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29 Adar II 5760 - April 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Will We Gain By Compromising on Religious Issues?

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

National Religious Party MK Nachum Langental's recent dramatic announcement of his intention to initiate "revolutionary legislature pertaining to religion and the State," aroused waves of criticism among the Torah- observant. The proposal is to redefine the accepted boundaries between public observance and nonobservance of Jewish tradition.

Hatsofe, the official NRP (Mizrachi) organ, reported that Langental's program to changes in the religious status quo in many realms such as Shabbos, marriages, conversion to Judaism, and the municipal religious councils "will be a true revolution." The so-called status quo was originally based on a letter issued by David Ben Gurion to Agudas Yisroel prior to Israel's founding promising certain areas of religious observance in the fledgling state, but extended in practice to many other areas. In fact it is under constant (and largely successful) assault from anti- religious forces and is quite fluid -- usually to the detriment of religious observance.

Langental declared that these changes will "bridge the gap and decrease friction between religious and secular Jews." With this plan the religious community will realize the Religious Zionist's objective "to be a part of Israeli society."

Chareidi newspapers, which follow the directives of gedolei Torah who opposed the historic Mizrachi method of "walking a middle path," sharply denounced Langental's scheme. Chareidi writers quoted our Torah leaders who unambiguously opposed any form of compromise aimed at appeasing the non-religious for various reasons, both ideological and practical.

I would like to present additional points for reflection, which are actually hashkofos received from our Torah mentors concerning the Mizrachi method of compromise.

In his column, my colleague at Yated Ne'eman, Rabbi Yitzchok Roth, cited Maran the Chazon Ish's warning against setting up a united religious front of all religious parties during the early elections in the fledgling State with those who use the slogan "religion and real life." The Chazon Ish said that such people are eager to make concessions in all matters since "we should not exacerbate disputes. Peace is all-important!" Because of their conviction about an urgent need to "resign ourselves" to reality, they have proposed a whole array of compromises which, they claim, can enable the coexistence of "religion and life."

Rabbi Roth also quoted the writings of Maran the Chofetz Chaim zt'l relating to "those who agree to compromises about Judaism with the excuse that compromises prevent the wall of Torah observance itself from being breached." Maran warns that acting in such a way would only lead us to propose further compromises. Moreover, we ourselves cannot make these compromises. Although ostensibly they are made for the benefit of the Torah, we have to ask whether the Torah itself really wants us to make these compromises that are proposed. Metaphorically, we really need the consent of the Torah to make a compromise in her name, just as we need the consent of all parties in compromises made in beis din.

"The Torah, however, spurns such behavior. It rejects any compromises: `If Hashem is Elokim follow him, but if Baal then follow him' (I Melochim 18:21)." Maran the Chofetz Chaim compares this to someone taking merchandise out of a store and tossing it into a lake. People seeing him might presume that he is insane. "Although I am in doubt whether he is insane or not, one thing is certain: The person who throws away the goods does not own the store and the merchandise is not his." If he himself felt the loss, he would not throw it away.

Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, making concessions and compromises shows one's estrangement and indifference to continued Torah observance and also that "the merchandise is not his."

On the same subject Rabbi Yisroel Friedman (in the Shabbos Kodesh supplement to the Yated Ne'eman in Hebrew) quotes Maran HaRav Elchonon Wassermann zt'l Hy'd who says: "We do not have the authority to make any compromises in the Torah's name even when our intention is absolutely, unequivocally worthy."

It is also impossible, asserts R' Elchonon, to accept the concept of compromising by saying if we cannot save everything we should at least save half. Although perfectly acceptable when deciding about medical treatments and operations, with ruchniyus we cannot make that kind of reckoning. Torah cannot be divided into two!

HaRav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch zt'l writes that people are mistaken if they think they can satisfy anti-religious Jews by granting concessions. They fool themselves into imagining that by doing so they can at least attain some recognition for that part of the Torah they did not concede. However, "precisely because of their conceding half of the truth, the other part will demand they concede it all. Initially they are satisfied with the concession, but later they deny the right to save the other half." HaRav Hirsch therefore insists that "to concede even a little of our spiritual and moral possessions is an inexcusable crime and shameful heresy." Only by "open and overwhelming opposition" is it possible to proudly present our belief in the Torah's eternity and imbue this conviction among those remote from Torah. On the other hand, by our compromising on half [of our religion] "we are abandoning Hashem's word and denying the truth."

In conclusion Rabbi Friedman cites the Chofetz Chaim zt'l who declares that not only is it forbidden to cooperate with those making such compromises, it is even forbidden to remain silent and give even an outward appearance of being a partner to these compromises. "Everyone should realize he cannot make any compromise with those harboring irreligious ideologies, and rather he should absolutely disagree with them. He should express his disagreement even if he does not plan to act as the [compromisers] do. In addition, we should be careful not to give a false impression of agreeing with them."

@BIG LET BODY = To add to the above, and to complete the general picture concerning the opinion of gedolei Torah about compromising religious values Langental, according to a Hatsofe report, uncovered the fact that "during the last few months clandestine discussions have taken place among Knesset members of various parties with the aim of arriving at mutual agreements and understandings in controversial subjects concerning religion and state, and devising ways to reach a `true agreement' on religious legislation."

It seems that this Mizrachi politician has formulated his suggestions after speaking with secular notables who convinced him that although such a "real revolution" would necessitate concessions from the religious side, it would also cause, for the first time in history, a solid agreement from the secular side which would resign itself to "religious limitations" in various areas.

These discussions gave birth, as explained above, to various suggestions about changing the religious status quo -- proposals that shocked the Torah-loyal. We have a tradition from our Torah mentors, the idea that a new charter can be drafted with the anti-religious that would truly benefit Judaism is inconceivable. Chazal (Yevomos 103) teach us that "any good emanating from reshoim is bad for tzaddikim." Any secular attempt to present new proposals concerning religion must automatically come up against a wall of suspicion and opposition.

Our starting point must be our understanding that they are not interested in helping us and we must therefore beware of their harming us. We must carefully investigate their suggestions and be vigilant. Secular feelings of "goodwill" of the type that Langental recently received must be viewed as threats.

We must act like a store owner when a professional pickpocket or a notorious crook enters his store. The store owner knows from the moment an undesirable person walks into his store that his aim is not to buy goods, nor does he want to increase the store's annual profits. It is crystal clear that his sole aim in visiting the store is in spotting the moment the storekeeper will let down his guard so he can snatch money from the cash box or steal merchandise.

HaRav Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik zt'l, the Brisker Rov, used to insist that chareidi Knesset representatives adopt a policy of extreme mistrust even when dealing with apparently neutral topics that are unconnected to religion. When he was asked why he is so distrustful, why he analyzes and examines even ostensibly innocent laws and regulations, he explained as follows:

We find in the explanations of the acharonim on seder Nezikin and Choshen Mishpat, remote and intricate reckoning about the use of a migo (a logic accrediting credibility to a claim when the claimant could have made a better claim).

An obvious question is: how can it be that every common thief is such a genius to contrive the keen-witted migo of the brilliant acharonim?

The answer is that it seems that even if in one's daily life he does not naturally show any brilliant powers of thought, under pressure and when desperate to gain something, people can suddenly show creative talents. We can assume that in such a situation one can think of any argument and migo that could enable him to attain his wish.

The same, said the Brisker Rav, is in reference to proposals from the anti-religious. Since their main objective is to weaken Torah observance they enlist all their talents to achieve this. They will use any sophisticated method or clever scheme, and are capable of camouflaging their virulent plots as innocent initiatives.

With this outlook, Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l rules that we must reject any compromise in religious matters even when the compromise is not forbidden. We should not give those trying to ambush us and to uproot Judaism even the slimmest chance. In a letter (about Sheirut Leumi -- National Service for girls) Maran writes: "Putting them in a religious kibbutz does not solve the problem since we know that some people are pleased with matters that for us are a tragedy, and lie in wait for us to make the slightest mistake."

The extreme suspicion with which our Torah mentors viewed every plan of the non-religious is not due to unreasonable apprehension or nervousness, unnecessary worrying, or frayed nerves. The basis of this suspicion is the profound concern about the possible harm to the Torah -- as a mother guards her small beloved babies from any cold wind that might chill them. The gedolei Torah have a very clear perception of the true character of those estranged from the Torah.

This is explained well in the commentary of Rabbenu Yonah to Mishlei (21:12) on the posuk, "The tzaddik understands the house of the rosho, and perverts what the rosho does to being evil."

"Many think a tzaddik does not understand the character of the rosho and his excuses and nature, since they are so much the opposite of the tzaddik's nature. This is not so. `The tzaddik understands the house of the rosho' and reflects about his ways of deceit, his plots, and his final intent. Chazal (Bovo Basra 89b) teach us: `Perhaps swindlers will say talmidei chachomim are not familiar with what we do.' `Perverts what the rosho does to being evil' -- i.e., since the tzaddik realizes the final intent of the reshoim and is familiar with their nature he distorts what they do and what they say and resolves to condemn them because of it."

This is the secret. Sometimes it is difficult for us to understand how superbly the gedolei Yisroel discern the nature of the reshoim since they are so remote from them. The truth however is that "`The tzaddik understands the house of the rosho'-- and reflects in his ways of deceit, plots, and final intent."

This being so the gedolei Torah can act in the way that "`Perverts what the rosho does to being evil'-- precisely because the tzaddik realizes the final intent of reshoim and is familiar with their nature he condemns what they do and what they say."

Sometimes this is a long-range observation and sometimes a short-range observation is all that is necessary. The Brisker Rav used to say: "My father could see in every act and idea what harm is liable to emerge from it in another fifty years. I do not have the power to see from afar, but at least what is revealed under my nose I can see."

Today after our Torah leaders of previous generations revealed the danger of secular movements and Zionism, and these movements have clearly shown that their intention is to harm the Torah, it is vital that each one of us be suspicious of what they do and what they propose to us. Our gedolei Torah have already removed the mask from their faces and what remains is only for us to open our eyes and see what is under our noses.

In summary, when we consider Langental's actions we must remember that because of all the above cited reasons this type of compromise is posul in every respect. The Torah did not permit making any compromises in its name and to do so proves "the merchandise is not his." Another reason, as explained above, is that to compromise on half the truth only creates a subsequent demand to concede the whole truth. Furthermore it is forbidden to even give the appearance of agreeing to compromises opposed to our opinion. We must think one step ahead, be wary, and thoroughly investigate their proposals. We must discern the root of the plans of those who lie in ambush for us, foil their plans, and be suspicious of some hidden design.

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