The humiliation of orphans, widows and converts; theft; kidnapping; and indirect causation of death are just a few of 14 or so biblical prohibitions that soldiers and police will transgress while evacuating Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria, according to a halachic opinion distributed by the Council of Rabbis of Judea,
Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
The opinion, authored by Rabbi Shaul Bar-Ilan, head of the Kfar Darom kollel (yeshiva for married men), is unique in its exclusive focus on individual rights. Unlike other rabbis who have come out against the disengagement, not once does Bar-Ilan mention the commandment to settle the Land of Israel or the aspiration to extend Israel’s borders to biblical dimensions.
Bar-Ilan, 36, a great-grandson of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, the father of the modern yeshiva, bases his argument on the assumption that disengagement is synonymous with ethnic purging – a violation of international law.
The Gaza rabbi posits that Israelis never intended to invest the State of Israel with more powers than any other enlightened Western state has, and that they rejected the establishment of a monarchy modeled on the historical kingdoms of Judea and Israel.
“Therefore,” argues Bar-Ilan, who is a member of Amnesty International, “the obligation to obey the Israeli government is no greater than the obligation to obey any other gentile state inhabited by Jews during the past 2,000 years of exile.
“The Israeli High Court has ruled time and again that innocent citizens’ rights cannot be trampled even when the security of the state is at stake – for instance, regarding the building of the security fence. Who is better qualified than the High Court to set the norms for the state?”
Lacking a legal mandate to evacuate, the state ipso facto would transgress a long list of biblical prohibitions during the course of the planned evacuation, asserts Bar-Ilan, who has lived in Kfar Darom for six years.
Perhaps the most serious prohibition listed by Bar-Ilan is the indirect causation of murder. “There is no doubt that the evacuation, with all the emotional trauma involved, will shorten the lives of the elderly,” he argues. “Women in late stages of pregnancy may miscarry. Many would give up their lives before allowing themselves to be separated from all their assets, which would force soldiers to use the most drastic possible means to evacuate.”
Bar-Ilan, who prepares young men to become rabbis, points out that many converts to Judaism, orphans and widows live in Gaza. The Bible enumerates special prohibitions against humiliating these individuals.
Providing compensation to settlers does not exculpate, according to Bar-Ilan. “If I hit you in the face or steal your property, the fact that I pay you for the damages does not mean I haven’t transgressed biblical commandments.”
Bar-Ilan admits that if the damaged party were to agree to be evacuated of his or her own free will, none of the prohibitions would apply. Acquiescing to a government decision or to a referendum would sidestep the halachic problems of disengagement.
“But,” he continues, “no one can force me to agree to something against my will. Regardless of what the government decides, we want to continue to live here.”
Bar-Ilan uses an analogy to prove his point. “If Iran were to agree to abandon its plans to develop an atomic bomb on condition that every man in, say, Kiryat Shmoneh cuts off his right arm, and there were a democratic vote in favor of adopting the Iranian initiative, would it be lawful? I feel the same way about disengagement.”
Other prohibitions listed by Bar-Ilan include uprooting fruit-bearing trees, destroying synagogues, forcing Jews to act against their will, and possible desecration of the Shabbat, as was the case at Havat Gilad.
The vast majority of religious Zionist rabbis oppose disengagement. In fact, not one leading rabbi has come out in favor, although Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, head of the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva, was quoted as saying, “I’m not convinced the isengagement is justified – I do not rule out the possibility it is. It depends on the political ramifications.”
Rabbi David Stav, considered one of the more moderate religious Zionist leaders, believes that in principle there are halachic justifications for ceding land to Palestinians.
“But the nondemocratic process used by the prime minister to ram through the legislation is an injustice. Even the most moderate rabbis, who in principle support territorial compromise, are not willing to put themselves out on a limb for Sharon’s injustices.”
Stav is the rabbi of Shoham, a town that saw a large percentage of its voters support the dovish religious Meimad party, which joined Labor in the last elections.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the preeminent halachic authority for Sephardi Jews, has come out against disengagement on the grounds that it endangers Jewish lives by encouraging terrorists to pursue violence for further territorial compromises. He opposes a referendum on the grounds that it cannot overrule Halacha.
In contrast, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the preeminent halachic authority for Ashkenazi haredim, has ruled in favor of a referendum. It is, however, unclear whether this is simply a tactical move to postpone evacuation indefinitely or a fundamental position that there is no halachic prohibition against disengagement.
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