15 August 2016

Kahane on "The Committee" - March 1973

11 Menachem Av 5776

(Hat tip to Rav Yehudah Richter for the following...)

Subject: The Committee | Written by Rabbi Meir Kahane | March 30, 1973

The Committee

As I understand it, the Committee for Jewish Survival is an Orthodox Jewish youth group and, in great part, composed of Hassidei Lubavitch. I was interested to note a statement made by the Committee about the decline in aliyah, which it blames “to a certain extent” on religious problems in Israel. According to the news item that quoted the Committee statement, as we received it here:

. . . the decline in immigration to Israel from the United States is because of a large percentage of olim (immigrants) were traditional Jews. But with the recent controversies in Israel as “Who is a Jew” etc., the stubbornness of the government not (sic) to submit to the plea of Orthodox Jewry, left a very negative impression on American Jewry and some Jews are questioning that (sic) perhaps it is better to live as a religious Jew outside of Israel.

I want to say, at the outset, that the substance of the statement is as atrocious as its grammar.

To claim that the decline in aliyah to Israel is in any measurable sense to be attributed to religious problems in Israel is not only clearly not true (the real reasons are housing, jobs, Israeli bureaucracy and boorishness, and simply the inability to come to terms with a lower standard of living and strange language and environment) but also to open the Committee to the question: If it is the “recent” controversies that have held up aliyah of religious Jews, where in the world were they when there was a relative lack of religious controversy? More to the point, perhaps the more fitting way to change the situation and to correct the problem is not to wring one’s hands in Brooklyn or Monsey but rather to go on aliyah and correct the situation as an Israeli citizen. But most to the point is the incredible statement, coming from religious and presumably (though one grows more and more doubtful) learned Jews, that “perhaps it is better to live as a religious Jew outside of Israel.”

I am prepared to burn my copy of the Talmud which carries the following statement:

A man should always dwell within the Land of Israel — though it be in a city with a majority of pagans, and let him not dwell outside of Israel — though it be in a land with a majority of Jews. For he who dwells in the Land of Israel is likened unto one who has a G-d and he who dwells outside the Land of Israel is likened unto one who has no G-d. (Ketuvot 110b)

I do not even want to go into the statement of the Ramban (Nachmanides) that it is a Torah commandment to live in Israel or the opinion of others that it is “only” a rabbinical one (“only” rabbinical places the commandment in the same category as not doing business on the Sabbath, not eating chicken with milk and other such “only” rabbinical items). I see in this statement, not only of the problems (sic) within Orthodox Judaism.

The hypocrisy is, indeed, almost stifling. Is it really the religious problem that has weakened aliyah? And if Agudat Yisroel were running the government would every Orthodox Jew rush to buy a one-way ticket to the Holy Land? And where were all the Jews in the years preceding the state when there was no terrible Jewish government to “persecute” religion? (And let no one think that I am not among the first to condemn certain government actions.) And where was the huge religious aliyah after the State was established and Agudat Yisroel was IN THE CABINET? And if one does not go to Israel because there is no halachic conversion, what kind of religious paradise does he find in America where there are more mamzerim per square mile than in all of Israel, and Reform and Conservative rabbis produce “converts” at the drop of a non-halachic hat? And whom does anyone think that he fools when he speaks of traditional Jews who comprise a large percentage of aliyah when he knows that the grand total of such Jews does not make up even 5% of the total of religious Jews in the United States?

Whoever makes up the Committee knows quite well the reason for the failure of aliyah from America. It is the brutal and natural fact that the fleshpots of America are filled, and it is a more pleasant and more natural life in Boro Park, Flatbush, Rockaway, Monsey and all other points in which live the observers of the commandments (except for some of the more difficult ones) . . . . I can excuse the refusal of Jews to sacrifice for a mitzvah when they are Jews whose allegiance to mitzvot in general is tepid, at best. I find no way to understand Jews who are prepared to leap with anger at the throat of every transgressor and then sublimely look for houses in Staten Island and Rockland County, or return to the paradise that is Crown Heights. I only know that Jews who are unwilling to allow for leniency in certain areas of halacha are quite content to play games with Torah in others.

I confess that I fail to understand our leaders. I admit that there is a need to retain certain numbers of Jewish leaders and teachers to “minister” unto the Jews who remain in America, but I sat for 13 years in a major yeshiva and never heard any urging on the part of anyone for a general move to the Holy Land. I see rather appeals made for new yeshivot and new synagogues and new institutions in new neighborhoods of the Galut, and shake my head. Not only is there a clear sign here of contentment with the Galut (and if every cabinet minister wore white stockings and a shtreymel on Shabbat it would not dissipate that contentment with the Exile) but it also betrays the same kind of incredible blindness that marked our refusal to leave the Exile that was once Poland and Eastern Europe until the ovens overtook us.

Worse, I see here a corruption of Judaism, a failure to be willing to really sacrifice for a mitzvah, and as much a tragic dilution of Torah — in its own way — as the farce that passes for Reform and Conservatism. I admit that it is not a new phenomenon and that the tragedy of hypocrisy has been with us for a long time. When our fathers sat on the banks of the rivers of Babylon and wept for Zion, they, nevertheless, did not leap onto their camels when Cyrus gave his permission to return. I do not doubt that, by that time, they had acclimated themselves to the Babylonian version of the diamond center, the stock market and Monsey, and while they undoubtedly gave to the United Jewish Appeal of their day and continued to weep at the riverside, they never thought of getting up from those weeping river banks. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, there was a Committee in that time, too, to rationalize away the benefits of religious life in Babylon.

Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, in his classic work, The Kuzari (II:23-24), puts it far better than I when he quotes the ruler, Al Khazari, as saying:

You fall short of the duty laid down in your law by not endeavoring to reach that place [Israel] and making it your abode in life and death, although you say: “Have mercy on Zion for it is the house of our life . . .” Your bowing and kneeling in the direction of it is either mere appearance or thoughtless worship . . .

Your fathers, however, had no other desire than to remain in it, neither did they leave it in times of death or famine except by G-d’s permission . . .

And the Rabbi replies:

This is a severe reproach . . . . It is the sin which kept the Divine promise with regard to the Second Temple, namely: “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion!” (Zechariah 2:14), from being fulfilled. Divine providence was ready to restore everything as it had been at first if they had all willingly consented to return. But only a part was ready to do so whilst the majority and the aristocracy remained in Babylon, preferring dependence and slavery and unwilling to leave their houses and their affairs . . . Divine Providence only gives man as much as he is willing to receive; if his receptive capacity is small, he obtains little.

Stop wrapping yourselves in the talis she’kulo techeylet, the all-blue prayer shawl that is the hallmark of the hypocritically pious. Of such who seek to excuse their failure to observe the basic mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel did the Talmud (Sotah 22b) speak when it warned of those whose deeds are the deeds of Zimri and who seek the reward of Pinchas.

The mitzvah to come and settle the land is not dependent upon who is in the land or whether the government is a religious one or not. I fail to find any record of any Prophet urging Jews to set up a Beit Ya’akov or Yeshiva of Great Neck because the kings and general populace of Israel in their day worshiped idols.

When calling upon people to repent — as they should — let the Committee for Jewish Survival do some soul-searching on its own, lest there be very little Jewishness to survive. If many youngsters — in the yeshivot — leave Judaism, that may be in great measure because of the gap between preaching and doing, between theory and action that is manifested by too many religious leaders. Credibility in the need to cleave to Torah is not helped by people sitting in Brooklyn and ignoring basic areas of Jewish commitment. If there are those who are upset about the state of religion in Israel, let them know that I am too (though the Israeli religious condition is somewhat better than the state of Judaism in that “Jerusalem of the United States” — New York). If people want to make Israel a more Jewish state — “Kol ha’kavod,” wonderful. Pick yourselves up, Committee for Jewish Survival, come on aliyah with the other quarter million observant Jews of the United States, and let us have the biggest protest demonstration the Knesset has ever seen. I will be at the airport to meet you. But do your shouting here, and let it be an honest one, not the whining of hypocrisy whose voice grows so weak and contemptuous from the fleshpots of America, 5,000 miles and 300 million goyim away.

Rabbi Meir Kahane
March 30, 1973

That said, I can't help wondering if Rabbi Kahane could see the suicidal situation we are in today, primarily due to olim from the United States, whether he might decide to just keep quiet and let them remain where they can do less harm.