Morality With A Capital M
It was May 1948 and the Israeli War of Independence raged on. As the battles were being fought in the town of Safed, the Arab residents of the city decided to run, abandoning their homes and possessions. Times were hard and feelings ran high against the Arabs.
As the Arabs made their escape, many of the Jewish residents of Safed raided and plundered the abandoned homes of the wealthy Arab residents of the town, taking whatever they could find as booty. The raids continue even as the Jewish Sabbath arrived. The Palmach was forced to take action, going so far as to shoot into the air to disperse the looters.
Rabbi Avraham Zeida Heller, an important figure in the town, responded with strong condemnation and shock at the sight of what his congregants were doing. He issued a public statement on the 16th May 1948 co-signed by his colleague Rav Weingott. The statement spoke out against profaning the Sabbath but its main message was to prohibit the raids and call for the preservation of, "the sanctity of the Jewish morality," even against the enemy in wartime. Today, the handwritten statement is on display at the Beit HaMeiri Museum in Safed and this is its text:
"Dearly Beloved Brothers!
With the release of our holy city and with our hearts filled with gratitude and praise to the Lord, Blessed be He, for the redemption of our souls, we are filled with grief and pain in not rising up at this great hour for the sake of avoiding serious errors and embarrassing impressions made and revealed during our time. This hour is an hour of serious crisis.
Our Torah is a Torah of life which permits us to work on the Sabbath for the war effort, for those jobs which involve the saving of a life and therefore we announced earlier that one is permitted to continue in this type of work on the Sabbath. Unfortunately, there are people who think that the leash extends (Heaven Forfend) and they break the Sabbath in public for their own enjoyment and comfort, without any linkage to the war effort. One sin begets another.
During Joshua's capture of the Land, there was found only one man who failed to overcome his greedy inclinations but in this case there were dozens of people who could not control their inclinations and had no consideration of the sanctity of the Sabbath—they went out to plunder and maraud right in the middle of the Sabbath. How this pains and grieves.
The fact is that our dear sons, who know how to fight with bravery and give of themselves for the people and for the land, do not know how to control their inclinations and keep the sanctity of the Sabbath and the Jewish morality. We are not the people of whom it is said, 'By your sword you shall live. (Genesis 27:4),' and we do not live for marauding and taking booty.
Dear Brothers! We knew how to stand bravely and with honor during our trial, as we were surrounded by enemy forces. We shall also know how to stand during the trial of liberty! We shall remember the commandments of our holy Torah, 'Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy. (Leviticus 11:44)'
We shall make holy and rise above and purify ourselves to be deserving of this great hour, that greater and better than us did not merit. We shall know not only how to die in sanctity but also how to live in sanctity. We shall keep the sanctity of the Sabbath and of Jewish morality and then we shall certainly merit the witnessing of God's salvation and with the help of the Rock of Israel and our Redeemer we shall exterminate our enemies and settle our land.
Rabbi A.Z. Heller, Rabbi E. Weingott."