Welcome Words From a Spiritual Giant

It has been over thirty years since I met Yaakov Katz, and I’ve regretted ever since that I have not had an opportunity to stay in touch with him. Ketzalah, as everyone calls him, is a larger-than-life figure that one can never forget.

The cane he hobbled on even back then was dwarfed by his warm, engaging, constant smile. It was a reminder of his hip taking a direct hit from an Egyptian RPG in the Yom Kippur War. His elite officers-only unit of twelve men killed all seventy of the enemy in that battle. Hanging on to life by a thread, he pledged to the Ribbono Shel Olam that if He let him live, he would devote the rest of his life to Hashem’s service.

Ketzaleh made good on his pledge. I met him in Beit-El, a community that he helped begin, and would fill with a yeshiva – which was the literal and figurative center of the community – as well as schools for boys and girls.

Meeting him marked, in a sense, the beginning of my reexamining what I had been taught in my yeshiva years. Since Beit-El was a product of the Zionist world, I expected to find a rosh yeshiva sitting in shorts and sandals, and open shirt, addressed by all as “Shuki, and incapable of tackling anything deeper than a Kehati Mishayos.” To my surprise, the Rosh Yeshiva I was introduced to sat with a hat and kapoteh, deeply immersed in the study of a Ketzos, which did not obscure a radiant hadras panim. (It belonged to Rav Zalman Melamed, shlit”a, one of the closest talmidim of Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, zt”l.)

Observing the fierce commitment of the residents to Torah, Land and People, the absence of materialism, the natural tzniyus of the women, I wondered whether my camp had gotten it all right. I have continued to wonder in the decades that followed.

The article from Arutz-7 that follows shows that the regard in which Ketzaleh is held is not misplaced:

MK Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh), Chairman of the National Union, told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday that in 20 or 30 years the country and the army will have a religious majority.

He asked the Head of Personnel Branch, Major General Orna Barbivai, to accept religious soldiers with love and not make it more difficult for them to serve.
He was referring to recent attempts to force religious soldiers to watch women singing in entertainment events – in contravention of halakhic precepts and rabbincal instructions.

“I love the hareidi public with all my soul,” Ketzaleh said. “First of all, because all of our grandfathers and grandmothers until two, three, four generations ago were hareidim and I love my grandfather and love my great grandfather, who had a hat, beard and peot.”

“I also love our sons and grandsons, because I have sons with beards and peot, and they were battalion commanders in the IDF Paratroopers,” he added.

“I say to the hareidi public: first of all, keep on having large numbers of children, it has a contagious effect on everyone. They are taking care of Israeli demography. One needs 12 and 15 children… keep at it.”

“I can promise you, Major General Barbivai, in 10 years – don’t worry – in 20, 30 years, our army will be flooded with guys who have beards and peot. In 10, 15, 20 years the religious and hareidi public will be the majority in the country. You can’t do anything about it, that’s how it is… it’s a reality one needs to be aware of,” Ketzaleh said.

“The intent needs to be – how do we absorb this population and turn it into the main pillar of Israel, the backbone, with all the kindness that it contains, and the love of Torah and the nation and morality,” he added.

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13 Responses

  1. Gavriel says:

    It’s difficult to say that our grandparents were charedi. They had never even heard of kollel and Daas Torah was a new phenomenon.

  2. L.Oberstein says:

    Can you imagine what the Socialist free thinkers of the second aliyah would think if they knew that this would be the result of their pioneering? It would seem to bear out the vision of Rav Kook.Yet, it didn’t happen yet and we can’t say it is a fait accomplis until it does. If we observant Jews had the self confidence to be mekarev other Jews instead of retreating into our ghetto walls, we could help keep a lot more Jews Jewish. I can’t get over the several times when I was at a Pesach Hotel in Disney World and went over to another Disney Hotel and saw and heard Israelis speaking Hebrew ignoring Pesach by eating chametz and forgetting about any kind of observance of our liberation. To them it was as religious as Lincoln’s Birthday is to us, just a vacation time. It made me feel that we had missed something in creating a secular state where Jews don’t even walk into a syangogue.That is true of the secular elite, but the masses ,especially the Sephardim, are not freethinkers.

  3. Michael Feigin says:

    This is extremely refreshing to see.

  4. Shimon says:

    Unfortunately, Ketzaleh needs a bit of history. None of our grandparents were haredi! The idea of haredi didn’t even exist then.If he thinks that having a beard and dressing in black is haredi, then I guess R. Kook was haredi.

  5. joel rich says:

    The ideas expressed are beautiful, the actuarial projections not so simple. Curious if you would have felt differently if the rosh yeshiva learning the Ketzot had been wearing Dockers?

    [YA – I hope I wouldn’t. Had he as a Rosh Yeshiva – worn shorts and an open shirt, I certainly would have felt uncomfortable for what I would have seen as a sleight to kavod ha-Torah.]

  6. dovid2 says:

    “If he thinks that having a beard and dressing in black is haredi, then I guess R. Kook was haredi.”

    If you think throwing stones, spitting, and using nivul peh makes one charedi, that there are 360 million + charedim in the world. They are more commonly known as Arabs.

  7. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    The terms then were not dati and hiloni but hareidi and hofshi, and yes, Rav Kook was considered hareidi. The post-war aberration of life-long Kollel was a horaas shaa of the Chazon Ish to replace the numbers of Torah scholars lost in the Shoah. It succeeded. Ben-Gurion, who was confident in his secular triumphalism, decided to endow yeshivas and kollelim in order to keep the “museum” of Yiddishkeit in business so that people would know Jewish history and culture and so that wealthy Jews in the Diaspora would contribute to a Jewish state which was a perceived continuation of their zeide’s Yiddishkeit. The budgeting of religion was also designed to keep it under the thumb of the secular government. Today we can say confidently that both the CI and Rav Kook were successful and BG failed. We are well on our way to a religious majority, and the frum people who will have to do the work to run it are on their way to being ready to do so. Which groups will handle what parts of this work, among the Ashkenazi Hareidi, Sefardi Hareidi and DL communities is being worked out little by little. I have confidence that the problems will be solved despite the ugly skirmishes going on. Ketzaleh knows history very well. Those zeides were the working hareidi and that’s what the overwhelming majority will go back to being in the majority-frum State of Israel of the near future.

  8. aron feldman says:

    The elite higher ups in the IDF have evrey reason to fear Ketzaleh and his ilk.Their greatest fear will be an army comprised of dedicated DL youths who are not amenable to concessions or open to embracing the now in vogue Post-Zionist ideology.

  9. dr. bill says:

    As Shimon and Gavriel have already pointed out, nothing in our history was quite the Israeli chareidim of today. Of course, relative to “predicting” the past, predicting the future is even harder. Undoubtedly, in two generations, the grandchildren and great granchildren of today’s chareidim and DL will comprise a larger group than the the grandchildren and great granchildren of the remainder of Israeli society. That said, it would be a bit rash to predict their attitudes towards religion, the state of Israel, modernity, etc. As an old professor taught me 40 years ago, “remember the impact of feedback”; massive change causes massive often unpredictable changes. We can only hope that as a result of these changes, the divide lessens.

  10. cvmay says:

    “Observing the fierce commitment of the residents to Torah, Land and People, the absence of materialism, the natural tzniyus of the women, I wondered whether my camp had gotten it all right. I have continued to wonder in the decades that followed”.

    Have you stopped wondering yet? & concluded that YES they got it WRONG, so the question still remains, Why does the Yeshiva World (my camp)still shun, ignore and delegitimize this sector of Bnei Torah?

    [YA – I concluded a long time ago that they had it wrong in regard to shunning, ignoring, delegitimizing etc. In other regards, though, the yeshiva camp has it very right (no pun intended), especially for those of us trapped in galus where there is nothing at all comparable to a strong DL camp.]

  11. S.L. Zacharowicz says:

    In the many yarchei kallahs on medical halacha in which I’ve participated (www.j-c-r.org), there were no “chareidi” poskim or “modern” poskim or “Litvak” poskim or “chassidishe” poskim–there were just world renowned poskim ranging from Y.U. roshei yeshiva to Mercaz HaRav to Satmar to Eidah Chareidis.

    Anyone who is serious about Torah realizes that we are living, or should be living, in a post-label world. The serious business of Torah learning cannot be relegated to such inane labels.

    Rav Kook ztl and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztl (who deeply admired Rav Kook) cannot really be considered to in any one camp. The same goes for Rav Waldenberg ztl. And the list goes on.

    In contrast, the disturbed, violent fanatical individuals who have assaulted young women and girls in Ramat Beit Shemesh cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered orthodox, let alone chareidi.

    I hope we all stop stereotypes and focus on what is important.

  12. Ben Waxman says:

    This is not the first time that I’ve a story like the one written here. The first time was when a friend of mine, who grew up British chareidi, was learning at Keren B’Yavneh. He wanted to do Shanna Bet but was hesitant when learned that Rav Motti Greenberg had been appointed the Rosh Yeshiva. A srugi who was going to fill the yeshiva with Zionism??? In the end he decided to stay.

    A few months later, I happened to see him on the street in Jerusalem and asked how it was going with the new rosh yeshiva. He was jubilant: “Rav Motti is incredible! He’s a gaon in Torah and he is sooo frum (his word)”. I replied “And he wears a kippa srugah!” He replied “I know, I can’t believe it!”.

    There is so much behind this story (how he grew up, what he was taught, how he came to the conclusion that a srugi can’t be a real scholar) that needs to be understood and dealt with.

  13. Jon Baker says:

    My grandparents were not Charedi. They weren’t even Orthodox. But they were Yidn.

    Dad’s parents were raised frum, possibly chasidish, and threw it off before they came here in 1914 (married 1912).

    Mom’s parents, well, Grandma’s family was what today might be called Conservadox, but was at the time “strictly Orthodox” – that is, when the shul my great-grandfather founded went Conservative, he didn’t stop davening there. He had a mustache and whatever hats (straw, felt) people were wearing for the season. Grandpa was raised non-religious, but sorta traditional, I think, in Harlem.

    On Dad’s side, yes, my great-grandfather had a hat, beard and peyot, but when he was in this country the beard was trimmed, the hat was a silk hoiche yarmulke, and the peyot were behind his ears. In Russia his beard was long. AFAIK, none of his children were religious. The other great-grandfather was bald & clean-shaven, and while he davened 3x a day, he didn’t wish for his children to grow up to be religious, he wished for his children to grow up to be professional musicians. The doctor son was the black sheep, until he joined the Doctors’ Orchestra.

    Priorities are different in a Russia full of Torah and poshute yiddn, vs. America with its pressure to work on Saturday and a need to fit in to get things done for the Jewish community, vs America with triumphalist Orthodoxy.

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