The Fantasy of the Gaza Wall and the Lessons to Be Learned

From the Inbox: One of the factors that enabled the large proportions of the recent Simchas Torah massacre is what I call “The Fantasy of the Gaza Wall.” And it leads me to another lesson that can be learned about an ongoing issue, right here in Crown Heights.

By Moshe Chaimson

One of the factors that enabled the large proportions of the recent Simchas Torah massacre is what I call “The Fantasy of the Gaza Wall.”

A disclaimer: I am not an expert of any sort, therefore, I will try to refer to facts that I consider to be indisputable. My arguments here are not intended as expert opinion, but rather as common sense.

Until the late 1990s there was no wall around the Gaza Strip, the IDF governed Gaza and patrolled its communities constantly, thereby greatly diminishing terrorist organization and mobilization. Then, the fence was built and the IDF minimized its activity there significantly. Subsequently, terror from Gaza became a significant issue, albeit not anywhere near its proportions after the “Gush Katif Disengagement.” Back then, anything like the “Simchas Torah Massacre” could not be fathomed. 

The “Gush Katif Disengagement” that followed was predicated on the belief that terror in Gaza can be contained without “boots on the ground,” rather by air and mainly by a wall.

In 2005, this, among other arguments, is how the Disengagement was sold to the Israeli public: The Disengagement will be better for Israel’s safety. Almost all suicide bombings plaguing the years leading up to the Disengagement came from the West Bank and not from Gaza, despite many terrorist attempts to infiltrate. The reason for the relatively safe Gaza border was the Gaza fence! The logic followed that the key to security is the fence. And so, more efforts should be invested in that fence, fortify it and advance its capabilities, and by consequence, that border will remain safe and secure. 

I want to raise a non-expert common-sense argument: Can terrorists really be contained behind a fence? Can their neighbors on the other side of the wall feel safe when the terrorists’ capabilities are not eliminated? Can you rely on a wall when the terrorists have sponsors and supporters, in ideology and material, outside the fence, who use every opportunity to help those inside attain their goal? The sensical answer is obviously a definite no.

So how did the Disengagement fly?

Theories, conspiracy and not, have been suggested to answer this question. I have recently listened to a recording of PM Ariel Sharon’s speech (on Oct. 25, 2004) explaining why he is proposing the Disengagement, and what I heard gave me a clue. 

His point was that Israeli society has a choice – either keep the Jewish settlements throughout Gaza which have cost the country a heavy price to defend, while being wishful for a future peace with the Gazan Arabs, or disengage entirely from Gaza and fortify the rest of the land against the enemy, while painfully uprooting the Jewish settlements in Gaza. This is the question Israeli society has to face, according to Sharon. He presented himself as being pragmatic, while the opposition was being idealistic.

According to my recollection from that time, a large part of the debate in Israel that ensued revolved around this question: Should we do this to the Jewish settlers? In fact, the main slogan used by those who opposed the plan was “Yehudi Lo Megaresh Yehudi” – “A Jew Does Not Evict Another Jew”. 

The focus of the anti-Disengagement movement was not on debunking the notion that leaving the Gazan Arabs alone behind a fence would fortify Israel. The wider Israeli public mostly discussed the settlements and left the questions about security concerns to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence, the Chief of Staff and their like – “they are the experts, who are we?”

So how could the wider Israeli public not have seen the Disengagement for the hazard that it was? 

Here’s my two part response: 

1. Sharon framed the debate around a marginal issue (removing the settlements) which distracted the public from raising questions about the real issues (the terrorists in Gaza). The campaign to stop the Disengagement was also focused on the marginal issue, thereby not succeeding to persuade the wider public about the real dangers they were facing. 

2. The wider Israeli public blindly trusted the political authorities, while suppressing their own common sense.


The above, if accurate, carries a lesson in its own right, but also leads me to another lesson that can be learned regarding an ongoing issue, right here in Crown Heights.

I am referring to an issue regarding a very different “wall,” but perhaps no less significant:

The “Crown Heights Eruv” and now “The Brooklyn Eruv” have been advertised as kosher “l’mehadrin min hamehadrin.” Billboards and websites have been promoting its credibility. 

My guess is that most members of our community do not feel qualified enough to have an opinion on the eruv’s kashrus, but that doesn’t mean that common-sense questions cannot be asked. I would argue that just like a medical doctor encourages the patient, whether knowledgeable in medicine or not, to ask questions about his or her care, those affected by the eruv should consider it in their best interest to understand as much as they can about this significant change to Torah observance in our neighborhood.

This is not to say that every rabbinic issue must be comprehended by all, but this issue is an especially serious one, and for three reasons: 1. It is about whether we are keeping Shabbos or not; 2. It introduces a significant change to our Shabbos observance; and 3. It was not initiated by our spiritual leadership rather by community activists. For these reasons it calls for special scrutiny on our part. 

What then must we consider when discussing the eruv? 

Let’s just start with the basic background: the eruv attempts to solve the problem of carrying between domains on Shabbos. This prohibition makes Shabbos that much more difficult for most people, and the eruv, when allowed, solves this difficulty. When an eruv can be made, its construction can be a mitzvah, since it enhances the enjoyment of Shabbos. When an eruv cannot be made due to its laws and limitations, “carrying” on Shabbos is prohibited without exception. This much is pretty clear.

For about seven decades Shabbos observant Jews have lived in Crown Heights without an eruv. Why was this so?

Was it because of lack of funds or perhaps difficulties to obtain permits from local authorities to erect the poles and strings required, or alternatively, was it out of concern for an inherent problem with any eruv set up in a neighborhood like Crown Heights? 

If it is a mitzvah to erect an eruv, why has it not been done in Crown Heights for decades? Why did we not hear our rabbinic leaders suggest that it should be arranged? Why did this mitzvah have to “wait” until very recently when community activists brought it to the fore? 

In a letter, published by last year, addressing this very issue the Rebbe writes: “the question may be asked whether it would be warranted to follow the more lenient view of some “posekim regarding the qualifications of the place, in order to remove the transgression of those who carry in any case… However, this would not be right, in my opinion… Hence, it is my considered opinion that not only should the eiruv be done in the utmost secrecy, but that it should be done only if the place strictly qualifies for it in accordance with the din.” 

This letter provides more than a clue about the real reason behind the decades-long tradition of “no-carrying” Shabbos observance in Crown Heights.

No question, there are rabbis in other communities who approve of an eruv even in neighborhoods in highly commercialized and densely populated areas. Does that mean that we should adopt their rulings for ourselves, or should we be concerned that the same halacha which may be good for others can be wrong and dangerous for our community

I borrow the term “dangerous” from a letter of the Rebbe about the permissibility of beard shaving, in which he explains that for some it is okay to follow the lenient opinion regarding shaving, and for others, namely our community, it is forbidden and dangerous, spiritually and physically (4th of Teves 5714 – Igros Kodesh vol. 8 pp. 87-89).

I will conclude by quoting a translation of part of that letter (this translation was published in Derher Magazine, Iyar 5778):

“There are certain liquids that are dangerous poisons. If a person drinks one of them, the most radical measures must be taken to save him, especially if he drinks poison many times. There are other substances that will harm a person in certain parts of his body, but in other parts they will be benign, albeit useless. For example, the peels of potatoes or lemons will not cause particular harm if one ingests them, although they are useless and must be rid of by the body as quickly as possible. But if they make their way into the lungs, they can cause tremendous harm.

“The same is true of the neshama. Certain aveiros are poison for all neshamos, and although they do not harm a non-Jew, they do harm Yidden, on a spiritual and even physical level. Then there are other things that harm certain types of Yidden and not others; for example, if an Ashkenazi marries two wives he violates the cherem [of Rabbeinu Gershom], but a Sefardi is allowed to do so.

“This applies to beards as well: if any Yid shaves his beard with a razor, Rachamana litzlan, he transgresses five separate lavin every time he does so. But regarding shaving with certain powders or electric shavers—then it depends: for Misnagdim or olamishe—those who are not connected to or are not aware of this psak of the talmidei haBaal Shem Tov—it is analogous to the potato peels of the above example—although it is not a good thing for the person, and one must rid oneself of the issue as soon as possible, it is not dangerous. However, for Chassidim, or anyone connected with the talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov, it is forbidden and causes harm to his neshama and body (albeit not like using a razor), similar to the potato peels getting into the lungs—and one must make sure to resolve the issue immediately and heal the damage.”

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  1. It does not appear to me that the Rebbe would agree at all with this analogy . Also I find this article in very poor taste at such a Time when the Jewish people are in such a difficult time. Better to quote letters that the Rebbe wrote and how he conducted himself in wartime. Vdal

    1. When the Rebbe spoke about the dangers of Mihu Yehudi on the Jewish people and the importance of getting mezuzos checked, they said that the Rebbe was insensitive and uncompassionate to the suffering of the people.

      As Yidden, we know that Hashem runs the world and Torah and mitzvos are a shmirah. Shmiras Shabbos in particular is critical for the geulah.

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