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The oaths should be permitted due to the Chillul Hashem created when the gentiles persecute us.


Dear Rabbi,

In Kesubos, there were three oaths (some say two), right? Two of the oaths (some say one) were binding on the Jewish people, and one upon the nations, right? The one upon the nations is that they must not subjugate Israel "too much." In Shir Hashirim, Rabba it explains the reason is that "too much" subjugation "forces" G-d to speed up the redemption. This implies that the oaths are interdependent, i.e., even though it is not G-d's desire that we return prior to full repentence, still the same if the nations oppress us "too much" it then becomes a situation of too much desecration of G-d's name (see Rashi in Ezekiel where he comments that "the degredation of the Jewish people at the hands of the nations IS the desecration of G-d's name"...there are other sources wich infer the same idea).

The nations did not keep their part of their oath. All of the crusades, pogroms, and inquisitions throughout history would seem to fit the definition of "too much subjugation." Thus, we the Jewish people are no longer bound by our part of the oaths. Yet, your only focus is on the oath(s) to the Jews, not the one upon the nations. Why is that? The entire purpose of the oath(s) upon the Jewish people was meant as a punnishment with the intent of making us do teshuva. Yet, what evolved was much worse than the Jews lack of teshuva in that the nation's mocked the G-d of Israel, His ability to help save the Jewish people that is, as they shamelessly humiliated and murdered us throughout history (I won't even include the holocaust in this because I see you are of the believe that the holocaust was the result of modern day zionism, so I'll simpley refer you to all of the other "smaller" holocausts that occured well before the advent of "zionism" throughout the current exile). The nations did not murder us or threaten to murder us in order to get us to violate our part of the oath(s). Rather, they murdered us for other reasons. Thus, this is not in sync with your quotation of the Maharal who said that we cannot violate our oaths even on pain of death or the threat of death. They murdering us throughout history had nothing to do with their desire that we break our oath(s). Rather, it had to do with Jew hatred, wanting us to convert, etc. The latter thus constitutes "too much" subjugation, and thus means that the nation's of the world did not keep their end of the deal.

Meir Braun

Dear Mr. Braun,

You argue that the Maharal only forbids transgressing the oaths when the nations are killing us to get us to violate them, but not if they are killing us for other reasons. The truth is that there are two ways to learn the Maharal. The Rebbe in Vayoel Moshe 20 understands it as you do, and thus brings proof from it against the Avnei Nezer who says that aliyah bechomah doesnt apply when the nations grant permission. If theyre killing us to get us to be oleh bechomah, theres no greater permission than this. But in siman 33 he brings up another pshat in the Maharal, that the nations are killing us for their own reasons, and we are not permitted to escape their killing by being olah bechomah. The advantage of this pshat is that according to the first pshat, we would have to posit a strange situation in which one nation controls the Jews in Chutz Laaretz and controls Eretz Yisroel, and is forcing the Jews at gunpoint to go up to Eretz Yisroel for some strange reason.

Your main argument seems to be that the oaths are interdependent, based on the statement of Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina. This is a common Zionist argument. However you have put a new twist on it. The usual Zionist argument is that just as we find in Sotah 10a that there is such a thing as two people who swear to each other and if one violates his oath the other one is also permitted to violate the oath, that is the meaning of the oaths in Kesubos. The problems I raised with this (in previous letters to other people) are that: 1) why should the oath of going up as a wall have to do with the nations, if we say that going up as a wall is forbidden even when the nations grant permission? If they grant permission and its still forbidden, that clearly shows that our oath is not for their benefit. 2) The oath of dechikas haketz has certainly nothing to do with the nations benefit. 3) Even in the oath of rebelling against them, which one might argue is for their benefit, why should one nation suffer for the violation of another?

But now you come along and put a new twist into it. You say that the oaths are not interdependent because of the principle of two people who swore to each other, but rather because of the chillul Hashem when the nations persecute us and G-d does not fight back. Thus you have gained an important thing: you have answered my first two objections above, because now the oath of the nations has everything to do with dechikas haketz and aliyah bechomah.

Now, you are probably correct that the Midrash means this when it says, if they subjugate Israel too much they cause the end to come not in its time. This is idea of a lo zachu redemption as you say. However, you have also lost an important point in the process: you have lost the rule of two who swore to each other. Because this no longer has anything to do with the idea of an agreement which when one side breaks it the other one is allowed to break it. Thus the oaths of the Jews are still in effect, its just that Hashem will bring the geulah due to the chillul Hashem as you say. So this is no heter to do any actions on our own to bring the geulah; it is strictly Hashems business.

I still wonder
about the question and idea of even mere sakanas nefashos alone not being
docheh the halacha of the oaths. We started from the premise of the
Maharal's understanding that even danger to life would not negate the oaths,
to which you quoted the Avnei Nezer and Satmar Rav's different
understandings. However, I asked you earlier from wher the Maharal derived
this idea that even danger to life would not nullify the oaths. After all,
this is a rather unusual statement from the Maharal considering that we know
that all of the mitzvot save for the three cardinal ones are nullified by
danger to life. In conjunction with this, I noticed that you positied
what may be the source for the Maharal's comments. That being a derivation
from the Minchas Chinuch's comments concering the mitzvah of a war of
obligation. Without going into the entire explanation, since you and I
both know it, the upshot is that the idea is that "Just as in the case of
a mitzvah-war of obligation, there is an inherent danger to life, since by
the nature of war there is always a danger since people are always killed on
both sides, so too the halacha of keeping the three oaths is by its very
nature dangerous to life since Jews will always be killed in galus...and so,
too, since the mitzvah of war is inherently dangerous, we push aside the
danger and do the mitzvah (since other wise, we could never do the
mitzvah-war---and how in the world could G-d create a mitzvah-situation that
would be impossible to do), so too the halacha of the oaths--that despite
the fact that they are inherently dangerous to life, we must still keep
them." If this is where the Maharal derived this idea from, I have to
respectfully say that I believe that it is not a completely accurate
comparison in my opinion. It is, at best, a tenuous comparison. How so?
Because in a war situation, the INTENTION of both combatting parties is
most definitely to kill each other! And they use weapons which are meant
and used to kill. Part and parcel of the very definition of warfare is the
desire and need to kill the other side, thus making it VODAI dangerous to
life to perform. However, that is not so when living in exile. There is
not a VODAI danger to life. It is not by its very nature dangerous, there
is merely a POTENTIAL danger. Certainly, throughout history, there have
indeed been many times, and long periods of times, where Jews were not
targeted to be killed as contrasted to a warfare situation where one soldier
is targeting another to kill. This contrast of potential danger vs.
definite danger is something that is discussed in other halacha's as well,
such as situations with defnite vs. potential danger to life when it comes
to keeping shabbos. Indeed, if one wants to say that living in golus is a
vodai danger to life by its nature, one can come up with deriving just
about any mitzvah-obligation as being dangerous by its very nature (and
therefor sakanas nefashos would NEVER be docheh any mitzvah). For example,
one could argue (as some actually have) that observing shabbos is by its
nature dangerous to life. Because one could argue that keeping shabbos
means that you might not have enough parnassa from the extra day of business
lost to your gentile competitors, and from there one may even starve to
death ch'v...or even go so far as to say that if one refrains from turning
on ones lights, one may end up falling in the darkness and dying ch'v.
And should one build a sukah, perhaps it too can be inherently dangerous
vodai since the roof will certainly fall on us, one may think (don't doubt
that some people think this way either; I know someone's mother who views
practically everything as a vodai danger to life!). In any case, I
strongly believe, based upon the above understanding, that the Minchas
Chinuch means to single out a milchemet mitzvah situation as being THE
exceptional example of an inherently dangerous mitzvah.

Do you have an explanation of the idea of why G-d would
create the oaths with a vodai danger, assuming one can prove conclusively
that there is a vodai danger?

Meir Braun

Dear Mr. Braun,

You ask a good question, and I think the answer is as follows. Keeping Shabbos sometimes results in danger. Yet we need not say that G-d wanted us to keep Shabbos even in cases of danger; we can say that He meant keep Shabbos all the time except in cases of danger. Thus we are fulfilling the mitzvah of keeping Shabbos in 9 cases out of 10, and that is called a fulfillment of the mitzvah. But in the case of war, there is always a danger to life, so if we would say "fulfill the mitzvah except in cases of danger" then the mitzvah would never be fulfilled at all. Now you argue that the Three Oaths are similar to Shabbos: we can keep them during peaceful periods of our exile, and violate them during dangerous periods. But keeping the oaths only during peaceful periods is called not keeping them at all. Because the oaths say that the Jewish people must remain in exile until G-d Himself takes them out. If whenever a dangerous situation comes up we are going to rise up and redeem ourselves, that is not called remaining in exile until G-d Himself redeems us, is it?

As to the question of why Hashem made the oaths apply even in cases of danger, while all other mitzvos are superceded by human life, I think that is tantamount to asking "why does Hashem let gentiles kill Jews during exile?" Since Hashem wanted the oaths kept during the entire duration of exile, why did He make the killing of Jews a part of exile? That question has a number of answers and I won't go into them now, but I think now that it is phrased this way it should come as less of a surprise than the idea of having one exceptional mitzvah that supercedes human life.