(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times)
Most people with family in Eretz Yisroel who have cars are familiar with the Peleg days of rage. Essentially, in protesting Israel’s decision to force Yeshiva students to register for the draft, Peleg Yeshiva students are blocking major arteries of traffic. Peleg Yeshiva students are followers of Rav Shmuel Auerbach, and this issue has split the Lithuanian Torah community. It is a matter of serious controversy in Israel.
It must be noted that whatever one believes – the kavod HaTorah toward our leading Torah sages must always be maintained. One should look at it as if chalilah, one’s parents are fighting or divorcing. One may not take sides and must treat both parties with the utmost respect.
Regarding the controversy itself, there are three underlying issues.
WHAT’S THE BEST WAY?
The first issue involves what is the best way to go about ensuring that yeshiva students be allowed to continue studying unhindered by a forced draft. Rav Aron Leib Shteinman Shlita is of the opinion that the Yeshiva students simply register and then continue learning undisturbed. He, apparently, feels that since this is not an actual draft, but merely registering for one, the situation can be handled politically if and ever an actual draft is to come about. Rav Shmuel Auerbach shlita, apparently feels that one should not grant even a foothold – and one should actively protest the draft and the draft registration.
SHOULD PROTESTING ENDANGER LIVES?
The second issue is how far does one protest? Rav Eliezer Menachem Shach zt”l, however, was aware of some of the repercussions and extreme measures that some protestors take. He spent time and effort clarifying to his followers that at all times protestors must act with the utmost derech eretz – like true Bnei Torah. There are videos of such instructions that Rav Shach zt”l had given.
Unfortunately, the decision to block traffic on the part of many Peleg protestors has led to situations of Pikuach Nefesh – life threatening dangers. Ambulances on verified emergency calls have been blocked. Children in need of oxygen have been stuck in traffic with no available emergency resources. Crucial medical flights have been missed. Indeed, it is impossible for the protestors to know what medical situation they are potentially hampering with their traffic blocking protests.
A woman in labor could hemorrhage to death chalilah because she was stuck in traffic 8 blocks behind the protestors. This second issue is no laughing matter.
It is clear as day that no leading gadol would ever sanction protests to a degree where it would risk lives. The situation is tantamount to instructing people to slash the tires of Hatzalah and Magen Adom ambulances in order to make a point. No Gadol would ever sanction such behavior. It is also somewhat ironic that those people involved in creating this clear and present danger to Jews throughout Israel are filming incidents of “police brutality” in the very dangerous scenarios.
It is clear then that, on account of the fact that there are life-threatening aspects to traffic protests, it is some mid-level administrator who is behind the Peleg traffic protests. It is not being sanctioned by any Gadol, and certainly not Rav Shmuel Auerbach Shlita.
LONG TERM REPERCUSSIONS TO PROTESTORS
The third issue is one of possible long term repercussions to those who participate in traffic blocking protests. Is blocking traffic halachically considered trespassing? Do we rule like those rishonim that trespassing is a form of gezel? Does this type of gezel make one pasul l’aidus?
OTHER UNDERLYING ISSUES
As others know quite well there a number of other very serious issues involved in the traffic stopping protests; the gravest issue of course is Chillul Hashem, but there is also financial damage to third parties, there is danger to the participants themselves as well as to others, there is possible lifnei Iver on the reactions that others may have, there is massive Bitul Torah, and there is the possibility of making things significantly worse.
It is certainly true that the Satmar Rebbe zt”l, as well as numerous Gedolim in Eretz Yisroel understand the idea of protest as Kiddush Hashem (VaYoel Moshe Shalosh Shavuos Siman 113-114). This was also the view of the Brisker Rav zt”l. They never advocated protesting to the point of endangering lives.
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l were against all protesting in the United States. They were attuned to the possible repercussion of Chillul Hashem. It could very well be that the situation has now changed on account of instant media coverage that others would have agreed to Rav Moshe zt”l and Rav Aharon zt”l as well – nowadays.
In the 5748 edition of HaPardes Volume III page 9, the views of Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l and Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l are cited in regard to the idea of protests. The American Moetzes Gedolei Torah at the time felt that protests were highly counter-productive. Instead, they opted for the time-tested method of shtadlanus. This method has been used effectively for centuries.
In the 5753 edition of HaPardes (Vol. IV p. 25), Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l also came out strongly against the idea of protests in regard to atrocities done to graves by archaeologist, and instructed the Agudas HaRabbonim to send a strongly worded telegram to then PM Yitzchok Rabin. He also stated that strong condemnations should be made from each shul.
On Monday, Sept 2, 1957, (the 6th of Elul 5717) representatives of Agudas HaRabbanim approached the Satmar Rebbe in regard to a protest at Union Square. They told him that it was unbecoming of Talmidei Chachomim to behave in such a manner and that hatznea leches should be the operative principle. The Satmar Rebbe rejected this view.
Another underlying issue is third-party damage. Regardless of what one holds about the issue being protested, it is absolutely forbidden to cause damage to a third party because one wishes to protest – even if the reason for his protest is a perfectly correct view. No longer is a protest a mere temporary delay, like it once was when Gedolei Torah allowed protests in the early twentieth century. Now, the damage is quite more extensive. If Reuvain is upset with Shimon, he simply may not damage Levi. The Tur in the beginning of Choshain Mishpat chapter 378 writes that it is forbidden to do damage to someone else – just like stealing is forbidden. Damaging is also a negation of the Mitzvah of V’ahavta lerayacha kamocha according to the Steipler Rav (Kehilas Yaakov Bava Kamma Siman 1) and quite possibly a number of other Torah injunctions.
A second issue is whether one is permitted to protest in an illegal manner – without a permit. The Belzer Rebbe is cited among other Gedolim as forbidding participation in a hafgana unless the protest had a legal permit – on account of the danger of sakanas nefashos – aside from the issue of Bitul Torah (hashkafas hanetzach l’sh’ailos hazman p321).
The baser tendency of some human beings is to enjoy violence – this is true on both sides of the fence. Policeman have a tendency to hit, beat, shoot with rubber bullets and taser protestors. This is true in America, foreign countries, and in Israel. Most responsible parents do not want their children participating in events where they can get bloodied up, facial fractures, and the like. These things happen.
Shtadlanus, behind the scenes activity, is clearly the better way to go. It is also true that the very people picketing also get out of hand. Why are there people throwing rocks at police officers? The answer is because they get in the spirit of things. A hafganah in Israel is as fun as a tackle football game in the snow for Americans.
GEZEL SHAINA – STEALING PEOPLE’S SLEEP
It is said in the name of the Chofetz Chaim that stealing people’ sleep is one of the worst forms of Gezel – theft. His reason is that it can never be paid back. The recent hafganot, in many places, were held until the wee hours of the morning – and boisterously so. Babies, children, mothers and fathers could not sleep. Is this not Gezel Shaina?
Rav Shmuel HaLevi Vosner, zt”l the rav and av beis din of the Zichron Meir section of Bnei Brak, discusses the situation in the seventh volume of his responsa (Shaivet HaLevi #224).
Rav Vosner begins his response with the position that the term “theft” can only truly be used when one steals an actual item and the thief either uses that item or benefits from it. He writes that preventing someone from sleeping is prohibited because one person is not allowed to cause damage to another or to prevent another from realizing a benefit, but there is no actual theft involved. Rav Vosner admits that there is definitely a proof from Bava Basra 20b that preventing someone from sleeping is prohibited, as well as from Choshen Mishpat siman 156:2 and 3.
The Shulchan Aruch discusses whether someone is permitted to open a commercial store in a residential neighborhood. Rav Karo writes as follows:
“The immediate neighbors may prevent him from opening up such a store and tell him, ‘We cannot sleep, on account of the noise of those who are entering.’ He may only do his work in the house and sell it in the marketplace. However, they may not stop him and say, ‘We cannot sleep, because of the sound of the hammer, or the mill.’ This is because he already began doing this and they did not stop him from doing it earlier.”
Clearly, this would forbid hafganot in residential areas too.
Although the parameters of what is permitted in a residential area and what is not are somewhat complex, the essential issue that preventing someone from sleeping is generally prohibited can be established from this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch – especially in the areas where the hafganot were held.
Rav Vosner concludes his response with the idea that the term “gezel” is somewhat of a misnomer.
We do find, however, that Chazal perhaps define the term “gezel” in a broader fashion than Rav Vosner understands it. The term is used in the Talmud (Berachos 6b) in a situation that may not quite be considered “stealing an actual item and using or benefiting from it.” Rav Chelbo quotes Rav Huna as saying, “Whoever knows that the other generally greets him, should greet him first, as it says, ‘Seek peace and pursue it.’ If the other gave him a greeting and he did not return it, he is considered a thief, as it says, ‘For you have devoured the vineyard, and the theft of the poor is in your house’ (Yeshayah 3:14).”
Likewise, the term is used by Rav Chanina bar Pappa (Berachos 35b) regarding someone who eats and does not recite a blessing. It is considered as if he stole from Hashem and from knesses Yisrael. And the term is used in Sanhedrin (91b): “Whoever prevents a student from learning Torah, it is as if he stole his inheritance from him.” In both of these instances, no actual item is being taken and benefited from.
The Midrash Tanchuma (Bamidbar 27) also uses the term to describe someone who quotes a halachah and does not quote the name of the one who said it, in violation of the verse “Do not steal from the destitute for he is destitute” (Mishlei 22:22). The Midrash traces this back to the zugos, and ultimately traces it back to Moshe Rabbeinu from Har Sinai.
Similarly, in a Tosefos in Kiddushin 59a, Rabbeinu Tam’s father, Rav Meir, is quoted as understanding that in a case where fisherman A set out his net and fisherman B afterward set out a net nearby with a dead fish inside (to attract more fish), it is considered as if fisherman B stole from fisherman A—even though the fish had not yet arrived. (Fishermen: please note the fishing advice from Rabbeinu Tam’s father.)
We see that the term theft is used more loosely than as defined by Rav Vosner. There is also a responsum from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg Shlita printed in the Av 5762 edition of Koveitz Beis Aharon V’Yisrael that the case in Berachos 6b (regarding one who does not return a greeting) is considered theft only because it is the negation of a debt. Even though the debt is non-monetary in nature, it is still considered a debt, and the negation of this debt thus falls under the rubric of theft.
The issue of Lifnei Iver is also an issue. The overwhelming masses of people in Israel and elsewhere look at religious Jews as if they are a bunch of hooligans and such behavior causes a lifnei iver of hating Torah Jews.
It is hard to imagine a better way of getting other people to violate lo sisneh es achicha bilvavecha. Behaving in a manner that just gets other people to hate us – fosters lifnei Iver. This says nothing of the Lifnei Iver caused to the police officers. And while it is true that Rav Elyashiv dismisses the specific Lifnei Iver of Shabbos violation involved in Shabbos hafganot, many other Poskim do not.
Rav Shach (cited in Torascha Shashu’ai p. 441) was approached by two students as to whether to partake in hafganot regarding archaeological digs. He cited the Gemorah in Yevamos 63b that explains that they and their fathers would be punished. What does Hashem then want of us? That we not violate bitul Torah!
In Orchos Rabbeinu about the Steipler page 385, a story is cited concerning the Chazon Ish that when a person had asked him whether there was an issue of Bitul Torah in partaking in a hafganah – he responded, “For you it would be a problem of bittul Torah since you expressed concern for it.” Numerous other Gedolim forbade going to hafganot because it constituted Bitul Torah.
DOES IT HELP OR HINDER?
The last question involves whether it helps or hinders. Has the Israeli government stopped the draft on account of the hafganot? Most people say no, and that it has rather served to infuriate the populace against the Chareidim. Others claim that they did help change matters. In this case, it seems that it made things worse.
Whenever there is a question about something helping or hindering we usually adopt a shaiv v’al ta’aseh approach. This should be done here as well. The leaders of the Peleg Yerushalmi movement used to identify with Rav Shach zt”l as well as Rav Elyashiv zt”l. They do not identify with Rav Shteinman Shlita. However, we have seen that the path of the previous leaders was to discourage this type of behavior. The vast majority of the Lithuanina Torah community, including Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita is against these hafganot.
It should clearly be stopped.
There are a number of askanim that are now preparing lists of which Kollels in Eretz Yisroel are affiliated with Peleg and are planning on printing these lists so that American gvirim can make their own decisions whether to continue supporting them.
We have had too many near misses. Heaven forbid that one neshama should be los to Klal Yisroel on account of these ill-conceived and illegal life-endangering protests.
The author can be reached at email@example.com
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