Exchanging Land for Peace - Part I by Rabbi Chaim Jachter



              In relating the story of Chanukah, the Rambam (Hilchot Chanukkah 3:1) writes that "the Chashmonaim appointed a king from among the Kohanim, and Malchut Yisrael (Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael) was restored for more than two hundred years."  Rav Yehuda Amital (Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion) and Rav Menachem Genack (a Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivah University) both point out that the Rambam is teaching that part of the celebration of Chanukkah is thanking Hashem for resorting sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael to the Jews for an extended period of time.  Yet, Rabbis Amital and Genack point out that the Jewish leaders during this period were certainly less than ideal Jewish leaders.  The Gemarot describe Herod (Bava Batra 3b) and Yanai (Berachot 48a), two rulers at that time, as mass murderers of Talmidei Chachamim.  Nonetheless, the Rambam teaches that we are grateful for this restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Israel!  We see from the Maimonidean passage the importance of thanking Hashem for the establishment of Medinat Yisrael despite the fact that many of its leaders fall far short of Torah ideals.  We religious Zionists work towards the goal that the State of Israel should function according to Halacha.  Until that day however, the Rambam teaches that we must be grateful for Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel (also see Sanhedrin 19b which shows how Jewish leadership during the period of the Second Temple hardly recognized the authority of Torah leadership).

              Since this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of Medinat Yisrael, we will attempt to explore a vitally important issue: Does Halacha permit Medinat Yisrael to exchange land for peace?

Attitude B The Yeshivat Har Etzion Model

              As an introduction to our discussion we will cite two incidents that occurred at Yeshivat Har Etzion.  When the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Amital delivered a well attended lecture one Motzaei Shabbat regarding why he believed land may be exchanged for peace, Chanan Porat (a leader of the Gush Emunim movement) was given the podium to offer an alternative view.  On another occasion, the Raashei Yeshiva discussed their opposition to certain actions taken by Medinat Yisrael during the Lebanon War of 1982.  The Raashei Yeshiva turned to Rav Yaakov Medan (a Rebbe at the Yeshiva who is a leading activist in the Gush Emunim movement) to offer the students an alternative view.

              Finally, when Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (in 1977) offered an assessment of the Camp David accords, he offered the podium to a more hawkish Rebbe at the Yeshiva to offer an alternative perspective.  It is in this spirit that we shall seek to present a balanced approach to this extremely sensitive topic.  We will first present the view that opposes exchange of land for peace from both a Hashkafic and Halachic perspective.

Those Who Forbid Exchange of Land for Peace:

"Hashkafic" Considerations

              Both sides of this debate agree on the great importance of Eretz Yisrael.  The great love Am Yisrael has for Eretz Yisrael fuels the passionate debate regarding this issue.  The love we have for Eretz Yisrael is illustrated in the following anecdote that appears on Ketubot 112a:

              Rav Abba kissed the rocks of Acco.  Rav Chanina repaired the roads of Eretz Yisrael (Rashi:  "because of his love of Eretz Yisrael he made this effort so that no one would cast aspersions on the quality of roads in Eretz Yisrael").  Rav Ami and Rav Assi moved the students [during the summer] from the sun to the shade and [during the winter] from the shade to the sun.  Rav Chiya bar Gamda used to roll in the dirt of Eretz Yisrael as the Navi (Tehillim 102:!5) states "because your servants love and find charm even in her stones and dirt."

              Nations normally love a land because it has material resources from which people can benefit.  We, on the other hand, love even the rocks and dirt of Eretz Yisrael despite their lack of economic worth.

              The passionate love for Eretz Yisrael is further fueled by what devotees of Rav Kook believe regarding the resettling of the land of Israel in the past century.  Citing the Gemara (Sanhedrin 98a) they believe that we have entered ;(*-; %#!&-%, the beginning of the Final Redemption:

              Rav Abba states that there is no greater indication that the Redemption has arrived than what is described by the Navi (Yechezkeil 36:9): "Hear ye, o mountains of Israel, your branches should bear fruit for My nation of Israel."

(This idea is expressed in the prayer for the State of Israel composed by Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Herzog)

              See, however, the comments of the Meharsha on this passage where he presents two alternative interpretations whether the fruits spoken of, are natural fruits or "supernatural fruits."  The "Yeshivat Merkaz Harav Kook" approach, of course, assumes the first interpretation.

              The deep commitment to Eretz Yisrael is further reinforced by the belief of some that the current return to Israel is irreversible.  The basis of this attitude are the concluding Pasukim of the Navi Amos (9:13-15) (which we read as the Haftara for Acharei-Mot B Kedoshim):

              Behold the days are coming when..I shall return my people of Israel to the land and they will rebuild abandoned cities.  And they shall settle and plant vineyards and they will drink their wine and create gardens and they shall eat its produce.  And I shall plant them on their land and they will no longer be removed from their land that I have given them, saith Hashem your God.

              Indeed, the celebrated story told of Rav Herzog concerning his return trip to Israel in 1943, while the Battle of El Alamein was raging.  A number of Yeshiva University rabbis who were accompanying Rav Herzog to Idlewild (Kennedy) Airport tried to impress upon the Chief Rabbi the danger of the return trip to Israel at that time.  Rav Herzog's celebrated response was that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed twice and will not be destroyed again.  It should be noted that Rav Herzog uttered these words when the Nazis (may their evil names be blotted out) were only ninety miles from Eretz Yisrael and were expected to defeat the allies at El Alamein.  See the Ramban's Peirush to Vayikra 26:16 where he states that the "Tochachat Parshat Bichukotai" speaks of the destruction of the First Beit Hamikdash and the Parshat Tochacha of Parshat Ki Tavo refers to the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash.  The Ramban's assertion can be understood as indicating that no destruction will occur subsequent to the destruction of the Second Beit Hamikdash.

              Accordingly, it is not surprising to read Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlop's (the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav who succeeded Rav Kook in that position) fiery reaction to the Peale Partition Plan of 1937 [published in Techumin 10:271-273 (see p.280 for a map outlining the proposed boundaries)]:

              Just as one who claims that the entire Torah is of divine origin save for one letter is deemed a heretic, similarly one who says that all of Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jews save for one inch, detracts from the holiness of the Land and is guilty of "stealing from the Jewish soul..."

              There is no doubt that if it should come to God forbid to we should be forced to sign an international agreement which would include any concessions on our rights to Eretz Yisrael, it is better for the signers to cut their thumbs off (!) than to cut away any portion of beautiful Zion on which God's beauty appears.

              Rav Charlop was not alone in this strong opposition to the Peale Partition Plan.  At least two other Gedolim expressed similarly adamant opposition to agreeing to this plan, see Techumin 9:285-287 and 291-293.  Next week we will (God willing) explore both the Hashkafic and Halachic basis for those who oppose exchanging land for peace.

Exchanging Land for Peace - Part III by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Civil Courts and Jewish Law Part II by Rabbi Chaim Jachter