Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Religious Zionism Debate XV

I. Ahav: Wicked or Righteous?

R. Menahem Kasher, in his Ha-Tekufah Ha-Gedolah (ch. 2, pp. 34-39), utilizes the argument that God created miracles for Ahav despite his wickedness. He points to the commentaries of Radak and Abrabanel on 1 Kings 20:14 explain that Ahav himself was surprised that God would perform a miracle on his behalf, since he was an idolater. R. Kasher also explores the miracle of Purim through Esther's intermarriage, with a lengthy note delving into the matter. Therefore, suggests R. Kasher (and he was not the first to make this argument), these examples serve as a paradigm for how God will sometimes perform great miracles through the hands of non-religious Jews. This helps us understand the establishment of the state of Israel, largely by non-observant and even anti-religious Jews.

R. Yoel Teitelbaum, the "Satmar Rav," in his Va-Yoel Moshe, Ma'amar Gimmel Shevu'os, ch. 131-134 (in the Ashkenazi 5760 edition, pp. 136-139) discusses Ahav, the idolatrous king of Israel. The Satmar Rav argues that Ahav was actually a righteous man who was overcome by his evil inclination towards idolatry. However, other than that, he was not only completely righteous but sacrificed greatly for the sake of Torah. Therefore, the fact that even after his idolatrous activites he was respected by prophets and had miracles performed by God on his behalf does not demonstrate that God will perform miracles through non-religious people. Ahav is not a relevant precedent in how to relate to a largely non-religious Jewish population and government.

In a later addition to Ha-Tekufah Ha-Gedolah (ch. 16, pp. 336-369), R. Kasher responds to the Satmar Rav's argument. He points out that the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 11:1) states explicitly that Ahav has no portion in the world to come. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 102b) states that Ahav had written on the gates of Shomron that he rejects (kofer) the God of Israel (the Satmar Rav claims that this is only a reference to his idolatry and not to actual rejection of God). Rabbinic literature, and the Bible itself, is replete with references to the tremendous extent of Ahav's idolatry: e.g. Tanhuma Yashan, va-eshanan, addition 2: Ahav sinned and caused others to sin more than all of the wicked people who preceded him... He sold himself to idolatry... He cause God's name to be forgotten. How? He erased all mentions of God's name [in the Torah] and wrote instead, "And the Ba'al spoke," "In the beginning Ba'al," "And the Ba'al said"...

Furthermore, it was not just idolatry that Ahav violated. Pesikta Rabbasi (ch. 21) states that Ahav violated the prohibition of coveting. The Rambam writes in Mishneh Torah (Hilkhos Rotzei'ah U-Shemiras Ha-Guf 4:9):

Whoever has this sin [of murder] on his hands is a complete wicked person and none of the commandments he fulfilled throughout his life are equal to this sin... Learn from Ahav the idolater about whom it says "There was no one like Ahav" (1 Kings 21:25) and when his merits and demerits were arranged before God there was no sin that required his destruction and nothing else against him except the blood of Navos, as it says "Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord" -- this is the spirit of Navos -- "You shall persuade him, and also prevail" (1 Kings 22:21-22). This wicked man [Ahav] did not kill with his own hands but arranged it, even more so for someone who kills with his hands.
According to the Rambam, Ahav was not only an idolater but also a murderer.

The Gemara in Berakhos (61b) says: "Rava says: The world was only created for the totally wicked and the totally righteous... Rav said: The world was only created for Ahav ben Omri and R. Hanina ben Dosa." The clear implication is that Ahav was completely wicked.

Despite all this, Hazal occasionally mention his good deeds, particularly in Sanhedrin 102b, which states that he supported Torah scholars and respected the Torah. R. Kasher quotes the Yad Ramah (Sanhedrin 103b) which says that the kings from the kingdom of Israel are not condemned to eternal punishment because they tried to save lives, they fought obligatory wars, and they suffered along with the people in times of trouble. R. Kasher also quotes the Gemara in Moe'd Katan (28b), in which R. Akiva is quoted as saying that Ahav only did one good things in his life: "The king was propped up in his chariot, facing Aram" (1 Kings 22:35). R. Hananel explains that Ahav maintained his composure while dying so as not to weaken the morale of the Jewish soldiers. In other words, he was a brave and strong fighter to the very end. This trait of his, suggests R. Kasher, is what prompted Hazal to occasionally look for reasons to praise him.

Even though Ahav was the worst of all the kings of Israel, an idolater and a murderer, Hazal tried to find reasons to praise him -- to be melamed zekhus on him.

Starting on p. 358, R. Kasher quotes passages directly from Va-Yo'el Moshe and offers a point-by-point refutation. He points out that the Satmar Rav expands Ahav's sacrifices (mesirus nefesh) for the Torah well beyond any sources in Hazal [the Satmar Rav even suggests that the Torah greats of our generation can learn from Ahav's sacrifices]. He also notes the sympathy the Satmar Rav displays for idolatry and points out that our traditional attitude is the exact opposite.

II. Respect for a Wicked King

The Satmar Rav (ch. 133, p. 138) quotes the Ralbag that Ahav was only treated with respect during the period when he was righteous. But when he was wicked, he was not respected by the prophets. Therefore, even if Ahav were used as a precedent for today's non-religious government, there would be no reason to respect it.

R. Kasher (pp. 367-368) explains that the issue of whether a wicked king is due respect is a dispute between R. Yohanan and Reish Lakish. The Ralbag follows Reish Lakish, that he should not be respected, while the Mekhilta follows R. Yohanan and holds that wicked kings (such as Pharoah, Ahav and Nevukhadnezzar) must be respected (cf. Torah Shelemah, vol. 9, ch. 5 no. 9; vol. 12, ch. 11 no. 41).

He further points out that the Mishnah (Avos 3:2) statement that one should pray for the welfare of the government does not distinguish between a righteous and wicked government.

III. Today's Non-Religious

Earlier in the volume (ch. 6, pp. 100-101), R. Kasher argues that non-religious Jews today are different than the wicked of earlier generations. Citing the Hazon Ish and Rav Kook, R. Kasher explains that because non-religious Jews in the current era were not raised and educated in a traditional Orthodox environment they have the status of tinokos she-nishbu. This is certainly relevant in the current argument. According to R. Kasher, not only was Ahav wicked, he was in an entirely different category from someone today who would commit the same exact sins.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More