Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Av 5761 - August 15, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Guarding The Holy City Then And Now: The Shifting Interface Between Yerushalayim's Religious And Secular Populations

R. Gartner interviews Rabbi Yisroel Spiegel and Rabbi Uri Maklev

Chazal tell us that when the besieging Romans substituted a swine for the lamb that should have been sent up for the korbon tomid, the animal drove its hooves into the wall of Yerushalayim and uttered a cry that convulsed the entire land. Convulsions have continued to rock the city to this day, with a succession of conflicts over the character of Yerushalayim ir hakodesh. Will it retain its unique spiritual nobility, or will it be rebuilt to reflect the decadence of the European capitals? Against those who have sought and who seek to perpetuate the city's destruction, defenders have risen, willing to do battle on behalf of its past and future mission.

Rabbi Yisroel Spiegel, veteran chareidi journalist, spoke to R. Gartner about some of the conflicts of the recent past, and Deputy Mayor of Yerushalayim Rabbi Uri Maklev outlined the current challenges to the character of the sacred city in the future.

Bayomim Hoheim . . . In Those Days . . .

with Rabbi Yisroel Spiegel

Rabbi Spiegel's pen has been recording the ongoing struggle to protect Yerushalayim's sanctity for the past several decades. Starting out as a junior clerk for the Agudas Yisroel publication, Kol Yisroel, Rabbi Spiegel has become one of the leading writers in the world of chareidi publishing, with his work appearing in Hamodia, Digleinu and now, Yated Ne'eman. What were the challenges to the city's special character? Which of the struggles were won and which were lost?

The Rule Are Different Here

Q. How is Yerushalayim different from all other cities?

A. That is one question that I don't need to answer. All our sources identify Yerushalayim as the city of holiness and of the Beis Hamikdosh, as the city of Hashem.

Q. But according to halochoh, is Yerushalayim confined to the area within the walls of the Old City?

A. "In the future, Eretz Yisroel will spread to all lands," and Yerushalayim will also expand . . . admittedly, the halachic discussion concerning the special laws of the city's sanctity centers upon a specific area, however, in its role of Heavenly City, Yerushalayim has no boundaries. When we speak about Yerushalayim, we refer to the spiritual entity towards which each and every Jew directs his prayers, to the city whose mention set generations of Jewish hearts quivering, to the city of holiness, of hope, of yearning and of dreams.

When Jews said about Yerushalayim, tiboneh vesiconein, may it be built and established, they certainly didn't have theaters in mind, nor even spectacular buildings, though when the posuk (Tehillim 48:3), describes Yerushalayim as a "beautiful region, joy of the entire land," it certainly means literally as well. Anyone with a neshomoh inside him, who goes up to Har Hatzofim (a name that has great significance), and looks at the vista that lies before him, will feel uplifted by the beauty of the view.

This beauty is spiritual as well. There is an interesting thought which HaRav Menachem Ziemba zt'l, Hy'd, said at the third Knessia Gedolah in 5697 (1937): On Tisha B'Av in the special prayer Nacheim, we mention the posuk, "And I will be for her, says Hashem, a wall of fire roundabout and I will be a glory within." HaRav Ziemba asked, that the prophet usually ends with the words, "says Hashem," yet here these words appear in the middle of the posuk.

His answer was that Yerushalayim's beauty does not lie in tall buildings and stately mansions. Its beauty lies solely in the word of Hashem. The posuk should thus be understood as meaning that "says Hashem" is the wall of fire, and Yerushalayim and Hashem's presence is the glory inside it.

Q. Do you recall any other comments that gedolei Yisroel have made concerning Yerushalayim?

A. Yerushalayim's holiness is the focus of the holiness of the entire land. The Torah's admonition to guard the land's sanctity applies with even greater force to Yerushalayim. Our outlook, which today has been borne out, is that our ability to be here is conditional upon our keeping the Torah's warning, "Do not defile yourselves with all these" [abominable practices] (Vayikra 18:24). The more we increase kedushoh, especially in Yerushalayim, the firmer our hold on the land.

One of the Ponovezher Rov's more famous speeches was about the holiness of the land. He gave it in 5704 (1944), while Europe was a bloodbath. The Rov didn't know what had happened to his family or to his thousand talmidim. What did he demand at such a time? That we sanctify the land! Another cheder, another yeshiva, another Jew who lays tefillin! In this sense, the attitude to Yerushalayim, and the worry over every breach that occurred there, was special.

Protecting the City

Q. How did they fight against these breaches?

A. On the whole, gedolei Yisroel were very wary of street campaigns. I think that in all cases really, with the exception of some very special cases, the rabbonim opposed demonstrations that were organized by youths. Such events lead to forbidden acts, like stone throwing, and they turn these children into brazen young men who later do whatever they want.

I remember when I was sixteen years old, I walked past a demonstration. Suddenly, two trucks arrived, carrying kibbutzniks from Tzova. They began beating with truncheons on all sides and they didn't spare me either. I arrived home bruised and beaten.

But there is another point as well. The rabbonim never thought that any gains could be made in this way. It may be fitting in certain cases, but not as a general approach.

Q. But there were also some successful street campaigns.

A. Our attitude should be different where the irreligious harm us, as for example, with the campaign to close Kikar haShabbos to traffic on Shabbos. We were talking about a major traffic artery that passed right through the heart of the chareidi neighborhood. This was a campaign against the desecration of the holiness inside our own territory, and it was a success. I remember cars that used to drive freely through Meah Shearim, especially army vehicles that used to come from the Schneller army base in order to provoke, in the guise of "security needs." Once, they even threw smoke grenades.

It was the same with the campaign against the stadium in northern Yerushalayim. Here too, the secularists tried to harm us by blocking the spread of the chareidi neighborhoods. That battle also succeeded and Ramat Shlomo stands upon that hill today.

If you look carefully, you'll see that Rechov Hapisga in Bayit Vegan, the street where I live, is wider than the average street that runs through chareidi neighborhoods. Why the sudden generosity? There was originally a plan to connect Rechov Hapisga with the Bezek road [now a major traffic artery nearby], in order to drive a wedge through the middle of the neighborhood. That plan also didn't succeed.

When we fought against the conscription of our daughters, we won. When we fought against autopsies, we won. The result was different with the Abortion Law. Not a single doctor has been imprisoned. Where are the judiciary and the police? Of course, I'm only offering a layman's insights, and have no intention of diverging from the policies of gedolei Yisroel. The idea of making gains through legislation is a Mizrachi idea. It stems from the belief that the State represents a step on the road to the Geulah and that a kipah and payos should therefore be slapped onto it.

The Beginnings of Conflict

Q. You have been in Yerushalayim for a long time.

A. For a hundred and fifty years . . . on the side of my great grandfather, Reb Moshe of Lelov zy'a, who arrived in Yerushalayim when he was seventy-four and who lived here for seventy-four days, a day for a year. (He was buried at Yad Avsholom. His grave was desecrated by the Jordanians and has disappeared.) Then the pioneers started to arrive and the struggles began.

From the eighteen-eighties, there are signs of secularization in the city. The pioneers started to open schools and the like. What's interesting is that all the buildings that they erected are passing into chareidi hands, bisayaata deShmaya.

Q. Like the building of the Laemel School at the top of Rechov Yeshayah?

A. Laemel was a symbol in its time! A serious issur was proclaimed against sending children there. Today the building houses the talmud Torah of the Ruzhiner chassidim. Opposite the school they built the Edison movie theater, which is also on the way into the right hands.

The Mapai leadership had unlimited control of the city. One of the mayors was a Mapainik, who was obsessed with preventing the growth of the city's chareidi population. On the other hand, he used to go to beis haknesses every Shabbos.

Q. Such adherence to tradition . . .

A. Then there was the campaign over the "Quarrel Club," a clubhouse that was built next to Meah Shearim. The club's builders threw down a kind of challenge: `You will stay in your own neighborhoods. You will not spread out more in this city.'

But people need to live and to marry off their children. The borders of the chareidi neighborhoods thus spread beyond the complex of old neighborhoods. Blessed are those who were the builders of Yerushalayim -- Treiger, Herbst and the brothers Lipschitz -- who invested their energies into the city's development. The building that we are sitting in was also built by a chareidi planner.

Q. What is his name?

A. Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz, one of the building's inhabitants.

Today, all of central Yerushalayim is completely chareidi. But then . . . I remember Menachem Begin speaking in Zichron Moshe before elections.

Q. Inside the shtieblach?

A. He stood on the bimoh in the central beis hamedrash! I was there. He wanted to speak in Meah Shearim as well, but I don't remember if he was successful there or not. People said that the zealots dismantled his loudspeakers.

Q. And in Zichron Moshe the zealots kept quiet?

A. That was not their territory. It was then a modern neighborhood. But in those days, there were even irreligious Jews living inside Meah Shearim. There was one old man who lived next to the Meah Shearim shtieblach. If he's still alive he must be around a hundred years old. I saw him several years ago. He used to wear a hat but he wasn't religious. And there were more like that.

Unrealized Expectations

One of the editors of one of the large newspapers was from Meah Shearim. He used to write about the chareidim with hatred. He devoted his literary talents to what he called "the chareidi expansion." [His opinion was that] the chareidim should be suffocated inside Meah Shearim and Botei Ungarin. Slowly, people started to buy apartments in Geulah, and so it went. My brother got married forty-six years ago. He rented an apartment in Rechov Tzefania [in central Geulah, in what is today the heart of the chareidi part of the city]. On Shabbosos they used to hear the radio playing in the neighbor's house. Nobody dreamed that the boundaries of the holy part of the city would expand as much as they have today.

Then, people thought that the chareidim would not be around for very long. They believed that the chareidim would fade away and that others would come and fill their places.

One of the members of my wider family left the chareidi path. He lived in Kfar Bilu. Once, he came to a bar mitzva and was astonished to see the bar mitzva boy wearing a hat and jacket, and all his friends from cheder, who looked just like him. He didn't think that the chareidim would last. I think he got a great shock from the whole event. We walked back together and talked.

Immediately afterwards, he founded a minyan and a shiur in Kfar Bilu. He died not long after, at the age of fifty-two, having done teshuvoh.

Our Attitude Today

Q. What should our attitude be, for example, to chilul Shabbos at the bottom of Rechov Yaffo? And to the stores there that are an eyesore to those making their way on foot to the Kosel?

A. Gedolei Torah will give their ruling as to how we should conduct ourselves according to halochoh. However, with regard to the communal aspect of the problem, I would like to quote from Rav Mordechai Shmuel Krol zt'l, who was the first rov of Kfar Chassidim: "As soon as there will be no mechalelei Shabbos, there will also be no chilul Shabbos."

You can't fight chilul Shabbos as long as there are mechalelei Shabbos around. How much stronger are you than they? What power do you wield over them? Obviously, we have a moral argument, however, "Just as it is a mitzvoh to say something that will be listened to, it is also a mitzvoh to refrain from saying something that will not be listened to."

The thrust of our efforts must go into reducing the numbers of mechalelei Shabbos. To open schools and to teach their children, is holy work. Once a child goes to a Torah school and brings home what he learns there, his parents have no choice but to let a little Shabbos into their home.

Q. And what about all the Christian symbols throughout the city?

A. The destruction of Yerushalayim is still going on, despite the fact that "Har Habayis is in our hands," as though that were in fact true. One of the features of the churban is arrival of strangers, who defiled the city. The Zionists have deluded themselves into thinking that we have the upper hand but the facts today are that we do not rule supreme. The territories which Israel "returned" were not really returned because they were never truly in our hands. This is how we have to view the situation.

In conclusion, together with our concern for the future of the city's image, we ought not to forget the full half of the cup, namely the spiritual city of Yerushalayim, with its yeshivos and its chadorim. The number of people learning in a yeshiva like Mir, is the same as that of all the European yeshivos together. Think about that.

Bazman Hazeh . . . At This Time

with Rabbi Uri Maklev, Deputy Mayor of Yerushalayim

One of the projects currently under consideration by city planners is the construction of a skyscraper with a revolving restaurant perched at the top. From the windows, diners would be able to view the Mediterranean coast to the west and the Dead Sea to the east, as well as taking in the whole of Yerushalayim. Nearby, from a lower level, a cable car would leave for a run from the Armon Hanetziv neighborhood all the way to the Old City. Diners could finish their meal and make a northerly descent to Har Tzion. The cable car would stop near to the tomb of Dovid Hamelech, at a site that is known at present as Tochnit Har Tzion (Mount Zion Plan).

Following a walk around the batrak (the Arab market), the finishing touches to the day's entertainment would be placing a note inside the Kosel.

Who will guarantee that restaurant won't revolve and the cable car won't run on Shabbos? Who will ensure that such casual visits to the Kosel won't result in desecration of the site's holiness? This project is not the only one slated for Yerushalayim's future development.

We went to speak to Rabbi Uri Maklev, who immediately pointed to demography as the crux of the problem. There is currently negative chareidi population growth in Yerushalayim as young couples and families move out to the new, cheaper housing projects. In addition, the city is planning to expand Yerushalayim's municipal boundaries to include non-religious populations of towns that are currently in a different municipal jurisdiction.

Rabbi Maklev argues forcefully that preservation of the city's holiness is inextricably bound up with the demographic equation, whose future, in view of the these two factors, is by no means a forgone conclusion. Will the boundaries of the holy city of Yerushalayim continue to expand, or will they, choliloh, shrink?

Intercession is Still the Only Way

The interior of the new offices of the Yerushalayim municipality are arranged on open plan. Gone are labyrinth corridors. The clerks now all sit in the same large hall, with low partitions dividing each desk and reception area from the others. Have all the barriers disappeared? Is this new openness reflected in the way our community's needs are addressed? Was the euphoria over the election of a religious plurality (UTJ is the single largest party), to the city council in the last municipal election, justified?

Rabbi Maklev: The barriers have not disappeared. On the basis of my experience, I would like to say that even if thirty-one members of the [sixty seat] city council were to be chareidim, the situation would be better but not all that much better. City services, and city officials are not organized with a view to providing chareidim with ongoing service, without constant intervention and intercession. How much more so is this the case today, when we do not even have a majority.

Blessing or Blight?

The prospect of our attaining an outright majority seems to be receding. A special committee that is currently holding hearings has been given the job of sanctioning the annexation of additional areas to the municipal boundaries. Officially, the plan is the city's but it could quite reasonably be called the mayor's plan, for the mayor is one of its ardent supporters.

Expanding the city eastwards [to include areas populated by Arabs] is of course problematic. The plan therefore is to expand the boundaries westwards, to include Motza, Mevasseret Tzion, and other towns along the Jerusalem Corridor. This would add a well-to-do or, in their words, an economically "strong" population sector, to the city's inhabitants.

Rabbi Maklev: When they say a "strong population," they really mean strong in terms of attaining their ends. They know exactly what they are about. They are sitting and racking their brains for ways "to save Yerushalayim." Don't imagine that they aren't scared [by the prospect of further chareidi growth]. It bothers them! When they meet for discussions [about annexation], this is what they talk about!

Q. So your attitude to the city is the same as it was during the previous mayor's tenure?

A. Absolutely.

Q. So what is the basis for the feeling people have that "the Yerushalayim municipality is in our hands?"

A. This notion is a mistake. We don't even have a majority. On a wide range of issues, all the irreligious members automatically close ranks against us. Neither do we have a full partnership with the National Religious Party. They don't vote with us on most issues. Besides, the law gives the mayor very extensive powers, by virtue of his direct election. The administrative level has power as well as [their own established] procedures and agendas, that eat away at the authority of the elected council members.

Q. Do you include the mayor himself in what you are saying?

A. Certainly. Although it's always done in a cunning way, they are quite open about it. The mayor supports his own men and his advisors. We're not enjoying any "seven years of plenty" at the moment. We must simply increase the Yiddishkeit [in the city] more and more. We have suffered a lot from the fact that the mayor feels that he has been honored everywhere [even among the chareidim.] I have told him this myself. It's true that he speaks nicely. It's also true that there is good will and a new approach on the part of the municipality but there is still a very long road ahead!

They take encouragement from what is an unfortunate fact from our point of view: the negative chareidi population growth, as people leave the city for the housing projects.

A Buried Housing Project in Yerushalayim

If the prices of apartments in the city remain high, the youth will continue streaming to the housing projects. There is no definite figure for the current size of the chareidi sector. Voting patterns don't tell the whole story either. It's known that we comprise more than a third of the population, probably something in the region of forty percent. But what will the future bring? The young are currently leaving Yerushalayim and if there are no young families, who will fill the city in years to come?

Q. Rabbi Maklev, in twenty years from now, will there be first grade classes opening in the talmudei Torah in the city center?

A. We are well aware of the situation.

Q. And is anything being done about it?

A. You mean that we should build another Ramat Shlomo [the large northern chareidi neighborhood between Sanhedria and Ramot]? Ramat Shlomo itself hasn't yet made a dramatic difference to our situation. We therefore need to build in Emek Arazim [at the site of the old village of Lifta, in the valley below Givat Shaul, at the entrance to the city]. I can refer to this plan as Emek Arazim, zichrono livrocho. I don't see any chance of any building being done there.

Q. Is there no other space available in the city?

A. You must understand the rules of the game. This should be absolutely clear. The municipality doesn't own any land at all. Not a single dunam. All the land belongs to the Israel Lands Authority (ILA -- the Minhal Mekarka'ei Yisrael). If the Government and the ILA do not decide that a specific project will be launched, then there's nothing to talk about. This is certainly so with regard to the price of the land, which is also not fixed by the city.

So, does it sound as though "Yerushalayim is in our hands?"

Q. Will Yerushalayim be more or less chareidi ten years hence?

A. The political and the security situations in the country today are so uncertain, that it's impossible to talk about ten years from now. The nine months that have elapsed since the beginning of the intifada seem to us like an eternity; from one day to the next, everything changed. How can we speak about a longer period of time? It's clear though, that we don't have any wonderful news. Everyone should be aware that the most important issue for Yerushalayim, the city's holiness, is the issue of outward migration. This is the cardinal issue, to which all the leaders of the different chareidi communities, not just those of us in the municipality, should pay attention.

Cynical Exploitation

Yerushalayim is a city that has known many struggles for the preservation of its sanctity. Interestingly enough, there seem to be those who have found out how to turn this to their own ends. Entrepreneurs who are interested in moving a project forward, try to turn it into a religious- secular battlefield in the hope that this will automatically win them the support of the city's irreligious population.

Sometimes, the planners of a fly-by-night project are desperate to provoke some controversy to give some impetus to their idea. Public figures are well aware of this and before they set out to do battle, they examine each situation in the light of the principle, "The success of a campaign lies in losing it" [i.e. being perceived by the public as victims of chareidi coercion]. We must therefore have our finger on the pulse of each and every new scheme and seek the counsel of gedolei Yisroel as to how to act.

Open on Shabbos, Closed on Sunday

Q. Rabbi Maklev, what is happening with the famous plan for the development of the city entrance?

A. The plan was shelved after immense efforts and a difficult campaign. It definitely won't be built at the entrance to the city. It looks as though it will be moved to the Malcha area.

Q. The Bloomfield Science Museum is open on Shabbos and closed on Sundays. Was Bloomfield a Christian?

A. No. The Museum Law forces museums to close one day a week. Around the world, I believe this is Sunday. A number of the city's museums try to minimize chilul Shabbos by not selling tickets. However, to our chagrin, this is still the situation.

Q. Is the swine that dug its hooves into the wall still with us? Is its meat on sale in Yerushalayim R'l?

A. One of the members of the city council (!) owns a network of stores that sell this meat R'l. He has even been accused of smuggling meat.

Rabbi Maklev ends our conversation with the following anecdote:

Despite everything, there is still room for hope. Today I called one of the city's workers, the man in charge of the city's gardens. He is not observant. I warned him about the suspicions of work being done during Shevi'is. He denied having done work in Shevi'is and was hurt by my suspicions. This is what he said:

"How can I cause other Jews to sin during Shevi'is? Listen to what happened to me a week ago. I was travelling to Ashdod, to comfort some mourners. It was a chamsin. At a distance, I saw a vendor selling ices. I called to him to bring me two ice creams. Then my wife told me, `You ate meat three hours ago.' I felt very bad for the elderly vendor but I told him that I am careful to wait between meat and milk. He answered, `Thank you! Thank you! I am very grateful to you for not having caused me to lead you to sin.' After such a story, could I make you sin during shmittah?"

There are still Jewish neshomos around!


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