If you mention “Balfour” to many young people today, they will assume that you mean what the umpire calls out just before permitting a batter to take first base. (Sorry, folks. Baseball is still on our minds here in Mudville-Los Angeles.)

Worse is the reaction of many in our community who believe they know and understand the famed 67-word declaration that paved the way for the Jewish State exactly one hundred years ago today. They are therefore certain that the Balfour Declaration, stating that the British looked favorably at establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, was met with condemnation by gedolei Torah.

It wasn’t.

Consider this, from Ohr Yechezkel (Emunah, עמ’ רעט), by R. Chatzkel Levenstein, Mashgiach of the Mir:

והנה כאשר נתבונן נראה בעליל שימים אלו הם ימות המשיח…והנה עתה ארץ ישראל נבנית בצורה שלא נבנית מעולם, ויתכן שנבנית למען מטרה זו שתבוא הגאולה בהיות ארץ ישראל מיושבת. זכרוני בעת הצהרת בלפור שהחפץ חיים זצ”ל אמר שזו התעוררות לגאולה, אך מאוד צריך לדאוג מי יחטוף את הארץ שלא יעשו הם לבעלים עלי’.


על אחת כמה וכמה עתה שרואים אנו בניין ארץ ישראל ודאי שזו הכנה לגאולה.

The Chofetz Chaim saw it is a harbinger of redemption, while wisely cautioning that the wrong people might assert ownership or control of the new enterprise. Caution, however, is not the same as rejection. It was not the reaction that you would expect from, say, the Minchas Elozer, or Satmar.

More positive yet were the reactions of the Ohr Someach, and the Shem MiShmuel.

R. Meir Simchah was not very favorably disposed towards the Zionism of his day. The people of Dvinsk were not sure if he would show up at the gathering in honor of the declaration. He sent back that he most certainly would attend, and very perceptively saw in the Declaration the acknowledgment by the nations that Jews – after 2000 years of exile – were still a nation, besides a religious group.

Of course there is much more to say. If you want to watch a fascinating historical perspective, watch this, compliments of our evangelical friends at Christian Broadcasting Network.

But today, on the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, if your heart tells you that you wish to celebrate, I for one will have no objection.

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44 Responses

  1. Ori Pomerantz says:

    The Chofetz Chaim saw it is a harbinger of redemption, while wisely cautioning that the wrong people might assert ownership or control of the new enterprise.

    This is about thirty six years after the Zionist movement started in 1881, and twenty years after the first Zionist Congress in 1897 (led by the very secular Theodore Herzl). It was very much the people the Chofetz Chaim would consider wrong who controlled the enterprise.

    • lacosta says:

      maybe as a lesson applicable to today’s times as well –shev v’al taa’seh , which is what european haredidom did, to yield palestine to the seculars, led to the inevitable lack of leverage for the 1st 40 yrs of the medina’s existence, as well as just about every sacrilege they complain about there

      and it should be thus– history is written by the players, not by bystanders…. why RBSO decided to do it this way, who knows- maybe to keep haimishe bochrim [who can’t go even to an army for self defense] out of malarial swamps….

    • joel rich says:

      perhaps because “the right people” didn’t take advantage of the opportunity (in the words of an old joke [actually what imi morati would call “a bitte gelechter”{a bitter laugh} “who do you think sent the boat and the helicopter”)
      Joel Rich

    • Mostly because the people he considered right refused to join the Zionist movement and cooperate in the building of the Land.

    • Weaver says:

      “The Chofetz Chaim saw it is a harbinger of redemption, while wisely cautioning that the wrong people might assert ownership or control of the new enterprise.”
      The Zionists WERE the enterprise; the European yeshiva world had no “enterprise” or goal in mind.

  2. mb says:

    In Britain, in 1917, there were 3 extraordinary religious Jews, from 3 different strands of orthodoxy, who walked the corridors of power and greatly influenced the declaration. Chief Rabbi Dr. Hertz zt’l, the first CR to be openly Zionist, and his extraordinary loyalty to the Crown, Chaim Weitzman zt’l, rewarded for his war effort inventions, and finally, drum roll, please, Ha Rav Kook, zt’l, trapped in Switzerland at the outbreak of war, made his way to London, became the Rav of Machzikei HaDath, learned English from a Siddur,and formed close relationships with the other 2. Hashgacha pratis? How could it not be?

    • dr. bill says:

      Remarkable. About twenty years later, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the 20th century learned English from reading the first volumes of the Soncino translation of the Talmud.

      Is there any published history of that period that documents their influence?

      • mb says:

        Dr. Bill, there’s lots on the trinity, so to speak. Here’s one, this time with Sokolow and Weitzman. (He had previously brought the Haredim into closer relationship with the Chief Rabbinate and especially CR Hertz. Also see the later relationship between CR Hertz and R.Dr. Schonfeld in cross communal efforts and especially the Kindertransport. Remarkably R, Schonfeld married R.Hertz’s daughter!)

        In 1917 there was a divide in British Jewry between pro- and anti-Zionist forces. Rav Kook was actively involved in the pro-Zionist effort. He developed contacts with Nahum Sokolow and Chaim Weizmann and influenced the internal Jewish negotiations. In a bold manifesto, he condemned as treachery the anti-Zionist letter sent to The Times by some of the communal leaders and his remarks were quoted in the House of Commons.

        At a gathering at the Albert Hall to mark the Declaration, he said, “I did not come to thank the English people (but) to congratulate it, with the blessing of Mazal Tov on its great merit in being the one nation to grant us the Declaration.”

    • Ben Bradley says:

      Weizman was shomer mitzvos? Didn’t think so, but open to correction. Not that it’s relevant to his achievements, I should add.

      • mb says:

        Ben Bradley, yes he was. He was FFB , eased off it a bit, for a while and returned to it., and especially the most important one, settling the Land. He was an active member of New West End Synagogue

      • Mark says:

        Chaim Weizmann’s plan was to create a glitzy, Anglo-Saxon style State, and if your grandparents were typical observant Jews living anywhere in Eastern Europe, they were deemed by Weizmann to be obstacles, dust under the wheels of history who had to meet their fate. Of course, if they lived in Hungary, they were actively betrayed by Weizmann, whose despicably callous response to Joel Brand’s plea for help is entered for all time into the Kasztner trial record.

      • mb says:

        Ah, the good old days of Eastern European Jewry, pogroms and all.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    There were once circles in England friendly to Jews:

    Balfour and his associates had additional motivations related to World War 1:

    • Charlie Hall says:

      While there were lots of circles friendly to Jews in England in the early 20th century, particularly Liberal Party figures like Lloyd-George and Churchill, Balfour was not among them. He had gone all-in to oppose allowing Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia to settle in the UK. History would repeat in the 1930s, only on a much more horrible scale.

  4. ben dov says:

    It’s possible but not guaranteed that gedolim who welcomed the Balfour declaration would have supported the state in 1948. England was the baal habayis but retracted on Jewish immigration, abstained on Partition, and went AWOL in 1948. Then the Zionists had to fight the Arabs. It’s a 3 Oaths shaila, among other things. The issue is more grey than one might think from reading this article.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    Excellent article. Yes, we should celebrate the historical importance of the Balfour Declaration. Yet, we should never maintain that the Balfour Declaration created our rights as a nation to EY. That right was given to the Avos. The Balfour Declaration was a historic restatement and underscoring of that fact that gave impetus to Zionism.

    • mb says:

      Steve Brizel,
      Correct, it was a recognition of our right by the leading nation (and subsequently the League of Nations and United Nations) that should have put to rest that the Medina is a violation of the 3 oaths(even if one took them literally)

  6. That there were great Jewish leaders and “Gedolim” who supported the rebuilding and resettling of Israel is without question. That there exists today a revisionist movement that is working to erase knowledge of that and give the impression that there was universal opposition in the Orthodox community to Zionism is the problem.

  7. Mark says:

    The comments here are way too simplistic. The Shalosh Shevuos forbade aliyah en masse (the Or Sameiach declared fear of them removed only after the 1920 San Remo conference, and the Steipler says that establishing the State was ודאי שלא כדין).

    And De Haan was murdered…

    The spiritual efforts of the Talmidei HaGra were obviously thwarted and subsumed by the secular Zionist Sitra Achra, and we should all be davening for the disappearance of the secular government of Israel, speedily in our days. All the rot inherent in the false edifice of nationhood without Judaism is gradually but surely coming to the fore (with the Supreme Court the latest victim) and woe to those who fall into the deceptive lure of its permanence.

    • Ben Bradley says:

      Talking of simplistic….
      Is it not conceivable that partisan talk of ‘what we should all be davening for’ might be subject to some discussion? Even disagreement?
      Just maybe?

      • Mark says:

        Davening for the disappearance of the secular government of Israel is actually in accordance with the classic Religious Zionist outlook on the Medinah, which distinguishes between the State and its government. But, by all means…

      • Ben Bradley says:

        No it’s not. There is no classic religious zionist outlook which advcates davening for the secualr government to disappear. The classic RZ outlook, whether of the school of R Kook or R YB Soloveitchik sees the current set up of the state as part of God’s plan for the eventual and final geula. If you mean that the RZ outlook means longing for malchus hashem over all aspects of life in EY, with the implicit loss of secular goverment, well of course it does. But that’s not the same as actively davening for political destruction and revolution.
        More recent RZ thought, post Gaza disengagement, has tended to distinguish between the state (good) and the goverment (not necessarily so good) but that’s a more recent development in the gush emunim school of thought.
        The desire to daven for the disappearance of the secular goverment is a feature of the most anti-zionist elements of klal yisrael – Satmar, Munkatch and others. I have never heard any mainstream aguda figure suggest it, never mind anyone associated with the school of R Kook – like R SZ Auerbach, R ZP Frank, etc, R Eliashiv etc.
        You are therefore in a distinct minority, and I for one hope it stays that way.

      • Mark says:

        The classic RZ outlook, whether of the school of R Kook or R YB Soloveitchik sees the current set up of the state as part of God’s plan for the eventual and final geula.

        The school of Rav Kook sees the State as part of His plan or the redemption – but the current set up? Who says? Rav Soloveichik strongly opposed attaching any Messianic significance to the State.

        Political destruction and revolution man dechar shmeih?

    • Weaver says:

      “The spiritual efforts of the Talmidei HaGra were obviously thwarted and subsumed by the secular Zionist Sitra Achra . . . ”
      Lol, that’s funny – that must have been quite a feat! I guess Herzl had more spiritual kochos that the GR”A. Who knew?

      • Mark says:

        The Sitra Achra always feeds off of some element of Kedushah or it could not exist. That does not mean that the source of the Kedushah has been overpowered by the Sitra Achra. It’s like saying: Lol, the Sitra Achra has more spiritual kochos than the Ribbono Shel Olam, who knew?

        Kedushah brought into the world must be utilized for good – or it is liable to be “kidnapped.”

  8. Raymond says:

    From the traditional Jewish home I was raised in, to the Modern Orthodox Jewish schools I attended, to my participation in B’nai Akiva activities, my childhood was one strongly oriented toward Religious Zionism, an ideology so deeply ingrained in me, that I did not even identify that with myself until relatively recently, when I suppose I reached a stage in my life when I could be more objective about such matters. I remember about a couple of decades ago, when I read the entire Five Books of Moses from beginning to end, without any commentaries at all, for the first time in my life. What struck me most about such a literal reading of that greatest of all books, was just how much G-d Himself was the Ultimate Zionist. Had I come at the book as a total stranger, from a strictly naive point of view, I might have even concluded that the Torah was some sort of work of Zionist propaganda, as practically everything in that book seems to point to our Jewish land of Israel.

    And so this is why I find any break in the term Religious Zionism to be almost incomprehensible to me. How can one be a Secular Zionist? What does that even mean? How are we justified in having that land, if it is not based on our Torah? Even if we can summon people like Alan Dershowitz to tell us how we are entitled to it from a legalistic perspective, do we really want to bother with it, given what a terrible neighborhood it is found in? And what is Zionism itself without the Torah? Establishing another Western European-like country or even one like America, except located in that historical place on Earth, is hardly the Israel that the Jews wandering in the Sinai desert envisioned for themselves. I remember coming to Israel for the first time in my mid-20’s, and finding out to my utter shock how there were actually some restaurants in Israel that served non-kosher food. Similarly shocking to me was finding out that some Jews operate their businesses on Shabbat. Of course I knew that most Jews, even in Israel, are not strictly religious, but I suppose I figured that even secular Jews have enough reverence for the Jewish land they live in, to voluntarily respect their religion in the public sphere.

    As for the other side of the coin, namely Torah Judaism but without the Zionism, I suppose it all depends on how this manifests itself. Totally obnoxious are the Neturei Karta, who profess to be religious, and certainly look the part with the way they dress, yet behave in a way that they are basically going out of their way to surrender our Jewish land over to our sworn islamoNazi enemies. Perhaps after centuries of being persecuted, it is not easy to have enough self-respect to refrain from behaving in such a reprehensible manner. I am a bit more sympathetic to just about any other form of Orthodox Judaism that is not strictly Zionist, just as long as they are motivated by caution. That is, perhaps after 2,000 years of being exiled from our land, some Jews feel that they cannot simply put their trust in world events and secular leaders such that we suddenly have full control of our country back. Perhaps they believe in Israel, but need to proceed slowly, cautiously, to make sure that everything is being done the kosher way. To give an analogy from 19th century American history, while President Lincoln had definitely been a lifelong opponent of slavery, he actually advocated a gradual withering away of that evil institution, rather than plunging full-steam ahead in any kind of reckless manner. And so I am willing to cut religious Jews similar slack, but only on the presumption that they, too, support our having our Jewish land back, but just want to approach it in a more conservative (no pun intended) manner. At the same time, I see little room for being tolerant toward the idea of such Jews somehow being exempt from serving in the Israeli Army, or exempt from making a living to support their families. Shame on them for even making such things an issue in the first place.

    And finally, it is refreshing to know that the Chovetz Chaim was apparently on my side regarding the whole question of Israel. I have found him time and time again to have this uncanny ability to express such profound truths in seemingly the simplest manner, using few words, but with every word counting. About my only reservation with studying his works, is that he seems to expect a level of religious piety that he obviously reached, but which I could not dream of reaching, even if I lived a thousand years.

  9. DF says:

    Pious Jews [what we now call orthodox] prayed 2000 years for the return of Zion, and towards the end of those millennia it became clear that the return wouldn’t look anything like how it was imagined. (If it was imagined at all; for many the whole concept was always amorphous and vague and only half-believed in.) To paraphrase Rabbi Wein, certain segments of orthodoxy has never been able to come to grips with the fact the book didn’t turn out the way they thought it would. Rather than regroup and reassess, as many others did, they’ve just put their heads in the sand and continue acting today as if the whole past century never happened. It is sad for them, but fortunately they themselves are only part of the story.

  10. Weaver says:

    “The Chofetz Chaim saw it is a harbinger of redemption, while wisely cautioning that the wrong people might assert ownership or control of the new enterprise. Caution, however, is not the same as rejection. It was not the reaction that you would expect from, say, the Minchas Elozer, or Satmar.”

    Unfortunately, in the Yeshiva world, the mainstream view – approval with reservations – is too often conflated with the extreme opinions of Satmar, Neturei Karta, etc., in a misguided attempt to show a “united front” against Zionism.

  11. Mark says:

    The positive reaction to the Balfour declaration has nothing to do with the assessment of Zionism as a vile movement, any more than Chazal’s enthusiastic reaction to Herod’s renovation of the Beis Hamikdash has to do with their assessment of Herod as a loathsome character.

    תלמוד בבלי מסכת תענית דף כג עמוד א
    וכן מצינו בימי הורדוס שהיו עוסקין בבנין בית המקדש, והיו יורדין גשמים בלילה, למחר נשבה הרוח ונתפזרו העבים וזרחה החמה ויצאו העם למלאכתן, וידעו שמלאכת שמים בידיהם.

    Is anyone going to say that this Divine smile of approval is a positive assessment of Herodian rule!?

    R’ Wolbe – re the 1947 UN vote:

    “A true Gaon can see a Providential smile in the unanimous decision to grant a long-suffering, downtrodden nation a State in the Holy Land, after an unparalleled dark era, and this “smile” does not diminish in the slightest the utter rejection of Zionism and of the secular State as one. This is the perspective of a Gaon!”

    (Rav Wolbe is referring to the Brisker Rav’s assessment of the UN vote – and the Brisker Rav was not one iota less anti-Zionist than the Satmar Rebbe.)

    • Weaver says:

      Yes, the Brisker Rav was also an extremist when it came to anti-Zionism (although he *didn’t* believe the state was formed through the sitra achra). So what’s your point?
      Even the Chazon Ish was famously more tolerant of Zionism than the Brisker Rav and Rav Yosef Kahaneman flew the Israeli flag over Ponevezh – to say nothing of the long list of gedolim who worked with the State of Israel.

    • Ben Bradley says:

      Chalk and cheese. Chazal’s reckoning of Herod is one thing, the last hundred years of response to Zionism and then statehood is another. Even if some have made the comparison, others clearly haven’t. The Brisker Rav’s anti zionism was not that of the Chazon Ish or the Ponevzher Rav for example, and shouldn’t be seen as the only way forward, unless perhaps you happen to be a personal talmid muvhak. Surely anyone else can see the bigger picture of attitudes to the state.

      • Mark says:

        It was actually the Chazon Ish who said, about those who rejoiced over the establishment of the State: “Fools rejoice over Herod taking the reins of government.”

      • Mark says:

        The point here, anyhow, is not the varying attitudes toward Zionism. The point is whether reaction to the Balfour declaration is at all indicative or reflective of one’s attitude toward Zionism. The answer is no.

        R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld himself said that the attitude toward the declaration should be at least a thought that it might be a small cloud that was the harbinger of the rainfall of redemption after 2000 years of drought. I hope no one is under any illusions as to his attitude toward secular Zionism.

      • The point in my mind when I wrote it was not whether a positive attitude towards Balfour coordinates with a positive view of secular Zionism, religious Zionism, or post-Zionism. It is whether it leaves room for the huge number of amcha who do not think in any of those terms, but see the Jewish State today – with all its faults – as something to be proud of and stand behind

      • Charlie Hall says:

        “see the Jewish State today – with all its faults – as something to be proud of and stand behind”

        ALL Jews should be proud of and should stand behind Medinat Yisrael. And if the flaws concern you, you should make aliyah and work to change them. Diaspora Jews should not be involved in Israeli politics.

    • Weaver says:

      Oh, and this from Pail Johnson:
      “If you want to understand our country, read this!”, said David Ben-Gurion on the first occasion I met him, in 1957. And he slapped the Bible.

      • Mark says:

        My father went over to DBG and called him a hypocrite for holding up the Bible as his title deed over the land, and ignoring a whole lot of other things in it.

        Rav Shach pointed out that if the seculars expect the nations of the world to accept Tanach as providing the Jews the right to the land, they can’t expect them to just gloss over the parts that link it all to observance of the mitzvos.

      • While I find in many years of dealing with Christian communities that R Shach’s observation is painfully true (which leads to a conclusion that the people best suited to deal with serious Christians are Orthodox Jews), there is a (growing) approach that differs. The thinking goes something like this: The Jews are G-d’s showcase people. They prove that when G-d gives His word and promise, He is faithful to it even when people are not faithful to Him. Without the example of the Jews – even when they sin – no people of faith have any proof of the extent of His faithfulness.

      • Mark says:

        Something akin to this concept appears in Tomer Devorah under לא החזיק לעד אפו – He explains that that was the basis for the expansion of the borders of EY under Yeravam ben Yoash – Hashem hoped that a soft Approach would motivate the people to Teshuvah.

        But it is not a permanent Hanhagah. R’ Chaim Friedlander states that the Gedolim at the time understood that this was Hashem’s Approach during the Six Day War, and it indeed brought about a most formidable awakening, but it wasn’t enough. Too much כחי ועוצם ידי – with the Yom Kippur war being the result of that.

        So, lemaaseh, I’m a bit wary of the outlook…

      • mb says:

        Mark, That is not hypocrisy, it is inconsistency. We are all inconsistent, some more than others. Hypocrisy is asking, demanding, others to do X, whilst you do not do X.
        Prime Minister Ben Gurion,OBM, studied Shas and Tanach regularly.

      • Mark says:

        Such as, demanding that others recognize the word of the Bible as authoritative beyond current practical considerations, while reserving the right to ignore its word due to practical considerations.

        There were a lot of priests who studied Shas and Tanach regularly. At least they didn’t have to keep it.

  12. mb says:

    A little known fact is that the Ottomans issued something similar. It was called Ottoman Balfour Declaration in August of 1918, just 3 months before the war’s end. Although Palestine was lost, they thought they would get it back, post war. It was supported by its ally Germany too. Presumably both wanted Jewish support and also there would be recriminations from the Armenian atrocity. It promised unrestricted immigration! Worth reading up on.

    • Charlie Hall says:

      More on this:

      The author also brings out the little known fact that the Ottoman Empire, which had for most of its history treated Jews relatively well, had indeed carried out pogroms — it is not inaccurate to call it an attempt at genocide — against Jews in “Palestine” during the War. would question the willingness of the Ottoman authorities to keep such promise, particularly as it came as the result of outside pressure. And the Kaiser himself was also a pretty vile anti-Semite (although that was not reflected in German governmental policy).

      In any case, Bulgaria surrendered in September 1918, making the Central Powers’ military position impossible to sustain, and the Ottoman Empire capitulated a month later. It would be five years before the residents of “Palestine” (the term had no legal significance of that point) would cease to be Ottoman subjects — it took that long to negotiate, sign, and ratify a peace treaty, and by that time the Ottoman Empire had ceased to exist.

  13. Mark says:

    I’m not sure that the Chofetz Chaim’s positive reaction to the Balfour declaration negates his weeping and pain over the prospect of Jews creating another Bulgaria (his words). The indication of R’ Leib’s bio of his father is that he would have been disappointed. The parallel that springs to mind is Tom Canty using the Great Seal to crack nuts…

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