HOLY PLACES, HOLY LIVES
Rabbi Avi Shafran
Two recent letters to the New York Jewish Week criticized opposition by Orthodox groups in America to the possible partitioning of Jerusalem. One called the Orthodox Union’s stance on the issue “a cynical effort to score public relations points” and questioned the “morality” of American groups challenging the policies of an Israeli government; the other sarcastically characterized Agudath Israel as having “become great nationalists” because of its recent resolution on Jerusalem.
The writers’ umbrage appears to have obscured three germane facts:
1) Eretz Yisrael is the land not of any particular temporal government but of the Jewish People. That is not only a metaphysical fact but an entirely tangible one, especially in the Orthodox community. Whether or not we live in Israel, we visit there whenever we can, and inject millions of dollars into the Israel economy through charity, tourism and investment. Many of our children and grandchildren spend a year or several studying there. Some of them, along with many other of our relatives and friends, choose to live there. What is more, many of us hold tight to dreams of one day living there ourselves. The security of Israel’s cities, and the accessibility and protection of the Holy Land’s holy places, directly affect our lives.
2) Jews who are fortunate to live on the Jewish Land’s holy soil are the brothers and sisters of Jews everywhere else. To suggest that any Jew or Jewish group does not have a right – or anything less than a responsibility – to speak up when an Israeli government seems poised to do something objectionable or dangerous is to deny the bond of Jews to both their ancestral homeland and to other Jews.
3) As American citizens, we have every right and reason – and in certain respects we are uniquely situated – to advocate to our own government regarding issues important to us, even when those issues involve other countries. That is especially so in the specific context of a “peace process” in which the American government is playing a prominent (if not pre-eminent) role.
And so if an Israeli Prime Minister or Knesset considers it acceptable to provide not just the rights of residency and citizenship already provided Jerusalem’s Arab population but to offer an untrustworthy enemy national sovereignty over parts of the city holiest to Judaism – and, effectively, a military foothold for murderous elements in that heavily Jewish-populated center – yes, each of us anywhere can, and must, speak up, to our governments and to our fellow Jews.
As to Agudath Israel’s sudden seeming “nationalism,” the movement remains true to the ideals it has always championed. Unlike those who, whether on religious or nationalistic grounds, reject the very idea of territorial compromise, the concept of land for peace – at least when there is a trustworthy peace-partner – remains one that most of our leaders accept in principle. None of us haredi Jews deny, G-d forbid, the holiness of any part of the Jewish Land. But we know that the true, complete (territorially as well as spiritually) “Jewish State” will arrive only when the Messiah does, and that the Third Holy Temple will be built by the hand of not man but G-d. Thus, the passive form in our prayer: “May it be Your will that the Temple be [re]built.”
Theoretically – and here Agudath Israel may part company with some other Orthodox groups – we could even countenance a non-Jewish flag flying over the city’s walls, if it meant true safety, security and freedom of worship for the Holy Land’s Jewish residents. Needless to say, though, such a scenario is nowhere in sight.
And that is why, at our recent 85th national convention, Agudath Israel passed a resolution that the organization, “under the direction of its rabbinic leadership, should communicate to appropriate government officials the organization’s strong belief that … Israel should not relinquish parts of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty, and the American government should not pressure the Israeli government into doing so.”
Recognizing the special relationship of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, and being deeply concerned with the obvious danger to our Jewish brethren posed by a highly unstable sovereign Arab entity literally “across the street,” hardly constitute any new philosophy. What they reflect are things Agudath Israel has always held sacrosanct: the protection of holy Jewish places, and of holy Jewish lives.
© 2007 AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]