Torah For Today! This week: Jonathan Pollard

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Torah For Today! This week: Jonathan Pollard

Rabbi Daniel Friedman takes a topical issue and looks at an Orthodox response

Jonathan Pollard being greeted by Benjamin Netanyahu on the tarmac at Ben Gurion
Jonathan Pollard being greeted by Benjamin Netanyahu on the tarmac at Ben Gurion

In 2007, I visited Jonathan Pollard at a penitentiary in North Carolina. I was overjoyed 13 years later to watch him land in Israel but can’t say whether Pollard should be viewed as a hero.  

No layperson is privy to the intelligence he passed to Israel. It is hubris to pretend to know what happened and offer an opinion either way. Let us just celebrate our brother’s freedom and homecoming. 

But the news provides an opportunity to examine spying from the Torah’s perspective. How undercover may one go in the service of one’s country?  

Is it permissible to act as a Christian or Muslim, eat pork, or intermarry? Think about the lengths to which Eli Cohen had to go to keep his cover intact. 

Generally, any risk to life overrides all Torah duties.  However, the rabbis teach three exceptions: murder, idolatry and licentiousness.

One must rather take a bullet than practice another religion or act promiscuously. The implications of this law are far-reaching.

For example, honey trap missions, such as the capture of Mordechai Vanunu, would be unacceptable. 

Nevertheless, the Bible tells of Yael, who seduced Sisera in order to assassinate him. 

According to the Talmud, Yael was “blessed of all women” despite her licentiousness. Rabbi Yechezkel Landau similarly lauds Esther’s self-sacrifice in the palace of Ahasuerus. 

Based on these cases, former Israeli Chief Rabbi Goren concludes that the three exceptions apply only to personal endangerment.  When the entire nation is at risk, we override even these three cardinal sins.  

This ruling has wide-ranging implications, not least of which is the permissibility – or indeed, obligation – of espionage, for the sake of the safety and security of the Jewish people.  

May Hashem protect us from all our enemies and bring peace to Israel and the entire world very soon.

Rabbi Daniel Friedman serves Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue


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