Holy Places, Holy Lives

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.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

You may also like...

12 Responses

  1. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    R. Avi,
    I understand your position regarding Jerusalem. If there were a possibility of real peace with our Arab neighbors, perhaps those of us who subscribe to a more nationalistic religious philosophy would accept compromise. As things stand, anyone who talks about compromise now is foolish or wicked or both. I just would like you to clarify the point of the Temple being rebuilt by G-d and not by man. Do you mean that human hands will not have any part in the effort and that it will come down from heaven? That seems to go against the Rambam, who is the only halachic authority to speak on the subject. Or do you mean only to speak out against any human effort in the area of the Temple Mount before Moshiach? If the latter, what about the effrontery of what the Arabs are doing there today? Why not put lasers around the perimeter so that no one can go there without getting fried, Jew or Arab?

  2. Bob Miller says:

    After the 1967 war, the victors quickly and unnecessarily conceded effective control of Har HaBayit (Temple Mount)to the vanquished, in the form of the Muslim religious authorities. This was the fundamental error that has led to many others, and it was done in large part because of the Israeli government’s apathy or hostility towards Judaism.

    See http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp483.htm for background information on Temple Mount developments.

    It’s not too far out to speculate that the Kadima clique leading Israel has the same negative attitude toward the Old City as a whole that its Labor Party predecessors had towards the Temple Mount. This government wants to disengage from Jewish tradition as totally as possible.

  3. Jacob Haller says:

    The Jewish Week “questioned the ‘morality’ of American groups challenging the policies of an Israeli government”

    Does their questioning of morality apply equally to groups such as American Friends of Peace Now, the New Jewish(sic) Agenda etc who themselves have openly challenged Israeli government policies through not-so-discreet forums like full-page ads in the NY Times?

  4. sima irkodesh says:

    “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”. — Why even adhere to a concept that is an outright non possibility? The Torah organization should firmly shout, we can never allow a non-Jewish flag flying over the city’s walls, since this will terminate young adults learning in Eretz Yisroel & place our brothers and sisters in terminal danger.
    “the concept of land for peace – remains one that most of our leaders accept in principle”. (“IN PRINCIPLE”- IOW pikuach nefesh overrides any other concern) Could it be that the concept of land for peace, was never a viable option rather a hashgachos pratis of the past that must be strongly negated presently? Our Torah Community with Agudath Israel as a component does not have to fear speaking or acting as zionists when expressing any nationalistic feelings, we are a “Chosen Nation”, “A priestly Nation”, etc. ..

  5. Robin Ticker says:

    If we have a strong desire to keep the Mitzvoth Teluyot Baaretz knowing that only through keeping these mitzvoth will Hashem bless our nation with security we would simply tell the world that only Am Yisroel has the mandate to keep the Mitzvoth and for this we need the Land of Israel. Reciprocity is totally not in the picture as you suggest. Will a democratic peaceful Goyish State keep Shemittah? Will they do Lequet shikcha and Peah on the non shemittah years? What about Teruma, Maaser and Bikurim?

    Only Am Yisroel can bring forth the Kedusha and this holiness will then encompass all of humanity.

    As for G-d building the Beit Hamikdash let me suggest the following. When a person does a Mitzvah like giving Terumah to the Kohein, he does not give a direct present to the Kohein. He gives it to Hashem. The Kohein, benefits from the Mitzva to Hashem and not directly from his fellow Jew. If the motivation for giving is faulty or if the motivation for receiving is faulty, like if the Kohein feels he owes the giver or if the giver feels that the Kohein owes him anything, then the Mitzvah was not given or received properly. Please provide the source for the statement that G-d Himself will build the 3rd Beit Hamikdash. A possible explanation is that this means that in the 3rd Beit Hamikdash the way it gets built is totally leshaim Shamayim with no aspirations of personal gain or honor, prestige or money. Just like we teach our children. Brick by brick of Mitzvoth. It will be a complete Avodas Kodesh.The end result is that it will be built purely from Mitzva gifts from Am Yisroel and from the Nations of the World. Moshiach is ready to come today. However, we must show Him that we truly want Eretz Yisroel and we strongly desire to keep Hashem’s Mitzvoth and keep the H-ly Torah. Now Moshiach is in exile. He sees that after 2,000 years Hashem has performed miracle after miracle, and continues to do so in Sederot. Yet Bush speaks of a Two State Solution and we are Silent. If we give away Eretz Yisroel then is there anyway to keep the Mitzvoth of the Land? Can one light a candle if there is no candle?

  6. Chaim Davids says:

    The first point this article makes, that Jews living chutz l’aretz have authority to decide what happens in Israel because they give money to Israel, or because might want to retire to Israel sometime or might visit or have children visit, is quite limited logically. The authority of donors, potential immigrants or visitors is obviously very limited.

    And then the argument is made that as Jews they have the right to “speak up” if they oppose something being done in Israel. Well, the suggestion box is open 24 hours a day. Obviously they do not vote in Israel.

    Then the argument is made that Jews in a foreign country have the right to try to influence their governments’ Israeli policies. Nobody ever questioned this, and I think it’s kind of too obvious for words.

    But clearly, Jews living outside Israel have no right to dictate risk to the Jews living in Israel.

    The Jews living in Israel and exposing their lives to grave danger every minute are entitled to do whatever seems best to them to make themselves safer. Nobody else can be a tzaddik with their lives.

  7. Ori says:

    Chaim Davids, I think you read into the article more than Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote into it. Rabbi Avi Shafran is defending the US Agudath Israel’s right to express an opinion, nothing more. Here is the action he defends:

    Agudath Israel passed a resolution that the organization, “under the direction of its rabbinic leadership, should communicate to appropriate government officials

    In the best of all possible worlds, that right would be obvious. In this world, it isn’t. The criticism he defends against is criticism of a voiced opposition.

    Two recent letters to the New York Jewish Week criticized opposition by Orthodox groups in America to the possible partitioning of Jerusalem.

    As far as I know, nobody questions the fact that US Jews have no authority over the Israeli government, except for Israeli citizens who live abroad and fly to Israel to vote in the elections (an action I could have taken and chosen not to on moral grounds).

  8. Robin Ticker says:

    Chaim Davids, amv”sh

    I hate to burst you faulty assumption that unless you make aliya with the Jewish Agency you have a right to Eretz Yisroel. Did you know that you actually have a Nachala that is yours in Eretz Yisroel? That is as long as you are a member of the Nation of Israel. Since we don’t know which tribe you belong to, we don’t necessarily know which parcel of Land it is. If you are a Kohein or a Levite or a convert then there is a place for you as well. So Olmert and company may be giving away your parcel of Land to the Palestinians. If you don’t care about your inheritance, your gift from Hashem, that still doesn’t give anyone the right to give it away. It is not theirs to give away. When Moshiach comes we will find out specifically which parcel of Land belongs to you. At Yoveil it will return only to you. Again, if you are a Kohein, Levy or convert, your inheritance is from G-d as well. It will be in one of the special designated Levite cities. Where you live be it the Diaspora or in the Land of Israel is of no consequence regarding the right for any individual or government to claim that which is not rightfully his and give it to our enemies putting all of us at risk, not to mention showing a total disregard to G-d’s Covenant with our forefathers. The boundaries are clearly delineated in the Torah. Therefore Jews in a foreign government have every right to claim their inheritance from the Creator. The foreign government, rejectors of the Torah happens to be Olmert and Company. They do not represent the interests of the Jewish people. This government is the one that is risking the lives of the civilians. They put a blind eye at the Kassam rockets to Sederot. They have brutally attacked their idealistic youth unarmed kids, for their ideology with clubs and riot horses. They have stolen property from their tax paying loyal citizens in Gush Katif, with inadequate compensation and have taken away their Parnassa to boot. They have put at risk the lives of their courageous soldiers from lack of moral clarity. The list goes on. Their corruption know no bounds and their citizens are afraid literally to speak our against their policies out of fear of losing their jobs or being put into administrative detention w/o charges brought against them. Please take off your blinders. The palestinian people voted in Hamas. So what? Does that make the policies of Hamas legitimate and looking out for the security of their people. What makes you even dream that this government is concerned about the welfare of the people?

  9. Chaim Davids says:


    Illuminating. Thanks.

    Question: What’s morally wrong with an Israeli passport holder not voting? Can Americans living in Israel vote by absentee ballot?

    I would think Americans voting would surely be “dina d’malchusa dina,” that it accords with their laws.

    But I’m not arguing with your choice. I’m just interested.

  10. Ori says:

    Since I do not live in Israel, I do not pay its taxes or fight its wars. Therefore, I would consider it immoral for me to try and force the people who do pay those taxes and fight those wars to be ruled by the candidate of my choice. It would be different if I was only here for a few years and planning to move back to Israel, but I am not. I mean to spend my life in the US.

    The same would apply in the other direction. US citizens living elsewhere are allowed to vote, but IMAO (in my arrogant opinion) they shouldn’t unless they plan to move back one day.

  11. Chaim Davids says:

    Robin Ticker, consider this. Moshiach did not come yet. We are still in golus.

    You claim that if the current state of Israel gives control of land back to the Palestinians the Jewish people lose it. This is simply wrong. We have been and will always be the rightful owners of Eretz Yisrael, regardless of the claim any Crusader, Turk or Briton. The State could never surrender that claim to anybody.

    But until Moshiach comes and HaShem returns us in glory to our land, that claim will not be exercised. So long as the Jewish people remain in golus–where we are now–we will not be able to take over the land and use it fully with all our latent rights to it. The State of Israel cannot annul our exile by paper claims that the Jews have now returned to the land.

    So the legal rights of who owns the land today according to the worthless laws of the goyim–whether it be the state or the Palestinians–are meaningless in Shamayim.

    Do not worry. My inheritance, your inheritance, all our land of Israel, are protected and sure. Daven to HaShem and ask for redemption. Come and live here and commit the place you live to the place you value most–your land.

  12. Robin Ticker says:


    Chaim Davids, amv”sh

    [severely edited for length]

    In 1937 in Marienbad, the Third Kenessiah of Agudas Yisroel was held. Please read below an article from the journal HaPardes (volume 11, Issue 7, October 1937), 70 years ago, reprinted in Mishpacha Issue 179, 6 Cheshvan 5768, October 17,2007 Page 26)
    “On Sunday, 16 Elul, the great Torah leaders discussed the question of a Jewish State, and reached the greatly anticipated decision of the congress. It was a stormy assembly, attended by the Rebbes of Gur, Ghorkov, Boyan, Sadigura, and the great Torah schoilars members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Rabbinical Council). A great battle took place, over seven hours, with struggles about every minute detail of the decision.

    “Rabbi Wasserman, Rabbi Kotler, Rabbi Rottenberg of Antwerp, and rabbis from Czechoslovakia and Hungary were unanimous in rejecting any proposal for a Jewish State on either side of the Jordan River even if it were established as a religious state, because such a regime would be a form of heresy in our faith in the belief in the coming of the Mashiach and especially since this little Jewish State would be built on heresy and desecration of the Name of G-d.

    “Arguing against them were the Rebbes of Boyan and Sadigura. Rabbi Tzirelson, the president of the congress, Rabbi [Aharon] Lewin of Reisha [the head of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah] and Rabbi Sorotzkin, [who said that] it is possible to agree, according to the laws of the Torah, to the establishment of a Jewish State in a portion of the Eretz Yisael without denying the belief in the coming of redeemer. There is no need to be concerned that the nonreligious would use the Jewish State to attack our religion. therefore, it is forbidden to reject entirely the matter of the Jewish State; rather we must pursue expanding its borders and ensuring that the laws of a Jewish State will be founded on religion and tradition, and we must protest that they did not consult frum Judaism and did not include its leaders in this discussion.

    “Those in favor won the vote! All the decisions were accepted affirmatively.”

    Although the majority of the congress seemed to be in favor of the partition plan, the text of the resolution of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah contains the statements. ” The foundation of the Jewish peoples right to the Holy Land is based on the Torah and the prophets…A Jewish State not based on the principles of Torah is a denial of Jewish origin, is opposed to the identity and to the true stature of our people, and undermines the basis of existence of our people…Any relinquishment of the Holy Land given to the Jewish people by G-d has no validity” (HaPardes 11:6)


    My question is how come when the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah saw that there was a possiblity to return to Eretz Yisroel, and felt they were too weak to take on the Chilonim? Why didn’t they use all their influence to convince the Jews to go to Eretz Yisroel in order to make it a place based on Torah and Mitzvoth. Why did they allow the Chilonim to take over?
    I’d be interested in your comments.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This