Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Adar II 5763 - March 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Guardians

by S. Mayer

In these days when we, unfortunately, have daily reasons to be grateful to the security forces of the non-religious State of Israel, it is interesting and instructive to recall a little-known organization of chareidi Jews almost two hundred years ago which worked to ensure the security of the small Jewish community of the time. These were yerei'im unsheleimim who were talmidei chachomim in their own right and worked together with the rabbonim of the time to do what was necessary. Their success shows what can be done.

Yerushalayim of old, Yerushalayim between the Walls, filled with tremendous talmidei chachomim, including the talmidei haGra who immigrated to Eretz Yisroel almost two hundred years ago. The crushing poverty and want were accepted with love, for Eretz Yisroel is acquired through suffering. In a place where one is zoche to the air that makes one smart, why would one need meat and wine to eat? Coarse bread and measured water is enough to revive the soul, nourished from the springs of wisdom and knowledge of Eretz Hakodesh.

However, the settlers' very lives were in great danger. Strong, wild marauders set out to kill them. It was time to fulfill the halochoh of "One who comes to kill you, get up and kill him first." And so, a fascinating chapter in history began.

The disciples of the Gra, Yerushalmi communal leaders, including some of the finest talmidei chachomim, took up swords of revenge to protect innocent Jewish blood. This is the story of the Guardians (Shomerim).

Armed with Kavonos and Yichudim

Days of terror descended on the Jewish yishuv in Yerushalayim. Brazen bands of murderous robbers raided the yishuv and mercilessly tormented the settlers. The situation was unbearable. The aliya of the Perushim, disciples of the Gra, was then in progress. The mitzvoh of yishuv Eretz Yisroel that the Gra had instilled in his talmidim beat in their hearts and they came to fulfill it despite the dangers.

An idea was born: to organize a group of men who would go out and protect the Jews from the murderers. The organization was called the Guardians. Among those chosen were geonim and nekiyei hada'as such as HaRav Yeshaya Bardaki, son- in-law of Reb Yisroel of Shklov one of the prominent talmidei HaGaon; Reb G. Zev Bubis, son of Reb Avrohom the dayan of Shklov; and Reb Nosson Nota, son of Reb Menachem Mendel of Shklov. These great personalities, like the rest of the Guardians, used to go out armed with kavonos and yichudim as well as weapons which crushed the murderers' heads.

The "Guards"

The men used to go out in pairs so as not to attract attention. Sometimes, however, they were noticed, and the word quietly went from mouth to ear that the "Guards" had gone out on a mission. This rumor would sent shivers through the Jewish Quarter in Yerushalayim. The next day, the "experts" already knew what the Guardians had accomplished.

Before the Guardians acted, the greatest poskim of Yerushalayim held a careful deliberation. After receiving a psak, the Guardians' leaders went out, called everyone to action and they were off. With rifles, large yarmulkes, and payos falling onto wide bony shoulders, they went to dark places swarming with marauders. Reb Nosson Nota ben Reb Menachem of Shklov used to land his blow with the cry, "Ono Hashem hoshi'oh no."

Gasping Horse

In 5580 (1820), a caravan of immigrants from Russia was traveling through the desert on their way to Yerushalayim. Suddenly, they heard the sound of galloping horses and a trail of rising dust revealed a band of Bedouin marauders waving swords and bayonets, right in front of them. The head of the band commanded the caravan to follow him. After one hundred meters, the robbers conducted a search. The booty was too small.

In such cases, the tribal head was prepared. Write a letter to your brothers in Yerushalayim, he told the immigrants' leaders, to request a thousand Napoleons as ransom. Yosef Luria and Hillel Zeitlin, leaders of the immigrants, signed the request and one of the Bedouins went out. Meanwhile, the immigrants were sent to the tribes' camp in the area.

The sun rose on a cold winter day in Yerushalayim. Next to the home of HaRav Hillel Rivlin, leader of the Ashkenazic community in Yerushalayim, stood a gasping horse. Reb Hillel was on his way to davening with his tallis and tefillin in his hand, when a Bedouin appeared with the letter.

Reb Hillel stopped, read the letter and his eyes darkened. One thousand Napoleons! Where could he get it from?

Then, something stirred in his heart and he decided-- this is it. The Guardians are going to act. Reb Hillel hurried to the Heichal Eliyahu shul, with the dusty Bedouin plodding after him. Inside the shul, Reb Hillel approached Reb Shmerel Zukerman and whispered something in his ear. Reb Shmerel immediately took off his tefillin and went out to locate the rest of the Guardians.

A short time later, the "headquarters" was packed with armed members. Reb Hillel sent a "special messenger," who had the "money" in his satchel, with the Bedouin, while fifty-one Guardians followed secretly behind. Reb Hillel remained in shul to tell the story of the captured Jews and request that everyone cry out in tefilloh to save them. He also informed the tzaddikim of Yerushalayim of the great danger and the need for tefilloh.

The Brocho of Mattir Assurim

The operation was not simple. The men following had to go in a roundabout way so as not to be detected, while keeping eye contact with each other. In addition, it was through deserts and pitfalls.

After many hours, they saw the encampment of the aggressive Bedouin tribe, with the captured immigrants nearby. When the Bedouin horseman and the messenger with the "money" appeared on the horizon, the tribe's leader could not hold back. He galloped forward to greet them and stopped next to them. The Guardians took the opportunity to surprise him and surrounded him with bayonets on all sides. When the leader saw that he was finished, he raised his hands in surrender and commanded the Bedouin horseman to tell all the immigrants to go immediately. Accompanied by their armed escort, the immigrants made their way to Yerushalayim where the city's rabbonim greeted them with the brocho of mattir assurim.

It is an amazing historical fact that a few years later, the chareidim bought the site of the Bedouin encampment to build the city of Bnei Brak.

A Tefilloh of Thanksgiving in Bnei Brak

In 5635 (1875) a delegation from Yerushalayim comprised of a number of the yishuv's founders, including Reb Leon and others, as well as Dr. Loewe, Sir Moses Montefiore's secretary, was headed by HaRav Meir Auerbach, rov of Yerushalayim. It's purpose was to find a place fit for farms. When they passed the area of Bnei Brak, Rav Meir instructed them to say a tefilloh of thanksgiving for the success of the aforementioned operation and the immigrants' salvation.

The Cave in a Hill on Har Hatzofim

Another story of might, no less complicated, happened two years later.

From 5580 (1820) to 5582 (1822), Achmed Shokeiri Fachmi, the leader of a most murderous band, cast fear on all the roads that led to North Yerushalayim. Caravans from Tzfas and Syria which were forced to come from this direction, were the main ones affected. Of course Shokeiri did not investigate his victims and tormented everyone. But the Jews of Tzfas, who regularly traveled to Yerushalayim, suffered the most sacrifices. The fear of Shokeiri hovered like a black cloud over the tranquility of the Jews of the city.

The Guardians decided it was time to employ a spy. They hired an Arab to find Shokeiri and his henchmen's whereabouts, and he did his mission. One clear day, he told his employees that the band's camp was located in a hill on Har Hatzofim. In the heart of the camp lay a deep cave in which Achmed hid himself.

The Guardians' messengers spoke to the Pasha who ruled Yerushalayim; he himself was disgusted with Achmed's evil deeds. The Pasha told them that he was unable to do anything about it, but he would supply rifles for one-time use. Once the Guardians knew Achmed's whereabouts and had access to rifles, they were ready to act.

For a few days, the Guardians trained in a cellar in the Old City, and on the appointed night, some of the members went out to Shokeiri's camp. Two of them infiltrated into the cave, while the rest gave coverage behind them. The two entered the cave suddenly and with one sword blow, cut off Achmed's head. The next day the news leaked out that the one who disturbed the travelers' peace was eliminated, and the roads from the North were relatively safe once again.


The Guardians sometimes helped prevent tragedies before they occurred. In 5579 (1819), an Arab informer revealed that a robbery was planned on the community's food storehouses in the Jewish Quarter and the rest of it would be burnt. On the set night, the Guardians hid inside and outside of the storehouses. When the ambushers saw that the Arabs had begun to invade the storehouses, they closed them in from all sides. They trapped all of them as with tongs and brought them to prison, after giving them a taste of their strength.

"A Fierce War"

One night, the rumor spread in the Jewish Quarter that an organized attack was planned by a gang from the east of the city. This was after a number of harsh infiltrations, which included severe abuse of men and women. The results of a planned attack would have been so horrific that a number of women said they would rather fall into the open water pits than fall into the murderous Arabs' hands.

The members of the Guardians gathered to discuss means of action. Reb Nota ben Reb Menachem of Shklov was, at the time of the discussion, blind in one eye due to a jab he received on one escapade. Nevertheless, he got up and declared, "We are going to fight back a fierce war. We have to preempt them and make a surprise attack."

The group armed themselves with weapons and kameyas, as they did for every battle. Those who remained behind began saying Tehillim with tremendous kavono and intensity. The attacking members of the Guardians went out through the "small gate" of the city walls on the east. They noticed groups of Arabs on the hill of the mountain in Yehoshofot Valley next to Avsholom. With a sudden blow, the Guardians attacked the Arabs standing there, while the rest fled in all directions. The Arabs were so shocked that they thought an entire army troop was coming up. The happiness in the Jewish Quarter when they heard that the danger passed was indescribable.

"Shmerelach" Rifles

For many years, the Guardian members used ancient weapons. They fought with the knife and sword, club and hatchet against rifles. That is why they preferred the surprise attack method. In 5587 (1827), the weaponry was upgraded with the acquisition of two rifles. The owners of the rifles were Reb Shmerel Zukerman and his brother-in-law Reb Shmerel Luria, leaders of the organization, and the rifles were nicknamed "shmerelach." In time, additional "shmerelach" were added, and the fighting took on a stronger bend.

Sir Moses Montefiore

When Sir Moses Montefiore visited Yerushalayim, he was informed of these secret operations. When he returned to London, he sent a Jewish veteran of the British army to train the members of the organization. The visitor was amazed at the Yerushalmis' skill in warfare, especially since these were men who left their studies for a short time, struck down their enemies, and returned to their gemora.

The Night of Salvation

The most famous operation, due to its large scale, was in 5633 (1873) and it merited a special day of remembrance, "The Night of Salvation."

Hills of forests stretched across northwest Jerusalem. Between the rocks, hidden by thick trees, lived a cruel band; after every one of its attacks, the yishuv was enveloped in deep bitterness. It seemed as if these wild creatures could never be satisfied and that this time, the yishuv would collapse under the fear.

The heads of the Guardians were called to the task. Gathered in the house of Rav Meir Auerbach, rov of the yishuv, they heard the decision: It is time for action! Like obedient soldiers, they girded their loins, put out a "code red" and every member got ready to act. Once again the chaletlach covered all kinds of weapons, but this time they included a number of "Shmerelach." A few confidants were called upon to say Tehillim and, in the middle of the night, the Guardians set out.

It was a summer night and the full moon shone a light on the hills' paths. The danger was great, but the Guardians did not even show the slightest fear. They had a chizuk from the rov's decision to declare war. Relying on the tefillos of the mishmeres, they went down into the banks of the Shiloach Springs, where the band was gathered.

At the signal, the Guardians stormed and the shots pierced the quiet hills. A hail of bullets poured down from every direction while knives and swords wounded the escapers. The members of the organization took a large booty of weapons from the plunderers. When the news reached the Jewish Quarter, the people could not suppress their happiness. The lights were lit in Jewish homes and everyone went out to celebrate. For many years, that day of 18 Sivan was celebrated as "The Night of Salvation."

Reb Yosef Schick Hy'd

Not all of the Guardians' battles ended without casualties. There were victims; the incident while building Churvas Rabbi Yehuda HaChossid is one example. Arab neighbors from the nearby Muslim Quarter were disturbing the building process and forcibly prevented expanding the "Churva." When the Arabs came to prevent the building, the Guardians joined forces with the builders and opened a fierce surprise attack. However, during the battle, three members of the organization were killed and eleven wounded. Scores of Arabs were killed. From that day on, the Churva was built without any interference. One famous victim was Reb Yosef Schick of Ladi Hy'd.

Beyond the Walls

When the Jewish settlement expanded, the Guardians' task became to protect the settlement beyond the walls. In the early days of the Even Yisroel neighborhood, Arabs from a neighboring village marked the neighborhood as a target of plots and plundering. The Guardians were called to help, and they sent a soldier. Within a few days, many rioters were killed in action. The news spread through the Arabs that the "Yahud" from the Old City, whose mention already struck fear, was in the area, and quiet reigned.

Sacks of Dirt in Petach Tikva

In 5638 (1878), a delegation from the developing town of Petach Tikva came with difficult stories of attacks from local Arabs. They said that they needed sandbags for their fort to protect them, but did not have the manpower to make them. Of course, they hoped that the Yerushalmi Guardians would come help them, and they were not disappointed. A group headed by Reb Alter Kosover went to Petach Tikva with the delegation, where they helped and shielded the settlers.

Olive and Almond Trees

Besides protection, the Guardians acted in the other areas as well. When plagues were rampant, they went to the victims and assisted them. They gave special help to the immigrants who came in ships. They went out to meet them before they landed, helped them disembark and set them up afterwards.

The immigrants were surprised to see strong, sturdy men from Eretz Yisroel. They then assumed that all the settlers were like that. There were times that one Guardian passed three men through shallow water with his hands.

An operation of entirely different nature was executed in the area of Rabbi Shimon Hatzaddik's grave. The Guardians planted a large garden of olive and almond trees for the benefit of those visiting the cave. These trees are still scattered in the area until this very day.

Shaarei Tzedek

The details of the operations and the identity of the members were kept top secret. Because of this, the deeds of the Guardians are not well-known, and only long-time Yerushalmis preserved the stories of might orally.

For the same reason, it was difficult to collect money to finance the operations. Money was collected under the general name of "Shaarei Tzedek Organization," being an acronym from the first letters of shemiroh, avodoh, refu'ah, yeshu'oh, tzorchei tzibbur, divrei, kodesh.

"The Triple Protection"

Following in the footsteps of the Guardians' legacy, the "Triple Protection" organization was founded in later years. It was an organization of chareidi guards who owned horses and rifles to protect the new neighborhoods in the west of the city. Some of the founders of the organization were elders of the Guardians.

In Botei Ungarin, Reb Yissochor Ber Tzwebner, from the Shaag family, owned weapons and fought to protect without fear. Another precious Jew, Reb Yoel Mohilever, grandson of Reb Zalman Doctor of Mohilev, served as a guard for caravans of immigrants. He was a sturdy man who fearlessly struck his enemies and amazing stories of might were told about him.

The long, amazing string of operations have almost been erased from history. Witnesses of that time testify that if not for the Guardians, there would not have been a remnant or refugee from the yishuv in Yerushalayim.


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