5755 - Number 1
WITH RABBI BENJAMIN HECHT
There is an old joke that asks how a chassid and a mitnagid know about the existence of God. According to the punchline, the chassid knows because his Rebbe told him; the mitnagid knows because he thinks he saw it in the Rashba.
While the joke successfully serves as a double punch against both chassidim and their opponents, underlying its humour is the serious issue of how we, as Jews, relate to God. In the general Jewish world, God is a strange figure; His Presence is powerfully felt and not felt. If someone accepts another faith, we bar that person from involvement within the Jewish world. Jews for Jesus do not occupy a place within our Federation round tables regardless of their identification or birth as Jews - and correctly so. Brother Daniel was not admitted as a Jew under the Law of Return; the Israeli courts deemed his Christian beliefs to be a bar to his Jewishness as understood by Israeli law - and the "gut feeling" of the average Israeli and Jew. (See further, on the issue of Brother Daniel, Encyclopedia Judaica 8:63 and, specifically in regard to the halachic definition of Jewish identity - which would declare Brother Daniel a Jew - and in theological explanation thereof, my Crisis in Jewish Identity, Nishma IV - VII.) Judaism is deemed, by the average Jew whether observant or not, to be a religion; foreign views of God cannot be tolerated within our Jewish consciousness. God's Presence in even our colloquial Jewishness is, indeed, felt.
Yet, it is a Presence that is somewhat felt in the negative. If you have the wrong idea of God, than there is a bar to Jewishness; but if you have no idea or don't care about God, in the general Jewish world, there is no such bar. The atheist can become president of Federation; Secular Judaism whichbluntly removes God from its Jewishness is part of our general Jewish community. What does this say about our view of God - His significance, our understanding of and our relationship to Him, within our general Jewish consciousness and perspective? Bluntly, the community does not assert in the positive - a Jewish perception of God. There is no discussion of God within our Federations; we are more comfortable with promoting our peoplehood or ethnicity than professing our religion. We, in fact, feel uncomfortable when God is mentioned - not just in our Federation buildings but also in our synagogues. A rabbi whom I consider a mentor told me that after his first few months in his present pulpit (a membership that is mostly non-observant), a committee of the Board approached him in regard to his sermons. They felt that they sounded too Protestant, different then what they expected from the Rabbi on Shabbat morning. The difficulty, when he questioned them for more clarification, was his constant reference to God. In Jewish education - formal and informal, for children and for adults - how much emphasis is placed on God? What is the place of theology in our Federation buildings, our Jewish schools, even our synagogues? God's Presence is, indeed, not felt.
There are those who would maintain that this approach to God is, in fact, the Jewish way. Theologically, they argue, Judaism only states the negative; it does not assert the positive. The parameters of Judaism, they say, are defined by what one does not believe, not by what one does believe. We can declare what views of God are not Jewish but, they contend, we cannot and need not declare in the positive, what the Jewish view of God is. This view is based on an incorrect understanding of the famous words of Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim I:58 which contend that we can only describe God through the negative, what He is not. We can not describe God through the positive, stating what He is. People argue that this is why Judaism can only be defined by what one does not believe, not through the assertion of a positive Jewish perception of God. Rambam, though, was referring to our attempt to understand God through an understanding of His attributes. The Perfect Unity cannot have attributes as we understand this word; we can only use negative attributes, what he is not, to describe Him. Implicit, actually, in the words of Rambam is a powerful perception of God - and a powerful perception of the expected affect on our life because of His Existence. The essence of Rambam's Jewishness, in fact, is the philosophical contemplation of Hashem. See Moreh Nevuchim III:54 and Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, chap. 1. To use Rambam's words referring to the use of the negative when describing God to imply that Judaism is only concerned about what you do not believe and not what you do believe, is a gross misuse of his words. He, in fact, had definite ideas about God according to Torah, as evidenced by his concrete presentation of the principles of Judaism, emphatically denouncing deviations and those who deviated from the true belief in Hashem. See Rambam, Commentary to the Mishna, Sanhedrin, chap. 10 (Introduction to Chelek). Rambam would never accept the laxity of God's Presence in colloquial Jewishness. Yet, we must still wonder how the Rambam's words could be so mis-applied. What exists in Jewishness that allows for such an attitude to take hold?
A similar question can be asked about the notion that Judaism has no dogmas. Rabbi J. David Bleich, With Perfect Faith, General Introduction opens with the mention of this "widespread misconception" and summarily dismisses it as "even a superficial acquaintance with the classical works of Jewish philosophy is sufficient to dispel this misconceived notion." Then how did this attitude develop? What within Judaism allowed for this mis-conception to take hold? The question is a legitimate one for whenever there is a deviation from the traditional Torah path, we are obligated to find the point of departure and correct any weakness (if found) that allowed for this mis-understanding to occur. Rashi, Mishna Avot 1:3 informs us of the source from which the heresy of the Sadducees arose - Tzaddok's misunderstanding of the words of Antigonus Ish Socho. We have a similar obligation. Where did this concept of "dogmaless Judaism", which, as Rabbi Bleich indicates, is totally without foundation, arise? (On the Rashi's substantive issue see, also, Mishneh Avot 1:11 which tells us to be careful of our words for people may mis-interpret what is said, and Rashi, Bereishit 1;26 which points out that sometimes one must say what is correct even if it will be misused and misapplied.)
Rabbi Bleich points to a work of Moses Mendelssohn as the source for this viewpoint. Yet Moses Mendelssohn could not have meant what colloquial Judaism understands from his words. The modern, as Rabbi Bleich calls it, dogma of dogmalessness basically states that Judaism has no beliefs, supporting, in a way, the above mentioned attitude that Judaism limits what you may not believe but does not state what you must believe. While I do not have access to the Rabbi Bleich's exact source, in the same work, Moses Mendelssohn (Jerusalem and Other Jewish Writings, translated and edited by Alfred Jospe, p.154) does write:
"Essentially, the religion of the Israelites encompasses only three central principles: God, Providence, and legislation. These principles were expanded by our religious leaders along the following lines:
"(a) God, the Author and absolute Sovereign of all things, is one and simple [single] (in His person as well as His nature).
"(b) This God is aware of all that happens in His creation. He rewards good and punishes evil by natural and, at times, supra-natural means.
"(c) This God has made known His laws to the children of Israel through Moses, the son of Amram. We still possess these laws in writing."
No doubt, Moses Mendelssohn was of the opinion that there was a great spectrum of halachically acceptable views within Jewish thought, yet a perusal of Rabbi Bleich's work would also support such an assertion. This is not to say that the views Moses Mendelssohn would consider halachically acceptable, would also so be accepted by Rabbi Bleich. There, perhaps, also seems to be in the words of Moses Mendelssohn a greater intimation of freedom for a person to choose as he/she may wish from this spectrum - a matter which Rabbi Bleich also discusses with sources for the indication of stricter parameters. Yet, clearly, without entering into a discussion of the merits of Moses Mendelssohn's views, this is not a dogma of dogmalessness. What existed in Jewishness that allowed for these words to be mis-applied? What exists in our traditional view of Hashem that allowed for colloquial Jewishness' ignoring of Him?
We can point to the lack of God's Presence in the general Jewish world and answer: what do you expect?, they are not religious. How, though, did a Jewishness without God arise? Once a deity is removed from a religion, the identification is removed. Can we imagine atheist Christians or atheist Moslems? Perhaps there are atheists who celebrate Christmas but we cannot imagine a lack of belief in the mainstream of a faith. Yet, the essence of colloquial Jewishness, although perhaps not atheistic, is God limited. Our major institutions of the general community do not consider God or think about Him. The question is not why but how. The opening joke about the chassid and the mitnagid, furthermore, did not simply relate the lack of God in the general Jewish community but reflected upon a state within the observant community. To claim that there is no God consciousness in the observant world would be absurd; the joke obviously goes too far. But the joke does imply that on some level this lack of awareness of Hashem in the general community is also mirrored in the observant community. Maybe it is simply a weakness - perhaps more extreme in the general community but also found existent in the observant community - but still how did this weakness arise, especially to the extent of including those whose lives are fully affected by the Divine Will? Is there something unique in Hashem, in our perception of Him and in our relationship to Him, that when mis-applied can create these aberrations regarding His place in Jewishness but, nevertheless, is essential to the Jewish view of God?
God. Who do we mean when we say this word? The same name is stated by millions, billions, - referring to the One Deity. But do we all mean the same Supreme Being? Is the One God to Whom my non-Jewish neighbour refers, the same Hashem that I pray to three times a day? Does Torah's difference lie solely in what God expects of us or in its view of humanity - or does Torah's distinct expectations and view of humanity indicate a totally different perception of the One? In comparison to the way other religions deal with their deities, there is something clearly unique about the way we relate to Hashem. This is further apparent when one compares the observant Jew to religious man in general. My mind immediately thinks of that classic work, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's Halachic Man. The ideal Jew is not homo religiosus and the God of Torah is not the god of religion. Hashem is not the generic One God - but who is He?
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Nineteen Letters writes something to the following effect: Moshe ben Maimon or Moshe ben Mendel, who says that they speak the words of Moshe ben Amram? That Rabbi Hirsch disagrees with the philosophies of Rambam and Moses Mendelssohn is not, in itself, startling; afterall, both do represent departures from the more normatively accepted views within hashkafa. It also should not be totally surprising that in this work directed to the general Jewish community, he felt it necessary to contest these two views of Jewish thought; as we identified above, the works of these two thinkers were used (albeit incorrectly) by non-Halachic personalities in the presentation of their theories. Rabbi Hirsch, though, must have known that these views were being grossly mis-applied. Why did he challenge "Moshe ben Maimon" and "Moshe ben Mendel"? Why did he not simply challenge the gross mis-use of their words? Dayan I. Grunfeld, Introduction to Horeb, Hirsch's Weltanschauung (found in the English translation of Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb by Dayan Grunfeld) seems to indicate that Rabbi Hirsch's major challenge against Rambam and Moses Mendelssohn was their attempts to reconcile Torah with thought-processes "from without instead of developing it creatively from within." It was not simply the ideas of Rambam and Moses Mendelssohn that bothered Rabbi Hirsch, but their process in determining these ideas. Without entering a discussion of the merits of Rabbi Hirsch's challenge and/or of the role of secular studies within Judaism and whether a knowledge of philosophy (and the like) ultimately detracts, has no effect, or extends (or some combination of the three) one's Torah knowledge, we can perhaps now entertain a theory of why the words of Rambam and Moses Mendelssohn could be so mis-understood. While one can easily argue that there is great needed Torah wisdom in Moreh Nevuchim, why has this work been so mis-applied? Simply, there is an inherent difficulty in expressing Judaism - and Hashem - in a language outside of Torah. One reason is that secular thought demands, or sets as its goal, absolute clarity; Torah understands - and lives in - the grey.
The concept of Oneness, of perfect simple unity, is to the human, the most complex of ideas. As Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Da'at Tevunot states: the human being has great difficulties in understanding how all that exists comes from the One. The idolatry of two gods, one for good and one for evil, arises from the difficulty of perceiving how both good and evil can come from the One - but we say boreh choshech, the Creator of the darkness. While, as the Ramchal asserts, Oneness is the only attribute that Hashem has given the human being the ability to grasp and, as such, it is of prime importance to us in our contemplation of and relationship with Hashem, it also pushes us to see Him in the grey. As I wrote in the Nishma Spark of the Week, 5755 - #14, in regard to a Jewish morality built on our perception of Hashem: "there are two ways of looking at someone. One is to look at his/her drives and behaviour...to these various parts of this individual. The other is to look beyond...to the indescribable being that somehow integrates all these, even mutually exclusive, parts. It is at that point of mystery and wonderment that we find the essence of the being - and the essence of Torah morality, in the recognition of the uniqueness of the, ultimately undefinable, person." This is also the way we see Hashem - complex, undefinable, a mystery. More than that, this is the way our Torah mind sees Hashem. The secular mind puts mystery in the world of faith; projects obtuse complexity and lack of understanding as a problem within knowledge - the objective is black and white. The Torah mind sets mystery in the world of thought; projects obtuse complexity and lack of understanding as aspects of knowledge - the objective is in the grey of possibilities, probabilities, paradoxes to be contemplated and always something beyond. As Maharal, Be'ar HaGolah, Be'ar 1 states: it is impossible for there to be only one opinion in the world of Torah thought. Secular thought wants the answer; and in the world of the physical there is only one answer. Torah thought, though, wants the spectrum of the answers; and in the world of the spiritual it is impossible to see only one answer. See further, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:25. Hashem cannot be approached with only secular parameters and so, when these words are used, those who only apply these parameters can mis-understand. Rambam's and Moses Mendelssohn's cross-over into the realm of the secular allowed those who only lived in the secular to drag their words inappropriately solely into that realm - and so they were mis-understood. And so Hashem was mis-understood. But how could He also be so ignored? What, further, exists in this view of Hashem that allowed for our original joke?
When Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuva 10:6 speaks of acquiring knowledge of God, he states that this knowledge will lead to love. Rambam's goal of knowing God is not simply secular comprehension, solely removed philosophical speculation on the Deity - it is part of our relating to Hashem. It is knowledge, as sophisticated as any other body of thought, but on a different plane. How, though, does this knowledge and love of God come together? We may also ask: how does the intellectual analysis of abstract Halacha serve as part of the highest of mitzvot, Torah study? The Nefesh HaChaim's classic approach is that we are to relate to God through an understanding of His Will as expressed through the Halacha. See further Rabbi Norman Lamm, Torah Lishma: Torah for Torah's Sake. But, still, where is God in Baba Metzia? Where is the tie between Hashem, His Will and the intellectual study thereof? The answer is inherently in the relating. We do not scientifically study our spouses or our children. We relate to them. We talk to them, laugh with them, share ideas with them. The objective of Torah is not belief but a connection with God; belief is already assumed. And this connection flows from the grey, just as our relationships with our spouses, ultimately, cannot be defined but, in highest praise, exist. The Torah mechanics assumed God, understood the Jewish perspective of Hashem in the mystery of Being - not irrational faith but in Torah thought comparable to the way we know another, recognizing that there is always more than the description. Study was relating - indirect and direct - on a date you do other things, you don't just discuss the psychological essence of each other in Freudian technical terms - and in relating you draw close. In certain ways, the relating still continues in the general Jewish community as they on any level contemplate their Jewishness. They just forget with whom they are dancing. If God's Presence is not felt in the general Jewish world or even, in some sense, in the observant community, it may be because Hashem is not a concept that was beaten into us, a hard rule we memorized. He flows with us in the world of a mutual relationship; we just, sometimes and unfortunately, forget our Partner. God is not always felt because He is so assumed.
Hashem does not exist in some mythic world beyond, unable for us to approach for He is beyond our comprehension. In a uniquely Jewish way, our inability to understand Him actually draws us closer - for then we recognize He is not simply an idea for us to acquire but a Being to whom we relate. And in that opportunity to draw close, there is a realness - not the formal relationship of a deity to believer but an honest, true connection between two beings. It is within this context that we can understand how Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev took God to bet din, as the story goes. We wish to work through our relationship, honestly share as we question and attempt to understand - we relate with realness. But still, while this explains the subdued nature of the connection with Hashem that permeates Judaism, it cannot explain the lack of His Presence in so many places within the Jewish world.
What do we wish, above all else, for one we love? Beyond relating, we wish the best for that person - in him/herself, apart from us. The goal of Torah is not just dveikut, a bonding with God, but shlaimut, perfection. The greatest gift that God could give us is the ability to be like Him on any level. This theme is found throughout the works of Torah philosophy. We are to follow in his ways, imitatio Dei. See, further, T.B. Shabbat 133b. But this concept as found in Torah lies in a much deeper essence, in the concept of tzelem elokim; we are created in God's image. Within the world of our relationship with Hashem, Torah does not only express and cement that relationship, but it is also the gift of our Loved One to assist us in meeting our goal of growth and development - both societal and individual. In the realness of our relationship with Hashem, he has given us a body of Divine knowledge that extends beyond the confines of the relationship to touch all aspects of our existence. Unfortunately, in our study - integration and appreciation - of the genius of the gift, we forget the Giver...and a Jewishness that integrates the gift but not the Giver can emerge. But in a subtle way this also shows the uniqueness of the Giver, our Hashem.
These are but a few thoughts on a most significant topic of investigation. There is obviously much more to say. I leave it for you to now continue the exploration.
We invite you to submit your thoughts and comments, on the issues presented in INQUIRY, for possible inclusion in future NISHMA UPDATES.Your suggestions for INQUIRY topics and questions are also most welcome. Your involvement is a necessary part of our combined learning objective.
Framing the Halachic Question
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
In the analysis of any halachic problem there is the necessity to undertake two independent investigations: a determination of the exact nature of the case and a determination of the halachic response to the case. In other legal systems, we term these two areas of inquiry: questions of fact and questions of law. Simply, a law can only respond to a clear enunciation of the facts. As such, before a halachic response can be rendered, the posek must also make a determination of the exact nature of the matter.
The determination of this mitzi'ut, reality, is sometimes a most difficult task. It may call upon the sciences and the social sciences as the learned theories underlying the perceived event may also be essential information. For example, in matters of medical ethics, experts in the sciences of medicine, biology, etc., may have to be consulted. As the posek's knowledge generally lies in Torah, he must necessarily rely upon external expertise for the clarification of these facts and theories, yet the decision is ultimately his. In the face of conflicting opinions, this process can be especially arduous for he must nonetheless still determine, as best he can, the facts, even choosing between experts, before he can analyze the halachic response to the matter. The dayan, judge, can only act pursuant to what he "sees" in mitzi'ut (and svorah, logic). See T.B Baba Batra 130b, 131a with Rashbam. Even among conflicting opinions and perceptions of reality, the posek must determine the facts, theory and nature of the matter, before approaching the Halacha for an assessment of the correct Jewish legal response to it.
Obviously at times poskim will disagree upon which determination of reality is the correct one or most correct, yielding differing conclusions in law because of these differing opinions in reality. Yet Jewish thought is emphatic on this point: when a disagreement between poskim occurs because of differing views of the facts, we must recognize such disagreement as a machloket b'mitzi'ut, an argument in reality, and not a machloket b'halacha, an argument in law. There are many reasons for this distinction. See, further, T.B. Gittin 6b and Rashi, Ketubot 57a. Ultimately, disagreements between Torah scholars regarding facts, while of significance to the matter at hand, have little bearing on Torah knowledge. This issue is not one of Torah but of science or social science or nature or perception and so forth. It is not surprising that the Talmud is reluctant to assess an argument between Sages as simply a machloket b'mitzi'ut. Such a disagreement has no value in the corpus of thought of Torah - for in Torah theory, there is really agreement. Why record such a disagreement for posterity as part of Torah? It is a matter of science; let it be recorded in the annals of that wisdom.
The present situation in Israel is obviously one of the most significant issues facing the Jewish people today. The question must be asked: what is the halachic directive in this regard? Differing opinions are actually heard from various poskim and Torah scholars; there are those that favour the peace initiative and those against it. What, though, is the nature of this disagreement? Do they differ in matters of Halacha or is the disagreement in mitzi'ut? Those who favour the peace treaty declare the woe, lo aleinu, that will ensue if it fails; those who oppose it declare similar misfortune, again lo aleinu, if it continues. Clearly the determination of the halachic directive is necessary, yet, the argument over the peace treaty seems to be an argument of what will happen, how to correctly assess reality. This seems to be a matter of mitzi'ut - for determination by experts in the fields of military science, diplomacy or politics. While a posek must ultimately render a decision based upon his determination of facts, based even upon conflicting expert opinions in these variant fields, the discussion is not for the beit midrash. While there is passionate disagreement over the peace treaty, this matter does not seem to be a disagreement in Torah theory - or is it? Is there a halachic issue in regard to the peace initiative?
The underlying assumption in declaring the argument regarding the peace treaty a machloket b'mitzi'ut is that the halachic directive is clear. In this matter, that directive would be that in the interest of peace, guaranteed peace, it would be permissible, even mandatory, to trade land for peace. The question is whether this agreement will bring peace - a question of fact. In discussing this matter with many opposed to the present initiative, they admit that if peace was guaranteed, they would, albeit reluctantly, trade land. It is, however, not universally accepted that, halachically, land can indeed be traded for even a guaranteed peace. Rabbi Herschel Schachter, Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Number 16, "Land for Peace: A Halachic Perspective" expresses the opinion that, in certain circumstances, it may even be forbidden to trade land for peace.
We are clearly more comfortable in approaching the present argument over the peace initiative as a machloket b'mitzi'ut. Even Rabbi Aaron M. Schreiber, The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Number 18, "Relinquishing Yehudah and Shomron: A Response to Rabbi Bleich", in response to the article of Rabbi J. David Bleich, The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Number 16, "Of Land, Peace and Divine Command" which argues that land can indeed be traded for peace (although Rabbi Bleich, writing actually before the present peace initiative, does also present the concerns about the possibility of genuine peace - see, further, Rabbi J. David Bleich, The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Number 18, "Withdrawal From Liberated Territories" in response to Rabbi Schreiber), falls back on the mitzi'ut issue that relinquishing territory would only be suicidal. Bluntly, Judaism values human life. This is a powerful halachic concept. Piku'ach nefesh, even safek piku'ach nefesh, the threat to life, even the possibility of threat to life, overrides most commandments, even Shabbat. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Shabbat 2:1. We are less troubled perceiving the issue to be one of protecting human life with our disagreement centring on the reality that will best assure this outcome. Rabbi Schachter's assertion that even at the expense of peace - even at the cost of Jewish lives - we may be forbidden to trade land, is one that forces us to truly confront our understanding of Israel and political sovereignty in the realm of halachic values.
Each individual human life is of great importance within the world of Torah values. There is the famous Mishneh Sanhedrin 4:5 that compares a life to a universe. There is also the famous law that even at the expense of the entire community, we are prohibited to hand over one person to attackers to be killed. Each life is qualitatively unique and not to be part of a quantified entity. See, further, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:5. Yet, human life is not always halachically paramount. There are values that override as evidenced by the three categories of Torah law which we must not violate even at the cost of our lives: avodah zarah (idolatry), shefichat damim (murder), gilu'i arayot (the major sexual violations). The concept of kiddush haShem, sanctifying God's Name calls upon us to place demonstration of belief above even life. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, chap. 5 and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah, chap. 157. The halachic question that we must face in considering this peace initiative is whether Jewish sovereignty in Israel is also a value that overrides life? and if so, to what extent?
It is most interesting that we, as a community, did not confront this very question when Israel was first established. The reality was that even the establishment of the State and subsequent war was perceived also as an issue of human life. After the horror of the Holocaust, the establishment of a safe haven for our people was a clear necessity. The cost of war was framed as a question of risking one's life to save other lives. (See, further, Rabbi J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Volume 2, Chapter 10 for a brief introduction to this issue.) This may, in fact, have been the truth and may still, based on one's perception of the mitzi'ut today, be the truth. Yet, it is perhaps time for us to recognize the significant underlying halachic issue of the value of political sovereignty - of a Jewish State - in relation to the value of life. And this is not just an issue in regard to Yehudah and Shomron but involves the very nature of the State. Halachically, when does the value of Jewish sovereignty override the value of life, if ever, and when does the value of life override the value of Jewish sovereignty, if ever? Trading land for peace is but one issue within a broader halachic concern that touches the very essence of our connection to Israel.
Minchat Chinuch, mitzvah 425 states that whenever the Torah demands war, implicit in the command is the assumption of danger. The Torah, by definition, is commanding with the recognition that there is loss of human life on both sides of a conflict. If the mitzvah of kivush eretz Yisrael, conquering the land of Israel, applies today, then the command to achieve political sovereignty would apply even when there is sakana, danger. A significant question for our discussion is, thus, whether this command applies today? If one argues there is no command to conquer, would a command not to relinquish even at the expense of war, though, still apply? Is there another reason for declaring war mandatory? Interestingly, Rabbi Schachter argues that since war is part of the process of geula, redemption, stopping the war (i.e. the present hostilities between Israel and the Arabs) prematurely would not be allowed; as it is the war leading to the geula, halting it will only delay the coming of the redemption. Such an assertion can only be based on a supernatural understanding of these events which, according to Rabbi Schachter, would have halachic validity. Yet, the Minchat Chinuch's very argument that a mitzvah dealing with war must allow for sakana was based on the premise that Halacha always works within the natural realm. Notwithstanding this and other possible questions on Rabbi Schachter's position, (including challenges to the necessity of war as a prelude to geula - see also Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 12:2), the emphatic point is made. The question is not just human life and the machloket b'mitzi'ut of which process, maintaining the land or trading land for peace, will ensure the greatest protection of life. While this question of reality still remains a most important matter for resolution, we now see that there are other issues that necessitate discussion - in the beit midrash. Israel represents, or may represent, other values - national sovereignty, Jewish presence in the land of our forefathers, hitchalta d'geula, the beginning of the redemption - and there is the need to halachically clarify the clash of these values with the value of human life.
The formulation of the Minchat Chinuch, especially in light of the comments of Chinuch, mitzvah 425 himself, must be further reviewed. The specific mitzvah under discussion concerned the command to destroy the "Seven Nations". The Chinuch writes that if one finds a member of these nations and can kill this person without sakana, then one is commanded to kill this member of the "Seven Nations". It is to this that the Minchat Chinuch responds that, by definition, since this mitzvah involved war, the command had to exist even in the face of sakana. He concludes his remarks with a question on the Chinuch. A possible way of understanding the Chinuch, though, would be to postulate that war is a unique category of sakana. On a private, personal level, piku'ach nefesh, life overrides even this command. On the communal level, a sakana known as war is to be tolerated. This is further evidenced by the very fact that the Jewish nation is permitted to enter war at their own initiative (given the meeting of certain requirements) while on a individual level we could not contemplate a similar level of sakana (and aggression) to meet our personal demands. See, further, on the unique category of war, Ntziv, HaEmek Davar, Bereishit 9:5 and Devarim 20:8. In this perspective, it may not be that political sovereignty overrides life per se but that in regard to this value, the unique communal danger of war is to be tolerated or even mandated. But then war, in its own strange way, has its own rules. What is a tolerable war? When does victory become too costly? T.B. Shevuot 35b states that a monarchy (i.e. government) that only kills one in six is not punished. Tosfot, d.h. D'katla clearly applies this statement to a nation's right to wage war. Is this gemara introducing some standard of acceptable war? Would this be a standard for toleration or, also, obligation, in evaluating a war situation?
Yet, we must also ask if we as a Jewish nation, at the present time, can be in a halachically defined and acceptable situation of war where these unique conditions would apply? See for background information on the halachic definitions and attitude in regard to war, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim, chapters 5-8. For further discussion of the issue, see also Rabbi J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halachic Problems, Volume 2, Chapter 7 and Volume 3, Chapter 11. The question of whether we are to halachically approach the situation in Israel solely within the realm of personal individual law, allowing only the rights as individuals to defend self and property, or within the realm of public national law, allowing the unique right as a nation to wage war, is significant. It is not surprising that the authors, noted above, that discuss the issue of land for peace, while perhaps not explicitly, implicitly include within their discussion this important point. (Interestingly, a consequential factor in this entire discussion is the role of the urim v'tumim in war and whether it is, at one extreme, necessary even in waging an obligated war or not even necessary in a discretionary war?)
Other questions also have to be addressed. One is our responsibility to Torah belief ideals within the land (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim, chapter 10) and the necessary clarification of our relationship to Islam and Christianity. Paradoxically, one of the arguments for the heter shemittah, the halachic method used to bypass the agricultural restrictions of the Seventh Year, was the enhanced status of the Muslim as a non-idolator. See Rabbi M.Z. Neriya, "The History of the Heter for Shemittah" in The Shemittah Year. Could this status now also affect, in favour of a treaty, the matter at hand ? (On the specific question of the status of non-Jews today, see, also Nishma: Issues, Numbers 1 and 3.)
Truthfully, we should also mention that in the machloket b'mitzi'ut issue itself, there are also halachic questions for investigation regarding how we are to respond given conflicting facts - and even in regard to our, or the posek's, right to resolve factual disagreements given that we are not experts in the field. Doubt as to the reality is also a mitzi'ut case to which Halacha responds. This matter is even more pronounced when the issue concerns life. Safek peku'ach nefesh, even the chance of danger, is deemed to override Shabbat. But what does one do when either choice could be life-saving or life-threatening? This question arises to a great extent in regard to experimental medical therapy and I direct you to the many works on medical ethics that investigate this issue. It should also be noted that a further mitzi'ut issue that may need resolution could be the cost of continued war.
We must also turn to historical precedent. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai's surrender to Rome obviously indicates that at some point relinquishing political sovereignty for peace is acceptable. See T.B. Gittin 56a,b. Was this only because he saw defeat as inevitable? Was he also concerned about the possibility of a pyrrhic victory? Was the sovereignty of Yavneh enough to justify not continuing the war? It must be remembered that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, at first, it would seem, supported the rebellion. Rabbi Akiva's challenge of Rabbi Yochanan can also not be forgotten, yet, Rabbi Akiva did not challenge the very concept of surrendering but rather, in his mind, the limited concessions for which Rabbi Yochanan settled. It must further be remembered that Rabbi Yochanan's action is considered to have saved Torah l'dorot, for the generations. In any event, in their application to our modern situation, the conditions for Rabbi Yochanan's choice of peace over war must be analyzed - just as the decision to support Bar Kochba and the choice of war over peace in that case must also be analyzed. Of specific significance in the latter case, though, may be the religious persecution of that period, although there is always the question of which came first, and the Messianic perception of Bar Kochba. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 11:3.
In conclusion, in all the debate about Israel, it is the subtle halachic issue of sovereignty at the expense of human life that we often ignore. Both those who favour and those who oppose the present initiative must clarify their positions within thisspectrum before tackling the specific matter of the treaty. If one deems life to be simply paramount, then would that not theoretically entail even the foregoing of political sovereignty over Tel Aviv if life could thus be spared? If one deems sovereignty to be simply paramount, then would that not entail foregoing any concessions even at the expense of continued hostilities and the loss of perhaps many lives? If the halachic answer lies somewhere between these two extremes, where is that position to be drawn? The question of whether this position of maintaining sovereignty at the expense of war is one that is allowed or mandated must also be considered. Yet it is in this realm - a world that we as Jews approach hesitantly because of our very concern for life - that we must embark for a halachic clarification, not only of this specific matter but, of the very essence of our commitment to Israel.
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