Disengagement Plus Ten: Why We Cry on Tisha B’Av

Cry for the beloved country, cry for the moral cowardice that leads to sacrificing others rather than take a stand.

Tags: Gush Katif
Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

Every wonder why we cry on the Ninth of the month of Av?

It’s not for the stones and wood of the Temples. The Talmud says that when Babylon and Rome destroyed those buildings, they had long lost their holiness, and were mere inanimate shells.

So let’s start from the beginning:

In mid-2004, with an indictment hovering over his head for misuse of public funds in the acquisition of his huge Negev ranch (and for shenanigans of his son Omri), PM Ariel Sharon announced that he was prepared to evict all 9,000 Jews from Gush Katif, and hand the area to the Palestinian Authority. Gush Katif had started in 1978; from a pile of sand miles from Gaza city and other Arab towns, and the Jews built towns, planted miles of fields, and had produce- packaging plants kilometers long, accounting for all kosher Israeli lettuce, and 10% of overall agricultural export (65% of organic exports). 

By January, 2005, Sharon had the Army make preparations for doing the dastardly deed. By Pesach, mass visits to the Gush were underway, protesting the whole evil scheme.

Sharon declared that he had a “solution for every settler”.

It was a lie. Many of the Gush Katif residents still have no permanent housing; none were given land in compensation for what they lost, and no new farming businesses received government help to go back into business ( a few lucky ones already had part of their farmland outside the borders of Gush Katif, and survived the government “massacre”).

In the spring of 2005, there was a giant protest in Kfar Maimon of some 100,000 people from all Israel . Then, just this time ten years ago, “Bulldozer “ Sharon (a nickname earned for his history of getting things done despite all opposition) gave the cynical speech of his career. It was just before Shiva Asar (17th) of Tamuz, the beginning of the three week mourning period for the Temples, which culminate on Tisha B’Av, the day of the Temples destructions. The speech was on national radio:

“It pains all of us, and especially  me, to HAVE to do this. Me especially, as I was the Minister of Agriculture who first authorized the settling of Gush Katif, and helped its farmers reach the success they have accomplished. And so it pains me, but for the good of us all, I will remove all 9,000 Jews from Gush Katif, raze their houses and synagogues, and hand their industry over to the Palestinian Authority”.

Premeditated rape is probably a better term than “massacre”. And Sharon did it; he did all that he promised.

That 17th of Tamuz, we took our family to the Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust Memorial. I had not been there in a decade. On one wall, I saw something that gave me the shock of my life:

There  was the speech of Chaim Rumkowski of the Lodz ghetto. “King “(not Bulldozer, but it’s all the same idea) Chaim was the head of the Judenrat. He thus presided over the Jewish administration of the ghetto, while the Germans slowly deported 200,000-plus Jews(including, eventually, King Chaim) to the gas chambers of Chelmno. The speech had been given just before the early deportations, in 1942:

“The Germans have demanded that we hand over certain Jews. It pains me to tell you this, but for the greater good of us all, I’m asking for you to hand over your children and elderly to the train station peaceably, for deportation to another land."

There it was: word for word Sharon’s speech. In the sixty years since WWII, we hadn’t learned a thing.

And we still haven’t. That’s why we should have sense enough to cry.

Yesterday, for example, I heard again that we have learned nothing. In Young Israel of Century City, Beverly Hills, California, Rabbi Eliezer Muskin gave a wonderful drasha (sermon) after Musaf prayers. He said that the sin of the Spies of the Desert was that they refused to open their eyes and learn lessons from contemporary events. Moreover, they refused to see the hand of G-d in those events.

Later, before Mincha, Lt. General Eitan Ben Eliyahu, Former Commander of the Israeli Air Force, spoke about current security issues, and about motivation of troops. At a Q&A session during Seuda Shlishit (afternoon Sabbath meal)  I asked him:

“What would you do if a soldier came to you and said that he had the following moral dilemma: He knew well the story of the eviction of the 9,000 Jews from Gush Katif, and he had been given orders to evict another 9,000 Jews from their homes, and impoverish them. He felt this to be immoral, and he was asking the General what he should do? ”

General Ben-Eliyahu answered in obviously measured words: “You have touched on THE nerve-center of Israeli society. Right-Left, Religious- Not Religious, we all have views on this issue of the 700,000 Jews living over the 1967-border, in land which we, for better or worse, administer. But we live in a democracy, and just as you adhere to decisions of your American government, we in Israel must do the same. So I would tell the soldier: you must obey”.

I had expected that answer, but I still found it dismaying, since just before the General fielded questions, during the meal ( attended by well over 100 people), a Holocaust survivor had recounted how of all his extended family, only he and two young uncles had survived the war- and one had died of illness only a week after Liberation.  The Holocaust is Israel’s “raison d’etre” in the eyes of the world; without the Holocaust, the world would never have OK’d Partition by UN vote on Nov. 27,1947.

The German Nazis tried to excuse themselves for murdering 6 million Jews by saying they “were only following orders”- yet, here we had an Israeli general saying that a soldier should obey even orders he personally knew to be immoral! So much for ignoring Rav Muskin’s call to learn from recent events (one minute earlier).

Our Rabbis say that the sin of the Spies involved Lashon Harah, the language of Evil. As we delve deeper into Disengagements and Holocausts, we begin to touch the very roots of Evil in the human psyche:

Recently, Arutz Sheva featured an interview with Col. (ret.) Gershon Hacohen, a religious officer in charge of aspects of the Disengagement. His rationalization for obeying was that for the unity of the country and the Army, he had to obey; again, this is the Sharon/Rumkowski “greater Good” (if you ever hear the term, dear Reader, run for your life, as you are about to be sacrificed for someone else’s stay in a ghetto, or his Army retirement check). I will return to this argument.

HaCohen also had the chutzpah to blame the victims: had they only shown up at Kfar Maimon and Gush Katif with hundreds of thousands of protestors, we couldn’t have done the dastardly deed. He never says that had all the religious officers refused to act, no eviction might have occurred, as they could have paralyzed the Army.

Now, I know that many Rabbis at the time said that there were not enough religious in the Army to stop Disengagement (only one-third of recruits being religious; it’s now above 40%), and that all that what would have happened is that the Army would have had an excuse to purge a generation of religious officers. Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps  the religious refusers could not have shamed fellow soldiers into joining them in protest. We will never know. However, I don’t really want to read HaCohen’s lame rationalizations for what he did; he can keep them to himself: what he did was Evil, no matter what the excuse.  Let him donate his pension checks to Gush Katif relief (Lord knows that the government’s “solution” was to leave them destitute and homeless).

But it’s enough of a reason to cry during the Three Weeks.

And it has a long history:

It all started when Judah (Yehudah) and his brothers threw Joseph (Yosef) into the pit; that’s one Jew making a human sacrifice of another( it was supposed to be prohibited ever since Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of Isaac). Joseph’s sacrifice was being done for what the majority considered the greater Good( it’s all documented in Gemara, Midrash and Zohar). The brothers had all kinds of “valid (in their minds), religious “reasons”(Rashi, Genesis 37;17-18) for wanting to bump off  Joe the troublemaker.

Later, Yosef became the viceroy of Egypt, selling food to a starving world, which included the brothers. When they showed up to buy food, and Yosef gave them a hard time, their response is overheard by Yosef. They say (Genesis37; 21): “ We are guilty in that we didn’t listen to his anguished pleas”. They don’t say they were guilty in doing him Evil; only Reuven says that: “I told you not to sin against the boy, and you did not listen ( verse22)”. The rest of the brothers stubbornly refuse to admit their guilt; at best, we shouldn’t have been so harsh to him- but he deserved what he got.

“And Joseph turned away from them and wept” (verse 24).

The best you’ll hear from our modern, Disengagement brothers is that it was all a tactical mistake: it led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza, it led to thousands of terrorist rockets attacking Sderot, Ashkelon, even Tel Aviv, etc. But you will never hear the HaCohen and Ben-Eliyahu’s say that it was plain evil to throw those 9,000 Gush Katif Jews into the street, plow their homes, and impoverish them.

And for that we cry. Just as Yosef cried.

It took 22 years for the brothers to reach the point that Yehudah would declare himself ready to protect Benjamin from the evil Egyptian viceroy, even if it meant ten brothers fighting the whole Egyptian army. And Rav Aviner, Riskin,etc. were right in telling soldiers not to disobey orders to evict Jews, but rather to feign stomach aches and headaches. They knew the nation was not ready to act like Yehudah, who would stand up to all of Egypt; but rather to act like HaCohen, whose pension check was more of an obstacle to acting right, than the Egyptian army was to Yehudah .

And for that we cry.

I rather believe that just as Yehudah’s act of brotherliness was the action that led to the brother’s salvation as a family, that disobeying would have triggered a modern act of salvation for the nation- a Geulah. We’ll never know, and the Rabbis certainty that any disobeying soldiers would not be met by similar acts of brotherly love by their fellow soldiers, that our “22 years” were not over, and that the  time and nation were not ripe, was probably correct.

Certainly, I’d rather that history had turned out that Rav Avraham Shapira, zt’l, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Head of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav, had been correct. He labeled the Disengagement as evil; his was a clear moral message, to a nation that did and does not think in such terms. As an evil, Rav Shapira entreated soldiers to disobey the Army’s orders to plan and execute the eviction .

However, as Rav Yosef B. Soloveichik once said about the entire Zionist endeavor: G-d paskened (decided Halakhically) otherwise; G-d paskened like Mizrachi, and not like the anti-Zionist Hareidi Rabbinate. In our instance, G-d decided not like Rav Shapira, but like the other Rabbanim who correctly read our nation’s moral cowardice (of those who knew the truth) ,  moral blindness (of those who don’t factor morality into their decisions), and evil (Sharon and those he was out to please). We know that G-d paskened that way, because history shows that not one planner or executor of the Disengagement refused orders. These Rabbonim knew that the Devil, the Evil, of Sinat Chinam still dances throughout this nation- Sinat Chinam, which is the hatred of fellow-Jew that led to two Temples’ Destructions, and two Exiles.

They knew that Yehudah was still not ready to defend Binyamin.

And for that, one can cry his/ her eyes out.