Personal thoughts on current events, cultural events, Israel, Judaism, Jewish/Israel innovations and life from a Jewish perspective - read into that what you may.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Principle of Pikuach Nefesh - Interview with Rabbi Moshe Tendler on the situation in Israel

Even before the government voted to destroy the communities of the Gaza Region, most people were feeling helpless - clueless about how they could personally help change the terrible decree facing the Jewish people. As the Jerusalem protest tent was folding last month, Voices Editor (moi) and Publisher had the opportunity to chat with the respected Yeshiva University rosh yeshiva and Jewish leader Rabbi Moshe David Tendler, shlita. Here are some excerpts of our talk:

Many years ago, a talmid of mine married and lived on a kibbutz. After nine years of married life, which included visits to the biggest fertility specialists in Israel, G-d did not strengthen with them with children.
He was appointed as a shaliach to America, where the couple consulted with experts in fertility management. None of the doctors they met had the key that the Ribono Shel Olam keeps in His pocket. After almost two years, and no children, they prepared to return to Eretz Yisrael. He asked me if he could see my father-in-law [the great sage of the previous generation HaRav Moshe Feinstein] ztz'l. Like a good Litvak, my father-in-law said to him, 'Did you try everything? The best in Israel? The best in America? You gave up? There's nothing else? Well, now the Ribono Shel Olam will help.' As long as you think you have a better idea, one that the Ribono Shel Olam didn't think of, He waits until you finish. Once you make up your mind that there's nothing to do, then you come to the conclusion, ‘Ein lanu al mi le'hisha'en elah al Aveinu She'BaShamayim.’ (We have no one to rely on, except our Father in Heaven.)
On the way home, they took a side trip to France and to Italy, and by the time they landed home in Israel, she was expecting. They have nine children today, bli ayin hara.
I use this story for myself and for others. The trick is to give up. We haven't given up enough.
Surely, we have to do everything. Lemaan yevarechecha H' Elokecha bechol ma'asecha asher ta'aseh... (So that Hashem will bless you in everything you do. If you do, Hashem will bless you, and if you don't, He won't bless you.)
So you did everything you could possibly do, and you have to have confidence that it will work out fine. The question is, 'Did we do all we could possibly do?' That's the whole shayala (question). Give up when there are some obvious important things to do yet, and then HaKadosh Baruch Hu is not yet involved.
Did we do everything possible? I think there is more to do:
We must contact the American money men, who support Sharon and the city of Jerusalem. Money talks and money men talk. They should be told that we cannot have confidence in Sharon when military men, Shabak and the secret service all say we're increasing the danger to the lives of Israelis with this act [the Sharon Plan]."
We must get the cooperation of the OU (Orthodox Union), the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America) and the Young Israel to organize a march on Washington with very simple signs, 'Bush, would you let this happen in America?' 'Bush, where is your biblical integrity?' We must bring out 50,000 people, as we did for the march on Washington a few years ago. If we do, I am convinced that the Senate will become stronger in its support of Israel.
Pikuach Nefesh
"There's a klal gadol baTorah. In the gemora, sometimes discussions or controversies end up with the word teiku. What's teiku? Tishbi yetaretz kushiyot ubaayot (Eliyahu HaTishbi will answer the questions we have when he comes).
But in halacha, there's no such thing as no answer. When there's no specific answer in halacha for this case, you fall back on principles. Safeik de'oreita le chumra. Safeik derabanan lekulah. (If you have something you're not sure of, if it's from the Torah, you take the stringent approach. If the question is from the rabbis, you take the more lenient option.)
There's no specific answer to the problems facing Am Yisrael today. There's no quick answer to the Kassam rockets. But we have a base halacha which says, when in doubt, pasken the halacha as it is written. And what's written, Pikuach nefesh is docheh kol mitzvah she baTorah. (Where there's a life at stake, you can transgress the mitzvoth in the Torah [note: except three]). Therefore, analyze the situation.
Am I endangering the life of a Jew by the 'disengagement'? Am I improving their security by doing that? That will be my decision. Pikuach nefesh is docheh kol mitzvah she baTorah. So I ask myself a question, 'Is pikuach nefesh involved here?' The generals say it is. The Shabak says it is. The rabbanim in the hitnachluyot say it is. The people are yelling, 'You're killing me.' So, the 'disengagement' is forbidden.
Not because of ahavat haaretz (love of the land), Eretz Shelaimah (wholeness of the land). That confuses the situation. It causes the opposition to demean the machloket (disagreement) into whether we want more territory or less territory. That's not the issue. We want our children not to be killed. Period.
On the big issue of what's good for the Jews or bad for the Jews, we've reached an impasse - teiku. When you have a teiku, you go back to principles. The key principle here is pikuach nefesh.
That's the big error that's being made now in this whole battle. They [the organizations fighting the dismantling of Gush Katif] are putting too much Zionism into the picture. When in doubt, go with the halacha.
And the halacha says clearly, 'This act is endangering the life of Jews.' Oslo was isur me'doreita (forbidden from the Torah) for one reason - not because you felt it was going to fail, but because the signing of Oslo and the reincarnation of Arafat that followed, led to more Jews being killed.
That was foreseen by the little rabbanim in the hitnachlayut (Yesha communities). It wasn't seen by the big rabbanim who had trouble deciding whether they do or do not vote with the government. A shayala was asked, ‘Is Oslo good for the Jews or bad for the Jews al pi halacha?’ They didn't know, so they decided to support the government. That wasn't the issue. If they didn't know, they should have gone back to principles. The first principle, 'pikuach nefesh.'
The Infinite Jew
What do the proponents say? Will [disengagement] increase or decrease security? ' will decrease security now. But in the future, it will be good.' There's no such halacha that you kill somebody now because in the future you'll save more lives. That's against the halacha. We don't have that concept of sacrificing a few Jews so you can save a lot more Jews, because to wax mathematical and poetic, a Jew is of infinite worth, and ten infinities are no more than one infinity. Infinity is infinity.
What should regular people do?
Push this one point. Don't talk about anything else.
Don't talk about how much effort [people of Gush Katif] put into building their hot houses, and what a terrible thing it is to uproot someone, or that it is reminiscent of the Shoah. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about one simple thing, 'You're killing our children.' Period. Not here. Not in Gush Katif. You're killing our children in Tel Aviv.
The Kassam rockets are getting better. Israel is so small. Add a few more grains of powder to a kassam rocket. If you're not interested in accuracy, and just want blind terror, it will hit Tel Aviv also. If it hits Tel Aviv, then you'll get a reaction.
If the first rocket landed in Tel Aviv, they would have wiped out swaths of enemy territory in order to prevent it.
Endangering Ourselves
I have big investments in Eretz Yisrael - 43 grandchildren and great-grandchildren living here, bli ayin hara. So I'm not exactly an outsider. It cannot be that while I was not looking Israel became a fascist dictatorship country with one man calling all the shots.
The fact that Sharon is so resistant to a Misha’al Am (referendum), indicates that he knows he is not presenting a popular plan. If he could have a mandate and a decent majority voting with him, he'd have it his way.
We are surrounded by enemies. They're killing our children. Which nation has ever suffered this thing of arbitrary missiles - 'I'll just send out a missile and see whom I can kill' - and it doesn't lead to a declaration of war!
It boils down to: we have to do what we have to do. And no one's asking me.
[Speaking after the deadly Kassam missiles hit Sderot, Rav Tendler said] Right now, Sharon doesn't understand that he can do whatever he pleases against the Arab terrorists with full support of the people of America. Bush will yell that it wasn't a measured response, and so on. But the majority of Americans today, as anti-Semitic as they are, are pro-Israel, because they hate the Arabs more. It's not from Ahavat Mordechai, but from Sinat Haman.
If I were Sharon, I'd make an announcement on the radio today, 'If one more Kassam rocket lands, this geographic area consisting of ten blocks will be destroyed in the morning by bombers. You have 24 hours to take your belongings and leave. Next Kassam rocket, 20 blocks get destroyed. Next, 30 blocks get destroyed.' They'll stop.
This is like what Yehoshua did when he came into Eretz Yisrael. 'I will leave you an escape hatch, and you can go out.'
The halacha is clear. Pekuach nefesh must be the motivating factor."

Article published in the February Issue of Voices Magazine

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Quotes from Israeli Security Officials on Sharon's Expulsion Plan

Shock. That's the only way I can describe what so many people are feeling right now, following all the committee and Knesset votes to destroy Gush Katif, train the Palestinian Security Services and bring Arab armed forces in sneezing distance to our cities.
Nausea. Our reaction to the photos of Knesset members applauding and congrat-ulating one another after the passing of the Jewish evacuation/PA empowerment vote. They seemed to be celebrating something great, as they were all smiles over the plans to destroy communities, lives and futures. Sure, before the Cabinet vote, the Prime Minister said, “This day isn’t an easy day, and not a day of joy,” but you could have fooled me by the jubilant faces on our Knesset members after the vote.
Disgust. The opinion of anyone who's read B'Sheva's account of police plans to brutalize the citizens of Gush Katif and the Gaza Region. Adding non-Jewish forces to their ranks, B'Sheva says, the police were told to remove their tags, so that no one could complain about their violence, and that they would not accept any complaints for minor brutality like "breaking an arm." In the most frightening news since the time of Stalin, "B'Sheva also reported that police are being trained how to use violence without leaving any external signs which could be used as evidence against them."
The new level of police brutality has already previewed at the road-blocking demonstrations recently, where police used unprecedented force against the teenagers on the street.
Where is the outcry from human rights activists now? Where is the outcry of every Jew in Israel, of every Jew in the world at the plan to break the bones of our brothers?
Peace and Security
Will all this violence and destruction bring us peace and security for the Jewish people, in their albeit shrinking state?
What? Who says there won't be a utopian tomorrow?
* We can begin with one of our most dapper terrorists Mohammed Dahlan (the man responsible for the attack on the Kfar Darom bus that cost the lives of Miri Amitai and Gabi Biton, HY”D and that ripped off the legs of the Cohen children). According to Jpost, Dahlan said only last week that if Israel doesn't leave the Philadelphia Route (which it needs in order to control illegal weapons smuggling from Egypt to the PA) then "the Palestinians will continue to launch attacks on Israel".
* Not so well-dressed Hamas official Said Siam said that if ALL Arab terrorists and security prisoners are not released from Israeli jails unconditionally, "there will be no calm or hudna (temporary truce)."
* The soon-to-be-ditched Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon just told a Tel Aviv conference that Hamas terrorists are exploiting the cease fire to rebuild arms. Not a popular opinion, Bogie.
* IDF soldiers revealed, according to Israel National News, that terrorists are planting land mines at a rate of one a day, inside the Gaza Region and across the Green Line as well.
* HaModia reported that Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze'evi, the head of IDF Intelligence, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the beginning of the month that "any lull in terror attacks is merely a tactic being employed by the terror groups to help the Palestinian Authority extract more concessions from Israel."
* GSS head Avi Dichter, "usually a calm speaker" finally spoke his mind (it spelled his political demise). HaModia reported that Dichter "lashed out against the prime minister. 'I don't know what's happened to you. There is no 'calm' yet, there is no quiet, and as of yet, there isn't the slightest guarantee that Abu Mazen will ultimately be able to fulfill his promise of achieving calm on the Palestinian street, but here you're already rushing to give him things that he'll deserve when there will be peace…You're in too much of a hurry."
Truth, not being in fashion lately, the delegitimization of Avi Dichter and his opinions began immediately. His experience could have been taken straight from Jeremiah, who prophesized the destruction of the Holy Temple if the Jews didn't repent. Instead of his warnings being heeded, Dichter was accused of prophesizing "doom and gloom."
What of other experts?
* Lt.-Col. Itamar Ya'ar, Deputy Chairman of the National Security Council, told the Knesset Interior Committee, last month, "It is very likely that the territory to be evacuated in the context of the disengagement plan will be taken advantage of [by terrorists],"
* Col. Uzi Buchbinder, the army's civil-defense officer, warned the Knesset Environment Committee last month, "The implementation of the Gaza disengagement/transfer plan will place 46 western Negev communities within range of Kassam rockets fired from northern Gaza….Other major Israeli population centers, including Afula, Hadera, and Ashkelon - the latter two of which host major Israel Electric Company power stations - will also come within range of Palestinian terrorists, if the pullout from Gush Katif and northern Shomron is carried out."
What? Did he mention Ashkelon?? Folks there are not afraid of a Sderot II scenario. They're fearful of much worse.
* "Ashkelon Mayor Roni Mehatzri warned, since the rockets are being improved all the time, Ashkelon's southern neighborhoods or even its downtown could come under threat. At the Katza station, there are gas containers that are stored above ground, only 1,500 meters away from residents, he said. He warned that 5,000 to 10,000 residents could be in danger from Kassam hits."
* The Knesset Interior Committee, according to INN, "assessed that the area threatened by missiles after a withdrawal would expand by 6-12 miles - and not 4-5 miles as has been previously assumed. Cities such as Ashkelon, Netivot, Ofakim and Kiryat Gat will be within firing range. The withdrawal from the northern Shomron, too, will place Beit She'an, Afula, Hadera and the towns of the Jezreel Valley within the sights of terror groups taking advantage of the newly evacuated areas."
* Mordechai Yogev from the conservative National Security Forum, confirmed those fears, and added Pardes Hanna to the Kassam-bound list of targets.
* Experts have told the media that there is no defense program in place or in development to protect any of the 46 communities in immediate danger from the withdrawal.
While many security officials have already announced that Israel's main power stations in Ashkelon and Hadera, as well as the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline are vulnerable to Arab attack if Israel leaves Gaza, what about its abandonment of Northern Shomron?
* INN reported that according to the manager of the water utility, Dr. Yosef Dreizen, “The loss of control of the northern Shomron will likely create serious problems for Israel's water infrastructure.” He warned that “it could bring about the drying up of the Jezreel Valley water supply and the salination of the coastal aquifers."
* All of these security officials might have made their findings known to the public last month, but Shas Mentor HaRav Ovadiah Yosef, shlita, announced three months ago, "We must vote against the disengagement! Dismantling Jewish communities in Gush Katif and northern Samaria will endanger Israel. Next, they will chase Jews out of Ashkelon, Hevron and Be'er Sheva; there will be no end!. This plan is 'pikuach nefesh' - a danger to life. If, Heaven forbid, we evacuate these Jewish communities, who will come in their place? The terrorists, who will then be in range of Ashkelon and Netivot, and they will fire their rockets and Kassams."
* The Finance Ministry has its own evacuation problems that will soon spill over into our pocketbooks. Bottom line, there isn't enough money to pay for the "disengagement." Jpost reported that the total cost of withdrawing Israeli forces from Gaza will reach NIS 5 billion, according to the Finance Ministry. But the political and defense establishments believe, that the true cost could leap to as much as NIS 6 billion. "This translates to about 1.1 percent of gross domestic product, and is triple the amount the treasury originally earmarked for the pullout in the government's 2005 budget." Other costs left unbudgeted involve adding protection to the next towns that would be threatened by the pullout, plus the costs of paying off coalition partners.
So, what will happen if there's no money to pay for the destruction of Gush Katif and the northern Shomron communities? There are two options. Increase the budget deficit (how high is the sky), or raise taxes (proof that blood can be taken from a stone).
Safe and Sound
If we all sit back, and allow the destruction, chas v’shalom, will the rest of Yesha be secure, as we’ve been promised?
What? Not that either?
World Net Daily reported, " Sharon, speaking to reporters after giving his annual address to the foreign press corps, said Bush supported the concept of a final peace agreement in which Israel would retain land in the West Bank and not accept Palestinian refugees if the Jewish state carried out the Gaza withdrawal."
"I don't think that we made compromise or concessions without getting anything in return," Sharon said. "In the agreement between Bush and myself, we [received] tremendous achievements that Israel never had since its establishment." Sounds good, but unfortunately when a US official was asked, by David S. Bedein, director of the Israel Resource News Agency, to confirm America's agreement to Israeli settlement in blocs in Yesha, his answer was NO!!
Don't believe him? So, ask US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. INN's headline after Rice's meeting with Dov Weisglass (he’s the casino king - today Jericho, tomorrow Gaza, the new Monte Carlo on the Mediterranean) read "Israel Must Withdraw from More than Gaza and Samaria." Why? Because, America's Road Map calls for the new Arab state to have continuity between Gaza and Yesha, "effectively dividing Israel in half, north and south of the Gaza-Hevron connection."
What about Israel’s continuity? Well, if Am Yisrael had a feeling of continuity to its past and an appreciation of its heritage and its land, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.
Surely our own government will demand that President Bush hold to his letter supporting Israel's desire NOT to return to the 1949 armistice lines. Or maybe not.
This week’s cabinet vote called for the withdrawal from Gaza, and the approval of the fence route (which Voices told you long ago would be the border!) that would keep only 7% of Yesha as part of Israel. If these dastardly plans are realized, get ready, chas v’shalom, for Evacuation-The Sequel, to be played in a community near you, or maybe even closer than that.
Need confirmation on the plans to do away with Yesha?
INN reported that Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit said that groups from Gush Katif could resettle anywhere in the Negev or the Galilee. If they wished to move individually to Yesha, they could, but not as groups. "The government expects that many of the settlers will not want to move to the West Bank since that area will probably be evacuated in the long run as well, the official said."
Why? Why? Why?
Noah's sons (in the musical "NOAH! Ride the Wave!") say, "There must be a reason for all this." "I wish I knew what it is." Everyone else is wondering the same thing.
Caroline Glick, the Jerusalem Post's absolutely brilliant columnist, wrote last week, that Sharon's plan "arguably the most controversial plan ever to be adopted by an Israeli government - is being bulldozed through to implementation without Sharon or his allies ever satisfactorily explaining how it will advance Israel's security or political interests….Sharon has not explained how turning Gaza over to the Palestinians will enhance Israeli security….He has not explained how Israel will protect itself from rocket and mortar attacks on Ashkelon, Ashdod or Netivot after the withdrawal….He has never explained why it is necessary to give the Palestinians the communities in northern Gaza - Dugit, Alei Sinai and Nissanit - which are geographically indistinguishable from Ashkelon and whose heights control the entire area….He has never explained how Israel will be able to defend the strategic sites like the Ashkelon power station and the Ashkelon-Eilat oil pipeline with Hamas roaming freely on those heights.....He has never explained why it is necessary for Israel to remove itself to the 1949 armistice lines, rather than retain the areas necessary for its security and what Israeli acceptance of these lines in Gaza means for future negotiations regarding Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem."
And, unless we want to be charged with incitement in this period of democracy-suspension, we're not even allowed to ask.
Good luck to us all. Rocky waters ahead. May Hashem save His people. Especially in these times, when Am Yisrael needs you ... Let your Voices be heard.

Printed in the Febraruy 2005 Issue Voices Magazine