Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Of Fantasiasts and Grains of Sand: A Post Yom Yerushalayim Reflection

The mantra of the Israeli Left has always been that Religious Zionists are, essentially, idolators who worship the sticks and stones of the Land Of Israel. Moreover, they prize them more than human life, itself. So the canard goes. The most recent expression of that sentiment came from that paragon of morality, PM Ehud Olmert.

In support of that position, mutatis mutandis, religious and secular leftists often cite the words of מורי ורבי Rav Soloveitchik זצ"ל, concerning the supreme value of life over land. I've been thinking a lot about that speech recently, and I think that it's message has been distorted.

It is true, that the Rav was emphatic that if real peace were achievable, that territorial compromises were legitimate. However, that does not mean that it is illegitimate to love a place, especially if that place is endowed with sanctity. On the contrary, he spent many hours emphasizing the kerygma of Eretz Yisrael, of the rarified sanctity that it exudes and its inexpressible hold upon the Jewish soul, which is irresistably drawn to it. As anthropologists have maintained for decades, people must live in a 'Place.' Anyone who lives everywhere, lives nowhere.

Our place, is 'the place that the Lord, your God will choose,' blessed by the in-dwelling of the source of 'Place,' המקום ב"ה. That is why Hazal observed (Ketubot 112b):

R. Abba used to kiss the cliffs of Akko. R. Hanina used to repair its roads. R. Ammi and R. Assi used to rise [from their seats to move] from the sun to the shade and from the shade to the sun. R. Hiyya b. Gamda rolled himself in its dust, for it is said in Scripture, For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and love her dust.

19 comments:

Ben Bayit said...

I've been saying for years that some RYBS' students have distorted his message in this regard and were basically repeating the canard of the left. I think this is because they ahve come to adopt the language of the socialist left in Israel regarding this (and other issues). It's actually very sad that bright intelligent rabbanim who have much to offer (and some of whom are my teachers)and were educated in the USA and should know better regarding civics and government, come to Israel and adopt the discourse of Eastern-European Socialism and Marxism. As I pointed out (quoting Amnon Lord) some of these Rabbis are unwitting accomplices, some are publicity seekers and some are true fellow travellers of the left. One can do their own homework to decide who is which.

Dan said...

anyways, I doubt Rav Soloveitchik would consider the current negotiations as some which could save lives, especially after lebanon and the gerush from gush katif and the wars/kassams which followed.

http://www.tzipiyah.com

Moshe said...

I'm sure you will agree that there are those in the RZ camp that do worship the land, and are willing to sacrifice anything and everything for it.

For example, see the reaction of many RZ rabbis (such as RM Eliyahu) when the Hitnatkut occured. People were spending tens of thousands of shekels upgrading their houses, and they were being praised for it. This all stemmed from a non-rational view of the Land of Israel.

You have taken a sane view (ie your view) regardng the love of the Land of Israel, and you portray it as the view of the masses - which I don't think is correct. Most of the RZ that I know are far less willing to compromise (even on a theoretical level) and would rather die than give one inch of land to the Arabs.

(Note: I live in a settlement and don't think that there is any reason to give any land to arabs at the current, or any foreseeable future time.)

esti said...

ben bayit:

The right wing has never gained any traction because it has never articulated a position on what to do with the West Bank in the long term. Yes, of course many right wingers would love to annex it and keep the Arabs disenfranchised. But they don't say that publicly because they know it would never fly, and other than that, they have nothing to bring to the discussion. It's not a "socialist" conspiracy that keeps the right wing out of power. It's either a lack of imagination, or more likely, the simple fact that in a democracy 90% of the population always beats the remaining 10%. Even if all the rabbis in the world abandoned "socialism", it would do nothing to change that reality. In your frustration, you are reaching for ridiculous conspiracy theories while ignoring the facts which lie right in front of your eyes.

Mark said...

I think the proper approach is that of R' Aharon Lichtenstein, who supported the initial Oslo agreements but declared a day of mourning in his yeshiva when each West Bank city was handed to Palestinian control. The reasoning being that a Torah Jew should feel pain at being separated from his land, even if in the final analysis it is necessary to do so.

(Unfortunately details like this are lost on some observers of RAL...)

Y. Ben-David said...

Thanks for posting this clarification of Rav Soloveitchik's oft-distorted position.

I see in the comments above the frequently repeated canard that Israel has to choose between "peace" and "land". Of course, the way the Arabs have defined the nature of the struggle (read Benny Morris' new book "1948" which clearly shows the Arabs were NEVER prepared for any compromise whatsoever over the Jewish presence in Eretz Israel), the choice becomes "no peace" with us controlling the land" or "no peace" WITHOUT us controlling the land.

Those who complain that that RZ settlers are too willing to sacrifice for the land are totally ignorant of Zionist history. The people (secular Leftists who quoted Marx and not the Bible) who cleared the swamps and lost many of their children to malaria and fighting Arab marauders are still held up as heroes by Israeli culture, but religious people who do the same are considered "fanatics" even though at the time many people accused those secular pioneers of being fanatics as well. Why is this? Does quoting the Bible instead of Marx make all the difference? Note how even religious Jews grant more legitimacy to secular Zionist motiviations than to religious ones. This is really a galut mentality.

Tal-el said...

"The people (secular Leftists who quoted Marx and not the Bible) who cleared the swamps and lost many of their children to malaria and fighting Arab marauders are still held up as heroes by Israeli culture, but religious people who do the same are considered "fanatics" even though at the time many people accused those secular pioneers of being fanatics as well."

If the leftists hadn't cleared swamps 100 years ago, a state would never have come into existence. If the rightists didn't clear hilltops today, the state would still continue to exist. It's perfectly consistent.

Y. Ben-David said...

Tal-El:

What you are stating is your opinion only. Since this is a blog of a religious person, it is fitting to point out that settling the land is a mitzvah, whether done by a secular or religious person, and thus, is of value in and of itself. But if you want to talk secular "poltics", Israel is completely indefensible within the the borders of the "state" you are referring to, i.e. the Green Line, so I can argue that settlement of hilltops in Judea/Samaria contribute as much to maintaining the state and its security as the early day pioneers. At that time people who criticized them for endangering the children and wasting their time trying to build a state in a bleak, desolate land said a modified version of what you said "the Jewish people will continue to exist, with or without a state, so why bother?". History decided that issue.

Esti:

My friend Ben Bayit didn's say that the Rabbis are "socialists"...what he meant was that the terms of the political discourse defined by the socialists who set up the state has been adapted by everyone in the country, even the RZ's and Haredim, even though it is untrue. They don't have the nerve to come out and overturn the applecart. The mentality of the socialist founders of the state stated the following: (1) only we have a right to be in power (2) the Arab
-Israeli conflict is, at its heart, materialist and economic.
Thus, those Rabbis who are Jewish scholars accepted the arguments that Oslo would work because, even though Arafat and his FATAH gangs are murderers and cut-throats, Marx taught us that their motivations are economic and materialist, thus if we give them money, a state and power, they will be happy, even though they themselves say they hate Jews, don't accept any right of the Jews to be in Eretz Israel in a political sense. The Left says "its all talk, meant for internal consumption. They don't really mean it." How can people deeply immersed in Torah accept this when the Torah teaches there such a thing as truly evil people whose hatred and evil deeds have nothing to do with "money and power". Yet I saw many learned religious Jews accept this Marxist definition of man and his motivations. That is what Ben Bayit is referring to. Those of the "national camp" have to give up their inferiority complex and think for themselves and articulate their vision more clearly, ON ITS OWN TERMS.

tal-el said...

"it is fitting to point out that settling the land is a mitzvah, whether done by a secular or religious person, and thus, is of value in and of itself."

Yes, but that's irrelevant if and when the much bigger mitzvah of saving lives indicates against settling the land. MyObiterDicta brought up the issue of whether RZists value the land more than human life. From your response here, it seems that you at least DO value the land more than life.

"Israel is completely indefensible within the the borders of the "state" you are referring to, i.e. the Green Line, so I can argue that settlement of hilltops in Judea/Samaria contribute as much to maintaining the state and its security as the early day pioneers."

It's interesting how a much poorer and weaker Israel managed to more than defend itself for 19 years from within the "completely indefensible" boundaries.

And I challenge you to find me a military expert who thinks that Israel is indefensible without hilltop settlements. I don't think there is one.

You're free to argue whatever you want, but I for one would prefer to only see arguments informed by reality.

Jeffrey said...

Tal-El,
I've been following your comments very closely, and feel I must respond.

1) The 1949 armistice lines were considered, from the start, to be absolutely indefensible. Abba Eban called them Auschwitz borders. I don't know how old you are, but I was 12 when the six day war broke out and I remember how everyone thought that Israel would be cut in two through Judea and Samaria. We expected a Shoah. The government ordered 10,000 graves dug. You can read M. Oren, Six Days of War for the details.

2) Maintaining the 'high ground' has been a strategic principle since ancient times. That's why all major settlements in pre and post 1967 Israel are on hills. I a world in which rockets and missiles fill a major role, the importance of the high ground only grows.

3) The following military experts support Israeli control of the high ground: Yigal Allon, Yisrael Galili, Rehavam Zeevi, Ariel Sharon, Moshe Yaalon, Yaakov Amidror, and a host of others.

4) You seem to assume that settlements are an obstacle to peace. I disagree. It is the principled refusal of the Muslim world to allow for a kafir dominated state on lands that belong to the Dar al Islam that prevents peace. In the absence of a real chance for peace, the need to choose between the historic patrimony of the Jewish People and Human Life becomes moot. Here, in fact, I agree with y. ben david. There is a psychopathology known as 'Cognitive Egocentrism.' One of its symptoms is the inability to ecognize that others think differently than we, have different values and might well act in ways that are totally logical to them, and inscrutible to us. The Western Liberal world, in its arrogant condescension to the world of Islam, is stricken with exactly this ailment.

5) I do agree that far too many Religious Zionism have a distorted view if Judaism in which messianic territorialism takes precedent over other mitzvot. I think that this verges on idolatry. The rabbis during the expulsion from Gush Qatif, which reaped a harvest of human suffering that no one is willing to admit, did noone any good by their false prophecies. OTOH, may I remind you that profound love of country and a sense of the holiness of one's homeland is exactly what saved England, France and Russia during World War II.

Ben Bayit-
Once again you brilliantly manage to make Judaism, Zionism, Religious Zionism and everything I love look stupid.

tal-el said...

1) In 1967 Israelis up to the highest level were terrified but American intelligence expected a quick Israeli victory. In 1973, the vast 1967 borders almost didn't prevent total defeat. Territory matters but other factors can matter just as much.

2) Particularly in the West Bank, Israeli communities were built on hills because hills were mostly unoccupied and ownerless, while valleys were full of Arab villages and farms.

3) Everyone would prefer to control the high ground, the question is at what cost. Allon with his Allon Plan and Sharon with the disengagement were willing to leave in return for desirable long-term political arrangements. The same may have been true of the others you quote, but less publicly.

4a) In the short term I think the settlements are a good excuse for having tzahal there to protect us. In the long term I wonder what we plan to do with the West Bank; the wisdom of the settlements clearly depends on the nature of those plans. At all times I think of the great positive impact RZists could have on Israeli society, if they didn't insist on separating themselves from that society.

4b) I think we must distinguish between Islamist and secular hostility, the former principled and long-lasting, the latter inconsistent and relatively ineffective. Throughout the 20th century both Islamist and secular movements always existed in Muslim societies. To the extent that the latter wins out, peace and compromise were and will be possible.

Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

Jeffrey said...

Tal-El,
Allow me to address your points one by one:

1) "In 1967 Israelis up to the highest level were terrified but American intelligence expected a quick Israeli victory. In 1973, the vast 1967 borders almost didn't prevent total defeat. Territory matters but other factors can matter just as much."

a) Hindsight is always 20-20. The same Americans also argue that Israel cannot withdraw from the Golan or return to the narrow Netanya waist.

b) The strategic depth offered by the post-67 borders was of great significance and prevented defeat in 1973. The error that laty behind the initial reverses (we won the war after all) was three-fold: fear of carrying out a preemptive strike, arrogance and reliance upon static defense, as opposed to mobile defense.

2) Particularly in the West Bank, Israeli communities were built on hills because hills were mostly unoccupied and ownerless, while valleys were full of Arab villages and farms.

a) I don't know how familiar you are with the pattern of settlements, but the map is far more varied than what you describe. In Judea the Arab population is far less dense than in Samaria. As for empty hilltops, what's wrong with that? Noone lived there before. If you are questioning the right of Jews to settle in Judea and Samaria, then that's an entirely different debate. T hat's not a debate about strategy, but about rights.

3) Everyone would prefer to control the high ground, the question is at what cost. Allon with his Allon Plan and Sharon with the disengagement were willing to leave in return for desirable long-term political arrangements. The same may have been true of the others you quote, but less publicly.

As the disaster known as the disengagement shows, there are no accrptable long term arrangements in the Middle East. This is not Europe. Allon, moreover, insisted on keeping the hugh ground. (So should anyone flying in and out of Ben Gurion Airport. Hand held missiles, you know).

4a)At all times I think of the great positive impact RZists could have on Israeli society, if they didn't insist on separating themselves from that society.

Here I agree with you, emphatically.

4b) I think we must distinguish between Islamist and secular hostility, the former principled and long-lasting, the latter inconsistent and relatively ineffective. Throughout the 20th century both Islamist and secular movements always existed in Muslim societies. To the extent that the latter wins out, peace and compromise were and will be possible.

I'm sorry to disappoint you but there is not, nor has there ever been a secularist movement in the Arab World that was populated by Muslims (though there were some individuals like that). As Fouad Ajami demonstrated, Secular Arab Nationalism was started by and supported by Arab Christians who sought to get out of the dhimma.
They failed miserably.

The current fashion of discussing Islamism or Jihadism is a bit misleading. World Conquest and Jihad are central values of Islam. The only argument is whether they should be undertaken at the present time. The Quran and Hadith demand that the House of Islam be extended over all of mankind. It's a principled, powerful position that is deadly dangerous for us.

I suggest you read Bernard Lewis' books to get an insight into this.

Ben Bayit said...

Stupid is as stupid does.
Yes there are lots of stupid people amongst Religious Zionists - what can I say. You are not one of them, and I don't believe I am either. But it is always possible to let one's objectivity get distorted.

What I wrote above - as well as some of what y. ben-david added - is a summary of a longer item that was actually quite well received by a known secular left-leaning academic. {Remind me to stay away from Religious Zionist advisors who seem to have the inability to think rationally and objectively about certain items.}

I think that Amnon Lord is correct - the influence of Marxist-Socialist discourse on the left in Israel is a little studied subject. The influence of this discourse on the Rabbinical Orthodox left is even less so. But it exists - and if one wants to - they can find it. But they have to be objective - and to do that one must look past personal, familial, teacher and student relationships. Just like we would expect from an academic, no?

tal-el said...

1/3) I do not argue that land is irrelevant, only that other factors can outweigh it, for instance the reputation cost of ruling Palestinians but not letting them vote. While the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa is morally repugnant, it could easily become politically apt. Four years after the US congress first proposed sanctions on South Africa, the apartheid government had collapsed. So much of Israel's military equipment is from the US, should that not be a factor in strategic analysis?

2a) Mountains are hard to farm and hard to get to and have fewer natural water sources, so before the modern era villages were all in the valleys. Nearly all settlements were built on uncultivated "state land", disproportionately found on mountaintops, which was what was available for settlers to build on. Examples include Otniel, Neve Daniel, Maale Levona, Eli, Ariel, Har Bracha, Elon Moreh and many others. Elon Moreh for instance was founded on a low hill, then they found that the site was owned by Arabs and the courts kicked them out, so they went to their current location on top of a large mountain. At no point did the military value of high land seem to be a concern.

My point being that while the settlements affect politics, I think their purely military significance is negligible. I do think Jews should be able to choose to live in the West Bank.

5) I was speaking not of a secularist movement but of secular motives. Muslims are not all "frum" any more than Jews are. The Jordanian dynasty for instance was never enthusiastic about attacking Israel, even before the peace agreement. This attitude may have been a betrayal of Muslim values but that didn't make it any less real.

esti said...

ben_bayit:

Seeing as you have unilaterally raised the level of discussion to an "academic" level, whatever that means, let's evaluate your contributions as academics would, by applying to it the Crackpot Theory Index (http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html).

Bearing in mind that the index was designed for physics not politics, and adjusting the specifics accordingly, the following seem to apply to you.

10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.
10 points for each ... claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".
20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.
20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.
40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.
40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is.

Jeffrey said...

Tal-El,
1) The demographic consideration is important, and I think a confederation with Jordan, enfranchising the Arabs here with them is the best way to go. However, granted that the Palestinians (Fatah no less than Hamas are playing a zero sum game) all of our self-criticism is quite beside the point.

4) May I correct you. There are non-observant Muslims. There are almost no secular Muslims. Indeed, there is really no word for secular in Arabic (at least till very recently). When it comes to basic values and orientation, there is no fundamental difference of opinion. If you send me your e-mail, I'll send you a relevant article.

tal-el said...

4) Done

Tzurah said...

There is an interesting discussion going on in the Daas Torah blog involving an anti-Zionist Frum Sephardic commenter with the handle Jersey Girl.

http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2008/06/zionism-is-christian-theology.html

Anonymous said...

I don't know how old you are, but I was 12 when the six day war broke out and I remember how everyone thought that Israel would be cut in two through Judea and Samaria.

I was older-in fact I had marched in the salute to Israel parade a few weeks earlier-befroe then nobody had heard of it-but that year it happened after Egypts blockade of the Straits of Tiran-thus I remember many sailors marching.
We were afraid of Israels fate BUT I remember a NYTs piece at the time that statedthat the CIA expected Israel to win the war.

mycroft