"It is ridiculous to tell a young man, who does a good job, or has prepared or trained himself to do a good job [here in the U.S., that he must instead go to ארצ ישראל]. "Good job" means to spread Torah, or to lead an exemplary life which serves as an example to others through personal contact - there are many ways to convert and educate Jews. I am not giving up on American Jews. If I feel that in my town, or in my village, I will accomplish a lot, and when I come to Eretz Yisrael so I or my influence will be reduced to zero, my place is here, not there. Some who went to Eretz Yisrael achieved the same objectives they would have in the Diaspora. But only some! I know of many who fail. They don't admit it. It's nice on their part not to admit it." (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Rav Thinking Aloud, pp. 242-3).
"Now there is an official public opinion which is molded not by religious, but by secular, Jews. People used to accuse us Orthodox Jews that we are intolerant. We are very tolerant, in comparison to Zionists. Let somebody try to say anything not in agreement with Begin -- אחת דתו להמית. You can say a lot not in agreement with Moshe Rabbeinu, but you must not deny Begin's theories. I am not joking. I can't yield to that. I am not a politician." (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Rav Thinking Aloud, pp. 239-40)
“Ich halt [I hold] that Brisk is more anti-Zionist than Satmar. For a simple reason I’ll tell you. To Chabad and Brisk, yahadus is identified with Torah, with knowledge, with a conceptual system. As such, it is universal. You cannot say ‘On that spot of land there is a covenant between God and his people, and in another geographical spot there is no covenant.’ The Torah is the center.”121 He added, “This is Rav Chaim. This is Chabad also....” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 175.)
“Emotionally, I feel Zionism – religious Zionism – has replaced Torah.” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 175.)
“Eretz Yisrael is important, but not the central nerve. The central nervous system is still Torah.” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 173.)
“To say Judaism has existed throughout the ages for one purpose only, namely to establish the State of Israel, is sheer madness, for to equate Judaism with statehood is blasphemy. This mistake is being made by Jews today in Israel.” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 178.)
R’ Soloveitchik said that his father, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, used to say “leumi’is [Nationalism (לאומיות ) or Zionism] is apikorsis.” (David Holtzer, The Rav Thinking Aloud, Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, p. 174.)
R’ Soloveitchik believed that the State of Israel was a positive development as it prevents assimilation. (One can argue that it may prevent intermarriage, but that it promotes cultural and ideological assimilation and actually prevents religious observance as it replaces religion with secular nationalism. Additionally, there are more than a million gentiles in the State of Israel that are assumed to be Jews but are not, so actually there is massive intermarriage.) However, he did not see the state in messianic terms with eschatological significance. In other words, he believed that one should not say that the state had any connection to the redemption. He considered such a notion “stupidity.” (David Holtzer, ed., The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 217.)
"Question: Is there any validity to hakamas ha'medinah as far as geulah or shivas tzion is concerned?
No. Yimay ha'Moshiach? No. Since it contributed greatly to the survival of our people it is very important. This itself is important. But all this stupidity - aschalta d'geulah, geulah - I am against it." (David Holtzer, ed., The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 217.)
R’ Soloveitchik did not say any prayer for the state during tefillah. (Arnold Lustiger, ed., Rosh Hashana Machzor with commentary adapted from the teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (New York: K’hal Publishing, 2007), p. 439.) He objected to the Israeli Yom HaShoah/Holocaust day commemoration, asserting that “all expressions of aveilus should take place on Tisha b’Av, not a separate Yom Ha’Shoah.” (David Holtzer, ed., The Rav Thinking Aloud, p. 244.) He was not enthusiastic about recitation of Hallel on Israeli Independence Day and forbade the recitation of a bracha on it. (Yitzchok Levine, “Rav Soloveitchik and Saying Hallel On Yom Ha’atzmaut,” April 20, 2010, Matzav.)
He did not believe that the Ramban actually said that mitzvos performed outside of Eretz Yisroel are only a “prologue” or an “introduction” to those performed in Eretz Yisroel. (David Holtzer, ed., The Rav Thinking Aloud, pp. 229-31.)
He said in a speech before the American Mizrachi party, “… if the State of Israel will become a secular kingdom without Torah, without sanctity, without the Sabbath, without Jewish education, without family purity, a State in which Jewish uniqueness will be erased, then the price we are paying for her in blood and tears is too heavy.” (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, The Rav Speaks: Five Addresses on Israel, History, and the Jewish People (New York: Judaica Press, 2002), pp. 138-9.)
However, R' Soloveitchik could indulge in what seems to this writer romanticism about Zionism. I don't criticize a giant of his magnitude easily, but I can follow the lead of other giants of the generation who were critical of R' Soloveitchik for his Zionism.
For example. Witness his thoughts on David Ben Gurion as depicted in an article by Jeffrey Saks:
When Wiesel asked him who was responsible for this state of affairs, the Rav would not answer, but stated that it was unfortunate that David Ben-Gurion, then Prime Minster, didn't appreciate the potential of Judaism-as-religion to draw young Jews to Israel, and encourage self-sacrifice on its behalf. This despite the fact that he Rav saw in Ben-Gurion someone with a "religious connection," albeit one that was generally not properly articulated. "In my eyes," said the Rav, "he is a religious Jew -- even though he doesn't know it himself.” (Jeffrey Saks, "Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik and the Chief Rabbinate, Biographical Notes," BDD 17, Sept. 2006)
This assessment of DBG is so far from reality that it does not qualify as "judging someone for the good." Here's the Wikipedia depiction of DBG:
....David also described himself as an irreligious person who developed atheism in his youth and who demonstrated no great sympathy for the elements of traditional Judaism, though he quoted the Bible extensively in his speeches and writings. (Wikipedia, “David Ben Gurion”)
And then there's the assessment of someone who knew him, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who considered Ben Gurion "to have hated Judaism more than any other man he had met". (Wikipedia)
What about concessions with the Orthodox. Why did he do that?
Ben-Gurion was aware that world Jewry could and would only feel comfortable to throw their support behind the nascent state, if it was shrouded with religious mystique. That would include an orthodox tacit acquiescence to the entity. Therefore, in September 1947 Ben-Gurion decided to reach a status quo formal agreement with the Orthodox Agudat Yisrael party. (Wikipedia)
In other words, he was conning the religious community.
Let DBG speak for himself: "Since I invoke Torah so often, let me state that I don't personally believe in the God it postulates ... I am not religious, nor were the majority of the early builders of Israel believers." That's pretty clear. Why not take him at this word? This was a man who lead the public to sin. About such a person the Mishnah says, "One who causes the community to sin, is not given the opportunity to repent. ... Jeroboam the son of Nebat sinned and caused the community to sin, so the community's sin is attributed to him; as is stated, "For the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and caused Israel to sin" (I Kings 15:30). (Avos 5:18)
It is pretty far fetched to call a denier of God a religious man. Was he so shaken by antisemitism in Europe that he was motivated non-the-less to help the Jewish people?
For many of us, anti-Semitic feeling had little to do with our dedication [to Zionism]. I personally never suffered anti-Semitic persecution. Płońsk was remarkably free of it ... Nevertheless, and I think this very significant, it was Płońsk that sent the highest proportion of Jews to Eretz Israel from any town in Poland of comparable size. We emigrated not for negative reasons of escape but for the positive purpose of rebuilding a homeland ... Life in Płońsk was peaceful enough. There were three main communities: Russians, Jews and Poles. ... The number of Jews and Poles in the city were roughly equal, about five thousand each. The Jews, however, formed a compact, centralized group occupying the innermost districts whilst the Poles were more scattered, living in outlying areas and shading off into the peasantry. Consequently, when a gang of Jewish boys met a Polish gang the latter would almost inevitably represent a single suburb and thus be poorer in fighting potential than the Jews who even if their numbers were initially fewer could quickly call on reinforcements from the entire quarter. Far from being afraid of them, they were rather afraid of us. In general, however, relations were amicable, though distant. (Memoirs : David Ben-Gurion,1970, p. 36 in Wikipedia)
Not a believer in God or Torah. Not motivated by antisemitism. Could he nevertheless have been a lover of Jews? Witness this quote from Ben Gurion: "If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Israel, then I opt for the second alternative." (Attributed to Ben-Gurion pre-War 1939 by Martin Gilbert in "Israel was everything" in The New York Times 21 June 1987) Sounds like he was a megalomaniac who lived for political ambitions to an extent so alarming that all obligations to look for the good in him are off the table.
And what about his treatment of the Arabs? We are all so used to fearing and hating them, even though Jews lived relatively peacefully in Arab countries and in Palestine for more than a thousand years. Their animosity started when the preparations for not just a state but for a state covering the whole land became glaring. In his words:
Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves ... politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves... The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country. (David Ben Gurion)
Did he only want his little piece of land and be happy to allow the Arabs theirs?
The present map of Palestine was drawn by the British mandate. The Jewish people have another map which our youth and adults should strive to fulfill: from the Nile to the Euphrates. (David Ben Gurion)
How many people died because of his ambitions? And how many did he kill?
During the first weeks of Israel's independence, he ordered all militias to be replaced by one national army, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). To that end, Ben-Gurion used a firm hand during the Altalena Affair, a ship carrying arms purchased by the Irgun led by Menachem Begin. He insisted that all weapons be handed over to the IDF. When fighting broke out on the Tel Aviv beach he ordered it be taken by force and to shell the ship. Sixteen Irgun fighters and three IDF soldiers were killed in this battle. Wikipedia
Religious person? Was he human? He was after all the head of the country during the expulsion of 700,000 Arabs, half the country, from their homes in '47-48. Here's what happened in Lydda after he ordered the expulsion of 50,000 Arabs:
From Lydda, the inhabitants left on foot, some being stripped of money and jewelry by the IDF troops at checkpoints on the way out....During the following days, suffering from hunger and thirst, dozens probably died on the way to Ramallah. An Israeli trooper later described the spoor of the refugee columns, "to begin with [jettisoning] utensils and furniture and in the end, bodies of men, women, and children, scattered along the way. Old people sat beside their carts begging for a drop of water -- but there was none." Another soldier recorded vivid impressions of how "children got lost" and how a child fell into a well, and presumably drowned, ignored as his fellow refugees fought over water. "Nobody will ever know how many children died" in the trek, wrote the legion's commander, John Glugg. (Israeli historian Benny Morris, "1948", p. 290)
250 men, women, and children died that day. Religious man?
Safe to say, Rabbi Soloveitchik was not to be believed on the subject of David Ben Gurion. And what about his thoughts on his uncle, the Brisker Rav. Again we return to Jeffrey Saks:
In addressing his uncle’s anti-Zionism, the Rav explained: “They said of him [Reb Velvel] that he was opposed to the State of Israel. This is not correct. Opposition to a State emanates from adopting a position regarding a political body, which is itself a political act. My uncle was completely removed from all socio-political thought or response. What may be said of him is that the State found no place within his halakhic thought system nor on his halakhic value scale. He was unable to ‘translate’ the idea of a sovereign, secular State to halakhic properties and values.” It is not that Reb Velvel was an anti-Zionist, per se, but that, as a halakhic matter the secular State of Israel did not register on his radar screen. Upon reaching the disappointing conclusion that there was no way to integrate the State into the a priori ideals of the halakha, Reb Velvel was forced to retreat and ignore (not oppose) the State. At this point in his presentation, we must pay close attention to the Rav’s words: “This disappointment led to my uncle separating himself from the most important event in modern Jewish history [i.e., the establishment of the State]. (Jeffrey Saks, The Rav Between Halakhic Men and Lachrymose Lubavitchers)
Talk about spinning a yarn. The Brisker Rav was consumed with opposition to the State. The Brisker Rav in commenting on how the Satmar Rebbe said the founding of the State violates the Talmudic rule of Three Oaths said, just three? It violates every precept in the Torah. The Brisker Rav was completely anti-Zionistic as was his father, Soloveitchik's grandfather, Rav Chaim Brisker. The biography by Shimon Meller dedicates more than 100 pages to the topic of the Brisker Rav's anti-Zionism. The Brisker Rav was asked if we should daven for the Zionists. He said, we should say the bracha in the Amidah concerning the heretics. He said the entire purpose of Zionism was to eradicate the Jewish religion. To call him neutral on the topic is as delusional as calling David Ben Gurion religious. And side note, I believe the most important events in modern Jewish history would be the emancipation and the haskalah drawing 90% of Ashkenazic Jewry from Torah observance (the State did the same to Sephardim), the Holocaust which arguably served as a punishment for that, and the rebuilding of Torah after the Holocaust. That Rav Soloveitchik would place the state at the top of the list is pretty alarming.
The Brisker Rav said two things are certain. Zionism is idol worship and all Jews in Israel are entrapped by Zionism. Joseph Soloveitchik only came to the Holy Land one time, but it seems he was caught up in the foolishness of Zionism like a person who lives there. One cannot trust his words on the topic.
Additionally, Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote, "about three thousand five hundred years ago our av zaken Abraham walked behind his flock on those sandy trails and, by traversing the land, endowed it with kedushah. Centuries later, a prophet and king named Dovid played the harp and sang beautiful hymns to God. The hills of our ancient homeland, which echo with ancient melodies and fiery word, are worth the sacrifice of our youth." (Darosh Daresh Yosef, pp. 104-106)
This to me is a regrettable statement. Only Hashem via prophets and the urim v'tumim can send men to war. We don't sacrifice boys to conquer sandy trails. It's hard to imagine even a goy in the 19th century talking like this.
I think to R' Soloveitchik's credit he'd accept this critique from me. He believed in open discourse and free debate. He didn't hesitate to form his own views and go his own way. He didn't hesitate to criticize where necessary. He had thick skin. So I put material from him on this blog and I also offer a criticism.
Obviously, since I made an entire web site for him, I am in aware of this great man. He is my melamed. But I disagree with him on Zionism. And I believe he would accept my disagreement and not think any the less of me. To the contrary, I suspect it would please him that I am not a robotic follower.