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

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security