A newspaper ad by a Yeshiva University-linked Orthodox rabbinical group is denouncing the Wye agreement as a violation of Jewish law that threatens the lives of all Jews in Israel.
But the rabbinic group called Ichud Harabonim, or Union of Rabbis, is itself being criticized for using language some say evokes the violent rhetoric used against the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin — who was assassinated three years ago this week.
In the ad, signed by Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik of Chicago, a leading Orthodox voice in America, and two prominent YU faculty members, Rabbi Moshe Tendler and Rabbi Herschel Reichman, Ichud Harabonim declares that the peace deal signed two weeks ago in Maryland by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat “is a life-threatening danger to all residents of Israel.”
The ad, published in Sunday’s New York Post, also states that the Wye pact “presents a real danger to many Jewish settlements that would be surrounded by an enemy authority.”
“Therefore,” say the rabbis, “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 critics from several Jewish denominations said the ad is dangerous, that its message is reminiscent of the language used by forces on the extreme right after Rabin signed the Oslo Accords. The rhetoric, some say, led to Rabin’s assassination by Yigal Amir, a right-wing Orthodox student.
“Are they advocating the murder of Netanyahu?” asked David Luchins, the Orthodox top adviser to U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, when informed of the ad. “I find the language intemperate.”
Luchins said he was particularly concerned that the name of his rebbe, Soloveichik, chairman of Ichud Harabonim and a leading American Orthodox voice, appeared in the ad.
“I know how pained he was by Rabin’s murder and how deeply he abhors either rhetorical and physical violence,” Luchins said of the rabbi, who is 82. “I believe it is a tremendous disservice to use his name in a way that could be construed as advocating violence against the government or leaders of Israel.”
But Rabbi Reichman, secretary of Ichud Harabonim, insisted that Rabbi Soloveichik, brother of the late esteemed 20th century Modern Orthodox legalist Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik, personally approved of the language in the ad.
“He endorsed this specific one. He knows what it says, he put his signature to it,” Rabbi Reichman said.
Rabbi Reichman also rejected any notion that the ad called for violence. “We were very careful not to use any kind of provocative language,” he said. “I don’t see how someone can interpret it that way. It’s ridiculous. God forbid, we don’t want any kind of tone like that. But we have to be able to say that something dangerous is dangerous.”
But Reform movement head Rabbi Eric Yoffie said the tone of the ad indeed is dangerous. “I don’t want to accuse them of provoking assassination, but it’s the absolutist language here which is troubling,” he said.
Rabbi Yoffie also argued that despite Ichud Harabonim’s statement, “There is no halachic consensus on whether or not territory can be given back or whether settlements can be maintained.
“The suggestion here that there is one halachic truth, and that Rabbi Soloveichik and his organization happen to possess it, is simply a distortion of the tradition from every perspective, whether Orthodox or Reform,” Rabbi Yoffie said. “There is ample historical justification of a policy of territorial compromise under particular circumstances.”
In fact, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ruled in 1989 that it is permitted to return land to the Arabs if it will bring peace.
“If it can be determined beyond all doubt that ceding territory will lead to a genuine peace between us and our Arab neighbors,” he said, “whereas not ceding the territories will increase the danger of immediate war, the territories should be returned, as nothing stands in the way of pikuach nefesh (saving life.)
Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, was another who denounced the ad. “I think it’s the worst form of authoritarianism,” he said. “This is an ex cathedra pronunciation, and we don’t have a papacy.” Schorsch added that he is distressed “by the religious extremists who refuse to compromise one iota. I don’t think land is more important than life.”
Rabbi Yoffie said decisions about security should be made by the experts, not rabbis.
“Who in heaven are they to be making such judgments?” he asked.