A Rosh Yeshiva on Disengagement

[This is the second time in as many entries that I find myself posting shortly after another who is greater in chochmah (wisdom), who wrote something that everyone should see. I just hope that people are sufficiently used to this format that they know to scroll down — I probably minimized the readership of one of my own favorite entries by putting the (more…) tag in after barely a paragraph.]

This past Shabbos, it was my privilege to host a well-known, American-born Rosh Yeshiva [Dean of a Rabbinical School], now living and teaching in Israel, in my home. By now his current and former students number in the thousands — not only because of his various formal teaching positions, but because he has, for decades, hosted a Thursday-night class in his home, learning mussar, self-improvement in character and ethics, from the weekly Torah reading and its commentaries.

Thanks to a chance meeting with other former students at the Evening Service, the Rosh Yeshiva spoke to five of us for an hour after the Friday-night meal. He spoke to twenty people before the service Saturday afternoon, and then to an even larger group eating Seudas Shlishis, the “third meal,” together in celebration of a Bar Mitzvah that day.

But no one but myself, my wife, and a visitor (a relative of the Rabbi) were present when the relative asked the Rabbi about the upcoming disengagement.

As far as wearing orange goes, he was against it — because orange is a political statement. The great Torah scholars, the guiding lights of our generation, are (apparently) divided concerning the likely outcome of disengagement, but united in not speaking about it. He didn’t answer why they were silent, but merely noted that it was so. [Contrary to what those guided by Western politics may think, true leadership does not mean making proclamations about all matters — even those of major consequence. A gadol needs to consider whether saying something will have a benefit, and also whether those with different opinions will stop seeking his counsel (or that of other gedolim) should he make his opinions too loudly known. UPDATE: I tried to explain this point clearly, and didn’t do terribly well; please see the comments.]

At the same time, he said, every person must feel tremendous pain for the Jewish residents of Gaza. Some of them are being asked to leave the homes in which they have lived for thirty years — how can a person not be anguished about what they are going through?

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11 Responses

  1. The Hedyot says:

    A gadol needs to consider whether saying something will have a benefit, and also whether those with different opinions will stop seeking his counsel (or that of other gedolim) should he make his opinions too loudly known.

    This seems quite different from what Rav Aharon Feldman recently said (in regard to a different subject): “The rabbis were asked if the book is permitted to be held in a Jewish home and were obligated to respond, as they are on any other halachic question.”

  2. Yaakov Menken says:

    You’re right, yet also mistaken. If someone comes to a gadol and asks, “is one halachically obligated to {endorse | oppose } disengagement,” most would answer no either way. But even were the answer yes, that would not obligate them to say their opinion publicly. That would be a matter of judgement, because there are times when one can say something, but it would not be productive. For example, in the case to which Rav Feldman was referring, he himself did not participate in any public statements answering the question itself — he merely explained the opinion of those who did.

    By the way — a few people have asked why I didn’t identify the R”Y. The answer is simply that I didn’t ask if I could use his name — after all, he only said it in front of a few people.

  3. J.I. says:

    The great Torah scholars, the guiding lights of our generation, are (apparently) divided concerning the likely outcome of disengagement, but united in not speaking about it.

    Many “great Torah scholars, the guiding lights of our generation” have spoken out clearly and loudly about the disengagement. They just (mostly) happen to not be chareidi.

  4. Netanel Livni says:

    This is just so sad.

    How far has our leadership descended from the time of Yshayahu who said: “לְמַעַן צִיּוֹן לֹא אֶחֱשֶׁה, וּלְמַעַן יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֹא אֶשְׁקוֹט” (For the sake of Zion I will not be silent and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not be quiet) Yeshayahu (62:1)

    A Talmid Chacham from a Zionist yeshiva went to try and convince Rav Elyashiv Shlit”a to come out against the disengagement. Rav Elyashiv agreed with everything that was said in the meeting and communicated to the Rav that if he convinces the moetzet to agree, then Rav Elyashiv will sign a joint statement. When this Rav went to certain rabbanim to lay out the Halachic objections to this horrid plan, he was met with laughter, yes laughter, from these rabbanim. The minimal respect that a talmid chacham deserves was not even given to him.

    And I do not think I need to say more…

  5. Yael says:

    What about Rav Ovadia Yosef? He’s not involved in politics?

  6. Micah Segelman says:

    R’ Menken-
    I don’t think your response to “The Hedyot” is sufficient. Rabbi Feldman argued that the Gedolim were essentially forced to respond publicly regarding the book issue (irrespective of whether Rabbi Feldman himself joined in their proclamation) and you claim that even if a Gadol had a definitive position on disengagement he would have the flexibility to decide whether to publicly communicate this. You fail to really differentiate between the two situations.
    Regardless of how one feels about these issues a distinction can be made. The difference is that we do not have the ability to control the outcome of disengagement and thus it isn’t relevant for us to have a definitive psak. It isn’t worth all of the negative consequences involved simply to inform people of “Daas Torah” when people can’t implement the decision. A Gadol may, however, feel compelled to respond where individuals are faced with a practical decision.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:


    Honestly, the point is well-taken. I didn’t express that well. While that distinction was in my mind, and I alluded to “whether saying something will have a benefit,” I did not put it as clearly as you did.

    There was a previous case when a large group of people were following “opinion A” (which has nothing to do with any recent books!), and a group of Gedolim came out against that opinion. It was asked why one particular gadol had been silent. The answer was that although his close talmidim (students) knew that he, too, was against “opinion A”, everyone who could have been swayed already was, and were he to announce his opposition then the followers of “opinion A” would stop coming to him with their Halachic issues. It was a cost/benefit calculation, not for the benefit of the gadol but for the very people who were following the erroneous view.

    To speculate for a moment, it seems that the disengagement is going to happen, whether we want it to happen or not, whether it will protect lives or cost them in the end. In other words, the protests will not succeed, and — if that is true — the only thing the protests do is give false encouragement to those refusing to leave. If the religious parties would bolt, Labor and the left have already announced that they would keep the government in power so that disengagement would go forward. I realize many may hope that all of this will prove false, but those with greater political forethought may believe that almost nothing can stop it.

    If I understand correctly, there was some sort of bonus for the Gaza residents leaving early. Those leaving voluntarily are getting a better resettlement package than those the army will drag away. So it is appropriate to express our anguish at what the residents are going through — but to express opposition, to give those residents reason to delay their departure — if indeed they will be dragged away — might ultimately do little but hurt them.

    Is that possible? Someone who knows more about how the government is compensating the departing residents should please clarify regarding the economic issues. But, indeed, this would explain why someone who privately was completely opposed to disengagement might feel that a public statement would do no benefit, while ultimately hurting no one more than the Gaza residents themselves. And someone who privately supported disengagement might similarly feel there would be no benefit from saying anything — and then, as in the case of “opinion A” above, the Gaza residents would no longer seek his counsel in the future.

    I’m not saying this is why; I’m saying it might be why. The only way to truly know what a gadol is thinking is to be a gadol.

    If the Rosh Yeshiva said that everyone must feel anguish, it’s certain in his mind that the gedolim feel that pain. And indeed, now there’s a gathering to cry about the loss of communities, the shuls, the cemetaries, all to be uprooted. The silence on the political matter should certainly not be misinterpreted as a lack of caring.

  8. TzviNoach says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    You state that “it seems that the disengagement is going to happen, whether we want it to happen or not”, and so it is useless, and perhaps counterproductive to protest.

    That may be true today, but it wasn’t true three, six and twelve months ago. Where have we been? Where have our gedolim been? This didn’t happen overnight. There was a process going on for over a year, during which there were debates, Knesset votes, Cabinet votes, ministers resigning and being fired, etc., etc. With each step, the noose around Gush Katif tightened.

    What did we hear then from the charedi sector, both in Israel and the US? Nothing. Silence.

    Why? Why wasn’t there an outcry on the part of our rabbinic or political leaders? Why weren’t we urged to join the solidarity trips? To write letters of protest? To gather for prayer to remove this decree? Was a word said about this impending tragedy at the Siyum Hashas, that wonderful gathering of tens of thousands just 3 months ago? Why wasn’t there a massive spontaneous outpouring of protest, or at least sharing the pain?

    There is something very wrong with lamenting the tragedy after the fact, and “feeling the pain”, when we did nothing at all to try to prevent it when it could still have been prevented.

    I have not seen these questions addressed, and I don’t know where to turn for answers. I feel it is an indictment of all of us, and should serve as a wake-up call to focus on the needs of others more than our own.

  9. neil says:

    Shetika k’hodaah. It seems to me that the leadership of the chareidi community that has chosen to remain silent all of these past months were, in fact, sympathetic to the Disengagement Plan. As painful as it will be, removing the Jewish presense from the Gaza strip will be best for the security of Israel in the long term. I humbly do not agree. I believe it will be disastrous. But, that is the only way I can understand the silence of these Gedolim.

  10. Shalom says:

    In response to Rabbi Menken’s request for clarification on the issue of compensation; According to the Jerusalem Post anyone who submits a request for compensation after Aug. 15 will lose %30 of the compensation package. Mr. Basri has also stated publicly that those who don’t pack up their own belongings risk losing everything they leave in their homes as there is no gaurantee that the army/police will pack up their homes. Atzmona, which is one of the most idealistic of the settlements is being uprooted for the second time. They were also uprooted in Yamit. At that time the people did not pack up there things and kept on living life as normal until they were asked to get on the bus. Many of them apologized to the soldiers who had to pack up their belongings that they left dirty dishes in the sinks.

    I would like to comment on the silence of the Chareidi Gedolim. I have seen Rav Elyashiv quoted in the Hebrew Chareidi papers that the expulsion plan is a “Safeq Pikuach Nefesh” and as such instructed the Haredi parties to vote for its delay a few weeks ago. At the same time he instructed them to remain in the government. It seems clear that the Chareidi Gedolim do not share the same view of the DL Gedolim regarding the Halakhic issues involved of giving over sovereignty of parts of Eretz Yisrael to the Arabs. The only concern for the Haredi Gedolim is whether it is good for security or not.

    As such I think that the American Gedolim are less concerned with the issue and that could explain their silence. I had a personal experience to support this theory. I went to visit one of the Rosh Yeshivas of one of the largest Yeshivas in America a few months ago, I was shocked that the RY was unaware of the fact that Gush Katif is in the Gaza Strip and had very little knowledge of the issue. It became also clear to me that not every Rosh Yeshiva with all their knowledge of Shas and Rishonim should be deciding on matters of public policy.

  11. tsvika says:

    I am not privy to the insight of the gedolim but I will quote something I heard from both Rabbi Marvin Jacob and Rabbi M. Tandler.

    They propose that the prevailing view of most Israeli gedolim is “Tayn Li Yavneh v’chachameah”. That they wish to ensure that the torah learning centers are preserved as much as possible in the Israeli context.

    If that is true, it seems that the prevailing view of those Gedolim is that the social, spiritual and political environment in the state of Israel will no longer support a charedi lifestyle and institutions (note social services cutbacks to large families and the educational cutbacks to charedi educational institutions for example). Because of this, they have directed the political representatives not to actively protest the disengagement. In exchange for supporting the current goverment in its present form, the charedi parties and institutions are keeping the funding they would have lost by “not being in the game”.

    Considering that the heads of the Israeli military and secret service past and present say that things will get worse and people will die – not that you need them to tell you – chacham eynav b’rosho, it seems that Sharons decision to do this is political. (unfortunately, this the deaths and rearming have already begun)

    I was always taught by my Rosh Yeshiva that Safek Nefashos is lechumra in every case, one would think that was true when comparing to dinei mamonos as well…

    Is submitting to the gezayra of churban bayis sheni with Yerushalayim surrounded comparable to giving up in an open western styled pseudo-democracy? Are the risks to life and limb of Israeli Jews (who dont live in Bnei Brak or Yerushalyim) reasonable or valid legal positions? Why can many thousands of charedi protester assemble against autopsies but not for their bretherens lives,limbs and livelihood (for reasons which they may also become at risk)? Was a proper bais din assembled as is only just in cases of dinei nefashos?

    Only history will judge the correctness of the approach of the silent ones.

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