Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Koil Doidi Doifek

The latest issue of Tradition is out, or at least online (link), and it is dedicated to R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik's classic essay on Religious Zionism, Kol Dodi Dofek (I, II). While I did not hear Rav Soloveitchik give this important speech, I heard R. Hershel Schachter reenact one part of it many times, knocking loudly on the table to emphasize each word of "Koil Doidi Doifek".

I'll leave it to the experts to discuss the main aspects of that important work. Here, I'll just point out something peripheral that may be of interest. (See also here.)

Once, in high school, I had a friend who was leaning towards Kahanist views. He argued with me that we must take "an eye for an eye," and I countered that we understand that verse as referring to paying the value of an eye as punishment for damaging an eye. My friend asked a rebbe in the school and he answered the exegetical (not political) question in my friend's favor, that it is legitimate to understand "an eye for an eye" literally in that respect. I thought, "Another Karaite," but I later discovered that I was wrong. He was essentially quoting Rav Soloveitchik in Kol Dodi Dofek (definitely not a Karaite). Here is the passage from the Gordon translation (edited by His Obiter Dicta), pp. 37-38:

For the first time in the annals of our exile, Divine Providence has amazed our enemies with the astounding discovery that Jewish blood is not cheap! If the antisemites describe this phenomenon as being "an eye for an eye," we will agree with them. If we want to courageously defend our continued national and historical existence, we must, from time to time, interpret the verse of an "eye for an eye" literally. So many "eyes" were lost in the course of our bitter exile because we did not repay hurt for hurt. The time has come for us to fulfill the simple meaning of "an eye for an eye." (Exodus 21:24) Of course, I am sure everyone recognizes that I am an adherent of the Oral Law, and from my perspective there is no doubt that the verse refers to monetary restitution, as defined by halakhah. However, with respect to the Mufti and Naser, I would demand that we interpret the verse in accordance with its literal meaning -- the taking of an actual eye!

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