Rabi Akiva:  The Inspiration for Religious Zionism – Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter 


Last week we began to present a Shiur from Rav Yoel Bin Nun analyzing the dispute between Rabi Akiva and Rabi Elazar ben Azariah regarding the latest time that one is permitted to eat the Korban Pesach (and Afikoman) on the Seder night.  Rav Yoel understood that this dispute hinges upon the question whether Geulah arrives only in an entirely miraculous manner (Rabi Elazar ben Azariah) or can also occur in a somewhat natural way (Rabi Akiva).  Rav Yoel suggested a number of ramifications of this dispute, and we added several others as well.   

      Understanding the Miracle of Chanukah – Rambam vs. Rashi

I believe that Rav Yoel’s approach can serve as an important insight regarding a passage in the Rambam (Hilchot Chanukah 3:1).  The Rambam lists the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael for more than two hundred years among the reasons why we celebrate Chanukah.  Many of my Rebbeim (including Rav Yehuda Amital, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rav Hershel Schachter, and Rav Menachem Genack) cite this Rambam as a source for our support of Medinat Yisrael despite the spiritual flaws of many of its leaders and institutions.  They note that the Rambam believes it worthwhile to celebrate the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael from 165 B.C.E. to 70 C.E. despite the serious spiritual flaws of most of the Jewish leaders of the time.  Herod and Yannai (kings during that time period) killed Talmidei Chachamim, and Chazal felt compelled to refrain from exercising Halachic authority over the Jewish monarchy of that time (Sanhedrin 18a-19b) due to its refusal to yield to Torah authority.  

I have often wondered what the Chareidi response to this argument would be.  I believe, though, that Rav Yoel’s approach allows for an adequate response.  One could argue that the Rambam represents only the approach of Rabi Akiva.  Indeed, the Rambam consistently codifies Rabi Akiva’s opinion regarding the latest time to eat the Korban Pesach (Hilchot Korban Pesach 8:15 and the evaluation of Bar Kochva in Hilchot Melachim 11:3).  

 Rashi, on the other hand, seems to reject the Rambam’s approach to Chanukah.  The Gemara (Shabbat 21b) asks “What is Chanukah?” The Gemara responds by presenting the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days.  Rashi (s.v. Mai) explains the question “What is Chanukah” to mean “Which event moved Chazal to establish the holiday of Chanukah.”  Accordingly, it seems that according to Rashi we celebrate Chanukah only because of the overt miracle of the oil lasting eight days, not because of the military victory of the Chashmonaim or the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael.  Indeed, the Maharatz Chiyut (Shabbat 21b) comments that this Gemara as explained by Rashi teaches that Chanukah would not have been established as a holiday if not for the overt miracle.  

Thus, Rashi seems to adopt the view of Rabi Elazar ben Azariah, whereas the Rambam seems to support the Religious Zionist outlook on Medinat Yisrael and Yom Haatzmaut.  Accordingly, Rashi’s evaluation of Chanukah could be cited in support of the Chareidi evaluation of Medinat Yisrael and Yom Haatzmaut.   

      The Third Beit Hamikdash, the Messianic Era, and the Renewal of Semicha

I suggest that this dispute between the Rambam and Rashi might also be reflected in their dispute regarding how the third Beit Hamikdash will be rebuilt.  Rashi (Sukkah 41a s.v. Ee Nami) and Tosafot (who rule in accordance with Rabi Elazar be Azariah in most of their commentaries, see Megillah 21a Tosafot s.v. LeAtuyei, Zevachim 57b s.v. VeEeba’it Eimah, and Sukkah 41a s.v. Ee Nami) rule that the third Beit Hamikdash will miraculously descend from the heavens.  The Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 11:1), on the other hand, believes that the third Beit Hamikdash will be built by human hands.  This dispute also seems to reflect the Rabi Akiva-Rabi Elazar ben Azariah dispute regarding the nature of the process of Geulah.  

Indeed, it is the Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 12:2) who codifies Shmuel’s teaching (Brachot 34b) that the primary difference between current epoch and the Messianic era is that we will no longer have to submit to the authority of non-Torah jurisdictions.  This is certainly a more natural, less miraculous understanding of the era of the Mashiach (also see Rav Itamat Warhaftig’s essay on Parashat Bechukotai 5765, that is available on the website of Bar Ilan University, for analysis of the varying approaches to Vayikra 26:6).  

Similarly, the Rambam (Peirush HaMishnayot to Sanhedrin 1:1 and Hilchot Sanhedrin 4:11) suggests a “natural” means of renewing Semicha, the full-fledged ordination of rabbis that was passed down from generation to generation and ceased during the early Amoraic period due to Roman government persecution.  The Rambam believes that all of the rabbis of Eretz Yisrael are authorized convene and confer full-fledged Semicha upon deserving candidates.  He argues that if the Sanhedrin cannot be revived by humans, then there is no way to restore it at all.  

The Radbaz (commenting to Rambam’s Hilchot Sanhedrin 4:11) responds that Semicha can simply be renewed by Eliyahu HaNavi who will come before the arrival of the Mashiach (Malachi 3:23).  The Radbaz argues that Eliyahu is a recipient of the full-fledged Semicha (see the Rambam’s introduction to the Mishneh Torah) and is authorized to confer it upon others.  It is interesting that the Rambam believes that Semicha must be renewed in a “natural” manner involving no miracle.  The Radbaz, on the other hand, does not hesitate to assert that Semicha will be revived by Eliyahu HaNavi, who will return to us in a miraculous fashion. 

      College Education and Preparation to Earn a Living

A contemporary dispute between Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik and Rav Moshe Feinstein regarding attending college also seems to reflect the Rabi Akiva-Rabi Elazar ben Azariah dispute.  Rav Moshe Feinstein is presented (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 4:36) as ruling that a boy should not attend college, as it will interfere with achievement in his Torah studies.  Rav Moshe argues that attending college in order to improve one’s future ability to earn a living is inappropriate.  He argues that one should be concerned with earning a living only when it becomes a relevant issue.  

Rav Aharon Rakefet, on the other hand, relates (Torah U’Madda Journal volume 2 page 134) that when he and his friends were debating whether they should attend college, Rav Soloveitchik advised them that in “our times” one must attend college.  The Rav argued that Chazal urge us to combine Torah with Derech Eretz and that college attendance is the contemporary application of Derech Eretz.  

One might argue that the Rav follows the model of Rabi Akiva (Pesachim 112a) and the Rambam (Hilchot Matanot Anayim 10:18) who assert that “Aseh Shabatcha Chol VeAl Yitztareich el Habriyot”, “Better that one eat ordinary meals on Shabbat rather than be dependent on charity.”  Rabi Akiva and the Rambam advise acting in “natural” ways to earn a living even it involves diminishing somewhat the spiritual quality of one’s life.  Similarly, we in the Modern Orthodox world believe in giving our children a proper secular education even if it involves some spiritual sacrifice (i.e. fewer hours studying Torah during the school year) so that they should eventually be able to earn a proper living and not be dependent on others. 

This dispute appears to be at the root of the dispute (Berachot 35b) between Rabi Yishmael and Rabi Shimon bar Yochai regarding whether one should combine Torah study with earning a living.  The 5765 Y9 TABC Gemara Shiur (cited in TABC’s Bikkurei Shabbat) argues that it also appears to be the core of the dispute between Rabi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabi Yehuda (Shabbat 33b) regarding how to evaluate the improvements the Roman government made to Eretz Yisrael by building bridges and roads.  We hope to eventually present an essay in Kol Torah devoted to an analysis of this very interesting Sugya.   


 I also find it interesting that it is Rabi Akiva who asserts (Sukkah 11b) that the Sukkot that we lived in the Sinai desert were “natural” (actual Sukkot), unlike Rabi Eliezer, who asserts that we were enveloped by divine clouds that constituted our homes at that time.  Once again, we find that Rabi Akiva adopts the “natural” interpretation of a Biblical event.  Rav Yoel told me that this interpretation does not fit perfectly because the Sifra (Vayikra 23:43) presents the dispute differently than the Talmud Bavli.  The Sifra presents Rabi Akiva as the one who asserts that we were enveloped by divine clouds. 

       The Role of the King

I believe, based on a Shiur that I heard from Rav Itamar Warhaftig (delivered at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in July 2004), that this might be the root of the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam regarding the role of the king.  Rashi (Sanhedrin 20b) believes that the king should not fight battles- his job is limited to disciplining rebellious individuals within society.  The Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 4:10), though, believes that the role of the king is to wage war.  The Rambam seems to believe that we must live naturally and appoint a leader who will establish a standing army that is trained and well-equipped.  Rashi, however, seems to believe that, if we are worthy, we have no need to establish a regular standing army.    

Rashi appears to believe that in case of battle we will gather and, with the guidance of a spiritual leader, emerge victorious despite the absence of any military strategy.  Examples for winning battles in such a manner include the fight that Devorah led against Sisera (Shofetim 4) and Shmuel led against the Pelishtim (Shmuel I 7).  

In addition, I recall hearing that Nechama Leibowitz suggested that the dispute between Religious Zionists and the Chareidi community seems to hinge on the dispute between Rashi and the Ramban (at the beginning of Parashat Shelach, Bemidbar 13) regarding whether it was a good idea (in theory) to send Meraglim (spies) to Eretz Yisrael.  The Ramban believes that it was a good idea, as it is the natural way that nations and individuals conduct their lives.  On the other hand, Rashi seems to oppose the idea of sending Meraglim, presumably because Bnei Yisrael should have had more faith in Hashem.

A problem with this analysis of the Ramban is the fact that the Ramban (Bereishit 12:10) criticizes Avraham Avinu for leaving Eretz Yisrael during a time of famine.  The Ramban writes that Avraham Avinu should have had more faith that Hashem would have saved him from the famine.  According to our analysis, it is difficult to understand why the Ramban criticizes Avraham Avinu for behaving in a natural manner.  A possible answer might be suggested in light of anidea that I once heard from Rav Hayyim Angel.  He explains that the Ramban believes that it was a sin only for someone of Avraham Avinu’s spiritual stature not to trust in Hashem.  Ordinary Jews may function in a normal manner.  The Ramban’s comments to Vayikra 26:11 regarding medicine may be understood in a similar manner. 

Next week we shall (IY”H and B”N) conclude our presentation of Rav Yoel’s Shiur with a number of other ramifications and some innovative interpretations of two stories that we recite at the Seder. 

Rabi Akiva: The Inspiration for Religious Zionism – Part Three by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Rabi Akiva:  The Inspiration for Religious Zionism – Part One by Rabbi Chaim Jachter