Volume 22 Number 20
                       Produced: Sun Nov 26  9:17:43 1995

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin
         [Shnayer Z. Leiman]


From: Shnayer Z. Leiman <szlyu@...>
Date: Sat, 25 Nov 1995 22:57:05 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

		Reflections on the Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

1. What the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin --at the hands of a religious
Jew-- "proved" to the world was that fundamentalist Judaism is no
different than fundamentalist Islam, and that Jewish terrorism is no
different than Gentile terrorism. The world learned that, ultimately,
Jewish teaching makes no difference. This was the enormous and dreadful
-hillul ha-shem-(desecration of the Name) perpetrated by Yigal Amir's
tragic act of violence. The act itself, and the -hillul ha-shem- it
engendered, can only rend Jewish hearts asunder. The pain is great and
"-as es tut vey muz min schreien-" (when suffering pain, one feels
compelled to cry out).

2. The claim that this was the act of a lunatic is, at once,
self-serving, ludicrous, and dangerous. It is self-serving, of course,
for it is a claim designed to absolve Orthodoxy of responsibility for a
deed perpetrated by one of its own. It is ludicrous, in part, because
one can cry "wolf" only so many times. Institutional Orthodoxy already
staked out this claim in order to distance itself from the Baruch
Goldstein massacre. How many murderers must Orthodoxy produce before it
will be persuaded that there is a growing cancer in its midst that needs
to be treated, rather than a lunatic or two that can safely be ignored?
Indeed, to ignore recent events is to invite more of the same. More
importantly, Goldstein and Amir attended, among other institutions,
Yeshiva of Flatbush, Yeshiva University, Yeshiva Kerem B'Yavneh, and Bar
Ilan University. Before the fact, no one at any of the aforementioned
institutions imagined that either Goldstein or Amir was a lunatic. It is
dangerous because clearly we live in a climate that produces and arms
Goldsteins and Amirs --and this is a problem that needs to be addressed,
not ignored. Surely, the beginning of any solution to a problem is the
recognition that the problem exists.

3. Rav Amital (reported in MJ 21:96, November 13, 1995) noted the links
connecting the Goldstein massacre and Rabin's assassination. He
judiciously cited a Midrash which, in the report published in MJ (and,
subsequently, in the November 1995 issue of -Hamevaser-), appeared in
truncated form without a reference. This passage, in -Seder Eliyahu
Rabbah-, chapter 26, edition M. Friedmann, Jerusalem, 1960, p. 140 (and
parallels), is particularly relevant and we present it in its entirety
in English translation (in general, see: W.G. Braude and I.J. Kapstein,
-Tanna Debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah-, Jewish
Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1981; the translation presented here
veers, where warranted, from Braude and Kapstein):

-You shall love the Lord Your G-d- (Deut. 6:5), that is, you should cause 
the Name of Heaven to be loved by mankind. Take care of how you manage 
your business affairs, how you walk about in the marketplace, and how you 
deal with other human beings. Regarding a person who reads Scripture and 
recites Mishnah, and is careful about how he manages his business 
affairs, how he walks about in the marketplace, and how he deals with 
other human beings, people who witness his activity say about him: 
"Blessed is So-and-so who studies Torah! Woe unto my father who did not 
teach me Torah! Look how pleasant are his deeds, how beautiful are his 
ways! Indeed, let us go and study Torah, and teach our children Torah." 
Thus, through such a man, the Name of Heaven is sanctified.

When, however, a person reads Scripture and recites Mishnah, but is not 
careful about how he manages his business affairs, how he walks about in 
the marketplace, and how he deals with other human beings, people who 
witness his activity say about him: "Woe unto So-and-so who studies 
Torah! Blessed is my father who did not teach me Torah! So-and-so who 
studies Torah, look how wicked are his deeds, how corrupt are his ways! 
Indeed, let us not study Torah, and let us not teach our children Torah." 
Thus, through such a man, the Name of Heaven is desecrated.

The Torah was not given to desecrate, but rather to sanctify His great
Name, as it is said: -[G-d] said to me: You are my servant, Israel,
through whom I am glorified- (Is. 49:3). The Sages derived from this: A
man must distance himself from theft, whether from Jew or Gentile, or
anyone in the marketplace. One who steals from a Gentile will ultimately
steal from a Jew. One who defrauds a Gentile will ultimately defraud a
Jew. One who swears falsely to a Gentile will ultimately swear falsely
to a Jew. one who lies to a Gentile will ultimately lie to a Jew.  One
who sheds the blood of a Gentile will ultimately shed the blood of a
Jew. But the Torah was not given to desecrate, but rather to sanctify
His great Name.


None of us can forget the deafening silence that best characterizes
Orthodoxy's response to the Goldstein massacre. Rabbis Amital and
Lichtenstein were among the few rabbinic leaders in Israel courageous
enough to condemn the massacres forcefully, unequivocally, and with
alacrity. Must it take courage, then, for a rabbi in Israel to condemn
the shedding of innocent Gentile blood? And while institutional
Orthodoxy in the United States offered mostly perfunctory condemnations,
distancing themselves from the horror, nary a public word was heard from
the leading Torah authorities, whether hasidic rebbe, rosh yeshiva, or
member of the Mo'ezet Gedolei Ha-Torah of Agudat Yisrael. (It is ideed
gratifying to note, as these words are being penned [November 24, 1995],
that the Mo'ezet Gedolei ha-Torah of Agudat Yisrael --in an ad on the
Op-Ed page of today's -New York Times-, labelled the assassination of
Yitzhak Rabin as "an act of murder, a grievous sin that calls for
unequivocal condemnation.") The passage from the Midrash cited above was
reduced to writing between 1000 and 2000 years ago. It could have been
written yesterday.

4. Torah teaching consists of a configuration of values. These values
include, among many others, loving our neighbor, aiding the needy,
pursuit of peace, sanctity of the land of Israel, and sanctity of life.
An individual Jewish soul may resonate to a particular Jewish value, but
no Jew --committed to Torah teaching-- is free to reject a Torah value
out of hand. Nor may a Jew --committed to Torah teaching-- declare than
one particular value is the over-riding value against which all others
are judged, found wanting, and rejected. Much of halakhic and Jewish
moralistic literature is devoted to a careful balancing of Jewish
values, taking into account rules and regulations governing prioriyies
in Jewish practice, and the different circumstances that may call for a
reordering of priorities. To the best of my knowledge, nowhere in all of
rabbinic literature is it ever suggested that one mitzvah or one value
(not even: -pikuah nefesh-[the saving of life]) always and in all
circumstances over-rides all the other mitzvot and values. (True, we
find that the Sages taught: "The obligation to settle in the land of
Israel is as weighty as all the other mitzvot of the Torah [Tosefta
Avodah Zarah 4:3, ed. Zuckermandel, p. 466]. They said the same,
however, about such commandments as the Sabbath [j. Berakhot 1:5],
circumcision [b. Nedarim 32a], and fringes [b. Menahot 43b]. Whatever
the import of these rabbinic pronouncements, the fact that the same
formula was applied to at least four different mitzvot suggests that the
Sages never intended for any one of these to always and in all
circumstances over-ride all other mitzvot and values. In any event, even
a cursory reading of the halakhic portions of the Talmud indicates that,
in fact, none of these over-rides all other mitzvot and values.) Whoever
makes such a claim, and most specifically regarding the exchange of
territory for peace (i.e., that the Torah ban against relinquishing
territory from the land of Israel to non-Jews over-rides all other
mitzvot and values and, if necessary, justifies the taking of innocent
life), introduces a new and skewed Torah, one that the Tannaim, Amoraim,
Geonim, Rishonim, and Aharonim would not have recognized. Indeed, any
such claim introduces into Judaism a form of idolatry, the worship of
one mitzvah, selected by the claimant, rather than the belief in one G-d
who, through Moses, gave Israel a Torah with a multiplicity of mitzvot.

5. -Upon the testimony of two witnesses shall a matter be 
established-(Deut. 19:15).

a. In an essay published in -Hamevaser-(November 1995, p.8), Rabbi
Menachem Genack testifies regarding the late Rabbi Joseph B.
Soloveitchik's position on the exchange of territory for peace (similar
testimony appears in Rabbi Mayer Twersky's profound and eloquent essay
on the Rabin assassination in the same issue of -Hamevaser-):

"In 1967, shortly after the Six Day War, the Rav, before an audience
exceeding a thousand people, declared the appropriate forum to discuss
and decide issues concerning the return of territories was not
rabbinical conferences issuing responsa. That, in his opinion, was
laughable. After all, the issue facing Israel was its security. Simply
put, if giving back territories would enhance the security of Israel,
then the territories should be relinquished. On the other hand, if
giving back territories would diminish the security of Israel, then the
territories must be retained. The resolution of such an issue must
necessarily be left to military men and people involved in
geopolitics. To be sure, the security arguments on either side of the
current debate are substantial, and what the Rav's opinion would be on
that topic at this point in time is not for me to divine. But one thing
is clear: he felt it was wrong to drape the issue in theological
terms. While we need a messianic vision, it is exceedingly dangerous to
live a messianic existence prematurely."

b. Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, in a
halakhic responsum addressing the issue of exchanging territory for
peace ("The Relinquishing of Territory of the Land of Israel in order to
Save Life," [Hebrew] -Torah Shebe'al Peh- 31[1990]11-25, concluded as

"The upshot of our discussion is: If it is established beyond doubt that
genuine peace between us and our Arab neighbors will result from
yielding the territories to them, and if --in contrast-- threat of an
immediate war would obtain if we refuse to yield the territories to
them, then we should relinquish the territories, for nothing [in this
category of halakhah --SZL] can over-ride the obligation to save life. A
judgment about such matters requires careful deliberation, and can be
decided only after an authoritative, agreed upon position is issued by
military and political analysts expert in security matters. Then one can
proceed and act in accordance with Torah teaching."

Other contemporary rabbinic figures support the views of Rabbis
Soloveitchik and Yosef; still other contemporary rabbinic figures
disagree sharply with their assessment and prohibit the exchange of
territories for peace in no uncertain halakhic terms. My purpose here is
not to take a stance on this incredibly complex issue, regarding which I
have no competence whatever. Indeed, it may well turn out that on
security grounds alone territories presently under consideration for
exchange should not and, therefore, may not be returned. This would be a
determination, however, that could only be initiated by military and
geopolitical experts. But what needs to be noted here is that no one can
claim that the Torah speaks in only one voice on this matter. No one can
claim that the Torah teaches univocally that territories can never be
exchanged for peace, indeed, as no one can claim that it univocally
permits or mandates such an exchange. If we could only remember that the
Torah teaches a configuration of values, and speaks in many voices,
perhaps humility will replace arrogance before decisions are made about
the taking of innocent life.

6. The introspection thrust upon us by these momentous events applies to
all Jews, whether secular or religious, whether in Israel or in the
Diaspora, whether Zionist or anti-Zionist, whether Hasidic or Mitnagdic.
"Every Jew is a unique limb, a part of that sacred and awesome body
known as -Knesset Yisrael-, the Community of Israel in its fullest
sense" (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook, letter to the editor of
-Ha-Hed-, 1934). When we engage in internecine strife, we destroy
ourselves, and risk destroying Knesset Yisrael. No one can stand idly by
when the stakes are so high. Secular Jewry can hardly take solace in the
fact that blood now stains the hands of religious Jewry. Sadly, rape and
murder are daily occurrences even in Israel; the perpetrators are hardly
ever (if at all) from Me'ah She'rim, Sha'arey Hesed, Bayit Vegan, or Har
Nof. The misplaced rage, and the collective guilt placed on the
shoulders of religious Jewry brings no glory to secular Jewry. How
quickly secular Jewry has forgotten the enormous contribution of
religious Zionism to the Israeli army, culture, and economy! The
scapegoating and disdain issuing forth from secularist circles needs to
be replaced by understanding and tolerance; secular Jewry would do well
to examine its roots and its rhetoric, with focus on virtue rather than
vice. Religious Jewry, on the other hand, must own up to the fact that
Goldstein and Amir were G-d-fearing Jews, suffused with the Torah
teaching they imbibed at some of the finest religious educational
institutions in the United States and Israel. It is not enough to say
they were provoked by Rabin's policies.  Who were their teachers? What
were they taught? May any rabbi decide a life and death issue? With what
self-confidence can a rabbi (if there is any truth to such rumors)
distort the concepts of -rodef- and -moser-, wrench them from their
halakhic contexts, and apply them to a democratically elected government
of Israel? Where does religious Jewry's accountability begin in such
matters, and where shall it end? Is this a problem that needs to be
investigated by the Council of Rabbanei Yesha'?  Should the Chief
Rabbinate of Israel be monitoring these matters?  -Gedolei Yisrael-? Is
every Jew obligated to raise his/her voice --if need be-- until matters
are set aright?

Religious Jewry will need to understand that it holds no monopoly on
deciding Israel's defensive needs and establishing its borders. Visions
of peace differ considerably among Israelis, and the willingness to take
risks for peace may differ as well. Must an enthusiastic young settler
in Hevron, a yeshivah graduate recently arrived from the United States,
when confronted by a die-hard secular Zionist (who participated, and
lost two sons, in previous Israeli-Arab wars, and is committed to taking
risks for peace [i.e., to the exchange of territory for peace] so that
his grandchildren need not spend endless years in the army and
-millu'im-), inform him that the Torah mandates otherwise, and insist on
imposing his view on the secular Zionist against his will? Did not King
Solomon (see 1 Kings 9:11) relinquish 20 villages from the land of
Galilee and present them as gifts to Hiram, king of Tyre? Neither
Scripture nor the Sages had an unkind word for Solomon in this
matter. How over-riding is the mitzvah of -yishuv eretz yisrael-? Or the
mitzvah of -lo tehannem-(Deut. 7:2; cf.  Maimonides' -Code-, Sefer
Madda, hilkhot Avodah Zarah 10:3-6)? Does anyone really believe, now
that Jews are empowered in Israel, that all Christian churches in Israel
should be closed and the land they rest on be restored to Jews? How come
from 1948 to 1967 no recognized -gadol be-yisrael- demanded that the
Israeli armed forces take the Old City of Jerusalem, much less Hevron?
Clearly, international politics, security considerations, and a host of
other factors including -yosher-, common sense, and the consensus of the
Israeli people color Israeli policy.  Ultimate decisions in such matters
can be made only by Israelis --their collective lives are on the line--
and in democratic fashion. I raise the questions listed above, not
because I am unaware of some of the answers (having spent hours, even
days and nights, examining the texts and the various explanations of the
-rishonim- and -aharonim-), but rather precisely in order to underscore
the complexity of these issues. That so many can speak with certitude on
such matters, worse yet, that anyone could glibly decide that innocent
life can be taken in order to advance this cause, boggles the mind as it
depresses the heart. Surely, certitude must give way to humility, and it
must begin at the top, i.e, among our rabbinic leadership.

7. Finally, introspection must lead to reconciliation between religious
and secular Jewry. Dissent must be tolerated, not shouted down by either
side. Human dignity must be restored by those who would take it away
from us. Perhaps we need to focus more on shared values, on what we have
in common, rather than on what separates us. No one did this better than
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Ha-Kohen Kook. Would that we could restore his
pre-1967 image, and lay to rest the revisionist image of Rav Kook that
was created in the post-1967 era!

-Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are
peaceful-(Prov. 3:17).  The ways of Torah are pleasant and peaceful when
all its paths are explored. When one path is elevated above all others,
and the other paths neglected, the Torah becomes distorted and its ways
may no longer be pleasant or peaceful. Torah Jewry needs to reexamine
all its texts, live by them, and persuade by acts of lovingkindness and
by disseminating a teaching that enlightens, enriches, and ultimately

						Shnayer Z. Leiman


End of Volume 22 Issue 20