HaRav Nosson Zochovsky has accompanied Degel HaTorah as a member of the Vaadas HaRabbonim from its very inception and up to this very day.
To what extent did HaRav Shach regard the obligation to involve Torah leadership in all communal matters?
The answer deals with two parts: the initiative of establishing an organization, which would probably be the initiative of communal activists. This is how many projects undertaken in the past arose, with the outstanding example being the establishment of the World Agudath Israel, initiated and founded by askonim with the blessings of Torah leaders of that period and their hearty endorsement. But in these cases, there arises the danger that those lay initiators will assume that they have some sort of special rights and may thus assume the mantle of leadership of the generation upon their own shoulders.
We now come to the second part: after the initial inception and its fruition, the administration must be the responsibility of gedolei Yisrael themselves. Not only must the founders submit fully to their supremacy, and not merely come to consult with the Torah leaders on occasional problems which crop up, but the very management must be directed by them throughout. Indeed, when Degel HaTorah was first established, the principle which stood out very perceptibly was that Torah leaders were fully involved in its running. It was understood that the present was not the same as the past and if, in former times, certain questions arose here and there, now there are fateful and very decisive problems cropping up daily, partially because the [heretical] Knesset convenes every day. (We quote the phrase and comment of the Chazon Ish: "I can only relax when the Knesset is out for an extended recess.") This is why we cannot suffice with an occasional visit in the homes of the gedolim, for a photo or a complimentary and perfunctory respectful visit. Rather, new decisions must be arrived at daily, which is why Maran demanded that Torah leadership be involved in every single issue involving the public.
How did the format of involvement which HaRav Shach envisioned express the fact that the movement/organization was being managed through his ongoing involvement?
The first thing was the manner in which the movement was initially established. This took place motzei Yom Kippur of 5749, when it was actually decided to create Degel HaTorah. It is formidable to realize that this was conceived and reached fruition right after Yom Kippur, after HaRav Shach must surely have taken into consideration the upcoming national elections scheduled for Cheshvan.
At first, they only spoke about organizing the bulk of bnei Torah, and only afterwards to firmly establish the lay involvement answerable to Torah leadership. HaRav Shach decided and determined that a full fledged political party be organized. On the very morrow, he called up and declared very emphatically, as my colleague HaRav Zemel noted, that before announcing a major gathering, one must first convene a meeting of the roshei yeshivos to sit down and come to definite clarity on the subject. To this end, he asked his son-in-law, HaRav Bergman, and myself, to invite all the roshei yeshiva to a meeting to take place on the following afternoon in the Ponovezh kollel, even though this would be the very beginning of the bein hazmanim intercession. We did so on short order but they all showed up.
At this meeting, he spoke about the urgency of bnei Torah being involved in all matters of the chareidi public. He began to talk about `Bishas mekansim pazer, ubishas hamefazrin kanes' noting that it is obvious that we cannot rely on others. Although he only spoke in general, it was understood that even in material matters, we are obligated to be under our own authority.
We were very surprised to see an almost full attendance of some 80 roshei yeshiva, who were asked to sign their consent to the practical realization of the idea. They all complied. I remember how the overall response was full-hearted to comply to the wish of the Rosh Hayeshiva. The idea was a basis upon which the movement would stand, that is, that it remain under the ongoing direction of our gedolei haTorah and the roshei yeshivos.
Then, at the major rally in Binyanei Ha'Uma, where HaRav Shach announced the establishment of Degel HaTorah, it was unanimously understood that the bottom line of this idea was that bnei Torah stand independent, under the guidance of gedolei hador and the roshei yeshivos. This was not only a transitory decision but one for all future time.
Why did it seem that such a message apply not only to those times but for all time?
Being that the public was growing, as were its many needs which had to be supplied, and that we did not follow the path of Neturei Karta but are necessarily involved [on the general scene vis a vis the Israeli government], under such circumstances it is understood that every group and its structure has its own viewpoint of what is primary and what, secondary. We, the Torah-true public, has its primary priority of strengthening Torah, yeshivos and strengthening Torah communities, and only in this manner will the primacy of Torah and its honor be preserved and upgraded.
And we see that ever since, the communities of bnei Torah have flourished everywhere. We still remember those times when avreichim who wished to establish a minyan, had to seek out a basement in a shul of baalebatim, which was not easily found. Today, boruch Hashem, every city and every neighborhood boasts its own impressive batei medrash and Torah centers where they can pray according to the yeshivishe nussach. This was his concern in those days, that such dwelling places for Hashem and for Torah be established under the management of avreichim who could appoint their own Rav to suit their Torah inclinations. This is the power of the public which today is even more vital than in the past and this is what HaRav Shach envisioned in his holy sight and steered us in the right direction, not only as a testament for future generations but as a necessary priority for all generations.
If we seek to understand how important it was for our great captain and leader, at the very decisive moments of the establishment of the movement, that it be totally administered by gedolei Torah and roshei yeshiva alone, we are privy to hear HaRav Nosson's candid reminiscences of rare details of what took place immediately after the news that, despite all predictions, Degel HaTorah had actually made it into the Knesset, at first with only one representative, when it was unclear whether they might gain a second MK.
On the morning following the election results, HaRav Nosson tells us that HaRav Shach said to the chairman of Degel HaTorah, Rabbi Avraham Ravitz: "You are going to make coalitionary negotiations with the government, with the full understanding that the roshei yeshiva must also be involved in all the details."
When Maran spoke to me and asked that I accompany him, I said that I deliver a weekly shiur and am unable to become involved in this. In his characteristic forthrightness, he said, "Take a taxi and you'll be able to do both."
When we met with the candidate for the prime ministerial post, Shimon Peres, Rav Ravitz and HaRav Deutsh, HaRav Bornstein and myself, Rav Ravitz immediately addressed the future prime minister and said in his authoritative manner, "These are the rabbonim who come to manage the affairs of the young party which has been established on daas Torah. Sit with them first while I leave the room. Whatever decisions are arrived at between you is acceptable to me and I will execute them accordingly."
This was an occasion of genuine Kiddush Hashem. Eyebrows were raised at the presence of these Torah figures in the chamber of political negotiations. All those present immediately understood that this was the harbinger a new style of politics. And thus, we remained in the room and discussed all the topics with the prime minister, as were followed up in all the ensuing stages of the negotiations.