Amidst recent reports of rock attacks in the world’s holiest city, worshippers attacked at one of Judaism’s holiest sites, and Jews arrested minutes before Yom Kippur, one finds inspirational news involving the chief rabbi of Tzfat.
Through administrative “distancing” orders that deny due process, the military has by another name expelled several Jews from their homes in Yehuda and Shomron. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu recently stated that such an order “contradicts the word of G_d” and is “worth less than the dust on the ground.”
Such remarks will cause discomfort if not disquietude or worse among certain religious Zionists; for what Rabbi Eliyahu has done is articulate the source of a Jew’s ultimate loyalty. By contrast, in 2004 concerning the planned destruction of Gush Katif, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin stated in remarks more pagan than Judaic, “Refusal to obey an order given by the government is tantamount to a giant step toward civil war.”
Here’s a point of clarification for those who make that step-toward-civil war claim anytime refusal of orders comes up: When the government expels Jews from their homes and gives that land to neo-Nazis, there’s already a civil war going on. Ditto for the various aggressions the state has perpetrated against religious citizens.
Specific to Gush Katif, lest one forget what the attitude of Rabbi Riskin and such enabled, consider the words of Rabbi Dr. Hershel Reichman in 2009: “The truth is that the Gush Katif pogrom, which was perpetrated by the Jewish government, displaced and destroyed many more Jewish homes and synagogues than all the Arab attacks since 1948 did.” (See 15:00 here.) Patriotic soldiers like Avi Bieber, Chaim Atar, and members of the Golani Brigade should be remembered for their quintessentially Judaic refusal to aid this evil.
That there is even a debate in the religious sector about obeying such orders reflects a warping of core values. Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo has stated in this regard:
“The question really should be not whether a soldier can follow an order which is opposed to what the Torah says. The question should be: How could anyone who defines himself as a Torah Jew for one moment imagine that the soldier must follow such an order? That’s the real question.” (See 45:20 here.)
Over thirty years ago, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l addressed such pernicious trends. “Emotionally, I feel Zionism—religious Zionism—has replaced Torah,” he stated in 1977, elaborating as follows:
“Memshalah and malchus are Divine attributes. Political government is thus only a compromise with a necessary evil…[T]o consider statehood as the highest achievement and most precious possession of man is again abominably pagan and a folly. A state is a relative good, by far not an absolute one. To say that Judaism has existed throughout the ages for one purpose only, namely to establish the State of Israel, is sheer madness, for to equate Judaism with statehood is blasphemy.”
The following year, Rabbi Soloveitchik likewise observed in a Yom Ha’atzmaut discussion with students at Yeshiva University:
“The highest good in our hierarchy of values is one: HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and our special relationship we have to Him, which expresses itself in observance, a unique morality, and a unique and singular way of life. This is the highest value, not the state. It has never been. The highest value is the Torah, and our specific relationship to HaKadosh Baruch Hu which the Torah then requires of us. There is no doubt about it. Yahadus does not revolve about the state, it revolves about HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”
These words are an ethical compass we need as much as ever. May the monotheistic consciousness of Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Eliyahu grow in Eretz Yisrael.