Rabbi's pullout 'betrayal' article fuels bitter row

Anonymous author says Israel no longer reflects his values; critics urge him to rethink.

By STEVEN I. WEISS/ JTA
November 10, 2010 16:07
4 minute read.
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An article charging that "Israel has betrayed its Jewish identity" through the Gaza withdrawal and that it "no longer is worthy of my political or financial support" has set off a wave of accusations and recriminations in the religious Zionist community. The author, "S.A. Halevy," a pseudonym, is described by the New Jersey-based Jewish Voice & Opinion, where the essay appeared, as "a powerful, important rabbi in the tri-state area who was a force in the National Religious movement." Editor Susan Rosenbluth won't reveal the author's identity, but many have taken note of similarities to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation B'nai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey. The essay contains descriptions by the author of being in Israel during the withdrawal, wearing an orange bracelet protesting the move and losing a cousin to terrorism, all of which could point to Pruzansky. Moreover, Pruzansky's Hebrew name, Shmuel Aryeh Halev, corresponds with the pseudonym. Pruzansky told JTA that he had nothing to do with the article. However, in a statement e-mailed to members of his congregation, as well as in a late September sermon, he said he agrees with "most, but not all, of the sentiments expressed" in the piece. The essay, which said Israel "no longer reflects" the author's "values or aspirations," also criticized American Jewish institutions. It characterized the Rabbinical Council of America, a modern Orthodox organization, as "spineless and ineffective, afraid or unwilling to take a position on the most crucial issue on the Jewish agenda." It also took aim at the fervently Orthodox Agudath Israel, saying, "The holy saints of Agudath Israel actually joined the Sharon government, literally selling out their fellow Jews in exchange for money." Virtually all modern Orthodox and American Zionist leaders contacted by JTA took strong issue with the essay. Modern Orthodoxy's position on Zionism is complicated by the holiness of biblically granted lands, and giving or selling them to non-Jews is a controversial proposition. One organization that agreed with the essay's sentiments was the 5,000-member Americans for a Safe Israel. "I'm with that article 1,000 percent. There's nothing in it that I disagree with," the group's executive director, Helen Freedman, told JTA. She added that most of her members "feel the way I feel, but of course I can't speak for all of them." The author is "talking about the fact that this is not the Israel that we dream about, that reflects true Jewish values," Freedman said. "The ones who reflect Jewish values are the ones being persecuted." Rabbi Yosef Blau, president of the Religious Zionists of America, strongly disagreed with the essay and its "all-or-nothing mentality." "Religious Zionism sees the establishment of the State of Israel as a historic moment of great religious significance," he said. "Since its value is not seen in absolute terms, disappointment with specific policies does not alter our attitude to the state." "There are some religious Zionist elements in Israel who are disillusioned and are talking about withdrawing into their own world," he continued, but added, "I am not aware of anything as extreme as the position expressed by the author of the essay." Some worried that the piece would give comfort to Israel's foes. "The one group of people on the face of the earth who would be most pleased to hear this type of opinion is the Arabs and the anti-Semites," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. "I think he should think about that," Klein said of the anonymous author. "We as Jews and Zionists have a duty to fight for Israel's survival and prosperity, whether the Israeli government is promoting policies we like or we don't like," Klein said. "Otherwise, the author is saying he has no interest in whether Israel survives as a Jewish state or doesn't, and that's foolhardy." Klein said he has noticed that there are many activists "who've become disheartened, saying 'I don't know if I can be in the political battle in Israel anymore,' but no one has ever said to me that everyone should just disengage from Israel." Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, said he also has seen a lot of disillusionment following the withdrawal but that, in contrast to the essay's author, "I would think the opposite, that we have to re-engage, refocus. I think that maybe it's time that the Orthodox got reinvolved in Israeli politics and pushed our agenda," he said, noting that the majority of North American immigrants to Israel are religiously observant.

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