(Photo: Haggai Huberman)
A Man of Action: The Extraordinary Life of Rav Chanan Porat zt”l
BY HAGGAI HUBERMAN
Born in 1943, Rav Chanan Porat was only six months old when his parents became members of Kfar Etzion, a newly established kibbutz between Beit Lechem and Chevron. The nanny and teacher of the children at the kibbutz was Deena Chovav of Kibbutz Massu’ot Yitzchak. Two decades later, Chanan would marry Deena’s daughter, Rachel.
Chanan was uprooted from his home for the first time at the age of four. In January 1948, with the start of the War of Independence, the women and children of Kfar Etzion were evacuated to Ratisbonne Monastery in Jerusalem, with plans to return home as soon as possible. That day would arrive only nineteen years later.
After the War of Independence, the uprooted families settled together in the Yafo neighborhood of Givat Aliyah. The majority were fatherless, as most of the men had fallen in the fighting at Kfar Etzion.
For high school, Chanan chose to attend Yeshivat Bnei Akiva in Kfar HaRoeh, a choice that would greatly impact his future. Bright and studious, he captured the heart of Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Neria, the Rosh Yeshivah of the school, and the two quickly formed a strong bond. One of the teachers at the school was Rabbi Moshe Levinger, later Chanan’s stalwart partner in Gush Emunim.
In 1962, after graduating from Kfar HaRoeh, Chanan enrolled in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, the first yeshivah to combine military service with Torah study. He served as a paratrooper in the Nachal Brigade, then returned to Kerem B’Yavneh and afterward went on to Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, where he received semichah and which left its own profound mark on him. It was there that Chanan formed a deep personal connection with Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, the head of the yeshivah and son of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook.
Rosh Hashanah in Kfar Etzion
As the Six-Day War raged, even before the battles for Jerusalem had concluded, and at a time when he did not yet know with certainty that Gush Etzion would be liberated by the IDF, the idea of reestablishing Kfar Etzion began percolating in Chanan’s mind. On the morning following the liberation of Jerusalem, his brigade remained on a war footing as the paratroopers readied themselves to join the battle on the Syrian front. While they were preparing to travel to the Golan, the barrels of their guns still burning hot, Chanan, who was among the paratroopers who liberated the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, asked his commander, Micha Chorin of Tirat Tzvi: “So, Micha, are you coming with us to Kfar Etzion? We’re reestablishing Kfar Etzion!”
On September 25, 1967, several of the children of Kfar Etzion, accompanied by MK Michael Hazani, arrived at the office of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.
“Nu, kinderlach,” said the prime minister in his folksy, Yiddish-infused Hebrew, “what do you want?”
“We want to go home to Kfar Etzion,” answered Chanan.
“Nu, kinderlach,” replied Eshkol, “you want to pray there on Rosh Hashanah? Go pray.”
That was the authorization for the reestablishment of Kfar Etzion, the first Jewish community in liberated Judea and Samaria.
Chanan was a founder of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut and the force behind the initiative to bring Rabbi Yehuda Amital to serve as its head. Later, Chanan was among the founders of Gesher, an organization whose mission is to bring observant and non-observant Israelis closer. His first book, Et Anat Anochi Mevakkesh, In Search of Anat, is based on letters that he wrote to children whom he met at Gesher gatherings.
During the Yom Kippur War, Chanan came face-to-face with death on the bank of the Suez Canal when a mortar shell landed on him, causing a severe shoulder injury and exploding to his rear. Fortunately he recovered, and following the war he established Gush Emunim, first as an internal group within the National Religious Party (NRP) and subsequently as an ideological movement that fought alongside the Elon Moreh Pioneering Group for Jewish settlement of Samaria.
Rav Chanan and Rabbi Moshe Levinger, the avowed leaders of Gush Emunim, were wary of the idea of pioneering activities unauthorized by the government. Unlike the return to Kfar Etzion, they understood that setting up a community in Samaria might bring about a confrontation with the IDF, with potentially grave consequences. The Kfar Etzion experience had taught them to exhaust all other options before coming to a conflict with the military. “Even if we come to the conclusion that there is no choice but to establish a foothold through conflict,” Rav Chanan would tell his friends, “we must first exhaust all means of establishing a foothold without coming into conflict with the IDF and the government.”
The political upheaval of 1977, when the Likud first rose to power, began with great hopes but ended in deep disappointment, when it became clear that Prime Minister Begin was becoming a “man of peace” instead of advancing the cause of Jewish settlement.
The Camp David Accords with Egypt and the decision to completely withdraw from the Sinai, including the destruction of the burgeoning Yamit region, brought Chanan into politics. In 1979, he was among the founding members of the Techiyah Party, together with Professor Yuval Ne’eman, Geula Cohen, author Moshe Shamir, and friends who had accompanied him since the Gush Emunim days, such as Gershon Shafat and Benny Katzover. Thus began the long, twisting journey of Chanan Porat the politician. After entering the Knesset in 1981 on the Techiyah list with Yuval Ne’eman and Geula Cohen, he played a part in the fight against the withdrawal from the Sinai, during which he moved to Yamit. After the withdrawal, Chanan was unable to find his place in Techiyah, which he departed in March 1984. In an unconventional move for a politician, he quit not only his party, but the Knesset as well, noting that his seat in the Knesset belonged not to him but to the party.
In 1988, Chanan was elected to the twelfth Knesset on the NRP ticket. Among his legislative accomplishments were the Jerusalem Day Act, the Prevention of Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Persons Act (which he spearheaded with Dedi Tzuker), and the Good Samaritan Act.
He was reelected to the Knesset in 1992. The NRP won six seats that year, but remained in the opposition rather than join the government of Yitzchak Rabin. The Oslo Accords brought Chanan, now fighting as a member of the Knesset, to a succession of battles to defend several sites threatened by the accords: Yeshivat Shalom al Yisra’el in Yericho, Kever Rachel, and Me’arat Hamachpelah. Thanks to his efforts, Kever Rachel remained fully under Israeli rule, and Yeshivat Shalom al Yisra’el remained active until the intifada broke out.
In 1999, Chanan quit the Knesset for the last time. Following his retirement, he focused on Torah study and volunteering. Rav Chanan served as editor and wrote the main article of the weekly Me’at min HaOr. Concurrently, he founded Orot Chessed, an organization that helps needy families with food, electricity, and clothing. According to family members, the expulsion from Gush Katif snuffed out a part of his soul. He never recovered from that move, particularly from the betrayal by Arik Sharon, his years-long partner in creating new communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
“Are you afraid of death?” he was asked by journalist Yinon Magal. “Not in the least,” Rav Chanan answered immediately. “I don’t believe that life ends, as it were, with death. It undergoes a change. It undergoes an enlightening.” After a lengthy battle with cancer, Rav Chanan Porat passed away on the 6th of Tishrei, 5772. May his memory be a blessing for all of Am Yisrael.
Haggai Huberman is an Israeli journalist and author, and the editor of Matzav HaRuach.