Halachic edict denouncing accords divides Orthodox

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TEANECK, N.J. — A leading American Orthodox rabbi's published statement setting forth his halachic objections to the peace process has created a storm of controversy both here and in Israel.

Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a Yeshiva University professor widely recognized as an authority on Jewish law, issued his halachic position recently that the planned redeployment of Israeli soldiers from areas of settlement on the West Bank would put Jewish lives in danger.

Tendler characterized the peace process as "an unholy means to a holy end that [will] serve as paving stones to hell."

His statement, which appeared last month in both Yiddish and English in the New York-based Algemeiner Journal, has sparked angry rebuttals from two prominent Orthodox rabbis in Israel, further raising the tenor of the dialogue surrounding the peace process.

Rabbi Yehuda Amital, leader of Meimad, a religious Zionist group in Israel that has been supportive of the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a son-in-law of the late Rabbi Joseph Solevitchik, have indicated their disagreement with Tendler's halachic interpretation.

Both Amital and Lichtenstein are heads of yeshivas in Gush Etzion in the West Bank.

Calling Tendler's article "very sad, a foolish mistake," Amital insisted that the "important thing is to save the life of Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. The way to save Eretz Yisrael for the Jewish people is compromise now."

Amital disputed Tendler's claim that terrorism has increased as a result of the peace process, saying that terrorism was linked to the rise in Islamic fundamentalism. He called the Arab world irrational, noting Iraq's aggression in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the exploding birthrate of the Israeli Arabs as evidence of the need for a workable agreement as soon as possible for the long-term security of the Jewish people.

"I have to think what will happen after 20 years" if the peace process fails, said Amital, who has been living in the West Bank for 26 years. A Holocaust survivor, he immigrated to what was then Palestine from Hungary 50 years ago.

Several days before issuing his halachic imperative on the peace process, Tendler took steps to prevent the appearance in his community of Monsey, N.Y., of an Orthodox rabbi who heads Shvil HaZahav, an Orthodox group supportive of the peace process.

Criticizing his former student Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Englewood, N.J., Tendler said it was a "desecration of God's name for an Orthodox rabbi to present a position that is contrary to Torah law."

A scheduled debate between Goldin and Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, was canceled when Tendler interceded with the program's coordinator, Samuel Colman, a New York state assemblyman.

Tendler accused Goldin of being "in denial of a fundamental axiom of Judaism: You cannot sacrifice a Jew today in order to save many Jews tomorrow."

Goldin said in a telephone interview that Lichtenstein had assured him of his backing.

According to Goldin, Lichtenstein called the tone of Tendler's piece "alarming."

Lichtenstein could not be reached for comment.

Goldin added that both he and Lichtenstein have legitimate concerns about Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat's trustworthiness. But both draw a distinction between harboring doubts and indicting the entire peace effort.

According to Goldin, Lichtenstein said it would be wrong to conclude that "only knaves and fools are in favor of the peace process and supportive of the Rabin government."

"My position is much more nuanced. I've never been lockstep with the Israeli government," said Goldin. "Shvil Hazahav was organized to foster communication and dialogue and a connection with the Israeli government as the peace process unfolds. It tries to deal with the issues in a positive, not a negative fashion."

Goldin's supporters have denounced Tendler's halachic condemnation.

There is "not a halachic question," Amital said passionately, adding that Tendler is basing his halachic position on a basic misunderstanding of the facts and what is happening in Israel today.

Tendler's contention that the peace process is endangering Jewish lives and has led to an increase in terrorism is not true, Amital said, and dangerously misguided.