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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz's Legacy of Genius and Vision Had No Precedent - Nor Will It Ever Be Replicated!



Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz  ZTVK"L


From Artscroll's Reb Shraga Feivel: The Life and Times of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, the Architect of Torah in America, pp. 331-332, 335-336,

On Friday, November 29, 1947, the United Nations debated the issue of partitioning the British Mandate for Palestine into two countries, one Arab and one Jewish. Reb Shraga Feivel prayed fervently for partition. He had no radio in his house, but that Friday he borrowed one and set it to the news, leaving it on for Shabbos. He waited with such tense anticipation to hear the outcome of the U.N. vote that he did not come to shalosh seudos. When he heard the U.N.'s decision to establish a Jewish state, he stood up and recited the blessing - BARUCH HATOV V'HAMATEV - Who is good and Who does good...[3]

Four days after the United Nations vote, on 19 Kislev, Reb Shraga Feivel spoke in Bais Medrash Elyon, to present his talmidim with a Torah perspective on the event. He began by emphasizing that in the absence of prophecy no one could interpret the U.N. declaration with any certitude.[7] Nevertheless the whole tenor of his remarks reflected his hope that the moment was a positive one for the Jewish people.[8] He described three aspects of the final redemption: the redemption of the Land, the ingathering of the exiles, and the return of the Divine Presence to her proper place. The redemption of the Land is the first of the three...

In a similar vein, he also explained why the secular Zionists might have been chosen to play such a fateful role in the history of the Jewish people... Divine Providence might have arranged that the secular Zionists play a major role in the redemption of Eretz Yisrael precisely in order to maintain their connection to Klal Yisrael.

In a conversation with the Satmar Rav, shortly after his talk on the U.N. declaration, Reb Shraga Feivel was subjected to the sharpest criticism for his "Zionist leanings." Later he told his family, "I could have answered him Chazal for Chazal, Midrash for Midrash, but I did not want to incur his wrath, for he is a great man and a tzaddik." He added with a twinkle, "And besides, he has a fiery temper"..
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[3] In 1948, after the Arabs attacked the newly declared Jewish state and soldiers were falling on the battlefield, several roshei yeshiva taunted Reb Shraga Feivel for having recited the blessing. Reb Shraga Feivel turned to Rabbi Aharon Kotler, who agreed with him that the favorable U.N. resolution was indeed worthy of the blessing. Rabbi Nesanel Quinn.

Reading further in the biography, we see some of Reb Shraga Feivel's reasons for being a Zionist:

Without losing sight of the antireligious nature of the leaders of the yishuv in Eretz Yisrael, he nevertheless saw the creation of a Jewish state as an act of Providence and as a cause for rejoicing. At the very least, there would now be one country in the world whose gates would be open to the thousands of Holocaust survivors still languishing in Displaced Persons Camps in Germany and Austria.

Reb Shraga Feivel gave voice to the ambivalence with which religious Jews around the world greeted the creation of an independent Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael nearly two millennia after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash by Titus army. On the one hand, there was the recognition that the new state led by those raised in ideologies hostile to Torah was not the return of the Davidic kingdom for which they had prayed so long. Yet coming a scant three years after the greatest tragedy in modern Jewish history, it was hard not to hope that the new state was a harbinger of a new life for the survivors.

In a famous parable, Reb Shraga Feivel compared the new state to a breech birth. When a baby is born normally, head first, Reb Shraga Feivel said, the delivery is easiest and safest for the mother, and augurs best for the future development of the infant. In the context of the establishment of Jewish political sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael, a head-first birth would have been one in which the great Torah leaders the true heads of the nation led the way. But even in a breech birth, despite the danger to the infant, one can still hope that it will live and be healthy. Perhaps Chazal were referring to the legs-first manner in which the new state was born, Reb Shraga Feivel concluded, when they said (Yalkut Shimoni to Amos, 549), In a generation that rejects Hashem, expect the footsteps of Mashiach,

Four days after the United Nations vote, on 19 Kislev, Reb Shraga Feivel spoke in Bais Medrash Elyon, to present his talmidim with a Torah perspective on the event. He began by emphasizing that in the absence of prophecy no one could interpret the U.N. declaration with any certitude. Nevertheless the whole tenor of his remarks reflected his hope that the moment was a positive one for the Jewish people. He described three aspects of the final redemption: the redemption of the Land, the ingathering of the exiles, and the return of the Divine Presence to her proper place. The redemption of the Land is the first of the three. The Sages (Megillah 17b) explain why the blessing over fruitfulness of the Land (Birkas Hashanim) comes before the blessing for the ingathering of the exiles. The prophet Yechezkel says, And you, mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and lift up your fruits to My people Israel, for they are soon to come (Yechezkel 36:8). In other words, the physical rebirth of the Land and its release from foreign domination is the prelude to the return of the exiles. (See p.x )

Reb Shraga Feivel suggested that the present moment paralleled the return of the exiles from Babylonia under Ezra and Nechemiah, which had come about only through the permission of a gentile ruler, King Cyrus. Just as Cyrus in his time had his own reasons for allowing the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem, so the nations of the U.N. no doubt had interests of their own that they sought to advance by allowing a Jewish state. But, in the final analysis, the heart of a king is in Hashems hands; He directs it where He wants (Mishlei 21:1).

Reb Shraga Feivel followed his comparison of the U.N. and Cyrus to its logical conclusion. While agreeing that the Torah leaders of the past two generations had been absolutely correct in directing their followers to have nothing to do with the Zionist movement, the question of the hour was: What should the Torah world do now after having witnessed Heavenly intervention? To that question, there could be only one answer: It was incumbent upon all bnei Torah to do everything in their power to ensure that the voice of Torah increase and be heard in the new state:

It is our duty to participate in the building of the State, physically and spiritually!The choice is in our hands. Will we make ourselves a high wall and go up, as they failed to do in the days of Ezra? If causeless hatred prevails among us, the arousal of Divine favor from above could all be lost. We must be the pioneers of Torah. We must form a nation worthy of the Land, a nation of Torah.

The thrust of his remarks was that the future of Eretz Yisrael would be determined by the response of religious Jews to the new opportunity. If they rose to the challenge, he suggested, it would be possible to create a land filled with Torah. 

Reb Shraga Feivel noted that those who failed to take advantage of Cyrus permission to return to the Land are severely criticized in both the Gemara and the Midrash (Shir Hashirim Rabah 8:9). The Sages give the following interpretation to the verse in Shir Hashirim: If her faith and belief are strong as a wall we shall become her fortress and beauty, building her city and Holy Temple, but if she wavers like a door, with fragile cedar panels shall we then enclose her. The Talmud (Yuma 9b) comments that if Israel's faith had been strong like a wall and the people had unanimously followed Ezra back to Eretz Yisrael, they would have been privileged to have the full glory of the Shechinah in the Second Beis Hamikdash, just as it had been in the First. But since only a small minority followed Ezra, the Shechinah was lacking in the Second Temple. Instead of being like silver, which never rusts, the people were likened to cedar, which warps and rots. Those who remained in Babylonia, writes Rashi (to Yuma 9b), prevented the Shechinah from returning to dwell in the Second Beis Hamikdash. Reb Shraga Feivel strongly implied that the Jewish people should not miss such an opportunity a second time by remaining aloof from the fate of the Land or being reticent about going there.

In response to those who claimed that Providence would not have made the United Nations the instrument to make such a gift to the Jewish people, Reb Shraga Feivel compared the current phenomenon to the events of Purim. In that miracle, the Sages saw Hashem working His will through Achashveirosh, clearly an unworthy person. Do Chazal not tell us, he asked, that the first steps of the final redemption will go very slowly, to be followed by a sudden burst of light, just as the sun suddenly appears in the morning? (Midrash Shir Hashirim 6:10, Yerushalmi Berachos 1:1, Yerushalmi Yoma 3:2.)

He did not deny that there was merit in opposing views, nor did he think that his reading of events was beyond question. To those close to him he admitted that others might be right from a logical point of view, but nevertheless maintained my heart tells me that our approach is the right approach.

Of course, he did not let his feelings alone guide him. In Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto's Daas Tevunos, he found support for his view. There the Ramchal specifically describes the period of Ikvesa d'Meshicha (the time before the coming of Mashiach) as one in which Hashem does not guide the world according to the normal calculations of reward and punishment. At that time, events will take place regardless of the merit of the generation.

And in the writings of his beloved Reb Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin he found a hint that there would be a time in which the aggressive stance of the Zionists would succeed. After the sin of the spies, Moshe Rabbeinu warned those who regretted their original lack of faith that they should not attempt to go into Eretz Yisrael by force: vehi lo sitzlach, it will not be successful. Reb Tzadok Hakohen adds, however, Now it will not succeed, but there will be another time when it will succeed. That will be in the time of the footsteps of Mashiach.

According to this account, Reb Shraga Feivel was clearly in either the Messianic or non-Messianic Zionist camp. Although most of his statements (the comparison to a breech birth, the comparison to Cyrus, the quotation from the Midrash and Yerushalmi that the final redemption will develop slowly, his noting that the blessing over the land comes before the blessing of the ingathering of exiles) imply that the State had to do with the geulah, some of his statements (that now there would be a place for refugees) imply that it did not. Probably he was not sure about this; he speculated about the geulah aspect, but at least he felt sure that the state was a good thing, an opportunity granted by Hashem to the Jewish people. As far as addressing the central question of Zionism the Three Oaths he does almost nothing. The only thing he said that might be called an attempt to address that question is the quote from Reb Tzadok.

What Reb Tzadok actually writes (in Tzidkas Hatzadik 46, written 1848, first published in 1913) is that the "mapilim" knew that their act was against the will of Hashem, but justified it based on the statement of Chazal, "All that the host tells you to do, you must do, except for leaving (Pesachim 86b). They understood this to mean that for the sake of coming close to Hashem, one may sometimes violate the command of Hashem; we need not listen when He tells us to leave Him. Despite these good intentions, they were punished severely for their sin. But Moshe said to them, "And it will not succeed" - this time it will not succeed - hinting that there would come a time, in the era known as "the Footsteps of Moshiach," when such a sin would have success. In the Footsteps of the Moshiach, chutzpah will increase (Sotah 49b). That is the time when such a brazen idea to conquer the land in violation of Hashem's command will meet with some success.

In other words, he does not say that the sin will be permitted in the footsteps of moshiach; he only says that it will be successful then.

"Along these lines, I contacted a grandson of R. Mendlowitz and he reported to me the following:

My father a"h told me many times that Zeide would definitely have said Hallel on Yom Ha-Atzma'ut (he was niftar in Sept. 1948).

My Zeide was known to have said that when Israel was recognized as a Jewish state that there was no greater simcha in his life.

On his deathbed, on practically his last breath, he instructed that his son-in-law Rabbi Alexander Linchner was to go to Eretz Yisroel and "tut epes far de Sfardishe kinder" (do something for the Sephardi children). He knew the children were shipped off to secular Kibbutzim, and their Tefillin confiscated. Boys Town Jerusalem was born!

In other words, he knew about the anti-religious forces in Israel but still considered the state to be a major step towards the redemption, if not already a part of it. And he voiced these views in public and directly to the Satmar Rav.

Note also that R. Aharon Kotler agreed with R. Mendlowitz that the UN vote was reason to recite a blessing of ha-tov ve-ha-meitiv in thanksgiving!"

2 comments:

small investor said...

Bottom line,would R SF (or Mr Mendlowitz as my zeide called him) approve of this blog?

Haredi in Jerusalem said...

Funny type of Zionist that you are, giving us Mussar from the Southern California hills.