For Modern Orthodox Rabbis, Wye Is OK


In response to sharp criticism by some right-wing Orthodox rabbis who charged that the Wye accords violate Jewish law, a group of Modern Orthodox rabbis this week issued a counter statement saying that last month’s deal between Israel and the Palestinians is indeed religiously legal.

The group, Shvil Hazahav, gathered the signatures of 28 Modern Orthodox rabbis to support an unequivocal statement asserting that the Wye deal does not violate Jewish law, or halacha.

The Shvil Hazahav (in Hebrew “the Golden Rule”) statement also directly responded to a group of rabbis in America and Israel who charged that the Israeli government violated Jewish law by approving the Wye agreement.

“The Torah is diminished when the law is used as the foundation for public, political attacks against the duly constituted Israeli government,” said Shvil Hazahav chair Rabbi Shmuel Goldin. “The integrity of halacha is undermined and the legitimacy of the Orthodox voice is marginalized when otherwise respected rabbinic authorities invoke an absolute das Torah [opinion of the law] to justify a particular political position.”

He was referring to the statement and newspaper ad published by the right-wing Orthodox rabbinic group called Ichud Harabonim, or Union of Rabbis, which two weeks ago denounced the Wye agreement as a violation of Jewish law that threatens the lives of Jews in Israel.

In the ad, signed by Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik of Chicago, a leading Orthodox voice in America, and Rabbis Moshe Tendler and Herschel Reichman, two prominent Yeshiva University faculty members, Ichud Harabonim declared that the Wye pact “is a life-threatening danger to all residents of Israel” and “presents a real danger to many Jewish settlements that would be surrounded by an enemy authority.”

“Therefore,” the rabbis said, “we have determined that it is prohibited by Jewish law to participate in this tragic and terrible agreement. It is prohibited by Jewish law for it to be ratified by the Israeli government.”

But Ichud Harabonim has been criticized by some Orthodox and non-Orthodox groups for its rhetoric against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which some said evoked the violent language used against the late Israeli Prime Yitzchak Rabin — who was assassinated three years ago. Also, the group was denounced for using the name of the National Council of Young Israel as a sponsor of the ad. Young Israel denies granting authority to use its name.

Rabbi Tendler said he was surprised when his group’s statement appeared as an ad in the New York Post last month.

“I hadn’t the slightest idea of it,” he said, adding that he did not know who was paid to place the newspaper ad.

But Rabbi Tendler said: “I believe no one disagrees with what the ad said: ‘If you’re endangering security, the Wye agreement should not go on. And no one denies you’re endangering the security.’ ”

However, Rabbi Adam Mintz of the Lincoln Square Synagogue, who signed the Shvil Hazahav statement, said “It is inappropriate to use halacha to justify a political position. Don’t act as if halacha requires or mandates a political position.”

Rabbi Goldin said he felt the necessity to issue the statement to “speak out against the hatred now rampant not only among Orthodox Jews themselves but between the various factions along the religious and political spectrum.”

“Monolithic halachic rulings that undermine legitimate alternative perspectives fragment the Jewish people … and violate the essence of the Torah in which we all believe so deeply.”

The Shvil Hazahav statement also includes the following points:

# That Jewish law permits territorial compromise if such actions will ultimately lead to greater safety and security for all Israeli citizens.

# Only elected Israeli officials should make such decisions.

# The application of Jewish law is a complex process allowing for differing views and approaches.

# Vituperative personal attacks only serve to poison the debate and give license to irresponsible even tragic action.