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NILI - A Rabbis Response


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Iyyar 14, 5781
A while ago, I asked here if NILIs actions were acceptable and good according to Halacha. I received a yes. However, after asking around on other sites, a Rabbi said this: “ It is true that members of Nili were motivated, in part, by their concern that the Turks might decided to take advantage of the war and exterminate Jews, as they were exterminating Armenians. I dont know if any historical evidence that such a genocide of the Jews in Palestine was actually being planned, or that it was something they feared, having witnessed it with their own eyes.  As you can see from the discussion that has gone on surrounding this group and their activities, they actually may have endangered Jewish lives in a much more serious way by spying for the British while under Turkish rule more so than they contributed to preventing a feared genocide of the Jews by the Turks. The Armenian genocide, as it is called, has to be studied in itself, and it may be that there were specific reasons why the Turks sought to eliminate this population, reasons that may not have applied to the Jews in Palestine. The Jews, remember, are an "international nation", with connections in other parts of the world, and its fair to assume that an attempted genocide of the entire Jewish population of Palestine would have reacted to differently by international opinion than the extermination of unwanted ethnic locals within the Turks boundaries. This may have been part of the reason why the majority of Zionist leadership in their time did not share their perspectives, or appreciate their activities. Its not so clear that they acted on behalf of the welfare of the Jewish people, although they obviously felt that they were.  Be that as it may, to your question. There are two issues here. The first is the issue of Jews in foreign armies fighting other Jews. War involved defensive and offensive maneuvers. Defensive acts against an army attacking, even if it should include Jewish people, are certainly permitted. Jewish soldiers may defend themselves against armies including other Jewish soldiers who are threatening their lives. There is no question about this.  Regarding offensive maneuvers, the Jew in the attacking army is being compelled to attack and try to kill other Jewish people, something he should avoid at threat of his own life. In principal, if a Jewish soldier in an army attacking another army sees a Jew in the opposite camp, he is not allowed to shoot at that person, even if failure to do so may result in his own execution. However, this situation rarely applies, since one cannot possibly identify who the soldier firing at them across the line may be. In such a case, the two sides are shooting at each other, and neither side is held accountable for the lives taken in a war situation (see Shut Ztiz Eliezar 13, 100).  As regard to Nili, it would seem that since the Jewish soldiers involved in both sides of the battle are not defined as murderers or רודפים of each other, outside interference should be intended to end the conflict, rather than bring about the victory of one side over the other. Contributing to the victory of one side, and the death of soldiers on the other side, by outsiders not directly involved in the conflict is itself an act of רדיפה, perusing the lives of Jews innocently caught in the battle. If Turkish Jewish soldiers are shot by British Jews the British Jews would not be at fault, but if lives that otherwise might not have been lost are lost as a result of the assistance of outsiders, unless those outsiders are in immediate danger themselves, would be considered accomplice to the deaths of those soldiers who might not have died otherwise. Besides raising the element of risk to the Jewish population of Palestine should the Turks win the war and discover that local Jews attempted to assist the British. Spying for the enemy during wartime may be itself a form of רדיפות.  ???????This is what would seem to me.  How would I answer this?
You related to Jews fighting against Jews while serving in gentile armies, but did not relate at all to the Biblical ideal & obligation to conquer the Land of Israel, which is not only a religious imperative, but is the way of action and precedent followed by our Jewish heroes throughout the Tanach, and also has proven historically to be the best way to insure Jewish lives. True, we commemorate on Yom HaZikaron 27,000 soldiers and victims of terror which is the heavy price we have paid for having a Jewish State. On the other hand, on Yom HaShoah we commemorate the 6,000,000 Jews which was the price we paid for not (!) having a Jewish State. Each lost soul is a huge tragedy, but 140 years of Zionism, including 6 wars and thousands of terror attacks, have brought less casualties than 1 week in Auschwitz. Accordingly, when it became clear that the Turks will not help us achieve our Jewish State, and siding with the allies might very well do so (which proved correct and facilitated the Balfour Declaration), that was the proper action to take. National questions and issues are dealt with differently in halacha, as opposed to the individual's questions or needs as asked while we were in exile.
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