Rabbi Avi Shafran: Holy Places, Holy Lives


editorial31.jpgTwo recent letters to the New York Jewish Week criticized opposition by Orthodox groups in America to the possible partitioning of Yerushalayim. One called the Orthodox Union’s stance on the issue “a cynical effort to score public relations points” and questioned the “morality” of American groups challenging the policies of an Israeli government; the other sarcastically characterized Agudath Israel as having “become great nationalists” because of its recent resolution on Yerushalayim.

The writers’ umbrage appears to have obscured three germane facts:

1) Eretz Yisrael is the land not of any particular temporal government but of Klal Yisroel.  That is not only a metaphysical fact but an entirely tangible one, especially in the Orthodox community.  Whether or not we live in Israel, we visit there whenever we can, and inject millions of dollars into the Israel economy through charity, tourism and investment.  Many of our children and grandchildren spend a year or several studying there.  Some of them, along with many other of our relatives and friends, choose to live there.  What is more, many of us hold tight to dreams of one day living there ourselves.  The security of Israel’s cities, and the accessibility and protection of the Holy Land’s holy places, directly affect our lives.

2) Jews who are fortunate to live on the Jewish Land’s holy soil are the brothers and sisters of Jews everywhere else.  To suggest that any Jew or Jewish group does not have a right – or anything less than a responsibility – to speak up when an Israeli government seems poised to do something objectionable or dangerous is to deny the bond of Jews to both their ancestral homeland and to other Jews.

3) As American citizens, we have every right and reason – and in certain respects we are uniquely situated – to advocate to our own government regarding issues important to us, even when those issues involve other countries.  That is especially so in the specific context of a “peace process” in which the American government is playing a prominent (if not pre-eminent) role.

And so if an Israeli Prime Minister or Knesset considers it acceptable to provide not just the rights of residency and citizenship already provided Yerushalayim’s Arab population but to offer an untrustworthy enemy national sovereignty over parts of the city holiest to Judaism – and, effectively, a military foothold for murderous elements in that heavily Jewish-populated center – yes, each of us anywhere can, and must, speak up, to our governments and to our fellow Jews.

As to Agudath Israel’s sudden seeming “nationalism,” the movement, of course, remains true to the ideals it has always championed.  Unlike those who, whether on religious or nationalistic grounds, reject the very idea of territorial compromise, the concept of land for peace – at least when there is a trustworthy peace-partner – remains one that most of our Gedolim accept in principle.  None of us haredi Jews deny, chas vi’sholom, the holiness of any part of Eretz Yisroel.  But we know that the true, complete (territorially as well as spiritually) “Jewish State” will arrive only when Moshiach does, and that the Bayis Shlishi will be built by the hand of not man but G-d.  Thus, the passive form in our prayer: “May it be Your will that the Beis HaMikdosh be [re]built.”

Theoretically – and here Agudath Israel may part company with some other Orthodox groups – we could even countenance a non-Jewish flag flying over the city’s walls, if it meant true safety, security and freedom of worship for Eretz Yisroel’s Jewish residents.  Needless to say, though, such a scenario is nowhere in sight.

And that is why, at our recent 85th national convention, Agudath Israel passed a resolution that the organization, “under the direction of its rabbinic leadership, should communicate to appropriate government officials the organization’s strong belief that …  Israel should not relinquish parts of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty, and the American government should not pressure the Israeli government into doing so.”

Recognizing the special relationship of Yerushalayim to Klal Yisroel, and being deeply concerned with the obvious danger to our Jewish brethren posed by a highly unstable sovereign Arab entity literally “across the street,” hardly constitute any new philosophy.  What they reflect are things Agudath Israel has always held sacrosanct: the protection of holy Jewish places, and of holy Jewish lives.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]


  1. Safety, Security, and Freedom of Worship are the themes of Agudas Yisroel according to Rabbi Shafran’s response to The Jewish week’s reaction to Agudah’s response to Olmerts reaction to Terror.

    According to recent news stories, it could be worse: imagine if Olmert was inspecting rentals annualy and making arrested people stay in police cars.

  2. NeveAliza, perhaps you should have read the article. Rabbi Shafran never suggested that Americans should have a “decisive say” on Yerushalayim’s future.
    However, as a people emotionally and financially invested in Israel’s future and the future of Eretz Yisrael, we have every right to express ourselves. Further as Americans whose government invests billions of dollars annually into Israel’s economy and defense, we have every right and indeed, an obligation to express what we expect from the Israeli government. Bottom line, no tickee-no washee.

  3. Dennis Ross was the White House’s point man on Middle East matters under both Redpublicans (Pres. Reagan and Bush Sr.) and Democrats (Clinton). In his history of this period, THE MISSING PEACE, he says that a major fault on both sides has been a failure to enunciate policy alternatives–what do they want to accomplish in the foreseeable future, and how would they go about it?
    Rabbi Shafran tells us what he doesn’t like. What policy would he advocate? I agree that our enemies are untrustworthy, which is why we must insist on adequate (as we define that term) safeguards. We would also point out that the Novominsker Rebbe Shlita has stated in the past that it would be permissable to give up land for a true peace, i.e. one with adequate safeguards.
    Respectfully yours from Avraham Morris