Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel is a lawyer whose his legal
achievements have earned him a reputation as a top-notch
attorney. And yet, he left this profession, and the handsome
salary that goes with it, and devotes himself wholly to
Klal Yisroel as head of the Agudas Yisroel
Department for Governmental Affairs. One of his many
responsibilities is taking care of legal and judicial issues
on behalf of American Jewry. In just a few words he is able
to analyze a particular situation with the precision of a
surgeon's scalpel. Almost all subjects, no matter how
sensitive, are fair game for him to discuss and deliver
straightforward and fearless responses. This interview was
originally conducted at the end of November, and the topical
references were left out. The remarks here are relevant to
Rabbi Zweibel, one of Agudas Yisroel's axioms is unity.
Has the movement indeed succeeded in instilling this value
or is it simply a product of the nature of American Jewry
which prefers to live in peace with their fellow Jews rather
than to be bothered with ideological arguments?
Rabbi Moshe Sherer and Agudas Yisroel made it their goal in
the past, present and future to infuse the Jewish public
with peace and unity. The aim is to create people with
values; people with a Torahdik outlook; people who
care, and who want to get involved; who will be able to put
their petty differences aside and sit together in love and
brotherhood in order to sanctify Hashem's name.
In the speeches of the HaRav Avrohom Pam and the
Novominsker Rebbe at last year's Convention, the American
government was referred to as a "malchus shel
chesed" -- a benevolent regime. This is indeed so. But,
isn't the American golus a little too comfy? Wouldn't you
say that American Jews have lost the feeling that they are
in golus in this land of "unlimited opportunities?"
This is unmistakably a difficult problem. I, too, face this
dilemma in my work, which involves achieving equality for
Orthodox Jews. I'll give you an example. The case of five
Orthodox students from Yale University was brought to court.
According to university regulations, all students must
reside in the dorms during their freshman year. Can a person
who is shomer mitzvos live in the student dorms? Of
But the university deans argued that it would be impossible
to make exceptions on the basis of religion, since in the
U.S. there is "separation of church and state." Nathan
Lewin, a well-known constitutional attorney in Washington
(grandson of the Rov of Risha H"yd and son of Dr.
Yitzchok Lewin zt"l, former permanent representative
of World Agudas Yisroel in the UN and editor of Eileh
Ezkro) proved that this situation, which effectively
prevented any Orthodox Jew from attending Yale University,
was an outright violation of equal rights and equal
opportunity. In this specific instance, Agudas Yisroel
refrained from intervening for reasons that cannot be listed
However, the actual struggle for equality, in all areas, has
definitely added to the problem that you mentioned. Equality
means losing the feeling of golus. Our battle to make
America open to all, and to provide the opportunity for all
Jews to reach any position or rank, undoubtedly creates and
augments this problem.
So, how do you deal ideologically with this
I'll give you another example where we did get
involved. In the past we fought for kosher food to be
available in the U.S. Army, and for the right of soldiers to
wear a yarmulke. Years ago, the case of Simcha
Goldman, who served in the U.S. Air Force, was brought to
court. In the Air Force, no soldier may wear a yarmulke.
We appealed to Congress in order to have the law
I think to myself that it would be better if Jews would not
be exposed to so many opportunities, because a Jew, really,
does not have to be able to go all places. But on the other
hand, the reality of the situation is that there is a
Jew in that place and there are Jews who reach
positions that it would be better for them had they not gone
there. And since there are Jews in these places, it is our
duty to take care of them. We constantly face this dilemma
and our feelings go from one extreme to the other.
Here is another example: There is a Jewish lawyer by the
name of Chanoch Lobling who participated in the session
dealing with honesty and trustworthiness in the past
convention. He is active on behalf of Jewish prisoners.
Unfortunately, as was brought out in the convention,
although they make up only a tiny fraction of the general
population of prisoners, the number is on the rise. We fight
to provide these Jewish inmates with what they need in order
to be able to live as Jews under the circumstances. However,
perhaps if the conditions were harsher Jews would think
twice before taking a risk that would have any likelihood of
landing them in jail.
The Kli Yokor says on the posuk, "penu use'u lochem
tzofona"--turn and go northward--Hatzpinu es
atzmechem--Hide yourselves. The idea, as is explained
further at great length is that Jews should not flaunt their
wealth or status. Can we honestly say that this is reflected
in the American reality today?
This is a difficult problem. I recently read some literature
on the campaigns for the presidential elections. The
majority of private donors to the Democratic Party were
How can Jews in golus dare to take a public stance
in the presidential elections? If they don't "win the bet,"
couldn't this endanger their position?
The American public is well aware of the fact that Orthodox
Jewry, as a group, does not identify with any one party over
the other, nor does it favor one president over the other.
Chareidi Jewry has always made an effort to keep up a good
relationship with all sides. This was the neutral policy
that Rabbi Moshe Sherer advocated, unlike other factions of
the Jewish population which have a clear and historical
Rabbi Sherer's greatness could be seen in the fact that both
sides could always view Orthodox Jewry as a potential
partner because we never took a stance. It is for this
reason that whenever a president was elected who did not
conform to the plans, viewpoints or expectations of the
other Jewish groups, Agudas Yisroel always remained with an
open door in order to represent the interests of the Jewish
nation. A Jew should not take a stance.
What is your opinion about Joe Lieberman, the Democratic
candidate for vice president? Do you think that his election
would bode well for the Jews?
This subject was discussed openly and extensively during the
last Convention. Both sides were presented. On the one hand,
Lieberman is good for the Jews. This is a man who
understands Jewish interests and who even worked toward that
goal in the past. Others however, are afraid of the
"Kissinger Effect." Precisely because he was a Jew, Henry
Kissinger felt obligated to work against Jewish interests so
as not to appear biased.
There is yet another aspect that was expressed in that
session. Such an accomplishment by a Jew is liable to cloud
our vision. Jews would be inclined to turn Joe Lieberman
into a model and a hero. Our true heroes are the gedolei
Torah. They should remain our exclusive role models and
Torah should be our exclusive ambition.
For the moment, at least, these issues are not relevant.
Don't you think that the very fact that "one of our own"
ran for vice president (and may some day reach the White
House) increases the lack of golus
Definitely. From that point of view we have a serious
problem on our hands. Agudas Yisroel tries to convey the
message to the public that we as Jews are still in
golus even if in under benevolent rule. This is the
situation at the moment, however nothing is static. Economic
changes could easily bring on antisemitism as Jews are
always blamed for a country's financial woes. It is for this
reason, some maintain, that we must always present ourselves
are guests, temporary residents, and not as an integral part
of the populace. This is the message that Agudas Yisroel
Do you think that the involvement of American Jewry in
the Middle East conflict, their stance on the matter and the
actions taken, is liable to turn the national conflict
between Israelis and Palestinians into an international one
between all Jews and Muslims? And couldn't this, in turn,
aggravate the problem in Eretz Yisroel as well as
endangering the Jews of the U.S.?
You are right. But how can a Jew look on without taking any
action? When the Jews living in Eretz Hakodesh are
suffering we strongly identify with them and want to show
our support. This though, must be expressed through Torah
and prayer, the most effective means to this end. As to the
question itself, I am not qualified to give an answer. This
must be presented to the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah.