After a hareidi newspaper attacked a religious-Zionist decision to have non-Jews build on the Sabbath in a time of need, Ofra's rabbi responds.

The Rabbi of Ofra, Rabbi Avi Gisser, recently permitted non-Jews to work on the construction of houses on the Sabbath - and he now explains that the decision is based on well-known Halakhic [Jewish legal] considerations.

Rabbi Gisser handed down the ruling in light of the danger that a court order might ban continued construction and occupancy of nine houses in the Jewish town of Ofra, in southern Samaria (Shomron), north of Jerusalem.  Two left-wing Peace Now-associated organizations and five local Arabs had sued against the building, with the Arabs claiming the land was theirs. Given the likelihood that the Supreme Court would accept the petition and order the construction halted - which it ultimately did - Rabbi Gisser stated that it was permissible and desirable for non-Jews to finish the work, even on the Sabbath so that the families could move in before the hearing.

The houses are now occupied by Jews, causing a legal anomaly - as the Supreme Court ordered the occupancy to be "halted."

The hareidi-religious newspaper Yated Ne'eman published a scathing editorial attacking not only the rabbi's ruling, but the entire settlement movement to boot.  "We must remember that the settlements were born in sin," the paper wrote, "and they were established only to transmit a nationalistic message of provocation and taunting of the nations and, like the first Zionists, 'taking our destiny into our hands.'"

"It has now become clear," the paper continued, "that one sin leads to another... and some of them [the religious-Zionists] have now decided that the settlements must be built even on the holy Sabbath... This grave phenomenon reminds us once again that the 'nationalist religion' continues to break down barriers amidst a distorted scale of values according to which, nationalist and Zionist values take precedence over the entire Torah."

Rabbi Gisser responded that his ruling is "clear and obvious to anyone who knows Jewish Law," and explained as follows:

"Every person who knows Torah and Jewish Law knows the conditions under which asking a non-Jew [to perform on the Sabbath an act forbidden to a Jew] is permitted.  These conditions are perfectly applicable to the situation on that one-and-only Sabbath in Ofra.  When the question is whether Jews will be able to move into the houses or not, every Halakhist knows that this is a question of a 'communal commandment,' a great need, a large monetary loss, and most of all - a matter of acquiring houses in the Land of Israel, strengthening Israel's hand, and weakening the non-Jewish presence here.  It is written in the Talmud five times, and many times in Jewish Law, that asking a non-Jew [as above] for the purpose of acquiring a house in the Land of Israel on the Sabbath is permitted."

Rabbi Gisser sharply criticized those who try to attack and harm the "Torah world of religious-Zionism, in issues such as the de-legitimization of conversions performed by Rabbi [Chaim] Druckman's rabbinical court and other principled issues on the seamline between religion and state."  He reminded the Yated Ne'eman newspaper that it did not protest - "because of the coalition agreements" - when corpses in Gush Katif were dug up from their graves and when the government enabled Arabs to burn synagogues there.

"Yated Ne'eman will lie and distort in order to falsely show that the Torah is only theirs," Rabbi Gisser accused, "and by doing so, it is sinning vis-a-vis all of Israel and distancing people from Torah."

Rabbi Porush Praises Rabbi Neriah

It should be noted that 92-year-old Rabbi Menachem Porush, a long-time Knesset Member and political leader of the hareidi camp, was quoted recently in the Makor Rishon weekly as saying he had great appreciation for the religious-Zionist yeshiva movement started by Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neriah and for the Torah world it sprouted.