Rabbi Shlomo HaCohen Aviner


Question: Is it required to endanger lives to save all or part of Eretz Israel?


Answer: This is a new question, one which was never asked in previous generations. Certainly the answer some rabbis have given - that there is no such obligation - is completely new. There is no source or precedent for such a ruling in all of the Tanach. At no time were areas of the Holy Land surrendered to the enemy because of threats of war or danger to lives. Neither the Mishna nor the Talmud, the Rishonim nor the Achronim, give any such halachic dispensation. This is a completely new ruling, and as such, should arouse suspicion. The rationale that threats of war, terror, economic conditions, etc. justify the surrender of parts of our country is a new one, which is not mentioned in any halachic source. It is certainly not the first time that we have been plagued by such threats. In the days of the Judges and the Kings, Ezra and the Hasmoneans, we were surrounded by enemies, but never did we offer to surrender any of our land in return for being left in peace. This question was never raised - It is something new which our ancestors never dreamed of.


The halachic reasoning which is used to justify the above position is as follows:


One is obliged to forfeit his life rather than commit three sins: murder, idolatry, and adultery. Regarding all the rest of the mitzvot, it is said, "Live them, but don't die (on account of) them." The mitzva of settling Eretz Israel is not one of the above three.


Upon further examination it is apparent that there is an intrinsic difference between an essential conflict with one of the mitzvot of the Torah and an incidental conflict. Observing the prohibitions against murder, idolatry, and adultery need not lead one to endanger his life. It is possible to live one's whole life without ever being in danger, unless for some ÊiÊnÊcÊiÊdÊeÊnÊtÊaÊl reason, a conflict arises, in which case one is obligated to forfeit his life. A similar case would be that of one who found a dead body while on his way to bring a Korban Pesach. This too is an incidental conflict, in which only one of the mitzvot could be fulfilled, but there is no intrinsic conflict between them.


In contrast, the mitzva of Techelet (blue-dyed woolen fringes) on a linen garment will always cause an intrinsic conflict with the prohibition against Sha'atnez (wool and linen together), but there is no halachic question here; the Torah commands us to attach the woolen fringes to the linen garment, so that in this case, the mitzva of Techelet suspends the prohibition of Sha'atnez. Likewise, the daily sacrifices in the Beit HaMikdash were brought on Shabbat despite the prohibited acts of Melacha they entailed. There is no debate here on which takes precedence - the daily sacrifice or the Laws of Shabbat - as the Torah itself commands us to bring the daily sacrifice on Shabbat too.




The same applies to the mitzva of settling Eretz Israel, which intrinsically entails Mesirut Nefesh, giving up life. There is no nation anywhere in the world which can hold on to its land without any sacrifice of life. Every nation is surrounded by enemies whowill be happy to swallow him dead or alive. One nation wolfs down the other.


Joshua had to lead his people into war when he brought them into Eretz Israel. Even before that, Moshe Rabbeinu fought Sichon and Og. Soldiers fall in every war, and the Torah never promised us they wouldn't (see Minchat Chinuch 425). The Ramban explains that the Torah commanded all those eligible to fight to be counted in preparation for war, as we must not depend on miracles (Numbers 1:45; 13:2). Likewise, one who has recently married, planted a vineyard, or built a new house, is exempt from the army, lest he die and this cause excessive grief.


Our ancestors fought for this country for hundreds of years. There were times when things were better and times when they were worse.... The Torah doesn't promise us miracles. We believe in them, we rejoice in them, but we must not depend on them. Every people in every country must struggle to survive.


The peoples living in this country when Joshua led us here must certainly have been against us. Only the Girgashi left of his own free will, and only the Givonim signed a peace treaty with us. The Ramban explains that the Torah has commanded us to take sole possession of Eretz Israel even if this causes a war (see commentary of Ramban to Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Mitvat Asei 4). There is no free nation on the face of the earth which has not acquired its independence at a very high price, even if today it enjoys peace and tranquility. Thus it is self evident that the willingness to sacrifice life is essential, not only in the case of the above three prohibitions, but also for Eretz Israel, as that is an integral part of the mitzva....


The price Eretz Israel exacts in lives is less than that exacted in exile, where terrible bloodshed occurred. We are still losing lives in the diaspora; between one to two hundred thousand souls assimilate every year.... Of course people are killed in war, and of course we must try to save every Jewish soul, but we cannot prevent all casualties. Those who celebrate Chanuka every year should recall how many soldiers fell in battle then. This is so obvious it should not require any explanation. Can you imagine anyone approaching King Saul or David, Bar Cochba or Rabbi Akiva, and telling him that one Jewish soul is worth more than all of his achievements?

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