(Photo: Rachel Porat)
Rav Chanan Porat zt”l
An Introduction by Rabbi Aron White
Every society is shaped and defined by its heroes. From sports teams to local synagogues, from small towns to nations, each community possesses certain individuals who become entwined in the fabric of its history, whose individual lives become the embodiment of the society’s ideals and dreams.
Who are the heroes of the State of Israel? In the early decades of Israel’s existence, the heroes of Israel came largely from the secular Labor Zionist camp. From the heroism of Joseph Trumpeldor at Tel Hai, to Ben-Gurion and Weizmann the architects of the State, and then to early military heroes such as Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon, the Israeli hero was strong and secular, a new type of Jew who radically broke from the traditional religious mold. Professor Dov Schwartz of Bar-Ilan University argues that this led to a Religious Zionist inferiority complex; without heroes, they felt themselves to be playing only a peripheral role in building the State of Israel, merely supporting the Labor Zionist camp.
Rav Chanan Porat changed everything. During the dark and pessimistic years that followed the trauma of the Yom Kippur War, Rav Chanan burst onto the public scene – young, bright-eyed, idealistic, and energized. A student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook and a passionate Religious Zionist, he led a spiritual revolution that invigorated and transformed the Religious Zionist community and vaulted the community to a leadership role in broader Israeli society. For the next five decades, he led the Jewish people back to Yehudah and Shomron, built numerous Torah institutions and brought his unique perspective to the halls of the Knesset. He was the first Religious Zionist Israeli hero.
“When King David would study Torah, he would be soft as a worm, but when he would go out to war, he would be as tough as wood” (Moed Katan 16b). Like King David, Rav Porat cannot be labeled or categorized in the way of most Jewish leaders. He was a leader revered by thousands, yet maintained a lifestyle of utter simplicity. He could be fearless and unwavering in pursuit of his goals, spending sleepless nights campaigning to keep Kever Rachel under Jewish sovereignty and for greater assistance for the thousands of Ethiopian Jews, but was a kind and gentle teacher of Torah who made time for students of all backgrounds and levels of observance. He was a leading student at the right-wing Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, but also a founder of the open-minded Yeshivat Har Etzion. A fervent Religious Zionist, he nevertheless developed close and meaningful relationships with secular Israelis.
Though his status within Israel’s Religious Zionist community is legendary, little of his life’s work has been translated or disseminated in English to date. In commemoration of his 11th yahrzeit, we are honored to dedicate this edition to his memory. May the sweetness of his Torah and the powerful example of his extraordinary life continue to inspire us and generations to come.
A special thank you to Effie Rifkin, a close student of Rav Porat, for his help with this edition.