94a), because Ulla would go to Eretz Yisroel and then go to Bavel, so much that he was called Ulla the descender and from his mouth Rav Yehudah would hear all the news from the Land, which was the joy of his soul all day. This is what they said, One who has bread in his basket is different from one who has no bread in his basket. That is why it was more dear to him.

And while I am speaking about his, I cannot withhold myself from revealing what is in my heart: one who looks carefully at the history of the Jewish people in exile will see that several times there have arisen in our people deranged, imaginative people who thought about future [redemption]. One with his strong hand, one with false miracles, and one with repentance and fasting each one led the people astray, to belief that the redemption was near. And when their words melted away, and all their efforts crushed like a spiders web, many left the congregation of Hashem, left their Torah and their people. They lost faith in the future redemption, and became a stumbling block for the house of Israel. All the warnings of the Rambam in his Book of Shoftim and in the Letter to Yemen not to pay attention to any false ideas, and not to plan actions and ways to reach the awaited redemption, were not enough for the weak-hearted and the downtrodden spirits who, when they smelled from afar something that looked like the sprouting of the redemption promised by Hashem, they followed like a herd of animals and were trampled down, for they forgot the words of Hashem through his prophet, The master for whom you ask will come suddenly to his palace& (Malachi 3:1)

How terrible was the scene when the enthusiasts came out saying, this is the way that leads to the future redemption. Among them were the sages and pious men of Germany, who said imaginatively, There is no more clear end than this. (The Gemora in Sanhedrin 98a says, There is no clearer end this: And you, mountains of Israel, give your branches, and bear your fruit to my people Israel. Rashi says: When Eretz Yisroel bears its fruit in generous amounts, then the end will draw nearer, and there is no clearer end than this. The founders of the Chovevei Tzion movement used this Gemora as a proof that working the land in Eretz Yisroel would bring the redemption closer.) They found statements of Chazal on which to base themselves. At that time, every understanding person looked at this in the same way the wisest men looked at that terrible period in the year 5420 (1660), when [the Sabbateans] wreaked havoc on the spirit of Israel and the heart of its sages for about a hundred years. The error at that time arose from incorrect reading of the words of the G-dly sages. And so it was in this picturing [of the redemption], a product of haskalah they said, this is the redemption, this is the substitute. (Heb. Zos hageulah vzos hatemurah, a play on Rus 4:7; see Midrash Rabbah there.) They called him [Reb Hirsch Kalischer] names like Ezra the Second and other such things. A little more, and a terrible danger would have awaited the Torah and the whole Jewish people, for if, G-d forbid, they did not succeed, they would fall a hundred degrees backward from Torah and the principles of belief that we have by tradition. Thanks to Divine Providence, the rabbonim and sages of the generation were given the wisdom to stand back. They looked at these enthusiastic groups with a weak spirit, and tolerated the arrows and missiles that the journalists shot at them, until the thing took on a different form: a center of commerce for the wealthy. What did it become? A commercial enterprise, bearing fruit to its owners, and holy to Hashem as well, provided that you [Rabbi Slutzky, a leader of Chovevei Tzion] have not come to smooth out a path for the righteous redeemer. Rather, if he tarry, wait for him. He does not ask for any help from any man. The future Temple will descend built and complete, without any labor by a mortal. Do not say, This is a preparation for the future hope, for that is a great danger to the Torah and the people. Even if this idea does arise in someones heart, let him emulate his Creator, Whose heart did not tell His mouth. (A reference to Yalkut, Yishaya 507: If someone tells you when the final redemption will come, do not believe him, for it says, For the day of revenge is in My heart (Yishaya 63:4) if the heart does not tell the mouth, who can the mouth tell?)

Whether or not we were accurate in the above comments, it is our wealthy brothers obligation to expand the boundaries of the Land with permission from the exalted governments. If the gentiles of Germany plant vineyards, why should the Jews not do what is proper according to the present time and approved of by the exalted government, may it be blessed by Hashem? And at every step of the way they will find many mitzvos, the holiness of the Land, and the love of the people.

But they should not speak of high matters or in an arrogant manner: those on one side [the followers of the movement] should make no mention of the future and the dreams, and those on the other side [the leaders] should not seduce the hearts of the poor and hapless people who are in the borders [of Eretz Yisroel]. The pressure is great on both sides. The poor should not make the mistake of moving to the holy mountain, for even if gold be scattered to them as dust, would they be able to make a living? Experience teaches that if they travel to a faraway land, like the cities of Kavakaz and the extremes of Russia, they will succeed and sent support to their children, but what will masses of such people do in the ruined and desolate land? If it is very good, that is only for the wealthy, and from them will live the poor who have already found their refuge in Hashems land.

But, my brothers, please do not do evil with the entire nation. Wise men, be cautious with your words! Let not the powerful writers place a stumbling block before the servants of Hashem, who are comparable to a blind man on the road. Let not the poor and downhearted be your playthings, for you are speaking of their very lives&

If they do so, they will be successful in their endeavors, and Hashems favor will be upon them, and their vines will flower in the holy mountains, and the tree will give its fruit. The mountains will give their branches and the bear their fruit to the people of Hashem, and their eyes and our eyes will see the uplifting of the pride of Zion and Jerusalem and the salvation of Hashem&Respectfully, Meir Simcha Kohein.

In summary, the Ohr Somayach approves of the idea of settling Eretz Yisroel, but expresses several criticisms of the Chovevei Tzion movement: 1) In the zeal to promote settlement, they have forgotten the paramount importance of Torah study, and have encouraged people to give to them instead of to the scholars supported by the regular charity funds sent to Eretz Yisroel. 2) The original founders of the movement claimed that their efforts would bring the redemption. This was a great danger, akin to messianic movements of the past. He says that since the movement did not gather too much support, that danger was averted. Still, it may be that this was a polite criticism directed at Rabbi Slutzky, who may have stressed the idea of bringing the redemption in his book Shivas Tzion. 3) They encouraged everyone to go, even the poor who would not succeed there.

The author of Mara Dara Yisroel notes that this letter was published later in the periodicals Dos Vort (14 Cheshvan 5697) and Kol Yisroel (5697 issue 9), but it was not printed by Rabbi Slutzky in his book. Apparently the Ohr Somayachs criticisms of his movement were too much for him and he preferred not to publicize them.

There is another reliable letter that appears in "Haohr Somayach" by Asher Bergman, p. 137: "Know, my dear, that it is unnecessary to show the greatness of this mitzvah (settling in Eretz yisroel) for what Jew has doubt of this? So, to arouse the public for the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisroel is for me unnecessary. And why should it suddenly become necessary after the Balfour Declaration?"

Lastly, even if the letter attributed to the Ohr Somayach by the Zionists really is authentic, it does not permit the state that arose in 1948, for the reasons I wrote to you previously: 1) the state was created through warfare; 2) the state involves dechikas haketz, which is not covered by any heter based on the words "beyad chazaka".

You also quoted the Gra in Kol Hator. But the Kol Hator we have today is not the authentic work of Reb Hillel Mishklov, if there ever was such a work. Shlomo Zalman Rivlin (1886-1962) published parts of it in the late 1940's. He himself admitted that this was an abridged version. The alleged original manuscript disappeared during the Zionist war of independence, and has never been found. Only two copies of the abridged version remained, and they were the basis for subsequent printings by Kasher and the Kol Hator institute. In 1994 a new edition appeared with some new sections based on a notebook found in the house of Shlomo Zalman Rivlin. The notebook was written in the handwriting of Dr. Elazar Hurvitz, who is today a professor at YU. Apparently Rivlin dictated it to Hurvitz. It is possible that Hurvitz himself aided in composing the document.

Rabbi Kasher writes in his introduction to Kol Hator (p. 537), "There is no knowledge of where the original manuscript is, nor do we have the copy, which Rabbi Dr. Elazar Hurvitz told me he wrote and prepared for printing all seven chapters."

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch in a ten-page essay written in 1968 showed that Kol Hator contains many modern Hebrew words and thus is obviously not the original version if there ever was one.

Furthermore, much of the history of Reb Hillel Mishklov's leading role in the aliyas talmidei hagra is only known to us from Shlomo Zalman Rivlin's book Chazon Tzion, which he published at about the same time as Kol Hator (possibly with the purpose of boosting the authority of Kol Hator). Later scholars, such as Aryeh Morgenstern (Geulah Bederech Hateva) have shown that much of this history was falsified, that Reb Hillel was not the leader of the 1809 aliyah at all, and that he first came to Eretz Yisroel much later.

Regarding the statement of the rabbi you quoted that the majority nowadays are in favor of a state so that is the halacha, I have two objections: 1) the majority of people, including most rabbis, are not informed about the sugyah involved, as well as the historical record of what gedolim have ruled. If a rabbi learns through the sefer Vayoel Moshe, as well as the sefer Efes Biltecha Goaleinu, and then rules that a state is permitted then we can count his vote.

2) The halacha of following a majority applies only when all the rabbis are sitting together in one room, and they discuss the matter together, each side hearing the arguments of the other side. But you cannot go around the world and count up rabbis and determine the majority that way, for perhaps the majority would change their minds if they heard the arguments of the minority.

This is expressed by Rabbi Reuven Grozovsky in Bayos Hazman, p. 74: "An halachic decision on any subject of the Agudah must be made in a sitting of the Torah Sages, and each one of the gedolim of Torah and psak must express his opinion and if there is a dispute, they must follow the majority."

The Sefer Panim Bamishpat 7:16 quotes the Maharshach 2:31 who rules that if the shammash went around to the members of a kehillah board and collected their signatures on a certain proposition, the proposition is invalid since they did not sit together and discuss it. He brings support from the words of the Ralbach in Kuntres Hasemicha, who objected to the Mahari Beirav's decision to reinstitute semicha on the grounds that not all the Sages of Eretz Yisroel got together to make this decision.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Shorashim, Elul 5749, brings many more poskim who say this: Maharam ben Chaviv in Get Pashut, Teshuvos Harashba brought by Beis Yosef Choshen Mishpat 13, Responsa Toras Emes end of 207, Responsa Mishpatim Yesharim 1:238, Ashdos Hapisgah Even Haezer 14, Rosh Mashbir 1:7, Ohel Yitzchok Chassid page 3, Chesed Leavraham Alkalay Orach Chaim 18.

Some of these sources are also brought by the Maharatz Chajes on Berachos 37a.

Regarding Rabbi Gifter, it could be you're right about his view and I don't know of any source that shows either way. I have heard recorded speeches by him in which he quoted his rebbe, Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Bloch, as saying on the occasion of a parade made by the townspeople of Telz after the Balfour Declaration, "The Balfour declaration depends on how the Jews take it. If they take it properly, kiddush shem shomayim can come out of it. If not, chillul shem shomayim can come out it. Let us hope that it will be kiddush shem shomayim." But this may mean that the Balfour Declaration could have been used for good, for immigration and the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz yisroel, nothing more than that.

I've also heard Rabbi Gifter say, "Of course I am a Zionist. The question is if the Zionists are Zionists." But that is just a play on the name, as he explained that we are the real Zionists because we say three times daily, "Who returns His presence to Zion."