Jerusalem, City of Unity

by Moshe Hauer

This week the Jewish world will celebrate the 46th anniversary of the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. This miraculous event restored unity to the city that symbolizes Jewish unity, described by the Psalmist as “the city that is united together” (Psalm 122). In fact, King David only established Jerusalem as Israel’s capital after mending the divisions within the Jewish People and gaining their unified support (Samuel II, chapter 5). As such, and with keen awareness of all that continues to divide our People – especially in Yerushalayim – I would like to share three quotes from Rav Avraham Yitzchak haKohein Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Palestine. The quotes present a concept and a strategy of Jewish unity.

The Concept
The quote below comes from Rav Kook’s “Ayn Ayoh” commentary to the Aggadaic passages in TB Berachos (64a), and is also found in his “Siddur Olat Riyah” (quote translated by Chanan Morrison). It presents a concept of peace and unity that clearly guided Rav Kook’s communal thinking and activities.

“Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Haninah: Torah scholars increase peace in the world. As it says, “All of Your children are students of God; great is the peace of Your children” (Isaiah 54:13). Read this not as “banayich” — ‘Your children’ — but rather “bonayich” — ‘Your builders’.” (Berachot 64a)
Considering the vast number of disagreements and differences of opinion among Torah scholars, Rabbi Haninah’s statement seems, well, counterintuitive. Do scholars really increase peace in the world? And why did Rabbi Haninah insist that they are ‘builders’? What does this tell us about scholars and peace?
People mistakenly believe that peace in the world means that everyone will share common viewpoints and think the same way. So when they see scholars disagreeing about an issue, this appears to be the exact opposite of peace.

True peace, however, comes precisely through the proliferation of divergent views. When all of the various angles and sides of an issue are exposed, and we are able to clarify how each one has its place — that is true peace. The Hebrew word ‘Shalom’ means both ‘peace’ and ‘completeness.’ We will only attain complete knowledge when we are able to accommodate all views — even those that appear contradictory – as partial perceptions of the whole truth. Like an interlocking puzzle, together they present a complete picture.

For this reason, Rabbi Haninah emphasized that scholars are like builders. A building is erected from all sides, using a variety of materials and skills. So too, the whole truth is constructed from diverse views, opinions and methods of analysis.

This concept of constructive peace underlies the value Rav Kook placed on the secular efforts to build the State, and inspired his readiness to build upon those efforts. While others could not see themselves partnering with secular Zionists in any way, Rav Kook saw them as providing a critical aspect of the national rebuilding that is to be worked with, in the way of true Torah scholars:

When the world of the faithful and the true critiques the Zionist movement, it is not a negating critique, meaning that it does not consider the movement without positive value, that it is something absolutely negative. Rather it is a constructive critique, proposing that Zionism must be raised even higher, must be dramatically elevated,
because in its current form only a small part of true Jewish life is visible within it, and even less of the holy force that ought to be present in an endeavor as critical as this that truly represents the nation as a whole, together with all the generations past and with its ultimate destiny.
This force in its truest form will not be found in the secular cultural world, when it alone is engaged in the work of nation building. For this purpose diplomatic and literary skills – as well as other gifts of modernity and of humanity – are insufficient even in their most polished forms. They are however wonderful things and serve us well as means to an end, and utilized properly they will serve as excellent tools for the movement to restore the Jewish soul of the nation in its fullest expression…. (Letters, no. 888)

The Strategy

Finally, this concept of unity was the basis for Rav Kook’s strategy for constructively building the Jewish future, expressed most clearly in this letter to a colleague, a leader in the Mizrachi movement.

My dear friend,
I will rely on the words of our holy sages who say, “Any love which does not include rebuke is not love.” And therefore, because of our close friendship, I find myself obligated to come to you with this rebuke.
It has come to my attention that in a speech which you gave … you spoke very negatively about the holy institution Shaarei Torah and you disparaged its Torah scholars and its students. I literally trembled when I heard this, and if not for the fact that I heard it from someone who is completely trustworthy, I would never have believed such a thing about someone as great as yourself.

My friend, this is not the way – to tear down with your hands our holy institutions, our treasure houses of life. It is possible [as you have suggested] that our times require us to create schools that teach secular subjects, so that our generation will be drawn to attend them, provided of course that they are imbued with the spirit of the Torah. However, how terrible it would be if because of this we would attack our existing institutions – our living and enduring holy treasure houses. I myself have on more than one occasion assessed the students of Shaarei Torah and I will testify that [it will help us] establish a generation of G-d fearing Torah scholars, filled with a love of Torah and fear of Heaven…. And this is specifically because this holy institution has followed the paths laid by the Torah giants of previous generations. … Only through the ancient Beit HaMedrash and those who study there can Torah and light come to Bnei Yisrael. …
Please strengthen yourself in the following idea, that we must only build up and never tear down, to add and never to take away.

I know that you will accept these words with love and good-will, even though they are words of rebuke. And I beg you to be careful in the future from speaking in any way against our holy institutions which are as the sun to us, treasure houses of Torah and fear of heaven, to raise for us holy sheep to give light, … and to see clearly that Torah may come from them in the future.

And if you have any suggestions of any kind, please… (Letters, #570)

How productive it would be if we could adopt this concept of peace, with each “camp” recognizing the substantive contribution of the other and trying to build upon it without devaluing the other or tearing it down. Then we could truly enhance peace in our world.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer is spiritual leader of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, and a member of the Editorial Board of Klal Perspectives.

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8 Responses

  1. Shades of Gray says:

    ” However, how terrible it would be if because of this we would attack our existing institutions – our living and enduring holy treasure houses”

    In connection with current events, I think MK Lipman is incorrect in making funding dependent upon teaching a core curriculum. I don’t think you can drag the Charedi world, kicking and screaming, over to a certain hashkafah. They have to want to do it on their own and see a benefit in it.

    I wonder, however, what is terrible about the most minimal amount of secular education. One Rosh Yeshiva explained today that introducing limudie chol “is destroying the atmosphere of Kedushah”, unlike in America, where the situation is different. In literal terms of “Kedushah”, I don’t understand. I thought that in Judaism, the point is to sanctify materialism. This concept, I think, is especially taught to Baalei Teshuvah –that Judaism doesn’t advocate as holiness fleeing from the world; if food and marital intimacy can be sanctified, why can’t basic intellectual skills, kal vachomer, also be taught al tahras hakodesh? Perhaps the point is that the subjects are taught differently, Torah, ideally with “trembling” and faith-based, while secular subjects, the atmposphre is more relaxed, and intellectual freedom is valued more. Even one hour of basic math and English skills in this atmosphere, might stunt the growth of potential Gedolim, as it opens the door to a different mindset.

    However, there is still the question of children who are not set out to be Gedolim being negatively impacted, as recognized by Rav Dessler. There is an interesting quote from Dr. Yitzchak Levine about successful American rabbonim voluntarily studying math in high school(although I suppose one might counter that they are relative exceptions as compared to the successes of the Israeli system):

    “[Rabbi Lonner of Torah Vodaas] then proceeded to outline the general studies curriculum with emphasis on the mathematics component. He spoke of the math courses in the ninth, tenth and eleventh grades and of the excellent instructors he always strove to hire. I then asked him,

    “What mathematics do you teach in the twelfth grade?” He became somewhat crestfallen and replied, “What can I tell you, Dr. Levine? It is not like it was years ago, when boys like Rabbi Belsky and Rabbi Steinwurzl would stay after school and attend an extra math class that I taught. It is not like it was years ago.” A friend of mine recalled that when he studied in Torah Vodaath, he and other boys would forgo their lunch hour to attend a calculus course that Rabbi Lonner taught”

  2. dr. bill says:

    Shades of Gray: an entire population not preparing to be able to work may have no legitimacy as a shittah. I am fond of quoting the teshuvot of R. Dovid Karliner. He stressed the need for secular education in Israel, something he opposed in his native Europe. However, even if I were to grant the view legitimacy, does not mean I (or the State) am required to provide it financial support if I oppose it.

    I and many others took 12th grade math with r. Lonner, AH in the 60’s when I attended TV. Note the name – vodaath sounds like maddah, perhaps.

    Rabbi Hauer: Very nice article. As I read, I recalled the brilliant explanation of the response to the rashah, in a recent haggadah by r. reuvain bengis ztl. despite its novelty, it may be pshat!! It supports r. kook’s ztl method of dealing with the non-frum. Ironically, as one might expect, the biography of r. bengis, at the end of the haggadah, did not explain why he did not come to Israel for three years (1932 – 1935) after r. sonnenfeld’s ztl death. As a student of Volozhin, he knew the regard for r. kook that the netziv had. R. kook died in 1935 and r. bengis did not want to lead an opposing (chareidi) community. Given the ways of Hashem, two of R. Bengis’s great grandsons are RY in DL yeshivot in Israel.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    Every strategy has to consider the other players, who also have strategies. There are times when positive engagement as a policy hits a wall because others are against it in principle or for other reasons. Sometimes there is a wall because of a misunderstanding, but other times it’s because of a clear understanding.

  4. cvmay says:

    “It is not like it was years ago.”

    This is an important statement to analyze, the young adults of today (male & female), overall are NOT intellectually curious in any specific subject matter. Even in the world of Limud Kodesh & Limud Hatorah, there are not bochurim who are interested in delving into Nach b’iyon (like Rav Bulman), the Kuzari, Iggres Moshe, Machshava, etc. So it is a definite that in secular studies, they will only focus on what is needed for employment reasons. Females even more so…

  5. Shades of Gray says:

    “However, even if I were to grant the view legitimacy, does not mean I (or the State) am required to provide it financial support if I oppose it.”

    R. Shimon Schwab and RSRH wrote that they were not imposing TIDE on EY, implying that the shittah was legitimate, in their times; Charedim say that they pay taxes like everyone and are entitled to support from the State.

    Following the election of Tommy Lapid, Jonthan Rosenblum wrote in the Summer, 2004 Jewish Action that to take away money from Charedi families was “blind to the magnitude of the human suffering affecting tens of thousands of religious families”. R. Aharon Lichtenstein said last year, “how can a leader encourage his entire community to have large families, when the children are literally suffering from hunger? It is the leaders – not those who are led – who have brought about the situation in which children will not receive an education that will make it possible for them to earn an honourable living…” However, R. Lichtenstein has not embraced MK Lipman’s plan, perhaps in accordance with the quote in this post from Rav Kook that “ how terrible it would be if because of this we would attack our existing institutions – our living and enduring holy treasure houses”.

    Jonathan Rosenblum pointed out in the above article that, “the Chareidi community is by nature an evolutionary, not a revolutionary, one. What changes take place will come in an incremental fashion, primarily generated by pressures from below. R. Aryeh Z. Ginzberg wrote similarly in this week’s 5TJT that , “yes, we do need change, and yes, change will come; however, it will come slowly, without forcing the closing of yeshivos and without removing subsidies from large chareidi families…”

    R. Yaakov Horowitz believes that the Charedi community had a good defense by showing that it was slowly “evolving”, but kannoim have ruined it. He writes that “ Rav Shteinman Shlita fully supported[ Nachal Charedi] not to be for a few hundred at-risk boys, but rather as a mainstreaming process for the many thousands of young men who are not cut out for a full day of learning. The radical kanoim (extremists) in Eretz Yisroel unleashed a vile campaign of hate and intimidation against one of our gedolei hador for having the courage to support a solution that would have been a “win-win.”… This would have gone a long way to sooth the simmering anger of the general population about the army matter that just exploded a few months ago…How different things would be in Eretz Yisroel today if the sage advice of Rav Shteinman was followed a decade ago”

  6. Allan Katz says:

    Maths education- at least 90% of people never use their high school maths beyond the 1st semester in Algebra. Maths is learned by memorization andf practice , not understanding from the inside out.

    high school education – no intrinsic value , except the graduation certificate which allows you to study further

    yeshivah gedolah education – imho for sure equivalent of a B.A and more.

    If the frum politicians in Israel really wanted to help hareidim get work, they would try to find ways so a Yeshivah education has the same recognition in the job market as a B.A in Chinese studies, political science etc

    Those who are familar with the writings of progressive educationalists like Alfie Kohn and Deborah Meier will agree that a yeshivah education teaches ‘ thinking ‘ skills and collaboration needed for the modern economy .Traditional secular education fails badly

  7. Shades of Gray says:

    “yeshivah gedolah education – imho for sure equivalent of a B.A and more”

    In an interview in 2007 with Steve Savitsky on the OU website(“Wordliness and Walls”), Rabbi Dr. Aaron Hirsch Fried praised Touro College’s Machon L’parnasha in New York as “hopeful and encouraging”, for giving Chasidim at ages 25-26, basic English and math skills so that they can go on to earn a degree. However, R. Fried notes(18 minutes in MP3) that

    “many of those young men are very angry now that when they were children or bachurim, when they were teenagers, they not given the skills that they now have to learn when they already have a house of 2/3 kids to support ”

  8. dr. bill says:

    shades of gray;

    you write: R. Shimon Schwab and RSRH wrote that they were not imposing TIDE on EY.

    1. r. schwab’s account of rsrh has been discussed at length by prof. katz zl and yibadeil le’chaim prof. leiman. it is not raised in serious conversation.

    2. rsrh did not claim prophecy and to opine on how he would view israel today is conjecture. and yours is probably wrong in anycase.

    3. tide in some form is a mishnah, not the invention of rsrh.

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