Kesubos 111b lists the "Three Oaths" made incumbent on the Jews and the nations during the Exile. The "Three Oaths" have served as a cornerstone of anti-Zionist literature (http://www.nkusa.org/activities/speeches/nyc072602.cfm).

It is my understanding among the misnagdish/non-Hasidic haredi factions that are typically more ambiguous towards Zionism, that their objections to the situation in the Holy land is more on grounds of the secular nature of the institutions as opposed to a strictly halachic Talmudic/torah-based objection.

My question is, what is the typical response to the question of the three oaths among that faction?


5 Answers 5


The Steipler Gaon in his compendium of letters known as the Kreinah D'Igresa letter 739. He was asked whether it is permitted to vote in the Israeli elections, The Steipler responds that “I don't understand the position of the Satmar Rebbe, though I agree with all that was written in his book...nonetheless the people have returned, it is a fact that the people have come back, it is now a reality and therefore whether it was done correctly doesn't matter, thus now one must vote in order to ensure the safety of Klal Yisrael...”. and in other letters he writes that all throughout Jewish history Jews were part of the Gentile governments in Europe and of course if one could be in a goyish government he can be in the Jewish government, but nonetheless says the Steipler that one must be very careful that being part of parliament or government is not about getting money, even for the Jews, rather it is about upholding Jewish law.

This letter of the Steipler is very indicative of viewpoint of the Agudas Yisroel/Degel Hatorah party (The Steipler was considered one of the leaders of the party along with Rav Schach). They agree in principle with the basic arguments of the Satmar Rebbe, but also take the pragmatic view that the state is a reality and arguing whether it was established in sin is not important anymore. As the facts on the grounds are that it exists. Now we must deal with it and join it to better and further Torah and mitzvos.

For further reading I suggest the book Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Radicalism by Aviezer Ravitzky.

  • 2
    member of the Degel HaTorah rabbinical council, Rabbi Chaim Saul Karelitz, in Yated Neeman: "We must recall one basic thing -- the whole idea of the Knesset is against the Torah; the very fact that people get up and call themselves 'legislators' is against the teachings of G-d…even if the Knesset would vote in favor of commandment observance it would still be against the Torah…our representative in the Knesset are our activists. Sending them does not imply a recognition of any institution which calls itself a legislature" (May 31, 2000).
    – warz3
    May 28, 2015 at 20:39
  • Is Kreinah D'Igresa letter 739 available online?
    – Shmuel
    Aug 9, 2022 at 20:07
  • @Shmuel I’m not aware of one available online Aug 11, 2022 at 7:21
  • @ShoelU'Meishiv Thank you!
    – Shmuel
    Aug 11, 2022 at 10:48

I will limit my answer to the first oath שלא יעלו בחומה- "they shall not go up by a wall". All, if not most of the commentators interpret this phrase in a manner that makes the oath irrelevant in regards to Zionism. The general gist of these interpretations is that the oath is only violated when an armed force and/or most of the nation immigrates into the Land. (See the Wikipedia article for comprehensive citations of these commentators.) Immigration into Israel never reached the numbers necessary to violate the oath, nor was there any armed invasion.

Those who interpret the oath more broadly to include Zionism do so against a consensus that has developed over the centuries. (Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum insisted that the oath could be violated by any large group of immigrants, but does not cite a single source that states this explicitly. His argument for a broader definition is based on inference rather than clear unambiguous citations. Even he is forced to admit that Maimonides holds that oath is limited to an immigration of the majority of the nation.)

  • How did Bar Cochba violate the oath?
    – Ephraim
    May 29, 2015 at 4:34
  • See my previous comment where it mentions that he violated it.בי אוניא אמר ד' שבועות השביען כנגד ד' דורות ---שדחקו על הקץ---- ונכשלו ואלו הן אחד בימי עמרם ואחד בימי דיניי ואחד בימי בן כוזבא ואחד בימי שותלח בן אפרים (תהלים ע"ח) בני אפרים נושקי רומי קשת. ויש אומרים אחד בימי עמרם ואחד בדורו של שמד ואחד בימי בן כוזבא ואחד בימי שותלח בן אפרים שנא' בני אפרים נושקי רומי קשת, והן היו מחשבין בשעה שנתגזר כשדבר הקב"ה עם אברהם אבינו בין הבתרים ומשנולד יצחק התחיל.מה עשו נתקבצו ויצאו למלחמה ונפלו מהן חללים הרבה.מפני מה, שלא האמינו בה' ולא בטחו בישועתו (תהלים עח,כב) על שעבר על הקץ ועברו על השבועה. (שה"ש רבה
    – cham
    May 29, 2015 at 5:01
  • This midrash is quite explicit. Even though they calculated the 'keits' they should still have waited for hashem. Perhaps though that only applies when one knows the 'keits'. @Ephraim
    – cham
    May 29, 2015 at 5:05
  • Thanks for the citation. Note that even here, the midrash states נתקבצו ויצאו למלחמה. That's consistent with the commentators who limit the oath to armed invasion. Also note the phrase ועברו על השבועה , perhaps indicating only ONE oath was violated. Which one?
    – Ephraim
    May 29, 2015 at 7:25
  • I disagree with your claim that there is a consensus. The majority of yeshivish Jews agree with the Satmar Rebbe, especially as the aim of the Zionists was to bring in all the Jews with a military. They just disagreed on how to handle the situation going forward once the State was established.
    – N.T.
    Aug 1, 2022 at 9:18

It is not a Chassidic-Misnagdic issue at all. Far from it. Satmar is Chassidic and Neturei Karta are not. They base much, or perhaps some, of their ideology on the Brisker Rav z"l.

The typical, mainstream, approach is simply not to be busy about whether or not they were allowed to fight for a state, but rather to focus on what to do going forward. You can find this attitude in the קריינא דאיגרתא of the Steipler Gaon. The idea of the state being a bad entity because of the Shalosh Shvuos, is unique to Satmar and Naturei Karta.

Since most Chassidim and the Litvishe don't have a dogmatic view on this topic, there is a wide range of personal views. Also, lack of discussion back home leads to acceptance of the louder view, being that it doesn't have much competition in the Frum/Heimish/Chareidi crowd. I am noticing this phenomenon taking place recently.

  • I meant the majority of Misnagdim i.e. the Degel HaTorah crowd, as I specify those that hold that view, not that all hold that view
    – warz3
    May 27, 2015 at 17:05
  • Um... I don't believe that the Satmar Rav's hashkafot stem from the Brisker Rav...
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 6, 2015 at 4:55
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    @Mevaqesh Neturei Karta is not Satmar.
    – HaLeiVi
    Nov 6, 2015 at 6:19
  • " Satmar is Chassidic and Neturei Karta are not. They base much, or perhaps some, of their ideology on the Brisker Rav z"l. "
    – mevaqesh
    Nov 8, 2015 at 18:53

Besides the other answers, we can also apply the discussion at to top of the daf Sotah 10a (Artscroll 10a1) to this situation. The gemoro asks how could Shimshon attack the Pelishtim against the covenant between Avimelech and Avraham. See note 3 in the art scroll 10a1 which explains that since the Pelishtim violated the oath, it was null and void. Similarly, since the nations have violated their portion of the "three oaths" the entire oath structure is now null and void.

Note that I am giving this reference because it is the current daf hayomi and it seems to apply to other cases of an oath. We also see in maseches Nazir that an oath that is annulled (or violated) in part becomes batul completely.

Note also that the gemara reference to the "three oaths" actually considers them as one unit rather than three separate oaths.

Wikipedia gives a number of reasons which includes

Although the Three Oaths were obligatory in the past, the gentiles violated their vow by excessively persecuting the Jewish people. Therefore, the validity of the two other vows has been nullified. Religious Zionists point to a specific Midrash warning that if gentile nations violated this oath, then "they cause the End of Days to come prematurely".[28] This has been interpreted to mean that Israel's re-establishment would be implemented sooner than originally intended. With atrocities against Jews throughout history, and especially after The Holocaust, the Jewish people were absolved of their part of the Oaths. Those who hold this position often rely on the Shulchan Aruch which states: "two [persons] who have taken an oath to do a thing, and one of them violates the oath, the other is exempt [from it] and does not require permission."[29] As a result, the ban on mass-immigration to the Land of Israel became void,[30] and Zionism and the State of Israel arose as a direct result of the breach by gentile nations of the Oaths.

[29] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 236:6

  • It's not really a definite proof since in Avraham Avinu's case it was indeed a pact between him and Avimelech. The three Shvuos are Gezeiros from Hashem. Why would their disobeying Hashem absolve us from our oath? However, I am aware that there is such a Shitta.
    – HaLeiVi
    Nov 5, 2015 at 2:40
  • However, it is an oath and we also have in nazir that if part of an oath is cancelled (or violated) the entire oath falls apart. Nov 5, 2015 at 6:42
  • It is three oaths. In Nazir, the discussion is about nullifying part of one Neder. Besides, they violated their responsibility to Hashem, but what does that have to do with our responsibility to Hashem? We didn't make any deal with them.
    – HaLeiVi
    Nov 5, 2015 at 14:47
  • I think the Avnei Neizer holds this way, but I'm pretty that he didn't derive it from here.
    – HaLeiVi
    Nov 5, 2015 at 14:49
  • @HaLeiVi Since Hashem set these up as a unit, they stand or fall as a unit. Nov 5, 2015 at 15:15

There a few common answers

  1. Rashi explains that the Shevuah is not to take back the land "together with a strong hand". The implication is we could reclaim it if given permission. This in fact happened, with the Belfour Declaration. In fact, after the Belfour Decloration, the Meshech Chochmah wrote in a letter, that the Shevuos don't apply anymore. We received even more permission when the UN voted to give us the land. Thus Eretz Yisroel was not given to us because of a war, rather because we were given permission. The war of Independence happened after we were already given the land.
  2. Some argue that the condition of "Together", was also not fulfilled. Much of the Jewish people came to Israel in 1948, but it was certainly not the whole Jewish people together, and it wasn't even most of them. Gradually, over the years more and more Jews came.
  3. There is a basis to say that the Shevuos are inter-dependent. If the Gentiles violate their Shevuah of not making it too difficult for us then we can violate our end. Some think this may be what the Shitah Mekubetzes means (Kesubos 111), but not so clear. Rav Aharon Soleveichik (Ohr Hamizrach) seems to understand the Shevuos this way. It is also quoted that Rav Moshe Feinstein was willing to accept/consider this suggestion (Mesoras Moshe volume 3, page 365).
  4. It is possible that the Shevuos are not a Halacha, rather they're expressing a reality, that it's the Jewish people are stuck in Exile, and it is dangerous to reclaim the land. This is likely what the Maharal means (Chiddushei Aggados), and what the Rambam means in Iggeres Teiman where he writes that the Shlomo Hamelech foresaw that it could be dangerous to take back the land, so he warned us "Derech Mashal" Miraculously, though Hashem helped us and we did.
  5. Maybe we were not Halachically able to reclaim the land. Nevertheless, in retrospect, we can view the state as a present from Hashem, and a tool to bring us back to Eretz Yisroel.

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