Disengagement: Non-Political Responses

Cross-Currents is trying hard to stay out of the political arena. Not that its contributors think that “politics” is outside the arena of Torah commentary. My guess is that every contributor to this blog feels quite strongly that there are Torah insights that can and should be brought to bear on every important facet of life, including politics. For pragmatic reasons, however, we’ve chosen to stay clear of politics (and certain other controversies regarding which certain of us have very strong opinions) simply because we would like to stay acceptable to the largest group of readers possible, and few things inalterably turn people away than what they see as bad political judgment.

I am hoping that my colleagues can come up with approaches to the impending disengagement that transcend politics, that offer something for pretty much everyone. I will throw out the first pitch. Actually, I will throw out two ideas that resonated with me, and that make no political assessments.

The first comes from a draft of a letter that Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the chief exec. of the National Council of Young Israel prepared, but has not yet sent. He gave me permission to cite from it, while he continues to deliberate about revisions. The letter describes the enormity of the human toll to those whose lives and communities are threatened with upheaval. What he describes is true, regardless of whether one thinks disengagement is the greatest crime against the Land of Israel since the Biblical spies in the wilderness, or whether one thinks it is a necessary evil. Here is the conclusion of his letter:

Our Sages tell us that Pharaoh of Egypt had three advisors, Bilaam, Yitro, and Job. Bilaam, who encouraged Pharaoh, was eventually killed. Yitro, who ran away in protest, became Moses’ father-in-law and joined the Jewish nation. Job kept quiet, what could he do or say? G-d brought upon Job much suffering. Job cried out and G-d responded, “You cry out now, why didn’t you cry out then, in Egypt?”

Our brothers and sisters are in pain. The least we can do is cry out, shed a tear in prayer, express our concerns and worry about their future.

We cannot, and should not, underestimate the power of our prayer – nor that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is certainly asking us for a greater output thereof.

The second selection is a suggestion of the ever-stimulating Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo. He has reworked a fairy tale by Godfried Bomans and turned it into a fable for adults with a message. Be sure to stay with it till the very end.

Once upon a time, in a large, gloomy palace high on a mountain, where the night wind groaned outside the massive walls, there lived a king, a real one. He had a long beard like a silver waterfall, and a voice like thunder. More a king does not need.

His name was Teuton, though some called him Germania. Wherever he traveled, his citizens would grovel before him in the dust, and if they failed to do so, they were knocked into it anyway. You see, o reader, how mighty our king was.

In the course of time, King Teuton produced a son called Democratio. This prince had one remarkable feature – he possessed a hollow head. It was completely empty. There was nothing between his ears, absolutely nothing. It is hard for us to grasp this idea because our heads are so full. (Though were they otherwise, we would find it even harder.) For a long time even the prince himself was not aware of his peculiarity. For one thing, he could not tell that his head was empty precisely because it was empty. And for another, nobody could let him know, because it was impossible to tell just by looking at him how empty his head really was – a real stroke of luck! And, most of all, nobody would have dared to tell him, because it is not nice to tell the king’s son the truth unless, of course, it is pleasant.

But truth will out. One day when the prince was thirteen, he went running pell-mell up the stairs and banged his right royal head against a wooden beam. It rang audibly, just like an empty champagne glass. The prince was most surprised. He tapped gingerly on the side of his skull and indeed it gave a light, clear echo.

Dear me!” exclaimed the astonished prince, “could my head, this valuable head of state really be empty?” He hurried to the physician of the royal household. Now, the physician was a wise man. “Examine this head,” commanded the prince, and so the wise physician did. It was a tricky task indeed to tell the prince the truth about his head, especially because he wanted to keep his own. But, as I mentioned, the physician was a very wise man. He took his small silver hammer and tapped gently on the important head. It made a clear, beautiful, empty sound.

“Your majesty,” the physician announced, “I congratulate you. It is quite empty.”

“Really?” said the prince, suddenly very pleased, “is it really hollow?”

“Oh yes, sire” and the physician bowed low. “It is extremely rare, and especially with such a magnificent sound!”

“But,” said the king’s son, suddenly worried, “when my wicked father dies, then I shall have to reign. How can I with an empty head?” The physician tiptoed silently to the door and locked it. He bent towards the royal ear and whispered:

“Thou hast a most unique head to reign! Whenever there is a conflict of opinion in the land, do as follows: Listen first to one party and send it away.”

“All right,” said the prince.

“Then hear the other party and send it away as well.”

“Fine,” said the prince.

“That is all,” said the physician, smiling.

“But,” asked the prince, “which party is right?”

The physician carefully looked around to make sure that nobody would hear and quickly replied: “The larger.”

Cruel old King Teuton died. It was a marvelous day of flags waving and rejoicing; but amidst all the festivities, the nervous new king entered on the throne with a heart full of foreboding. But he needn’t have worried. In fact, he managed to the satisfaction of nearly everybody. The reputation of his wisdom rapidly spread beyond the country’s borders, and the secret of his hollow head stayed right in that head, which shows, dear reader, how easy it is to hide nothing!

One fine day the king made a great dinner. I cannot begin to tell you how magnificent this feast was. It was so immensely stately that even the British participants were staggered. It was a spectacle of incredible proportions. The tables were laden with the most expensive gold cutlery and the finest bone china. The aristocracy trod softly and in awe as though the messiah himself was expected to attend. There was soft music, so gentle that it could barely be heard; but on the other hand, its absence would have been noticed. Few words were spoken, little was eaten. After all, the guests were too refined to show their lower inclinations. The conversations, although quite meaningless, were held in most refined Latin. In short: A fantastic evening even by the standards of the nobility. King Democratio could hardly contain his delight. His glittering eyes revealed his great satisfaction. Such a success with an empty head!

Then, by chance, the king glanced into the reception hall. His look became suddenly severe. Framed by the opened palace door stood an old, dusty man gasping for breath.

“Hey,” called the king, waving his scepter, “what is this?”

“Sire, Sire…”

“What?” called the king, descending from his royal throne.

“A crisis, Sire” he exclaimed. “A crisis has come over the land.”

“A what?” asked the king.

“A crisis, Sire…”

“Well,” said the king, “that is bad.” He did not know what a crisis was, but he understood that it was something sad, and therefore he looked as a king should look at such a moment. “This is a great pity,” he declared, and in his heart grew a great unrest.

The next morning, when the king awoke in his stately bed, he stared up at the satin canopy and thought about the crisis. What a pity it had to come and spoil everything. It had all been going so well despite his empty head.

“First of all,” he said to himself, “I have to find out what a crisis is.” He dressed quickly and summoned all the wise men of the land. They came.

Majestically, they walked through the streets to the palace, their long beards flowing before them, sighing with the weight of their wisdom. Some of them had heads so heavy with wisdom that they nearly tumbled off their shoulders in front of the populace! You will understand what a deep impression this made, and they told the king the meaning of a crisis.
It took three days before they finished, though after barely a few minutes the eyes of the king were full of tears, since his heart was good and compassionate. He listened carefully all three days. Then the wise men fell silent.

“Are you finished?” asked the king.

“Yes, Sire” the wise said, “that is all.” They straightened their beards and left.

And the king sat on his throne alone. Evening came, and the king sat in the darkness and thought and thought and began to cry, a small, sad figure. Confusion and emotion seized the country. There had to be a solution!
First, there came a royal decree to write as many books as possible about the crisis, a command to anybody who could wield a pen. The books did not have to be completely true, but they did have to be fat and cheap. There also had to be very many meetings, each with at least two speakers, an introductory discussion, a concluding debate, a vote of thanks and, if possible, a word of sincere tribute. Full of courage, the citizens started to work. As far as the books were concerned, the nation split into two working groups, those who wrote about the disaster and those who read about it, agreeing with the authors how disastrous the disaster really was.

But most of the time was spent at the meetings. Evening after evening the citizens listened applauded and asked intelligent questions. The king himself worked even harder. He did nothing but read what was written, wading through the growing mountain of literature from early in the morning until late at night. He spent the whole day in pyjamas; there was no time to dress. He learned what money was, who owned it, who did not own it, and who should own it. He learned about workmen, and how they worked. He learned the laws of supply and demand, of prices and value and an amazing thing began to happen! Slowly his head filled up. It gradually became heavier and heavier as the crumbs of wisdom collected and combined, until it was completely filled.

“And now,” said the king, “we shall apply all that we have learned.” Laws began to spew forth from the palace. Good laws, intelligent laws, refined laws. But the incredible happened. The crisis stayed. The misery grew, and the citizens became impatient. The king was not as wise as some had thought! And when the king heard of all this he laughed and proclaimed new laws, more intelligent, more refined and sophisticated. But still the misery kept growing. The king grew a beard, and his beard grew gray. Every night he lay in bed awake, tossing and turning, slowly going mad. Until, one night, he suddenly sat bolt upright. Struck by a blinding flash of inspiration, he shook his head in wonder, marveling at his own wisdom. Then he lay down again and slept a pleasant sleep.

The next day, royal couriers on horses hastened into the neighboring countries, they blew on copper trumpets and sang a great song: “The king has found a solution.” One hundred and twenty monarchs were invited to Democratio’s kingdom. One hundred and twenty mighty kings came to put everything in order in one final meeting. Flags were hoisted, and people came into the streets to see the mighty kings. There they were! Kings came from the east, the west, the north and the south. Only one king was not invited. His territory was too small, and one could do without him. So all the great kings came together. After appearing on the palace balcony to a rapturous welcome from the crowds they withdrew to deliberate. Each king naturally had a vast retinue of chroniclers, scholars and private secretaries who formed themselves into upper-committees, middle-committees and lower-committees. These were divided into main-committees and these again into sub-committees that were again divided into bodies of legal advisers, sub-advisers and sub-sub-advisers. It became an enormous writing crowd.

At the end of this momentous day, King Democratio gave his people a few words of reassurance from his royal balcony and the populace went to bed, satisfied. The next morning, the 120 kings rose early, ate a brief breakfast, and carried on, creating sub-sub-sub committees. In this fashion, many days passed, until the web of committees became so complicated and fine that further branching became impossible. In the meantime, King Democratio had become very tired. Each evening he came out to his balcony to reassure his good people of progress, and, in fact, there were special people appointed to produce papers throughout the land in which the reassuring words were printed.

But this terrible tale of woe gets no better. All the king’s words and all the papers were of no avail. The crisis remained and indeed got worse. King Democratio could no longer sleep at all. His beard went totally white. He met with the sub-committees and the sub-sub-committees. He told the authors of the papers about their responsibilities. He dined with the kings. And, hardest of all, he kept on speaking about the fantastic results of the conference, which would no doubt lead to a solution. But his eyes were sad, his hands were white, and they trembled.

And the people began to grumble, slowly but surely like a tormented creature. They expected bread but they got only papers and strange statements. One evening they began to collect in a crowd under the royal balcony – stark, silent, white faces. Soldiers came and drove them away. The next evening they came back. The soldiers were cruel, and the people were tortured. But from all the directions they still came, people and more people, an enormous crowd. They called out for the kings. They wanted to see the kings.

So the kings came out onto the balcony. Thousands of fists were raised, a massive cry came up from the crowds and the kings stood with bowed heads. They tried to speak, but they were not heard. They asked for silence, but there was no response. Then one sharp voice raised itself above the tumult of the people:

“There was another king who was not invited!”

King Democratio peered down over the balcony. “And who is that?” he asked mockingly.

The crowd was silent for a moment, then the same voice called: “You kings, fools, jesters of wisdom and intellect, who gave you your crowns on your heads and ermine on your shoulders?” And the hundred and twenty kings fell silent. The lonely voice had spoken.

We, with all our one hundred and twenty kings, are powerless if One more King is not invited. And dear reader, if you will ask why some kings, thousands of years ago managed so successfully, remember that they invited the other King as well…

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9 Responses

  1. Moshe says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein,

    Thank you for explaining why you do not want to wade into the mess of disengagement.

    However well thought out your reasons are, I feel that we are an orphaned generation, one that’s leaders are scared to stand up and lead us.

    Wise men cannot speak lest they be accused of being part of one camp or the other, and in the meantime, the simple folk do not know where to turn.

    L’havdil, this reminds me of the famous words of the Navi (Amos 8:11), “Behold, days are coming – the word of the Lord Hashem/Elokim – when I will send hunger into the land; not a hunger for bread nor a thirst for water, but to hear the words of Hashem. [People] will travel from sea to sea, and from North to East; they will wander about to seek the word of Hashem, but they will not find it….”

    The Navi tells us of a time that we will thirst for G-d’s word, yet it will not be found. Unfortunately, we have lost our prophets generations ago – we now turn to Rabbis for leadership and advice.

    When Torah scholars and Rabbis won’t lead us due to fear of ‘politics’, it is no wonder that the populace is in the state that it is in.

    The time of Mashiach must surely be near, as the face of the generation is like the face of a dog – trying to gauge where the public stands on an issue and not discuss it if the populace might be offended. A leader leads with truth and conviction – the dearth of such leaders is astounding.

  2. Ze'ev Orenstein says:

    I very much understand the rationale behind trying to keep “politics” out of the articles that are found on this site. Yet, I do not agree with the basis of the idea (and forgive me if I am misinterpreting what was said) that “politics” is seperate from Torah. All of Sefer Devarim is about how exactly the Jewish People should enact sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael, the modes of leadership, executive and judicial, military policies and requirements… all in order that the Jewish People will be able to fulfill their purpose in the world, that of creating a “chevra l’mofet” (an exeplary society) which will serve as a “light unto the nations” by having the sovreign Jewish State fulfill the verse – “For Torah will come forth from Zion, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem” and thus we will truly be able to bring “tikkun Olam”.

    Today, we are struglling with the very same challenges… As such, I view our struggles today, be it disengagement, or the issue over “who is a Jew” to be part and parcel of Torah Judaism, and how best to interpret and implement it.

    I do not see how any observant Jew, in particular one living in the Land of Israel, say that he isn’t interested in “politics”, as if the issues are something that he can choose not to involve himself in. Perhaps that is the case for Jews living in the Diaspora, but not here in Israel.

  3. Ori Pomerantz says:

    I think the Halachic problem is what to do with a Jewish state without a king.

    There is precedent for a Jewish king to give up territory: I Kings 9:10-13

    ויהי, מקצה עשרים שנה, אשר-בנה שלמה, את-שני הבתים–את-בית יהוה, ואת-בית המלך. חירם מלך-צר נשא את-שלמה בעצי ארזים ובעצי ברושים, ובזהב–לכל-חפצו; אז יתן המלך שלמה לחירם, עשרים עיר, בארץ, הגליל. ויצא חירם, מצר, לראות את-הערים, אשר נתן-לו שלמה; ולא ישרו, בעיניו. ויאמר–מה הערים האלה, אשר-נתתה לי אחי; ויקרא להם ארץ כבול, עד היום הזה.

    Of course, it is possible that none of Shlomo’s subjects felt safe complaining. Sharon, on the other hand, is not a king. He is a leader who was elected democratically and can be removed democratically.

  4. Edvallace says:


    “The time of Mashiach must surely be near, as the face of the generation is like the face of a dog – trying to gauge where the public stands on an issue and not discuss it if the populace might be offended. A leader leads with truth and conviction – the dearth of such leaders is astounding.”

    Let’s hope that Mashiach is indeed coming but I’m not sure there’s as great a dearth of leaders as you suspect. I fear there’s a great dearth of people willing to submit to their decisions. One need not think long or hard to find examples of this unfortunate state of affairs. I’ll cite two and I’m sure you can think of many more.

    1] Certain established Gedolim recently came out quite strongly against the works of a certain young Talmid Chochom. If you’ve spent any time on this blog or on any others you must know what kind of response their words received. Rather than accepting them as the words of Gedolim, they were mocked and rejected by the masses. I’m not stating an opinion here, I’m merely pointing out that when Gedolim do come out on issues, all of the things that you decried in your post actually happen and far worse.

    2] The Moetzes issued a strict set of guidelines for Simcha’s. Do you know of anyone who follows them?

    Next time you feel so strongly about what the Gedolim should or shouldn’t say, ask yourself whether you’re prepared to defend their words to the masses who are sure to disagree.

  5. Moshe says:


    Thank you for commenting on my comment.

    Yes, I am familiar with the Slifkin affair, and I have discussed it with Rabbis. I am not getting into the issue here, as my opinion is worthless in any case in the eyes of most people. Allow me to comment that there is much dissonance among Rabbonim regarding the ban, and as such, I’d advise you to speak to your local Orthodox Rabbi about the issue, and follow his advice.

    Regarding the Simcha Guidelines:
    I had no vort.
    I got married in a Shul with no rental cost, and the Seudah was home cooked.

    Regardless of my personal opinions, I do not accept your answer as being valid. From time immemorial people have been ignoring Gedolim. Just look at Moshe and Korach. This continues on throughout Jewish history – yet it does not stop the leaders from leading.

  6. Ze'ev Orenstein says:

    Ori, the p’sukim you mention are oft quoted to give the impression that it is in fact ok for the Jewish People (as a nation – via a king or whatever government body is serving i nthat function) to cede land from Eretz Yisrael. However, let us look more closely at the p’sukim involved, and what the Rishonim have ot say on the matter, and you will see that things are not as open and shut as they appear to be:

    (This is a direct quote from the blog Hirhurim – http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2005_06_01_hirhurim_archive.html – entitled “Solomon and the Disengagement”)

    And it came to pass at the end of twenty years, wherein Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the Lord and the king’s house–now Hiram the king of Tyre had furnished Solomon with cedar-trees and cypress-trees, and with gold, according to all his desire–that then king Solomon gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee. And Hiram came out from Tyre to see the cities which Solomon had given him: and they pleased him not. And he said: ‘What cities are these which thou hast given me, my brother?’ And they were called the land of Cabul, unto this day.
    (1 Kings 9:10-13)

    And it came to pass at the end of twenty years, wherein Solomon had built the house of the Lord, and his own house, that the cities which Huram had given to Solomon, Solomon built them, and caused the children of Israel to dwell there.
    (2 Chronicles 8:1-2)

    According to 1 Kings, Solomon gave the cities to Hiram/Huram, while according to 2 Chronicles it was the other way around. The standard commentators, chief among them Radak (R. David Kimhi), explain that there was a mutual trade of cities as a show of trust and partnership. Hiram gave Solomon cities and Solomon then transferred other cities back. It was a zero-sum trade in which neither kingdom diminished from its size, and perhaps important is that Hiram gave his cities first.

    R. Yitzhak Abrabanel, in his commentary to 1 Kings, disagrees with this interpretation for the following reasons:
    – The text should have mentioned both actions together, not in different books.
    – Hiram’s complaint about the cities he received would have been a slap in Solomon’s face, and not a show of friendship.
    – Solomon would have had violated a Torah commandment by giving the cities.

    Instead, Abrabanel suggests that Solomon annually gave Hiram wheat and oil (cf. 1 Kings 5:25) as payment for his work and material. After the Temple was finished, Solomon designated specific cities in the bountiful Galilees whose output was given directly to Hiram. It is not that their sovereignty was handed over to Hiram, just their annual bounty. Perhaps, Abrabanel suggests, Hiram’s servants even worked the fields in those cities. (This is actually a very wise form of risk transfer, but that is another long discussion.)

    End quote.

    Additionally, there is a clear distinction between Hiram, who was a friend of Shlomo and helped build the beit Hamikdash, and those to whom we are considering ceding land to today, who are without a doubt enemies of the Jewish People, whereby, we would not only be going against the prohibition of the Ramban in not allowing the Land of Israel to be in the hands of our enemies ever… but of also creating a desecration of the name of Hashem.

  7. Netanel Livni says:

    Ori Wrote:
    There is precedent for a Jewish king to give up territory: I Kings 9:10-13

    We do not learn halacha from stories in the tanach. See Abarbanel on the above parsha. He says that is the pshat in the story is that Shlomo gave Jewish territory to a gentile king then this would have been an aveira on the part of Shlomo. The abarbanel then goes on to say that Shlomo actually gave Hiram the produce from this land and that Hiram rejected this produce.

    There is an explicit issur regarding giving up land called “Lo Techonem.” this is not to mention the tremendous “Hilul Hashem” that occurs when we show the world that we do not truly believe that this is our land and that Hashem gave it to us (See Rashi on Yechezkiel 36:20). There is also the nullification of a positive command to settle the land which is a milchemet mitzva (see Ramban addendum to positive commandments 4 in Rambam’s sefer hamitzvot). And we pasken according to the Ramban according to the vast majority of Rishonim and Achronim (Maharit, Ran, Gra, Chatam Sofer, and many, many more. Email me if you want a more complete list). Also the shulchan aruch (AH 329) paskens according to the Rambam that we must be mechalel shabbat to go out and fight against any gentiles that threaten our cities, even if they only come to steal grain or straw. All the more so when the gentiles come and want to take our land that we must fight and not capitulate to their demands.

    None of this has anything to do with whether or not the Jewish people have a king. These are halachot that are eternal and need to be discussed using sources, not stories.


  8. MP says:

    Ori wrote:
    > There is precedent for a Jewish king to give up territory: I Kings 9:10-13 ….

    Not so simple. See http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2005/06/solomon-and-disengagement.html.

  9. MP says:

    The paragraph quoted from Rabbi Lerner’s draft letter is axiomatic in its “Kal Yisrael araivim zeh bazeh” thoughts — one might as well note that we must be m’fashpaish b’ma’asainu and try to do better in the future. We don’t know what the Ribono shel Olam intends to do, but we do (or should) know, each of us, what we need to do, and if we do anything related to PM Sharon’s (actually, PM candidate Mitzna’s) withdrawal plan, be it pro or con, let us ensure that we do it k’das uk’din and with ahavas Yisrael.

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