Avi Rabinowitz

The legitimacy of compromise re religious values

Compromising on spiritual goals to increase holiness, and to leverage the divine level to achieve greater success in the ‘mundane’ than is possible naturally:

A Tish’a B’Av message re the current conflict in Israel:

According to Jewish Tradition events unfold with God as curator, and can follow a path that is different than the natural order (though usually events unfold in ways that seem natural, or are given plausible natural explanations after the fact).

Specifically – applying this principle to our discussion – Tradition teaches that we are in ‘galut’ (exile from Israel/The Temple) due to fraternal strife. (Note: of course internal strife as occured in 2nd Temple times can lead naturally to failure of a country, but we are taught that the Roman destruction of Israel was allowed to proceed along natural paths because we were not deserving of divine intervention due to ’causeless haterd’ amongst ourselves). Given this, it stands to reason to accept as a principle that God will not assist us as a nation to achieve geula (redemption from exile) beyond some measure unless we can overcome this flaw.
In other countries, religious Jews and secular leftist Jews can live side by side in harmony since they do not have to agree on anything at all, they live in “someone else’s country”, they are not sovereign, and there is no reason for either side to try to force the other to live any certain way. A secular Jew drives home on Yom Kippur munching on a ham sandwich and waves to his religious neighbor who is heading to synagogue, fasting wearing non-leather shoes, and there is no need for discord, it is easy, hardly a challenge. But we all now have the opportunity to be in our Land all together, as sovereigns rather than ruled by others, and with all the challenges this gives rise to, and therefore also with the possibility that we will indeed overcome our inability to live together, and will thereby deserve the full ‘geulah’.

So on this Tish’a B’av, when we are striving to rebuild the Temple by conquering our predilection for fraternal conflict, I offer the following as a possible way of thinking – but cannot promise practical advice on how to implement it, nor pretend that I myself live according to what I preach….

If the people in Israel feel very differently about existential issues:

1. that it is crucial to defend the country’s existence against enemies but differ fundamentally in how to achieve security;
2. feel deeply about the vital importance of this or that policy regarding changes in the justice system;
3. similarly, about ultra-orthdox military service & funding;
4. how shabbat and holidays and kosher laws etc should be observed in the public sphere, by government owned firms (including airlines) and by govenrment officials during execution of their duty;
etc etc,
then perhaps (PERHAPS!) God would grant greater success if we can come to some sort of compromise EVEN IF IT SEEMS COUNTER TO OUR SPIRITUAL RELIGIOUS VALUES!

Our challenge is to find a way of living together as the people of a nation sovereign in its own land, not just as private citizens who are a minority in another country, where this challenge is absent. God tells us in the Torah “banim atem l’hashem elokechem” “you are all children to the the Lord your God”. And like a parent who sees their children fighting over which is the correct way to follow their parent’s guidlelines, God is more ready to help us if we can come to some sort of modus vivendi than if we win a fight against our brethren, in a triumph of religion/spirituality achived at the cost of terrible fraternal strife.

So even if religious spiritual people agree to some compromise on religious and spiritual values of the country, then rather than it being a “chilul hashem” (profanation of the Name) it can in fact be a source of divine pleasure, and a sanctification of the Name (kiddush hashem), and so one can speculate that God would arrange success for their ventures due to this, far more than would have been achieved by prevailing in the struggle and getting matters on the proper track, forcing the religiously-correct way on those who do not wish to follow it.


Like a father who divides much of his assets to two children and tells them to now go make it on their own with that, and that he will sit on the sidelines, but then sees the two siblings competing and undercutting each other and decides to behind the scenes (since he said he’d sit it out) use his own skills and assets to make both fail; or if the opposite happens, he sees them finally reach deeply-painful compromise agreement in order not to fight, and in order not to hurt their father, then we can imagine that and in great joy the father arranges for them to be far more successful than either would have been had they triumphed over their sibling and gotten the advantage, far more succesful than would have been expected ‘naturally’ (though it will seem to them to be so).

So can it be PERHAPS that the greater holiness perhaps lies in religious people allowing their secular ‘siblings’ to drive cars and eat pork on Yom Kippur in public and bring bread into hospitals when they visit patients on passover, than in fighting to ensure that this is against the law and enforced with fines, and other types of laws with jail sentences? And so is it possible that if religious spiritual people seeking to bring the entire society to a higher level of religious observance combine to make this type of painful compromise, and it reduces the friction between ‘siblings’, that God will ensure greater success in our quest to ingather the Jewish People and re-build the Temple?

And is it possible that – of course if this is done “leshem shamayim” = for the same of heaven, ie not for political expediency or for personal gain etc – it would even cause God to return the “non-religious” people to their spiritual/religious roots with far greater success than could have been achieved by secular political compulsion via legislation?

Should religious spiritual people work to enforce spiritual religious values since this is meant to be the Jewish National Home, and we could make the blessing of ‘she’he’che’yanu’ on seeing our ‘sucess’ over our siblings, seeing them vanquished and resentful, forced to not violate shabbat and Yom Kippur and kosher laws in public, all “in God’s name” – as was the case with the both fraternal sides during second Temple times who fought each other “in the name of God” while the Roman army was at the gates?

Or perhaps if religious principled people make difficult compromises in the religious spiritual realm regarding the national character – after difficult negotiation, compromise not total capitualtion, a compromise the other side sees was made with great self-sacrifice and for spiritual motives or fraternal love – doing all this as part of the teshuva (‘return’ [to true inner-self, ie one’s essence, one’s soul], ie ‘repenting’) process, to overcome that which casued the exile and keeps us in exile – can they not then rejoice at their ability to repent, and feel ‘bitachon’ (faith) that this will deserve God fulfilling “return us and we will return…renew our days as of old… and God will return the hearts” etc?

This is not a simple issue, and the examples of Yaakov’s struggle against Esav, and Lavan, and the much later struggle of the Hashmonaim against the Hellenists and Greeks, is somehwat of a counter-example. But perhaps we are also being told via those exmaples and their later consequences (Tradition teaches that Haman was in revenge for the YakovEsav issue, and our struggle with ‘Greek’ culture is still ongoung) that the strife which follows is a result of less-than-optimal dealing with an issue – and perhaps the final redemption can only arrive with more self-sacrifice, and earlier in the game rather than 1,000 years later, sothat the enmity can be reduced? Not an easy quesiton when it comes to actual practice.

Can those who compromised in order to sanctify God’s Name perhaps make a blessing of shehcheyanu when seeing the others violate shabbat and Yom Kippur, knowing the deep compromise was achieved by a process of profound spiritual inner work on their part, their teshuvah – all le’shem shamayim (for God’s sake)? And can they do so in the deep faith that God who is avinu shebashamayim (our Father in heaven) will bring about the same result as the proposed forceful legislation, but it would happen now due to their great self-sacrifice – if indeed done in the name of true sanctification of God’s name, in order to avoid the fraternal strife and religious ‘victory’?

May we all be blessed to somehow achieve clarity, and to understand what is the correct way, the way that God actually prefers, and thus merit the rebuilding of Jerusalem (ie the Temple), speedily, in our days!

Relating to the ‘other side’: Would it not be better if all (halachik) Jews ‘made aliyah’ than if these Jews all disappeared via assimilation? Even if this meant – since the majority of Jews worldwide are not religiously observant – that the majority in Israel would become secular left (now the secular left are a minority in Israel).

[Explanation: Throughout the Western world, the majority of Jews are assimilating, often via inter-marrying, in general losing their Jewish identity over the generations – each successive generation being less-Jewishly-identified, more likely to intermarry. In Israel this is of course far less usual, even among the secular left. So one can say that Israelis who are secular leftists are much more likely to have Jewish great grandchildren than their non-Israeli Jewish equivalent, and even are more likely than the Western Jew who is not ‘secular’ but is rather ‘lightly-religious’.]

The fact that so many Israeli secular leftists choose to remain in Israel rather than emigrating to liberal Western societies, eg in Europe or parts of the US, means that this large Jewish non-religious group is saved from ‘disappearance’, and so their remaining in Israel due to their passionate feelings about this country is miraculous, a blessing from God.

About 100 years ago the saintly Harav Kook once was speaking to some of his followers, and one mentioned something about the secular Jews – referred to as ‘chiloni/m’ in Israel. As an example of the word use: havdalah makes the distinction “between shabbat and “chol”, ie holy day and “mundane”). Harav Kook was upset, and admonished his followers never to use the term ‘chiloni’ in his presence.

He said: “If I had told you 100 years ago (ie about 200 years ago from now) that a group of Jews living in the most advanced countries in the world, ie in Europe, including professors and engineers and doctors and attorneys, and people of all types, would choose to leave their homes and lives in Europe in order to live in the Land of Israel, even though it was under Turkish muslim rule, and was mostly desert and swamps, and though they had the benefits of the most advanced societies, they would leave all that and would work themselves to the bone in physical labor to make the land fruitful. And they would build homes – not only for themselves but in order to house others. Indeed they would make great efforts to bring Jews to Israel from all over the world, and would give them houses free. And they would revive, and learn to speak, the Hebrew tongue, making themselves into ‘immigrants’, instead of continuing to speak the European languages they already knew.”

HaRav Kook then concluded by saying: “Surely you would have been astonished that this could be so, and would say that obviously those people who did all this were definitely the “36 hidden tzadikim”.

“And now you call them ‘chilonim’!!!

I don’t want you to ever use that term for them again!” (even if they use it to categorize themselves).

So now we see the descendants of these pioneers and of later immigrants, secular leftists, still passionate about Israel, still choosing not to leave to more ‘Western liberal’ and comfortable countries – perhaps we should rejoice that they are here! That they are not choosing to assimilate elsewhere.

We can see it as a great miracle, a gift from God.

And of course it is also a challenge – how can we all learn to live together, how can religious Jews accommodate them, make them feel they want to remain in Israel, without the religious Jews themselves having to abandon their own observance and spiritual advance as a society? To find a way of living together as the people of a nation sovereign in its own land (finally!) not just as private citizens who are a minority in another country.

And all this is an experiment of God, to see whether we have changed from 2,000 years ago when we were expelled from the Land. And the very fact that we were given opportunity to face this challenge is a gift.

May we all be blessed to somehow achieve clarity, and to understand what is the correct way, the way that God actually prefers, and thus merit the rebuilding of Jerusalem (ie the Temple), speedily, in our days!

About the Author
Born in the USA. BSc Machon Lev, Physics/Electro-Optics. Phd physics (general relativity) NYU. Authored some physics papers in professional journals, and wrote many articles on religion & science. Frequent lecturer at the AOJS (Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists) in the US.
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