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Why did you write that Rabbi Avi Shafran is driven by Zionist ideology?

Dec. 19, 2007

Dear Rabbi,

I am writing regarding your recent response to Rabbi Avi Shafran, in which you said that although he claims only to be interested in safety, it is really Zionist ideology driving him.

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  • I believe
    it is a common error to refer to certain Rabbi's as "right wing" or "left
    wing" Rabbi's. Rather, I believe that there are Rabbi's who learn out
    sources and express their conclusions as they see them based upon Torah.
    Similarly, I believe it is an error to refer to certain Rabbi's as
    "zionist" Rabbi's, or to say "He is saying such-and-such a Torah
    explanation because he is a zionist Rabbi." or "because he is an
    anti-zionist Rabbi." Unless, of course, the Rabbi himself refers to
    himself as a "zionist" or "anti-zionist." But for us to hear an
    explanation based upon Torah and Torah sources and to conclude that such
    words of Torah put the author into a stereotypical category is an incorrect
    thing to do, in my opinion. For there are people like myself who agree
    with certain elements of what you are saying, i.e. I am against the
    existance of an Israeli government in its present form; and I'm even
    against such a form of government were it run exclusively by religious Jews.
    I think that our main points of contention are: 1) Even while we are
    against such a Jewish government, must we also simultaneously promote the
    concept of gentiles ruling over eretz yisroel?, and 2) Regarding a
    Messianic figure or a potential one, what kind of personality and
    attributes should we be looking for so that we can support such a person if
    we see him come to the fore? The key here, in my
    opinion, is recognition of what will be messianic attributes IN ADVANCE of
    him coming to the fore. And it is my opinion that if one puts a tremendous
    amount of emphasis on things that might run contrary to Messianic ideology,
    then one will never come to recognize the true Mashiach or potential
    Mashiach when he is here. And he may well be here if we search carefully
    enough. Does my approach, which is based upon Torah, which really is not
    that far off from yours, turn me into the hated-by-some group of being a


    Dear Berish,

    Of course it is wrong to accuse any rabbi of arriving at his psak halacha due to some bias, whether pro or anti-Zionist bias. But once a rabbi has reached his conclusions, I believe he can be classified, only the categories cannot be so broad as Zionist or anti-Zionist. There are actually many subdivisions and in-between categories. There are people who hold that the oaths are halacha but they don't apply to the state for any of several reasons, there are people who say the oaths were never halacha, people who say the state was forbidden but after the fact we should support it, people who forbid it because of danger, people who say its forbidden but for pikuach nefesh it is permitted to keep it. And then there's your category, which I might call practical messianism: the belief that the messianic era can be brought on solely by human means, provided that there is a messianic candidate leading the movement (as opposed to Zionism which requires no messianic candidate).

    When I wrote that Zionist ideology was driving Rabbi Shafran, I did not meant that he was ruling halacha in accordance with some pro-Zionist bias that he has. I meant that he wasn't revealing all his reasons. He wrote that ideologically we really don't care whether Jerusalem is under Israeli sovereignty or not, but we want Israeli sovereignty now because that's the safest thing.

    Let's say there were a debate about whether Mt. Everest should be under Chinese or Nepalese sovereignty, and you met a group of climbers on their way to climb the mountain, who had paid 20,000 apiece for permits, and had each bought 15,000 worth of climbing equipment, and were willing to take the risk of avalanches and falling ice and cerebral edema and other oxygen depletion diseases and frostbite and hypothermia or falling off 8,000 foot cliffs, and they said, "We don't really care if Mt. Everest is under China or Nepal, but we advocate Nepal because there is a good hospital in Katmandu and if a climber is injured he can be more easily rescued and brought there." Now would you say that the climbers' highest concern is safety? Obviously not. They have reasons why they want to climb Mt. Everest. They just want it to be a little less dangerous.

    So here as well, I think Rabbi Shafran has other reasons for encouraging Jews to study and live in Jerusalem. He's not saying, "Go there because it's the safest place in the world." But he's not revealing those reasons in the article. He's making it sound like he's only interested in safety, and I think that's misleading. I think if he did reveal those reasons, we could classify some of them as some subdivision of Zionism, although he might object to the use of that term. As I said before, it's not that his halachic conclusion is biased, but that the conclusions he reached in an unbiased manner can be classified as Zionism.