Settling The Land of Israel

Equal to all of the Mitzvoth

The Sages teach (Sifri, Re’eh 53): “The Mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is equal to all of the other Mitzvoth in the Torah.” This is due to the fact that, in addition to its own inherent value, the Mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel serves as a foundation for the healthy national existence of the Jewish people. Such an existence allows the Jewish people – a people whose task it is to spread faith in God and the Divine word – to bring about the perfection of the entire world. It is for this reason that the Prophets of Israel prophesized at length regarding the settlement and burgeoning of the Land of Israel; the poets crowned her with a thousand crowns, and all of the great rabbis longed to reach her soil.

This Mitzvah also embodies the principle of unity and love among the Jewish people because it is fulfilled by the people and for the people.

So central is the commandment to settle the Land of Israel, that the Torah instructs us to risk our lives in order to conquer and hold on to the Land (Minchat Chinukh 425). The Torah even permits violating certain aspects of Sabbath in order to hold on to her – even if just to purchase one house (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 307:5). In extreme cases the Torah even allows for divorce in order to fulfill this commandment (Shulchan Arukh, Even HaEzer 75:4).

Religious Zionism

The commandment to settle the Land of Israel – i.e., that the Land be in our hands, and not left barren – has always served as the foundation and underpinning of religious Zionism’s approach to Aliya (Jewish immigration to Israel), settlement, defense, and state. It lies behind our viewing today’s events as the “first flowering of our redemption” as foreseen by the Prophets. True to this philosophy, all religious-Zionist educational institutions educate toward love of the nation, the land, and the state; they advocate sharing the burden of military service, economic and social responsibility, and participation in all aspects of Jewish life, and in the entire Jewish world. In the words of Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the “Chatam Sofer” (on Sukkah 36): Any action or enterprise that serves to advance Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel is included in this Mitzvah.

Joining Forces with Irreligious

With the appearance of modern Zionism, an intense dispute arose between Rabbis. The debate centered on the question: Is it permissible to join forces with irreligious elements of the Zionist movement? Because of the great importance of the Mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, and despite the great difficulties involved, our prestigious and eminent Rabbis concluded that such cooperation was indeed necessary; this was the path that must be taken in order to settle the Land and harbor the Redemption of Israel. This was the position taken by renowned Torah authorities such as Rabbi Kook, Rabbi Reines, Rabbi Hertzog, Rabbi Amiel, Rabbi Uziel, Rabbi Adaya, Rabbi Ratah, Rabbi Charlap, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and others.

Prohibition against Uprooting

It is clear, then, that participating in any sort of action that aims at violating this great Mitzvah – a Mitzvah that guides our every step and for which we are willing to sacrifice so much – is forbidden. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook and Rabbi Shlomo Goren, of blessed memory, thus ruled that it is forbidden to hand over portions of the Land of Israel to non-Jews, not to mention uprooting a Jewish settlement for this purpose.

When, in time, the question arose as to what ought to be done in a situation where a ruling of the Israeli government clashes with the essential commandment to settle the Land of Israel, it was declared that there is clear and unquestionable preference for the law of the Torah. Eternal, never-changing Torah commandments take precedence over any type of government decision, which, by its very nature, is given to change.

This principle holds true not only regarding the commandment to settle the Land of Israel; it is the case concerning all of the Mitzvoth of the Torah. It is forbidden to follow the law of a king or government that negates the word of the Torah. Then Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Defense Forces, Rabbi Shlomo Goren zt”l, publicized this ruling and, despite the rebuke of the Chief of Staff, refused to reverse it. (The precedent for this ruling can be found in Sanhedrin 49a and in Yad, Hilkhot Melakhim 3:9).

Clearly, it is preferable to do everything possible via the Knesset, the Government, and the public, in order to prevent the emergence of a ruling which negates such an important Mitzvah. Yet, if this is not successful, it becomes necessary to stand in adamant, passive opposition to the Government ruling – a ruling which, in the words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, is “null and void in comparison to the eternal law of the Torah.”

Yet, even if we accept the fact that not all Knesset members understand the Halakhic prohibition involved here, how can anyone even consider commanding a Jew, for whom the Mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel is so central, to destroy a settlement and to displace its residents? How is it possible to order a Jew to uproot with his own hands the very foundation of his faith? Could their hearts be so hard? Would they even command a person to dislocate his own parents? Are they not ashamed to command a person to assault that which is most dear to him?

Poor Public Image

Many are concerned about the bad image that resistance is liable to cause the settlers of Judea, Samaria. True, the issue of public image must be taken into account; the advice of Rabbis and experts must be sought so that people know in what manner to speak and how to act. On the other hand, it must be remembered that it is not always the short-term effect that needs to be taken into consideration; sometimes the value of the long-range lesson is of greater importance. Sometimes an act which results in severe short-term damage, serves the important role of making a clear statement concerning the importance of settling the Land, and impresses upon all the preference of Divine law over transient political rulings. Even if our efforts to settle the Land do not produce the sort of fruits we would like them to, we, in our determined stand, have at least established the desired goal – and eventually we will reach it. Indeed, Judaism and Torah leaders have followed this path numerous times throughout history.

Fear of a Rift in the Nation

The media’s ranting that resisting settlement evacuation causes a rift in the nation is simply untrue. How can passive resistance to participating in civil action possibly have such extreme repercussions? The religious community is overly sensitive to these sorts of attacks, and the leaders of the Left along with the media take advantage of this sensitivity. The more we allow ourselves to be flustered by such accusations, the more they will be hurled at us. The more that we argue amongst ourselves and make biting allegations against one another, the more accusations will be made against us by the media. We will be labeled inciters, agitators, and criminals. (This is precisely what the media did to Effie Eitan. He made rational and pointed remarks concerning the mass desecration of Sabbath, yet was portrayed as an inciter.)

It is important to note that all of the accusations insinuating that somebody permits using violence against soldiers, police officers, or anyone, are complete lies. Only passive resistance was permitted by Rabbis.

And if the Left should choose to Refuse?

Do we not run the risk that our refusal to follow orders on Halakhic or patriotic grounds will bring in its wake a refusal on the left to take part in protecting the settlers or conquering the Land of Israel?

In this matter, one must make a distinction between truth and falsehood. Our position is genuine, and based upon both Torah and human rationale. Their position, on the other hand, is based upon mistaken human leanings – of the sort which at one time lead men to prostrate before Stalin, the “Sun of the Nations,” or later to kiss and embrace Arafat and his cohorts. We come in the name of moral values that build the nation. Yet, values that call for uprooting settlements and refusing to do battle with the enemy are outright destructive and undermining.

In the same respect, such people could claim that if it is permissible for Jews to sacrifice themselves for Torah and faith, it is permissible for idolaters to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their beliefs. All of the Prophets of Israel cried out against such rationale, for they were able to distinguish between the essential difference. We pray to the living God; they pray to wood and stone. Countless sources could be cited to this effect.

The Present Dispute

During the reign of the Rabin Government, a practical question arose: Does Halakha permit taking part in the dismantling of settlements and army bases? Leading rabbinical authorities, amongst them Rabbi Goren, Rabbi Yisraeli, Rabbi Yosef Kapach, Rabbi Nerya, and Rabbi Shapira ruled that a Jew was obligated to refuse participating in such an action. At present, the question is slightly different: Is the dismantling of outposts considered a definitive act of Torah violation?

There are those who hold that where the intention is to uproot a settlement in order to hand it over to Arabs, then it is clearly a violation of the Mitzvah to settle the Land, and one is obligated to refuse participation in such an act; when, however, an outpost whose site will not be given to Arabs is at issue, and opposition to its existence stems from formalities alone, the government’s order does not contradict the Torah, and it is permissible to carry out such an act. Other Rabbis, among them myself, hold that the intention of the present dismantling violates the Mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel, for it uproots vibrant Jewish settlements, and leaves their locations barren. (The fact that this act is being carried out, as some claim, for political reasons, certainly does not make it any more acceptable).

At any rate, in light of the above dispute, the Committee of the Rabbis of “Yesha” (Judea and Samaria) publicized the following statement: “We call upon all soldiers to approach their commanding officers with the request that they be released, on conscientious and faith-related grounds, from any activity connected to the evacuation of outposts.” In addition they declared that “every outpost in the Land of Israel is seen as a fulfillment of the Mitzvah to settle the Land; accordingly, it is forbidden to evacuate such outposts.”

What, though, does a soldier do if his commanding officer refuses to respect his request? In this regard there are differing opinions among Halakhic authorities, and each individual must follow the decision of his own rabbi.

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