Israel versus Judaism



And the Wonder Come to Pass...

This may be the appropriate place to discuss, however briefly, a problem which has during recent years become a topic of quite heated debate among the Jewish public, particularly since the days of the Sinai-Suez campaign, the question of "Miracles or no Miracles", etc. As has been said, the Balfour Declaration, as well as subsequent political developments, was regarded by many as a "miracle", a view which was strongly opposed by others.

Without going into a detailed examination of the problem, may the following remark be made: those who so heatedly debate this question, on either side, are not really discussing the topic actually under dispute. What happens in the secret heights of the Almighty is no concern of ours. The metaphysical appraisal of one event or the other is a theoretical, subtle and delicate question which is not the actual topic under discussion. The problem confronting us and which concerns us can be only this : What is the lesson to be derived by us from these various events? This question can, according to the Torah and its view,be answered only on the basis of one criterion: are the consequences in accordance with the Torah and its commandments? According to the view of the Torah, nothing whatsoever in the world, no event, no man, not even a miracle-performing prophet, can justify the abolition of even one iota of the Torah.

"If there arise in the midst of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he give thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass whereof he spoke unto thee, saying : Let us go after the gods which thou hast not known, and let us serve them: thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or unto that dreamer of dreams; for the L-rd thy G-d putteth you to proof, to know whether ye do love the L-rd your G-d", etc. (Deut. 13, 2-4). And, as our Sages teach us, the same rule applies even if the prophet advocates on the basis of his truly prophetised "sign or wonder", the abandonment of even one Commandment of the Torah, or even one Rabbinical enactment. The "sign or wonder", mind you, according to our commentators (see, for example, Nachmanides a.1.) has to be one constituting an interference with the normal course of nature ! Yet, the Talmud teaches us : "Even though he may make the sun stand still in the middle of the sky, thou shalt not hearken unto him" (Sanhedrin 90a). Accordingly, even if convincing proof could be provided to the effect that the Balfour Declaration constituted a genuine "sign and wonder" in Halachic terms, that, say, a fiery angel had been seen to have appeared to Lord Balfour prior to his statement to the House on that 2nd day of November, and if, on the basis of such a genuine miracle, the request had been made that the Zionist view should be acknowledged, nevertheless, according to the Torah, this would not constitute proof of the truth of Zionism but only a test "whether ye do love", etc.

This principle is just as valid in connection with the far more significant events that took place during the early period of the State of Israel and its wars, Sinai campaign, etc.-, but I have preferred to apply it to an event about which the distance of time renders a more dispassionate analysis possible.

Whether or not the Balfour-Declaration has been of great benefit to the Jewish People at large, this question is generally agreed to be still subject to discussion. Even within the Zionist camp there is no unanimity in this respect, but this, again, goes beyond our topic. One thing, however, was without a doubt newly created as a result of the Balfour Declaration as far as Torah-true Judaism is concerned : an abundance of new task . There was no change in attitudes and views, for these are not subject to changes but, since Zionism had then started activities on a new and more practical level, it became evident that, on the Torah-true side as well, new steps would have to be taken to meet the challenge of the new situation. What should these steps be? Should an organized body be established, equipped with all the accessories of a political organization, in order to counteract the Zionist organization, or should rather all efforts be dedicated to furthering, deepening and preserving the Torah spirit on both a local and individual basis? This was, indeed, a subject of debate. It is against that background that "Agudath Israel" had been founded back in 1912 and renewed its activities after the war with the majority of its membership concentrated in Germany and some parts of Poland, while on the other hand, some other Torah-true Jews (mainly in Hungary, Galicia and to a certain degree in Lithuania) opposed that organization on the grounds that the shape of a modern political organization for the cause of Torah would finally endanger Torah itself. These developments are very interesting, but this is not the place to go into them.

In addition, there were differences of opinion in orthodox quarters (both inside and outside Agudath Israel) as to what attitude should be taken towards the practical work of the new "Yishuv" in Palestine. Should encouragement be given to “hachshara” and to the immigration to Palestine of "pioneers" (Halutzim), etc., in order to strengthen Torah observance on the holy soil, or should orthodox Jewry preferably refrain from such activities on the grounds that they might both be misinterpreted as consent to the ideological background of such "pioneer-work" and also expose devout young people going through the process of "hachshara" and “aliya” to corruption of their ideological attitude? Reference, of course, is here being made only to such parties, on both sides, who sincerely believed in their own views, and not to those whose views and preachings were dictated solely by political, personal or even financial interests. However, even these differences of opinion, as far as they were shared by people who honestly believed in the views they advocated, were not disputes about the attitude towards Zionism itself. On the contrary, those who advocated immigration to Palestine, etc., considered it all the more imperative to emphasize their objection to Zionism. As an example, let us mention the late Dr. Isaac Breuer, who was THE spokesman par excellence of the so-called "pro-Palestinian" trend. He it was who had coined the phrase describing Zionist work in Palestine as "a national home for paganism".

In 1937, while the Arab riots were still going on in Palestine, the 3rd World Congress (Knessiah Gedolah) of Agudath Israel was held at Marienbad, Czechoslavakia. A comparatively short while earlier, the British Royal Commission for Palestine, headed by the late Lord Peel, had publicly made known its recommendations to H.M. Government for the solution of the problem of Jews and Arabs in Palestine by means of Partition. These recommendations, for the first time in mandatory history, mentioned the words "Jewish State" not merely as a bombastic phrase, but as a practical proposal. To be sure, these words referred only to a small portion of the British Mandated Territory of Palestine, smaller than the area defined in the resolution of the U.N. General Assembly of November 29, 1947, but still "a Jewish State". Had this proposal not excluded Jerusalem from the borders of the “Jewish State”, it would certainly have aroused a tremendous wave of enthusiasm for the dawn of redemption, etc. Indeed, there were many who did regard Lord Peel's proposal with great enthusiasm. Perhaps not many readers will remember the fact that Mr. Ittamar ben Avi, for example, then published a periodical in Tel Aviv (of which only few numbers appeared) carrying the dateline “In the Year One of the redemption of Israel”.

The Zionist Congress, which also met in the summer of 1937 in Zurich, Switzerland, was completely dominated by what was then referred to as the “yes or no” question (i.e. what should the answer of Zionists to the Peel proposals be: yes or no?). Naturally, the World Congress of the Agudah was likewise concerned with the very same question, although the approach and the scope of discussion were entirely different. The main problem with which the Zionist Congress saw itself confronted, was whether the proposed partition of Palestine should be accepted although it meant renouncing Jewish jurisdiction over large areas of Palestine, including Jerusalem, or whether it should be opposed on grounds of the loss of these areas? The problem under discussion at the Knessiah Gedola of Agudath Israel in Marienbad did not centre around the boundary lines as proposed by Lord Peel but around the very question of the existence of a Zionist “Jewish State” in the Holy Land, regardless of boundaries. It is an interesting fact that the decision of the Knessia Gedola was a clear-cut "no", and in this negative decision there was no conflict whatsoever between those who were in favor of the immigration of “chalutzim” to Palestine or those who were against it. Even the delegates from the very few "kibbutzim" then owned by Agudath Israel in Palestine equally supported the negative attitude. The late Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzensky of Wilna, who was also not considered an “extremist”, stated in his letter to the Knessiah Gedola (which he could not personally attend on account of his frailty), that "even if that state becomes a reality, it would at more be a state ruled by Jews, but never a Jewish State".

The text of the resolution of the Rabbinical Council (Moetzeth Gedolei Hatora) that was unanimously adopted, read as follows : “A Jewish state not based on the principles of Torah is a denial of Jewish origin, is opposed to the identity and to the true stature of our People, and undermines the basis of existence of our People". Resolution No. 1 of the Political Commission (also unanimously adopted) reads: "The Knessiah Gedola cannot lend its consent to the JEWISH STATE as proposed by the Peel Commission". The resolution did not refuse its consent to the Peel Proposals but only to the JEWISH STATE contained in these proposals. (Quotations made from the official text (Yiddish) as published by Zeirei Agudath Israel of Riga, Latvia, 1938)

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