Orthodox Group Issues Ruling on Land and the Palestinians

Having ruled that the Israeli government’s peace policies violate Jewish law, a group of Orthodox rabbis has issued a similar ruling aimed at the U.S. government.

Jewish law prohibits funding of the Palestine Liberation Organization “without the closest scrutiny as to whom the money is reaching,” the International Rabbinical Coalition for Israel said here Monday.

The United States has provided financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority in the wake of its accords with Israel. Continued financial support is up for renewal in Congress at the end of the month.

But the rabbis, who also reiterated earlier objections to Israeli withdrawal from any part of Eretz Yisrael, or the Land of Israel, are split over whether it is halachic, or permitted under Jewish law, to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Rabbi Avraham Hecht, president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a group of a few hundred stringently Orthodox rabbis, said that by handing over Israeli land and property, the leaders of the Israeli government “and all who assist them” fall in the category of “moser,” people who betray Jews to Gentiles.

According to Maimoindes, such people not only deserve the death penalty but should be killed before they can perform the deed, Hecht said.

Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik, however, insisted that “we should refrain from any violence, even verbal violence” against the Rabin government and other Jews.

Soloveichik, the leading Talmudic authority at Yeshiva University, said non- violence would be the most effective way for settlers to fight any possible eviction by the Israeli government.

If the settlers put up passive resistance and end up Israeli jails, “the world will not be silent in the fact of such a horrible sight,” he said.

Soloveichik is a member of the presidium of the International Rabbinical Coalition for Israel.

The group was founded in 1993 to oppose the accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The group claims 3,000 members worldwide — including the more than 1,000 members of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest American Orthodox rabbinical association.

But RCA President Rabbi Rafael Grossman said the coalition did not speak for the RCA.

He said even though the RCA endorsed the coalition’s recent lobbying in Washington against U.S. financial aid to the Palestinians, the RCA did not necessarily endorse its other rulings.

“The Rabbinical Council’s position in all matters of halachah regarding Israel is that we support and abide by the decision of the incumbent chief rabbinate” of Israel, Grossman said.

And the incumbent chief rabbis have not ruled on these current issues, Grossman said.

However, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira is on the presidium of the international coalition and endorsed its statements this week.

Hecht is a member of the group’s American rabbinical committee, whose seven other members include three of the leading rabbis from Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school.

Hecht himself implicitly acknowledged that many in the Orthodox community do not share his zealous opposition to the Israeli government as he lamented the failure of the rabbinical group to draw more than 60 people to a mid-morning conference Monday in the basement chapel of a Manhattan synagogue.

The conference came less than two weeks before Israel and the PLO are scheduled to reach an agreement that would lead to an Israeli withdrawal of troops from at least some West Bank cities.

In a statement, the rabbinical coalition said the Torah’s commandment “to not stand idly by while your brother’s blood is shed” mandates action in the event of “an evacuation of military and security forces from cities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.”

Uprooting settlements “is a national crime, and it is forbidden for a Jew to lend a hand to such a deed,” said the statement.

With regard to the PLO, the statement added: “All those who act to thwart” continued funding of the PLO “are observing the rabbinic dictum: `Anyone who saves a single Jewish life, receives merit as if he saved the whole world.’”

Rabbi Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University told the conference that Israel’s current leaders hate God, the Torah — and consequently, themselves.

It is this “low self-esteem,” he said, that has generated the movement toward “national suicide.”

“We have to retain our national pride,” Schachter said. “Are we prepared to go to war over this? Of course. All countries go to war for national pride.”

And as the chosen people, “we have what to be proud of,” he said.

Responding to the rulings, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, chairman of Shvil Hazahav, an Orthodox group that supports the peace process said: “Numerous halachic luminaries have indicated that territorial concession is within the confines of halachah when such concessions can save lives.”

“They represent who they represent,” Goldin said.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Religious Affairs Minister Shimon Shetreet urged the rabbis to stick to religious issues and stay out of political affairs.

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