3rd Light of Chanukah, 5741
Brooklyn, N.Y.
Highgate, London N 16
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to acknowledge receipt of your letter and enclosure.
I am reluctant, on principle, to involve a layman, however knowledgeable, even if he possesses s’michah, in a matter that is the subject of debate between rabbis. However, after you received a detailed letter from a rabbi and request a clarification, I have no choice but to address myself to the issues at hand in reply, though necessarily not in depth.
I must begin with a general but crucial point, namely, that the arguments against my supposed stand are based on misinformation or on misconception of what my stand is. Indeed, I find it difficult to understand how this could have happened, since I have repeatedly explained my position. So I will recap it once again.
1. I am completely and unequivocally opposed  to the surrender of any of the liberated areas currently under negotiation, such as Yehuda and Shomron, the Golan Heights, etc. for the simple reason and only reason, that surrendering any part of them would contravene a clearpsak din in Shulchan Aruch  (Orach Chayim, sec. 329, par. 6,7). I have repeatedly emphasized that this psak din has nothing to do with the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel  or with “days of Moshiach”, the ge’ula and similar considerations but solely with rule of piku’ach nefesh. This is further emphasized by the fact that this psak din has its source in the Talmud(Eiruvin 45a), where the Gemora cites as an illustration of a “border town” under the terms of this psak din – the city of Neharde’a in Babylon (present day Iraq) – clearly not in Eretz Yisroel. I have emphasized time and time again that it is a question of, and should be judged purely on the basis of, pikuach nefesh, not geography.
2. The said psak din deals with a situation where gentiles (the term is goyim, not enemies) besiege a Jewish border town, ostensibly to obtain “straw and hay” and then leave. But because of the possible  danger, not only to the Jews of the town, but also to the other cities, the Shulchan Aruch rules that upon receiving news of the gentiles’ (even only) preparations, the Jews must mobilize immediately and take up arms even on Shabbos – in accordance with the rule that “Pikuach nefesh supercedes Shabbos.”
3. Should there be a question whether the risk does in fact create a situation of pikuach nefesh, then, as in the case of illness, where a medical authority is consulted, the authority to make a judgment is vested in the military experts. If military experts decide that there is a danger of pikuach nefesh, there could be no other overriding considerations, since pikuach nefesh overrides everything else. Should the military experts declare that while there is such a risk, yet it should be taken for some other reason, such as political considerations (good will of the gentiles) – this would clearly be contrary to the psak din, for the psak din requires that pikuach nefesh, not political expediency, should be the decisive factor.
Now in regard to the liberated areas, all military experts, Jewish and non-Jewish, agree that in the present situation giving up any part of them would create serious security dangers. No one says that giving up any part of them would enhance the defensibility of the borders. But some military experts are prepared to take a chance in order not to antagonize Washington and/or to improve the “international image,” etc. To follow this line would not only go against the clear psak din, but would also ignore costly lessons of the past. One glaring case in point is “the Yom Kippur War.” Days and hours before the attack, there were urgent sessions of the government discussing the situation with the military. Military intelligence pointed to unmistakable evidence that an Egyptian attack is imminent and the military experts advised a preemptive strike that would save many lives and prevent an invasion.  However, the politicians, with the acquiescence of some military experts, rejected this action on the ground that such a step, or even a general mobilization, before the Egyptians actually crossed the border, would mean being branded as the aggressor and would jeopardize relations with the USA. This decision was contrary to the said psak din of the Shulchan Aruch, as pointed out above. The tragic results of that decision bore out the validity of the Shulchan Aruch’sposition (as if it is necessary), for many lives were needlessly sacrificed and the situation came close to total disaster, but for G-d’s mercies. Suffice it to mention that the then Prime Minister later admitted that all her life she would be haunted by that tragic decision.
4. I know, of course, that there are Rabbis who are of the opinion that in the present situation, as they see it, it would be permissible from the viewpoint of the Shulchan Aruch to return areas from Eretz Yisroel. But it is also known on what information they based this view. One argument is that the present situation is not identical with the hypothetical case of Neharde’a cited in the Talmud, because Eretz Yisroel is not in the state of “being besieged by gentiles.” A second argument is that the present surrendering some areas would not endanger lives.
That these arguments are based on misinformation is patently clear. The Arab neighbors are prepared militarily; what is more, they do demand these areas as theirs to keep and openly declare that if not surrendered voluntarily, they will take them by force and eventually everything else. A Rabbi who says that the said psak din of the Shulchan Aruch does not apply in the present situation, is completely misinformed on what the situation actually is.
5. A further example of how facts can be publicly distorted is in connection with the surrender of the oil wells in Sinai. Some warned at the time that it would be a terrible mistake to give them up, since oil, in this day and age, is an indispensible vital weapon, for without it planes and tanks are put out of action as surely as if they had been knocked out. Nevertheless, there were Rabbis who defended the surrender of the oil wells – again having received and accepted the “information” that the country has ample oil reserves that would last for months. When it was suggested to them to verify this information with anyone who has some idea about the physical limitations of storing oil to build up reserves, especially in a small country with limited storage space – the suggestion was ignored. Sure enough, before long the government found it necessary to demand from the USA urgent oil deliveries, because the reserves would last only a few days.  Moreover, prominent members of the government publicly admitted that it was a serious mistake to have surrendered the oil wells.
But it also noted that since the surrender of the oil wells in Sinai – according to the government’s figures – some two and a half billion dollars was paid by it to Egypt for oil from the very same wells that had been surrendered. Not to mention the fact of having to buy oil also in the spot market, all at exorbitant prices.
6. Parenthetically, it is known who supplied the Rabbis with this “information.” When one of the Rabbis was asked, after it had become all too obvious that their psak din was based on false information, why he does not come out and openly reverse his position, the answer was that if he admitted publicly that he had been misled by a prominent Jew, with beard andpe’os, who is active in Jewish affairs, it would create a chilul Hashem. Queried further whether this consideration halachically overrides correcting a psak din affecting the pikuach nesfesh of many Jews, there was no further response.
7. I was taken to task (and this also in full public view) for placing so much emphasis on the security of Eretz Yisroel , the argument being that what has protected Jewish people during the long golus has been the study of Torah and the practice of mitzvos; hence, Torahobservant Jews should not make the inviolability of Eretz Yisroel as the overriding  cause. I countered that they missed the point, for my position has nothing to do with Eretz Yisroel as such, but with the pikuach nefesh of the Jews living there – which would apply to any part of the world. I have not “yet” received an answer to this point, either.
8. I was similarly criticized for accusing the government of Eretz Yisroel of reluctance to find and apprehend the murderous attack in Hebron on that Friday night. I do not know what this has to do with the issue of returning liberated areas! At any rate, the facts are as follows. Before coming out to charge the government publicly with not trying to apprehend the murderers, I tried to do what I could behind the scenes. It is known that there were two schools of thought in the government on this issue. One held that it would be expedient not to press the hunt for the killers on the ground that to find and put them on trial, etc. would exacerbate tensions; therefore it would be better to put the matter at rest by procrastination. The other held, that the government should take all possible action to apprehend the killers and punish them swiftly, not only because “the blood of our brethren cries out to us from the earth,” but also, and just as importantly, for pikuach nefesh reasons, to prevent further similar attacks. For, anyone who knows the mentality of those Arab circles from which the terrorists came, knows that failure to punish them would be interpreted as a sign of weakness and be an encouragement to reapeat such attacks. This debate went on for weeks. When I saw that inaction was the government’s policy and that it would be a serious blow to pikuach nefesh, I made my public statement. Fortunately it had an impact and finally the hint began I earnest, resulting in the speedy apprehension of the leader of the gang.
Parenthetically, the sad epilogue of this chapter, which is in itself a reflection of the state of affairs in Eretz Yisroel, is that although many weeks have passed since the murderer was caught, he has not as yet been put on trial and there is still no word as to when this will come to pass. No further commentaries are necessary.
It should be noted, however, that the policy of playing down terrorist attacks and avoiding counter-action wherever possible is, unfortunately one that goes back many years, evidently for the reasons indicated above, as is also borne out by the enclosed newspaper clipping.
9. A further criticism leveled against me is that my pronouncements on the issues are more political than Rabbinic. This, too, baffles me, for inasmuch as the matter has to do withpikuach nefesh, it is surely  the duty of every  Jew, be he Rabbi or layman, to do all permitted by the Shulchan Aruch to help forestall or, at any rate, minimize, the danger. In a case ofpikuach nefesh, every possible effort must be made, even if there is a sofek/doubt and many doubts whether the effort will succeed.
10. As for the matter regarding the reception given to the person involved in this controversy on his arrival in New York, as if I, or my emissaries, instigated the demonstration against him, etc.  Needless to say that this charge is totally not true. Even in an oral discussion I am careful not to identify by name anyone who takes an opposite view and limit myself to issues and not personalities. Especially when the person is known to me personally and I have high regard for him, and from my side, still regard as a friend.
In conclusion, I must also say that in general I find myself in an uncomfortable position in any situation where I find it necessary to disagree with an orthodox Rabbi publicly in such a matter of halachah. For when a layman sees that there are Rabbis who, having been misled by misinformants, yet still do not retract their ruling even after the misinformation has been brought to light, it must necessarily affect his confidence in the credibility of Rabbinic authority in general. Especially this, obviously, runs counter to the basic policy and work of Lubavitch in disseminating Torah –true Yiddishkeit, with emphasis on the honor of the Torahand the honor of the true bearers of the Torah – the Rabbis who dedicate all their life to the study of Torah and who live accordingly and exemplify Torah-true Yiddishkeit in the fullest measure.
Wishing you a bright and inspiring Chanukah,
With esteem and blessing,