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What about the millions of Jews that live in Israel - don't we need to protect them?


Hi Rabbi, my name is Joseph Rifkin. I'm not sure if you remember me, but I've posted our e-mail exchange below as a reminder. We corresponded approximately six weeks ago. At any rate, the central response I've received from the leaders of the Los Angeles Torah community over the last several weeks concerning the applicability of the Three Oaths is that, even if the Three Oaths were never annulled, there are millions of Jews living in the State today, and therefore we must use all efforts, military or otherise, to protect them from harm. I've received this response from both modern orthodox and prominent yeshivish kollel Rabbis. Do you agree or not agree with this sentiment? If not, why? Thanks!


Dear Joseph,

First of all, you have done a great thing by going around to different rabbis and confronting them with these questions. You have forced them to think and you are helping to bring the serious problems of Zionism into the open. If the rabbis see that enough people are bothered by these questions and want honest answers, they will begin speaking publicly on them, and the newspapers will begin writing about them.

"Even if the Three Oaths were never annulled, there are millions of Jews living in the State today, and therefore we must use all efforts, military or otherise, to protect them from harm." The first thing to say about this argument is that it's dishonest. 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. The rabbis would tell everyone with a foreign passport to return to their home country. They would set to work right away with all the 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 told you that answer 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 doing it anyway. My being there doesn't add to it." First of all, they definitely do add to it. Do you know how many Orthodox Jews go to Hebron on Rosh Chodesh Elul? Do you know how many troops the army has to deploy to protect them? What about the Kosel? And what about the settlements, including Kiryat Sefer, Beitar, Har Chomah, Pisgat Zeev, Maaleh Adumim and so on aren't they the focal point of the dispute with the Palestinians right now? And many of the settlers are Western-born Orthodox Jews.

Secondly, 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.

Now to address the argument itself. The argument of danger to life is predicated on the fact that all sins in the Torah are permitted to save a life, except for idolatry, immorality and murder. But there are two authorities (prior to the era of Zionism) who say that the Three Oaths also supercede life: the Maharal (Netzach Yisroel) and Rabbi Avraham Loewenstamm of Emden (Tzeror Hachaim). I'm not aware of anyone who explicitly disagrees with them. Here is the source material:

And he wrote in the name of King Achashverosh, and sealed with the kings ring&that the king gave permission for the Jews in every city to gather and fight for their lives& (Megillas Esther 8:10-11)

Rabbi Avraham Loewenstamm, in his work Tzeror Hachaim (published 1820), asks: Why were the Jews so full of joy after Mordechais new decree was publicized? Mordechai did not revoke Hamans decree as it says above (8:8), a decree of the king was not allowed to be revoked but merely stated that the Jews had the right to defend themselves. They had known all the time that they could try to defend themselves, but they were very few in number compared to all the gentiles in all the states of the king, and therefore they had felt that there was no hope. That was why they had been fasting and praying all this time. And now, Mordechai achieved this new decree that they were allowed to defend themselves what was there to rejoice about? Everything was the same as before.

The answer is, he says, that the Jewish people knew that their strength did not lie in physical power or in superior numbers, but in the help of Hashem. The Tanach is full of stories of a few Jews defeating a mighty gentile army the wars of the Canaanites, Yonasans war against the Philistines, Gideon against the Midyanites. But in this case, the Jews were in exile, and they feared that they were forbidden to fight back against the gentiles under the oath against rebelling against the nations, since the king had not given explicit permission for this fight. If so, were they to fight back they would not only not enjoy Hashems help, they would anger Him by violating the oath. Therefore, their sole weapons against Hamans decree were prayer, fasting and repentance. Once their prayers were answered and Haman was hanged, the king said to Mordechai and Esther, Write any decree you want regarding the Jews, as long as you dont go against Hamans decree. Hamans decree had not specifically stated that the Jews had no permission to defend themselves, so Mordechai wrote that they had this permission. Once the fear of the oath was gone, the Jews once again trusted that with Hashems help they would overcome their enemies.

From the words of the Tzeror Hachaim we see that even if keeping the oaths means death, such as would have happened under Hamans plan, it is forbidden to violate the oaths. This same opinion is voiced by the Maharal in Netzach Yisroel, end of chapter 24: Another explanation of the Midrashs statement that Hashem adjured the Jewish people in a generation of forced sin (shmad): that even if they will threaten to kill them with difficult torture, they will not leave [the exile] nor will they change their behavior in this manner.

The Satmar Rav asks: Why should one be killed rather than violate the Three Oaths? Dont we hold that there are only three sins idolatry, murder, and immorality - for which one must be killed rather than transgress? (Vayoel Moshe 1:32) He answers that violating the oaths is tantamount to heresy, because when the Jewish people rebel against the nations in exile or try to leave exile, they are in effect saying, Our fate is in our own hands; Hashem does not run the world. In other areas such as making a living or medicine we are permitted to make efforts and so those efforts do not amount to denial of Hashem; but in the area of exile and redemption human effort was explicitly forbidden by the oaths. Thus, a violation of the oaths is, in effect, a denial of Hashems control over the world. The Radbaz (4:92) rules that heresy has the same status as idolatry, for which one must be killed rather than transgress (Vayoel Moshe 1:76).

Another answer to the Satmar Ravs question is given by Rabbi Yehoshua Dovid Hartman in his notes on the Maharal. The Minchas Chinuch in mitzvah 425 argues that the obligation to kill the Canaanites applies even when the Jews life will be in endangered by fulfilling this obligation. His proof is that the Torah commands the Jewish people to wage wars against the Canaanites. It is only natural that in the course of a war, some people are killed on both sides. The Torahs laws are not predicated on miracles. So it must be that implicit in the command to wage war is the fact that one must give his life for this mitzvah. In a similar way, we can say that the prohibition to rebel against the nations or to leave exile on our own is, by its nature, a law that implies danger and even death, since the nature of life among the nations is that sometimes they kill Jews. When the Gemora says that there are only three sins for which one must be killed rather than transgress, it does not need to count laws such as fighting the Canaanites or the Three Oaths, which are by their very nature dangerous laws.

Even if there is an opinion that the Three Oaths are permitted to save a life, I don't think today's state is saving any lives. On the contrary, it is costing us lives, and the end result could be G-d forbid tragic. The only way to save lives is to accept the guidelines of the Torah for exile. We cannot say that we are smarter than the G-d. G-d knew what was best for us when he prescribed the exile.

In other words, if anyone disagrees with the Maharal mentioned above, it's because they see the Oaths not as a strict law to be kept even to the point of martyrdom, but as a guideline G-d gave us for our own self-preservation. To say, "I will violate the oaths in order to save Jewish lives" is absurd.

Thanks yet again Rabbi for such a lengthy and thorough response. You raise an interesting point that, to the extent observant Jews remain in a land that necessitates their utilization of a heretical Jewish state, they are reaping the benefits from that heresy. However, what does that say about our gadolim, such as Rav Scheinberg, Rav Eliashav, etc.? Surely you do not believe they are heretics, G-d forbid. How do you reconcile your argument with the fact that the Gadolim live and benefit from the State? What about the fact that organizations like Aish, JAM, NCSY, and other similar organizations have made tens of thousands of ba'al teshuva from their trips to Israel? They too reap the benefits of the State in many ways. Should those organizations cease their trips to the State, even though they are making so many ba'al teshuva from those trips? What about all the thousands of ba'al teshuva that travel to places like Aish, Ohr Somayach (where I attended), Machon Shlomo, Niveh, and other ba'al teshuva yeshivas/seminaries, which all happen to be located in the State? Should they not attend those yeshivas/seminaries? That doesn't really leave a ba'al teshuva with any viable full-time learning options here in the U.S., other than perhaps Ohr Somayach, Monsey, for the men. To personalize it, baruch Hashem I got married five months ago, and my new wife and I thought it would be nice to take a little time and learn at a yeshiva/seminary in Jerusalem. Is your position that we should not do so? Thanks for reading this, and I apologize for all the pesky questions!

Dear Joseph,

It is hypocrisy for an anti-Zionist to live under the State only if he believes that without the state, his life would be in danger to the extent that he would leave the country. If so, he proves that his staying is only because there is a Zionist State. But if a Jew believes that it would be safe to live there even under a Palestinian state, binational state or international zone or whatever the alternative is, then he can justifiably live under the Zionist state and claim that he is not a hypocrite. I would be melamed zechus on our gedolim who live there and assume that they would want to live there no matter what kind of government was in power. Some of the older gedolim lived there before 1948, under the British Mandate and some (e.g. Rav Elyashiv) were actually born under Ottoman Turkish rule.

Taking money from the government represents a lower level of hypocrisy and it was sanctioned by certain gedolim, with various rationales. I call it a lower level of hypocrisy because the rosh yeshiva who takes money would want to have his yeshiva no matter what, whether he gets the money or not. Whereas one who lives under the State and believes that the State is necessary to protect lives is a full-fledged hypocrite because if the State were to cease to exist, he would leave.

Here are some of the rationales used by gedolim who permitted taking money:

1) It's a bedieved and I want everyone to know that it is (Poneveczer Rav he actually encouraged Neturei Karta to demonstrate against every cornerstone laying he held, so that people should not forget that it is a bedieved)

2) It is not really taking money from them because we're just getting back our tax money (I heard this answer from a magid shiur in the Mirrer Yeshiva, Jerusalem).

3) The Zionists collect much money from the world in the name of the Jewish people. The Yeshivos are the true Jewish people, so they really deserve the money. But ignorant, secularized Jews in America think that by giving to the JNF, the Jewish Federations and so on they are giving to the Jewish people. We are just redirecting the money. (I heard this as well from the same magid shiur in the Mirrer Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

4) The government is like a band of robbers and nothing they have really belongs to them, so why not take it? (Chazon Ish)

5) If a band of robbers holds you up, and you bargain with them to save some of your possessions, no one will think you approve of robbery. (Chazon Ish, quoted in Artscroll's biography of him).

This last quote from the Chazon Ish was probably said in reference to dealing with Israeli officials to get them to exempt girls and yeshiva boys from the army. It is incorrectly used to justify taking money, because in fact many people have been led to believe that the gedolim would be happy with Zionism in some form, precisely because of the money they receive.

Rabbi Gil Student of Yeshiva University writes in his pro-Zionist essay:

"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."

The argument that the State turned out to be good because "they support so much Torah" is something I hear again and again. Therefore, I think it should be clear by now that the drawbacks of taking money outweigh the benefits. The gedolim who began the practice of taking money did so in a different era, at the beginning of the State's existence, when the State was much more anti-religious and they saw no chance of any good Jew thinking that the State was good because of the few dollars they gave to the yeshivos. After all, at the same time the Zionists were bringing in hundreds of thousands of Sephardic and Yemenite children and putting them in anti-religious kibbutzim!

So, is it a good idea to take money from the State? No, in my opinion. Is it heresy? No. Is it hypocrisy? On a certain level yes; but it depends on how good your excuse is, how much you really believe in the excuse, and how much your students and followers understand the excuse.

"What about the fact that organizations like Aish, JAM, NCSY, and other similar organizations have made tens of thousands of ba'al teshuva from their trips to Israel? What about all the thousands of ba'al teshuva that travel to places like Aish, Ohr Somayach (where I attended), Machon Shlomo, Niveh, and other ba'al teshuva yeshivas/seminaries, which all happen to be located in the State?"

There's nothing wrong as long as all who are running these trips and yeshivas believe that they are not being saved or protected by the State of Israel. Unfortunately, many of those involved in kiruv do believe in Zionism and do promote the idea of feeling grateful to the State and the army (look at the Aish website for example). But hypothetically, if they would not promote this agenda, then they would be fine. They would say, "Yes, we want the Holy Land to be a democracy with a non-Jewish majority, and even then we will continue bringing Jewish youths here so that they can study the Torah and see the holy sites and walk on the ground where the nevi'im and tzaddikim lived."

Of course, sometimes it's justifiable for a kiruv organization to hold off on teaching the truth about Zionism right at the beginning, so that people don't get turned off. After they understand a little about the Torah, have gained some respect for gedolim, and (most importantly) are convinced that their teachers at the kiruv organization are sane and normal people, one can begin to teach them.

As to your last question about whether you and your wife should go to Jerusalem, it's like I said above. You have to think hard and give yourself an honest answer as to whether you would go there even if there were no Israeli government "protecting" you. In my humble opinion, the opposite is true: the Israeli government is really endangering its own people. Any day now, they might strike Iran, leading to retaliation against all of their cities. Any day, they might start another war with Hamas or Hezbollah, resulting in more rocket strikes against Israeli cities. For that reason alone, I don't think you should go. Stay put and preserve your life the Jewish people needs you!