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The Quiet Accomplice

Let no soldier or policeman imagine that he is free of guilt because the disengagement would have been executed even if he were not present. This is not so. Whoever stands by the perpetrators, even if he remains silent, is responsible for the injustice.
Rabbi Moshe Tzuriel 5768 Tishrey
3243
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1. Even a Passive Presence
2. Flawed Judgment
3. "Swept Away in All Their Sins"


Even a Passive Presence
The Torah commands, "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity or for any sin, in any sin he performs; at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses shall a matter be established" (Deuteronomy 19:15).

The sages are puzzled by this verse (Makkot 5b): "If the fact is sufficiently established by two witnesses, why does Scripture [further] specify three? . . . Rabbi Akiva observes that the third witness was added here [not to make his responsibility the lighter], but to render it as serious for him and make his legal liability equal to that of the others. [In other words, if it is later proven that the two witnesses lied, not only are they punished but the third witness is punished as well; he cannot claim that, because there were two witnesses besides himself, the injustice would have been performed without him] Now, if Scripture thus penalizes one who joins evildoers as one of the evildoers, how much more shall he who joins the virtuous receive a reward as one of the virtuous!"

We have learned, then, an important principal relating to the education of the nation. When the government carries out injustice (as in the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif and the transfer of parts of the Land of Israel to non-Jews), and army or police units have gathered in numbers sufficient to accomplish this goal, let no soldier or policeman beyond this number imagine that he is free of guilt on the grounds that the plan would be executed even if he were not present. This is not so. Rather, whoever stands by the perpetrators, even if he remains silent throughout, is seen as having taken part in the act.

Even a soldier who stands in the second, third, fourth, or fifth line is guilty. Therefore, such a person must repent for his part in the act. Repentance in this case is achieved through a personal decision never again to take part in the removal of Jews from their homes, and by stating publicly and educating others that we must not repeat such a terrible deed.

Flawed Judgment
Let me note parenthetically that there is presently a dispute between a number of religious-Zionist rabbis. Some say that every soldier must obey every army order, even to the point of removing Jews from their homes, while others claim that it is forbidden to obey an order that goes against the laws of the Torah. The latter base themselves upon the ruling of Rambam: "If the king decrees that a Torah commandment be nullified, it is forbidden to heed him" (Hilkhot Melachim 3:9, based upon Sanhedrin 49a).

The media recently interviewed a number of rabbis who told their students to carry out army orders (in the evacuation of a house in Hebron). I did not hear one of them who would address the charge that they were violating a ruling of the Rambam, and this is puzzling.

It should further be noted that no rabbi who heads a Hesder Yeshiva (yeshiva that combines Torah study with military service) or Mechina (religious pre-army academy) can rule on this "question"; these rabbis have an invested interest - continued funding for their yeshiva from the Defense Department.

This calls to mind the words of the former Chief Rabbi, Rav Abraham Shapira, who once made a public statement to the effect that it was forbidden to rely upon the opinions of a number of rabbis from parties that approved the Oslo "Peace Accords" in the Knesset, because these parties received benefits from the government, and therefore their sense of judgment was flawed. Rabbi Shapira brought support for this suspension from Responsa Ktav Sofer (Yoreh Deah 109).

"Swept Away in All Their Sins"
This principle, that the Torah holds a person responsible for standing near somebody who performs injustice and not protesting, is familiar to us from other places in the Torah as well. For example, when Moses knew that Korach and his supporters were going to be punished, he announced to the entire congregation: "Depart, I pray you, from the tent of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs lest you be swept away in all their sins" (Numbers 16:26). This is puzzling. Certainly God knows how to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. Certainly only those sinners who rebelled against Moses would be punished, not the innocent people who stood next to them!

However, from here we learn: "Woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor" (Nega'im 12:6; see also Yalkut Shimoni, Yirmeyahu 291). The very fact that a bystander does not distance himself from the wicked brings punishment upon him.

The sages thus warn us to "keep away from a bad neighbor, do not associate with a wicked person, and do not abandon hope of retribution" (Avot 1:7). And Rabbenu Yonah explains: "Do not say to yourself, 'This person continues to enjoy comfort and good fortune. Let me join him, and when his good luck runs out I will distance myself from him.' After all, you never know what tomorrow will bring; his downfall could come swiftly, and you could end up suffering with him. When he begins to fall, all of his friends will fall with him. And do not say 'I will show him friendship outwardly, but I will not befriend him in my heart,' for it is also wrong to flatter."

The sages also express this idea with relation to one who hears obscene speech (Shabbat 33a), i.e., that even one who hears such speech and remains silent is punished. And they bring support for this from the verse, "He with whom the Lord is angry shall fall in [the pit]" (Proverbs 22:14) - that is, all who stand there are punished unless they protest. At the very least they should avoid listening to such talk.

The IDF's defeat in the Second Lebanese War, which took place about a year after the Gush Katif evacuation, flies in the face of the young rabbis who instructed their students to follow army orders to expel settlers. These rabbis claimed that disobeying orders would weaken the IDF. But, surprisingly enough, the result was precisely the opposite.

Rabbi Dov Lior, on the other hand, when asked by religious soldiers whether or not to follow orders that would prevent Jews from returning to the ruined settlement of Chomesh and answered that the role of the IDF is to protect Jews from their enemies, not to prevent Jews from settling their homeland. In addition, he explained, it is unlawful for the government to use the Israeli Army for political purposes.


Rabbi Moshe Tzuriel
Taught in Sha'alvim, wrote "Otzrot HaRa'aia", "Otzrot HaTorah", "Otzrot HaMussar", among others. Today teaches in the Hesder Yeshiva in Rishon LeTzion.
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