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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sephardic Rabbis and Zionism

Apparently, a new book has come out regarding the attitude of the Gedolim of Ashkenaz and Sefarad to the State of Israel. I have not seen this book, but those who have commented seem to indicate that there is an attempt to portray the general attitude toward the Medinah as positive.

This post is not meant to depict the total picture of the attitude of the Sephardic Gedolim. It is meant to point out that some of the greatest luminaries of recent Sephardic lore were decidedly opposed to some major elements of Religious Zionism, especially, but not exclusively, the Messianist side of things.

The Ben Ish Chai:

Hakham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, considered to this day a major authority whose rulings are followed by many Sephardic Jews, makes an elaborate commentary on the fate of the tribe of Ephraim, which, in a Medrash on the story of exodus, brought disaster upon itself by attempting to hasten the redemption (Yedei Chayim, pg. 47). In passing, he refers to the three oaths that forbid such activism. ("A Threat From Within", Rabkin, pg. 47)

In addition, at the beginning of the First Zionist Congress, convened by Herzl in 1897, Rav Yosef Chaim began to explain the Jewish approach to Moshiach and the geula. In his letter, Ben Yehoyada, he spoke against those seeking to bring the geula through mortal means. He also attacked the religious Zionist rabbis, such as Rabbi Kalisher, writing to him: "What kevodo thinks is a big mitzvah, I regard as not so small a sin."

Hakham Alfandari:

Hakham Salomon Eliezer Alfandari, "Sabba ha-kadosh, the Holy Grandfather" of Istanbul (c. 1826-1930) was the living embodiment of the Sephardic opposition. He forbade all contact with Zionists and inspired other Jewish scholars to attack them publicly. He found few differences between the Mizrahi and Agudat Israel, which had originally been established to oppose the Mizrahi: "The Mizrahi and the Aguda differ in name alone; what binds them all together is money and power rather than [concern for] the honor of heaven" (Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism, Aviezer Ravitzky, pg. 57) [Rabkin, pg. 141]

Hakham Jacob Meir:

Another Sephardic luminary, Hakham Jacob Meir (1856-1939), leader of the Sephardic communities in Palestine, publicly attacked Zionism in 1928, at the departure ceremony for Sir Herbert Plumer, the British High Commisioner. When the master of ceremonies presented Hakham Meir along with dignitaries associated with the Zionist apparatus, the rabbi protested vigorously and declared that he neither recognized nor belonged to that community. Moreover, he announced that all pious Jews must separate themsleves from it. Along with [Rav] Sonnenfeld, he drafted a letter to Plumer in which he condemned the Zionists and called upon the British authorities to free the traditional Jews from Zionist control. [Rabkin, pg. 141]

Baba Sali:

Rabbi Israel Abuhatsera, better known as Baba Sali, (1889-1984), a Moroccan mystic revered by many Sephardim and quite a few Ashkenazim, praised Rabbi Teitelbaum's anti-Zionist activities and particularly his book, Va-Yoel Moshe. He had studied the book alone for several days, he said. When he had completed his reading, he organized a festive meal similar to those that mark the conclusion of a study of a Talmudic tractate. "This book is a great and important tractate for our generation, and Rabbi Yoel [Teitelbaum] is a pillar of light whose radiance should lead us all to the arrival of the Messiah." During the festive meal, Baba Sali recited several passages from the book, pointing out that Rabbi Teitelbaum had answered all his questions about Zionism "truthfully, without compromise." And on learning of Rabbi Teitelbaum's death, Baba Sali remarked that "the world had become empty" [Rabkin, pg. 159]

It seems impossible to portray the Sephardic tradition as having any kind of pro-Zionist consensus in light of this impressive list of its (more vociferous) opponents.

20 Comments:

Blogger chardal said...

"What kevodo thinks is a big mitzvah, I regard as not so small a sin."

Wasn't that Rav Hirsh?

3:14 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

When I saw the quote, I wondered the same. But this is attested to by an organization that deals with the writings and teachings of the Ben Ish Chai.

3:20 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

You can see a review of the book here.

Not sure I believe the part about the Baba Sali (although the first two points are accurate). While possible, it conflicts with too much that we know about him and his relationship to the state. It might be a Satmar bobe-maise (a lot of forged "quotes" about gedolim and zionism emanate from Satmar circles, the most famous of which is a whole three volume book called "dovev siftei yesheinim" which is 98% forgery as shown by Rav Weingarten in his 1982 book on the subject. All Satmar stories need to be investigated throughly before being accepted.)

The book seems great however, I am ordering one soon. I hope it will work to counteract some of the chareidi revisionism on this topic.

3:21 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

When I saw the quote, I wondered the same. But this is attested to by an organization that deals with the writings and teachings of the Ben Ish Chai.

Can you supply the source? I would like to follow up on it. I was not aware that Rav Kalisher coresponded with the ben-Ish chai at all and this period of history is a bit of great interest to me.

Thanks in advance.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

Thanks for the link. The book makes no pretense of doing a thorough job.

I doubt Prof. Rabkin would make up the stuff about the Baba Sali since it should be very easily verifiable or disproven.

3:28 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

Thanks for the link. The book makes no pretense of doing a thorough job.

No. It is a polemical book designed to counter the chareidi polemics. It will still provide valuable sources though.

I doubt Prof. Rabkin would make up the stuff about the Baba Sali since it should be very easily verifiable or disproven.

There are other choices between making something up and it being true. Prof. Rabkin was a virulent lefty who became chareidi. He has a major axe to grind and might have not followed through on all his sources properly (I have seen dovev siftei yesheinim used in doctoral papers which had a zionist agenda(!)). Not all academics put in the proper level of work - especially not when writing a polemical book. I am sure I will also have to verify the quotes in the Rav Daddon book I linked to.

3:36 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

I doubt Prof. Rabkin would make up the stuff about the Baba Sali since it should be very easily verifiable or disproven.

And the baba Sali is like the sephardi Chazon Ish. Every group has a story which supports its possition on what he said (there is a post comming up on this on my blog, b"h). It is very hard to verify the truth with stories about him.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

A convention was recently held in the Center for the Tradition of Iraqi Jewry in Or Yehuda, in honor of his 90th yahrtzeit. A booklet containing a number of his newly found letters was presented at the convention. Discussions were held about various aspects of HaRav Yosef Chaim's influence upon his generation.

http://chareidi.shemayisrael.com/archives5760/kisisa/abenushch.htm

A lecture delivered by the Chakak brothers dealt with the reaction of the Ben Ish Chai to the Zionist movement, which had been founded during his lifetime.

At the beginning of the First Zionist Congress, convened by Herzl in 1897, Rav Yosef Chaim began to explain the Jewish approach to Moshiach and the geula. In his letter, Ben Yehoyada, he spoke against those seeking to bring the geula through mortal means. He also attacked the religious Zionist rabbis, such as Rabbi Kalisher, writing to him: "What kevodo thinks is a big mitzvah, I regard as not so small a sin."

Dr. Tzvi Yehuda, head of the Center for the Tradition of Iraqi Jewry noted: "The Ben Ish Chai sternly opposed the activity of the Kol Yisrael Chaveirim Association (Alliance Israelite Universelle) in Iraq, Iran and Kurdistan, which tried to influence students to change their tradition and culture."

Prof. Rabkin was a virulent lefty

It shows in his book. He virtually worships Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz. As I was putting my own notes on the margins of the book, I found myself writing: "Enough with the YL worship!"

5:54 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

A booklet containing a number of his newly found letters was presented at the convention.

Several things don't ring true about this narrative. 1st, the ben-Ish chai's opposition to Zionism has been know for a long while and his greatest talmidim (most of whom integrated very nicely into the RZ world) can testify to it.

2nd, Rav Kalisher was niftar in 1874 and Herzl's congress would convene in 1897. All letters I have ever heard of that he wrote against Zionism were after the congress so they could not be to Rav Kalisher. The text makes it sound like this was part of his opposition to Herzl. Also Rav Kalisher could not realy be called a "religious Zionist" since the term did not exist in his lifetime.

This being said, the statement does fit in with his hashkafa regarding geula and it would be the kind of thing he would say. However, it is a bit close to the lashon of Rav Hirsh to ring accurate.

The baba Sali bit I really don't believe. Most of his children are VERY involved in the RZ world and I can see little in common between them and Satmar - I also doubt that they would be SO different if their father was so approving of Satmar's derech.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

Most of his children are VERY involved in the RZ world and I can see little in common between them and Satmar - I also doubt that they would be SO different if their father was so approving of Satmar's derech.

This is sounding awfully close to a discussion some time back about the veracity of reports regarding the Chafetz Chaim and Rav Kook in light of Reb Elchonon's positions.

This bit about Baba Sali should be easier to verify.

6:47 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

This bit about Baba Sali should be easier to verify.

Please do.

BTW, I found a letter by Rav Rav Chaim David Chazan, the Rishon LeTzion during the Rav Kalisher's day.

In two letters in 1863 and and 1965 he gives is complete support to Rav Kalisher's program and in the second letter he testifies that ALL the sephardic Rabbis in EY fully support his plan to bring the geula through yeshuv HaAretz. (HaMagid 7, 11, pg. 87 and HaMagid 9, 23, pg. 179)

7:25 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

Please do.

Give me solid counterevidence first.

7:32 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

Please do.

Give me solid counterevidence first


Why don't you give the source first and we will see if it is minimaly trustworthy and whether I should exert the effort. :)

8:11 PM  
Blogger Bari said...

David Yehudiof, Hasabba Kadisha Baba Sali, vol. 2, pg. 217-219. (Apparently published in Netivot by Baruch Abuchatzeira).

8:26 PM  
Blogger chardal said...

Still very strange. The Baba Sali's own brother Rav Yitzchak was a Rav for the Rabbanut. And the Baba Sali was one of the teachers of Rav Mordechai Eliyahu. My landlord in Israel was a chassid of the Baba Baruch and he lived in a VERY torani neighborhood. The Baba Baruch was the one that recomended this to him and he send his students to hesder yeshivot on the Baba Baruch's advice.

I find all this very hard to understand if the baba Sali had the same world view as the Satmar Rav.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Hakham Salomon Eliezer Alfandari, "Sabba ha-kadosh, the Holy Grandfather" of Istanbul (c. 1826-1930)

Just a side point: he was known as "Sabba Kadisha."

8:02 AM  
Blogger yaak said...

Bari, interesting post.
The article that chardal linked to (also, a great article) seems to say that the Baba Sali זצוק"ל said that his son's prayer of
גרש נא את בן האמה, דגל ישראל הרימה
made an impression in Shamayim.
Of course, it's not a Re'ayah either way, but it leans towards pro-Zionism.
However, I remember reading the Baba Sali book in English, and if I'm not mistaken, it seems that the Baba Sali had anti-Zionist views. This is also verified here.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous Akiva said...

Everything written in the article I think is true. These Rabbis were against zionism. And it is not something that we could think bizarre. The most religious authorities were against zionism in the beggining. After the Shoa many things changed. BUT the traditional view of zionism is to be against it in differents levels. Baba Sali followed that view until the end and there are sources to find it. Other thing is what zionism religious or not want to try to show to the people in order to find fans. But we cant follow what others says with blind eyes but we must find in our Sages in our books what is the way of the Tora and specially in these generation. MAY HASHEM HELP US

1:09 PM  
Blogger goombash said...

Yehuda Yehudayoff Baba Sali's son-in-law mention this story in Hasaba Kadisha Baba Sali

8:03 PM  
Blogger goombash said...

Yehuda Yehudayoff Baba Sali's son-in-law mention this story in Hasaba Kadisha Baba Sali

8:09 PM  

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