During the journey to the Moshavot, Rabbi Kook and the rabbis with him were exposed to the poor level of Torah education there * The reason: the opposition of the zealots to any integration of science studies, which prevented the training of worthy teachers in piety and other secular wisdom to be budgeted for by the Baron * Initiatives of other benefactors to establish hospitals and schools that would benefit the poor population of Jerusalem were also torpedoed by those fanatics * Even initiatives of important rabbis like Rabbi Hildesheimer and Rabbi Muhliver were rejected for fear of the “purity of the camp”
At the beginning of the winter of 1913 the rabbinic journey to the northern moshavot (colonies) took place. The delegation was headed by Maran Rabbi Kook ztz”l, who was then about 49 years old and served as Rabbi of Jaffa and the colonies, and several important rabbis participated with him, led by Rabbi Sonnenfeld of Kollel Hungary in Jerusalem.
In general, the colonies were established by the members of the First Aliyah who were observant, and during the period in which the journey took place, several settlements and farms were already established by secular young members of the Second Aliyah.
The aim of the journey was the strengthening of religious observance in the colonies, and first and foremost, the strengthening of Torah education, on which the future of the colonies and the next generation depended. For although the founders of the moshavot were observant, many of the youth moved away from Torah and mitzvot.
The Conclusions of the Journey: The Problem of Education
Maran Rabbi Kook, by the power of his personality, was able to stir up hearts, and thanks to this, the need for kosher matters was corrected. In Zichron Yaacov, they moved the stage from the front of the synagogue to the center, as is the accepted practice. In some places, they even managed to strengthen the observance of Shabbat in the public sphere. However, in the most important area, education – they failed. Many residents in all the moshavot, especially veterans, complained that Torah study was poor, the teachers were not God-fearing, and even though they taught Tanakh, they pushed the children away from the path of Torah and mitzvot.
These teachers were initially funded by the officials of Baron Rothschild and later by the Yaka Company. Many of them had a national position and their religious level was on the continuum between religious and secular. Their goal was to give the students a national consciousness and an education, so that they could get along in the world. The difficulties of making a living for the farmers did not allow the hiring of teachers who would teach the children to observe Torah and mitzvot according to their worldview. Maran Rabbi Kook hoped that with the help of the Agudath Yisrael movement that had arisen shortly before that, he would be able to raise funds to keep God-fearing teachers in all the colonies. This was one of the reasons for his trip to Agudat Yisrael’s first convention held in Frankfurt at the end of 1913. However, the First World War that broke out then, disrupted all plans. Even before that, Rabbi Horowitz, the committee’s representative from Amsterdam, obtained temporary funding for six teachers who were sent to six colonies. However, after a short time, the funding for their upkeep stopped, and they returned to Jerusalem.
The Big Question: Why Were There No God-fearing Teachers
The well-known philanthropist, Baron Benjamin Edmond Rothschild, held religious views, and the big question is why most of the teachers he and his successors hired for the colonies did not have a strong religious consciousness. They must have heard about the allegations against the teachers, and why didn’t they respond to their request and make sure to send God-fearing teachers to the colonies?!
The answer is painful and bitter. In the name of “holiness” and “righteousness”, for seventy years the zealots of Jerusalem waged a war of attrition against any initiative designed to combine science and language studies, and personally persecuted the rabbis and askanim (influential community workers) who requested it, until all the initiatives to add science and language studies came to fruition too little and too late. Thus, out of the 45,000 residents of Jerusalem, of whom ten thousand studied in yeshiva and kollels, not even ten teachers were found who could compete in their scientific and pedagogical level with the teachers brought from France and Germany. And at the time, there was a need for about fifty teachers in total.
The agreed position of Baron Rothschild and all the other donors from Western Europe, such as the donors to the Kiyach education network, was that it behooved giving children an education that would allow them to earn a decent living and save them from the shameful poverty in which the Jews of Eastern Europe and Jerusalem lived, a poverty that caused severe crises in the communities, the abandonment of religion, and a huge immigration movement to America. This is why most parents also wanted their children to study science and languages. Therefore, the only ones who could be used as teachers at that time were university graduates from Europe, who did not stand out in terms of their religious level.
Rabbi Kook’s Position
Maran Rabbi Kook also recognized this, and in the Iggeret (Letter) 363, when he addressed the problem of education in Jaffa, he wrote that the only chance of establishing an education system that would deal with secularism is “by distinguished teachers from Ashkenaz” (Germany). “That they have already united among themselves through the guidance of the Gedolei HaDor of the past generation, like Rabbi Hirsch and Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer z”l, the power of the union of the world’s knowledge and of life, with the courage of the fear of God, and love of Torah and mitzvot, with faith and a whole heart.” Thus he wrote in other letters as well.
1842: Canceling the Establishment of a Hospital and a School
Back in 1842, when only about 3,000 Jews lived in Jerusalem, the father of the well-known philanthropist, Baron Jacob James Rothschild of Paris, agreed to donate a huge sum of one hundred thousand francs for the construction of a hospital, on the condition that a school for boys and girls be built next to it. This, in order to address the Jerusalem patients who would no longer need the missionary’s hospital, and to provide young people with livelihood opportunities.
The initiative was very strongly rejected by the Jerusalem zealots. The person in charge of the ‘Officials and Merchants’ organization in Amsterdam, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Lahren, through whom the donations for the upkeep of the kollelim in Jerusalem, wrote: “As long as my spirit is within me, no doctor will come to Jerusalem, and no teacher of languages.” Two reasons for this. First, the fear of the influence of reformers, since the first initiator of the establishment of the hospital was a reformer. Second, a doctor by nature is educated, and consequently, will have a negative influence.
1849: Montefiore School
In 1849, there were already about 4,500 Jews living in Jerusalem, most of them Sephardic. The heads of the Sephardic kollel, backed by the signatures of eighty of the heads of the community, turned to Montefiore with a request to establish a kosher school with language studies, to address the many children who did not find their place in the Talmidei Torah, and studied at the school of the Christian missionaries.
Zealot rabbis of Polish origin strongly protested against this, for how was it possible for “Jewish boys to learn the writing and the language of the nations…”. And even though they know that Montefiore’s intentions are good, this initiative is a “stumbling block to the House of Israel” and will result in the perpetuation and the throwing-off of the yoke of Heaven, as has already happened in Russia. According to them, the Sephardi rabbis do not understand the terrible damage that would be caused by this, “for it is a leprosy that maligns our seed”. In practice, since the other rabbis were silent, the impression was given that the protest of the fanatic zealots was the prevailing position of the Ashkenazim, and Montefiore withdrew from his plan, and the school was not established.
1856: The Lemel School
In 1856, the philanthropist Elsa Hertz Lemel from Vienna initiated the establishment of a school for orphans and the poor in Jerusalem, where in addition to sacred studies they would also learn languages and arithmetic, so that they could use them to earn a living. Dr. Frankel, the appointed director, came with ideas of the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment movement), and even though he stated that he did not intend to harm the religious level of the children, and agreed to participate with rabbis in determining the curriculum, the fanatic zealots of Jerusalem decreed a boycott of him and the Lemel school. The Sephardic Jews ignored the boycott. In response, the fanatics wrote hate letters to those responsible for the donations to the Sephardic community in Europe. Following this, the study program was changed to Talmud Torah, with very few secular studies, like the rest of the Sephardic Talmud Torah’s. Only after thirty years did religious teachers arrive from Germany who raised the level of the Lemel school. As a result, the number of students there, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic, increased greatly. Nevertheless, it was only an elementary school, and could not be expected to train teachers. In short, too little, too late.
1872: Rabbi Hildesheimer
In 1872, when 9,000 Jews lived in Jerusalem, Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer, one of the greatest rabbis in Germany who was known for his righteousness and virtues, initiated the establishment of a school for orphans with science and language studies. In response, the fanatic zealots from Hungary declared war against him, and wrote that his path was “the path of impurity” and all those who send his sons to his school, it is “as if bringing them to the priest.” “Because the wicked Hildesheimer is the horse and chariot of evil intent. All the criminals who arose in a century did not act to destroy religion and faith like him.” Once again, most of the rabbis remained silent, and the school was not established.
1880-1882: Rabbi Yechiel Michel Pines
In 1880, when there were already about 15,000 Jews living in Jerusalem, Rabbi Pines expressed support for the orphanage founded by Dr. Wilhelm Herzberg, where they taught languages. In response, some members of Maharil Diskin’s circle boycotted it, with all the usual insults. A year and a half later, in 1882, another boycott was imposed on it, this time with the support of Maharil Diskin himself. And this, because Rabbi Pines founded a Beit Midrash for young men, where in the first part of the day they learned handicrafts and skills, and in the second part, they studied Torah. According to the boycotters, this institution would be a center of heresy and enlightenment. Indeed, most of the rabbis of Jerusalem did not accept the boycott, however, they also did not stand up against it with the appropriate force, and the Beit Midrash was abolished.
The Words of Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever
In 1890, a delegation from Chovevei Tzion visited the country, led by Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, who was one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generation. At the end of his visit, he actually wrote conclusions. One of them was this: “There is a great deficiency in Jerusalem, and that is the belief that it is absolutely forbidden to teach Arabic and French for the young men of Israel, which is really a great necessity in our time to know the language of the state… and this is a great reason for the cancellation of trade, and the necessity to expect “spoiled bread”, the bread of the distribution. Therefore, it is the duty of the elders of Jerusalem… to try to have this belief abolished…”
The Ways of Dispute
Although it is clear to us that the zealous rabbis were wrong, one can understand the fear that brought them to this. The harsh claim against them is that they violated all the severe Torah prohibitions of machloket (discord) and sinat chinam (unwarranted hatred), and despised and persecuted Gedolei Torah and righteous people. If they had acted correctly, along with the Talmud Torah’s that were in their spirit, there would also have been schools that combined science and languages in various measures, and from them would have grown teachers who were able to address to the New Settlement, and the entire education system in Israel would be different today.
The Jews of Jerusalem, the people of the Old Settlement, could have carried the baton of leadership of yishuv haaretz (the settlement of the Land) and the establishment of the State of Israel. Their parents, the students of the Gaon of Vilna, were the first to settle the land with great self-sacrifice. However, due to the fault of the zealous fanatics, and the silence of the rabbis who did not protest against them, they lost the primacy to the secular pioneers who determined the educational-spiritual character of the settlement and the state.
The column was written with the help of Rabbi Dr. Boaz Hutterer Shlita
This column appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.