computer simulation of the vent
computer simulation of the ventHostages and Missing Persons Families Forum

When I first saw that Rabbi Avi Shafran's recent essay " Why a Gaza hostage deal is Dividing Religious Jews About a Sacred Tenet of Judaism" was being run in the virulently anti-religious, far-left Israeli newspaper Haaretz (I could not find it any other media publication) I was surprised. . . until I read the essay. Haaretz was indeed the ideal place for this flawed and biased article, which distorted the positions of Haredim while attacking the National Religious parties headed by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir.

Briefly, the article claimed that the recent support of the Haredi parties for President Biden's hostage deal was purely a reflection of the deep concern that Haredim feel about the hostages and the primacy of the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim, releasing captives – apparently far more than their counterparts in the National Religious world. From constant prayers for the captives to signs about them in Meah Shearim and other fantasies that he conjures up, one is given to believe that the position the Haredi political parties took was based solely on altruistic love for their captive brothers and sisters and zeal for Torah values.

To his American audience, many of whom are antisemites who enjoy seeing Jews disagree with one another, Rabbi Shafran went on to explain that "While Smotrich's Religious Zionism and Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit parties see things through what is essentially a patriotic lens, albeit one informed by religious beliefs; UTJ and Shas' view is exclusively Judaism-centric in nature." Furthermore, he claims, that for Smotrich and Ben Gvir, the release of the hostages is a lower priority. In contrast, they see "military gain and the crushing of Hamas, realistic or not, as the prime goal, above all else."

There is so much here that is offensive that it is hard to know where to begin. To say that only Haredi views are based on Torah values, while those of the National Religious and Otzma parties are based on a "patriotic lens albeit informed by religious beliefs" is a lie, distortion, and an insult. The views may be different, but they are both based on solid Torah values, albeit positions on the Jewish State that disagree with each other.

The NR and OY parties believe that it is a mitzvah of the highest order to take part in the National defense and that this can be done and is done such that religious soldiers who fight are Yirei Shamayim (G-d fearing) and Talmidei Chachomim (Torah scholars) who follow the Halakha that everyone is required to participate in a Milchememt Mitzvah, an obligatory war, defined by the Rambam as one in which Jews are in need of deliverance from an enemy.

They follow poskim who say, like Moshe Rabbeinu, that it is wrong to sit back while others fight. They hold that while it may be justified for a relatively small cadre of totally-dedicated men to study Torah full-time, the way of the Torah is that most people must participate in the National Defense.

This short essay is not the place to discuss the enormous issue of the mitzvah and the privilege of fighting for the protection of our people. Still, it is ugly, offensive, and false to claim that it is not based on "exclusively Judaism-centric sources."

Moreover, the opposition that the National Religious and Otzma Yehudit parties have to Biden's deal is not because of any lack of deep desire to see the hostages freed. There is no difference of opinion about the importance of freeing captives, “a Sacred Tenet of Judaism.”

Their opposition – shared by a majority of Israelis – is because (a) it is a bad deal in which Israel has to give up many bloodthirsty captives who, like the accursed Sinwar, will attempt to hurt us again, and (b) it leaves Hamas in place to regroup and not be defeated, and (c) they don't trust the US government, or anyone else, with guaranteeing our security. Historically, one of our great Sages, the Maharam of Rotenberg, lived out his life in prison because he would not allow his fellow Jews to ransom him after he was arrested on false charges and held hostage, because he knew it would lead to further hostage taking. .

The Religious Zionist parties feel that the only way to get a deal that we can live with is to fight till the total submission of Hamas to the point that they cannot threaten us again. This deal is flawed and falls far short of that.

But the cynicism runs much deeper. It is obvious to any observer of the current Israeli political scene that the strong support for the hostage deal is primarily because of one major issue and one minor issue, both of which stem from a strategic political calculus.

The major issue in the position they have taken on the hostage deal is based on the Haredi parties' attempts to garner political support from other parties, particularly those who might be sympathetic to their draft law, which aims to exempt all haredim from military service. This law is wildly unpopular and highly controversial and faces significant opposition; thus, securing political allies could be crucial for the Haredi parties to advance their agenda.

They are, therefore, willing to sit with strange bedfellows, even the very anti-religious Yair Lapid, who Rabbi Shafran quotes as congratulating the Haredim for "displaying national responsibility." It is no secret to anyone that Lapid's concern for the hostages is a cover for his boundless enmity for PM Netanyahu, whom he continually falsely attacks for not caring about the hostages and seeking only his own political survival. That, of course, is evidently true of Lapid himself as well as Benny Gantz.

The minor issue is that there has been a noticeable trend of growing support for Otzma Yehudit among young Haredim, a shift that has caused concern among traditional Haredi parties. This trend is attributed to various factors, including a desire for stronger representation on national security issues and a more assertive stance on Jewish identity in the public sphere. Young Haredim are increasingly drawn to Otzma's bold approach to these topics, which resonates with their concerns about the future of their community and the state of Israel. As a result, Haredi parties are wary of the potential loss of votes to Otzma Yehuditj, as they traditionally rely on the unified support of their community to maintain political influence.

It is too bad that Rabbi Shafran engages in distortion and supercilious arguments to promote the Haredi agenda and the canard that Haredim care about the hostages more than those who are actually going out to fight for them. What is true is that much as we wish there were a good deal on the table, no deal is better than a bad deal that does more harm than good.