Two East European Sages’ Competing Views of Zionism, and Shared Love of the Land of Israel

Today, according to the Jewish calendar, is the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Ḥayyim Soloveitchik of Brisk (1853–1918), and next Monday that of his colleague, friend, and relative-by-marriage Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (1816–1893). Considered leading scholars in the Lithuanian-misnagdic school, the two men had very different attitudes toward talmudic methodology, halakhic decision making, and the nascent Zionist movement. Berlin’s youngest son, Meir Bar-Ilan, took his father’s Zionist sympathies much further, becoming a leader of the Religious Zionist movement, as well as a talmudic scholar in his own right.

In his memoir, Bar-Ilan describes these two rabbis’ differing approaches to the resurrection of the Jewish state:

My father was not just a supporter of Eretz Yisrael in spirit; he also acted practically to strengthen the Yishuv. He was very involved in the Odessa [council, which coordinated Russian Zionism at the time]—to the extent that on the eve of Yom Kippur during afternoon prayer, when the yeshiva students put out various “bowls” for tzedakah, he ordered me to sit next to the bowl for “settlement of the Land of Israel,” and he himself dropped money into this bowl several times. The students noticed this, and more than nine rubles were collected in the bowl—a significant amount of money in those days.

When my father received a telegram stating that the Zionist activist Leon Pinsker had died, he was very upset. As a side point, the telegram was written in Russian and used a Russian phrase that essentially meant, “Pinsker is finished.” My father said, “This is not a Jewish idea. When a person dies, he is not ‘finished.’ On the contrary, it is a beginning.”

And while Soloveitchik remained opposed to Zionism as such, Bar-Ilan writes, there was some nuance to his stance:

He was afraid of any new movement in Judaism, fearful that any step off the beaten path was likely to cause people to stray from Judaism. He lived and conducted himself without considering all of the aspects of the issue, because the one thing that was [paramount] in his eyes was this: to grasp onto the old without any change whatsoever. In Zionism, he saw not only the desire to build up the Land, but also the cause of new theories and new problems in Jewish life and thought.

But despite all this, the “air of Eretz Yisrael,” permeated Rabbi Ḥayyim’s home. His spirit was so great that he could oppose Zionism while recognizing the urgency of practical work on behalf of Eretz Yisrael. With the exception of a few extraordinary activists, Soloveitchik did more for the good of Eretz Yisrael than any other rabbi, focusing his efforts, obviously, on helping the Old Yishuv, [the deeply religious communities that originated in the late 18th century]. Almost all of the large yeshivas in Jerusalem had representatives in Brisk, [where Soloveitchik was rabbi].

There were certain emissaries [from these yeshivas] whom Rabbi Ḥayyim would spend time with for several days, simply because it gave him so much pleasure to hear about life in the Land of Israel.

Read more at Mizrachi

More about: Anti-Zionism, East European Jewry, Judaism, Religious Zionism

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security