Politics Above Torah?

I read at jpost.com today a bizarre story about an Orthodox (I think ultra-Orthodox) rabbi making what seems to me a questionable ruling this week. He is allowing construction on a West Bank settlement on Shabbat in order to help the construction be completed before the Israeli Supreme Court rules on their case on Sunday!

I’m trying to understand: even the Tabernacle was not to be built on Shabbat, but a settlement establishing the right of settlers to live in the land is allowed to be built on Shabbat?

I understand there is a matter of urgency. I understand that fighting war is allowed on Shabbat to save lives. But is a settlement on the level of war? Can occupation of the land be higher than a direct Torah command?

I will add a few comments after quoting from the story from jpost.com:

In a dramatic halachic ruling, the rabbi of Ofra, a settlement in the West Bank northeast of Ramallah, has ruled that Palestinian construction workers can build houses in the settlement on Shabbat, in order to “establish facts on the ground” ahead of a Supreme Court review of petitions against building in the settlement submitted by human rights groups Yesh Din and B’Tselem, Army Radio reported early Thursday morning.

The ruling became effective last Saturday and also on Shavuot, which fell on Monday this week. Avi Gisser, the rabbi of Ofra, made the decision after consulting residents of Ofra. The Supreme Court discussion is slated for Sunday. (http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1212659713336&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull)

I take interest in stories like this because I have been on the receiving end of Orthodox intolerance at times. While I admire most of the spirit of Orthodox Judaism, I also know from experience all is not well.

Once I was nearly tackled by an Orthodox security guard at a Jerusalem hotel. My crime? I was bringing a bag of dried apricots into the hotel. Dried apricots. How did he even know if the apricots were kosher? I think they were since we were in Israel. He would not listen to reason and I had to eat them or throw them away. Well, I wasn’t in the mood to eat a pound of dried apricots on the spot, so I lost them.

I watch with interest now to cases where I see what appears to be leniency regarding Torah.

We Messianic Jews are criticized sometimes when our priorities do not match those of Orthodoxy or ultra-Orthodoxy. For example, most Messianic Jews participate in musical worship on Shabbat, which is forbidden in Orthodoxy. My philosophy is that the joy of Shabbat and the example of temple worship should override the tradition forbidding music. It is no sin to dance, sing, and make music on Shabbat. Rather, it is fitting to do so.

And though some in the Orthodox world present the Torah as a set of black and white (follow the directions) rules, the truth is there is much room to debate priorities. This rabbi thinks politics and settling the promised land can override Shabbat and Shavuot in a case of urgency. I’m sure thousands of other rabbis disagree and are shocked at his ruling.

Meanwhile, we should know God is the one who will tell us his ruling when we give our account to him. And maybe that should make us all a little less eager to judge the decisions of other communities.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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