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April 19, 2014 | 19th Nisan 5774

Soloveitchik on settlement

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, blog post on jpost.com, Sunday, September 5, 2010.

Sunday Sep 05, 2010

Soloveitchik on settlement

Posted by Eric Yoffie

It is always instructive and inspiring to turn to the writings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and never more so than during this holiday season. While reading a book of his letters, I was interested to come across some of his thoughts on matters relating to settlement following the Six Day War in 1967.

The Rav was reluctant to discuss Israeli political issues. However, in certain instances, usually in response to a direct question by an interviewer, he was prepared to talk in general terms about the principles and values that should guide us.

His basic position on the question of whether withdrawal from some of the territories might be acceptable as part of a political agreement was expressed as follows:

When one is required to feed an ill person on Yom Kippur it is done upon the advice of experts:  i.e. doctors. In the areas of territory, policy and pikuah nefesh - the experts are the chief of staff, the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces and the government of Israel. If they will conclude that it is possible to compromise over territory without threatening the life of the yishuv and the existence of the state, we should rely on them." (See Community, Covenant, and Commitment, by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, edited by Nathaniel Helfgot, p. 236.)

These views are similar to positions expressed at roughly the same time by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef while he was Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel. (I discussed Rabbi Yosef's comments in my previous post.)

Especially interesting to me were the views expressed by the Rav in an interview in 1977 with Ma'ariv, the Hebrew daily, about the need for Israel to avoid a crisis in relations with the American government. The Rav said:

I am in favor of compromise with the American government in the context of mutual concessions. I am a realist. America is the only friend of the State of Israel - and she is a great friend. The maintenance of friendly relations and understanding with the United States is the most important thing from the perspective of Israel... It is also for this reason that I am in favor of a more conciliatory approach with America, even if this requires us (to hold on to) less territory, in the context, of course, of careful protection of the security of Israel..." (See pp. 241-2.)

These views were wise then, and they are wise now. As Israel begins negotiations with the Palestinian Authority under the auspices of the government of the United States, it is to be hoped that his advice will be heeded. Relations with America, previously frayed, have been largely repaired. And while American support of Israel's government is always critical, as the Rav notes, it is especially critical at this moment because of the existential danger posed by the threat of a nuclear Iran - a threat that can only be confronted with strong American backing.

As the Prime Minister has made clear, Israel has nothing to fear from these negotiations. On the contrary, her position is strong and her case compelling, and she welcomes any possibility of moving toward peace. I believe that the government of Israel knows full well how important it is to maintain the confidence and the backing of America. This is not the time for a crisis with America - over settlements or anything else.

Let those who counsel confrontation - and there are many such Jews in America - follow the course that the Rav has suggested. For all who love Israel, this is a time for moderation, realism and assuring the support of the United States of America.

Rabbi Yoffie is President of the Union for Reform Judaism.

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