A Month of Rejoicing? – Part 2

Mutual respect between Jews who have different hashkafos concerning the State of Israel was our theme last week. The Netziv pointed out that a lack of respect between Jews who followed different derachim in avodas Hashem was the cause of the churban bayis sheini. Changing this destructive attitude could make us worthy of a new Beis Hamikdash and a transformation of the month of Av to a month of rejoicing.

A step in this direction would be a clear understanding of the background of the different hashkofos, with the understanding that each side has a strong foundation. We must be wary of distortions of the original hashkofos, which can lead to extreme positions, which none of our original Gedolim would have approved.

Since we are talking about Gedolei Yisroel – we must accept that there cannot be a clear-cut source in Shas or Poskim that some Gedolei Yisroel knew about but others had forgotten. It must be that they differed about the applicability or interpretation of the sources which others brought. All Gedolei Yisroel have great ahavas Yisroel and do only what they feel is best for klal Yisroel. Yet, as in the Sanhedrin of old, there is room for different opinions. We must also realise that it is not relevant to this discussion whether there should have been a Jewish State. The international community including The Soviet Union and America and the United Nations all decided to create a Jewish State with the encouragement of mainly secular Jews, all for their own reasons. The question was how religious Jews should relate to the new State.

Agudas Yisroel saw the great need of the moment to protect the rights of religious Jews living in the Jewish State as well as try to influence the State as a whole to be more Jewish than its secular founders had planned. Because the secular Zionists wanted a united voice at the United Nations, they agreed to the famous status quo agreement which said that Shabbos would be an official day of rest. Besides the issue of kedushas Shabbos, this would enable religious Jews to find employment. Kashrus would be observed in all government institutions and crucially the new government would allow an independent religious school system. Later, the leaders of Agudas Yisroel did not see voting in elections and involvement in the political process as any form of acceptance of Zionist ideology. As their spokesman explained in 1948, “The Zionist movement was a voluntary organization and we did not support it because it did not recognize the authority of the Torah. It is quite a different case with a state to which everyone belongs de facto. This is the difference between a state and a movement. In a state, for example, should we not participate in the elections, it would mean relinquishing our basic rights and even assisting the secularists to rule over us with even greater strength.”[1] The Steipler Rov zt”l in Krayana D’Igrassa (203) strongly supported the approach of Agudas Yisroel in this matter.

Although this policy of Agudas Yisroel has been the basis of the growth of the religious community in Israel to today’s unprecedented level, it involves a risk that we can be influenced and that we ourselves would begin to see the State as the source of our protection. In the worst case, we could fall to the level decried by Yirmiyahu haNavi in this week’s Haftorah “ They have forsaken Me, the Source of living waters, to dig for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns which do not hold water.” (2:13). It is up to us to strengthen ourselves never to forget that only Hashem is our Saviour and to fulfil the pasuk, Boruch Hagever asher yivtach B’Hashem vehoyo Hashem mivtacho.

The Satmar Rebbe certainly had halachic objections to the views of Agudas Yisroel as he wrote in Yoel Moshe but it would appear that he also placed an emphasis on the dangers of their approach. If we were to be involved in voting and in the Knesset and especially accepting government funding, true Torah hashkofa would inevitably be compromised. He also placed great emphasis on the danger that we might think, “My strength and might of my hand has achieved for me this wealth.” (Devarim 8:17). Therefore he told his followers to have nothing to do with the State, not to vote and not to receive any funding from the State. This would be the only way to maintain the purity of our hashkofos.

This is truly a machlokes l’shem shomayim; we should be able to respect both opinions even if our tradition is one rather than the other.

This second attitude contains a risk that opposition to the State can be so strong that one develops a lack of concern for the people who live there. Although the Rebbe himself had great ahavas Yisroel and no doubt davened not only for their ruchnius but also for their safety in times of war, others can become so extreme in their antagonism of the State that they do not daven at all for the over six million Jews who live there, even if they are in danger. Some even support Israel’s enemies who would like nothing more than to carry out a second Holocaust (chas vesholom). Surely nothing could be further away from the Rebbe’s holy intentions.

To be continued.


[1] A History of Agudas Yisroel by Joseph Friedenson P. 47.