My uncle, British Chief Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits zt”l (died 1999), was a man who thought and spoke the truth as he saw it. That was his greatness, which earned him the admiration and friendship of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It also earned him the enmity of some British Jews, especially those who refused to allow him to explain his stand on controversial issues.
For example, he took a strong stand against gender deviancy, which today, unfortunately, has evolved into the norm. My uncle should know a thing or two about ethical behavior; he wrote the classic book, Jewish Medical Ethics, in 1959, which opened the discussion on the topic. The issue of gender rights was not as controversial then as it is now, but he was one of the few leaders who were willing to take an open position on the matter.
However, that was not the source of the controversy surrounding him. He was very complex in his Zionist beliefs. I guess he can be referred to as a Hirschian Zionist. That is, while he had strong beliefs in the return to Zion, he also firmly believed that the Jewish people had no guarantees that with the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948 they would remain in the Land.
We say in K’rias Sh’ma twice a day (D’varim 11:17), “And you will be swiftly banished from the goodly Land that Hashem gives you…,” should it, G-d forbid, arise that G-d can no longer tolerate our behavior. My uncle would point to this verse and comment that if we believe in these words spoken by Hashem, then we must realize that our presence in Eretz Yisrael is conditional on our loyalty to his Torah.
That he didn’t think of the return to the Jewish Land was to remain a certainty until Mashiach arrives irked many Zionist Jews. He also believed that surrendering the settlements was worthwhile in order to make true peace. He did, however, add that the Palestinians should be given a ten-year trial to see if they can maintain peaceful relations with their Israeli neighbors.
The reaction to him in England at the time was very heated. Several Jewish organizations refused to invite him to their events, and others disinvited him from engagements already arranged. But my uncle remained stalwart, as he stood by his convictions and wasn’t going to change due to pressure (much to my aunt’s chagrin).
As events in Israel today unfold, my uncle’s prognostications have become, unfortunately, a reality to be considered.
The Torah (Vayikra 18:28) states, following all the admonitions of purity in behavior, “And let not the land disgorge you from having contaminated it, as it disgorged the nation that was before you.”
Rashi in his commentary on that pasuk compares it to a prince whose father gave him something repulsive to eat. The son will regurgitate it (especially since he had a pampered stomach). So, too, says Rashi, the Land of Israel cannot absorb impure behavior.
Not all that long ago, we would look at this verse and conclude that there is no way this can happen nowadays. Israel has one of the strongest armies in the world, and the Jews of Israel, with all their differences, are united in combating their enemies. What kind of disgorgement can possibly take place?
Tragically, we have seen the unimaginable threat to Israel coming from within its own midst. The nation is split in two, as those on the left, who claim that they are against judicial reform, take to the streets in a most vociferous manner. In reality, they cannot accept that a right-winged, largely religious coalition leads the government.
Army reservists, air force, and civil pilots have condemned the current government and called for boycotting army service. Even a former Israeli prime minister has called for the world to boycott Israel’s current prime minister. One reservist openly called for the assassination of Netanyahu.
This week, I saw a clip of a 70-year-old Jew near Teveria addressing an audience demand that Jewish blood spill in the streets, to include the prime minister and his “deranged” son. As for religious Jews, he proudly said he hates any Jew who wears a yarmulka. The man said that, regarding chareidim, “there is a train line nearby with cables; let them hang by their t’filin from here to Bnei Brak.”
Thankfully, this awful person was arrested for his murderous public statements, although he was later released with warnings. But how did we get there?
We are faced with a situation that murderous Palestinians are routinely shooting our people from within our own country, as the world looks on passively and as the American administration helps “pay for the slay.”
Worse, we have Jew vs. Jew as has not been experienced since the tragic story of Pilegesh B’Giv’ah (see Shoftim/Judges 20). The looming civil unrest is an existential threat to Israel more so than all its enemies.
We sincerely daven and pray for peace in Israel, “Shalom al Yisrael,” As we mentioned this past Shabbos in Rosh Chodesh bentching, “All Jews are friends.” We are keenly aware of Torah being studied in Israel as has not been since the time of Chizkiyahu (see Sanhedrin 94b), which should act as a great merit for us.
But we must realize the sanctioned deviancies and lewdness, or the turning of the Beis HaMikdash into a political arena, comes with a price. Coupled with the internal convulsions in Israel, we are reminded of my uncle’s words and his unpopular warning.
As religious Jews, we must continue to love Israel and all its Jews despite the challenges. Perhaps the shining of a little light will dispel the darkness of hatred that is now gripping our people. May the month of Nisan bring the Ultimate Redemption. We have suffered enough.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.