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Do you have proof that Rav Kook really said "the wall is our wall"?

01/09/13

When you get a chance, I would appreciate if you could either find the answer or refer me to someone who could answer this question for me. In Rabbi Boruch Kaplan's retelling of the Hebron massacre of 1929, which you have posted on your website, he mentions that Rav Kook spoke to a gathering of Zionists and said, "Hear O Israel, the Wall is our wall, the wall is one!" I'm wondering if you have some other source to verify that Rav Kook was actually at this gathering and said these words. Was this gathering an example of something which Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld viewed as something that could provoke the Arabs against Jews? Did this gathering actually have a significant role in provoking the Arabs to kill Jews at Chevron in 1929?
Thanks.

Thanks for your letter. It's always good to check into alternative sources to get the most accurate picture.

I found the following in the book Mara D'ara Yisroel (a biography of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld written by Mendel Gerlitz) v. 2 pp. 254-256:

In the summer of 1929 the Zionists founded their Sochnut (The Jewish Agency) and the Arabs began to fear them. The Mufti gathered the Arabs and warned them that the Jews wanted to take over the mosques on the Temple Mount, bringing proof from the demonstrations and nationalist parades that had been held on the Temple Mount by the Zionist youth many times.

Charles Luke, secretary of the British Mandate government, sought to placate the Arabs with a declaration that the Western Wall and the street in front of it belonged to the Arabs, and the Jews prayed there only as an established custom. Additionally, he temporarily forbade Jews to bring chairs to the street in front of the Wall, or to turn on lights there on Friday afternoon. The British also asked the rabbis to hold back until the tension passed.

But the Zionists refused to give in. Rav Kook published a sharp letter to the British government accusing them of giving in to the pressure from the Arab inciters. Mr. Luke asked him to retract the letter, which was seen in the street as incitement by the rabbis. But Rav Kook not only refused to retract; he published an additional warning to the government that if prayers at the Wall were disturbed, there would not be peace in the city.

In the meantime, the secular Zionist leader Dr. Joseph Klausner organized a group called the Public Committee for the Protection of the Wall.

On Erev Tisha B'av, the government again turned to Rav Kook and asked him to make sure that this year the Zionist youth would not hold their annual demonstration on the night of Tisha B'av, saying that the demonstration would only add to the tensions, and we must worry about the consequences. But Rav Kook dismissed them, saying that if he spoke to the youth group it would only intensify their fanaticism.

So the annual demonstration was held as usual, with a march to the Wall, and at the Wall, alcoholic drinks and shouting. The demonstration, led by Dr. Klausner, was not too violent, but it was dispersed by the police, who were ready for it. Afterwards the youths went to Rav Kook to receive his blessing. Rav Kook expressed his satisfaction at the courage and nationalist pride in their hearts, which was "an expression of the holiness of their souls, similar to the holiness of the Maccabees." In conclusion, he called out his slogan that he had made up for the battle over the Wall: "Hear O Israel, the Wall is our Wall, the Wall is one!" The energized youths repeated after him.

Rav Kook's words were printed in all the newspapers. This became one of the issues discussed in the subsequent investigation: the Arab leaders argued that Rav Kook was firing up the masses to fight against the Arabs.

End quote from Mara D'ara Yisroel.

The rest of the story of the 1929 events is well known. The Arabs killed 133 Jews in Jerusalem and Hebron in the riots that followed.

Admittedly, Mara D'ara Yisrael is an anti-Zionist, anti-Rav Kook work. Perhaps his depiction of Rav Kook as encouraging Jews to fight for the Wall is inaccurate.

So let's look in a pro-Zionist, pro-Rav Kook book: Simcha Raz's biography of Rav Kook, entitled "Malachim Kivnei Adam". It was also published in English under the title "An Angel Among Men" but right now I am looking at the Hebrew version, printed in 1993.

On page 184-185 the same story appears about the demonstrators going to Rav Kook for his blessing:

On the day before Tisha B'av two officials, one British and one Arab, visited Rav Kook and asked him in the name of Governor Keith-Roach to influence the Beitar youth group to cancel the march at the Wall on the night of Tisha B'av. But Rav Kook refused.

On the night of Tisha B'av several hundred youths of the Beitar group marched to the Wall, holding half-mast flags. When the march reached the Wall the youths grew silent and swore: "Hear O Israel, the Wall is our Wall, the Wall is one!" Then they marched around the Old City walls and when they returned to the city, they went up to the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva and met with Rav Kook and told him about the march and the oath they had taken to defend the Wall till their last drop of blood.

Regarding this meeting, the historian of the Old Yishuv, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Sonnenfeld, relates: Rav Kook was very emotional. He stood up from his chair to his full height, turned to the youths with a tear-choked voice and said, "The nationalist pride in your hearts is only an expression of the holy, G-dly soul in every Jew. With your zeal for the holy places of the nation, you are reminiscent of the holy zeal of the Maccabees. We pray that our hopes be fulfilled with just and legal methods. We must explain to the whole world that it cannot be that a holy and exalted place like the Western Wall should remain surrounded by dirty alleys. We will demand justice and not move from it. May Hashem bless you from Zion!"

So according to this source, Rav Kook was not the one who made up the pun on the cardinal declaration of Jewish faith "Hear O Israel", but he strongly approved.

Simcha Raz's book contains 10 more pages of Rav Kook's statements on the Western Wall issue. You know, the issue continued to rage for a year after the pogroms, and the League of Nations was called in to work out a compromise on Jewish prayer at the Wall. The Arabs published a letter saying that prayer at the Wall was a kindness granted over the years by the Muslims, not a right that the Jews had. The Mufti further claimed that the riots were provoked by Jewish claims to the Wall.

Rav Kook responded to the Mufti with a public letter in Cheshvan 5690 (November 1929). He starts out talking about how Jews have always prayed at the Wall, and then says, "He (the Mufti) calls the orderly march of Jewish youths on the national day of mourning a 'demonstration'. According to him, it was not religious but political in nature. But this is completely incorrect, for it is impossible to make distinctions in the emotions of the soul. The love the Jews have had for thousands of years for the Holy Land fill the Jewish soul and we cannot say which feelings are religious and which are political. And if some of the youths raised the Jewish flag at the Wall, by giving honor to their own people they have not offended anyone..."

He continues to condemn the Muslims for their riots and killings, and then says, "But I know for certain that the entire Arab people, and the majority of the Arabs of Eretz Yisroel itself, are full of pain and embarrassment over the acts done by the minority due to inciters. And we hope that the tradition of peace and cooperation to build up this beloved and forsaken land together, which requires much work... that tradition will overcome all falsehood and evil plans that men of bloodshed wish to spread in the land."

It seems to me that Rav Kook was ridiculously naive for not realizing that demonstrations over the Wall, waving the flag and saying it is ours, would offend the Arabs. And it is unbelievable that he was still talking this way AFTER the pogroms.

The rest of the chapter documents how Rav Kook refused to make any concessions on the Wall (like on the issue of bringing chairs, mechitza, blowing shofar and so on), and refused to sign statements which the British and the League asked him to sign, forgoing Jewish rights to the Wall. The most he was willing to approve was a statement that "For the time being, the Jews do not demand ownership over the Western Wall." And the Mufti rejected this statement, so the League of Nations effort to make peace ended inconclusively.

Far from redeeming Rav Kook's role in the bloody events of 1929, this admiring biography of him has only made him look more naive and in the clouds. He could not see the distinction between the religious and the political. He attributed the Zionists' every move to their inner Jewish soul, and therefore failed to act with the pragmatism that Judaism teaches. We are taught not to rebel against the nations during exile and not to offend them in any way.

True gedolim were well aware that any wrong move in this area could have disastrous consequences. Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld felt the Jewish longing for the Western Wall and the return to the Holy Land more than anyone, yet in 1928, when the Zionist Vaad Leumi (National Council) decided to go to Rabbi Sonnenfeld, who had lived in the Holy Land for some 60 years, to get support for their contention that the Wall had always had the status of a synagogue, Rabbi Sonnenfeld replied as follows: "October 14, 1928...As regards the question: Was it the practice to bring an ark and Torah scrolls to the Wailing Wall? - I know that never has there been such a practice; and likewise today, I am totally dissatisfied with the practice."

Rabbi Sonnenfeld was wise enough to write an apologetic letter to the Muslim population after the riots, saying, "The Jews do not want, in any way, to take that which isn't theirs. And they certainly don't want to contest the rights of the other inhabitants to the places held by them which they regard with honor and consider holy. And in particular there is no foundation to the rumor that the Jews want to acquire the Temple Mount. On the contrary, from the time that, because of our sins, we were exiled from our land, and our Holy Temple was destroyed, and we have been lacking the purity required by the Torah, it is forbidden for any man of Israel to set foot upon the grounds of the Temple Mount, until the coming of the righteous moshiach, who with the spirit of the L-rd, which will hover over him, will rule righteously, for the good of all creation, and will return to us the purity required by the Torah. We request only that they leave us the most holy place that is left for us, as a refuge, the site of the Western Wall, so that we will still be able to pour out our prayers before our Father in heaven, concerning any trouble that may befall us, G-d forbid, and whenever a Jewish soul desires this holy place, without any disturbance and with peace of mind, as was always the case."

Two years after the riots, Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzensky of Vilna wrote on 11 Tamuz 5691 to the leaders of Agudas Harabbonim of America: "I have received your question on whether you should protest against the League of Nations' decision on the matter of the Wall. In my opinion, it would be pointless, and it is better to ignore this question, which has brought terrible tragedies due to the actions of the fanatics, who gave the issue a nationalist character, and due to their earlier protests and demonstrations."

I am glad you asked this question, because this is not just a historical issue of whether Rav Kook was good or bad. Today there are many religious Zionists who follow in his footsteps. Mixing religion and politics, they confuse the State of Israel with Eretz Yisroel and refuse to make concessions, even when lives are at stake.