Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Yehuda Leib Steinman, a leading Ashkenazi haredi spiritual leader, have given their blessing to a meeting with Hamas aimed at reaching a hudna (Arabic for cease-fire) that could save Jewish lives.
The plan approved by Yosef and Steinman calls for three rabbis representing Sephardi, Ashkenazi and religious Zionist Orthodoxy to meet with Hamas representatives. The three rabbis are: Rabbi Shmuel Jakobovits, son of former chief rabbi of Britain Immanuel Jakobovits; Rabbi Zion Cohen, rabbi of the Sha'ar Hanegev region; and Rabbi Menahem Fruman of Tekoa, a veteran interfaith dialoguer who is the driving force behind the initiative.
The proposed hudna would be between Hamas and the Jewish people - not with the state of Israel - to circumvent Hamas's refusal to recognize the Zionist entity.
Yosef, Steinman and other major rabbinic leaders take a pragmatic approach to the talks, said Cohen. They see it as a means of stopping, even if only temporarily, the barrage of Kassam rockets in the South, suicide bombings and roadside shootings.
However, the kidnapping by Hamas of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the war in the north with Hizbullah and the escalating conflict in the Gaza Strip have made direct talks with Hamas impossible, said Fruman. "I hope that talks can begin after the war in the North has ended." Jakobovits, who is the dean of Harav Lord Jakobovits Torah Institute of Contemporary Issues in Jerusalem, said that religious leaders, both Jewish and Muslim, had much in common and could accomplish much more than politicians.
"The Islamic world has deep concerns about the penetration of liberal, secular values and lifestyles into the Middle East. A major factor in the conflict between radical Islam and the Western world is Islam's opposition to secular lifestyle and ideology.
"The haredi community understands their sensitivities and mentality and feels threatened by the same phenomena. The haredi community could play a key role in dialogue between the West and Islam because we live in two worlds, one deeply religious and the other liberal and pluralistic. We understand that the secular mind is different from the religious mind.
"Today in the West the assumption in dealing with Muslim extremism is that moderation and tolerance are the keys. But what the West does not understand is that there is something threatening in that approach, both to the haredi mind and to a deeply Islamic mind. Both haredim and Muslims see multicultural society as an anathema.
"The West, which has the power, needs to assure Islam that no one is going to try to force a multicultural worldview on them. Otherwise the clash with Islam will only get sharper and sharper," Jakobovits said.