Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Shevat 5765 - February 2, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Memoirs of HaRav Shlomo Lorincz, Shlita

Chapter Four

Shlomo Hamelech informed us of the great value of the tzaddik. He said that a person should obligate himself to inquire after their deeds and tell their praises, and also to seek out their honor, for this is beneficial for one's thought processes. There is no doubt that one who is always praising tzaddikim does so from the depths of his good heart and benevolent nature, and therefore, whatever he tells emerges sweet as honey.

Therefore, Shlomo Hamelech urged us to seek out their praises. The more one does so, the more exalted one becomes in the process; it is considered an honor for himself. The more, the better and the sweeter. He even termed it a middas chassidim which elevates a person to the highest levels. Of such a one is it said, "Hashem, who shall dwell in Your tents; who shall reside upon Your holy mountain? One who walks unquestioningly... Despised in His eyes is disgusted... and those who fear Hashem does he honor" (Rabbenu Bechaye, Parshas Vayishlach).

Amalgamating the Ranks in the Rabbinical World

In the previous chapter we described how Maran the Chazon Ish ztvk'l engraved within the minds of the chareidi public, that is the Torah-true average person, the tremendous danger inherent in the Sherut Leumi national service for women. [In pursuit of the secular ideal of universal military service, some people proposed that women do social service in lieu of military service. This was called "Sherut Leumi" and it was one of the issues on which the Chazon Ish fought very hard — against the secular effort to force all women to do some form of national service.]

The battle to win over the public was not only in the midst of the lay folk, but great effort was invested in the rabbinical circles as well, to convince rabbis in influential positions of the paramount importance of the issue, and the severity of the prohibition. He influenced them to identify with him in his fight against Sherut Leumi and not to stumble into the pitfall of condoning or supporting it in any way.

This attitude was somewhat surprising to me. Did we have to be concerned about rabbis from our own very camp?

Upon one occasion that I met with Maran, at the very height of the controversy, I presented this question to him. He replied, "I am indeed very concerned and afraid. I know very well the realistic condition of the rabbis of our day and I know that I have grounds to fear."

Dependence upon the Establishment

Maran was well aware of the real situation. The leaders of the Mizrachi ruled the world of the rabbinate without any limits or bounds. The first condition for receiving a rabbinical appointment was to be a card-carrying party member; one had to own a membership booklet of Hapoel Mizrachi.

A great measure of wisdom and sagacity was required to convince the rabbis to support Maran's position and to come out openly against the government. I remember that upright man, R' Eliyahu Raful shlita who, together with additional avreichim, went from one rabbi to the next upon a mission from the Chazon Ish, carrying out a campaign to convince them of the danger and evil in Sherut Leumi. Thank G-d, their efforts bore fruit.

But the Mizrachi people did not sit idly by. They too exerted their influence in every way possible upon rabbis — and upon the Chief Rabbinate — not to condemn Sherut Leumi. They were unsuccessful, since the Chief Rabbinate did ban it in the end. They even attempted to convince the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah to remove its sanction against the law. A delegation of Mizrachi leaders which visited the president of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, Maran HaGaon R' Isser Zalman Meltzer ztvk'l, tried to win him over with the argument that if a ban was issued against Sherut Leumi, perhaps Mapai would carry out its infamous threat of drafting yeshiva students.

When this threat was reported to Maran R' Yitzchok Zeev Soloveitchik ztvk'l, he said that we must under no circumstances permit something that was completely forbidden by the Torah even for the sake of saving the yeshivos. "Torah can, possibly, exist without yeshivos. But you can't have yeshivos without Torah."

We find that in the times of the Churban, the kohanim went up to the roof of the Beis Hamikdosh and threw the keys up into the sky. This expressed in so many words their feeling that since they were unable to fulfill their obligations, they considered themselves divested of the responsibility. Let Hashem take over from here, the gesture said, in effect. And thereupon, a hand stretched down from Heaven and caught the keys. This means that their position had been valid; the kohanim were correct in relinquishing the keys since they could no longer be the proper custodians of the Mikdosh.

If we can only maintain the yeshivos by forbidden means, we are better off acquitting ourselves of the obligation that the Torah "shall not be forgotten from your seed."

The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah was not fazed by threats and issued a unanimous, severe prohibition against Sherut Leumi. When Poalei Agudath Israel, which was an offshoot from Aguda, grumbled against this, the Moetzes ousted it from the ranks of Aguda.

Bribery through Kovod

Here too, Maran had the upper hand in the battle. The Chief Rabbi issued an open letter in which he expressed the rabbinate's opposition to the bill of Sherut Leumi.

There were instances where Maran went out of his way to influence rabbis to join him in battle. Characteristic of this is the following story:

One evening Maran asked me to accompany him to the bar mitzva of the grandson of one of the elder rabbinical figures of the generation who was known to exert much influence, especially in the circles of the Chief Rabbinate. The bar mitzva was to take place outside of Bnei Brak and Maran stayed there for a relatively long time, longer than was his usual custom.

When we left, I expressed my surprise, to which he replied, "You know very well that we are in the midst of a confrontation on Sherut Leumi. The bar mitzva boy's grandfather is a person with much clout in this matter. I wanted to give him the bribery of honoring him with my presence to assure that he remain on my side."

Maran invested tremendous stores of energy in convincing as many rabbis as he could to see his position, and to get various rabbinical bodies to join the public protest of prohibition. He asked every beis din in the country — the Eida Chareidis, the Beis Din of R' Tzvi Pesach Frank zt'l, the Beis Din of the Sephardic community, the Beis Din of the Iraqi community and the Syrian Beis Din — to have it announced in all of the synagogues of their various followings, right after Kol Nidrei of Yom Kippur, that it was forbidden for young girls to volunteer for Sherut Leumi, and that this prohibition had the status of "Let them be killed rather than transgress..."

I and all those who were involved in the battle against the law of Sherut Leumi thought that the bulk of our time and efforts should be devoted to influencing the secular Knesset members to vote against the bill. As for the rabbis, we had no doubts that they would identify with the Chazon Ish. But reality proved that had he not expended that prodigious energy in influencing the rabbis, we would not have been far from a situation where many prestigious, influential rabbis would have found some way to allow and support the national service for girls.


The mobilization of the rabbonim for this battle involved personal risk. The call to oppose Sherut Leumi was considered by Ben Gurion as a virtual act of treason against the state and it demanded great courage and self-sacrifice in order to sign upon a public statement denouncing this national service. This is excellently borne out by the story of R' Yisroel Grossman shlita, who visited Torah leaders in order to have them sign a public outcry against the Sherut. I would like to note that despite the fact that this story was known to me before, I asked Rabbi Grossman to repeat it to me firsthand so that I could record it authentically for Yated readers.

This public statement, which was signed by four gedolei Yisroel, namely: Maran HaGaon R' Isser Zalman Meltzer; HaGaon R' Reuven Bengis; the Gaaved of Tchebin, and HaGaon R' Tzvi Pesach Frank ztvk'l, declared:

"Since we have already stated our position, daas Torah, regarding the draft of girls, which is an accessory (avrizraihu) to one of the three cardinal sins, the ruling of which is known that one must submit oneself to death rather than transgress it, and since the government stands to institute a law obligating Jewish daughters by force to present themselves for the draft of civil national service outside the framework of the military, we therefore publicly state our position and halachic ruling that this prohibition against the mobilization of women refers also to Sherut Leumi in its full severity.

"We appeal to all Jewish daughters and we obligate you by power of the Torah to gather and stand up for your lives, to be an example for all of Jewry like Chana and her seven sons, and like the four hundred boys and girls who were taken into captivity for shameful purposes and who cast themselves into the sea, to oppose with all your might the kidnappers who have risen against you. You are commanded hereby to choose to be imprisoned in jail and accept upon yourselves to suffer poverty and suffering and thereby to sanctify the name of Heaven, as it is written, `For Your sake have we been killed every day' (Gittin 57)."

R' Yisroel Grossman tells, "In the beginning, we went to get the signature of the Raavad of Jerusalem, Maran HaGaon R' Reuven Zelig Bengis zt'l. After he signed, he turned to his wife and asked her to prepare some warm clothes for him since he was afraid that due to his signing, he would be forced to sit in jail.

"From there we went to Botei Broide to the home of Maran R' Isser Zalman Meltzer zt'l, author of Avnei Nezer. Before signing on the announcement, he called to his Rebbetzin and said, `Baila Hinda, I am about to sign on a "Declaration of Treason" against the government. I expect to be imprisoned because of my signing and since it will probably be cold and damp in jail, I beg you to prepare some warm clothing lest I catch cold or pneumonia.' We tried to reassure him and said to him, `They would not imprison you. Their chutzpah and madness has not yet reached such proportions.' But the Rebbetzin also had something to say in the matter. `Whoever signs the statement will surely sit in jail, and the Rov has weak lungs and would not be able to stay in prison. He must not sign...' And so, having no choice, the Rov gave us his hand in blessing and wished us good luck. `May Hashem send His succor to the Jewish people.'

"Maran (HaRav Isser Zalman) accompanied us to the entrance of the building and before parting, the one who accompanied me said, `I beg of you, we need a yeshua gedola... and we still haven't gotten your signature on this matter...' Thereupon, Maran retraced his steps, went back up to his house and said to the Rebbetzin, `You have no right to intervene in matters of Heavenly portent, just as I do not interfere in matters of household management...' He thereupon took out his pen and signed.

"The Gaon of Tchebin added his name subsequently, as well as HaGaon R' Tzvi Pesach Frank. All of them were fully aware that their signature was a virtual declaration of war against the state since it was a public act of defiance.

"I took the letter with the signatures to the Chorev press and asked them to print up hundreds of copies. The owner agreed to print the poster on strict condition and warning that if any government representative came to ask who had ordered the posters, that he was to send them to me and that I would bear the cost of any fine. I willingly agreed and within the hour, the walls and billboards of Jerusalem were plastered with the directive, `Yeihoreig ve'al yaavor — Better Death than to Transgress' in a vehement outcry against the government heads."

The reactions were not long in coming. Like a swift arrow, the Interior Minister dispatched an official complaint, a she'ilta, to Ben Gurion to demand some official position, to inquire whether this could be termed treason, and how to respond.

"The reactions snowballed. The police appeared immediately at the printer and shortly afterward, several officers came to my house and took me to the Russian Compound [the main Jerusalem police station]. This became known to several Jerusalem askonim and their response was not long in coming, either. A cab left the home of Maran R' Reuven Bengis and picked up all the rabbonim geonim who had signed upon the declaration. They went straight to the Russian Compound, demanding to be imprisoned instead of me.

"They came before the Police Commissioner and begged to be imprisoned, for they were the ones who had signed upon the poster which declared a rebellion against the government. `R' Yisroel Grossman was only our messenger,' they said. `We are the criminals. We're the ones who should be imprisoned.'

"The Police Commissioner chuckled and said, `Even if he is your messenger and representative, the rule is that, `One cannot be an agent for a sinful thing (Ein shaliach ledevar aveiroh).' Don't think that I am the commissioner for nothing. I am not such a fool as to put you in jail. I am not looking for trouble. Even if having imprisoned Rabbi Grossman will cause me trouble, I know I have no choice. This is a clear order issued personally by Ben Gurion.'

"In the end, through their influence, I was released on bail until the trial. On the following day, the newspapers headlines shouted, `A delegation of 450 years visited the Jerusalem police commissioner: five rabbis each of whom is past ninety years of age, came to the commissioner asking to be imprisoned.' "

At this opportunity, I would like to rectify an error that was made in the previous chapter. When I related that HaGaon R' Yisroel Grossman sat in jail for the `crime' of demonstrating against Chillul Shabbos, that was not correct. He was imprisoned because of printing and distributing the aforementioned public outcry against Sherut Leumi.

A Historic Demonstration

The battle reached its climax at the mass demonstration organized in Jerusalem on the tenth of Av, 5713 (1953). This rally, which was organized by R' Menachem Porush, was attended by the top echelon of Torah leadership, headed by Maran R' Yosef Zeev of Brisk, Maran the Gaaved of Tchebin, HaGaon HoAdmor R' Aharon of Belz, and HaGaon the Beis Yisroel of Gur, who never participated in any kind of demonstration. The Chazon Ish also planned to come to Jerusalem and attend, but at the last moment he was prevented from doing so by a tremendous attack of weakness. Maran R' Isser Zalman Meltzer was also absent, being incapacitated by illness. Maran R' Yosef Zeev made his participation conditional on the assigning of a great number of `ushers' responsible for order and decorum. And indeed, the rally took place without any outbursts or outcries, and everything went smoothly. There were no speeches at this rally, only prayers to Hashem to rescind this evil decree.

The Mizrachi People Persist in Saying: Wherefore All this Tumult?

At the time that this issue of national service for girls was at its height, there appeared, much to the distress and chagrin of gedolei Torah and the general chareidi public, a public announcement posted throughout the streets of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and other cities throughout the country, under the title, "Wherefore All this Tumult?" (borrowing the phrase from Tehillim: Lomo Rogshu). The poster was addressed to "Shlomei Emunei Yisroel — Faithful Jewish Believers" and was signed by "The Faithful of Torah Jewry" but everyone knew that the Mizrachi was behind it.

I would like to quote parts of this public cry: "The State of Israel is about to bring this week before the Knesset the law of National Service, according to which religious girls will not have to wear military uniform or board in military camps, nor will they be subservient to any military authority. They will only be called upon to serve in immigration camps, maabarot, and to do agricultural training, and to serve only in religious agricultural settlements. And if this is all, wherefore the big outcry? Is it not an inflated overreaction? Why should they say of us that we are using the excuse of religion to shirk our duty to the Jewish people and the Jewish state? Why should they say in the streets that our girls are defectors? Let us remove this brand from our daughters forevermore! Let our girls rally to do their national service!"

This public announcement was a virtual rebellion against Torah leadership, including against the Chief Rabbinate. I have no doubt that it was one of the factors in swaying the government against the chareidi public and causing them to take a firm stand against Torah leadership in their battle against Sherut Leumi.

The public was stunned, but not so the Chazon Ish!

Maran knew and understood the winds blowing within Mizrachi and their Knesset representatives, and thus he had anticipated and expected in advance what they were capable of doing when the question of Sherut Leumi came to a head.

When the bill was presented for its first reading in the Knesset, the representatives of the Mizrachi and Poalei Mizrachi abstained from voting for it. MK Warhaftig declared from the platform of the Knesset that, "While the Chief Rabbinate did not issue a prohibition against it, still it expressed its opinion that we must not support this law, for it greatly fears the repercussions of the law." Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Nurok of the Mizrachi also declared in the Knesset, "With regard to religious issues, we follow the leadership of the Chief Rabbinate, and it is our duty not to vote for this law." (Knesset records, vol. 41, p. 3891)

Maran, however, was skeptical whether the Mizrachi people would honor their word throughout the legislative process; as was proven later, he was right!

On the fifteenth of Elul, 5713, the bill was brought to the Knesset for a third and final reading. The leader of Hapoel Hamizrachi announced at the time of the discussion that took place in the Knesset: "We will vote for the bill, and this is in line with decisions made at the moetzes HaRav Harashi (the Chief Rabbinate Council)." To be sure, this announcement did not tally with the truth. Only one MK from the Mizrachi ranks, R' Eliyohu Moshe Genichovsky z'l, did not vote for the law.

The chareidi public was shocked by Mizrachi's treason. People who were involved in public matters, who knew what was going on and what people were saying, never dreamed that representatives of a religious party would vote for a law that all gedolei Torah agreed was in the category of "Better to die than to transgress." And when it actually happened, they were at a loss to believe it.

"Where Chizuk is Pointless, There is No Need for Cooperation"

It is most amazing to see how Maran was able to second-guess so clearly and lucidly what Mizrachi would do — and this dozens of years in advance.

When the suggestion was first presented to merge Agudath Israel together with Mizrachi (in the 1930s), there were people within Aguda who leaned towards the idea. Maran HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky ztvk'l then brought the question to the Chazon Ish. This was his reply:

"To contemplate a merger? Even concerning such major issues like Shabbos, when it comes to discussing strengthening it, we are confronted with obstacles, like the author of Hadas Vehachaim, who maintains that one must simply look away when it comes to milking on Shabbos since it is something that the public cannot keep. The same applies to working on Shabbos in the ports, and with holding up the water supply and again with the electric company. They even maintain that in times of hardship (beshe'as hadechak) one must look away when it comes to harvesting on Shabbos during the peak season. [And they hold that] there is no point in getting into arguments over the desecration of Shabbos, so as to preserve peace. Where there is no place for chizuk, there is no place for cooperation, either. And the same applies to kashrus [where they maintain] that one must not be overly meticulous about whether what one puts into one's mouth is absolutely kosher. It is enough for them that the food has a stamp of supervision from some rabbi who is supported by the community ... And so forth in many things" (Kovetz Igros I, letter 98).

The Chazon Ish's view was clear-cut: If the Mizrachi is not interested in strengthening itself in every aspect of mitzvah- observance, then there is no place whatsoever for cooperation with them. And his position prevailed: Agudath Israel did not join with the Mizrachi. We do not want to imagine what would have happened had they, indeed, merged with them sixty years ago.

The Chazon Ish's Meeting with David Ben Gurion

When we deal with the battle regarding Sherut Leumi, we cannot overlook the famous meeting of the Chazon Ish with the prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Maran did not initiate the meeting, nor did he pin any great hopes on it. And when he was asked by Ben Gurion's secretary about the possibility of the former being allowed to meet with him, he replied evasively, "The door is always open..."

It should be remembered that Ben Gurion was then not only the prime minister who had the first and last word in anything of importance. He was also a most esteemed public figure, and as a result of their meeting, the Chazon Ish gained general public acclaim. Up till then, he was not known to the man in the secular street.

Shortly after the meeting, Maran revealed to me what had actually taken place between them.

Among other things, Maran told me that throughout the conversation, he maintained an approach of "giving a slap, and then a pat." A slap — meaning criticism — because he had it coming to him, and then an encouraging pat because Ben Gurion was, after all, his guest and he did not want him to feel uncomfortable in his home. One has obligations towards a guest, and even if it was necessary to administer a well- placed "slap," Maran weighed the matter very carefully from its halachic aspects.

Regarding Ben Gurion's question of how to bridge the wide gap between the two factions of the Yishuv, the chareidim and the secular public, and to effect a workable coexistence, Maran replied with a parable brought from Chazal (Sanhedrin 32b):

"Two wagons, one heavily laden and the other empty, meet upon a narrow path [some say, bridge]. Who must make way for whom? It makes sense that the empty one should turn aside and let the full one go first. Our wagon is full of Torah and mitzvos which have been piled upon it for millennia, ever since the giving of the Torah at Sinai. As for your wagon, it is empty, for you only began to load it [with Zionism] fifty years ago. If so, and if you are truly looking for a solution, then reason dictates that you step aside and give us the right of way.

"Our wagon is truly piled high with Torah, mitzvos, guarding kashrus and Shabbos. Your wagon, luckily, is empty. Your ideology it would seem does not obligate eating davka treif, or davka desecrating the Shabbos. Since, in this sense, your wagon is empty, you can defer to our approach."

And this was his encouraging "pat."

After Maran told me the contents of his conversation with Ben Gurion, I wanted to hear what Ben Gurion's impressions were of the meeting. When I approached him, the latter said, "I was very impressed by the wisdom of the Chazon Ish. Not only have I never met a man as wise as he, but simply, I never imagined that a human being could even reach the level of wisdom that he has."

Ben Gurion repeated the course of the conversation exactly as I had heard it from Maran, and when I told him what I had heard from him about his method of administering a `slap' and then a `pat,' he said, "When I was there, I didn't even notice it. But now that you mention it, I can confirm that this is exactly how the meeting progressed."

This is something to ponder over.

Maran was at the height of a difficult battle in which he was investing all of his energy and strength. Opposite him sat a man who had formulated, planned and was about to execute the very decree which Maran regarded as, "A decree to wrench every heart." Maran fulfilled the commandment of reproof and was not afraid to express the bare, unembellished truth. But neither did he forget for a moment that Ben Gurion was a guest in his home and that the attribute of hospitality obligated him to make him feel comfortable and leave with a good feeling.

Last Chance — a Personal Letter

A short while after Ben Gurion's visit, Maran asked me in what further way it was possible still to act. Was there any direction that had not yet been tried?

I told him that in my opinion, it might be beneficial to send a letter in which gedolei Torah appealed directly to Ben Gurion, for words said orally did not have the same impact as the written word.

Maran asked me who, in my opinion, should sign such a letter. I replied: Maran himself, and the Gaon of Brisk.

He replied, "Your suggestion is partially acceptable to me; I will sign, but we will not ask the Brisker Rov to sign." To my sign of surprise, he explained, "This letter cannot be totally devoid of a smattering of flattery. And Maran the Brisker Rov, is incapable of signing upon a letter that is even slightly tainted with flattery."

Upon a later occasion, I had the opportunity to tell the Brisker Rov what Maran had then said. He nodded affirmatively.

The letter was sent, signed by the Chazon Ish. It stated:

"I am inclined to believe that, imbued with the admirable trait of freedom of conscience, the Prime Minister must be feeling pangs of remorse in instituting the obligatory military service for girls through Sherut Leumi, lest this strike against the dictates of conscience of a group or individual. This emboldens me to express my deep distress before you for fear of this decree, and to ask of you, the Prime Minister, to forgo the plan... Your withdrawal will appear as the product of your delicate sensitivities to the pain of the religious people and their conscientious objection. This shall be your show of honor, Prime Minister, and your glory. It shall be your glory as a human being."

Upon a different occasion, after Ben Gurion's visit to the Chazon Ish, when his final decision was publicized not to give in to the request of withdrawing the bill of Sherut Leumi, he said to me, "I fear that we will have to retire that old man."

Maran prophesied and knew what he was predicting. A short while later, Ben Gurion came to loggerheads with his colleagues in the leadership of Mapai and resigned from all of his political responsibilities and retired to Kibbutz Sde Boker.

The Law Was Passed — and Perished

It is interesting to note that the Chazon Ish said many times, and I know he repeated it to others as well, that the law of Sherut Leumi would not be carried out. When I asked him on what basis he stated this, he replied, "This is not a prophetic statement but wishful thinking."

The decree of national service for girls was not executed. The law was passed but it was never implemented. It is clear beyond any doubt that it was thanks to the bitter battle waged against it by the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and all Torah leadership, headed by the Chazon Ish, in conjunction with the Brisker Rov, who mobilized himself to the fight with all his might, as will be told in a future chapter.

The directive that Sherut Leumi was to be considered so critical as "yeihoreg ve'al ya'avor" truly shook up the chareidi world and unified them as one person with one heart to refuse and defy the law, as was declared by the chairman of Agudath Yisroel, R' Itche Meir Levin z'l, and the other Aguda Knesset representatives. "Our daughters will prefer to go to jail rather than defy the order of gedolei HaTorah."

The authorities understood full well what the practical implications were of this directive of "Better die than transgress." They realized that they could not fill the prisons in Israel with thousands of girls, and therefore, they preferred not to execute the law. Here too, Maran proved his assessment of the realistic situation when he ignored the warnings of those who argued that our chareidi public was not capable of standing up to such a stringent demand on it and would not be prepared to go to jail.

Later, when the government threw up its hands from implementing the law, the current prime minister, Moshe Sharett, revealed to me that Ben Gurion had erred in sizing up the situation. When he had begun the battle, "we thought that after we reached an agreement with P.A.I., we would be able to pass the bill, for we knew that there would be no problem with Mizrachi, and Agudath Israel by itself could not oppose it. Had we known the power of the Torah leaders who stood at the helm, we wouldn't have started up with them."

I would like to note that from 5737 (1977) when the coalition agreement was first made with Menachem Begin, Maran HaGaon R' Shach zt'l demanded that they insert a paragraph into the agreement regarding Sherut Leumi. I expressed my surprise. Had this law not already fallen by the wayside and was no longer relevant? No one would dream then of executing it, so why must we yank the ears of a sleeping dog, so to speak?

But Maran insisted that the issue be explicitly mentioned. In a few years, it was proven how right Maran was, when the High Court ordered the government to show proof why it was not enforcing the law of Sherut Leumi upon religious girls. The Likud was in a dither; they claimed that it would be impossible to impose the directive of the High Court by way of an amendment to the law, but having no choice, since there was an explicit commitment about it in the coalition agreement, the government agreed to bring the amendment to the law of Sherut Leumi to the Knesset, so that the law be implemented only when the government decided to do so.

End of Part IV of VII


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