Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Tishrei 5763 - October 2, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Portraying The Past And Ensuring The Future: HaRav Yitzchok Isaac Halevi Rabinowitz, zt'l, Author Of Doros Horishonim

by Moshe Musman and Yated Ne'eman Staff, Based on a Biographical Account by Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Rabinowitz, z'l

Part Three: His Two Bequests to Klal Yisroel


Heaven directed Rav Halevi's footsteps from Eastern to Western Europe, where he settled for the last twelve years of his life. In retrospect, he was clearly entrusted with a mission in his enforced relocation and not merely made to suffer the pain of exile. His transplantation to the hub of German Orthodoxy made two achievements possible. First the completion of his work Doros Horishonim and the strengthening of its influence, and second, the founding of Agudas Yisroel.

Interestingly, the fundamental link between the two is the main message of an appreciation of Rav Halevi by one of his closest junior colleagues and followers, Morenu Yaakov Rosenheim z'l, who wrote, "One can only appreciate what Rav Yitzchok Isaac Halevi achieved for the recognition of the true Jewish [destiny] after a thorough and basic study of his life's work, Doros Horishonim; how he guaranteed anew the foundations of the Siniatic tradition for his people, by drawing generously upon his extraordinary store of knowledge . . .

"His broad Torah knowledge did not merely open spiritual vistas; it [had concrete results] also [and] yielded a craftsman's product . . . His life's work testifies to Chazal's statement that, `Kudshoh Berich Hu, the Torah and Yisroel are One.' Together with love of Hashem and of the Torah, his heart also beat with a burning love of Klal Yisroel and with the clear awareness that the bond uniting the Creator, His Torah and the Jewish nation, will never be broken. The concept of Agudas Yisroel was born of this love . . . with his sturdy hands he wove new threads into the fabric of Jewish history . . . "

This article examines these institutions more closely.

His Magnum Opus

Rav Halevi's son Shmuel z'l writes, "From the day he set out his methodology for Doros Horishonim in 5656 (1896), he gave his pen no rest . . . he wrote the [then] five published volumes and the volume [then] in manuscript . . . in a single continuum, one could even say in a single breath. After a long period of exerted, constant writing he would take a break to edit what he had written, to polish it and to prepare it for publication.

"This massive edifice, that was erected in the relatively short space of eighteen years during which he also bore all the headaches involved in each volume's publication, was a superhuman feat even from an organizational and a practical point of view. Our amazement is compounded however, when we appreciate the work's scope and its spiritual power . . . In eighteen years, a new world, in which the Torah and wisdom of Yisroel and its history are illuminated, came into being . . . The false and spurious ideas about Am Yisroel, about Torah and about faith melt away and disappear. In their place we have clear and definitive ideas which accord honor to all of Yisroel's holy institutions and to Am Yisroel's shining past. There are many broad and general novel topics about Torah and its transmission which return them their luster and which give Yisroel back the sign of its covenant and its character as `a people that dwells alone' (Bamidbor 23:9).

"[To produce] a work of such amazing breadth is beyond the emotional and the physical resources of even a spiritual giant. His feat was only possible because the entire abundance of material was stored in his mind with complete awareness and utter clarity . . . He did not have to wrestle with the pangs of creativity. The ideas poured forth with full vigor, like an unstoppable river, swiftly assuming the necessary style, whether sharp or restrained, whether simply or poetically expressed."

In his introduction to the first volume Rav Halevi himself writes that, "I think that everyone who reads my writing will see that I only wrote down what was apparent to me after reflection and what I sincerely believe to be the true meaning. I did not force the sources to fit with my own opinions. Rather, I reined in and adjusted everything [according] to the outcome of the sources and of such proofs as I found to be inescapable. I, therefore, consider myself as a mere partner of the reader, ascertaining the subject's nature and exploring its content together with him. If the gateway is open to us, let him say himself what he sees . . ."

The Need for a Jewish History

Rav Halevi wrote in a letter that whenever a historian encounters a topic that presents numerous problems, his job is to find the single key that explains all of the problems at once, rather than offering separate responses to each of them. This is probably obvious to anyone with a background in learning Torah in depth (and Rav Halevi indeed showed his talmidim that this was also his approach to understanding sugyos). However the Jewish histories that were appearing in those times had not been written with this approach.

The whole idea of studying Jewish history as a discipline apart from Torah belonged to the new `science of Judaism' that German reform scholars had founded. The few classic works of Jewish history that had been written hitherto, such as Sefer Hakabboloh, Sheivet Yehudah and Seder Hadoros, were essentially records of names and events rather than expositions of the history of bygone ages.

Faithful Jews did not need works of history to teach them what they had been, who they were and where they were going. They lived their history in their present. Generation after generation had the names of our people's great teachers constantly on their lips, as they learned their teachings. These great men thus lived on.

The Torah's injunction to "comprehend the years of each generation" (Devorim 32:7), was fulfilled through learning the accounts and prophecies in the Chumoshim and sifrei Nevi'im and by imbibing Chazal's teachings about earlier times. The lessons thus conveyed flowed in the veins of even unlearned Jews. The prayers and the yearly calendar maintained a high awareness of the spiritual splendor of a nation serving Hashem united in the Beis Hamikdosh.

With the waning of faith and the abandonment of Torah that gathered momentum in eighteenth century Germany, came the fascination with the new learning of the gentiles and the longing for acceptance into the surrounding society. Mendelssohn's successors felt themselves to be much more German than Jewish. When they turned their attention to the study of their ancestral faith, they looked upon it as a fossilized relic, chas vesholom, rather than as a living organism.

Interpreting Jewish history with the outlook and intellectual tools of the new gentile scholarship and spirit of inquiry, they naturally grossly misunderstood and distorted it. Where there is harmony, they found conflict. Where there is unity, they found divergence. In heroic lives inspired by yearning for the Divine, they detected common, petty and selfish motivations.

They bedecked the literature that they produced with the mere feathers of truth, claiming for it the distinction of being the result of sincere and unbiased investigation, though it was nothing of the kind. Touted as such though, it was read and absorbed by many faithful Jews, upon whose hearts and minds it had an impact, often precipitating turmoil.

Doros Horishonim was written as a response to this challenge. Rav Halevi did not write in generalities. He quoted the others' arguments and showed how shallow they were. He grappled with the same facts and details that they cited, and built up his glorious edifice from the very same texts. He demonstrated that writers like Graetz and Weiss had at best only a very superficial understanding of the sources, which their alien ideas and personal prejudices had led them to distort beyond recognition.

He provided a scholarly basis for the world-view of traditional Jewry, demonstrating that it was indeed the one and only key that elucidated and accommodated all the various strands and strata of our people's history.

The Stone Sinks but the Ripples Expand

With its publication, Doros Horishonim was hailed by gedolim and Jewish leaders and educators alike. It became the definitive work on the history of ancient times. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l is quoted as having described Rav Halevi as having been, "undoubtedly the poseik acharon on the subject," recommending that, "one should pore (horoveh) over his words like those of a rishon."

Doros Horishonim's crucial role in redressing what was a critically unbalanced perspective on Jewish history cannot be overestimated. However, its length, detail and style make it unsuitable for general use; it was indeed intended for Jewish (and even non-Jewish) scholarly circles rather than for the population at large. Though Rav Halevi hoped that it would gain a foothold in the yeshivos, it is hardly a standard work today, despite the fundamental nature of the chiddushim it contains about the transmission of Torah shebe'al peh. Perhaps it is worth considering why this might be.

It is hard for us today to imagine how strongly the historical works of the irreligious writers used to attract even religious Jews as readers. It is not that we are any stronger or any better informed than our ancestors a century ago. Simply put, modernity in all its manifestations, which once posed a powerful challenge to traditional Judaism, has been shown to be hollow and devoid of any intrinsic value.

Without examining the causes, it can be said categorically that in general, contemporary Orthodox Jewry has a far sounder awareness that Judaism's essence is Torah as it has been passed down, undiluted, from generation to generation, than it had when Doros Horishonim was written. If a secular Jewish historian publicly voices a theory at variance with the Mesorah today, it is met with skepticism on the part of the religious community, rather than consternation or fascination (though it would still not be left unchallenged by religious spokesmen and writers).

More specifically, the core sections of the work contain frequent quotes from the writings of the irreligious writers, with their ideas and opinions, which, after citing them, Rav Halevi proceeds to debunk. Clearly, such a scheme was necessary at the time in order to ensure the work's effectiveness. A generalized account written from a Torah viewpoint would have been nowhere near as efficient an instrument of discredit, as actually demonstrating the baselessness of the deviant theories, which Rav Halevi's public were, sadly, already familiar with anyway. Today however, it is unlikely that anybody would recommend introducing the wider Torah public to these ideas merely in order to disprove them.

This is not to say that there is not still plenty of importance for us to learn both about and from Jewish history. We may not be faced by the particular challenge mentioned earlier, but wherever we live we are subject to many more spiritually hostile influences in daily life than even existed a hundred years ago. These exact a toll and grind away at our sense of identity. Our outward way of life is not threatened so much as our inner, spiritual equilibrium.

The message of Doros Horishonim thus remains as important today as it ever was. As Rav Halevi intended, in the century since its appearance it has provided numerous chareidi writers with inspiration and raw material, enabling them to produce more accessible works of Jewish history, in both English and Hebrew, for use in schools and for the general public.

As his son notes, Rav Halevi's output was prolific until the end of his life. He published a third part of Doros Horishonim, one section of the material that would comprise the first volume of the finished work, in 5666 (1906) with the assistance of the Society for Jewish Literature.

In 1913, the material for the next part was ready for its final editing. He planned to publish the huge fourteen hundred-page manuscript in two volumes. Although he started the job, he entrusted the completion of the task to his talmid Rav Shlomo Menachem Bamberger z'l. Those sections of the first volume appeared posthumously in 1918.

In 1907 another talmid, Dr. Binyomin Menashe Levine z'l, brought the scurrilous claims of some irreligious writers to Rav Halevi's attention. They were maintaining that he owed his outstanding success in writing about the period of the Mishnah and gemora to his undisputed expertise in the Talmud but that he would be unable to sustain it in dealing with the times covered by Tanach. By the following year, Rav Halevi had given Dr. Levine a new manuscript dealing with that period, which the latter published in Yerushalayim in 1939.

A further section of the manuscript of the first volume of Doros Horishonim was given by the Halevi family to another talmid, Dr. Moshe Auerbach z'l, for editing and arrangement. It was published as part of a memorial volume issued by Netzach in 1964, marking Rav Halevi's fiftieth yahrtzeit.

A Watchful Eye on the Jewish World

In Germany, Rav Halevi no longer lived in a major center of Jewish affairs, as he had done in Vilna. The longest trips he now made were to Frankfurt, or its neighboring resort of Bad Homburg. Nevertheless, he kept very well-informed about events and trends affecting every corner of the Jewish world. He was ever vigilant and quick to act in order to safeguard and to further the interests of religious Jewry.

In 1957 a bundle of his letters, mostly written during his years in Germany, was discovered. These provide an invaluable source of information about his extensive communal involvement during this period, the most important aspect of which was undoubtedly his central role in the founding of Agudas Yisroel.

For example, he campaigned fiercely to prevent the appointment of any candidates who he felt would be detrimental to the religious cause to influential rabbinical positions overseas. He also proposed the establishment of a post-semichoh beis hamedrash for young German rabbonim, who had completed the statutory studies that were required of them, where they could make substantial progress in their knowledge of Shas under the tutelage of an acknowledged gaon.

The crisis in Jewish leadership that had occupied Rav Halevi's attention in Vilna only worsened as time went on. In 1908 Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt'l launched the Knesses Yisroel organization, one of the precursors of the Agudah, together with Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, the Chofetz Chaim zt'l, and a number of the other gedolei Torah of Poland and Russia. In a lengthy letter to Reb Chaim Ozer, Rav Halevi expressed his joy at the founding of the new organization (actually referring to it as "the Agudah"), and set out a series of recommendations for maximizing its effectiveness. He also made some suggestions as to the content of a petition that Reb Chaim Ozer proposed submitting to the Russian government asking it to reexamine its longstanding animosity towards the Empire's Jewish subjects.

His keen awareness of the great damage done by the popular writings of the maskilim which went unchallenged by anything similar produced by the religious community and which were lapped up by the Jewish masses, is also apparent in the same letter, where he addressed Reb Chaim Ozer's plans to start publishing a newspaper. His comments on the subject are worth quoting in full, because of their enduring relevance.

He wrote, "With regard to the production of a periodical too, it should be clarified that this ought not to be a small scale operation, publishing something periodically as a rebuff to those who malign us. We ought to set ourselves the weighty aim of removing the entire literature from the hands of [the] thirty -- at the most forty -- layabouts who are devoid of any and all knowledge, whose entire power derives from the fact that they more or less know how to speak correct Hebrew. With this [ability] alone, they ravage every good portion in [Klal] Yisroel. They express themselves on topics of which they have no knowledge and also make public pronouncements about how [Klal] Yisroel ought to behave, despite the fact that the whole crowd together is not worthy of leading the smallest town.

"[Granted], this great program will not be realized in a day, nor in a year. However, by publicizing it as our intention, those who fear Heaven will get used to the idea and that itself will have an immediate beneficial effect, for being aware of a problem is half the job [of overcoming it] and has an immediate effect.

"The following two points are the greatest tragedy of [the Jews in] Russia today. [First,] the fact that until now, those who fear Heaven and observe Torah and mitzvos have only been voters, while those chosen for every position of communal leadership are those who forsake Hashem and abandon Torah and mitzvos. And second, the former group have [hitherto] only been readers, while those who write have only been from the latter group.

"Therefore, with the imminent unification be'ezras Hashem of the broad community of Torah observant Jewry, [we] ought to have these two aims: that the observant should not just be the choosers but the chosen as well; they should not just be the readers but the writers and those who wield influence [as well]. Then daylight will truly break for them and things will be transformed."

Though Knesses Yisroel was to be short-lived, Rav Halevi hoped that its successor, Agudas Yisroel, would do much to improve this state of affairs.

For Torah Chinuch in Eretz Yisroel

The country outside Europe which occupied Rav Halevi most was Eretz Yisroel. In 1907, the Frankfurt-based Union for Orthodox Jewish Interests in Germany (Freie Vereinigung fur die Interessen Orthodoxen Judentum in Deutschland), which had been founded in 1885 by HaRav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch zt'l, underwent reorganization so as to encompass the interests of all of German Jewry. The Union's vice- president and moving spirit was Morenu Yaakov Rosenheim z'l, while its president was Rav Salomon Breuer zt'l, Rav Hirsch's son-in-law and spiritual heir.

Though he was first asked to serve on the Committee for Literature and Publications, the work that most interested Rav Halevi was that done by the Committee for Eretz Yisroel. Shortly afterward, he was appointed to head the subcommittee on educational activities in Eretz Yisroel. In one of his letters he mentions that he would prefer a scheduled Union meeting to be early in the week, enabling him to return from Frankfurt to Hamburg for Shabbos. However, he writes, were it necessary to come at a different time, "I would do that too, for there is nothing I would not do for Torah in Eretz Yisroel."

Interestingly, he disagreed with the proposed name: the Torah Committee. He argued that the irreligious Jewish organizations such as the Alliance would most probably refuse to have dealings with a body that sought to advance Torah education. He suggested a name like the Committee for Cultural Matters in Eretz Yisroel, with its implication that it addressed issues that were of concern to both sides.

From Rav Halevi's correspondence, it is clear that he was the Union's prime mover in all matters relating to chinuch in Eretz Yisroel, though Reb Yaakov Rosenheim controlled the finances. (This was their first collaboration; it revealed Reb Yaakov's great talents to Rav Halevi and led him to regard his junior colleague as a suitable candidate for leading the new organization that he was considering.)

Rav Halevi shrewdly opposed the suggestion of some of his colleagues that they work privately to raise funds to augment the meager budget with which his committee started out. Notwithstanding the supreme importance of its work, he insisted that all monies should pass through the official channels, in order to preserve the Union's organizational integrity.

The Yerushalayim-based Shomrei Torah network operated a number of schools in the new settlements. Among the organization's heads were HaRav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, HaRav Chaim Berlin and HaRav Zerach Braverman zt'l.

Burdened with huge debts, Shomrei Torah appealed to Yaakov Rosenheim for assistance. In Shevat 5668 (1908), Rav Halevi addressed several questions to the heads of Shomrei Torah, "many of whom are my old friends and acquaintances," as he noted elsewhere.

He asked: In which "colonies" had they opened schools? What could be done in the future to attract all the residents to the schools? What were the programs of both limudei kodesh and chol? If secular subjects were taught, who were the teachers? Had they managed to find teachers who were truly Heaven-fearing? How many children altogether were there in each of the colonies that had schools? Did a majority or a minority of these children attend the schools? How many colonies had rabbonim and how many did not? What was the organization's yearly budget and how secure was that income?

At the end of his letter, with characteristic prudence and foresight, Rav Halevi requested that the rabbonim affix their own signatures to their reply, "so that we know we can rely on it."

By the end of that year, the Shomrei Torah school system was being supported by the Union, which had finalized plans for expansion to four new settlements: Ekron, Rechovot, Rishon Letzion and Petach Tikva. Shortly thereafter Shomrei Torah ceased to exist, and the network, now sponsored by the Union, continued its work under a new name that had been suggested by Rav Halevi, Netzach Yisroel.

In the following years, Rav Halevi continued to play an active role in the development of Torah chinuch in the settlements and in the progress of the religious life and character of the yishuv in general. One of the Union's most important achievements was the dispatch of Rabbi Dr. Moshe Auerbach z'l, a gifted and most devoted educator, to Eretz Yisroel. Rav Halevi was very favorably impressed by Dr. Auerbach when they met prior to the latter's departure, and was later very satisfied with his subsequent achievements in his position.

Architect of Agudas Yisroel

The idea of forming independent, Orthodox groupings that would act as bulwarks against the deepening inroads of enlightenment and assimilation had already been taken up in several different places. Decades earlier, the Ksav Sofer zt'l in Hungary, HaRav Hirsch in Frankfurt and HaRav Shimon Sofer and the Belzer Rebbe in Galicia, where the influence of haskoloh, spreading eastwards, had arrived first, all formed independent Orthodox communities.

Thirty to forty years later, it was time for a similar initiative in the East (though it was similar only with respect to its being a response to the spread of haskoloh; the Agudah had no fundamental ideological connection with the issue of secession -- see accompanying box).

As previously mentioned, Rav Chaim Ozer founded Knesses Yisroel to unite the Orthodox masses in Russia in 5668 (1908) (including the chassidic communities, following the initiatives of the Gerrer and Chortkover Rebbes zt'l).

A few months later, the organization's first conference was held in Vilna, with over forty rabbonim in attendance, among them the acknowledged leaders of the generation. Shortly afterwards however, the Russian government presented Rav Chaim Ozer with an order that Knesses Yisroel cease its activities.

Even as Reb Chaim Ozer worked to couch his organization's aims in terms that would be acceptable to the government and renamed it Moreshes Avos, he was corresponding with Rav Halevi over the preparations for the rabbinical conference that the latter was planning to hold in Germany later in the year to work out the basis for the founding of Agudas Yisroel.

In a letter to his friend Rav Shmuel Kotek, written a year after he started working with the Union, Rav Halevi wrote, "In the past month, we have seen together that the Palestine Commission cannot be left as a mere department of the Freie Vereinigung. A substantial, comprehensive and independent entity ought to be established that will encompass all matters relating to Eretz Yisroel, including the settlements, and that will extend to the needs of other countries where Jews reside. Rav Breuer . . . too agreed with this. I suggested calling it Agudas Yisroel, but Rosenheim was opposed to it at first until, with some long letters, I got him to lean towards my view, though the matter is not yet settled."

At around the same time he wrote to R' Yaakov Rosenheim, addressing some of the latter's reservations and making it clear that the Agudah was as important to German Jewry as it was to Russian Jewry, if not more so: " . . . I was pleased to see that your honor also wants to broaden the program for founding the new organization. My joy would have been complete had I seen that this sprung from full consent . . . for it is an important principle that a mighty warrior also needs to have a mighty spirit.

"You rightly say that one can only hope for great results if one finds people who will put all their energy into this great enterprise and that these cannot be the same men who [are already] work[ing] for the Freie Vereinigung . . . but permit me to say that in my opinion, the opposite is true.

"Your honor is destined for great things and the Freie Vereinigung itself will never achieve great things until a great and comprehensive entity of all Jews who revere Hashem's Torah is founded. In Germany, the Neologues are a majority and they have already moved so far away that there is no longer any hope of bringing them back. Even among the Orthodox minority, the Torah itself has been all but lost. Most of the young rabbonim are ignorant; virtually all the seminary students are boors . . . Not only is there not a single one fluent in a few masechtos of Shas, they don't even know Tanach and if they do speak about it, their knowledge is derived from Bible criticism. In this dreadful situation, the most that the Freie Vereinigung can do is not to let Orthodoxy backslide, chas vesholom, but just to hold onto the corners of the altar. Even in the best eventuality though, Torah will never be retrieved this way . . . "

From letters written in later years, it is clear that Rav Halevi wished to see Rosenheim, whom he considered as possessing every good trait necessary for a leader, become the leader of the Agudah.

Rav Halevi was not the first to conceive of a unified Orthodox front. However, in this case, the path from idea to implementation was not an easy one. Nobody but he was able to surmount the barriers that needed to be overcome on the way to uniting the Jews of East and West. Were it not for the universal esteem in which he was held by the gedolim of Russia and Poland and the fact that they fully trusted him, coupled with the commonalty of purpose with which he had succeeding in galvanizing the leaders of German Orthodoxy, nothing would have resulted.

His progress in changing the way many German Jews viewed their Russian counterparts has already been mentioned. On the other hand, he had to show the latter that they could make great gains by using the organizational skills of the German Jews. At the same time, he had to reassure them that rapprochement with German Orthodoxy would not expose the masses of Torah faithful in the East to the acceptance of Western learning and culture that was so prevalent in the German communities.

The conference started in the week of Shabbos Nachamu 5669 (1909) and lasted for over two weeks. Given the conflicting outlooks of some of the participants, it is clear that its success was due in no small measure to Rav Halevi's unceasing efforts at behind-the-scenes mediation.

This was no triumph of mere diplomacy and word mongering. He was a godol beTorah, not a diplomat. Yet when dealing with other Torah leaders, each of whom illuminated a different path in avodas Hashem, a vision of Klal Yisroel was necessary in order to crystallize the unity that was the purpose of their having gathered.

Rav Halevi possessed that vision. With it, he was able to determine what were points of principle and what ought to remain in the background. He succeeded, as nobody else could have, in bringing out and raising aloft the genuine bond uniting all segments of Orthodox Jewry, preventing its slipping into oblivion amid a welter of no less genuine but, in the circumstances, peripheral differences.

The Road to Katowice

There now existed a basis for establishing the Agudah but little more. Rav Halevi continued working towards this end, drawing up a draft of Agudah's regulations which he sent to Yaakov Rosenheim. He also continued to correspond with Reb Chaim on the subject.

Some two years later, plans received a push forward from an unexpected quarter. The tenth Zionist Congress, held in Basel in August 1911, passed a resolution declaring Zionism and Jewish Nationalism the components of a Jew's faith in the twentieth century. This resolution was to serve as the ideological basis of an educational system that the Zionists planned to establish.

The opposition of the Mizrachi delegation to the Congress was unsuccessful and a number of its members left the Zionist ranks, some of them joining the leaders of the Freie Vereinigung in forming the Temporary Committee for the Founding of Agudas Yisroel. At a meeting held two months later in Frankfurt that was attended by fifty-five delegates from many countries, it was decided to found the Agudah and to hold the opening convention in Katowice in the following year.

There were tense moments along the way. Rav Halevi wrote the following letter to Rav Shmuel Kotek after the Frankfurt meeting, when one of the important rabbinical figures suddenly protested the fact that the meeting had been held without the rabbonim. It shows how precarious things still were. "The truth is," Rav Halevi explained, "that the meeting was only to see if there was the potential to organize things with regard to finances. The main meeting was held back then in Hamburg and in his letters, Rav Chaim Ozer . . . is emphatic that we only relate to that meeting . . .

"My friend knows how important the matter of Agudas Yisroel is and the great toil that we have put into it to reach this point. If it chas vesholom comes to nothing now, it will be a literal churban, like the churban of the Beis Hamikdosh . . . and all because of what? Hashem knows, because of petty irritations born of vanity . . . I am sick from my distress and write with trembling hands . . . "

In one of his letters to Yaakov Rosenheim, Rav Halevi sympathizes with the latter's double workload in running the Freie Vereinigung as well as working for the emerging Agudah. He, who had always refused gifts even during times of great need, here displays his financial and organizational acumen and his full awareness of what the new organization's justifiable needs were and how they might be met.

He urges Yaakov Rosenheim to "think big," very strongly recommending that he open an office with salaried, full- time workers in the interests of efficiency. He points out that "there is no shortage of money now and Jews will donate generously for whatever they are asked. All it needs are collectors who will not weary from repeated soliciting and from repeatedly sending out circulars . . . How can we deal with all the important matters that demand attention without an office? . . . I find it very strange that an exalted personage like yourself, a man who is fully aware of all the ways of modern times, wants to proceed along the old path, where everything is done by harried fundraisers. It won't succeed . . . "

Although Rav Halevi was one of the four signatories on invitations to the founding convention, none of the public records of the event do credit to the significance of his role. He shunned all publicity, but behind the scenes he was extremely busy. The letter that he wrote to Rav Kotek upon his return is more revealing: "Before the days at Katowice I was unable to write because I was busier than I could handle and when I arrived on erev Shabbos I was so exhausted that I was literally beside myself. I waited to write you a full account but I still do not have the strength to do so. The gathering was magnificent but in my chamber I had endless work . . . The foundation of the movement has already been laid, be'ezras Hashem but now we need to lead the boat into the current, so that it makes its way calmly and gently and arrives at its destination; the salvation is Hashem's."

Despite the unity that reigned in Katowice with regard to the founding of the new movement and the formulation of its program, Reb Yaakov Rosenheim returned home with a heavy heart. In his memoirs, he recorded his dismay at the many differences of ideology and opinion that had been aired by the participants which, to a certain degree, had cast a pall over the high aspirations of the convention's planners. However, he expresses his gratitude to Rav Halevi, who gave him advice, understanding and moral support and he sums up the part which the latter played for him in the founding of the Agudah, as having been the pillar of light by whose illumination he made his way.

The Light Goes Out

It is hard for us today to imagine what the pace of life was like before the First World War. The fastest way to travel then was by train and contact could only be maintained through personal courier or via the mail, for there were no private telephones (let alone computers or faxes). This might partly explain why so much time (three years) elapsed between the Bad Homburg conference and the Katowice convention. It also explains how Rav Halevi was able to ensure that, as extensive as his work for Eretz Yisroel and for the Agudah was, the principal and usually the only occupation of his day remained his writing.

During the winter months he would make a conscious effort to push other matters aside and to concentrate fully on his work. In Kislev 5670 (1910) he wrote to Rav Kotek, "I received your letter and Y.'s book but I have not yet had time to read it, even superficially, for the days are very short and this winter I have made it a hard and fast rule not to lose any time whatsoever from writing my book. Thus, I have been pushing everything off . . . I have not engaged a secretary because I am avoiding any bothersome undertakings . . . "

In the few years before his death, Rav Halevi occasionally mentioned ill health and weakness in letters to Rav Kotek. In one letter (apparently written in Iyar 5672 (1912)) he wrote, "unfortunately, I am still very weak and the main thing is that I feel my heart is weak. The doctor tells me that I must travel away after Shavuos . . . but I cannot agree since I am so involved in my work and it is impossible for me to allow myself to do so . . . "

He continued working at full pace until one evening two years later, when he suffered a heart attack while he was out taking his daily walk. Three weeks later, on leil Shabbos the twentieth of Iyar 5674 (1914) he was niftar in the hospital in Hamburg. At his request, there were no hespedim; Reb Yaakov Rosenheim spoke briefly next to the hospital's synagogue, from where the levaya departed the following day. Rav Halevi's coffin was made from the boards of the table at which he had sat learning Torah and writing.

Some indication of the reputation that he still enjoyed in his native land, almost twenty years after having left it, was the lament of Rav Itzele Ponovezher zt'l, who exclaimed, "What will we do without Rav Yitzchok Isaac?!"

No doubt there were others, who were perhaps few in number but who were among the leaders of their people, who were asking themselves the same question.

The following works were consulted in the preparation of this series: Sefer Zikoron LeRav Yitzchok Isaac Halevi, edited by Dr. Moshe Auerbach (Netzach 1964), The Letters of Rav Yitzchok Isaac Halevi by Rabbi Dr. Asher Reichel (Mossad HaRav Kook 1972), Reb Chaim Ozer by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman (ArtScroll 1987), Guardian of Jerusalem by Rabbi S.Z. Sonnenfeld (ArtScroll 1983), Daas Sofrim, from Nechemiah until Now by Rabbi C.D. Rabinowitz (Daas Yisroel 1979)

Groundwork for the Preparatory Conference in Bad Homburg

Rav Halevi was entrusted with the task of issuing invitations to the conference, to be held in Av 5669 in Bad Homburg. He approached the job with his usual meticulous care. It was straightforward enough for example, to invite Rav Chaim Ozer, whom he knew well, but he asked Yaakov Rosenheim to make the first contact with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Sholom Ber zt'l, whom he did not know at all. Only after being informed that the reaction was positive did Rav Halevi himself write, setting out the new organization's aims and officially inviting the Rebbe to attend.

He asked his old friend Reb Chaim Soloveitchik to contact the Gerrer Rebbe; the two of them together signed the invitation to the Rebbe.

When Yaakov Rosenheim wrote expressing his concern over Reb Chaim's reticence in accepting the invitation, Rav Halevi replied, "I see . . . that you think that in order to influence the Rov of Brisk to join us, important and honorable personages are necessary and your honor therefore thinks that it might be good if M. of Koenigsberg writes to him and that status might work if Torah does not.

"All this shows me that you . . . might know most of the rabbonim of Russia but not the most special of them. The Rov of Brisk has nothing in his world besides Torah. The greatness of wealthy men, even of millionaires like Rothschild, will not have the slightest effect upon him.

"The problem with the Rov of Brisk is not because it is hard to influence him but because of his natural reluctance to rule. He even shrinks from issuing practical halachic rulings. To take a major step in communal affairs is very difficult for him for he is afraid of doing harm and that perhaps his views are not the deciding ones, etc.

"If it only depended on one's ability to influence him, in Russia it is known that we were as close as brothers and that I was also responsible for his appointment as a rosh mesivta in Volozhin in its heyday and that every year he used to spend entire months in my home. But because I know his character, I have not yet written to him at all. I have only let Rav Chaim Ozer know and I have left my power over him until the end . . . "

Another problem that required careful handling was the friction between the two schools of opinion regarding the issue of secession. Rav Breuer, the Union's president who was to play a central role in the new organization, represented Rav Hirsch's viewpoint which insisted that Orthodox Jews form their own separate kehillos, to which Rav Horowitz zt'l, rov of the general Frankfurt kehilloh with whom Rav Halevi was very friendly, was opposed. Rav Halevi knew that Rav Horowitz and his circle viewed religious Jewry as a minority group within the broader Jewish community, a majority of which was irreligious but with whom it was an equal partner.

Rav Halevi and the emerging Agudah, on the other hand, represented the view that "only those who fear Heaven -- they and no others -- constitute Klal Yisroel," as he wrote in a letter to Yaakov Rosenheim. This, he explained was, "because Hakodosh Boruch Hu, Torah and Yisroel are One. Even if chas vesholom only ten men -- a minyan -- remain, they are Klal Yisroel and even if they are somewhere in the desert, that is where Klal Yisroel resides."

Clearly then, Rav Horowitz's views were not those being espoused by the Agudah. On the other hand, the issue of secession and separatism was brought up at the conference against Rav Halevi's wishes by Rav Breuer, who wanted to see his stand incorporated into the Agudah's ideology. Apparently, as a practical issue, Rav Halevi saw this as a local matter, of no concern to a movement that sought to unite Orthodox Jews of all lands.

Rav Halevi conducted all negotiations as quietly as possible. He had an abiding dislike of publicity because of the problems to which it invariably led. He always sought to avoid publicizing plans concerning communal affairs until they became realities.

Reb Chaim's Conditions

At Katowice, Reb Chaim handed Yaakov Rosenheim a secret letter which contained his conditions for his continued active involvement in the movement. These were eighteen requirements, whose aim was to ensure that decisions affecting educational and communal matters would not be made by laymen but by the rabbonim exclusively. In his memoirs, Rosenheim writes that in the course of time, the note disappeared and that he only remembered some of its points. This was seen by some as the reason for the subsequent weakening of Reb Chaim's ties to the Agudah.

A year after Katowice, Rav Halevi wrote to Rav Y. Lifschitz z'l, that, " . . . in the middle of the winter, I took the eighteen points in order to amend them and I informed the GRaCh . . . writing to him that I could not do so unless he let me have his opinion on every detail in writing, for the truth is that the main principles of the eighteen points were incorporated into our articles but he wants to be as meticulous over them as when writing a bill of divorce. In that case, I cannot do it without him but he did not respond to the three letters that I wrote to him . . . "

In Teves 5713, at about the same time that Rav Halevi had been writing to Brisk, Reb Chaim himself wrote to Reb Chaim Ozer, clarifying his position with regard to the Agudah. "Your letter regarding Agudas Yisroel reached me", wrote Reb Chaim. "Weren't the basic bylaws of the Agudah decided upon at the meeting in [Bad] Homburg and afterwards in Katowice brought before the convention and ratified by it in full session? Upon thinking into the matter, I realized that it is all the same to . . . (unclear) . . . that the character of this big Agudah will be clarified . . . (unclear) . . . that it is not a custodian for the Torah, for this . . . (unclear) . . . is not in our hands, and is beyond us, but solely to act and achieve by increasing Torah and the fear of Heaven, in regard to which I too may be counted as a member, to add to the efforts on behalf of the Agudah, as we are commanded to befriend all who fear [Heaven] . . . " (Translation of Reb Chaim's letter from Giants of Jewry, published by Chinuch Publications of Lakewood, a translation of Rav Aharon Surasky's Marbitzei Torah Umussar.)


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