It is appropriate to evaluate the Halachic status of Medinat Yisrael this week, as we will celebrate Yom Haatzmaut on ה' אייר. There is no doubt that there are many features of Medinat Yisrael that Orthodox Jews find highly objectionable, such as the State’s radio and television operating on Shabbat. Despite the fact that the Medina falls far short of the Halachic ideal, it still performs much of what a government should perform from a Halachic perspective. We will base our discussion on an essay written by Rabbi Dr. Itamar Warhaftig that appears in Techumin (18:421-432).
The Chatzi Shiur Model
Acharonim debate whether partial fulfillment of a Mitzva has any Halachic significance. For example, if one eats less than a Kezayit of Matza, Acharonim debate whether he has accomplished anything from a Halachic perspective. The Encyclopedia Talmudit (16:660) presents a long list of authorities who discuss this issue.
This question is not an arcane academic point of interest. The Orthodox evaluation of Medinat Yisrael largely hinges on this dispute. The State of Israel as it currently functions only partially fulfills the mandate of what a Jewish state should be from a Halachic perspective. Indeed, it is hardly surprising that Orthodox Jews differ in their attitudes toward the Medina in light of this classic controversy regarding partial fulfillment of Mitzvot.
The Pitchei Teshuva (Even Haezer 154:26) is highly instructive in this regard. He notes that the common practice, even among the most pious men, is not to divorce their wives even if they only have one child and have thus not fulfilled the Mitzva to “be fruitful and multiply.” This practice may be rooted in the idea that since the man has at least partially fulfilled the Mitzva, he is not required to divorce his wife. Similarly, one may argue that we as Orthodox Jews need not divorce ourselves from the State of Israel even though it is only a partial fulfillment of what a Jewish state should be.
The Accomplishments of Medinat Yisrael
Medinat Yisrael partially fulfills the mission of a Jewish government. The Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 4:10) writes that we appoint a king “to establish justice and wage war.” An example of an obligatory war is a war “to save the Jewish people from a persecutor who has descended upon them” (ibid. 5:1). The Israel Defense Forces most certainly fulfill this role in defending the lives of the four million Jews who reside in the Land of Israel.
A function of the king is to punish criminals in an extra-Halachic manner (see Drashot Haran 11). The Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 4:10) writes that one of the missions of a king is “to break the arms of the wicked.” The State certainly does so with its criminal justice system. However, an area of profound disappointment for Halachic Jews is the fact that Israel’s judicial system most often ignores Jewish Law in favor of non-Jewish legal systems in areas of monetary law.
The Talmud indicates that another important role of the king is to insure that the economy is healthy. The Gemara (Berachot 3b) describes King David discussing the well being of the economy with leaders of the community. The Gemara holds King Saul responsible for the economic failure of a section of Israel (Bava Kama 119a). In our time, the government has helped Israel emerge as one of the leading markets in the world. This enables Israel to absorb more Jews and thus promotes the Mitzva of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael.
The Rambam writes that the king is supposed to “fill the world with justice.” The Medina helps the poor by providing universal health coverage and “national insurance” (Bituach Leumi). Medinat Yisrael absorbs Jews from distressed lands throughout the world. By doing so, the State facilitates the fulfillment of the Messianic vision of the ingathering of the Jewish People from the “four corners of the world.” Although there is much poverty in Israel, there is no starvation.
The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvot Positive Mitzva 173) writes that another role of the king is to unify the Jewish People. Although Israel sparks many disputes among Jews and sometimes serves as a source of friction, without the State there would be nothing that binds all Jews regardless of their level of observance and affiliation.
Moreover, the State of Israel allows four million Jews to fulfill the Mitzva of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael. Without Medinat Yisrael, this would be impossible.
The Rambam writes that the king’s “mission and thoughts should be directed to promote the true religion.” Unfortunately, Medinat Yisrael falls very short of the ideal in this regard. Regrettably, the current Israeli government and Supreme Court contain elements that seek to undermine Torah observance in Israel. However, Orthodox Jews must be thankful for the many ways in which the State does promote the “true religion.” The Medina supports Torah schools, Shuls, Mikvaot, Batei Din, and Eruvin. The government allows for, and even supports to a certain extent, Yeshivot Hesder. Personal status issues such as conversion, marriage, and divorce are under the exclusive control of the State Rabbinical Courts. Talmidei Chachamim of great stature serve as Dayanim in these courts.
The Kiddush Hashem Generated by Medinat Yisrael
In his classic essay entitled Kol Dodi Dofek, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, explains why the establishment of the State of Israel constitutes a profound Kiddush Hashem. The six reasons that he gave when delivering this speech in Yeshiva University’s Lamport Auditorium on Yom Haatzmaut 5716 (1956) are still relevant today:
First, the fact that the United Nations voted for the establishment of the State of Israel is virtually miraculous. One may add that the same applies to the Balfour Declaration. Hashem’s Guiding Hand is evident to those who carefully study the circumstances surrounding these two watershed events.
Second is the miracle of the military victory of the tiny and poorly equipped Israel Defense Forces in the 1948 War of Independence. Indeed, one may add that the fact that Israel has emerged as one of the world’s great military powers only decades after the Holocaust is nothing short of miraculous. Moreover, Israel’s continued existence despite its many enemies constitutes a great miracle.
Third, the existence of the State of Israel disproves the Christian belief that the Jews are doomed to wander the earth for eternity because of their rejection of Christianity. One may add that the fact that there are more Christian missionaries in Israel than in the rest of Asia demonstrates how the existence of Medinat Yisrael constitutes a major theological problem for Christians.
Fourth, the establishment of the State of Israel has slowed the rate of assimilation of Diaspora Jewry. One may add that many consider a year of study in, or even a trip to, Israel as a potent antidote to assimilation. Many people have become observant or have seriously upgraded their level of observance because of positive experiences in Israel. Furthermore, compared to Diaspora Jewish communities, Israel is blessed with the highest percentage of observant Jews.
Fifth, “Jewish blood” is no longer “Hefker.” Jew-haters cannot attack us in Israel without fear of reprisal. One may add that although there exist profound differences over the direction and nature of the “peace process,” undoubtedly the leaders of Israel are acting in what they believe to be the best interest of the country.
The final reason is that a Jew from a country in distress can find safe haven in Medinat Yisrael. One may add that Israel today is the only country in which the Jewish population is growing. Moreover, the majority of the Jewish People is projected to be residing in Israel within a few decades. This will be the first time since before the destruction of the First Temple that such a happy situation will exist. This past year was the first year that the majority of Jewish children under the age of five resided in Israel.
Despite the State of Israel’s many shortcomings, Halachic Jews have much to be grateful for on Yom Haatzmaut. Those who criticize the current direction of the Israeli government and society should consider the impact on Israel if the approximately one million Orthodox American Jews were to move to Israel. One should not waste energy criticizing Israel. One should strive to improve it spiritually and materially. The immigration to Israel of nearly one million people from the former Soviet Union has greatly changed the character of Israeli society, much of it not in harmony with Torah values. Imagine the impact of a similar Aliyah of American Orthodox Jews.
One should make every effort to join the NORPAC lobbying mission to Washington on Wednesday May 17. (For information call David Schlussel at (201) 833-0464 or (201) 836-6100.)