Teaching Our Children to Refuse Immoral Orders

Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch, Rosh Yeshiva of the Birkat Moshe Hesder Yeshiva in Maaleh Adumim, was interviewed in April, 2006 by B'Sheva Weekly about how to thwart the next expulsion.

Rabbi Rabinovitch is known in the Yeshiva world for his monumental compositions the Yad Pshuta on the Rambam's Mishneh Torah. He received his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Toronto and an M.A. in Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University. He also authored the oft-consulted Melumdei Milchama - a collection of responsa dealing with Jewish legal issues facing religious soldiers serving in the IDF.

Q: What, in the rabbi's opinion, is the root of the failure in the struggle for Gush Katif?

Rabbi Rabinovitch: It is very hard to develop hard and fast rules in matters like these, and I am also no expert in sociology, psychology and certainly not politics. But, I do think that there are two important perspectives here that need to be emphasized with regard to the struggle. On one hand, I don’t think that there was a complete failure here. It was very important to demonstrate that we can carry out a struggle without violence – and this was proven. I also have no doubt that the lesson that was learned from this will penetrate the public's consciousness. On the other hand, there was a lack of determination among our soldiers. It is clear that we have a substantial role in the army among soldiers and junior officers, and even in the higher echelons – but we did not succeed in clarifying a very basic point: Even the Ethical Code of the IDF stresses that there are orders that have a black flag flying over them. What is a black flag? The intention is an immoral order. Here we fell into a situation that lacked clarity, even among soldiers from 'our' public, regarding what the source for definition of such an order is.

Regarding this, one can cite a relevant quote from our Sages of blessed memory: 'The positive traits of the nations you did not emulate, rather the destructive ones.' Certainly the ethics espoused in Western nations are rooted in the Scriptures – that is to say, in the Torah of Israel. Relations to one’s fellow citizen, honoring him, respecting his right to his home and property – all this flows from the essence of the realization that man is created in the image of G-d. [Quoting the US Declaration of Independence] 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.' It is clear that among those rights exists the right to retain property that one honestly attained. But here, there was a petition to the Supreme Court before the expulsion - based on human rights. But the Supreme Court didn't understand that the basic rights of man are anchored in his being created in G-d's image. The Supreme Court ruled that although it is true that man's right to property is a basic right, the question is whether Jews have those rights over the Green Line [Israel's pre-1967 borders]. According to them, the source of authority is Knesset legislation, which was not applied over the Green Line, as long as Arabs' rights are determined by international treaties. This means that only in the nation which bestowed ethics to the world is there no place granted for the source of those ethics – the Torah.

Matters got to the extent that we heard they wanted to place on trial those rabbis who ruled that it was forbidden to expel simple people from their homes, as though the rabbinate is made up of clerks in the government bureaucracy. Suddenly the rabbinate has no right to open its mouth and talk about what ethical obligations are. This matter was a fiasco for the nation, the state and the [religious-Zionist] community.

If only all the religious soldiers and all the soldiers that appreciate the moral heritage of tradition had understood that we are dealing with orders that fundamentally oppose eternal ethics and morality – the [expulsion] would not have been able to be implemented. They carried out a sort of brainwashing on us, as though rabbis and Torah have nothing to do with morality, and that it is permitted to enter a home and remove peaceful people who built their houses with their own hands, who didn't do wrong to anybody, who spent their entire lives creating and honestly working with their hands, and [to then] expel them from their homes. Many soldiers did not understand that there was no basis for this.

Q: There were rabbis who said not to refuse orders.

Rabbi Rabinovitch: That's why I quoted the American Declaration of Independence, which says that the source of authority is from on High. Our Supreme Court did not want to understand this fundamental concept, and from there flowed the enormous confusion, from the fact that the rabbis also did not understand this. It is indeed a simple ruling, that even if a man saves his life by taking the possessions of his fellow – he is personally responsible to pay. This is a simple judgment regarding which there is no debate, and there is no authority in the world that can permit such a thing – not rabbis and not judges. And this simple truth we did not understand. It is clear that this could not be clarified in a second, but this teaches that over the years something became very spoiled in our moral understanding.

Q: And how is the simple soldier supposed to decide whom to act in accordance with?

Rabbi Rabinovitch: I don't know what the simple soldier needs to decide, but the rabbis have to know! Indeed there is no Sanhedrin, and this is a serious problem. It is impossible to say with certainty that a specific point of view is the true judgment. On the other hand, if rabbis come and nullify the Sabbath, teffilin (phylacteries), the prohibition against murder, the prohibition against adultery – would we not expect that the Jewish soldier and simple student to understand that this is not so!? So why, when we are speaking about 'Thou shalt not steal' and 'Thou shalt not rob,' rabbis are not able to say that it is not so!? There are basic things that every Jew needs to know. In all the history of the nation of Israel there was never a time when Jewish soldiers plundered and removed Jews from their homes.

Q: How can we prevent further expulsions in the future?

Rabbi Rabinovitch: I have no magic answer, but we must certainly deepen our education regarding mitzvot [commandments] between a man and his fellow man, which are the basis of the entire Torah. This we must focus upon. It is clear that there are additional steps, such as strengthening the understanding of the importance of the nation of Israel in the Land of Israel, and all sorts of other matters. But the foundation of it all is between a man and his fellow man, together with the clarification of the source of moral authority.

Q: What is the rabbi's opinion of the nature of a struggle, which was waged in the "With love we shall overcome," style?

Rabbi Rabinovitch: I am no expert in public struggles. I think that the emphasis on the prevention of civil war was achieved, but at the expense of terrible injustice to those expelled.

Q: Is there a need to replace the leadership of the right?

Rabbi Rabinovitch: I do not know. There are good people, and probably also not such good people – I'm no authority on this matter. I must say, however, that my heart aches at the fact that after everything that we have undergone, our political leadership still does not understand that all those for whom the good of the nation of Israel is the highest concern must join hands to prevent future expulsions.

Q: How does the rabbi think we should handle the split that has formed in the Torah world between the hareidi-religious and national-religious?

Rabbi Rabinovitch: I think that at the end of the day, all those to whom the Torah is really important – who are immersed in it and trying with all their might to fulfill its words – will draw near to one another. There are all sorts of impulses that cause fissure. [But] with deepening in Torah and caution in its fulfillment, such fissures will be bridged. The fixing will come from individuals. When each one deepens his awe of Heaven, many of the sources of fracture will become trivial and disappear.

Q: What does the rabbi say to the claim that our public deals too much with the Land of Israel and less with other matters?

Rabbi Rabinovitch: It is always possible to say something is not enough. As much as we perform mitzvot [Torah commandments], we need to do even more. But do not dismiss the fact that the settlement in Yesha [Judea, Samaria and Gaza] represented not only cleaving to the Land of Israel, but also the creation of a wondrous society. Communities with a sense of mutual responsibility were created. Wondrous economic development was created as well there. Gush Katif was destroyed, but it was one of the biggest economic success stories, almost unmatched anywhere in Israel. People built this apparatus, which produced 11% of the agricultural exports of the country. How is it possible to say, from this, that it was excessively focused on the matter of the Land of Israel. There is social welfare, economic prosperity, thoughtfulness, the building of a secure Israel and also building of Torah. Not one of these communities is lacking a Torah institution. There is also an importance to creating a communal feeling. In the big cities you have people who live in the same building but don't even say 'Good Morning' to each other. There is estrangement and despair. In the settlements this is not the reality. There is a rich communal life. It is wrong to make light of all the richness of the model, which should continue to be followed on both sides of the Green Line.

Q: What should the relationship with the army be like today?

Rabbi Rabinovitch: We must understand that a nation that is unable to defend itself is not able to stand. Without the army, our enemies around us would not allow us to survive, this is an elementary matter – without it there is not the possibility of living anywhere in the world, and certainly not here. Therefore, the army is an essential need and we are obliged to serve in it. If we don't, we are cutting off the branch upon which we are sitting.

At the same time, we must educate out children to know that the army is supposed to defend the nation of Israel and the Land of Israel, and not, G-d forbid, to war against its own people. This is the line, and if all of our soldiers are imbued with the same awareness, there is no doubt that there will not be any more destructions – with G-d's help.


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