Thursday, December 31, 2015

  • Thursday, December 31, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon
Henry Siegman writes in Haaretz:
In the late sixties or early seventies, when I served as the executive head of the Synagogue Council of America, the coordinating body for certain social action and interreligious activities of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform national rabbinical and congregational organizations in the United States, I had a private conversation—one of many—with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who was considered the leader of modern Orthodoxy in the United States, if not the world.

Rabbi Soloveitchik had just completed a high-level seminar attended by a select group of rabbis and Christian ministers. I asked him if he would agree to lead another such a seminar on the Jewish attachment to the Land of Israel and the concept of “kedushat haaretz” (the holiness of the land), and how these are to be differentiated from concepts such as “blut und boden” (blood and land) at the heart of German fascism and other totalitarian regimes.

Soloveitchik’s answer surprised me, for I was then not only a practicing Orthodox Jew but an ardent Zionist who identified with the religious nationalist branch of the Zionist movement. He told me he could not lead such a seminar because “I would have difficulty explaining that difference even to my own children.” 
This anecdote seems extraordinarily unlikely.

Rabbi Soloveitchik game a number of lectures on the concept of “kedushas haaretz” and was by any measure an expert on the matter. And his interpretation of that concept is antithetical to how Siegman portrays it.

The German idea of “blut und boden” adopted by the Nazis was that there was a mystical tie between Germans and land. Peasants were celebrated and urban areas were derided as "Jewish."

I asked an expert and prolific author of books on Rabbi Soloveitchik what he thought about Siegman's claim. He wrote back to me "I don’t believe it at all . He gave numerous lectures on Kedushas Haaretz. 'Couldn’t explain it to his kids'???

"The entire premise that Kedushas Haaretz is the same as Blut und Boden is utterly ridiculous. Kedushas Haaretz has to do with Shemittah [Sabbatical year when no planting is allowed], Maaser [tithing produce from Israel], etc., i.e., the restrictions associated with Eretz Yisrael. Milchemes Mitzvah and milchemes reshus [obligatory and non-obligatory wars] are separate obligations that have nothing to do with Kedushas Haaretz per se."

Here are Rav Soloveitchik's own words at a lecture he gave a few months after the Six Day War:

I will tell you a secret – it doesn’t matter under whose jurisdiction the Western Wall lies – whether it is under the ministry of parks or under the ministry of religions, either way no Jew will disturb the Kotel. One is indeed on a great spiritual level if he desires to pray at the Kotel Hama'arovi. But many mistakenly believe that the significance of the victory lies more in regaining the Kotel Hamaarovi than the fact that 2 million Jews were saved, and that the Jewish nation was saved. Because really, a Jew does not need the Kotel to be "before G-d." Naturally, the [site of the Temple] has a separate holiness which is "before G-d." But there is a "before G-d" which spreads out over the entire world, wherever a Jew does not sin, wherever a Jew learns Torah, wherever a Jew does mitzvos (commandments). As the Talmud states: “from where do we derive the idea that the Divine Presence accompanies two who learn Torah?” – [the Presence can be found] throughout the entire world.

I want you to understand, I give praise and thanks to the Master of the Universe for liberating the Western Wall and for liberating and for removing all Eretz Yisrael from the jurisdiction of the Arabs, so that it now belongs to us. But I don’t need to rule whether we should give the West Bank back to the Arabs or not to give the West Bank to the Arabs: we Rabbis should not be involved in decisions regarding the safety and security of the population. Such [decisions] are not merely Halakhic rulings : these decisions are a matter of pikuach nefesh [saving lives] for the entire population. And if the government were to rule that the safety of the population requires that specific territories must be returned, whether I issue a halakhic ruling or not, their decision is the deciding factor according to Jewish law. If saving lives supersedes all other mitzvos, it supersedes all prohibitions of the Torah, especially saving the lives of the population in Eretz Yisrael. And all the silly statements I read in the newspapers – one journalist says that we must give all the territory back, another says that we must give only some territory back, another releases edicts, strictures and warnings not to give anything back. This is laughable: these people are playing with two million lives. And as dear as the Kotel is, the two million lives of Jews are more important.

We have to negotiate with common sense as the security of the yishuv requires. What specifically these security requirements are, I don’t know, I don’t understand these things. These decisions require a military perspective which must be researched assiduously. The borders that must be established should be [solely] based upon security considerations. It is not a topic for Rabbinical conferences.
Rav Soloveitchik does not diminish the idea of the importance of the sanctity of the land - but he says that some things are more important. His views that military considerations are paramount in determining the future course of action are compatible, on paper, with Peace Now as well as Likud - unlike how Siegman disgustingly compares his views of "kedushat haaretz" to the Nazi philosophy of blut und boden.

Siegman's article, comparing the Jews who do hold a spiritual attachment to the Holy Land with Nazi philosophy, is obscene even for the more hawkish rabbis who disagree with R. Soloveitchik. No Jewish legal authority is justifying Jewish terror as Siegman implies. But Siegman's use of this rabbi as justifying his own hate is disgusting - even though it is at home in Haaretz.

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