Friday, October 30, 2020

Ignoring Agudah

R' Soloveitchik (seated next to him, (L-R) R' Aharon Kotler and Irving Bunim
‘I could not care less what’s going on in Agudah!’ This is more or less the translation of comment made in Yiddish by Rav Soloveitchick during an address to a group of Yeshiva University alumni. I believe it was back in the 70s. 

Sometimes Agudah will say something that makes me think that the Rav’s view is pretty good advice for all of us. Especially in light of the recent statement of principles issued by them. Agudah has implied that any connection to Zionism is a departure from the Torah. A statement that implicitly places Religious Zionism and the views of my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, beyond the pale of Orthodoxy.

Rav Ahron strongly believed that the return of the land of Israel into Jewish hands in May of 1948 was a miracle worthy of saying Hallel annually on that date (Yom Ha’atzmaut) - without a Bracha. Although he was not of the opinion that the establishment of the state was ‘Reshis Tzemichas Geulaseinu’  (the first flowering of our redemption from exile) he proudly supported the Religious Zionist Movement, had been the honorary president of the Chicago branch, and approved of reciting the blessing of the state composed by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate (sans that expression). 

Here is the reason Agudah issued this statement:

The Zionist movement have implied that Chareidi Jews have accepted the Jerusalem Program of the World Zionist Organization. This Program, which is a statement of the Zionist ideology, declares Zionism to be “the national liberation movement of the Jewish people” and avers to “the centrality of the State of Israel . . . in the life of the nation.”

Agudah says that this ideology rejects the Torah. This is the reason that Rav Aharon Feldman - one of their Moetzes members - objected to participation in the World Zionist Organization election a few months ago. In order to vote one had to pay a minimal fee and sign a declaration agreeing with their Zionist principles. Even though a huge turnout steered more of the very needed WZO funds in their direction, he believed that by signing that we would in essence be selling out for money - the principles of the Torah by which religious Jews live. 

But he was overruled by the vast majority of Poskim that did not feel that way. They believed it was a legitimate way of increasing needed funds. But now that the WZO has declared that by their participation the Charedi world now accepts their principles, it turns out Rav Feldman's fears were well founded. 

But I still disagree.  I do not understand WZO principles as necessarily conflicting with the Torah. It is the Torah that makes us a people. And not the state alone as a political entity. Religious Zionists believe that too. That one sees the State of Israel as the first flowering of the messianic era is not a contradiction. Whether one believes it is or not.

Even though Religious Zionists place a very high value on the existence of the State and its centrality, place a high value on making Aliyah (immigrating there), and believe that the return of Israel into Jewish hands will usher in the final redemption of the Jewish people - they nonetheless fully understand that it is not the state that makes us a people. The Torah does that.

I understand that Agudah disagrees with them about the centrality of the state. But to imply that it is heresy to partner with Zionism is both untrue and unfair. Instead of fostering unity, this statement is about as divisive as I can imagine at a time where we should be more united than ever as observant, believing Jews! 

Agudah accepts them lovingly as Jews? That’s nice. All Jews should be accepted lovingly. I’m sure Agudah would agree and say that even  secular Zionist Jews - most of whom are ignorant about the Torah. But they are placing Religious Zionist Jews in same category. Or worse – implying that those who believe in Religious Zionism should know better because they are not ignorant.

Agudah refers to themselves and their adherents as Charedi. Directing their words to Charedim as though they are the only Orthodox group whose beliefs are fully authentic. 

If that’s what they believe, then Rav Soloveitchik was right. They are truly worthy of being ignored.