Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Opposition to the Criticism of Yom Haatzmaut

By HaRav Yisrael Rosen 
Dean, Zomet Institute

"'Who shows scorn on the day of small things?' [Zecharia 4:10]... It is the small approach of the righteous, who did not believe fully in the abilities of the Holy One, Blessed be He." [Sotta 48b].

Retreating from the "Flowering of the Redemption"

Usually in this column I refrain from directly debating with the opinions of individuals, no matter how prominent they are. But today, when Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day) is upon is, I have changed my policy in the light of a strange declaration by a respected Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Shmuel Tal from "Torah Hachaim." He announced that he has lost faith in "classic" religious Zionism. Rabbi Tal published a wide-ranging essay in the media explaining his decision to cancel the recitation of Hallel and other special customs of Yom Haatzmaut and to downsize it into a regular day. On the other hand, on Yom Yerushalayim (when Jerusalem was liberated) "we give thanks to G-d with great force for His miracles and His wonders, and we celebrate the flowering of the redemption for the entire day."

The rabbi's change of heart with respect to the meaning of Yom Haatzmaut in terms of redemption crystallized for him at the time of the expulsion from Gush Katif, including the forced removal of Yeshivat Torat Hachaim from Neve Dekalim. "I saw how the country conscripted all of its systems – the government, the police, the security forces, the justice system, and the press – all in order to operate against the servants of G-d." With this event, his eyes were opened up to the fact that "this kingdom has been founded on a basis which by its very structure and essence is the direct antitheses of the Kingdom of G-d." As far as he is concerned, " In the entire history of Yisrael, no oppressor has ever succeeded in causing hundreds of thousands of Jews to abandon their religion to the extent of what was done by the first Prime Minister of the land and his colleagues. There have never been such empires of apostasy and spiritual impurity in Yisrael like the universities and the national media in Israel, which disseminate so much heresy and impurity, sponsored by and with the support of the government..."

A "Heretical" Outlook

I am very saddened to see this world outlook espoused by Rabbi Tal, which seems to me to be "childish" at best but which in essence is a disaster for our faith. This extends way beyond the specific question of the "holiness" of Yom Haatzmaut. Let me explain. The feeling of "childishness" appears to be an emotion of "anger" against the Holy One, Blessed be He, and includes an attempt to react to a "parent" by blotting out years when the suckling baby was "carried by the wet-nurse," as a way of punishing the parent for some current action which upsets the child. The abundant good that was heaped upon the nation in the past is not even worthy of a blessing in the past tense.

However, let us leave the "childishness" and go on to a more important point. Since when do we have the right to tell the Master of the World what to do, and if we are not happy to throw it all back in His face? The establishment of the State of Israel is a sign of redemption even according to Rabbi Tal, a key event which led to ingathering of hundreds of thousands of people from the exiles, settlement activity and the flowering of the deserts, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its expansion, and in fact our "government of religious persecution" has waged successful wars at great sacrifice, with the kindness of G-d, against the mighty power of the Arab armies. According to Rabbi Tal, the validity of the "flowering of the redemption" – hatchalta d'geulah – expired in the summer of 5765 (2005), in the expulsion which he describes as "evil and ugly, based on hypocrisy and lies, on corruption and threats, with a stark and basic lack of humanity."

Did the validity of the Exodus from Egypt expire when we were exiled from our land because of our sins and with the decree of the Holy One, Blessed be He? Have we not accepted as halacha the opinion of Ben Zoma in Berachot Chapter 1 (as quoted in the Haggadah), that "the Exodus from Egypt should be remembered in the nights too?" All the masters of commentary and Chassidism take this phrase to mean that even during the exile the validity of the redemption will not expire before we reach the "days of the Mashiach." And here is another remarkable note: Herod, the evil one, murdered the sages of Yisrael and was very fond of Roman culture. But when he built the Temple "rain would fall only at night (and not during the day)... and the people knew that they were doing the labor of heaven" [Taanit 23a]. Rav Kook sees in this a hint that the rebuilding of the holy land is meant to be done (specifically) by those who do not maintain our holy covenant... (Igrot, volume 3, 871).

Statements on a "Pashkivil"

And we have not yet reached our main point of dispute with Rabbi Tal. To view the State of Israel as an oppressive dictatorship which causes people to leave our religion as has not happened before "in the entire history of Yisrael," as he writes, is a terrible distortion of fact, a refusal to acknowledge when thanks are necessary, and a way to lash out against the abundance of Torah which is sponsored by the country. It is an act of putting on "dark glasses" which block out every beam of light, making a reckoning of the actions of the Holy One, Blessed be He. It also refuses to accept the approach of our sages, who taught us the following: "Why was Omri rewarded with a royal dynasty? It is because he added a new city to Yisrael (Shomron, which was a bed of iniquity!)." [Sanhedrin 102b].

In general, the Chareidi claims that the leaders of Israel raised a banner of religious persecution and forced a life of abandoning our religion should be seen as slogans in "pashkivilim" – wall posters - which totally ignore everything that might have happened if the State of Israel had not come into existence. In France, for example, there is a shocking rate of assimilation among the Jews who moved there from North Africa. And a million and a quarter olim from the former Soviet Union might have been assimilated and lost to us in the Ukraine, in Russia, and in the surrounding areas if not for their Aliyah to Israel.

And what do Gush Katif and a decrease in the belief of "the flowering of the redemption" have to do with a government of apostates and those who do not accept our religion? Even the most twisted thinking will not claim that the main goal of the government was to "operate against the servants of G-d," as in the words of Rabbi Tal. The sin of Katif was nationalistic and related to international politics and security, and nowhere near the realms of the Jewish religion.

In the end, let everybody go in the name of his own G-d, while we will "sing praise of Your salvation, and we will raise our banner in the name of G-d" [Tehillim 20:6]. And we will wave our flags, even if we have not yet had the privilege of experiencing the rest of this verse: "Let G-d fulfill all of your desires" [ibid].

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