Agudas Yisrael and Yom Ha’atzmaut: then and now

[Hat tip to Mark]
The letter below was penned by famed Rosh Yeshivah of Telz in Cleveland and member of the Moetzes Gedolai HaTorah in the USA, Rav Eliyahu Meir Bloch ז’ל. I had heard about the sentiments, but it is all the more powerful when one reads the actual letter. Well, not quite the actual letter, but a translation of the letter, which I lifted from the following article.


With God’s help, Sunday, Parashat Bechukosai, 5714

My respected friend, Mr. David Ulman, Shalom and with eternal blessing!

First I would like to express my gratitude to you for contacting me to request clarification with regard to the holiday of Independence without judging or criticising from afar. Now let me respond to the matter with clarity.

  • The copy of the advertisement that you sent to me is indeed correct. Furthermore, this event was attended by the Women of Agudath Israel and Pirchei Agudath Israel. The reason that their attendance was not mentioned [in the ad] is simply due to the fact that they decided to attend later [after the flyer was published], and they became an official part of the evening’s program.
  • Before we discuss the actual matter we must first clarify the following questions:
    1) Is Yom ha-Atzma’ut a worthy matter for the Ultra- Orthodox community to deliberate and to express a stance regarding it[s celebration]?
    2) Is it worthy of celebration?
    3) Is it worthy for the members of Agudath Israel to unite with the members of Mizrachi in a fashion which allows us to express our approach and influence others to act according to the spirit of Agudath Israel?

In my humble opinion, one must respond to these questions as follows:

  1. The independence of Israel and the establishment of the State are important events in the life of our nation. It is worthy for members of Agudath Israel to participate when there is a possibility to express their thoughts and views before a large forum in order to influence them regarding the approach of the Agudah and to refute the negative sentiments against Agudath Israel.
  2. In my opinion, despite all of the defects and deficiencies in the leadership of the State of Israel, its mere existence, which happened via revealed miracles, is of great significance that deserves recognition and appreciation. This recognition must be publicly expressed for two reasons: First, because the truth must be expressed. Second, that all should know and recognise that our war against the Government of Israel is not targeted against the existence of the State.
  3. Participation with Mizrachi in a fashion that Agudath Israel is free to express its views was recognised as the correct approach by creating a religious front that Agudath Israel is always willing to renew. Although I know that we disagree with Mizrachi on our fundamental beliefs, and in no way are our views consistent with each other, and consequently our actions are totally different, still there are many issues on which we can work together and, through this, strengthen the ultra-religious and its influence on the life of the nation.

After this preface let’s discuss the issue of our participating in the celebration of Yom ha-Atzma’ut. The collective meeting for Yom ha-Atzma’ut was not particularly festive; it was simply a symposium conducted by all the Orthodox factions and gave everyone the opportunity to express their views. Of course, if we would not have attended, the meeting would have turned into a platform focused on criticising Agudath Israel and its leaders who are the “Gedolei ha-Torah.” Our participation on the other hand caused the speakers to speak politely and allowed Agudath Israel to express its views in front of more than one thousand people. Hence even if we would not have related to the State of Israel in a positive fashion, our participation would still have been of value. However, in my view since the creation of the State of Israel is indeed an important milestone in the life of our nation, our relationship to it, therefore, is positive, and our participation is obligatory.

Our participation together with Mizrachi is despite the fact that the religious political front was canceled. In Cleveland there is a religious front by the name “Orthodox Jewish Association” comprised of representatives of ultra-orthodox synagogues, Agudath Israel, Mizrachi, Young Israel and representatives of the educational institutions of the ultra-orthodox. A condition was established that if there is any issue with which one of the participants disagrees, the organisation cannot act. For example when rabbi… came here as the representative of the so-called Jewish Agency’s Torah Department, during their month of propaganda, and most of the organisation’s members were willing to participate in an open forum, Agudath Israel and our educational institutes did not agree, despite our personal relationships with rabbi…. Of course Mizrachi acted independently, but not in the name of our joint religious organisation. Due to this organisation, thank God, we were able to eliminate non-kosher at United Jewish Appeal banquets and gatherings and accomplish other positive outcomes that strengthened the religious position and its respect in the community. Therefore, if we would not have agreed to organise the Yom ha-Atzma’ut gathering of course we could have stopped the organisation from attending. However, our view is positive [towards Yom ha-Atzma’ut] and therefore we did attend. It is noteworthy that nothing was done without consulting with us. We oversaw all preparations to insure all would be in accordance with our interests. For example, no irreligious attended and all women sat in a separate section behind a Mechitzah etc….

To summarise, I feel it correct to clarify why this was conducted this year and not in previous years. The reason did not emanate from our side but from the side of the other factions. In past years all the Zionist factions would conduct the gathering in accordance with their approach and of course we are neither part of them nor their ways. But this time they approached us with a proposal that the gathering would be only with religious people in accordance with the spirit of Torah and asked us if under these conditions we would be willing to participate. And thus, despite the fact that this year we are actually at war with the Mizrachi even more so than in previous years, we still feel it was the correct approach to demonstrate to them that on issues on which we are in agreement we can work together.

In general, I already expressed my view that we lost a great deal by refraining from recognising correct issues just because the irreligious and those manipulated by them, the Mizrachi, agreed to them, because through agreeing with them we would have strengthened their false opinions. In my opinion, our views did not find receptive hearts within the nation not because of our stance against their incorrect views; rather it is because of our negative position against the correct views such as learning Bible, speaking Hebrew and Eretz Yisrael. The populace cannot understand our concerns and, moreover, when we emphasise our positive views they will accept us and allow us to fight the falsehoods. In addition, I must express that this attitude of ours is not unique to our life in America. We acted this way in Lithuania as well despite the fact that then, as now, we were totally zealous concerning anything that, God forbid, is not in accordance with the spirit of Torah. We did not regress because of persecution, denouncement and sometimes even suffering, sorrow and much damage to our holy Yeshiva.

With this I am your friend, I respect you and bless you, 

Eliyahu Meir Bloch

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

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