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Orthodox Split on Land-for-peace Leads to ‘anti-haredi’ Campaign

The religious bloc is sharply divided over the land-for-peace issue.

The National Religious Party, which speaks for religious Zionism, has taken exception to recent pronouncements by the spiritual mentors of the ultra-Orthodox Shas and Degel Hatorah parties, who favor territorial compromise if it leads to peace.

The NRP announced Tuesday that it will mount a public campaign “to accentuate the difference between religious Zionism and haredism,” meaning ultra-Orthodoxy.

The party’s national secretary, Shaul Yahalom, said speeches this week by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Shas party’s spiritual guide, and Rabbi Eliezer Schach, who has the same role in Degel Hatorah, are the product of a discredited anti-Zionist line.

Yosef’s lecture, which opened the annual Oral Law Study conference at the Mossad Harav Kook here on Sunday night, climaxed a fortnight of intense controversy and speculation in religious and political circles following Yosef’s meeting in Egypt last month with President Hosni Mubarak.

Yosef, a former Sephardic chief rabbi, had told the Egyptian leader that in Jewish law, the value of saving lives could supersede the value of retaining all of the Holy Land.

Yosef, considered the foremost religious leader of the age, repeated this theme in his lecture, citing copiously from Talmudic and halachic sources.

HUMAN LIFE TAKES PRECEDENCE

Like Schach, Yosef upheld the halachic principle of “pikuach nefesh,” or saving human life, over the sanctity of the Holy Land.

He maintained that in exchange for true peace, territorial concessions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would be halachicly acceptable.

But Yosef declined to issue a formal halachic “psak,” or ruling, to this effect, “since it is not presently practicable.”

Israel’s two chief rabbis, the Ashkenazic Avraham Shapiro and the Sephardic Mordechai Eliahu, hold an opposing view on land-for-peace They recently issued a joint halachic ruling that forbids any territorial concessions.

In opposing Yosef and Schach, Yahalom said the NRP would undertake a countrywide campaign to stress the values of patriotism and supreme sacrifice for Jewish sovereignty.

He said the NRP would also urge parents to think twice before they send their children to the rapidly growing network of Shas-supported schools, “which rejects Zionism and educates against army service.”

Yosef and his supporters were also criticized Monday by right-wing politicians. Geula Cohen of Tehiya went as far as to link Yosef’s position to a terror attack in Ramallah on Monday morning.

But Yosef has been strongly supported by Minister of Interior Arye Deri of Shas, who is known to favor a Shas alliance with Labor rather than Likud. Deri, who traveled with Yosef to Egypt, attended the rabbi’s lecture Sunday night and was seen vigorously applauding.

According to the ultra-Orthodox daily Yated Ne’eman, organ of Degel Hatorah, the views expressed by rabbis Yosef and Schach were not merely intellectual hypothesizing, remote from reality.

Granting that there is no immediate possibility of trading land for peace, the newspaper said that the two rabbis made it crystal clear that the halacha would favor such a trade if and when the possibility arises.

Meanwhile, two newspapers of secular Israel rapped the Orthodox rabbis for bringing their religious authority to bear on the land-for-peace controversy, whether for or against concessions.

Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post argued in editorials Tuesday that the rabbis are no better qualified than other thoughtful citizens to participate in the debate.

“If they have no special status in this field, it would be better that they kept out of it,” Ha’aretz said.

The Post was critical of the state-appointed chief rabbis. Their “attempt to decree halachic standards of judgement as authoritative on the great state issues of peace and war, and thus superior to the secular judgement of our democratic institutions of governance, constitutes a wholly unwarranted rabbinical interference in matters of state,” the Post said.

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