Attitudes toward the Deal of the Century, meeting with Reform clergy

The “Deal of the Century” is basically positive, but must not include concessions on Eretz Yisrael and creating a Palestinian state.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed ,

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
PR photo

Disagreements and confusion accompany the “Deal of the Century” promoted by President Donald Trump, a friend to our country and nation, in conjunction with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Those in favor rightly claim that applying sovereignty to Jewish communities with American support is a huge achievement, which will allow for an impetus of greater settlement in most of the communities.

In addition, for the first time, the Arab claim to a state is contingent upon their adherence to guidelines and moral standards that run counter to their basic beliefs, which they are unlikely to meet.

Those who oppose rightly claim that, in principle, it is forbidden to agree to the establishment of an Arab state in Judea and Samaria, both because of the prohibition of betraying Eretz Yisrael and because of the security risk involved. In addition, they argue against the building freeze that would apply to isolated communities and against the drawing of maps that, on one hand, apply Israeli sovereignty to some Arab villages, and, on the other hand, limit the area for the construction and expansion of Jewish communities.

It seems that as long as we Jews do not reach a broad consensus on our goals we will be forced to progress along a winding and bumpy path. However, so that we avoid confusion, it is proper to examine every plan in accordance with the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael in all its components. That is:

Will the plan advance our fulfillment of the mitzva in both the short-term and long-term? Both from the perspective of expanding settlement and from the perspective of applying sovereignty?

It seems that, in our present situation, despite the mistake that the Prime Minister made when he put drafts of maps in the hands of unsuitable people, the plan, fundamentally, is a step forward. However, it is our duty to fight and push as hard as we can to improve the plan, so that building will be able to continue in all communities, and so that Israeli sovereignty is not applied to Arab villages as long as there are open areas that can be annexed first.

Likewise, we must fight for the principle that we accept the plan as a basis for negotiations on advancing Jewish sovereignty in Judea and Samaria and regulating the status of Arabs, and not as a commitment to the concept of a “Palestinian state.”

In this way, the plan can be accepted, as it advances us with respect to both sovereignty and settlement. Kudos to all those fighting at every step and over every clause to improve the plan.

Question about Meeting Reform Jewry's leaders and clergy

Late last summer, I attended the “Our Common Destiny” conference in Jerusalem, attended by representatives from Jewish communities in Israel and around the world, from all streams of Judaism, to strengthen the mutual responsibility of all segments of our people for one another, based on our shared destiny. As a continuation, I held a Zoom conversation, in context of a virtual conference organized by the newspaper “Makor Rishon”, with the Reform "Rabba" Delphine Horvilleur from France, moderated by Professor Gil Troy.

Some people have asked me: Is it not accepted that we boycott Reform leaders? Why did I breach that boundary and agree to participate in a dialogue with them? The answer, in fact, lies in the question. The year before last, there were several events in which major figures from the religious and Haredi public argued that Reform and Conservative Jews should be boycotted. These views were voiced in controversies about the Western Wall and in criticisms of former Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett, who amiably met with Reform and Conservative leaders abroad, and called them ‘brothers’. I was astonished to discover that in the wake of the bitter debate over Reform and Conservative ideology, the mistaken view that we must boycott Reform communities and their representatives emerged. As I considered this further, I found that a campaign of intimidation was being waged against those who think they should not be boycotted. Therefore, although I almost always refrain from attending meetings and conferences in order not to interrupt my studies, I resolved that the next time I was invited to meet with Reform or Conservative representatives, I would go. Thus, the question is the answer. It was not by chance I accepted the invitation, but with explicit intent to express the sacred obligation to maintain good relations among all Jews and their communities.

In order not to unfairly represent those who do boycott, it should be noted that the majority of them agree that one may meet with Reform Jews. However, in their opinion, it is forbidden to meet with leaders of the Reform movement.

The Proper Way to Relate

It is true that we have profound disagreements about the fundamentals of Jewish faith and the Torah, to the extent that we do not consider Reform to be a stream of Judaism that expresses authentic Torah tradition. We cannot even accept Conservative Judaism, which is closer to us, as representing Torah tradition. However, these two movements represent large Jewish communities of adherents who practice Jewish customs, for whom the Jewish character of their lives is important, and who espouse important ideals of tikkun olam (repairing the world). In practice, they strengthen the Jewish identity of their members, thus hindering the process of assimilation occurring in the Diaspora.

Therefore, it is proper to treat their representatives as we treat representatives of major, important movements whose members are Jewish; who address matters of Jewish education, culture, ceremony, and community activism; who feel responsibility for, and solidarity with, all Jews, including residents of the State of Israel. Such movements have long existed in Israel and abroad: World Maccabi, B’nai Brith, the Joint Distribution Committee, the Kibbutz Movement, Hashomer Hatzair, and the various Jewish youth movements. And just as all the positive actions of these movements should be esteemed, so too we must show appreciation for all the positive accomplishments of the Reform and Conservative movements in the realms of philanthropy, morality, and the strengthening of Jewish solidarity.

Boycotting communities means boycotting their members

Those who claim that congregations and institutions should be boycotted is essentially boycotting the people. Just as, within a community, ties are forged among members, so too, ties between communities and congregations are forged by their representatives. Human beings, by nature, organize themselves into communities, and there is no way for the members of one community to make contact with members of another community without their representatives meeting. If we wish to strengthen the mutual responsibility of all Jews for one another, representatives of the various congregations must meet in friendship and respect.

Moreover, precisely because we are compelled to dispute them and deny them the religious status as they wish, we must find ways to express our fundamentally positive attitude toward them, to express the fact that we are Jewish brethren, and to learn to appreciate the good virtues of each and every one of them.

Because of the Struggle, we must Increase our Love

The Torah teaches us a similar lesson when it places the mitzva to reprove a fellow Jew who has transgressed with the mitzva to bear no hate toward him and even to love him:

Do not hate your brother in your heart; you must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.

Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people; you must love your neighbor as you love yourself; I am God.” (Leviticus 19: 17-18)

Thus, even when compelled to chastise or dispute someone who does not fulfill a mitzva, the mitzva to love and aid him remains in full force. Moreover, if we were to encounter two people, one who observes mitzvot and one who we have had to chastise and dispute for his non-observance, it is a mitzva to first help the one we reproved, so that he knows that the criticism is only about that specific issue, but that as a rule, we are loving brothers (see: Mishna Berura 32:2; Tosafot on Pesaḥim 113b, s.v. “lakhuf yitzro”). Thus, when it comes to Reform and Conservative leaders, after we have had to dispute them without compromise, we have a mitzva to seek ways to express our fraternity and our common fate and destiny, and even to learn from all the good in them and in their views.

It is Better to Bring Close than to Push Away

It is not sufficient merely to balance reproof with expressions of love. The loving side must outweigh the chastising and disputing side, as our Sages said: “Always let the left hand push away and the right hand draw near – not like Elisha, who pushed Gehazi away with both his hands, and not like Yehoshua ben Peraḥya, who pushed away one of his disciples (Jesus of Nazareth) with both hands” (Sota 47a). In other words, our Sages criticized the greatest rabbi of that generation, because by pushing Jesus away with both hands, he indirectly caused his separation from Judaism and the emergence of Christianity, with all the troubles it brought upon the Jewish people. Certainly, then, it is forbidden to boycott and push away Jews and movements who declare, in many of their principles, their loyalty to the Jewish people and its spiritual heritage.

The Mitzvah to Love a Fellow Jew

The view I articulate here is based on two important foundations: ahava (love) and the Brit (Covenant). Ahava is grounded in the mitzva, “you must love your neighbor as you love yourself,” which Rabbi Akiva called, “the main principle of the Torah” (Leviticus 19:18; Sifra, ad loc.). The Covenant refers to the covenant that God made with Israel, His nation – a Divine covenant that will never be broken, even if, God forbid, Israel worships strange gods. As Rabbi Meir said, even when Israel acts wickedly and worships idols, they are called God’s children (Kiddushin 36a). The halakha, in this case, follows Rabbi Meir (Responsa Rashba 1:194; Responsa Har Tzvi, Even Ha-ezer 97. This is also the meaning of the Sages’ conclusion that redemption is not contingent on repentance (Sanhedrin 98a).

Responsibility for Jewish Unity

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (“Netziv”) was asked about the formal separation of communities (“austrittgemeinde”), such that the God fearers (“Orthodox”) would form separate communities from Reform, so as not to be influenced by them, just as Avraham separated himself from Lot. He replied: “This suggestion is terrible, like swords to the body and existence of the nation” (Responsa Meshiv Davar 1:44). In other words, aside from being prohibited, it endangers the existence of the nation. Thus, the solution to prevent spiritual decline is increased Torah study.

Following World War I, some rebbes from the Ruzhin dynasty arrived in Vienna. The heads of the separatist Orthodox community asked the rebbes and their ḥasidim to join their community. The request was posed to Rabbi Yisrael of Chortkov. The Rebbe asked them, “How many Jews are there in your community?” They answered: “Ten thousand.” “And how many Jews are there in all of Vienna?” They responded: “Two hundred thousand.” The Chortkover Rebbe said to them: “You want me to reduce my ahavat Yisrael from 200,000 to 10,000!? This runs against the approach of my sainted ancestors. On the contrary! From your words I see that the religious condition of Judaism is broken and degraded in every respect. It is therefore necessary to invest great efforts in collective improvement” (Avir Ha-Malkhut, vol. 1, p. 258).

We thus see, based on the Torah’s guidance, that we should not boycott Jewish communities and their representatives. On the contrary, it is a mitzva to increase love and peace among all Jews.

This article first appeared in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.