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I was wondering if there is any document which states Rav Moshe's opinion regarding the existence of the state of Israel. Did he consider the state a good thing or bad thing.

I ask this because we have almost every Gadol's opinion on the topic, yet concerning Rav Moshe I am unaware of any document or work which quotes his opinion.

  • I have heard that R' Moshe gave at least some form of tacit approval for Israel, in his official position as head of the Agudath Israel of America. However, considering how some contemporary and subsequent Agudah rabbonim approached Israel and Zionism, I wouldn't be surprised if he himself was against the medina. – Noach MiFrankfurt May 25 '16 at 1:32
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Interesting question and it is true that artscroll's biography of R Moshe Feinstein doesn't address the question explicitly.

Here are a few relevant statements showing R Moshe's position. From the statements below I perceive a "positive-neutral attitude", for sure without any virulence against the State but also not proactively recommending alyah. One should remember however that R Feinstein passed away in 1986, more than 30 years ago, and hadn't seen the growth of religion (both religious Zionists and haredim) that occured since then in Israel.

R Chaim Jachter brings up his position on alyah

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked whether one should move to Israel in accordance with the view of the Ramban (to BeMidbar 33:53 and Mitzvah 4 of the positive Mitzvot omitted by the Rambam in his enumeration of the 613 Mitzvot), who asserts that even in "our days," every Jew is required to live in Israel. On the other hand, perhaps one should one follow the opinion of Rabbeinu Chaim Cohen (cited in Tosafot Ketubot 110b s.v. Hu Omeir and Mordechai Ketubot number 313) that the Mitzvah to live in Israel does not apply today. The latter is of the opinion that since the journey and subsequent life in Israel is fraught with danger and since it is difficult to fulfill the Mitzvot HaTeluyot BaAretz (commandments associated with the land of Israel), there exists no Mitzvah to live in Israel “today” (in the thirteen century).

Rav Feinstein argues that even though most authorities agree with the Ramban that one fulfills a Mitzvah by living in Israel today, there is no obligation to move to Israel. Rav Feinstein feels that the Ramban and those who agree with him believe that if one moves to Israel he has fulfilled a Mitzvah (Mitzvah Kiyumit) but that there exists no absolute obligation to do so (Mitzvah Chiyuvit). Rav Moshe concludes that since no one rules that there is an absolute obligation of Aliyah, Rabbeinu Chaim Cohen's opinion should certainly be considered when contemplating moving to Israel.

Rav Feinstein seeks to prove this point from the fact that the Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 5:9) writes that it is prohibited to leave Israel but does not state that one is prohibited to reside outside Israel. If an obligation to move to Israel exists, writes Rav Feinstein, then the Rambam would have recorded a prohibition to live outside of Israel. Rav Feinstein concludes that since there is no obligation to move to Israel even according to the Ramban, one must certainly consider Rabbeinu Chaim Cohen's concern that one will not fulfill the Mitzvot HaTeluyot BaAretz properly.

R Gil Student brings up his position on the prayer for the State of Israel

R. Moshe Feinstein was asked about the prayer for the state of Israel. He said that it should be modified to indicate a Hopeful Zionist view, instead of a Messianic Zionist approach. The text, as he recommended, is as follows: “Our Father in heaven, the rock of Israel and its redeemer, bless the state of Israel that it become the beginning of the sprouting of our Redemption (she-t’hei reishis tzemihas ge’ulaseinu).”

yeshiva.co (and revach) discuss his position on an Israeli flag inside a synagogue, found in Igrot Moshe OC 1:46

For example, in one of the few halachic responsa which touch upon the rabbinic evaluation of modern g'dolim regarding the State, Rav Moshe Feinstein replies to a question regarding a shul where they wished to place an Israeli flag (together with an American flag), next to the Ark as follows: "And even though those who made this flag and symbol of the State of Israel were bad people (רשעים), in any case they did not consider it (the flag, A.C.) to be a holy item, which if they had done so, would have led to suspect that it is like idolatry... (but) it is like every secular object... and if it was possible to dismiss the entire matter of the flag without causing an argument, so there will not be any memory of the actions of the bad people, this would be the correct thing to do, but Heaven forbid causing an argument about this". Rav Moshe infers that the Israeli flag should not be flown, even outside the shul!

See also the interesting footnote 3

This letter was written in the year 1957/5717, and it is possible that with the changes in the State – a general improvement in Israeli society regarding its view of Torah and mitzvot (compared with the days of Ben-Gurion and his quest to forcibly create a "new Jew"), the ba'al t'shuva movement, the entrance of even the charedi parties into all of the recent governments - Rav Feinstein may have changed his view on the State of Israel accordingly. So it seems from his response to his grandson who enlisted in the Israeli army, which is published in T'chumin 5, pp.11, and so it seems also from his response in Or. Ch. 4, 70, 11, which was written in the year 1979/5739.

This is a topic that certainly merits further study.

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    the obligation or lack thereof to live in Israel has nothing to do with the State of Israel, the subject of the question. – mevaqesh May 25 '16 at 6:49
  • Is it possible to quote text of Rav Moshe itself or link some text that he itself wrote. This question is very interesting. I remember I see haskama to a book of a student from a Dati Leumi Yeshiva, a thing that is quasi impossible from a Charedi Litay rav in Israel. – kouty May 25 '16 at 6:49
  • @mevaqesh I brought multiple sources to illuminate R Moshe's position – mbloch May 25 '16 at 7:04
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    @mbloch and i noted that one is irrelevant. sometimes כל המוסיף מגרע. – mevaqesh May 25 '16 at 7:05
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    @mevaqesh I am a bit torn on this one - I can see your point - but I felt it was relevant because RMF could have said one should not make alyah until the State is run according to Halakha, or alternatively that we should be thankful for God's miracle in re establishing a State and make slyah. He didn't say either of those (in the sources I found above) which I find significant in itself – mbloch May 25 '16 at 8:42
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Need to provide sources, but on one foot, I think the best way to describe his position was: "a convenient distance." Zionism wasn't Rav Moshe's raison d'etre; neither was anti-Zionism. When you're thousands of miles away, that's a position you can afford to have.

Just for perspective, consider the pragmatic view of his senior peer, R' Yosef Eliyahu Henkin. His grandson writes that prior to 1948, R' Henkin preferred that the holy land remain under British control, as the establishment of a Jewish state would lead to a war in which many Jews would die (as it did). Once the State of Israel was established, however, he vehemently opposed any efforts to delegitimize it (note: disagreeing with some of its actions is not the same as deligitimizing it), as that could lead to more wars and more spilling of blood. So it was common for rabbis of that period -- especially those who lived in America -- to be neither card-carrying "Zionists" nor "anti-Zionists."

Getting back to what we know about Rav Moshe:

  • He was involved with Agudas Yisrael, which meant he treated the State as valid, even if not always agreeing with its decisions. (Versus something like Neturei Karta.)

  • As discussed by mbloch, he felt that a synagogue sanctuary was not the place for any political flag, however he insisted that having a flag was not a reason to break away from a synagogue and start a minyan in your basement. He does use the word ha-arura, "the blighted state", in that responsum, to refer to the State of Israel. Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet claims that R' Feinstein came to regret that choice of word -- it could be that his views towards the State softened, or simply that he saw an increasingly virulent anti-Zionism and didn't want to be associated with it.

  • Rabbi Rakeffet tells that in his time, the local posek for the Bnai Akiva movement was Rabbi Moshe Bick, who in turn would consult with Rabbi Feinstein. Asked about saying Hallel on Israeli independence day, Rav Moshe said: "eh if you consider it a yomtov, fine say Hallel; personally I don't."

  • Rabbi Feinstein's family writes (introduction to Igros Volume 8) that Rav Moshe didn't like the mixing of rabbinic authority and political power. This might be one reason why he kept a polite distance from the State of Israel (though again, not deligitimizing it).

  • His family also writes that after returning to New York from his first and only (living) trip to Israel, he remarked that if he went back there he'd have to deal with all of the issues Jews had there; he felt that his job as posek was outside of Israel.

  • He does address questions of educators in Israel's religious governmental education system feeding the children heter mechira produce. (I.e. a loophole for farming during the shemita year.) He doesn't go on a tirade against heter mechira, simply commenting de-lo svira lan -- "which we find unconvincing." He does give practical advice to the educational institutions at which heter mechira is the only thing available. (No tirades or vilifications. Those weren't his thing.)

  • He has a fascinating responsum to someone from Kfar Chabad, asking for practical, detailed applications on the concept of milchemes mitzva today. (Effectively: "please pasken how and when the IDF should fight" -- a subject still debated today.) He wrote back that he may have expressed some personal opinions to some students in his classroom (I'd love to hear what those were!), but actual rulings are reserved for actual questions he receives. "The State of Israel is not asking me, and I wouldn't know what to tell them anyhow. Our job is to pray that God save His people, and that He send the Messiah soon." (Rav Moshe was a gentleman's gentleman and knew how to tailor a nice letter to Kfar Chabad!)

  • This is wonderful! – mbloch May 25 '16 at 9:56
  • Shalom, do you mind if I were to bold the line distinguishing between disagreement with- and delegitimisation of Israel? I feel that that's a fairly important thing to be emphasised contextually. – Noach MiFrankfurt May 25 '16 at 13:27
  • Are those your translations? ‘The blighted’ ‘we find unconvincing’ very classy; I like them very much +1 very nice answer – Dr. Shmuel Feb 7 at 13:18

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