Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Teves 5764 - December 31, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








From Hope to Mapai

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

Part I

The place: a village called Mulabbes, which is situated near the Yarkon River, about 7 kilometers east of present-day Bnei Brak and about 12 kilometers from the coast. The year: 5639- 1879.

In the heart of the wilderness, four Jews in Yerushalmi dress are seen. Their long beards and payos are flapping in the wind. Their eyes are gleaming, and they speak excitedly about a dream which all of them share: that of establishing a Jewish settlement on the very ground on which they are standing. To the Greek physician Dr. Mazurika, owner of the land upon which they are gathered, the idea seems totally insane. He looks up at the sky for a few moments and says: "To my dismay, there is not even one bird in this entire area . . . and that is a very bad sign. It means that many diseases fester here. If you are concerned about your lives, forget this idea."

R' Dovid Guttman, R' Yoel Moshe Solomon, R' Yehoshua Shtampfer, R' Yehuda Rabb and R' Zerach Barnet lower their eyes. Their dreams seem to have been shattered. The doctor displays his palm and says: "When hair grows here, you will be able to establish a settlement on these grounds."

The five remained silent for a long time. Suddenly, R' Yehoshua Shtampfer regained his composure and cried: "Nevertheless, we will try!"

To Eretz Yisroel on Foot

R' Yehoshua Shtampfer experienced many travails throughout his short life (1852-1908). In his youth he attended the yeshiva of HaRav Ezriel Hildesheimer in Eisenstadt. When he was seventeen, he decided to make aliya to Eretz Hakodesh. Setting out with the shirt on his back and trust in his heart, he began his journey from his native Hungary to distant Eretz Yisroel on foot.

As related by a writer of that period: "One night in Adar Alef 5629 (1869) he awoke, placed a map of Eretz Yisroel under his arms, and followed his eyes and his heart, across Serbia and Bulgaria. The thorns cut his feet, yet he continued to traverse the Balkan lands for days and nights, weeks and months, wending his way through difficult and dangerous trails, his clothes tattered, his bones aching. More than once he stared death in the face."

When he arrived in Salonika, a serious problem faced him. He was willing to continue walking for a long time, but how does one cross the sea? . . . Yet with Hashem's help, he overcame that problem too, for that very day a storm raged over the port of Salonika, and none of the hired sailors were willing to endanger their lives and to set sail. What does a captain whose ship must embark on such a day, do? He scours the city in search of a "madman" willing to assist him during the difficult journey. He searches and searches until he finds . . . R' Yehoshua Shtampfer who agreed to embark under any and all conditions, as long as he reached Eretz Hakodesh as quickly as possible.

"Upon reaching the shores of Eretz Yisroel, Yehoshua Shtampfer continued to Yerushalayim on foot. He reached it on the 20th of Sivan 5630, and settled there for a number of years.

"Encouraged by Yerushalayim's gedolim, he began to search for a place where he could found a Torah-true settlement. After a number of attempts, a site called Mulabbes was purchased for one thousand and seventy golden Napoleons. It was on that site that the settlement of Petach Tikva was built. Its name was derived from the verse: "And I will give her vineyards from there and the valley of pollution to the opening of hope [Petach Tikva], and she shall answer there, as in the days of her youth and the day on which she went forth from the land of Egypt" (Hoshea 2:17)

Throughout his life, R' Yehoshua Shtampfer felt that his efforts had been crowned with success on the merit of his having made aliya by foot. On the first Seder held in the settlement (in 5639-1879) he praised the efforts of the other founders of the settlement -- R' Dovid Guttman and R' Yoel Moshe Solomon -- who had given both time and financial support to the endeavor.

"Who am I in comparison to them?" he asked. "I have no wealth. I came here only with my body and soul. May my sacrifice be pleasing to Hashem. May my having walked over 500 parsos (about 2,000 miles), from Hungary to Eretz Hakodesh be precious in His eyes" (Sefer Hayovel, p. 27).

A Jewish Settlement the Torah Way

The goal and aspiration of the founders of Petach Tikva was to establish a settlement in which all of the mitzvos, and especially the mitzvos hateluyos ba'Aretz, would be observed. As a result, when the first settlers of Petach Tikva reaped their first crop in 5639, they brought all of their terumos and ma'asros -- separated, of course according to the halacha -- to Yerushalayim, where a gala celebration was held in honor of the mitzvah which had not been practiced for so long a time.

They were greeted by a jubilant throng and a seudas mitzvah, which was attended by the great rabbonim of Yerushalayim, was held in their honor in Meah Shearim.

As expected, the Torah-observant settlement was an eyesore to the "new Jews" of the land, and when a fundraising campaign was held in Europe for the sake of the Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisroel, certain elements, who were prejudiced against the Torah-observant settlers, said that it was wrong to support Petach Tikva's settlers. With typical haskalah scorn, they claimed that the settlers should not be assisted, because "people who wear such garb have no place in the practical world." This claim though, was countered by a writer of that time, who wrote:

"Sir, it is not clothing which works, but people! [One of the leaders of that settlement is a man] named Yehoshua Shtampfer and this I can tell you for certain: If you and one thousand shorts-wearing small-minded people like you were placed on one side of the scale, and he on the other, he would far outweigh you all. With his deeds, his intelligence, his accomplishments -- he is far superior to every one of you!" (Hameiltiz, 16 Teves, 5644-1888).

In 5661, it was decided to establish the Moshava Committee. On motzei Shabbos, parshas Mishpotim, the settlers assembled in the shul in order to conduct secret and private elections, and a committee of seven members was chosen, headed by R' Yehoshua Shtampfer. Much of the committee's activity centered around the management of the settlement, which generally involved halachic matters. The following decisions are found in the protocols of the committee's meetings:

"Regarding shechita: the committee requires the shochet to daven minchah gedoloh [which is in the early afternoon] so that he will be able to slaughter the animals while it is still day.

"It was decided to permit the barber to settle here, on the condition that his haircuts are in accordance with the Rov's instructions."

Things were different in Petach Tikva of yesteryear!

The First and Last Movie

R' Yehoshua Shtampfer, who was a very resolute and firm person, supervised all of the religious aspects of life in Petach Tikva. Thus we read in Sefer Hayovel p. 22, about the first movie shown in Petach Tikva -- which was also the last -- in those days!

Some of the members of the younger generation decided to bring a bit of "culture" to the settlement, and announced that a slide show would be held in one of the auditoriums. (There were no real movies at that time. Pictures were flashed on the screen by a device known as a "magic lantern.") When Shtampfer learned of this, he burst into the auditorium in which the show was being held and demanded that it be stopped immediately, especially since there was no mechitzoh. The audience, which knew that he was invincible, cancelled the show and left.

In Petach Tovah of yesteryear, the head of the city fought against movie shows held even during the week!

An additional occurrence which took place at that time and which proved that history repeats itself, was the tragedy which befell the settlement, when many children, Rachmono litzlan, began to die mysterious deaths.

How did the members of the settlement react to the deaths, whose cause could not be logically explained? One of the settlers (from the Second Aliya) writes: "The entire settlement was astonished. `Why have the children died?' they asked. `Surely because of our sins'" (With the Second Aliya, S. Michlin, page 6).

That very same book relates that after the calamity, the members of the settlement held a meeting at which they took stock of their deeds and devised ways to strengthen the tznius on the settlement. For them, it was clear that calamities were the results of sins.

The troubles of the settlers brought the Baron Edmond de Rothschild to their aid. His agents in Eretz Yisroel were not always sympathetic to the religious needs of the settlers. Still, Petach Tikva was growing. In 1891, there were 464 residents, and nine years later there were 818. The secular labor movement began to think of the settlement as a center for its activities. In 1905 major steps were taken to found local branches of secular labor organizations.

The relationships between the young laborers and the founders of the settlement grew very strained, in time. In 5665 (1905) tension reached its peak, when the young people asked to hold a "party" in the settlement. The committee of the settlement issued a ruling which forbade renting a hall for the party, a ruling which sparked a rebellion. In the wake of this crisis, the committee issued instructions not to hire a Jewish laborer unless he signed the following agreement:

"As a worker on the settlement, I promise to conduct myself according to Jewish law, not to desecrate the Shabbos or to walk with a cane on Shabbos or to cross the Shabbos limits (techum Shabbos). By the same token, I will also pray in shul on Shabbos and on holidays."

With the issuing of this contract, the schism between the younger and older generation grew even deeper. The younger generation protested, claiming that "democracy" obligated the settlement to provide living quarters and employment even to those who "spit in its face."

Why Was the Synagogue Crowded?

The laborers were supported by Rabbi Nissenbaum, one of the heads of the Mizrachi movement at that time, who visited the settlement, and decided to deliver a lecture in the main shul on the subject of "Jewish labor." Regarding that event, he wrote: "I rebuked the `colonists' for repelling their brothers, the Jewish laborers."

He continues to relate that as soon as he stepped down from the pulpit, the head of the committee, R' Yehoshua Shtampfer jumped to the pulpit, where he began to hail fire and brimstone on the Jewish laborers.

"You demand that we let these laborers reside in our homes and work in our orchards," roared R' Yehoshua Shtampfer, "while before our very eyes, they desecrate all that is sacred and curse our sons . . . Why have they come here? Is there nowhere else where they can settle? Have they nothing better to do than to desecrate this sacred place? What have they to do with us?" (Alei Cheldi, p. 225)

The shul was filled to the brim on that occasion. The laborers knew that a lecture would be delivered by a "modern rabbi" who would tell them things which pleased their ears, and they decided to recognize the shul on a one-time basis. Even A. D. Gordon "did teshuvoh" that day, and appeared in the shul. And that was why R' Yehoshua Shtampfer protested: "Now you are here? On Pesach we didn't see you. On Shabbosim you don't come? What is there between us today?"

The City's Mayor Studied Gemora

R' Yehoshua Shtampfer did not live long. He died in Sivan 5688 (1908), at the age of fifty-six. The entire settlement fell into deep mourning. The committee of the settlement publicized a notice which said: "Music and singing will not be heard in the settlement during the entire sheloshim period."

The eulogists praised "His resolute guarding of the kodshei Yisroel. The Rav of Yaffo eulogized him, saying: "Now that the ship of Jewry is drowning, we desperately need people like the deceased, who are not afraid of rebuking those who breach the fences of our faith, to their faces" (Chavatzeles, 9 Sivan, 5688).

Secular historians who described the personality of R' Yehoshua Shtampfer found themselves faced with a difficult problem. On the one hand, they encountered a personality worthy of their admiration due to his dedication to the settlement of Eretz Yisroel. On the other hand, he was [in their words] a "fanatic," and a hard and uncompromising person, who guarded every single aspect of our sacred Torah zealously.

The compilers of the Jubilee Book of Petach Tikva found a solution to this problem, and wrote that due to his many merits, one must "judge him favorably and try and understand the factors which caused him to be so zealous."

They concluded: "If we take into consideration the place, the time and Shtampfer's religious education, in addition to his turbulent nature, deprecating his image is unjustified" (p. 122). We must not make light of this "taking into consideration" because as a result of it, Shtampfer was also "recognized" in modern history books as one of the founders of the settlement, a fact which wasn't accepted by everyone, as we shall soon see.

A Worthy Heir

Petach Tikva did not remain orphaned after the death of R' Yehoshua Shtampfer because he was replaced by his son R' Shlomo, who followed in his father's footsteps and did much to strengthen religion there. When Petach Tikva received the status of a city, he presided as its first mayor, a position to which he was elected for four consecutive terms. People who lived in Petach Tikva at that time, related that whenever a resident of the city or one of the employees of the municipality would enter R' Shlomo's office, they would find him bent over his gemora, engrossed in a Talmudic sugya. This caused a kiddush Hashem, and R' Shlomo became an inspiring example for the entire town.

A"Free World" in Ein Ganim

The chalutzim who felt that living alongside chareidim was unpleasant, decided to found an independent settlement near Petach Tikva, which they called Ein Ganim (and is today part of the city). Berel Katzenelson describes the reasons for establishing the new settlement: "We set out to the new and independent `republic' which sprouted and grew by the side of Petach Tikva, and had been established as a refuge for all those who did not feel comfortable in chareidi Petach Tikva. Here, in Ein Ganim, the world is free." (Katzenelson, Writings, Volume A, Tishrei 5670).

A. D. Gordon and Y. C. Brenner, moved to Ein Ganim and there philosophized over the "proletariat theory," which surely hasn't been fulfilled, as workers' institutions have collapsed in Israel one after the other.

The change took place rapidly, and in Sivan 5670 a meeting of the laborers' confederation was held on Shabbos in a manner which called for massive Shabbos desecration.

The event had strong repercussions, and caused stormy reactions throughout Eretz Yisroel and the Diaspora. A massive protest rally was held in Yaffo, which was attended by representatives from all over the country who expressed their shock at the first public chillul Shabbos in the history of the yishuv.

As we noted, during that period a turbulent battle was being waged over the issue of "Jewish labor," the labor leaders repeatedly claiming, with unprecedented racism, that Arab workers must not be employed -- only Jews! After the massive Shabbos desecration in Ein Ganim, one of the editors of Ha'Achdus wrote that the founders of Petach Tikva were justified in not hiring Jewish laborers:

"From all sides, Petach Tikva is being accused of the malicious banning of Jewish labor. But by her stance, she is proving to all that her entire purpose is to preserve the honor of our Nation and the honor of our desecrated sacred rituals, for the [Jewish] laborers mock all of our customs, desecrate the Shabbos and find fault with our religion. Now that these laborers have shed all vestiges of their Jewishness, in what way are they better than Arabs? (Ha'Achdus, 5671, vol. 33).

It is interesting to note that the Rogotchover gaon ruled that even though one should prefer a Jewish laborer over a gentile one, nonetheless if a laborer violates the mitzvos there is no difference between him and a non-Jewish one. (See Tzofnas Paaneach, Part Two, siman 143, letter three.) In Pe'er Hador (Part Two, p. 76), the Chazon Ish is quoted as saying that if such a laborer has children, he should still be preferred over a gentile worker, by dint of the law of tzedokoh.

It is important to note that the dreams of the founders of Ein Ganim never materialized. "There are many thoughts in the heart of man, and the counsel of Hashem will be upheld." Later on, chareidi institutions were founded on that very site: Shearis Yisroel for boys, and a Bais Yaakov high school for girls.

That very neighborhood to which laborers fled in their "fear" of chareidi Petach Tikva, now has a Torah observant community. A number of Agudas Yisroel shuls were established there.

End of Part I


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