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From the Desk - Chabad and the State of Israel

What’s the Deal with… Chabad and the State of Israel? At the Yom Ha’atzmaut breakfast, Saul Edelstein asked me why Chabad doesn’t celebrate the day and what their attitude is to the State of Israel. What’s the deal? The Jerusalem Post wrote an article on this topic for which they interviewed my teacher, Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, who is a Chabad rabbi, author and scholar. Rabbi Rapoport reflected that, when he was growing up in the 1970s, his more right wing friends would harrass him by saying that the Rebbe of Chabad was a Zionist while his more left wing friends would taunt him that the Rebbe was anti-Israel. Still today, one hears both of these arguments. Rabbi Rapoport describes the Rebbe as having “espoused an extremely nuanced position, often walking a tightrope.” On the one hand, Chabad school across the world does not mark Independence Day. They are adamantly opposed to the national anthem, “Hatikvah.” Even waving an Israeli flag or having one in a Chabad centre is frowned upon. On the other hand, the strong support Chabad offers Israeli soldiers is well documented as are the meetings of five Israeli Prime Ministers as well as a steady stream of visiting military and intelligence leaders, ministers and Knesset members with the late Rebbe who sought his counsel on internal and even security affairs. The Rebbe’s support was not just by offering advice and blessings. He once gave $10,000 to Rabin as a contribution for building the land. To this very day, hundreds of Chabad youth book flights from places like New York and Los Angeles to come to Israel and serve in the IDF. What is the basis of these seemingly different policies? The Rebbe had several reservations regarding the modern State of Israel. Firstly, he did not consider it to be the first stages of the Redemption. He also had a problem with the government because it was secular and excluded and, in some cases, violated Jewish law. The Rebbe believed that the Land of Israel is ours by virtue of the Torah. Therefore, it must be run in accordance with the Torah. He would never forge a full identity with the State of Israel as long as it contained attitudes and legislation that are antithetical to Judaism. The Rebbe also agreed with most of the Ultra-Orthodox communities that young men should study Torah in yeshivot and that this is even more important than serving in the army. Despite this, the Rebbe appreciated the positive accomplishments and importance of the state. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Posner listened as his father discussed this topic with the Rebbe in the 1940s. The Rebbe explained: “It’s a simple question: There’s a place in the world where Jews are being killed. If the Jews will have their own government, the Jews will not be killed. So, is there even a question?” The Rebbe recognized the importance of the State in order to protect Jewish lives. It was the recognition of this and the other accomplishments of the State that propelled the Rebbe to send many letters in support of the State. He supported its economy, its educational infrastructure and its welfare organizations. In particular, he expressed tremendous gratitude and admiration for Israel’s defense forces and wrote that “when it comes to Jews who give up their lives and bodies in order to protect the Holy Land and all its inhabitants, their merits are the greatest and they are at the highest spiritual level.” Although he did not encourage his followers to immigrate to Israel, except in specific instances, he still considered it a great value to live in the land and he encouraged many people to make Aliyah. The Rebbe summed up his own approach in the 1960s when yeshiva students asked him point-blank if he was a Zionist. He responded: ‘If Israel is a state of Jews, then I am not a Zionist, but if it’s a Jewish state, then I am a Zionist.”

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