(Photo: Bar-Ilan University/Wikimedia Commons)
Don’t Send Money: Bring it with You to the Land!
Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan’s Opening Speech at the Sixth US Mizrachi Convention in 1919
If Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines was the founder and visionary of the Mizrachi movement, Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan was the powerful engine that brought so many of those dreams to fulfillment. The son of the great Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (the Netziv), he joined the Mizrachi movement as a young man and later Hebraicized his last name. Representing Mizrachi at the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905, he voted against the Uganda plan, convinced that Eretz Yisrael was the only possible homeland for the Jewish people. It is from this point on that Bar-Ilan began to devote his entire life and activities to the development of the Mizrachi party in the Diaspora and Eretz Yisrael.
Appointed secretary of the Mizrachi World Movement, he moved to the United States in 1915 where he served as President of the U.S. Mizrachi. He coined the Mizrachi slogan אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל לְעַם יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל פִּי תּוֹרַת יִשְׂרָאֵל, “The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel.” A passionate activist, he understood that the spiritual composition of the Jewish State must be decided not through ideas and advice, nor through promises or decisions made from afar, but rather through the participation of the religious community in building the land itself.
Moving to Israel in 1926, he was a leading opponent of the Palestine partition plan in 1937 and of the British White Paper of 1939 and advocated civil disobedience and complete noncooperation of the Jewish population with the British authorities. Along with Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, he also played a leading role in the founding of the Talmudic Encyclopedia.
Before his death, Rabbi Bar-Ilan saw the realization of his dream – the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel. In the last year of his life, the first of the new State, he fought hard to have Jerusalem declared the capital of Eretz Yisrael. His name has been memorialized in various places in Israel, such as Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, and Moshav Beit Meir near Jerusalem.
The sixth Mizrachi convention in the United States was held in Cincinnati, Ohio, from May 23–27, 1919. Over 250 delegates, including sixty rabbis, were in attendance, and Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan gave the keynote speech. The following is a translation of his powerful words, first printed in Hebrew in the Warsaw edition of HaMizrachi in the summer of 1919 and now translated to English in honor of his 73rd yahrzeit, on the 18th of Nissan.
The political situation concerning the Land of Israel can be condensed in the following brief words: The gates have opened before us, and we need only go to the land, build it, and establish a hold on it. We must move quickly and go to the land while the gates are open, we must act promptly and go to the land while no change has yet been made to it. The only way is to increase the number of those entering the land, to ensure immigration continues non-stop, to the point where locking the gates will be impossible. Of course, we must be wary of entering in a panic, of mass immigration, but we must increase our numbers in the land and substantively expand our influence. And upon entering the land, we must “affix a mezuzah to our doorway”; we must imprint our lives with the stamp of authentic Judaism! “All the nations of the earth shall see that You are called by the name of Hashem, and they shall venerate You.” (Devarim 28:10) This is not an empty verse. Even the great statesman Balfour emphasizes that the creation of a Hebrew homeland with a religious character has an important place in politics overall. Further, before we go to the land, we must make plain our demands and assert the grounds on which we stand: that we want the land to be the Land of Israel, the land of the Jews and of Judaism…
Here it must be said that perplexity still prevails in the minds of many with regard to the approach of Mizrachi toward the Zionist Organization following the schism. Mizrachi of America, as a chapter of World Mizrachi, is part of the World Zionist Organization and not of the Zionist Organization of America. Mizrachi comes not to divide, but to unite, and the only place where it is possible to unite all denominations and parties is the Zionist Organization. If another national institution that serves as the representative of the nation is created, Mizrachi will assume a place there too. For the moment, we have no national institution other than the Zionist Organization, and in order not to divide the unitary national body, Mizrachi is not leaving the Zionist Organization, whether it agrees with the opinions of its leaders or does not. However, it cannot forgo its individuality, its principles. Indeed, from its very inception, Mizrachi was created so that the Orthodox in all places would become a discrete force, a conspicuous and visible force, that is not overwhelmed by the [secular] majority. Mizrachi is not an individual entity within a collective, but a collective that encompasses individuals.
Owing to this doctrine, the question of education in the Land of Israel posed a challenging problem for us. On one hand, we recognized the need for a single leadership, for a single authority. Yet conversely, we cannot yield on matters of education even one iota. After lengthy consideration, we arrived at the decision that there is no solution other than that there will be two education committees in the Land of Israel, and each of these committees will be independent and autonomous. Not one committee for Judaic studies and another committee for secular studies. We want all studies, secular studies among them, to be learned in our spirit [of Torah]. Though we cannot force our opinions on others, it is also not our wish that others force their opinions on us. Therefore, we decided that our education committee would be independent and the Orthodox schools would be under our supervision and administration, and it would have the same standing as the other education committee. This decision was accepted by our colleagues in the Land of Israel, who are familiar with conditions there, and our demand was fulfilled at the Zionist Congress in London.
We demanded as well that Mizrachi be granted representation on all of the workers’ committees, and we could not concede this demand either. We do not want merely to be “supervisors of kashrut”, to stand at a distance and see others work. On the contrary, we want to work, to act, and to do. As a party, we must draw up a complete plan concerning all aspects of future life in our land, make our demands clear to ourselves, and defend them resolutely. Thus, for instance, we must demand that the spirit of the Torah and of tradition hold sway in public life, that the laws be laws of Israel, that the statutes of gittin and kiddushin be decisive in family matters. Our Torah is not merely a Torah of observances, but a Torah of life.
These demands were uppermost in our minds at the Zionist Congress in London. Members of Mizrachi participated in all the various committees and expressed their views everywhere, the view of Mizrachi, and defended it. On a few questions, the view of the Mizrachi delegates was the deciding view. Thus, for instance, Mizrachi decided the question of nationalizing land. Those advocating for nationalizing land demanded that no individual have permission to purchase land in any place in the Land of Israel, and that all land instead be national property. The members of Mizrachi agreed with the principle of nationalizing land, but recognized that it is implausible to preclude individuals from redeeming land from foreigners. Therefore, they proposed that land be bought with public funds and be national property, but individuals too have permission to redeem tracts of land and to purchase them from foreigners, and this proposal was accepted at the Congress.
After we returned from London clearly aware that Mizrachi can be a major force among our people, Mizrachi began developing with quick strides in America as well. Members were added, chapters were founded, and the organization continually grew from day to day. I do not know the actual reason for the rapid development of Mizrachi in recent months. It is possible that the disputes between Mizrachi and the General Zionists caused many to take note of the character, views, and stances of Mizrachi. The motto of Mizrachi seems already to have gained repute, to the point that others are coming and mimicking it. Not only did Mizrachi create the motto “The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel” on paper, but it strives to bring it to life, and if others come and mimic it in that respect too – may they be blessed! Work is executed not by a program, but by workers and doers. We must publicize the character, goals, and ambitions of Mizrachi not only with words, but also with deeds, through industrious and faithful workers.
Our organization has grown greatly this year. We have been joined by new forces who until now stood at a distance from our movement and were distant from any work in the Land of Israel. Many have answered our call and given hundreds and thousands. But this is not how the Land of Israel will be built. A relationship must be created between the donor and the Land of Israel, such that the donor will know that he is receiving. We must draw the Jews of the synagogues and the study halls close to working the land, thereby bringing them into the Mizrachi Organization. As long as Zionism was merely a matter of fashion, it had no place in the synagogues and study halls. However, now that it has become a vital question, now that it concerns building the nation and the land in practice, it has relevance to the Jews of the synagogues and study halls. Of course, they must embrace whole and complete Zionism: Mizrachi Zionism! The members of the synagogues must accept the Mizrachi program and join Mizrachi not only as individuals, but as groups. This is what Agudath HaRabbonim did at its recent convention, resolving to join Mizrachi as an association. This is what real rabbis do. Numerous synagogues in New York and country towns are continually joining Mizrachi.
In financial matters as well, our organization has emerged from its limited circle. We were compelled to announce an Eretz Yisrael Fund to the amount of half a million dollars. Even without a significant fundraising campaign, about one hundred and ten thousand dollars, including forty thousand in cash, has been brought in thus far for the fund. Yet this amount is quite small relative to what is needed. We must expand our work in the Land of Israel, particularly in Jerusalem. “One who tears [in mourning] over Jerusalem is exempt from tearing over the other cities of Judea” – and the same goes for rebuilding our holy city! Jerusalem has great political value, because it is there that the backbone of the Yishuv resides. We must create in Jerusalem a healthy community that will not require support, that will stand on its own and will sustain itself: a united community that is not divided and partitioned into Sefardim and Ashkenazim, Yemenites and Bukharans. This partition is an outcome of the exile, and we must eradicate it.
Mizrachi must muster our forces and send pioneers to the Land of Israel who will literally participate in building the land. If Mizrachi were not to build the land, then others all the more so! We are in need of people who do not send money, but bring it with them to the land! Let the merchants among us, the accomplished individuals, come and invest their resources in the Land of Israel for business and for profit. We must answer the call of the Land of Israel, of our country and our homeland, and if only we so desire, we can build it. We have wealthy individuals and statesmen in greater numbers than others think. We must purchase real estate in the Land of Israel, must redeem the land from foreigners, and so we shall have the dust of the Land of Israel not after death, but in life!
Mizrachi must disseminate its spirit in every possible place. The teachers’ training college too was founded for the dissemination of this spirit. This college is in need of development, it remains a fragile sapling that requires cultivation and care. Yet it is to be hoped that this institution will develop and attain its exalted purpose: to rear expert teachers loyal to Judaism and to tradition.
We must provide the people and the money for great and unceasing work in the exile and in the Land of Israel. A great hour is upon us, and we must be prepared with forces mustered and means at the ready.