Farewell to a Rabbi of Peace: Asked If the Palestinians Should Be Required to Recognize Israel as a Jewish State, He Smiled and Responded: We All Know It Is a Jewish State. Why Should We Force Them to Humiliate Themselves and Say So?
Breger, Marshall, Moment
I doubt many Moment readers know of Rabbi Yehuda Amital who passed away in Jerusalem this past July at age 85. They should. He was a giant among the lovers of Israel. No one could have loved the land of Israel more. No one could have loved peace more.
Before the war, Amital was a student at a yeshiva in Romania. His entire family perished in Auschwitz, and he himself spent eight months in a Nazi labor camp, where he was sustained by the writings of Abraham Isaac Kook, the chief rabbi of British Palestine. After Liberation, he immigrated to Israel where he fought in the War of Independence.
Deeply religious with no more than four years of secular education, Amital developed the concept of the hesder yeshiva: a yeshiva where students both learn Torah and train for die army, serving in religious units where they can do both. In so doing, he provided a path for religious Jews to fulfill their national duty. In the Gush bloc, the only area of substantial Jewish settlement captured by Jordan in 1948 and retaken by Israel in 1967, he was asked to head Yeshiva Har Etzion and nurtured it into die "Harvard of religious Zionists," an institution known for intellectual rigor and love of the land of Israel. He cared little for rank and chose to share authority in his yeshiva with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.
In 1988 he founded Meimad, the Move-ment for Religious Zionist Renewal, to provide a political outlet for those committed to both Judaism and democracy. While the party failed to win a Knesset seat, it sat in later Knessets in coalition with the Labor Party. It persists as an important rallying point for those religious Zionists concerned with peace and social justice. After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Amital was asked to join the government as an expression of religious support for the state. Although he disliked political life, he served as a minister without portfolio for eight months before returning to his yeshiva until retiring in 2008.
Amital sought moderation. He understood that "not everything in the world is black and white--mostly it is grey." Thus, he was skeptical of zealots who would destroy die world to promote the one value they held dear. Yet he taught his students to think for themselves and was happy to see them engage in public life even when they followed political paths that were not his own.
While intoxicated with Torah, Amital possessed remarkable practicality and common sense. He was not afraid to change his mind when reality around him changed. Although one of die first to join the settler movement after 1967, he rethought his political path after the 1973 Yom Kippur war. Asked if the Palestinians should be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he smiled and responded: We all know it is a Jewish state. …