Rabbi Boruch Kaplan, Principal of Bais Yaakov (1911-1996)

This is a free translation of a Yiddish transcript of a taped interview made some 30 years ago with the late Rabbi Boruch Kaplan, who was a principal of the Beis Yaakov Girls School in Brooklyn, and who was a student in the Hebron yeshiva (religious school) in 1929 at the time of the killing of a number of Jews by some Arabs. Rabbi Kaplan explains how events unfolded, and how it was the arrogant and cowardly Zionists who perpetrated the events by provoking the Arabs. He also adds some comments about events at the time he recounted this story, some 30 years ago.
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When I was in Hebron in 1929, there occurred the tragic massacre of over twenty yeshiva students, great scholars, plus another forty members of the Jewish community. I would like to describe the error that has circulated in Jewish communities – a horrible error, that accuses the Arabs in Hebron of being murderers who attacked the Jews simply because the Arabs were “bad people.” In order to correct the record, this error must be corrected. The Arabs were very friendly people, and the Jewish People in Hebron lived together with them and had very friendly relations with them. They worked for Jews, and everybody got along just fine.

To take just one example, I used to have the habit of walking a mile or two out of town all by myself to visit a tree that was believed to be the tree where our patriarch Abraham met the three angels, as described in Genesis. I especially enjoyed visiting the tree in the summertime. Along the way I would talk to the Arabs, though it was mostly using our hands because I didn’t speak any Arabic. Interestingly enough, no one in the yeshiva ever told me it was dangerous to go by myself among the Arabs. We just lived with them, and got along very well.

I have also seen a letter from the Grand Rabbi of the Gerrer Hassidim of those days, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter of Poland, regarding his trip to the Holy Land during the days when people were talking about emigrating to Palestine. He wanted to find out what kind of people the Arabs of Palestine were, in order to be able to advise people whether to move there or not. He wrote in his letter that the Arabs were a very friendly and fine people.

Therefore it’s necessary to set the record straight about the accusations that the Arabs were terrible killers who liked attacking Jews. This was never the situation at all!

Today’s wicked Zionists are just like their predecessors, who were responsible for causing terrible suffering in Palestine with their wars with the Arabs, may G-d have mercy. At that time in 1929, the Zionists had a slogan arguing that the Western Wall in Jerusalem was a Jewish “national symbol.” Of course, the Arabs disagreed with this idea, considering that they had control of the location for over 1,100 years. However, the Zionist mobs were yelling that “The Wall is ours!” It’s hard to understand why they felt that way considering they have no connection to the Jewish holy places whatsoever. An argument erupted in the Jewish newspapers about establishing a permanent prayer area for Jews at the Wall. This provoked the Arabs, and the rabbi of Jerusalem at the time, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld begged them to stop and to be appreciative to the Arabs for allowing Jews to pray at the Wall for so many centuries undisturbed. However, the Zionists wanted a permanent setup under their control.

The Zionists refused to heed the calls of Rabbi Zonnenfeld, and they called a large meeting of Jews in Jerusalem – supposedly some 10,000 people showed up. One of the speakers was their “chief Rabbi” (Avraham Isaac Kook), who proclaimed, “Hear O Israel, the Wall is our Wall, the Wall is One” (which is a ridiculous pun on the blessing, “Hear O Israel, the Lord your G-d, the Lord is One”). This began the conflict at the time between the Zionists and the Arabs.

Afterwards, we were studying at the yeshiva in Hebron, and saw a bunch of boys in short pants carrying weapons on bicycles and motorcycles, running around the streets of Hebron. We were very worried about this. What were they up to?

In brief, our rabbi, the supervisor of our religious academy, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein, called them for a meeting, but they refused. He was forced to go over to them, and asked them what they were up to. He accused them of wanting to provoke the Arabs. They responded that they were coming to protect us!! We cried out, “Woe is us! G-d have mercy!” They didn’t want to leave town until it was too late!

These arrogant cowards only ran away when the local leaders of the Arabs called for a mass meeting of the people of the surrounding Arab villages. But it was too late; the Arabs got organized, and the Mufti called on his people to be ready Friday night when the yeshiva would be attending prayers. Of course, the yeshiva itself was anti-Zionist, but the Arabs didn’t know to distinguish between us and the Zionists. Sadly they attacked and killed some of our people, including the great scholar, Rabbi Shmuel Rosenhaltz.

The next morning we heard about the excitement in town, and even worse, we heard the crying and shouting. I and a friend, Avraham Ushpener, lived in an apartment that was part of a three-story building leased by a Jew from an Arab. We could hear all the noise from our apartment on the third floor. We were terrified to let the Arabs in because we knew how angry they had become, but a while later things calmed down. In total, some 65 people were killed. On the other side of town, however, the Jews were spared.

Why am I telling this story? It is because I wanted to describe how the wicked Zionists, both today and in those days, were the cause of our suffering! They cooperated with the Nazis, and our religion teaches that a person who causes someone to sin is worse than someone who kills him.

It reminds me of an event recounted by Rabbi Moshe Schonfeld, who once visited Rabbi Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz {Chazon Ish) when the Zionist state was established, and when there was fighting between the Zionists and the Arabs. Rabbi Schonfeld told Rabbi Karelitz about what was happening. Rabbi Karelitz told him that the crimes of the Zionists were much worse, because they were wicked heretics who were uprooting hundreds of thousands of Jews from their faith and that is much greater pain since our Sages stated that a person who causes another person to sin is much worse than if he kills him.

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. These heretics and evildoers, this Zionist leader of a state that killed the Judaism of the Yemenite and Moroccan Jews, and of many other Sephardic Jews! This is the work of these thugs and gangsters. And there are religious Jewish parties who dare to state that they love this man?! Everyone must know that the anger of the Arabs against us is only caused by the Zionists!

The Arabs were a friendly people to us, and I am a witness to it. We lived very well with them in Hebron. Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe, 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.

Everyone should know who the murderers are – the Zionists are the biggest murderers in the world, who refuse to let the Jewish People live in peace either physically or spiritually!”

Click here to read the original Yiddish transcript.
Click here to listen to the tape of Rabbi Kaplan speaking in Yiddish. The story about the massacre begins 7 minutes into the tape.