Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

22 Sivan 5765 - June 29, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








In the Proximity of Maran R' Yitzchok Zeev of Brisk Ztvk'l

Memoirs of Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

Chapter Ten

A Man Over the People — Agudath Yisroel

"Whatever they decide at the Knessiah Gedola determines what is decided in Heaven."

Many in the chareidi circles maintained — and still are of the position — that Maran's attitude towards Agudath Israel was negative. This opinion is based on the open criticism which Maran voiced many times against things that demanded open criticism of that body. However, anyone who thinks that Maran's overall attitude towards Aguda was negative is altogether mistaken.

Upon one occasion Maran turned to me and said: "Tell them, there, in Agudath Israel, that I am more of an Agudist than the best of them, because I know what Aguda is and what it is supposed to be. And since I hold in esteem what it stands for and what it aims for, I feel obliged to criticize it."

Upon that occasion, Maran told me a story that perfectly illustrates his true attitude towards Agudath Yisroel. I told the story at a meeting of the International Executive Committee convention which took place before the Fourth Knessiah Gedolah, the first one which took place in Eretz Yisroel (in Jerusalem). I also repeated this story before thousands of people at one of the national conventions of Agudath Israel in America.

When the Third Knessiah Gedola convened in 5697 (1937) in Marienbad, Maran was spending a vacation there. He seemed greatly perturbed. One day, the Admor of Sokolov approached him and asked why he look so worried. Replied Maran, "I truly am concerned and I will tell you why.

"During these days, the Aguda convention is taking place. They are dealing with the question of partitioning Eretz Yisroel between the Arabs and the Jews [as was planned by the British mandate government]. I am afraid that they will not make the proper decision according to daas Torah, and this gives me no peace. [I, myself, do not recall what Maran's exact position was on this question.]"

The Admor of Sokolov began laughing and said, "Do you really think that the position settled upon by Agudath Israel at the convention will make any decisive difference? Even the considerations of the much bigger Zionist movement, which has influence in various important circles, are not taken into account. The British will decide according to what is most pragmatic and expedient for them. What status does Agudath Israel have in their eyes? Will a handful of beis medrash Jews carry any weight with them?"

Replied Maran, "You are mistaken. The final decision will hinge on what is decided upon at the Knessia Gedola, and we have specific proof for this in Sanhedrin 26a. It says there that when Sancheriv laid siege to Jerusalem, Shevna and his political faction within the city maintained that they should make peace with the enemy, that is, to surrender without a fight. King Chizkiyohu did not want to surrender. Shevna composed a letter and sent it outside by arrow to Sancheriv in which he stated that he and his faction wanted to surrender, whereas the king was against it.

"When Chizkiyohu learned of this, he was fearful that Hashem would uphold Shevna's position since the latter had a majority who sided with him. Along came Yeshayohu Hanovi and said: Do not assume that Shevna's majority of people can offset your opinion, for what the wicked maintain has no validity against what the righteous think. Their opinion is not taken into consideration in Hashem's decision since they are wicked.

"By the same token, Hashem does not reckon with what the gentiles think and decide, as it is written: `Take counsel together and it will come to naught.' Hashem disregards the nations, as well as the Zionists and what they think. Hashem ignores the freethinkers and the heretics for they are all wicked and do not count. Rather, what is discussed and decided in the Knessia Gedola — that is part of what constitutes a count, the minyan. And if the majority of the chareidim, of the upright, arrives at any given decision, you should know that that is precisely what Hashem will reckon with and consider. And that is why I am so concerned; I pray that they be privileged to have the heavenly assistance to make the true and good decision according to daas Torah."

Maran concluded by saying to me, "I regard the movement so highly precisely because it was established in order to uphold daas Torah. And if I am critical, it is not because I am not an Agudist, but because I know what Agudath Israel is supposed to represent."

The Name `Agudath Israel' Obligates its Representatives

Everyone remembers the infamous chapter of Yaldei Teheran when innocent children, European Holocaust survivors who came to Israel via Iran, were forcibly stripped of their religion and their parental heritage. The way this campaign was carried out was dastardly and shocking. Boys' payos were shorn or yanked off; the children were placed in secular kibbutzim where they were fed treifos and chometz on Pesach. They were subject to terrible trials, housed in mixed quarters and everything possible was done to wrench them from their tradition so that they would eventually become integrated kibbutz members.

To be sure, our representatives were not permitted to enter the kibbutzim and visit the children. (Anyone who wishes a more detailed account of this infamous chapter in Zionist history is welcome to read the well publicized booklet, "The Teheran Children Accuse" which was prepared by Rabbi Moshe Sheinfeld zt'l.)

At that time, Maran convened a meeting in his house in order to tactically plan what action to take. A long, intensive discussion took place with the participation of all the roshei yeshivos inclusive. It was finally decided that they (the Zionist authorities) could not ignore the basic, minimal demand of us being granted a representative in the Aliyat Hanoar youth immigration movement who could then tell us firsthand what was going on. They needed to have things open and aboveboard. If the Zionists refused to honor this demand for an official representative who would be privy to all information, "we will have to go forth in battle in overseas communities against the Aliyat Hanoar and against the United Jewish Appeal." And this is what eventually happened in any case, when Chief Rabbi Herzog also declared himself against the Aliyat Hanoar and the UJA precisely because of their anti- religious coercive activities.

In the end, when the decision was arrived at, the question arose as to who would be the representative — and whom would he represent? The suggestion was made that he represent that very group at the meeting, but Maran reacted by saying, "That is not a good idea. A convention is not a permanent body and as such, any representative that is put forth will have no clout."

A different proposal was put forth that the delegate represent the Vaad Hayeshivos. Maran sat in deep thought and finally said that this did not seem right either, because the Vaad Hayeshivas did not really carry any relevant weight in the matter. Other propositions were laid forth which I don't really remember since Maran vetoed each one in turn. At one point they asked him directly what his suggestion was.

Maran replied that in his opinion, the representative should be an official appointee of Agudath Israel, but that he would receive directives from `us,' that is, the rabbinical figures present there.

All the participants of that meeting were surprised at his words: Was Maran, then, a party man who was pushing for the official representative to be an Aguda member?

Maran explained: "Yes! Agudath Israel was founded in order to guard and preserve the Torah, to battle against the Zionist movement and to fight against anything negative and threatening. A representative that has the Aguda seal of approval will be obligated by it. In addition, he will have to get his orders from us to prevent him from veering in any direction and not to accede to compromises and concessions. For if he does that, he will no longer be truly representative of the name of Aguda. If he is only called a `chareidi representative,' this will be undefined and as such he will have a license to do whatever he wills. But as a representative of Aguda, I believe that he will be bound by the principles of this body to fight to uphold them, and not to agree to any Zionist theory. And at the moment that he forfeits the trust placed in him, he will be dismissed as the representative of Aguda and someone else will be appointed in his stead.

The Zeirei Agudath Israel Movement — Under the Aegis of Maran

After the demise of the Chazon Ish ztvk'l, we — the heads of Zeirei Agudath Israel — convened to take counsel. It was agreed that since the movement no longer had a guiding figure, we must fulfill the dictum of "just as we received reward for answering to the call, so shall we receive reward for bowing out." That is, we would leave the Aguda and cease our political activities. Still, it was decided not to take such a drastic step on our own but to go and consult the Brisker Rov.

I went together with Rabbi Moshe Sheinfeld zt'l and Rabbi Avrohom Rein zt'l to convey to Maran our decision. To our amazement, he said, "If you are willing to accept me as your guide and leader, I am prepared to assume that responsibility."

It goes without saying that we accepted his offer with alacrity and with great joy, and the idea to terminate Zeirei activities fell by the wayside.

It was truly a great surprise, since Maran was, as is well known, one who always shied away from making halachic rulings. Even while he was in Brisk, he refused to issue rulings to the public and kept R' Simcha Zelig at his side for that very purpose. And yet here he agreed to assume the responsibility of ruling on public issues!

And indeed, every question which we brought before him was dealt with in clear-cut decisions, instructions and rulings. There was nothing, in fact, in which he said, "In this matter I cannot rule."

It is noteworthy to quote here from Ohr Yechezkel by Maran R' Yechezkel Levenstein ztvk'l which refers to the eulogy he said over Maran:

"As long as the Chazon Ish was alive, the Brisker Rov was most reluctant to reply definitively to those who approached him. But after the former's demise, he was generous with his replies and decisions to the very many who came to him. He devoted a great deal of time to the public, and this is a sign of greatness in a man: to be able to change his approach and conduct so drastically, so suddenly, when he realizes that this is what is required of him at that particular time. A truly great person is not bound by habit and circumstances, but acts according to his wisdom, to do what is proper at any given time and situation."

About Zionism and the Role of Agudath Israel

Maran was wont to say: "Agudath Israel was founded in order to fight against the Zionist movement, but not specifically to be victorious over it."

He explained that the difference between the two approaches found its expression when he arrived at the conclusion that one could not overcome it and defeat it.

If it was the purpose of Aguda to defeat Zionism, one might be able to make peace with the situation and stop the war altogether in order to gain whatever concessions one could get, since the supposed goal, which was to win, is not realistic in any case. But since it was founded to clash against them, to be constantly on guard and to continuously struggle against Zionism, then it must persevere in this battle at all times and under all conditions.

The goal of Aguda is to engage in the very battle itself, and there is no greater contradiction to this goal than the idea of reaching a compromise or truce and to join the Zionist movement in some manner under the misconception that this would be the lesser evil and that some gains could be scored in this way.

Maran repeated this maxim to me frequently, stressing that many of the Aguda members do not know, or do not wish to know, this important principle, and the underlying reason for the very establishment of this movement. Maran kept in his desk drawer a letter written by his father, HaGaon R' Chaim ztvk'l, which enumerates eighteen points which he established as basic principles conditional to the foundation of Agudath Israel.

Similar to this, we find quoted in the sefer Yosef Daas by R' Yosef Lis zt'l in the name of Maran when he spoke out against those who were for forming a united religious front together with Mizrachi, an idea against which Maran fought tooth and nail.

"In our times, we have completely lost sight of the concepts of `permissible' and `forbidden.' We only talk about what is pragmatic and worthwhile for the sake of strengthening Yiddishkeit — and what is counterproductive. No one asks any more if something is muttar or osur."

To Salvage What One Can

Maran did not approve of kano'us which was satisfied with protest alone and did not follow it up with action.

When the confidant of the Satmar Rebbe visited Eretz Yisroel, he asked Maran what message he could take back in his name.

R' Amram Blau interrupted and began spouting vehemently that one must shout and protest against those wicked people in this state who were determined to uproot our religion . . .

Maran spoke up and said, "I would like to remind you of the Chofetz Chaim's famous parable about the widow who was selling apples in the market. Along came a hooligan and overturned her basket, sending her wares flying in all directions. The temptation was too great for many people, who grabbed what they could and ran off.

"Along came a wise person and said to the unfortunate woman who was standing there helplessly, weeping in vain, `Why are you standing there? This is not the time to weep. Hurry up and gather as many of your apples as you can while there are still some left. If not, soon they will all be gone!'"

Maran concluded by saying, "Tell the Rebbe that the situation here in Eretz Yisroel is one where everybody is grabbing. We also have to try to grab whatever we can, while we still can. My advice to the Rebbe is that he send as much money as he can to Eretz Yisroel so that we can save as many Jewish souls as possible" ("Uvdos Vehanhogos" in the name of R' Menachem Tzvi Berlin).

The True Aim of Zionism — to Uproot Yiddishkeit

Maran spoke to me many times at length about the danger of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel. In this context, he explained several times that the purpose of the Zionist movement and of the State was to uproot religion from the Jewish people and to transform it into a nation like all other nations.

I told him (as I have already written, I was permitted to ask questions whenever I didn't understand something and indeed, I spoke with Maran openly because I truly wished to understand his words in the clearest way possible and he acquiesced and was even pleased to elaborate) that if that is what he maintained, I believed him and accepted what he said, and that his view on the matter would serve me as a cornerstone for our outlook.

Still, I found it difficult to understand his words. In my humble opinion those who had conceived the Zionist ideology simply wanted power. There is a natural desire for power shared by all nations and political leaders. The reason why they fought against religion, I posited, was because they feared our numbers; they didn't want us to have a deciding voice that would get in the way of their dominance. (And we do see in our times that the chareidi public is a factor to contend with by dint of its numbers.) That is the only reason why they are opposed to religion. But to say that their very credo, their ultimate purpose, is to uproot religion — that I found difficult to digest.

One time after I stated this opinion, Maran rose to his full stature and said, "R' Shlomo, I see that you are unable to accept my view. Believe me, if it were permitted I would put on a tallis, don my tefillin, and swear that the truth is exactly as I state it!"

If that is the case, I said, then I most certainly believe Maran even if I personally cannot understand why you maintain it to be so.

Yiddishkeit is Built with Mesirus Nefesh

When the famous battle for Torah education for immigrant children was being waged at the onset of statehood and Torah Jewry fought fiercely against secularism, there were representatives on behalf of P'eylim who succeeded in infiltrating the settlements and they discovered religious immigrants who had a right, guaranteed by the State, to demand a religious education for their children. They, of course, urged them to do so.

When the Zionists learned of this, they sent their own people from house to house to threaten these new immigrants that if they insisted on religious education, they would lose all of their housing rights; they would remain quartered in flimsy shacks and would be denied work and other drastic losses.

The vehement protests of Jews in Eretz Yisroel and abroad brought about a compromise which seemed to be a heady victory for the chareidim and for P'eylim. Mr. Moshe Nissim, son-in- law of the chairman of the Moshav Movement Mr. Koren, disclosed to the heads of P'eylim that the whole battle of secularization on the part of the leftist government was for fear that when the chareidim established their independent institutions, all of the votes of the parents and family members would go to the religious parties. This was the reason why they were so opposed to providing religious education to immigrant children.

The uncompromising struggle of the chareidim in Eretz Yisroel and abroad was causing considerable damage to the government's image and it was, therefore, prepared to establish its own special institutions for religious immigrant youth. "The children will learn only Torah, as you wish, and from a political aspect there will be no harm done to the government because the religious public will continue to vote for it, since it will be providing the facilities for those religious schools . . ."

This was, admittedly, a tremendous breakthrough for the religious public in the terms of those days. The obdurate enemy was prepared himself to establish for us the religious schools we wanted in which only Torah subjects would be learned, and they would even support those very schools.

The staff in the P'eylim offices was exuberant. But it was unanimously decided that we must first hear Maran's final ruling in the matter, for he was the one who stood at the helm of all the battles in those days. He had invested all of his energy, his heart and soul, for the sake of those children.

HaGaon Hatzaddik R' Shalom Schwadron zt'l was among those who went to present the momentous question before Maran. Maran listened to everything very intently, as well as to the deliberations that naturally accompanied this breakthrough on the part of the ruling Israeli government. Finally, he said:

"Let me tell you a parable. A father and his young son were walking along a road, when they came to a thick forest inhabited by wild animals. Suddenly, the father realized that his son was no longer with him. He began to search for him frantically, calling his name at the top of his voice, `Chaim'ke! Chaim'ke!' He was very fearful, for danger lurked behind every tree.

"Suddenly, an answering voice echoed back, `Abba. Abba, I'm here. But I can't come to you right now. I just caught a Cossack and I mustn't let him go!'

"`Chaim'ke! Leave the Cossack be, immediately!' shouted the father. `Forget about him and come back to me or else who knows what will happen to you! You'll get hopelessly lost!'

"`But Abba, I can't let go of the Cossack. You see, it's not me who's holding him. He's holding me! He's got me in his grip and he won't let me go! Before, I thought that I had caught him, but now I see that it's the other way round. He's got me in his iron grip.' "

When Maran finished his penetrating and incisive parable, there was no need to explain the nimshol. The lesson's application was crystal clear and their question needed no further answer.

Maran then raised his eyes, looked at us and said, "Yiddishkeit is not built with money. Yiddishkeit is built with mesirus nefesh."

When we left Maran's house, R' Shalom began dancing with joy and said, "Ashreinu! How fortunate we are and how goodly our lot that we have gedolei hador who watch over us!" (Heard from HaRav Menachem Cohen shlita)

R' Mordechai Weinstein zt'l from Haifa told that Maran once said to him, "Mapam [the extreme leftist party] saved the yeshiva world." He then explained that a suggestion was once raised that the state support the yeshivos from its own budget but Mapam was virulently opposed and the idea was dismissed. It was this opposition that saved the yeshiva world.

The Zionists — a Band of Robbers

Maran's battle against the Zionists and the Zionist establishment was not any less uncompromising and extreme than that of Neturei Karta. But he employed different tactics. Maran considered the Zionists to be a band of thugs and not idealists, and as such, there was no point in engaging in ideological dialogues with them.

Maran's words to Neturei Karta regarding their demonstrations are often quoted. "Would you have dared demonstrate against the government in such a manner back in Russia? Why, you would have feared for your very lives! Why then, here, in Eretz Yisroel, do you demonstrate against the Zionists? It just goes to show that you believe that the Zionists wouldn't treat you as the Russian government would have. If so, then in your heart of hearts you are no more than Zionists, yourselves . . ."

Only once did Maran participate in a demonstration against the government. This was at a protest against Sherut Leumi, national service for girls. The Torah leadership of the time had ruled that this issue fell in the category of "Yehoreig ve'al ya'avor — Rather die than transgress." His participation was only after he ordered special guards be appointed to see that order prevail during the demonstration.

HaRav Yisroel Grossman shlita tells that during one of the activities in the major battle against the women's draft, he received a summons to court for certain acts he committed against the government. "Several Neturei Karta members came to my house and forcefully demanded, even threatened, that when I go to court, I should declare to the judge, `I do not recognize the authority of this court.'

"I went to Bnei Brak to Maran the Chazon Ish and asked him what to do. He replied in these words, `You know that the political atmosphere in Bnei Brak is different from that in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, the winds are so much stormier . . . You will know whom to ask . . .'

"I went to Maran HaGaon R' Yitzchok Zeev. At the time, he was suffering greatly and lay writhing in bed. Each movement caused him great pain. I asked him what to do. As soon as he heard the question, he turned over in bed and shouted aloud, `What do they want from your life? You have got to address the judge as if he were a bandit, with pleas and appeasement, and do whatever is in your power to save your own skin in the trial!" (Uvdos Vehanhogos leVeis Brisk).


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