We Need Mashiach Now!

letter-447577_1280

by Dovid Landesman

Is it possible to function as an independent community without mashiach? Or, are there problems and dilemmas that remain unsolvable before his arrival?
The Talmud (Ketubot 111a) recounts that there are three oaths that set some of the parameters that govern communal Jewish life in the post Beit ha-Mikdash era. G-d made us swear that we would not forcibly attempt to recapture Eretz Yisrael nor would we rebel against the rule of the nations – i.e., seek independence. He also decreed that the nations of the world were duty bound not to overly oppress us. Whether or not there is a link between the first two oaths and the third and whether the first two might be abrogated with the permission of the nations are critical elements in the Zionist/anti Zionist debate. Although surely worthy of exploration, this is not the subject being addressed.

Interestingly, the gemara does not explain what precipitated the imposition of these oaths. Under the guise of makom hinichu lihitgader bo – they [Chazal] left room for our speculation – we can conjecture that the oaths had to be imposed because of the inherent – and perhaps insurmountable – difficulties when we have neither the services of a navi nor a functioning sanhedrin to guide us. Devoid of either of these two critical elements – the direct conduit from Heaven that clearly indicates G-d’s will [the navi] and the authority [sanhedrin] competent to suspend/amend halachah in the face of special contingencies [through dictums such as mishum eivah or hora’at sha’ah] – life as an independent Jewish community might be impossible; hence the oaths calling on us not to rebel or try to return as groups to Eretz Yisrael [see Maharsha ad. loc.]. Parenthetically, there are precedents where mishum eivah has been applied by an individual authority; e.g., the heter granted by the Chatam Sofer for a Jewish doctor to be m’chalel Shabbat on behalf of a non-Jewish patient. However, it is questionable whether any contemporary halachic authority would feel competent to make use of that dictum and void a prohibition, permitting something to an entire community on a permanent basis. [I would be most appreciative of any elucidation of the subject from the learned readers of CC.]

Even according to those who maintain that the oaths are no longer applicable – either because the nations did not fulfill their end of the bargain [not to overly oppress the Jews] or because the nations allowed for the creation of an independent state [and we are thus not culpable of violating either of the first two vows] – we are still faced with situations and questions that, seemingly, can only be resolved by an authority recognized by all of klal Yisrael; i.e., mashiach and his sanhedrin. History demonstrates that even a decision issued by the acknowledged posek hador, e.g., the heter mechirah issued by R. Yitzchak Elchanan zt’l to alleviate the problems associated with shemittah observance by the settlers in EY, was not universally accepted. As long as the Jews are dispersed among the nations and subject to their laws which need not be consistent with halachah, there seem to be no existential halachic threats and the dilemmas are academic. But when Jews return to Israel en mass, we do not seem to have the means to cope with the problems that the rule of a non-halachic government or our position among the family of nations can present.

Is it far-fetched to suggest that the efforts of the Mahari Berav to reintroduce semichah in the sixteenth century may have been a result of his perception that only a sanhedrin could resolve the status of the Marranos? Is it not plausible that only a reconstituted and universally accepted Jewish legislative body could effectively and decisively deal with the communal questions faced by the wave of immigration to Eretz Yisrael after the expulsion from Spain. These olim were able to establish a quasi-independent community given the general non-interference by the Turks in the daily affairs of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael and the personal freedoms granted to the communities founded by Donna Gracie and her nephew, the Duke of Naxos. Establishing the communal laws necessary for their viability entailed a body that had full competence.

Could we not further posit that the lack of a navi and/or sanhedrin might be at least part of the reason for the Satmar Rebbe’s zt’l fierce opposition to Zionism? Perhaps he foresaw that the creation of a state could inevitably lead to irresolvable conflicts between the demands of halachah and the functioning of a modern state.

As an example of a halachic quandary faced by an independent Jewish community which would hardly apply on an individual level, consider the following. The transfer of organs between countries for transplant purposes is highly regulated to prevent commercial exploitation. International agreements between the legal authorities who supervise these conventions also insist, understandably, on an acceptable level of reciprocity. Thus, Israel cannot expect to receive organs from other countries – or send Israeli patients abroad to receive transplants – unless it is also willing to supply organs to others. Since most transplants are only successful if the donor organs are removed within a few hours of brain death, the harvesting of donor organs will be severely limited if the state accepts a strict halachic opinion that organs may only be removed when heart activity ceases. The community as a whole may thus find itself in a somewhat untenable position vis-a-vis international donor programs; accepting organs from others but not allowing for the transfer of transplantable organs from Israel. Without a legislative body with the standing and authority of a sanhedrin who would have the competence to redefine death in light of the standards of modern medicine, the country is placed in a rather difficult situation.

It would seem that the fathers of Zionism were themselves at least subconsciously aware of this impending problem. Herzl spoke of creating a State of the Jews [medinat ha-yehudim] rather than a Jewish state [medinah yehudit]. By detaching statehood from Judaism, provision was made that would allow the future state to act in a globally acceptable manner rather than being bound to the traditions of Judaism. What the Zionists did not take into account was the possibility of situations arising wherein the very definition of Israel as a state of Jews would be in question. For example, how would the founding fathers have reacted to the possibility of the state no longer having a Jewish majority? Would they have accepted the idea of limiting citizenship to Jews in the face of what undoubtedly be universal condemnation? For that matter, what would our rabbinical leadership suggest be the appropriate response? Would it be politically tenable to create a ger toshav status without risking the loss of American and European support if Israel adapted what would surely be considered a form of apartheid?

Two current issues have made the question even more relevant.

Israel finds itself threatened by an influx of illegal immigrants from Africa; estimates are that there are more than 1,000 entering the country monthly and some 70,000 already here. Many of these have arrived for purely economic reasons, seeking to find their pot of gold by working in industries and in sectors that most Israelis would never consider. Some, and there are no reliable figures, are genuine refugees, escaping from the civil wars in the Horn of Africa. It seems clear that neither Herzl nor Ben Gurion ever considered the possibility that sixty years after the creation of a homeland for the Jews, thousands of people who have no idea what Judaism means and absolutely no interest in its ethics, would be clamoring to be allowed to share in the state’s financial success.

Few doubt that these illegal aliens are a demographic time bomb. Few are interested in their becoming citizens or permanent residents of the country. But while the vast majority of the country would like to see the problem simply go away, viable and acceptable options must be suggested, examined and applied. What would happen if the Prime Minister, rather than relying on his own moral compass, turned to the Chief Rabbinate – or to the chareidi rabbinical leadership – and asked for guidance? Could we, who know what happens when the enlightened nations of the world have no interest in your fate, turn these people away knowing that no other country is willing to accept them? Are we prepared to hermetically seal the gates of entry, knowing that the Egyptians will feel no constraints in machine gunning down men, women and children whose sole crime is that they were born in the South of Sudan rather than the North?

The second issue relates to the letter circulated by a number of rabbis regarding the question of renting or settling property to non-Jews. Let us leave the strict halachic implications of the question without discussion; no doubt that the signatories are well aware of the fact that lo tichanem does not apply to rental property and they are aware of the political ramifications of their p’sak. What can be discerned here is a much larger issue: the question of our relationship to other nations in the pre-mashiach era. The Talmud’s decrees of separation from the nations – stam yaynom or bishul akum as examples – were instituted by Chazal as a means of preventing the development of relationships with the gentile community. They created barriers insuring the separation of Jews from their neighbors at a time when our rabbis perceived a real danger of casual associations developing into full-scale relationships; a situation now repeating itself in contemporary Israel – especially in the non-religious sectors. Clearly, almost all of us are interested in preventing the development of such relationships and were it possible to legislatively institute such bans without there being any repercussions, would support their implementation. But this is an impossibility today and the public relations disaster caused by the rabbis letter is catastrophic. The booming Israeli economy is completely dependent upon exports and international trade. As much as we fear sanctions against Israeli products for political reasons, a boycott organized because of an apartheid policy would be calamitous and would affect the entire country – including those learning in kollels and yeshivot. Again, what would happen if the government turned to the rabbanim and asked for moral guidance in dealing with this question? Do we have a resolution that is both halachically and politically acceptable or do we shrug our shoulders and declare teiku?

To those who have chosen to retreat into the museums of Meah Shearim/Bnai Brak, these problems may not be vexing. But to those who feel that statehood is a reality that must be dealt with whether or not we like it, what are our halachic options? In terms of the future of k’lal yisrael, would you not agree that the resolution of these dilemmas is far more critical than Lipa concerts or even the ordination of a rabbah? One can only wonder if there is a solution applicable in the pre-mashiach era when we do not yet enjoy the benefits of am l’vadad yishkon.

Rabbi Landesman resides in Ramat Beit Shemesh and comments on the foibles of life in Eretz Yisrael. He is the author of a collection of essays on Jewish themes entitled There Are No Basketball Courts in Heaven. His new book, Food for Thought, No Hechsher Required, is scheduled for February publication.

You may also like...

12 Responses

  1. Yitzhak says:

    “Some, and there are no reliable figures, are genuine refugees, escaping from the civil wars in the Horn of Africa. …

    Could we, who know what happens when the enlightened nations of the world have no interest in your fate, turn these people away knowing that no other country is willing to accept them? Are we prepared to hermetically seal the gates of entry, knowing that the Egyptians will feel no constraints in machine gunning down men, women and children whose sole crime is that they were born in the South of Sudan rather than the North?”

    Glad to see Haredim channeling their inner Alma Zohar:

    ממצריים

    גם אני הלכתי פעם / בנתיב הייסורים / ממצריים לירושלים / במדבר, ימים רבים / בלי מים / עם אותה שאלה בעיניים

    גם אני פגשתי רשע / המכה בלי אבחנה / אנשים חפים מפשע / אנשים בלי הגנה / בלי בית / עם ילדים קטנים בידיים

    הם דופקים לך בדלת / הם בוכים בכי תמרורים / אל תאמר – מה לי עם אלה / אלה אנשים זרים

    פזמון: כי בכל דור ודור / חייב אדם לראות עצמו / כאילו הוא יצא ממצריים / שלא ישכח איך ברח, הוכה, הושפל, נרצח / איך צעק לשמיים

    גם אני חיפשתי כוח / להציל מה שאפשר / כשלא היה לאן לברוח / דמי היה מותר / אות קין / אנשים נופלים לברכיים

    הם דופקים לך בדלת / הם בוכים בכי תמרורים / אל תאמר – מה לי עם אלה / אלה אנשים שחורים

    פזמון: כי בכל דור ודור / חייב אדם לראות עצמו / כאילו הוא יצא ממצריים / שלא ישכח איך ברח, הוכה, הושפל, נרצח / איך צעק לשמיים

    אז שמור נא על כולנו / ריבונו של עולם / שלא נזדקק אף פעם / לרחמים של בני אדם

  2. Yitzhak says:

    “As Churchill said that every nation has the leaders that it deserves.”

    Probably not Churchill, but Joseph-Marie, comte de Maistre. From his Wikiquote page:

    * Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.
    o Every nation gets the government it deserves.[1][2]
    o Letter 76, on the topic of Russia’s new constitutional laws (27 August 1811); published in Lettres et Opuscules. The English translation has several variations, including “Every country has the government it deserves” and “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” The quote is popularly misattributed to better-known commentators such as Alexis de Tocqueville and Abraham Lincoln.

  3. dr. bill says:

    Neither a Sanhedrin or Moshiach was necessary for Rabbis to address new circumstances that Jewish communities faced over the millenium. We do not believe that our Torah’s principles will be updated in the Messianic period; that is a distinctly christian notion. “Teiku” should not be taken as believing that our traditional modes of practice will somehow change. We tend to believe in a Messianic era quite like the world we know, albeit with universal acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.

    The questions you raise need nothing more than gedolim like Rav Kook or Rav Auerbach ztl who were able to deal with the changed circumstance of a Jewish State, modern technology, etc. resolutely. Throughout history there was opposition to rabbis who established a “new normal” (including the CC on women’s education or the CI on heretics). Rav Kook’s views on the state or RSZA’s views on electricity eventually carry the day. (Many have noted that today’s agudah is rather similar to the mizrachi of the first half of the 20th century.)

    The many issues similar to those you raise were more than adequately addressed by Rav Amital ztl. Unfortunately in today’s more polarized environment, it does really matter to many that gedolim like RZNG and RAL are more than capable of addressing even the thorniest of the issues you raise. Our issues often stem from a desire by others as you say “to retreat into the museums of Meah Shearim/Bnai Brak,” declaring the world that the rest of us inhabit and where these sheailot are pressing as “mekhutz lamakhaneh.”

  4. dovid landesman says:

    Tal’s point is well taken and can be ascribed to my failure to make myself clear. Obviously, even a sanhedrin could not permit murder. What I meant was that it would take a sanhedrin to decide to accept that brain death – the prevalent medical definition also accepted by some poskim – would heretofore be accepted as the halachic definition based on the pikuach nefesh factor of transplants. I am not certain that using a cardio/pulmonary definition is a chumrah or if it represents an unchangeable reality. Resolution of this question would entail a supreme, universally accepted, halachic authority. Interestingly, in a shiur delivered a number of years ago in LA, the then rav harashi of Tzahal, Rav Avidan, contended that Chazal established the cessation of pulmonary activity as a criteria because there was no means at the time to resuscitate a person who had ceased breathing for a prologed period. Given that modern medicine can do so long after what previously would have been possible, it would be necessary to create new criteria. This is the area where a sanhedrin is critical.
    In response to Dovid 2 – I wonder why you immediately assume that any question as to the agenda presented to gedolai Torah must be taken as an attack on their competence? In my personal experience I can tell you that there are many gedolim who are exacerbated by the fact that the tzibbur is oblivious to major existential issues and would rather concern themselves with peripheral subjects. As a case in point, I once had occasion to ask RYSE shlita a question in business practice. His first response was: “When was Choshan Mishpat put back into Shulchan Aruch? No-one asks me questions in business halachah!” I, and many of my friends, eagerly wait to hear pronouncements from our gedolim on contemporary issues – not in the form of pashkevilim of dubious origin – but in shiurim and articles elucidating issues that are omed b’rumo shel olam. In my humble opinion, the quality of our leadership far surpasses the level of those who ostensibly follow them; hence their guidance and direction is even more critical.

  5. Chareidi Leumi says:

    Tal Benschar,

    The ironic part of your comment is that in its very assumptions lie the very point I think R’ Landesman was trying to make. The very statement “I am aware of no authority that permits any rabbinic authority, even the Sanhedrin, to “redefine death in light of the standards of modern medicine.”” is circular. The moment a rabbinic authority (or a future sanhedrin) redefines death, then they are implicitly permiting themselves to do so. The fact that it is a deOrayta is irrelevant. Do we lack examples of our knowledge of the univerce affecting the APPLICATION of Torah law?? between the period of the rishonim to the Gaon of Vilna and the Baal Tanya, most people took in Shabbat according to R’ Tam – way after the sun had already set. Those achronim who paskened differently obviously did it (in their own words sometimes) because it was a shita that contradicted what we saw with our own senses. More recently, the Kashrut industry is attempting to introduce many new categories of treifa based solely on modern science and technology – the fact that it is always leHumra and not leKula does not change the fact that they are changing halachic categories based on the scientific metzius.

    I would hope that any members of a future sanhedrin would be as well versed in the scientific understanding of our world as in Jewish legal texts – and would, in a responsible and reverant manner, adjust the law accordingly when neccessary – the fact that this offends your hashkafic sensibilities is irrelevant – The fact of the matter is that the corpus of halacha as it currently stands can not deal with the challenges of running a modern state – and any attempt to bring Torah into this sphere is met by obstructionism by the more conservative elements of the rabbinate. Those of us who want to see the Torah trully be a light onto all parts of private AND national life – will continue to be astonished that achieving this goal is simply not a priority of a whole segment of our co-religionists.

  6. Tal Benschar says:

    As an example of a halachic quandary faced by an independent Jewish community which would hardly apply on an individual level, consider the following. The transfer of organs between countries for transplant purposes is highly regulated to prevent commercial exploitation. International agreements between the legal authorities who supervise these conventions also insist, understandably, on an acceptable level of reciprocity. Thus, Israel cannot expect to receive organs from other countries – or send Israeli patients abroad to receive transplants – unless it is also willing to supply organs to others. Since most transplants are only successful if the donor organs are removed within a few hours of brain death, the harvesting of donor organs will be severely limited if the state accepts a strict halachic opinion that organs may only be removed when heart activity ceases. The community as a whole may thus find itself in a somewhat untenable position vis-a-vis international donor programs; accepting organs from others but not allowing for the transfer of transplantable organs from Israel. Without a legislative body with the standing and authority of a sanhedrin who would have the competence to redefine death in light of the standards of modern medicine, the country is placed in a rather difficult situation.

    I was utterly incredulous when I read this paragraph. I am aware of no authority that permits any rabbinic authority, even the Sanhedrin, to “redefine death in light of the standards of modern medicine.” The definition of death is clearly a din deoraysa. Acc. to those who do not accept the new “brain death” definition — and that is a very sizable number of prominent poskim — then removal of organs from such a person is murder simpliciter. As R. Aharon Soloveichik, zt”l, told a fried of mine, “They are being mattir retzichah.” There is no authority that allows the Sanhedrin, much less a lesser rabbinic body, to permit murder.

    Nor does the fact that Israel might find itself in an uncomfortable position in international bodies create a “halakhic quandary.” The utilitarian consideration of whether or not organs will be available should have no impact whatsoever on determining the shayloh. You cannot permit murder to make international relations smoother. If all poskim held that brain death is not death, then there is a clear halakhic path — our policy is not to permit murder, and if that means we don’t get organs, so be it.

    The real halakhic quandary is that there are a number of poskim who do hold that what is today termed “brain death” is in fact death. Acc. to them, the only issue in removing organs is nivul ha meis, which presumably they would set aside in the face of pikuach nefesh, assuming (as is the usual situation in today’s medical environment) that the chance of saving a life is immediate. So, acc. to these poskim, if one foregoes a permitted organ transplant, one is avoiding a possible pikuach nefesh, and perhaps are violating lo saamod al dam re-eikhah. Here, unlike many shaylos, it is not so simple to simply be machmir.

    (For those who hold that the issue a safeik, the answer is likely to be shev v’al taaseh adif.)

    Resolution of so weighty a shayloh is certainly a reason to pray for the restoration of the Sanhedrin, who would give a binding psak for all klal yisroel.

    Until that time, each moreh horaah or each community must decide for its own. I don’t see why the State has to take one position or another. It can simply say that some of its religious authorities have grave moral objections to the procedure, some don’t, and that the official position is to respect both sides and will leave the issue unresolved ad ki yavo Shiloh. Whether that means the international community will only give Israel half as many organs or whatever is besides the point.

  7. dovid 2 says:

    R’ Dovid,

    Maskilim were all learned, most of them much more than you are. And they also learned in the best yeshivos of their time, better than the yeshivos you went to. Among other things, they attacked and ridiculed the g’dolim of their day and regarded them incapable of dealing with the burning issues of their time, and as such irrelevant. Our g’dolim are our nation’s high-value assets. If they aren’t on the madregah of Moshe Rabbeinu, it is because you and I are not on the madregah of even the most humble member of the Dor HaMidbar. As Churchill said that every nation has the leaders that it deserves.

  8. David F. says:

    R’ Dovid,

    In all, an excellent article which offers much food for thought which, if not original, at least articulates some of the important questions surrounding the future of the State of Israel.

    Why, however, did you find it necessary to include this, “In terms of the future of k’lal yisrael, would you not agree that the resolution of these dilemmas is far more critical than Lipa concerts or even the ordination of a rabbah?” It adds nothing to your point and can only be construed as disrespectful toward others.

  9. Michael Mirsky says:

    Is it far-fetched to suggest that the efforts of the Mahari Berav to reintroduce semichah in the sixteenth century may have been a result of his perception that only a sanhedrin could resolve the status of the Marranos?

    As an aside, I suggest you not use the term Marranos to refer to Spanish Jews. That word means “swine” in Spanish and is a derogatory term the Spaniards used for these Jews. They prefered the term Conversos or Anusim.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    The issues in this article are well-summarized, but also well-known. With HaShem’s help, we have somehow managed to live through a very extended golus under mostly adverse conditions, including in Eretz Yisrael. Since we don’t know and can’t decide when the geulah will arrive, it’s time for concerned rabbis such as Rabbi Landesman to offer at least partial answers applicable to today and not be content to restate or reframe the many questions and dilemmas.

  11. Menachem Lipkin says:

    All in all a very thought-provoking article dealing with some vexing issues of the day.

    You said:

    Could we not further posit that the lack of a navi and/or sanhedrin might be at least part of the reason for the Satmar Rebbe’s zt’l fierce opposition to Zionism? Perhaps he foresaw that the creation of a state could inevitably lead to irresolvable conflicts between the demands of halachah and the functioning of a modern state.

    However, could we also posit that, regardless of the reasons, the Satmar Rebbe’s “fierce opposition to Zionism” and the resultant masses of anti-Zionist Israelis is one of the main causes for these seemingly irresolvable conflicts? Try to imagine what might exist now had the Satamar Rebbe, and similar minded religious leaders, joined ideological forces with Rav Kook.

  12. micha says:

    I don’t think Chazal define the messianic Israel as a self-sufficient society. More than once the question was asked about how this or that job would get done on Shabbos, and they answer that there would be non-Jews happy to do it, just to serve their mentors.

    -micha