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Praising Those Outside Our Camp in Complicated Situations

I have a lot of respect for Yeshivat Har Etzion and its rabbinic leadership these days. (And, no, I never attended that Yeshiva.) The religious Zionist community lost a Torah giant last week, Rav Chaim Druckman, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Or Etzion, head of the Center for Bnei Akiva Yeshivot, and one of the leading religious Zionist spiritual leaders in Israel. He breathed Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael. He dedicated his life to the principles and values of religious Zionism. He was a tremendous lover and defender of each and every Jew and he loved every inch of Eretz Yisrael. He was a leading force behind the creation of the Hesder Yeshiva in Israel.

However, he was not someone who fit into the hashkafa of Yeshivat Har Etzion. He was a founding member of Gush Emunim, the messianic settlement movement committed to establish a Jewish presence in Judea-Samaria, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip. He was far more right-wing politically than the hashkafa of the rabbinic leadership of Yeshivat Har Etzion. Furthermore, he had a blind spot for publicly defending rabbis who were convicted of sexual abuse, like Moti Elon. In doing so, he rejected the findings of the religious-Zionist Takana forum led by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, which published allegations against Elon over twelve years ago. In 2019, Rav Aharon’s son, Rav Moshe Lichtenstein, wrote a letter calling on Rav Druckman to apologize for supporting Elon.

And yet, after his passing, Rabbanim from Yeshivat Har Etzion lovingly eulogized him. Rosh Yeshiva Yaakov Medan eulogized him to the entire yeshiva. Rav Moshe Taragin recorded a eulogy of him on the Yeshivat Har Etzion website so that English speakers could learn who he was. Even though Rav Druckman was arguably according to some a more “radical” type of religious Zionist spiritual leader, and even though he had a very serious blind spot, there was no mention of these issues during the hespedim. Only love, respect and admiration for the loss of a tremendous Torah giant and leader of the Jewish people.

This was an example of how to treat those with whom we disagree and even those who, like all of us, may have certain blind spots in their value judgments. We stand for what we believe in and we have the courage to express disagreement with those who have a different hashkafic or religious perspective. We may even call upon an individual to admit wrongdoing, especially a Torah scholar who has the ability to influence many of his followers. But doing so is not inconsistent with expressing loss, love and only admiration after the Rosh Yeshiva’s passing.

This reminded me of a carefully worded article by Rabbi Moshe Taragin last month when he described the recent controversy about the Israeli army declaring that tank units would now be mixed-gender. This came as a shock to the Yeshiva leadership who asserted that these units would create significant halachic and tzeniut issues. Indeed, Yeshiva leadership has committed to try to reverse this decision in order to enable its students to attend the tank units. However, Rabbi Taragin emphasized that even as he and the Yeshiva disagreed with IDF policy, he views the IDF as collaborators rather than hostile adversaries. He may disagree with the IDF, but he will not vilify them.

Here is another example of principled disagreement, coupled with love and mutual respect. Here is another example where the Yeshiva takes pride in its commitment to halachic values, but at the same time is committed to love, care for and admiration for other Jews committed to the defense of the State of Israel even if they do not share our halachic values. We live in a world where it is so easy to categorize and separate ourselves and look only for differences between different groups. We live in a world where it is so easy to hesitate to express love and admiration for others not in our camp, for others who may have made mistakes or for others who do not share our religious worldview. In fact, that’s most of what I see in social media. I see mostly criticism and very little love for those not in our group.

Let me be clear. I completely disagree with Rav Druckman for defending the rabbis accused of sexual abuse. I believe that his behavior was a serious flaw in judgment and I could understand why some might find it inappropriate to praise him because his statements about abuse were beyond the pale. I imagine that the rabbis who did praise him after his passing struggled with this same question. Ultimately, I find it valuable that the rabbinic leadership of Yeshivat Har Etzion found a way to see the good even in someone with whom they so strongly disagreed. In doing so, they demonstrated for us how to stand for our principles while simultaneously expressing love and admiration for those outside their camp.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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