Kiddush HaShem – R. Yehuda Amital zt”l

Yesterday evening I attended a gathering in memory of Rabbi Yehudah Amital, who passed away a year ago. Several rabbis spoke, most of them his former students at the Har Etzion yeshiva. Many of the attendees were also “Gushnikim”.

Rabbi Yuval Sherlo went first. He spoke about kiddush HaShem (the sanctification of the name of God), the positive obligation every Jew has to do actions that glorify and bring honour to God in this world. Coupled with this obligation comes hillul HaShem (the desecration of the name of God), which is the negative obligation to avoid deeds that cause the name of God to be disgraced or shamed.

As an example, Rabbi Sherlo told the following story. In September 1982, Christian Lebanese massacred hundreds of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut. This happened during the Rosh HaShana holiday, so news of the extent of the tragedy became clear at the yeshivah only after the holiday (religious Jews do not listen to the radio or watch TV on a holiday). The following morning, Rabbi Amital posted a letter on the yeshivah notice board, calling upon the ministers of the Religious Party to resign, effectively bringing the government down. He also called for a national inquiry commission to be set up to investigate the role of the IDF in this massacre. The reason Rabbi Amital gave for his call was kiddush HaShem. It was inconceivable to him that Israel could be implicated in such a barbarous act and not act immediately to show it is against such acts. (The ministers did not resign; the Kahn commission was established ten days later).

The story is not surprising to those familiar with Rabbi Amital’s views (and has appeared in writing). What surprised me was what Rabbi Sherlo said about his feelings at the time.

Rabbi Sherlo described this episode as the “lowest point” in his relationship with Rabbi Amital. His felt that Rabbi Amital was “stabbing the nation in the back with a knife”. Basically, a traitor. Here was Israel at war, and his head of yeshivah was calling in effect for the collapse of the government, playing right into the enemy’s hands. Three months earlier, Rabbi Sherlo was a company commander in one of the deadliest battles of that war – in Sultan Yacoub – and this letter was, in his words, an unexcusable deed. He felt he could not forgive Rabbi Amital for this.

Rabbi Sherlo didn’t say so explicitly yesterday evening. But the fact he brought this example to illustrate the importance of kiddush HaShem and hillul HaShem, speaks volumes about his views. I am certain that today, three decades older and wiser, Rabbi Sherlo agrees with Rabbi Amital’s actions, and if he were faced with a similar situation as head of yeshiva today, he would act as just as his Rabbi acted during the Lebanon war.

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