Didn't gedolim like Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky give honor to Menachem Begin?

Jan. 29, 2008

Dear Hersh,

The article appeared in the Chanuka issue of the Where/What/When, a
religious Baltimore monthly publication. The article is several pages, so
I'll just quote you some parts as follows (written by D. Katz):

Don't I remember when Begin was elected when Begin was elected prime
minister back in May of 1977 and was summoned to America by Jimmy Carter
during the Nine Days? In those halcyon pre-internet days, I used to read
the religious Yiddish newspapers religiously. They wrote all about how
Begin asked Rav Shach -- he ran into him at a wedding -- whether it wasn't
improper, weather it wasn't bad luck, to undertake a delicate political
journey at such a time, and how Rav Shach assured him that it was okay,
because when one goes on behalf of the tzibur, he does not have to worry
about the Nine Days. And don't I remember how, when Begin landed in New
York to great acclaim, he received all kinds of delegations at the Waldorf
Astoria, but he himself went to pay courtesy calls on the Lubavitcher Rebbe
in Crown Heights and Rav Moshe Feinstein in the Lower East Side.

Two stories I recall (I'm going by memory here): The Lubavitcher Rebbe
accompanied Begin back to his limousine. The TV reporters asked the Rebbe
what he had told the Israeli Prime Minster. Begin said, "The Rabbi gave me
his blessing." The Rebbe himself, speaking to the mostly gentile
reporters, said, te'elamna sifsei divrei sheker, which means, "May the
lips of the liars be struck dumb." The next day, employees at the
violently anti-Begin New York Times went on strike and shut the paper down
for a month or two, silencing them for the rest of Begin's trip.

Begin's next stop was at Rav Moshe Feinstein's apartment on Grand street.
There he met with members of the Moetzes Gedolei Ha'Torah, including R.
Hutner, R. Yaakov Kaminetzky, R. Baruch Sorotzkin, and others. As I
recall it, our Rosh Yeshiva Rav Ruderman very much wanted to attend, but
he had just had some eye operation and could not travel.

Another memory comes to my mind as I write these lines: Begin wanted to
pay a courtesy call on Rav Soloveichik, but "The Rav" insisted on going to
Begin at the Waldorf.

Years later, I read the ArtScroll biography of Rav Yaakov Kaninetzky,
where Begin's visit was described in the following terms: "Reb Yaakov was
the natural selection to open the discussion when the Moetzes Gedolei
HaTorah met with Prime Minister Begin. In the course of what proved to be a
very fruitful conversation, the Prime Minister told the gedolim that he
suffered from a heart condition and asked them to pray for him. Reb Yaakov
replied, "You don't need our prayers. The hearts of kings are in the hands
of Hashem." (Mishlei 21:1). Begin, who had a thorough knowledge of Tanach
smiled broadly. Reb Yaakov left the meeting impressed that the prime
minister had worn a large yarmulke and spoken to the Moetzes in Yiddish. He
contrasted his approach to Golda Meir, who despite knowing that the gedolim
would be more comfortable in Yiddish and being more fluent in Yiddish
herself, had insisted on speaking Hebrew. With prime minister Begin, Reb
Yaakov told friends he felt he was talking to a "Yiddishe mentsch."

There are four seperate photo's within the story of Begin with Rav
Kaminetzky and Rav Hutner (shaking hands), Begin with Rav Soloveichik,
Begin with Rav Moshe Feinstein, and Begin with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I didn't write this to tell you that I think Begin was great. I wrote it
to show you that there were great Rabbi's who were far from sharing the
position of extreme revulsion towards Begin as Rabbi Boruch Kaplan, whom you quote on your
website. I think that in the name of "full disclosure" the views of the
Rabbi's noted in that article should be mentioned along with Rabbi Kaplan concerning Begin.

Sincerely,

Shimshon

Dear Shimshon,

There needs to be a whole section of the website which quotes stories of gedolim who were seemingly favorable to Zionists or Zionism and explains them away. I haven't yet gotten around to making this section; for now, you'll have to be satisfied with me posting your letter in the visitor response section.

The stories about Rabbi Soloveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe don't need to be addressed because these two really were supporters of the Zionist state. You may know about the book "When Silence is a Sin" documenting the Rebbe's statements about expanding the settlements and not returning any land to the Arabs. Rabbi Soloveitchik was active in Mizrachi for most of his life in America.

The meetings with Rav Shach, and with Reb Moshe and the other members of the Moetzes in America were Begin's own initiative. Begin's coming to power was a big turning point for the Agudah, because for about 26 years prior to that Agudah had participated only in the opposition side of the Knesset, not in the acting government. Begin brought the Agudah into his government by offering them tons of money: full funding for all yeshivos and chadarim, regardless of whether they conformed to the state education requirements. All the traditional yeshivos that had a Torah-only curriculum, which had been struggling all the years to raise money, suddenly had all their expenses paid.

If Begin was elected in May and this trip to America was during the Nine Days, it probably came after he had formed his government and reached his deal with the Agudah. He was probably trying to solidify his newly-acquired image of friend of the charedi community.

As for the gedolim, they probably looked at him as at any leader or official, giving him a little honor as necessary in order to procure favors from him. You see that Reb Yaakov and the Moetzes also met with Golda Meir, although they looked at her as much more hostile to Torah Judaism. I think it was during Golda Meir's administration that the issue of drafting girls was raised again, and the gedolim met with her to plead with her not to enforce it. They even asked the Satmar Rav to come to the meeting, and he declined, saying nothing would come of it (which turned out to be right). The Chazon Ish met with Ben Gurion over the drafting of girls, and nobody claims that the Chazon Ish gave the slightest approval of Ben Gurion. The Chazon Ish reportedly described the meeting as follows: "I gave him a slap, and then a pat. The slap was because he deserved it, and the pat was because he was a guest, and one may not make a guest feel uncomfortable." My point is that yes, gedolim have met with Zionist leaders, but not because they approved of them in any way. They may have felt extreme revulsion like Rabbi Boruch Kaplan, but they did it for a practical purpose.

Note also that the things Rabbi Kaplan criticized about Begin happened after 1977. The text on our site, for some reason, is not complete, and it reads: "In our own days there is a Zionist leader (Begin), whose arrogance and selfishness is more important than anything else to him, and for which he is prepared to sacrifice hundreds and thousands of Jews." It doesn't say what he's referring to. But you can read the complete text in our Hebrew book Efes Biltecha Goaleinu, page 461, now available online at http://www.truetorahjews.org/images/efesbiltecha.pdf or read the original Yiddish transcript at http://www.truetorahjews.org/images/kaplanyiddish.pdf Begin destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981 in a dramatic operation that helped him win the election. He did not care about all the possible repercussions of this, putting the Jews of Eretz Yisroel in danger as long as he would win the election.

Rabbi Kaplan's second criticism involves the Lebanon War, which began in 1982. "The Arabs were a friendly people to us, and I am a witness to it. We lived very well with them in Hebron. Rabbi Alter attested to this as well, and it is the accursed Zionists who caused them to hate us. The Zionists dare to use their power to expel the Arabs, and even today in Lebanon, they kill and butcher the Arabs; they wipe out whole villages with the airplanes they get from the United States."

It would be interesting to know if the gedolim of the Moetzes disagreed with Rabbi Kaplan's criticisms of Begin; if they indeed did it would be important to quote their words side by side with his for a full disclosure. However, the stories you have quoted do not touch on these subjects at all.

Hersh