One Comment on Rabbi Lichtenstein's Letter

This is Torah and I am obliged to learn it. I do not understand what connection there is between Rabbi Soloveichik's words, which were said thirty years ago, and our situation today.

Rabbi Dr. Sholom Gold

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
Yoni Kempinski

[Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, dean of the Har Etzion Yehsiva in Alon Shvut, wrote a letter (available here: to Rabbi Avraham Shapira, former chief rabbi of Israel and currently dean of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, regarding the latter's published legal opinion detailing the halachic prohibition of carrying out the Disengagement Plan. What follows is Rabbi Sholom Gold's response to Rabbi Lichtenstein's letter.

In addition, Rabbi Shapira's grandson, Rabbi Avraham Yisrael Silvetzky, wrote a response to Rabbi Lichtenstein's letter (it can be read here in Hebrew).]

Rabbi Lichtenstein writes:

"For example, what would the esteemed rabbi recommend to one of the students of Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevy Soloveichik, o.b.m., who vigorously determined that there is absolutely no transgression involved in handing over parts of Eretz Israel to the nations of the world considering the question of pikuach nefesh [saving of a life in mortal danger], and also established that the opinions of military and political figures may even be taken into consideration."

This is Torah and I am obliged to learn it. I do not understand what connection there is between Rabbi Soloveichik's words, which were said thirty years ago, and our situation today. I want to understand the words of a gaon who was one of the great Torah figures of the past generation and merited to be mechanech [educate] and raise thousands of students, and through his shiurim and writings we are able to benefit from his advice, resourcefulness and Torah knowledge. I will explain what it is that I have trouble understanding.

There is no person alive who can state with any degree of certainty what Rabbi Soloveichik would say if he were alive today. There is absolutely no comparison at all between what he said and our present-day situation.

For example, he may have been referring to handing over territory [of Eretz Israel] to another "nation", but not to a band of terrorist murderers who have adopted the destruction of the State of Israel as their raison d'etre. Murderers who we ourselves have brought here, and to whom, in an act of insanity, we even gave weapons and ammunition. Maybe the Rav would have said that there is no way we can rely on their promises and that they endanger the very existence of the State of Israel. And we, being used to suffering at their hands, have learned that agreements with them carry no value at all. No one ever considered speaking with them during the Rav's lifetime, and in fact, the State of Israel even outlawed any contact with them.

Furthermore, at the time of the Rav's halachic decision, the question was one of handing over unsettled territories that fell into our hands during the Six Day War and which were not full of vibrant, thriving Jewish communities and thousands of Jewish settlers. Who can say that the Rav would agree to the expulsion of thousands of honest, innocent Jews from their homes, where they settled with the approval and encouragement of all the governments of Israel, from across the political spectrum? The same settlers who were exposed to over six thousand mortar rounds and who have been living on the Israeli border (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim Section 329), heroes of Israel, as Rashi describes them three times in parshat Vezot Habracha.

I imagine that he would say, "My dear students, have you all gone mad? This is not what I meant. Please do not profane my name and my memory. How can you possibly distort my words after my death?"

Who can say that the Rav would have agreed to the Disengagement Plan, which is unilateral and does not include any sort of agreement with any other parties, and there are no guarantees that it would not lead to a further increase in terror activity. Maybe the events of 9/11 would have become an important consideration and would have caused a major shift in his thinking.

Who can say that the Rav would agree to the destruction of yeshivot, shuls, ulpanot, educational institutions, and other institutions of Torah and chesed? My dear students, have you gone mad?

Perhaps the Rav would explain himself saying that it would be acceptable to consider the opinion of politicians and military leaders as long as they are honest and have an innate love for Eretz Yisrael and a fondness for Torat Yisrael. Do you think that the Rav's intention was to take into consideration the opinions of military and political figures who are only looking out for their own self-interests and political careers? Those whose opinions are so strongly influenced by their own personal aspirations and ambitions that today they say one thing and tomorrow the exact opposite?

Would he consider the opinions of cowardly political and military figures driven by personal interests, or might he say that he would in no way consider their assessments and recommendations? Can we possibly rely upon those who promised peace with security, but were unable to defeat the bitter enemy, and because of whom we have paid with thousands of Jewish lives? Can we rely upon an expert doctor who has left thousands of dead patients on the operating table?

Were the Rav alive today, he would protest to his talmidim quoting things in his name that have no relevancy at all to the current situation.

Maybe he would shout out loud: "This shall not be done." A nation elects a prime minister on the basis of his promises not to transfer Gaza to the enemy, and the nation casts their ballots electing the candidate who opposes the withdrawal plan, and he changes his mind - completely reversing his previous stand. He does not bring the decision to new elections or to a referendum, and fires the ministers who disagree with him; then, he agrees to abide by the decision of his own party, and when the party electorate answers with a resounding "no", he simply ignores them. The Rav would shout at his students, "Can you rely on a man like this, someone who blatantly tramples democracy? Have you gone mad? You are using me to justify an injustice that cries out to the heaven? How could you possibly even have considered that I would agree to such a loathsome and abominable action?"

In my mind's eye, I can see the Rav saying, "Have I not striven my entire life for the absolute, pure truth, and if I erred would I not admit it and accept the truth? My soul is disgusted by falsehood, so how can you possibly justify and support a lie like this and place the blame on me?"

Do you no not know how many political and military figures were against the Oslo agreement and the Disengagement Plan, but became avid supporters in order not to negatively impact their careers? Does the lie not glare directly at you?

The Rav would say to his talmidim: "Open a Gemara, Masechet Baba Batra, page 130 (side 2) and internalize what is says:

Rava said to Rabbi Papa and to Rabbi Huna the son of Rabbi Yehoshua: "When a document containing a judgement of mine comes before you and you see a flaw [in my judgement], do not rip up [the document] until you come before me. If I have an explanation I will tell it to you; and if I do not, I will retract. If you see a flaw in one of my decisions after my death, do not rip up [the document]; but neither should you learn from it. Do not rip up [the document] ? for if I would be there, perhaps I would give you a valid reason for my decision, but neither should you learn from it, i.e., do not apply my ruling in other cases, for a judge has only what his eyes see; he should rule on the basis of his perception alone."

The words of the Gemara are crystal clear. Rava told his students that after his death, it is their responsibility to determine their stand on any questions that arise. Do not cancel my words, but at the same time, do not decide based upon them. He [a judge] should rule on the basis of his perception alone.

The Rav would demand that his students study the various issues that arise from day to day, seriously discussing and analyzing them, and not simply rely upon a thirty-year-old quote, which was relevant to a different time, under different circumstances and a reality that is totally different from today's. The exaggerated use of the Rav's words by some of his students seems to be a lot more dangerous than the group that relies upon Daat Torah, which many of the Rav's students reject. The opponents of Daat Torah use the Rav's supposed "Daat Torah" regarding pikuach nefesh without actually having seriously discussed the issue.

The author of Eim Habanim S'meicha ( pages 161-162 ) quotes "two prophets who prophesize in a single style": The Kedushat Levi, by Rabbi Levi Yitchak of Berditchev, and the "Mabit" in his work Beit Elokim (the "Mabit" was on the Beit Din of the Beit Yosef). They ask why in the future will we be asking Eliyahu HaNavi - as the Gemara says, "Teiku" (Tishbi yetaretz kushiyot ve'abayot) - to answer the unanswered questions. Why not ask Moshe Rabbeinu himself?

They both answer that Eliyahu HaNavi remained alive and lived through all the various periods [of Jewish history] and experienced all that the Jewish People experienced. Only he can be posek [decide the open questions]. Moshe Rabbeinu died and could not therefore be the posek. See the original for the rest of these wonderful words.

Talmidim of the Rav, please - do not profane the words of your great rabbi. Do not transfer to him the responsibility that should be yours. Do not think that by quoting the Rav's words, the argument is ended and any and all claims of the opposing side are no longer relevant. Even the gaon, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, whose famous responsa permitting the return of territories in consideration of pikuach nefesh [mortal danger] - a responsa from the time of the Oslo Accords that the Israeli government disseminated around the world - changed his mind and determined that the return of territories was the reason for the loss of Jewish lives, and not the opposite. Also, Rabbi Menachem Shach retracted his original psak in this matter.

Talmidim of the Rav, please retract your statements. Have mercy on his honor.