Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

8 Kislev 5767 - November 29, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Chareidi Politicians and Public Servants: Where Are They Today?

by Betzalel Kahn

And all those who occupy themselves with the needs of the community faithfully . . .

Chareidi Jewry owes much to its askonim who were at the forefront of its struggles a generation ago in Eretz Yisroel. We want to ask, `Where are they today?' and also to take this opportunity to remember those personalities, their activities, their association with gedolei Yisroel, ztvk'l and ylct'a. We also want to bring stories and anecdotes from those long-ago days of the beginning of the chareidi settlement in Israel after the horrendous Holocaust years, which brought Jews from all over the world to Eretz Yisroel.

Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz, Rabbi Yehuda Meir Abramowicz, Rabbi Menachem Porush, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Lapidot and HaRav Dovid Zicherman are part of a long list of chareidi askonim in Eretz Yisroel, with some serving in official political roles while others had various communal responsibilities. They are people of the previous generation or generations and some are nearing, or have even passed, the age of ninety. During their long lives (may they live and be well until 120) full of public service, they witnessed endless incidents, stories and so on.


We have tried to focus on some of the most interesting personalities from past generations. These are people who were once at the peak of communal service but have now left, whether due to age, the wish to change direction or other reasons.

Each one could fill several volumes of a book. Rabbi Menachem Porush, in fact, took the turbulent times in the Jerusalem of his father, Rabbi Moshe Porush zt'l, and turned it into six bulging and enthralling volumes. Rabbi Menachem Porush has already prepared a number of further volumes about his own decades of activity. They will be published, although not in the foreseeable future, he says.

It would be no problem to hear the engrossing tales of these people for hours. Our purpose, however, is to remember them, their work, their connections with gedolei Yisroel, ztvk'l and ylct'a, and to bring some stories and anecdotes from those long-ago days.

It is interesting to note the differences between then and now. The difference between the attitudes of those in power in the State of Israel then, as against now, to various current issues. We are talking about prime ministers of the early days who vehemently hated religion and caused tens of thousands of Jews to leave Yiddishkeit, primarily new immigrants. During those first years of the State of Israel issues were determined by a "status quo" agreement which froze the situation as it was. This included such delicate problems as the deferment of yeshiva bochurim from army service, the exemption of religious girls from Sherut Leumi and the struggles then — which barely exist today — against missionaries and the forcible removal of new immigrant children from Yiddishkeit.

Today, in contrast, it is the State itself which is on the defensive against the Torah activities taking place amongst those immigrants, their children and the second and third generation of the immigrants of forty, fifty and sixty years ago.

The Hearts of Kings and Princes are in the hands of Hashem

Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz

A short while after Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz became a Member of the Knesset as a representative of the Zeirei Agudas Yisroel party within the framework of Agudas Yisroel in 5712 (1951), he visited the USA. Rabbi Lorincz succeeded in doing what almost no other Knesset members had done, either then or now, as he met with the American president Harry Truman. The encounter took place in the president's hometown of Kansas City. Rabbi Lorincz was accompanied by one of the town's rabbonim, Rav Solomon.

During their conversation, the US president explained the background which had resulted in the recognition by the USA of the State of Israel when the United Nations vote had taken place a few years earlier in 1948, even though it had been arguably against the immediate American interests at the time.

"My childhood years were spent in a neighborhood with Jewish families whom I admired very much," President Truman told Rabbi Lorincz. "On Saturday I would turn the lights on and off for one of the Jewish families, and I received a slice of bread as payment. My father had the custom to read from the Bible with me every Sunday, and we read about Cyrus, King of Persia, who allowed the Jews to return to the Land of Judah and build the Temple in Jerusalem. I thought to myself that when the day would come and I would be the president of the United States, just as every American boy fantasizes, I would do the same as King Cyrus had done."

Truman added that when Chaim Weitzman, later the president of Israel, had visited him bearing a small sefer Torah with the request that he instruct the United States ambassador to the United Nations to support the establishment of the State of Israel, he had recalled that childhood dream of his. Truman also said to the then-MK Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz that only he and Stalin (then the president of the Soviet Union) knew how the world was in danger.

"I believe that just like you Jews saved humanity by your Torah around three thousand years ago, so I believe and expect that today too, the Jewish people will succeed in enlightening and healing the cruel hearts of our times and save the world from complete destruction."

"And this," Rabbi Lorincz said later from the Knesset podium, "is what the world leaders expect from the Jewish people — that the best of the non-Jewish intelligentsia know that the role of the Jewish people is to be a light unto the nations and to save the world through Torah."


Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz was born in Budapest, Hungary into a family of famous rabbonim. He learned in the Papa Yeshiva and later moved to Poland where he became the first Hungarian bochur to travel to the Mir Yeshiva. He sees Maran HaGaon Hatzaddik R' Yeruchom ztvk'l as his rebbi muvhok and quoted from his mussar talks many times in his speeches in the Knesset.

Before the Second World War he returned to Hungary at the directive of Maran HaMashgiach R' Yechezkel Levenstein ztvk'l. His natural leadership qualities began to be evident when he organized illegal immigration ships to Eretz Yisroel through Agudas Yisroel. He immigrated to Eretz Yisroel in 5699 (1939) and served as a rosh mesivta in the Pleitas Sofrim Yeshiva for those who were originally from Hungary and which was part of Heichal HaTalmud in Tel Aviv.

Soon after his arrival in Eretz Yisroel he became close to Maran the Chazon Ish ztvk'l, who recognized his potential as a leader and man of action. He began to enlist him for a great number of Torah activities, and through them he became one of the builders of Torah Yiddishkeit both in Eretz Yisroel and throughout the world, in the wake of the Holocaust.

In 5709 (1949), he was one of the founders of the southern settlement of Kommemiyus. Later he was one of the founders of Chinuch Atzmai, spending long periods abroad with gedolei haTorah in the USA. He dragged himself from house to house collecting tzedokoh so that schools could be opened throughout Eretz Yisroel. He created the Digleinu newspaper which quickly became the mouthpiece for the da'as Torah of Maranan the Chazon Ish and R' Yitzchok Zev of Brisk. He founded, together with his friends from Zeirei Agudas Yisroel, the No'ar Agudati youth group for the religious boys in Eretz Yisroel, as a means of instilling in them the hashkofoh of gedolei Yisroel and directing them to learn in yeshivas.

His most impressive life-works include the children's villages Sdei Chemed and Chazon Yechezkel which rescued thousands of young people from the clutches of the irreligious. Also he had a hand in building the Zeirei Agudas Yisroel neighborhoods in Bnei Brak as well as thirty- two Zeirei Agudas Yisroel shuls throughout the country. Finally, he has served as a senior member in the management of Merkaz of Chinuch Atzmai in Eretz Yisroel.

Rabbi Lorincz has enjoyed, both in the past and present, a special relationship with gedolei Yisroel. Readers of Yated Ne'eman enjoyed his series of articles on the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rov, Maran the Steipler and Morenu HaRav Shach, ztvk'l, with more on the way, be'ezras Hashem. In his writing, Rabbi Lorincz excels in describing the lifestyles and communal directives of gedolei Yisroel firsthand.

As the confidant of gedolei Yisroel, Rabbi Lorincz was sent to the Knesset as the delegate of Zeirei Agudas Yisroel in the Agudas Yisroel party. This was the faction most closely associated with the yeshivas and the roshei yeshiva. In many ways, the current Degel Hatorah is the successor of Zeirei Agudas Yisroel, even though Zeirei continues to exist. He was the personal ambassador of the gedolei Yisroel from the second Knesset through the tenth Knesset and represented the Torah world with pride for thirty-three years.

He was known as a sharp parliamentarian who clearly and elegantly expressed Torah values. He was admired across the political spectrum in the Knesset, due to his rare insight and pleasing personality. His professionalism and honesty were so well recognized that he served as Chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee for the duration of his last three terms. There has not been any MK, before or since, who has worked for so long in this senior position.

Upon retiring from the Knesset he was appointed Head of the Advisory Council of the Bank of Israel, and Rabbi Lorincz's signature embellishes all the Israeli banknotes which have been printed in the last twenty years.

His son, HaRav Yitzchok Lorincz, rosh mesivta in the Kol Torah Yeshiva, adds that his father returned to learning like a yeshiva bochur, since leaving the Knesset, and he no longer speaks about communal issues. Similarly, Rabbi Lorincz declines any request for newspaper interviews, except for one interview which he gave to the financial paper Globes about two years ago, in accordance with his obligation at the time as Head of the Advisory Council of the Bank of Israel.

In recent years Rabbi Lorincz has had the merit to publish a sefer of chiddushim, Milu'ei Shlomo, on various Torah topics, and his correspondence of divrei Torah with gedolei Yisroel. An askan devoting himself so wholeheartedly to high-level learning is a unique occurrence.

Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita writes in his letter at the beginning of the book: "My opinion is that there is an importance in publishing chidushei Torah . . . and here there is a particular importance for glory and to show the correct way to those who busy themselves with the community's needs. Even if they are occupied with mitzvos which others are unable to do, every Jew must return to his Torah study. Look in the haskomoh of the author of Oneg Yomtov on the sefer Shai Lamorah on maseches Bechoros who says there, `And I have found only one in a thousand who is engaged in business, whose interest lies wholly in Toras Hashem.' "

At the beginning of his book, Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz brings a number of stories from the time when he was one of the principal chareidi askonim, which show how unfortunate a person is who is far from Torah and mitzvos.

Rabbi Lorincz asked David Ben-Gurion after he was no longer prime minister if there was something he regretted having done during his years in office. Ben-Gurion answered, "No! Except for having exempted yeshiva bochurim from army service."

When Rabbi Lorincz asked him why he was sorry, Ben-Gurion sat there without answering for a number of long minutes.

"His face was pouring with sweat from embarrassment at being unable to respond, and he had no answer," Rabbi Lorincz relates. "So I answered for him: `Don't exert yourself. You'll never have an answer. I'll tell you the answer. There is no answer according to human logic, but it is a simple, though ancient, secret. "The hearts of kings and ministers are in the hand of Hashem." While you were prime minister and minister of defense, your heart was in Hashem's hand so you couldn't do what you would have liked to do yourself and draft the yeshiva bochurim. Now that you have resigned, your heart is again within your control, so you have regrets according to your own opinion.'"

Incidentally, Moshe Dayan who was the minister of defense for many years and helped release the yeshiva bochurim in many different ways, also told Rabbi Lorincz in later years that he regretted nothing that he had done, apart from his agreement to exempt the yeshiva bochurim.


There is another, more famous story. Once the then-prime minister, Golda Meir, divulged her worries to Rabbi Lorincz: "I'm really troubled, to the point that many times I can't fall asleep."

Rabbi Lorincz enquired whether it was due to the security, financial or social situation. Meir answered that all those problems could be solved. "I'm disturbed that one day my children and grandchildren will say to themselves, `Why should we battle with so many difficulties in our country? — in America we can live peacefully with no problems.' And they'll leave."

Mrs. Meir added that she had no such worries about Rabbi Lorincz's children and grandchildren.

"I am certain that your grandchildren and descendants will never leave Eretz Yisroel since they are connected to it with their very souls."

When Rabbi Lorincz asked her that if that was correct why she had fought chareidi education her whole life, the former prime minister replied, "Believe me, Rabbi Lorincz, many times I think that I erred!"

The Brochoh for the Separate Beach

Rabbi Yehuda Meir Abramowicz

A short while after the new separate beach was opened in Tel Aviv for frum people, Rabbi Yehuda Meir Abramowicz, the man who had made the arrangements, was invited to the home of the Chazon Ish.

"You must tell me which great mitzvah you have done in the past, since one mitzvah leads to another," said the Chazon Ish.

"I envy you the reward you will receive in Olom Habo for this deed," he added.

Rabbi Yehuda Meir Abramowicz had a remarkable relationship with the gedolei Yisroel of previous generations. These included the Chazon Ish, Maran HaRav MiPonevezh, the Beis Yisroel, the Vishnitzer Rebbe, ztvk'l, and many other of the leaders of chareidi Yiddishkeit at the time. Today, fifty or sixty years later, Rabbi Abramowicz remembers wonderful stories from his close ties with gedolei Yisroel concerning communal matters.

Rabbi Yehuda Meir Abramowicz is the chairman of the World Council of Agudas Yisroel. He is a very elderly man of more than ninety years, with tons of public service and askonus to his credit, and he still has a clear mind and an incredible memory.

He was born in Lodz, Poland. At the age of twenty, in 5696 (1935), he settled in Eretz Yisroel. While still in Poland, he had learned and received semichoh at Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Lublin.

When he arrived in Eretz Yisroel he began to teach children, and did so for a number of years. In 5700 (1940) he was chosen secretary of the Central Committee of the Agudas Yisroel movement in Eretz Yisroel. Later, in 5708 (1948), he was elected to be General Secretary of Agudas Yisroel.

Over time he has served as a member of the World Council of Agudas Yisroel, chairman of the Political Committee of World Agudas Yisroel, chairman of the Tel Aviv Jaffa branch of Agudas Yisroel, Agudas Yisroel's representative on the Religious Committee of the Supreme Command of the Haganah, member of the "Committee of Four" at the Ministry of Defense whose job it was to release religious girls from military service, vice-chairman of the Tel Aviv Jaffa Religious Council, member of Tel Aviv Jaffa City Council and Head of the Social Work Section in Tel Aviv Jaffa, a position he held for twenty-two years.

Rabbi Abramowicz was elected to the Seventh Knesset and was an MK for three successive terms, becoming also deputy speaker of the Knesset and a member of various committees. He represented the chareidim, their beliefs and requirements, with pride and strength, in the same way as all the chareidi MKs. He is well remembered for an important law which he passed, which is known as the Abramowicz Law. This law requires safety-belts to be fitted in the rear- seats of vehicles. Many drivers are careless about this, but the police often stringently implement it, which is good.

Now, Rabbi Abramowicz leaves his home in the Sha'arei Chessed neighborhood of Jerusalem each morning to catch an early shacharis. After breakfast he rests a little and then learns bechavrusa with a bochur from Yeshivas Ma'alos HaTorah. His family tells us that his mind is sharp although he is physically weak, as one would expect at his age. However he is able to attend important events such as family simchas.

As previously mentioned, Rabbi Abramowicz was a member of the Committee of Four whose function was to approve the release of girls who asserted that they kept Shabbos, from military service. There were non-religious girls who also presented themselves to the committee, but received a release in any case. One Shabbos, army personnel made a spot check at places of entertainment in Tel Aviv and discovered girls there who had stated that they kept Shabbos, in order to be freed from military service. Ben-Gurion summoned Rabbi Abramowicz to his office and raged at his awarding exemptions to girls like those.

"I went to ask the Chazon Ish to ask him what I should do," Rabbi Abramowicz relates. "His answer was, `Continue to grant exemptions to every girl who wants one. It's on my head.' And that's what happened."


Another example which shows how the Chazon Ish held him in high esteem is the following story.

At that time, when refugees were coming to Eretz Yisroel from all over the world, there were not as many yeshivas and places to learn Torah as there are today. Not every young bochur carried on learning until marriage and then continued in a kolel. Many began working while still very young.

When Rabbi Abramowicz's son reached bar mitzvah age in 5713 (1953), he came to invite the Ponevezher Rov to the celebration, who asked him if he had also invited the Chazon Ish.

"I answered that there was no chance that he would come. The Chazon Ish was already very old, it being only a year before he passed away. But in the end I went to the Chazon Ish's home. To my surprise he told me that he would come, on two conditions. The first, that he wouldn't eat anything there; and the second, that the bochur would stay in yeshiva until he got married. The Chazon Ish did come and stayed for a while," relates Rabbi Abramowicz.

At the time of Rabbi Shlomo Goren's mamzeirim parsha (when Rabbi Goren published a permission to marry for a brother and sister who were mamzeirim in a move that was criticized by all maranan verabonon, both individually and collectively) an emergency meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah was convened. Unusually two great poskim, Maran HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztvk'l and ylct'a Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita, who were not members of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, were invited to come. However all attempts at persuasion were unsuccessful and HaRav Auerbach refused to take part in the meeting, firm in his resolution not to participate in Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah discussions.

At a certain point the Beis Yisroel decided to send Rabbi Abramowicz to the house of HaRav Shlomo Zalman in the Sha'arei Chessed neighborhood. Following a long conversation he succeeded in convincing HaRav Auerbach to go to the special meeting. "I saw that the Beis Yisroel had much pleasure from what I had done," he later recounted.

Rabbi Abramowicz also delivered many messages between the Beis Yisroel and the Vishnitzer Rebbe. These included many suggestions about communal matters which the Gerrer Rebbe wanted to show the Vishnitzer Rebbe in order to ask for his agreement.

Once, the Vishnitzer Rebbe said to Rabbi Abramowicz, "Tell the Gerrer Rebbe that he doesn't need to send you anymore. I accept everything he suggests. He is a holy Yid. He has saved my life more than once through his tefillos."

There were successful missions with senior figures in the government during the period that he served as General Secretary of Agudas Yisroel. Talmudei Torah had been set up in a number of Tel Aviv neighborhoods. However, the municipality refused to pay for their upkeep and cleaning. At that time the mayor was Yisroel Rokach.

One day Rabbi Abramowicz, together with Rabbi Yitzchok Meir Levin z'l the chairman of Agudas Yisroel, arrived at his office. They tried to persuade him to pay for the cleaning and upkeep of the city's chareidi institutions, but had no success.

"Your talmudei Torah are not recognized by the Education Ministry and you have no representative on the municipality, so there is no reason to take your institutions into consideration," answered Mayor Rokach.

In reply Rabbi Abramowicz asked, "Why does the municipality trouble itself to clean and maintain the City Zoo? The animals also don't have any representation in the municipality!"

Rokach heard him and acquiesced.

Years later Chaim Levanon was the mayor and Rabbi Abramowicz was one of the vice mayors. In those days there was no deputy mayor and if the mayor was unavailable he would appoint one of the vice mayors to fill his place. The mayor once spent a month abroad and delegated Rabbi Abramowicz to take over. This occurred during Nisan, when the Herut party was holding its convention in Tel Aviv.

Rabbi Abramowicz came to the convention to greet the participants as acting mayor. In his speech he quoted the posuk about the korbon Pesach. "`And you shall take the blood . . . and put it on the lintel.' The Herut movement has shed blood for Eretz Yisroel. I hope that you reach the lintel," he addressed the participants.

Twenty years later when Menachem Begin formed his first government in 5737 (1977) and left the Knesset podium after being appointed prime minister, he approached the first row of Members of the Knesset, turned to Rabbi Abramowicz and said, "We've reached the lintel!"

End of Part I


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