Rabbis against peace treaty mull assassination, revolts

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NEW YORK — Having ruled that the Israeli government's peace policies violate Jewish law, a group of Orthodox rabbis has issued a similar ruling aimed at the U.S. government for its financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.

At a Monday conference here, the International Rabbinical Coalition for Israel reiterated objections to Israeli withdrawal from any part of Eretz Yisrael, or the Land of Israel. The rabbis were split, however, over whether it is halachic, or permitted under Jewish law, to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

Rabbi Avraham Hecht, president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a group of a few hundred stringently Orthodox rabbis, said that by handing over Israeli land and property, Israeli leaders are betraying Jews to non-Jews. According to Maimonides, Hecht said, such people should be killed before they can perform the deed.

Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik, however, insisted that "we should refrain from any violence, even verbal violence" against the Rabin government and other Jews. He advocated non-violent resistance to eviction of settlers.

Soloveichik, the leading Talmudic authority at Yeshiva University, is a member of the presidium of the International Rabbinical Coalition for Israel.

The coalition was founded in 1993 to oppose the accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The group claims 3,000 members worldwide — including the more than 1,000 members of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest American Orthodox rabbinical association. RCA President Rabbi Rafael Grossman, however, said the coalition did not speak for the RCA.

Hecht is a member of the group's American rabbinical committee, whose seven other members include three of the leading rabbis from Yeshiva University's rabbinical school.

Noting the upcoming Israeli withdrawal of troops from at least some West Bank cities, the rabbinical coalition cited the Torah in calling for "action" in the event of "an evacuation of military and security forces from cities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza."

Rabbi Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University told the conference that Israel's current leaders hate God, the Torah — and consequently, themselves.

It is this "low self-esteem," he said, that has generated the movement toward "national suicide."

"We have to retain our national pride," Schachter said. "Are we prepared to go to war over this? Of course. All countries go to war for national pride."

And as the chosen people, "we have what to be proud of," he said.

Responding to the rulings, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, chairman of Shvil Hazahav, an Orthodox group that supports the peace process, said: "Numerous halachic luminaries have indicated that territorial concession is within the confines of halachah when such concessions can save lives.

"They represent who they represent," Goldin added.