Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Teves 5764 - January 7, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








From Hope to Mapai

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

Part II

R' Dovid Guttman, R' Yoel Moshe Solomon, R' Yehoshua Shtampfer and R' Zerach Barnet, four Yerushalmi Jews, founded Petach Tikva 125 years ago. They were true Torah Jews, whose aspiration was to establish a settlement in which all of the mitzvos, and especially the mitzvos hateluyos ba'Aretz, would be observed. This was a daring, pioneering act in those days, and they met with many difficulties. The four were also joined by R' Yehuda Rabb who had arrived in Eretz Yisroel from Hungary in 1876. (Last week Yated erroneously listed him as a fifth founder. While he joined in the early stages, he was not part of the group of four.)

The location of the settlement, not far from Yaffo and later Tel Aviv, brought it into conflict with the anti- religious Zionist immigrants who wanted to live and work there. Though he died young, R' Yehoshua Shtampfer kept the community firmly on the Torah path as long as he lived.

However there were cultural battles all the time. It is interesting and memorable to note that a labor conference that was held in Petach Tikva in 1910 drew waves of protest because it was held with chillul Shabbos. Times have changed.

The Informers

As in all of the settlements, the battle over chinuch also reached Petach Tikva, where the nationalistic and secular chalutzim waged war against the talmudei Torah of the city, in an original and arrogant way.

In 5662 (1902), the settlers of Petach Tikva began to build a beautiful edifice for their talmud Torah. R' Zerach Braverman, who devoted himself to this effort with much mesirus nefesh, wandered from place to place collecting funds for the building.

However, when construction work actually began there was an unexpected turn of events, described by Mordechai Diskin, a Petach Tikva agricultural worker in his book Maamar Mordechai (pp.54-5):

"As soon as the opponents of the Torah saw that our plans to build a permanent edifice for Hashem's Torah in Petach Tikva were succeeding, they filed a complaint against us to the authorities, who ruled that the building must be destroyed."

From this we learn that even the cruel Turkish authorities did not feel that it was necessary to destroy the talmud Torah, and did so only upon the urging of the "opponents of Torah."

Nevertheless, sweet emerges from pungent, and as a result of the disgraceful behavior of the nationalists, R' Zerach Braverman set out for Yerushalayim in order to arouse public opinion against their behavior. A large assembly led by R' Shmuel Salant was convened. At this assembly, it was decided to found a federation called Shomrei Torah whose purpose was to counteract the plots of the opponents of Torah-true education.

Every one of the participants pledged twenty francs a year. This money was then used to establish talmudei Torah throughout the Land. The members of the assembly received a telegram from R' Chaim Ozer Grodzensky from Vilna who blessed their endeavors. (Petach Tikva's main street is named after R' Chaim Ozer.) As a result of this initiative, the Jews of Petach Tikva were able to complete the building of their talmud Torah. It was dedicated on Tu BeShevat 5664 (1904).

With Hashem's help the talmud Torah grew and flourished, and in 5673 (1913) four hundred pupils were already studying within its walls, while only 150 had registered in the regular school system.

The rapid development of the talmud Torah annoyed the members of the "new yishuv." They were displeased by the growth of the vibrant Torah settlement of Petach Tikva.

Professor Yosef Klausner, who visited the settlement at that time, recorded his impressions of the talmud Torah in his book Olam Mithaveh. In it, he complained that many hours of the curriculum were devoted to the study of dinim. In his opinion, this "was a burden for the children, and robbed them of their joie de vivre while they were still young."

He continued, expressing his disappointment with chareidi education, adding: "Regarding Hebrew studies, we want to see the Jews of Eretz Yisroel educated according to the spirit of new Israeli culture, which is based on general, humanistic foundations. We cannot be happy with [the chareidi form of schooling] . . . "

However, as indicated by the rest of his remarks: "Even though, Orthodoxy in Petach Tikva is so great that the talmudei Torah have far more students than the public school . . . " the main reason for his disappointment was not the details of the Torah education but the simple fact that the parents had chosen such a form of education for their children.

Why was Professor Klausner so pained and disturbed by this? He should have been happy that chareidi Jewry was also participating in the "Zionist dream" by settling the Land.

What is Zionism?

In the continuation of his words, Professor Klausner provides an answer to these questions:

"The following idea flashed across my mind, involuntarily. I thought to myself: Petach Tikva is a Litvische city. This thought became more firmly entrenched in my heart, when I entered a synagogue there, and found simple Jews learning Nedorim with Ran, swaying back and forth over open gemoras and chanting Tonnu Rabbonon with the well- known, sad niggun, as they did in the Lithuanian towns thirty years ago. Here, spiritual life has remained static . . . "

And if one asks what is wrong with a Jewish farmer's studying Torah, Professor Klausner `enlightens' us: "I left the synagogue with the sad thought that the value change for whose sake the entire Jewish settlement was established [in Israel], is simply not found here!"

Now all has become clear. If until now, you thought that the purpose of the yishuv hachadash was "the settlement of Eretz Yisroel" or at least "a place of refuge for the Jewish Nation," then know that you were mistaken. It was established for one purpose: to develop a new value system. Yes, the entire settlement came into being for the sake of this new value system, as the gedolim saw.

It is known that R' Chaim of Brisk repeatedly claimed that the foremost aim of the Zionist movement wasn't the settling of Eretz Yisroel, but the detachment of Am Yisroel from the Torah (just like the haskalah movement, in its time.)

The idea of "Eretz Yisroel" which was bandied by the leaders of the movement, was essentially a sophisticated publicity stunt, a successful public relations trick, which managed to sweep many innocent Jews who became entangled in its web.

Torah-true Jewry, which refused to join the Zionist movement on the basis of this determination, was attacked for her opinion, especially by those who thought that a "religious Jew" is considered half a Jew if he does not affix the title "National," to his name. These people claimed that Torah Jewry "accused the innocent" and that the true purpose of the movement was manifested by the burning love of its leaders for the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisroel. The view of gedolei Yisroel doesn't require proof or reinforcement from one like Klausner or his ilk. Nonetheless, his words might open the eyes of those innocent people who looked for kedushoh in a place where the sacred was defiled.

Who Was First?

Such an attitude, which accuses the founders of Petach Tikva of not having fulfilled the "nationalistic idea," appears in an additional place.

Historians dispute which settlement deserves the title "Mother of the Settlements" (Eim Hamoshavot). Most of us assume that Petach Tikva deserves this name because it was the first settlement established in Eretz Yisroel. Yet there were those who begrudged her that title.

What did those historians have against Petach Tikva? The founding of Petach Tikva caused a serious problem for the yishuv hachadash, referring to the settlement outside of Yerushalayim. As is known, the old yishuv was constantly accused of "despising the settlement idea." Many bottles of ink were spilled in Hebrew antisemitic literature on that point.

The reason the new yishuv regarded Petach Tikva as a sore thumb, was that its very existence proved that the old yishuv was not opposed to settling the Land. Indeed, how could one accuse those very settlers who had sacrificed their lives for settling the Land, of despising the settlement idea?

But they contrived a way to distort the truth. "If we call Rishon LeTzion the `Mother of the Settlements'," they said, "Petach Tikva's role will be forgotten in a few years."

And if you wonder how it is possible to perpetrate such a historical crime, especially when Petach Tikva was founded in 5638 (1878), and Rishon in 5642 (1882), then know that another solution was found, which claimed that what counted was not the act of settling the Land, but the "spiritual" content of the settlement.

In a letter written to Mordechai ben Hillel Hachohen, Z.D. Levontin (one of the founders of Rishon) claims that Rishon has the right to go down in history as the first settlement in Eretz Yisroel. He writes:

"Without trying to sound boastful, I can say that until now, no such `colony' was founded by Jews. [Of course, there was Petach Tikva]. However, its founders were chaluka Jews, who worked the land only in order to fulfill the mitzvos hateluyos ba'aretz" ((Druyaov, Writings on the History of Chibat Tzion, volume three p.485).

M. Lilienblum (one of the leaders of Chovevei Tzion) went even further. He simply said that the founders of Petach Tikva had absolutely no part in the history of the yishuv, claiming that the claim that the founders of Petach Tikva established the first settlement is part of a "calculated lie" maliciously fabricated by the old yishuv!

Such startling and brazen things could only have been written by "echod sheshonoh uporash" (one who once studied Torah and then left the Torah true-camp) such as Lilienblum. They were also written black on white and in Hebrew letters by one of the heads of the movement:

"The enemies of the new generation, [attempt to] attribute the nationalistic idea, in practice, to the old generation, ... to the founders of Petach Tikva, and then to laud them as pioneers of an idea of which they had absolutely no conception" (Derech Lavor Golim, Warsaw 5659, p. 6).

Lilienblum did not realize how ridiculous and absurd it was to preach to R' Yehoshua Shtampfer, who had made aliya to Eretz Yisroel on foot and had with great mesirus nefesh established a flourishing settlement there, while he himself was seated in Odessa, and had never set foot in Eretz Yisroel.

All this did not prevent him from writing the following points which are really a contrived, four-stage pilpul:

a. The chareidim are "anti-Zionists" who despise the Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel.

b. There is a serious "problem" with the founders of Petach Tikva.

3. We must determine that they are "un-Zionistic." (After all, they want to observe the mitzvos.)

4. Those liars claim that they were the founders of the yishuv.

And so, "the Zionists of Odessa" preached Zionism to the anti- Zionist founders of Petach Tikva.

Indeed, you were right, Lilienblum. The founders of Petach Tikva really "have no conception of the nationalistic idea" - - that very idea which presumes that the Jewish Nation must be "like all the nations of the world" and must assimilate with them, cast off its Torah, and exchange it for the very destructive idea which they do not understand.

Those religious Jews, who are sometimes made to appear like "loyal Zionists" in the eyes of the leaders of secular Zionism (and sometimes in the most degrading manner possible) should contemplate this: As long as you continue to observe the mitzvos of the Torah, you cannot be called Zionists, because you still have absolutely no understanding of the "nationalistic idea." By the same token, even if you do acquire such an understanding, history's re-writers will deny you your due credit.

How the Mapai Gained Control of Petach Tikva

At the time of its founding and for many years thereafter, Petach Tikva was known as one of Eretz Yisroel's Torah citadels. In 5686 (1926), HaRav Eliezer Shulevitz settled there along with a group of forty students who established the Yeshiva of Lomzhe -- a yeshiva which raised many of our generation's marbitzei Torah.

In those years, the Chofetz Chaim wanted to move to Eretz Yisroel and he planned to settle in Petach Tikva, as an established Torah community. A house was even built for him near the yeshiva. However, in the end he was unable to move to Eretz Yisroel and the house became the city's beis mussar. (The letters of the Chofetz Chaim on the matter, were published in the Torah journal Nehora, which was published in Petach Tikva by Rabbi Meir Weissberger in Tammuz 5735). The yishuv's first kollel -- Beis Medrash LeToras Eretz Yisroel -- as well as many other yeshivos, among them Ohr Yisroel and Nachlas Dovid, were also founded in Petach Tikva.

Many wonder how this city, whose first mayor was a chareidi Jew and which from the time of its founding was occupied by a sizable religious community, became a Mapai fortress for many years.

In order to understand this, we must recall some very unpleasant episodes, which transpired forty-five years ago.

In Teves 5711 (1951), Petach Tikva chose the members of its municipal council. But who would be its mayor? One candidate was a man named Schwalb who was supported by the right and by the religious parties. The other candidate, Rashish, was irreligious, and was a left-wing secularist and the representative of Mapai, the very same party which in those years worked to uproot Torah from the many new immigrants who arrived in Eretz Yisroel, with such verve.

The choice of mayor (who was then elected by the municipal council and not by direct popular vote as now) turned on one vote -- that of the representative of a dati-chareidi party. On the surface, there seemed to be no problem for the religious community, for why should a religious representative choose a non-religious mayor? However, rumors spread that for various and strange reasons that representative had other plans for his vote.

When this became known, Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah decided to send a letter (written on the 22nd of Teves 5711) to that religious representative on the municipal council, to make him aware of the seriousness of the issue: "Under no circumstances are you permitted to vote for a secular candidate when it is possible to elect a Torah observant one. All of the stumbling blocks which, chas vesholom, will be caused by the secular mayor, will be attributed to those who vote for him."

The concern was not only for that term of office, because in those days once Mapai managed to get in, it was impossible to budge them for many years afterward.

However, the religious representative refused to obey the psak of the gedolei hador (and claimed that he had received his instructions from the heads of his party) or to the personal letters which were sent to him by Admorim and many gedolei Torah.

On the 15th of Teves, 5711, the secular, Mapai candidate was chosen. He received nine votes and his opponent eight.

The entire religious public in Eretz Yisroel was shocked. Such an outrageous act, especially since it involved a blatant rebellion against the express wishes of gedolei Yisroel, was unprecedented. HaRav Meir Karelitz, who until then had been the rov and spiritual leader of that dati- chareidi party, announced his resignation the very next morning. He said: "Since you have ceased to abide by my counsel and rulings, I am submitting my resignation."

The Admor of Rizhnitz wrote that representative: "I have always stood by your side, both orally and in writing, and now you have slapped me in the face in a shocking manner. Where shall I flee in my shame?"

Of course, the leftist camp was delighted by the turn of events, and loudly expressed its joy that "even a `religious' representative understands that there are more important things [Rachmono litzlan] than daas Torah."

Mapai's newspaper quoted from the speech delivered by the mayor, Rashish, at his inauguration: "The threats, the letters of rabbonim, and even the letter of the Admor of Gur could not sway our colleague from his position. He remains staunch in his position, since our joint partnership is based on the foundation of mutual understanding" (Davar, 3 Shevat, 5711).

And so, Mapai gained control of Petach Tikva. In the ensuing years, it devoted all of its energies to distributing political positions and benefits in accordance with the well- known "method." At last, Mapai became so rooted in the city, that no one could budge it for forty years, until about ten years ago.


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