Left to right: The Chazon Ish (Photo: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons), David Ben-Gurion (Photo: Fritz Cohen/Wikimedia Commons), Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook (Photo: Dan Hadani Collection, The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, The National Library of Israel/Wikimedia Commons)
The Chazon Ish, Ben-Gurion and Rav Tzvi Yehudah
BY HAGGAI HUBERMAN
The only son of Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook was one of the most influential leaders of Religious Zionism after the establishment of the State of Israel. In 1952, he became the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, where he served for thirty years until his passing. Many of his students, including Rabbis Chanan Porat, Shlomo Aviner, Zvi Tau, Moshe Levinger and Chaim Drukman, became the leading Religious Zionist rabbis of the next generation. Rav Tzvi Yehudah passed away on Purim 5742 (March 9, 1982); may his memory be a blessing for all of Am Yisrael.
A few months ago, while visiting Paris, a local guide took us on a tour of the old quarter of the city. We were standing in front of a narrow alley whose width only allows the passage of one person at a time, and so if two people simultaneously walk down the alley from different directions, one person must push himself up against the wall until the other one passes. The guide explained that a few hundred years ago, when two people came to alleys like this one at the same time, the poor were forced to give way to the rich. In those days, the rich and poor wore very different clothing, and so it was clear to all that the poor must allow the rich to pass.
My Paris tour reminded me of something that happened almost exactly 70 years ago – the meeting between David Ben-Gurion and the “Chazon Ish”, Rav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz zt”l, on October 20, 1952. The background to the meeting was an ongoing coalition crisis that seemed intractable at the time. A month before, on Erev Rosh Hashanah, the representatives of the Charedi parties Agudat Yisrael and Poalei Agudat Yisrael left the governing coalition because of their opposition to the recruitment of women into the IDF, leaving the coalition with only 60 members of the Knesset. To better understand the Charedi position, Ben-Gurion asked to meet with the Chazon Ish.
Besides the Chazon Ish and Ben-Gurion, the only person present at the meeting, which took place at the home of the Chazon Ish, was Ben-Gurion’s personal secretary, Yitzchak Navon – later the President of the State of Israel. Navon describes the extraordinary meeting in his autobiography, Kol HaDerech.
Ben-Gurion opened the meeting by addressing the Chazon Ish: “I came to talk to you about one issue: how can religious and non-religious Jews live together in this country, without us exploding from within? Jews come here from many countries, by the hundreds and thousands, with different traditions, different cultures and different views. Our country is in danger – the Arabs still want to destroy us – and we must find a way to bring all the different parts of our people together. This is the fundamental problem: we have many kinds of Jews, and how will we all live together?”
The Chazon Ish answered him with a parable from the Talmud: “If two camels meet on the road at a narrow gate, and one camel is loaded with a burden and the other is not loaded with a burden, the one that has no burden must give way to the camel that is loaded with a burden. We religious Jews are compared to the loaded camel, for we bear the heavy burden of the mitzvot – and so you, [the secular Jews,] must clear the way for us.”
Ben-Gurion patted himself on the shoulder and replied: “And this camel does not carry the burden of mitzvot? Is the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel not a mitzvah? Is it not a burden? And the young people that you are so opposed to [in the IDF], who are sitting at the borders and protecting you – isn’t that a mitzvah too?”
The Chazon Ish answered: “In the merit of our Torah study, they are safe.”
Ben-Gurion said: “But if these young people didn’t protect you, the enemies would slaughter you!”
The Chazon Ish answered: “On the contrary. In the merit of our Torah study, they live, work and are protected.”
“I do not despise the Torah,” said Ben-Gurion, “but if nobody is alive, who will learn the Torah?”
The Chazon Ish answered: “The Torah is the tree of life, the elixir of life.”
And again Ben-Gurion said: “Protection of life is also a mitzvah. כִּי לֹא הַמֵּתִים יְהַלְלוּ י-ה, ‘It is not the dead who will glorify G-d.’ In any event – how will we live together?”
The Chazon Ish answered: “I see Shabbat desecrations, cars and trucks driving to the beach on Shabbat, instead of davening and learning Torah and leading a Jewish life. It outrages the soul to see such Shabbat desecration in the Land of our fathers!”
Ben-Gurion replied: “I personally don’t go to the sea on Shabbat, but if laborers are working all week, don’t they deserve to dip in the sea on Shabbat? That is their right. You cannot force them to learn Torah, but they are also Jews, and they also do important things. You cannot force them to keep Shabbat. And if they don’t go to the beach, will they come to the synagogue?”
The Chazon Ish answered: “I believe that a day will come when everyone will observe Shabbat and daven.”
Ben-Gurion replied: “If they want to – I will not object to them doing so, but it cannot be forced on them. There should be no religious or anti-religious coercion. Each person should live as he sees fit.”
Navon writes: “The argument went on for a long time. They each held fast to their views without compromise. Ultimately, they stopped arguing, approached the bookcase and talked about books. They parted amicably and shook hands. After the meeting, Ben-Gurion told me: ‘This is an impressive Jew; he has wise eyes and is modest.’ He was very moved by the visit, but continued to emphasize: ‘We need to find a way to live together. Otherwise, this is a more serious danger than the danger of our external enemies.’”
Chanan and Yochanan seek “Anat” in Ein Harod
The parable of the “burdened camel and the unburdened camel” caused great indignation among Israel’s secular public. Using the framework of the narrow alley of Paris, the Chazon Ish claimed that the secular Jews of Israel are poor in values, compared to the religious Jews of Israel who are rich in values. Therefore, the poor must make way for the rich.
But we, the religious Jews of Israel, must ask ourselves honestly: are the “secular” Jews of Israel really an “empty camel” as the Chazon Ish said, or are they actually a “full camel”, albeit with different values?
Rav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook zt”l had a very different view concerning this question. The following story appears in my book Chanan Porat: The Story of his Life. I originally heard it from Rabbi Yochanan Fried, and I quote it here in its entirety.
In 1964, the Ein Harod-Tel Yosef regional school asked Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav to send two students to participate in a symposium on the topic: “What are young people doing in their free time?” Rav Tzvi Yehudah assigned the task to the late Rabbi Chanan Porat and Yochanan Fried. The two arrived at Tel Yosef, where the conversation shifted to the spiritual world of yeshiva students, Torah study, the IDF recruitment of religious boys and girls, and more.
After an hour and a half, a teenage girl stood up, introduced herself as Anat, and asked: “If you are truly such good people, what can you learn from us?” Chanan, like any good Jew, answered her with a question: “And what can you offer us, for example?” Those present teased Anat (“you’re disturbing the conversation!”), and the discussion continued.
At the end of the meeting, Chanan went home to Kfar Pines, while Yochanan Fried traveled to Jerusalem, where he told Rav Tzvi Yehudah about their experiences at the symposium. When he mentioned Anat’s question, Rav Tzvi Yehudah asked, “And what did you answer her?” Yochanan replied: “We asked her what she could offer us, but she didn’t say anything.”
Rav Tzvi Yehudah’s reaction was harsh. For twenty minutes, he tore into Yochanan Fried mercilessly: “Shame on you! You traveled all the way to Ein Harod, and you weren’t able to learn anything from these people? You couldn’t learn anything from this Anat of Emek Yizrael? It’s possible to learn from every person – including a teenage girl who lives in the valley!” Rav Kook then began listing everything that could be learned from Anat: her love of the Land of Israel, her connection with the earth, her dedication to working with her hands, the brotherhood among the Jews of the kibbutz, and much more. Rav Tzvi Yehudah finished his harsh rebuke: “I don’t understand what happened to you!”
When Yochanan Fried told Chanan Porat about their Rebbe’s words, Chanan was deeply troubled. He understood Rav Tzvi Yehudah’s lesson well: there is something to learn from every person in Israel, and particularly from those working the Land – even if they are not religiously observant. Even if we are convinced that we are right and that others have much to learn from us, we also have something to learn from others. If we don’t find anything to learn from them, it’s a sign that we haven’t searched deeply enough or that we don’t want to look deeper.
Yochanan Fried tried to contact Anat, calling all the kibbutzim in Emek Yizrael to get her contact information – but her trace had disappeared. Over time, it became clear that Anat was not her real name; at the symposium, she made up the name because she felt embarrassed. All of Rabbi Fried’s attempts to locate her were in vain.
“Anat” became a code word between Yochanan and Chanan when they talked about religious and secular values. When Chanan decided to publish his correspondence with the girls at the Gesher seminaries, the image of that unknown girl who called herself Anat came before his eyes, as well as the lesson Rav Tzvi Yehudah taught him: there is something to learn from everyone, including the secular kibbutzniks. And so he called his book אֶת עֲנָת אָנֹכִי מְבַקֵּשׁ, In Search of Anat.
● This essay was originally published in Hebrew in Matzav HaRuach.
Haggai Huberman is an Israeli journalist and author, and the editor of Matzav HaRuach.