Exchanging Land for Peace - Part II by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


              This week we will continue with out exploration of the extremely important and sensitive debate regarding whether or not Medinat Yisrael may exchange land for peace.  We will begin with a presentation of the Halachic arguments which seem to forbid such an exchange.

Halachic Arguments Against Exchanging Land for Peace

The Opinion of the Ramban

              The Torah (Bamidbar 33:53) commands, "and you shall conquer the land and settle in it because it is for you I have given the land to inherit it."  The Ramban comments:

"In my opinion, this is a positive commandment with which we are commanded to settle and conquer the land as it is given to us and we must not reject our inheritance from God."

              The Ramban explains his position at greater length in his critique of the Rambam's Sefer Hamitzvot (number four).  He concludes his comments by stating:

              Accordingly, [conquering and living in Eretz Yisrael] is a positive commandment that applies in all generations and obligates each individual, even during the time of #-&; (exile), as is evident from many places in the Talmud.  The Sifri teaches that "it happened that Rav Yehuda Ben Betaira, Rav Matya Ben Charash, Rav Chananya Ben Achi, Rav Yehoshua, and Rav Natan were departing Eretz Yisrael.  They came to Platia and recalled Eretz Yisrael.  Their eyes swelled with tears and they rended their garments, and mentioned the following verse:  'and you shall conquer and settle in it, and be certain to do this.'  They proclaimed that *:*"; !96 *:9!- :8&-% ,1#$ ,- %/7&&;, [settling and conquering the land of Israel is equivalent to all of the Mitzvot]."

              For a discussion of whether to translate the Ramban's term ,*"&: as "sovereign control" or "military conquest", see the debate between Rav Nachum Rabinowitz (Rosh Yeshivat Maaleh Adumim) and Rav Yaakov Ariel (Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan) that appears in Techumin 4:302-306 and 5:174-186.

The Argument of the Minchat Chinuch

              The following point of the Minchat Chinuch is often cited in the land for peace debate.  The discussion begins with the comment made by the Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzva 425) that if someone has the opportunity to kill a member of the seven nations (:"3% 3//*. who are described in the Torah as inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael) without endangering himself, and he fails to do so he violates the Mitzva of %(9. ;(9*/., destroying the seven nations.

              The Minchat Chinuch (a major Acharon whose comments on the Sefer Hachinuch are widely studied) finds the Sefer Hachinuch's limitations of "if it does not put the individual in danger" puzzling.  After all, most Mitzvot do not require that we sacrifice our lives to fulfill them, yet by this Mitzvah the Torah requires us to do battle with the Seven Nations.  It is understood, the Minchat Chinuch points out, that the Torah's laws do not assume that a miracle will occur [as explained by the Ramban (Bamidbar 6:20 and 13:2)].  Since the normal course of the world is that people are killed in battle (9(/1! -*7-0), we see that the Torah commands us to fight with the Seven Nations even if by doing so we endanger our lives.

              Although the Minchat Chinuch concludes with an expression of some doubt regarding this matter (&7"3), a number of Acharonim do embrace his argument.  They include Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin Meromei Sadeh (the 17*"") and Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik.

              The argument for prohibiting exchange of land for peace is based on a combination of the Ramban and Minchat Chinuch.  The argument is that since the Torah obligates us to conquer Eretz Yisrael this Mitzva by its very nature obligates us to risk our lives in order to fulfill it, we cannot surrender portions of Eretz Yisrael even if we are certain that it will save lives.  Among those who make this argument is Dayan Yehoshua Menachem Aaronberg (a great Dayan who served in the Tel Aviv Beit Din).  (See his Teshuvot Dvar Yehoshua II:48 and Techumin 10:26-33).  Indeed, those Jews who reside in dangerous sections of Yehuda and Shomron are certainly guided by this line of thought.  They believe that the Torah obligates us to risk our lives for the sake of settling Eretz Yisrael.  Of course, Dayan Aaronberg notes, if there is concern that if we are (Heaven forbid) not victorious in war we will lose control over territories we already control, the obligation to wage war is suspended.  However, when Israel was established as a state, the Jewish community of Eretz Yisrael fulfilled the Mitzva of conquering Eretz Yisrael (according to Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, Lenetivot Yisrael 1:178).

Conclusion of the "Gush Emunim" Argument

              The bottom line according to those opposing exchange of land for peace even if we are certain that this would save lives, is that Am Yisrael must sacrifice on behalf of Eretz Yisrael.  They often cite the Gemara (Berachot 5a) which cites Rav Shimon Bar Yochai who states that God presented Am Yisrael with three precious gifts that are acquired only through great difficulty: Torah, Eretz Yisrael, and Olam Haba.

              The advocates of this approach are also fond of quoting the Rashbam's explanation of why God subjected Avraham to the ordeal of Akeidat Yitzchak (Breishit 22:1).  He explains the Akeida as a punishment meted out to Avraham, for making a peace treaty with Avimelech the king of the Pelishtim.

 Hashkafa of those Who Believe Land May Be Exchanged for Peace

              Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, in a speech at Yeshivat Har Etzion in which he extolled the Camp David Accords with Egypt, pointed out that numerous Gedolim believe that Medinat Yisrael is permitted to exchange land for peace.  These authorities include Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and Rav Yitzchak Hutner (the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Chaim Berlin).  We will begin to outline the Hashkafa of this prospective.

              Rav Lichtenstein cited the story of Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook (the son of Rav Kook and the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav who succeeded Rav Y.M. Charlop) who cried the day the State of Israel was established, because of the disappointment that much of Eretz Yisrael would not be included in the Jewish State.  Rav Lichtenstein firmly stated that even if one does not agree with Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook's view regarding exchange of land for peace, they must share his view regarding the Kedusha of Eretz Yisrael.  For the Jewish people, Eretz Yisrael is not merely a national homeland, but a Holy Land given by Hashem to His nation.  Surrendering land for peace must involve great pain for a Jew, analogous to amputating a limb to save the life of an individual.

              Rav Yehuda Amital (in an essay published in the hundredth issue of Yeshivat Har Etzion's journal "Alon Shvut" argues that we must prioritized our "national values."  The three core values are Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael.  Rav Amital seeks to prove that this is the order of priorities and thus the needs of saving Am Yisrael take precedence over the "value" of the land of Eretz Yisrael.  Thus if it is in the interest of saving lives to relinquish sections of Eretz Yisrael, we must do so.  Rav Yaakov Medan, though, respectfully countered that the needs of Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are identical and thus it can never be in the interest of Am Yisrael to relinquish control of sections of Eretz Yisrael.

              Next week (God willing) we will cite some of Rav Amital's arguments for his view that the needs of Am Yisrael have priority over the value of Eretz Yisrael.

Hazmana to Beit Din - Part I by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Exchanging Land for Peace - Part III by Rabbi Chaim Jachter