Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Cheshvan 5763 - October 9, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Settling of Migdal Eder

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

`And you, Migdal Eder, the hill of the daughter of Tzion, unto you shall it come. To you the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Yerushalayim.' (Michah 4:8)

Nowadays it would create a storm: a new neighborhood in the greater Jerusalem area? The world would be up in arms! Seventy-five years ago, it was the Arabs who supported this initiative while the Zionists, who would like to build today but are not allowed to, did everything they could to prevent, disrupt, and interfere. They did not offer any assistance to the new settlement, since it was to be chareidi.

This is a story of a chareidi settlement in the Chevron hills: Migdal Eder. Seventy-five years of building the land and the story of its suffocation by the Zionist leadership.

Seventy-five years ago, in 5687 (1927), the media reported the settlement of the Zichron Dovid organization on one thousand two hundred acres of mountainous land in the Chevron hills. The newspaper Davar wrote as follows: "After various adventures, the Zichron Dovid Association has begun settlement on a new spot in the Jerusalem area on the way to Chevron, a place which until now has been barren of any Jewish settlement. The Association has received ownership rights (kushans) for the time being for an area of 1,200 dunam. The Arov wellspring, which is rich in water, is part of this land.

"The first settlers arrived on a Sunday in Av. About 15 families set out for the settlement, taking with them three huts. Others are about to be built. The families have begun planting between 15 to 20 thousand vines, olive trees, and other fruit trees."

The Zichron Dovid Association was founded in the Batei Warsha shtiblach in Jerusalem. The founder of the Association was a courageous talmid chochom by the name of Reb Yitzchok Greenwald who supported himself as a painter. He convinced friends to buy plots of land in order to establish a settlement outside the Jerusalem walls.

Meanwhile many Jews, amongst them Reb Mendel Weintraub and Reb Yaakov Rosenblum, joined him. The latter was a farmer from Rosh Pinah (another chareidi yishuv), an expert in halochos related to the land and fluent in Arabic. These qualifications made him a natural choice for the negotiations with the Arab landowners.

Later on, Rav Yechiel Morgenstern of the Kotsk lineage joined the Association as a fundraiser, which resulted in his becoming chairman of the organization. Even though the organization Zichron Dovid was named after his grandfather, Reb Dovid Malmaz, Reb Yechiel eventually withdrew from the organization and bought land on Rechov Breslav in Bnei Brak -- where the beis hamedrash of Kotsk stands today.

Fingerprint Signatures . . . and Settling the Land

After a lot of effort by many different lawyers, the Arab owners of the land came to an agreement between themselves to sell their land. Some of them received hefty bribes -- in secret and separately -- aside from their portion of the money paid for the lands.

At the end of 1926 the managers of the company and their lawyers went to the Chevron area. Tens of Arab owners gathered in one large house and closed the doors so no one could leave, because every one of their signatures was needed to make the transaction legal. Each one received his part of the payment from the lawyer and then signed on the contract. Most of them signed with their finger prints.

The founders decided to name the place "Migdal Eder" after the posuk in Bereishis on Yaakov Ovinu: "And Yisroel pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder (35:21)."

The land's location near both Yerushalayim and Chevron, as well as the existence of the Charov wellspring in the land, made it an excellent investment. It was much closer to Chevron than to Yerushalayim: it was only 13 kilometers from Chevron. This land eventually became the Etzion Bloc of settlements.

The Zionist newspaper Haolam in Vienna grudgingly praised the chareidi private initiative: "Two years have elapsed since the founding of the company. It had almost been forgotten. Nothing has been heard of it. And then suddenly, in these sad times, good tidings. The Association is alive and well, and has overcome all the difficulties and is now in possession of the deeds of sale to most of the land. Fifteen families have already settled there. Three huts have been erected with more to follow, as well as a hut for the association's committee. The families on the settlement have begun planting about twenty thousand vines, olive trees, and other fruit trees. There are about one hundred and fifty members in the association of which each has undertaken [to develop] five dunam of land. Some have even committed themselves to ten, fifteen, twenty and even fifty dunam. The Arov spring, which is situated within the land, gave an abundance of water to the land up until last year.

"When a water connection was set up from the Ein Para spring, Yerushalayim was also able to benefit from the waters of the Arov spring, which were transferred to the Solomon Pools and from there via pipes to the city.

"The Association named the settlement Migdal Eder. The elders of Chevron told members of the Association that they have a tradition from previous generations that their land is on site of the city of Migdal Eder ("And Yisroel pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder," Bereishis 35:21; "And you, Migdal Eder, the hill of the daughter of Tzion, unto you shall it come, the former dominion shall come. The kingdom of the daughter of Yerushalayim" Michah 4:8).

"The members are establishing the land with their own resources, and their close connection to the land is clear for all to see. For two years they waited patiently for the title deeds and they were not afraid to go and settle the land without relying on anyone."

The Yemenites are Coming -- And a Yeshiva in Meah Shearim

Very few Jerusalemites were willing to come live on this rocky land. Most prominent of those who did -- aside from Reb Greenwald -- was, of course, Reb Yaakov Rosenblum who is seen in a picture plowing with a couple of oxen. R' Rosenblum was known as the leader of the settlement and there were two brothers called Flint who opened a grocery stall on the Yerusholayim-Chevron Road. Rosenblum and his partner Meir Waldman bought a flock of 250 sheep and Rosenblum's son Avsholom managed the livestock and would take his flock to graze with the neighboring Arab herds. Twice a day he would go to Yerushalayim to sell the milk from the herd. ("Koift milch fun Migdal Eder" . . . )

The Rosenblum clan owned a car and a motorcycle, which served the local dairy. Amongst the settlers was a widow, an immigrant from America who came to settle the Land of Tzion. When Reb Greenwald had difficulty in enlisting settlers from Yerushalayim, he came up with the effective idea of recruiting the Yemenite Jews, who were then arriving in Eretz Yisroel. These conformed with the conditions of the Association's protocol, being yirei Shomayim as well as being used to the difficult conditions in the field. Reb Yitzchok located a group of poor Yemenite Jews in the Balfour neighborhood of Tel Aviv. The following is the account as related by one of the members of the Kovni family, one of those who moved to the settlement:

In 5686 [1926] several religious Jews came to our neighborhood, amongst them Yitzchok Greenwald [who was] adorned with a thick beard, who made a good and credible impression. Yitzchok suggested to the family that they should buy a plot of land and settle south of Yerushalayim. Since the family could not afford a plot in Yerushalayim, the proposal of settling near the Holy City -- their dream -- enchanted them. They were promised good land and appropriate agricultural conditions. They traveled to Zichron Dovid and purchased 40 dunam of land for 260 lira. After the deal was closed they went to tour the territory. They were deeply shocked and disappointed by what they saw -- rocks, boulders and desolation.

The family moved to live first in the Shiloach villages [Kfarei Hashiloach] -- an old Yemenite neighborhood -- and in the beginning of 5687 [1927] they moved to Migdal Eder.

Using the official notepaper of the Zichron Dovid Association, Reb Yitzchok asked the Tel Aviv municipality to hold their huts until they would move them (their huts) to Migdal Eder. Both he and Reb Mendel, who served as the manager of the company, signed these documents.

Reb Yitzchok Greenwald praises the Yemenites for their industry: "They immediately began planting and building."

A few bochrim also came to the settlement and established a branch of the Meah Shearim Yeshiva called Ohel Rochel. A permanent maggid shiur would commute from Yerushalayim to "Migdal" every day.

During this time a sick bochur from the Chevron Yeshiva and some of his friends who came to help, came to the settlement, where the settlers treated him with fresh milk and healthy weather.

The Zionists Make Trouble and Rav Yechezkel Sarna Sends Food

Not everyone appreciated the courage of the settlers. The Zionists did not like the character of the settlement, especially since it was private and therefore not subordinate to anyone else.

The settlers faced tremendous difficulties. Although the Charov spring flowed at the entrance of the settlement, the British did not allow them to use the water and they had to use the rain-water which had collected in the pools of the mountains. Reb Yitzchok Greenwald requested help from the Zionist administration, which had acquired resources and power from chareidi Jewry overseas and the old yishuv in Eretz Yisroel, but he was summarily refused.

There is no doubt the water crisis was enough to break the settlers' spirit and there is no doubt that had it been in their interest to settle these mountains, the Zionists could have persuaded the British to allow the settlers to quench their thirst with the water of the wellspring. Instead the heads of the settlement promised the settlers that when Rottenberg would lay the water pipe to Yerushalayim it would also go through Migdal Eder. However, a promise cannot quench thirst!

When Reb Yitzchok Greenwald applied for aid from the Settlement Department of the Zionist administration he received the following response: "We wish to inform you that, according to the decisions of the Agricultural Committee, a precondition for settling families is that the applicants undergo an agricultural course for at least two years. You do not even have one family in your list that meets this condition and therefore we cannot help you settle in this manner."

Instead they made him a proposal:

"If your members are indeed farmers and want to settle, we would recommend they move to cooperative settlements and work there with private farmers or in tobacco work belonging to the Mizrachi Federation or the Histadrut. After they work two years and prove their qualifications we can enter into negotiations with them about their settlement."

In other words, after you accept our authority you will receive our backing. Of course, Reb Yitzchok did not capitulate.

Heavy snowstorms fell during the winter. Many of the settlers had never seen such a phenomenon. The huts did not hold out in the storm. One of the roofs flew off, leaving the inhabitants unprotected. The neighboring Arab villagers from Beit Omar and the Jews in Yerushalayim were alerted and they sent food to the settlement. The Ha'aretz newspaper of February 21st 1927 described the snowstorm: "The situation of the Zichron Dovid settlers was terrible. If not for the public hut of the Yemenite settlers, who knows if they would have been able to survive the cold and the storm. As soon as the storm began everyone, 25 people, gathered in the public hut. On Shabbos the food ran out and their neighbors from the Beit Omar village gave them bread and figs. May Hashem remember them for the good they did. In Chevron they received shocking news of frostbite and people swollen from hunger. Rav Sarna, the rosh yeshiva of Knesses Yisroel, succeeded with much effort and toil to send bread, tea and sugar to the people in Zichron on Monday. On Wednesday he again sent foodstuffs which were sent with great self- sacrifice by a rider on a donkey."

Respect from the Arabs Until the Riots, and the End of Migdal Eder

The Arabs from the surrounding areas and Beit Omar did not feel threatened by the bearded Jews. On the contrary, as we mentioned previously, Rosenblum grazed his herd together with the Arab farmers in the area. The Zionists did nothing to aid the settlement, but the Arab riots, brought on by the Zionist policy, swept through this quiet settlement and Migdal Eder could not hold out.

At the outbreak of the riots the few Jews of Migdal Eder were confident that they were not in danger. R' Avraham Rosenblum supervised a group of Arabs paving a road to Beit Fajer. The atmosphere in the settlement was good. R' Avraham Rosenblum's mother made all the necessary preparations for Shabbos, candles, wine, challos, cholent and so on.

On Friday, 17th of Av 5689 (1929), the Arabs from Chevron began spreading horrific rumors of atrocities taking place in Yerushalayim. The local Arabs warned R' Rosenblum to hide. At this point tales of Arab friendship abound. All the settlers hid in a nearby Russian monastery. The evidence of Shlomo Kloniski, an eyewitness, reinforces the impression of the courage of the settlers and the loyalty demonstrated by their Arab neighbors:

"I worked at the Chevron Bank in Jerusalem that year. The bank manager at the time was Rav Yisroel Zisel Dvoratz, z"l. In those years we worked in shifts till the night hours. On Thursday 16th of Av 5689, in the late afternoon hours, Rav Dvoratz's wife came into the bank. She burst into tears saying that in their neighborhood rumors had spread that the Arabs were planning to massacre the Jews the following morning (her exact words, which are engraved in my memory, and will never be erased). She asked us to get back her son and daughter, who were visiting in Migdal Eder, immediately. Rav Dvoratz and four of the bank clerks conferred hastily while she was crying. Eventually I agreed to travel there, immediately to return the children to Jerusalem, since I was a local Chevron boy, spoke Arabic fluently and knew the surrounding areas.

"I will not dwell upon my doubts and fears. Evening came. The Jewish drivers were too afraid to travel so I could not get a Jewish taxi for all the money in the world. Having no choice I went to Shaar Yaffo and hired a Christian Arab driver from Beis Lechem. I paid a round trip fare, called the bank with the car registration number, and was on my way.

"I arrived at Migdal Eder and was greeted by the head of the settlement Mr. Rosenblum whom I knew. He said to me: `I am glad you came. I am having trouble coming to a decision. About half an hour ago the village head (Muchtar) of Beit Omar came and told me that it will be a very difficult day tomorrow, that the Arabs are planning massacres in all the Jewish settlements in the country. `As a neighbor, he suggested, that we all go to Beit Omar until the riots subside and he promised to protect us. You grew up in Chevron and understand their customs, what do you suggest?' he asked.

"I promised him that upon my return to Yerushalayim I would go to the Vaad Hakehilla and move heaven and earth in order to procure taxis for the twenty families in the settlement to bring them to Yerushalayim.

"I had barely finished speaking when Mr. Rosenblum unhesitatingly informed me: `Under no circumstances will we leave this settlement. My only doubt is whether to stay here or to take up the head of Beit Omar's offer.'

"`If that is the case,' I said to him, `take up his offer and go to Beit Omar until it is safe again.'

"He said to me, `I was going to make that decision before you came. I am glad you agree with me.'

"I returned with the Dvoratz children and their belongings to Shaar Yaffo. All my pleading with the driver to take me to Meah Shearim or Migrash Harusim were in vain. I was afraid. He told me there was danger of the riots beginning that night. We walked through dark side streets until we reached Meah Shearim."

Thus Shlomo Kloniski.

That night the settlers went to the Russian Monastery. Then, led by Abu Ahsein, they went through the mountains and they arrived at Beit Omar. Arabs from the Abu Ayash and Braryat families accompanied them from there and sent letters to the British police who brought them to Beit Strauss in Yerushalayim. It is interesting to note that the Arabs returned the R' Rosenblum's complete flock to him in Yerushalayim.

Zionist Rejection Again

Reb Yitzchok Greenwald wasted no efforts and courageously persevered in any activity which could reestablish the settlement. He sent letters, met people, and begged. But all the "national" institutions and funds spurned him.

Rav Yitzchok Greenwald insisted on saving the land and, through his own resources, he found a buyer for it. In a meeting which took place in the Chabad Shul in the Beis Yisroel neighborhood, one of the speakers said: "The situation would have been better if there was a Boruch Rothschild to cover our expenses but happily we have found a buyer for our lands."

The buyer was an interesting Jew called Shmuel Tzvi Holzman, a yeshiva graduate and a businessman on an international scale. Holzman purchased the lands during a tour of the desolate settlements and one of those present said Kaddish. Reb Yitzchok Greenwald said: "We have an excellent horse harnessed onto our wagon which will pull us out of the mud."

Shmuel Tzvi Holzman founded a company called "El Hahar" and later, in 1935, founded the Kfar Etzion Settlement on these lands. Etzion is a Hebraization of Holzman.

And if you will search for any mention of Holzman's activities (not to mention Reb Yitzchok Greenwald) in the Zionist history books you will be disappointed. Their independent activity did not merit mention by the Zionist- Mapai leadership, because from the wicked comes forth wickedness.

Excerpts from the Regulations of the Zichron Dovid Association

Section A 1. To aid its members to purchase and cultivate known agricultural estates, and to found thereby a garden city on land which lies between Yerushalayim and Chevron next to the Charov pool and the Police [station] which the Association is attempting to purchase, or in another place in Eretz Yisroel.

2. To administer the aforementioned Association according to the Torah and tradition and in accordance with the rulings of the Association's Spiritual Committee.

3. To run the Association's public activities according to the rules of the Torah and the interpersonal relationship between members according to Jewish religious law.

Section 12: Any disputes relating to the affairs of the Association, between members or former members, whether between themselves or between them and the Association or the Committee or the Committee's officials, shall be mediated by the Badatz (Beis Din Tzedek) or via arbitrators in accordance with Jewish religious law.

Section 13: The Association reserves the right to expel any member whose behavior is not in accordance with the standards of the Torah, tradition, and the Spiritual Committee of the Association.


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