In light of the closure of Arutz 7 radio broadcasts in Israel, it is impossible not to say a few words about the subject. Arutz 7 not only broadcasts the news in a refreshing, truthful fashion, it also disseminated Torah to the masses through the many Torah lectures given each day by many of Israel’s leading rabbis. One can therefore ask, is this considered a decree against Torah learning that must be opposed with all of one’s power, to the extent of giving one’s life?
In the days of Roman rule over Israel, when they put a ban on Torah learning, Rabbi Akiva defiantly continued to teach his students, in face of great danger to his life. When a fellow rabbi asked him why he was risking his life, Rabbi Akiva answered with a parable. “One day, a fox was walking along the side of a river. Seeing fish trying to flee the nets of fishermen, the fox cunningly called to the fish to come up on land where they would be safe from the fishermen’s nets. The fish answered, ‘You consider yourself a fox, the most cunning of beasts – how foolish you are. If we are endangered here in the water in our natural place of life, how much more so if we were to come up on land to our place of death.’” Rabbi Akiva was demonstrating that for a Jew, not learning Torah is tantamount to dying. When he continued to teach his students, he was arrested by the Romans and carried off to prison. When students had a question, they would walk by the window of his jail cell and call out their query in a fashion that the Romans could not decipher. Rabbi Akiva would answer in a similar coded fashion, thus continuing to teach. Finally, when Rabbi Akiva refused to comply with the Roman decree, he was executed in a horrible fashion, crying out “Shma Yisrael” at the moment of his death. Similarly, in response to the same Roman decree, Rabbi Chanania ben Teradyon would teach his students publicly whilst hugging a Torah scroll in his arms. The Romans seized him, wrapped him up in his Torah scroll and burned him and his Torah together. How do the examples of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Teradyon apply to the Israeli Supreme Court’s decree against Arutz 7 today? In terms of giving up one’s life for the sake of Torah, there is a general rule that “mesirat nefesh,” or giving up one’s life, is necessary when a person is forced to violate one of the three cardinal transgressions: murder, idol worship, and prohibited sexual relationships. One is not expected to sacrifice one’s life for the performance of a positive commandment like waving the lulav, putting on tefillin, or learning the Torah. An example of this is the famous story of Elisha “The Master of Wings,” who removed his tefillin in comply to the Roman decree when approached by a Roman soldier. Not only is it forbidden to sacrifice one’s life in a case like this, but a Jew is not allowed to sacrifice more than one-fifth of his possessions in the performance of a positive precept. In the case of Rabbi Akiva, where the entire Jewish People were in danger of being cut off from the Torah, Heaven forbid, the need of the hour motivated Rabbi Akiva to teach the nation the supreme value of Torah study for continued Jewish existence. In the case of Arutz 7, since their dissemination of Torah is a positive precept, they do not have to continue broadcasting in the face of going to jail; nor do they have to risk having their very expensive broadcasting equipment confiscated by the police for violating the court ruling. Even though the court’s ruling is a gross affront to the principle of free speech and a clear political move against the settlers and the Israel right, there is a mitzvah to abide by the laws of the land. By closing down their broadcasting, the directors of Arutz 7 showed what good, law-abiding citizens they are, winning them great public support. In the meantime, let us all pray that a new law is passed in the Knesset enabling Arutz 7 to continue their radio broadcasts, as it says, “From Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem.” 1. Berachot 61B. 2. Avodah Zara 18A. 3. Yoreh Deah, 157:1. 4. Ibid, 157:6, the Rama. 5. Shabbat 49A. 6. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 656. Rama, Law 1. 7. Yoreh Deah, 157:6, see the Nimukei Yosef in the Rama, and the Maharik in the name of the Ran. 8. Choshen Mishpat, 369:6-10. 9. Isaiah, 2:3.