In recent days I have been approached by many people questioning why I chose to sign onto a petition of more than 120 rabbis opposing any evacuation of Amona. As they rightly point out, as a rabbi with a commitment to serving the interests of a very diverse population, I typically refrain from taking positions on political issues.
I therefore feel a specific need to respond to those questions – or in many cases criticisms — for why in this instance I chose to come out in full public support on an issue which, while being discussed in the political sphere is at its heart a human – and not political – issue.
Rabbi Soloveitchik in quoting his grandfather, Rabbi Chaim of Brisk, teaches that the pre-eminent job of a rabbi as a communal leader is to stand alongside the downtrodden and afflicted and work in any way necessary to lift up their position in society.
It is that basic understanding which has motivated my stance on numerous issues which arguably straddle the line between being characterized as either political or social issues.
Prominent examples include the stance I have taken in defense of well-intentioned converts where I actively work to ensure that their rights are being defended in the relevant rabbinical courts and in the court of political opinion. That same passion can be seen in my approach to get-refusers where I believe their actions must be revealed for all to understand the evil of their ways and every legal measure must be exerted towards that goal. So too when it came to advancing the position of the Ethiopian olim who sadly continued to be subjugated in many realms of Israeli society, I saw it as imperative to speak on their behalf. And even, in the face of bitter criticism from many, I actively spoke out in compassion and pain for the plight of Arab children who were burned in a fire at the hands of arsonists.
In each of these instances people claim that I was motivated by some political agenda and that I am overstepping my boundaries as a rabbi by crossing into political territory. But while I can perhaps understand why they think that way, I can say with all confidence that my motivations are not political.
Certainly in modern society – and all the more so in Israel of 2016 — nearly every major social issue becomes a political one. But that does not change the fact that people who speak out on these issues cannot free themselves of political views as their motivations.
In the case of Amona, of course the broader context of the issue has spilled into the political realm and become a source of debate at the highest levels of our government.
But this is a human issue.
It is the story of individuals and families who are being deprived of their homes and forced to potentially experience a painful human tragedy. The context of why this is happening or what are the broader political implications was therefore irrelevant to what led me to sign onto this position.
As a rabbi, a communal leader guided by ethics, compassion and an underlying desire to defend the interests of the downtrodden, my signature was intended to demonstrate my personal solidarity with their pain and reflect the desire that this edict should not come to pass.
For this reason, I implore those who criticized me and other rabbis for playing political games to reconsider their attacks and appreciate that defense of a fellow Jew is the ultimate responsibility of a rabbi — even when it might come amidst a broader political battle.