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Did a misquote by journalist Nissim Mishal engender the rift between Shas and HaBayit HaYehudi?

In an interview during the last election campaign, journalist Nissim Mishal asked Naftali Bennett whether he agreed with the halachic ruling of Rav Ovadiah Yossef (zts’l) permitting the trading of land for peace. After some reluctant hesitation by Bennett, Mishal drew out of Bennett what Bennett had tried to avoid saying: “No, I do not agree with that ruling.” From the Shas spiritual leader’s perspective, the response must have appeared to be a young upstart’s insolent disregard for halachic authority, made far worse by its being televised across the country.

The subsequent condemnations of HaBayit HaYehudi by Rav Yossef and others in the Shas camp are well known. Despite giving the spat ample coverage, however, the media has surprisingly ignored the question as to what sparked it all. It’s likely that the above-cited exchange and how Rav Yossef perceived it (or how his aides presented it) had something to do with it. Even more interesting is the question of what role Mishal’s show played in generating the rift.

The core of the problem is that Mishal quoted Rav Yossef without giving the context for Rav Yossef’s decision. The ruling, made first in 1979, and repeated at a conference in 1989, features a lengthy review of the halachic literature by Rav Yossef as well as presenting his discussions with military and governmental leaders of the time. Ultimately, Rav Yossef ruled that if giving away land could save Jewish lives (pikuach nefesh), then it was permissible.

Of course, at the time the peace accords with Egypt were signed, Bennett just turned 7 years old and can scarcely have been expected to have read Rav Yossef’s ruling. It’s possible that he’d heard of it since, but the look of bewilderment he had when Mishal asked about it strongly suggested Bennett’s lack of familiarity with the ruling.

It should hardly have mattered. First, Rav Yossef’s ruling was explicitly a theoretical, not a practical ruling. His very first sentence reads, “To begin with, I want to make clear that I am not coming to rule on what the Government of Israel should do, be it to return or keep lands under our control.”

Second, the possibility of returning lands was conditional on having a partner for peace amongst the “Palestinian” Arabs (quotes mine), and Rav Yossef himself observed that there were no such partners.

And if that weren’t enough, Rav Yossef subsequently opposed the plan to unilaterally leave Gaza. And this was halacha lema’asseh – not just a theoretical ruling, but a ruling to be put into practice — Rav Yossef instructed Shas MKs to vote against the government’s plan to uproot Gush Katif.

So what in the interview came across as a hard-hitting “what are your red lines” question was really only so because it was taken out of context. Mishal himself may not have known the context and plausibly did not obfuscate it out of malice. Nevertheless, the result was what appeared to be a slap in the face from Bennett to the senior rabbi, generating needless animosity and division. It is appropriate then that Mishal should apologize for the error of the misquote (regardless of whether it was his responsibility or someone else’s), and give Bennett a chance to mend broken fences. If not with the Rav, then at least with his family and with Shas.

Posted in Judaism.

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