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10 Tammuz, 5783 - June 29, 2023 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Murderers of Peace: The Story of R' Yaakov Yisroel DeHaan

by Noach Amir


This article was first published in 1995. Now in 5783 it is 99 years since these events.

For Part I of this series click here.

For Part III of this series click here.

Part II

Seventy-one years ago, on 29 Sivan, 5684, three pistol shots put an end to intensive efforts which would have nipped the Jewish-Arab conflict in the bud, when Dr. Yisroel Yaakov DeHaan was murdered on his way home from ma'ariv by agents of the Zionist leaders. His death marked the end of the last efforts of the old yishuv to take an active role in the political and diplomatic processes that surrounded Eretz Yisroel. Without DeHaan, the rabbonim of the old yishuv felt they had no way to influence or even participate in international negotiations, and the Zionists were more than happy to assume full responsibility for the future of Eretz Yisroel and even for the Jewish people as a whole, Rachmono litzlan.

The attitude and general policy followed by our rabbonim towards the Arabs — seeking peaceful coexistence, willingness to compromise and high priority for human life — is not something adopted recently as many think, but rather is the same consistent approach that was followed by HaRav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld and the other gedolim of the time a century ago. The rabbonim are guided by principles and not political expediency or a desire to favor one or the other political party.

Prior to his murder, Dr. DeHaan had worked for a long time to bring the views and attitudes of the rabbonim of the old yishuv to the attention of the Arab leaders. A long series of meetings and delegations, declarations and written summations took place under the direction and leadership of R' Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, zt'l, the rav of Yerushalayim.

Last week we described some of the meetings, in which DeHaan had gotten signed commitments from Arab leaders that their only objection was to the political aspirations of the Jews to a sovereign state. They were prepared to grant full rights, including the right of immigration, as long as there as no demand for political power. This was perfectly acceptable to the rabbonim, but not to the Zionist establishment.

The Zionists were not prepared to accept this, or even consider it as a starting point for negotiations. The prospect alarmed them so much that they decided to murder Dr. DeHaan, and with him the peace died, and left in its wake wars, terror, and death. The inescapable conclusion echoes to this very day: The Zionists in those days did not want peace!

The Imrei Emes of Gur

The Knessia Gedola in Vienna

The next stop: The first Knessia Gedola of Agudas Yisroel, which opened in Vienna on 3 Elul, 5683 (1923). R' Moshe Blau, the delegate from Yerushalayim, asked DeHaan to entrust the document from the Arab leaders to him, so that he could present it before the Vaad Eretz Yisroel of the Knessia Gedola. Dr. DeHaan acquiesced and, document in hand, R' Blau travelled to Vienna.

During his first week in Vienna, R' Blau chaired a private meeting to which a number of delegates were invited. The meeting was held in an apartment located in a suburb on the outskirts of Vienna. On the agenda: "Deliberation regarding relations with our neighbors, and the attainment of mutual understanding." At a later stage, the document, written in Arabic, was read at a short meeting of the Vaad Hapoel Haolami (International Executive Committee).

Dr. DeHaan placed such great value on the aforementioned document, that when R' Moshe Blau returned from Vienna, he found DeHaan waiting impatiently at the train station, so as to get it back immediately.

This important document mysteriously disappeared. After DeHaan's murder, unidentified persons entered his apartment and removed many important papers, among them Emir Abdullah's declaration allowing Jews to settle in TransJordan. The document was never seen again.

A Visit to Shuneh in TransJordan

Shevat, 5684 (1924). King Hussein of the Hejaz (today Saudi Arabia) arrived in the capital Amman, on a visit to his son the Emir Abdullah. The visit stirred many rumors in the Arab world. Dr. DeHaan was invited to a reception in the King's honor.

Prior to the reception, a meeting was arranged in Yerushalayim between HaRav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld and the Emir. Following the meeting, R' Zonnenfeld dispatched a letter to King Hussein requesting that the latter use his influence to help Jews dwelling in all Arab lands, placing special emphasis on Yemen.

The paper Kol Yisroel (Issue 18, 5684) reported:

"His Excellency King Hussein spoke of chareidi Jews with great warmth. He said that they are good and upright: energetic people who have greatly benefited every land they have inhabited. He promised to use the full range of his influence for the good of the Jews in all Arab lands, especially in Yemen."

Kol Yisroel also mentioned a piquant detail, which sheds light on the behavior of the chareidi diplomat, who took pride in his faith. Although Dr. DeHaan attended the reception and meal, he refused to eat anything, as the food wasn't kosher. In contrast, members of the Zionist leadership who were present ate their fill of the neveilos and treifos. It's probable that the King respected DeHaan all the more as a result of the latter's show of principles.

At this stage, chareidi activists decided to send a distinguished delegation to King Hussein. It was a bold move. The Zionists at the time considered themselves the representatives of the entire Jewish people, especially in matters having to do with foreign relations. But important things were happening. Decisions were being made and agreements arrived at which would influence the future of the Jewish yishuv in Eretz Yisroel, and the rabbonim felt that they could make a major contribution.

As it was imperative that the delegation succeed in its mission, special care was taken in choosing the representatives. Community leaders requested that Rav Zonnenfeld, rav of Yerushalayim, head the delegation, so as to lend it an aura of dignity and importance.

Rav Zonnenfeld had lived in Yerushalayim for over sixty years. In all that time, he had never set foot outside of Eretz Yisroel. Community leaders therefore worried that he would refuse their request. To their surprise, Rav Zonnenfeld agreed, so convinced was he of the project's critical importance. However, the Rav was still troubled, since, "if one customarily performs a positive act, it is as if he has taken a vow [not to leave Eretz Yisroel]."

HaRav Moshe Leib Bernstein, HaRav Yosef Cha´m Sonnenfeld, HaRav Yerucham Diskin, and HaRav Baruch Reuven Jungreis in Jerusalem in 1920

In the end, however, the matter was resolved satisfactorily, as follows.

At that time, a delegation of admorim from Poland was visiting Eretz Yisroel, in an attempt to facilitate peace within the religious community. At the head of the delegation stood the Admor of Gur, zt'l, the Admor of Sokolov, zt'l, and the gaon and tzaddik of Bendin, zt'l. The three released Rav Zonnenfeld from his vow (were matir neder) and encouraged him to leave immediately.

HaRav Avrohom Chaim Naeh

Once Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld agreed to head the delegation, the remaining representatives were chosen: HaRav Reuven Shlomo Yungreiss, HaRav Avrohom Chaim Na'eh, and, of course, Dr. DeHaan.

Although the project was top secret, somehow the information leaked out. The Zionist leadership was greatly worried about the upcoming meeting. On the thirteenth of Adar, 5683, they met to discuss the newly discovered information. The following is a protocol of the Zionist meeting that took place:

Kish: Was of the opinion that the chareidi delegation to Shuneh [in TransJordan] won't damage the Zionist movement, since he had already explained to Hussein and others in Amman about DeHaan's character and nature, as well as the constituency that he represents. He also requested that Mr. Bentovitch, who is travelling to Shuneh today, use his influence to prevent the chareidi delegation from being received, on the grounds that such a meeting is likely to stir up controversy in the land.

Chaim Margolis-Kalvorisky, director of the Arab Desk in the Zionist administration, reported that he spoke with DeHaan, and the latter stated that he would be travelling to Shuneh, in order to obtain an invitation for HaRav Zonnenfeld. DeHaan is intent on taking revenge, as his words attest: "An Arab Emir is preferable to a Jewish representative, for the former will grant religious holidays while the latter pressures Agudas Yisroel."

Representative of Hapoel Hatzair, Shprintzik: "If DeHaan's goal is realized, it could detract from the Zionist delegation to Amman. In addition, if the Admor of Gur participates in the visit as a representative of Agudas Yisroel, the damage done to us could be extensive. It would signify that a large Jewish faction is ready to accept an Arab Emirate at the head of Eretz Yisroel.

Mizrachi representative, Prof. Chaim Pik: Was of the opinion that, "We must make every effort to prevent the visit, as it can result in negative repercussions for us. DeHaan might well send telegrams for publication in newspapers throughout the world."

Pik doesn't believe it's possible to influence Aguda leaders. He feels it's necessary to speak with the TransJordan government, to persuade them not to receive the delegation.

Kalvorisky: thought that, "Our efforts in Amman won't meet with success, since they finally want a Jewish power that will stand at their side. We must therefore see that the obstacle comes from here..."

He proposed that we try to influence [Rav] Zonnenfeld's group. We should refrain from trying to influence the government for another reason: If we do so, it will lend proof to the government that there is a great schism among us, and in addition, our demands will go unheeded.

It's understandable that the Zionist factions were worried about the upcoming meeting. The idea that the Jewish community might be freed from their unwanted guardianship, and that they might go directly to the Arab leaders, was enough to frighten the Zionists. And not for naught.

Meanwhile, news of the meeting was somehow leaked to certain of the delegates' relatives. These relatives worried about the possible consequences that awaited their loved ones at the hands of the Zionists. Some of the delegates began to waver, wondering if the visit was indeed worth the risk. However, when Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld heard what was happening, he responded with determination:

"Since Dr. DeHaan has already arranged the visit, it would be impolite to cancel. It would constitute an act of ingratitude towards a man who has been moser nefesh for religious Jewry!"

Afterwards, he turned to DeHaan and declared: "Even if everyone else backs out in fear, we two will go alone!"

Rabbi Moshe Blau writes: "Those who had been vacillating blushed at the strength of this elderly man, and they agreed to go."

The delegation set out, with the venerable Rav of Yerushalayim at its head.

A Meeting in Shuneh

The village of Shuneh was abuzz. Grimy workers put the finishing touches on preparations for the grand reception, which would take place in a few short hours: the royal reception for King Hussein, ruler of the Hejaz, and the highest authority in the Arab world, according to the unanimous consensus of commentators of the time.

As the late winter sun rose in the sky, the preparations were completed. Sunday morning, the nineteenth of Adar, 5684 (1924). Although this town had seen more than a few important diplomatic delegations, the one from Yerushalaim headed by the august Rav Zonnenfeld made an indelible impression on all.

A rotund official proclaimed in Arabic that the King was ready to receive the Jewish delegation. The group entered the central tent in the magnificent camp. The King nodded, and the Rav of Yerushalaim recited the blessing "Blessed be he...who gives of his honor to flesh and blood."

The foreign minister of the Hejaz, Sheik Faud Al Katib, acting as an interpreter, quickly translated the blessing into Arabic.

After the blessing, the King arose and led the Rav to a seat at his side. Blessings, felicitations, and friendly conversation followed. As the conversation drew to a close, the Rav presented the King with a memorandum, both in Hebrew and Arabic, which detailed the stand of chareidi Jewry towards the issues of the day. The memorandum was written in fancy script with gold ink.

The King asked the foreign minister, Sheik Al Katib, to read the memorandum aloud. The minister arose and read it to all those present. The following is a rendering of the memorandum:

"To His Majesty of the Hashemite Kingdom, King Hussein the son of Ali the first, King of the noble Hejaz, may his glory be exalted.

"His Majesty!

"In the name of the mighty G-d, ruler of heaven and earth.

"We are honored to stand before his excellency as representatives of the world chareidi organization Agudas Yisroel, as well as the Eida HaChareidis of the holy city of Yerushalaim. The Eida, organized under the name Vaad Ha'ir LeKehillas Ashkenazim, is an important group which works hand in hand with the international organization Agudas Yisroel, towards the achievement of all its goals.

"In the name of Agudas Yisroel, as well as the Eida HaChareidis, we are honored to greet His splendorous Majesty in the Holy Land with a deep and heartfelt blessing. May the King of Kings raise his exalted throne, and may justice flourish in his days, for the success of all who find shelter under his wing.

"Agudas Yisroel is an international organization representing chareidi Jewry. It has approximately one million registered members, and might well express the opinion of an even greater number of chareidim, who are not yet members, but who identify with its goals. These goals encompass the preservation of the ancient character of the Jewish nation and her Torah, both written and oral, in its holiness and purity. Agudas Yisroel wants to resolve all questions currently on the agenda that pertain to Klal Yisroel in the spirit of the Torah.

"Agudas Yisroel is an independent organization. The Keneisiah Gedola that took place this past Elul in Vienna, in which the select of chareidi Jewry—gedolei HaTorah and Jewish leaders from around the world— participated, is an open declaration that Agudas Yisroel does not authorize any other organization to speak for it, or for the entire nation. We are therefore certain that any time His Majesty receives the opinion of Jews regarding matters pertinent to all Klal Yisroel, he will give the representatives of Agudas Yisroel the opportunity to appear before him as representatives of chareidi Jewry.

"We assure His Majesty that in all the lands throughout which the Jews are scattered, they relate to their neighbors with love and brotherhood. This is also the case regarding the Holy Land, for whose peace, habitation, and construction we pray three times a day. This is a tradition that has been handed down to us, and we wish to maintain this relationship in the future as well. The settlement and development of this land is a central aspiration of Judaism, [and we desire] blessing and peace for all ethnic groups that live here.

"It goes without saying that we are confident that His Majesty will use his great influence for the good of the Jews who dwell in all Arab lands.

"May the Master of all worlds bless him, his dear sons, and all his descendants, and may he merit to see the wealth of his country for many more years. In his days and in ours, may Yehuda be saved and Yisroel dwell in safety."

The King responded by saying that he was aware of the positive relationship that had prevailed between Jews and Arabs throughout the years, and that he wished to maintain the status quo.

The King then added a statement of great significance: He well understood the justice of the chareidim's demand to be treated as an independent organization representing a large and important segment of the Jewish nation. He would therefore consider [the position] of chareidi Jewry whenever a problem pertaining to the Jews arose. Likewise, he would try to give a favorable response to any request they made of him.

After this, they met with the King's son, Prince Ali. A royal lunch was then prepared for them. In consideration for the chareidi delegation, no cooked food was served. The meal consisted of fruits and beverages.

After the meal, the Emir Abdullah received the delegation in his tent. In the middle of the meeting, the Emir suddenly arose, and all present were asked to stand as well—indicating that a royal proclamation was about to be read. The proclamation stated that King Hussein, ruler of the Hejaz, wished to bestow the highest sign of royal honor in the Arab world , the Istiklal, (Independent Fighter) to Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld. Dr. DeHaan was given a different honor: The donning of a kaffiyah (headpiece) and gilded abbayeh (cloak).

The delegation returned to Yerushalaim, and the visit seemed a resounding success. The chareidi community had succeeded in presenting its message directly to the Arab king and establishing itself as a factor in Jewish issues.

A Description of One Who was There

Many years later, on the twentieth of Elul, 5712, one of the delegates, HaRav Avrohom Chaim Na'eh, sent a letter to his close friend Rabbi Yitzchok Gerstenkorn, mayor of Bnei Brak. In this letter, he detailed many interesting facts regarding the meeting that had occurred in the village of Shuneh:

"20 Elul, 5712, The Holy City of Yerushalaim

"My honorable friend, the renowned rav and chassid...Rav Yitzchok Gerstenkorn, shlita.

Mayor of Bnei Brak:

"I am hereby fulfilling my promise to write of HaGaon Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld,zt'l, something I haven't had the opportunity to do until now due to my many concerns.

"I will begin by writing of an event that occurred in the year 5684, when King Hussein arrived on a visit to TransJordan. Every faction sent a delegation to the king, including the Zionists. The leaders of Aguda then decided to send a delegation as well, for a rumor was circulating that the British wished to grant King Hussein sovereignty over the Holy Land.

"The Aguda administration turned to Rav Zonnenfeld, zt'l, requesting that he lead the delegation. He replied that since arriving in the Holy Land close to sixty years earlier, he had never left it. He had remained even during times of great hardship, such as during World War I. Although he had endured much suffering, he hadn't taken even one step out of the Holy Land. Since TransJordan wasn't invested with the full kedusha of Eretz Yisroel, he would only agree to go if a beis din of three gedolei hador permitted it.

"At that time, the Admor of Gur, zt'l, the Admor of Sokolov, zt'l, and the Gaon of Bendin, Aguda leaders in the Diaspora, were visiting Yerushalaim. After deliberation, they ruled that for a matter of such great importance, that affects religious Jewry, it is permissible to go. So, Rav Zonnenfeld travelled to TransJordan. HaRav Reuven Shlomo Yungreiss, Prof. DeHaan, zt'l, and I were also delegates.

"King Hussein treated HaGaon Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld zt'l, with great honor. In the afternoon, we were invited to a meal in the large, carpeted tent. Many diplomats and consuls from various lands were sitting therein. The Jewish delegation was served golden apples and fruits. Suma Kazim Pasha, the infamous enemy of the Jews, was also present.

"He asked Rav Zonnenfeld, zt'l, if the holy Islamic city of Mecca was mentioned in the holy Torah. Rav Zonnenfeld, zt'l, immediately replied in the affirmative. He quoted the posuk "and to the concubines' sons...and he sent them East, to Eretz Kedem." Bereishis, 25:6) Targum defines "Eretz Kedem" as "le'ar'a Madinchah," (an Eastern land) and "Madinchah" is like "Medina." It is well known that Mecca is also referred to as "Medina."

"This exchange took place in public, and the Rav's answer pierced his heart like an arrow. Still, the oppressor merely responded that if all Jews were like the Rav, he wouldn't be opposed to allowing them entrance into the land.

"HaGaon Rav Zonnenfeld, zt'l, once told me that when he came to Yerushalaim, he went to the Kosel with a Yerushalmi. An Arab shopkeeper whose store was on an adjacent side street threw a rotten apple or orange peel in his face.

"Rav Yosef Chaim turned to the Arab and said, `Thank you very much,' in Yiddish.

"The Arab, who didn't understand Yiddish, wanted to know what R' Chaim had said.

"He asked the Yerushalmi, who replied, "He said, `Thank you very much.'"

"The Arab wanted to know why R' Chaim thanked him. R' Chaim responded by way of the interpreter: `I thanked you for throwing orange peels in my face, and not stones.'

"The Arab was ashamed, and from that time on, he treated R' Chaim with great respect whenever he saw the latter pass by.

"In the yehi ratzon at the end of Tehillim, we say `...that Your nation Israel not need each others' help, nor the aid of any other nation...' This phrase is only found in the prayer of the Kohen Godol on Yom Hakkipurim. What connection does it have to Tehillim?

"Rav Zonnenfeld, zt'l, explained that the answer is to be found in Brochos, 3b: [They came to Dovid Hamelech and said] 'Your nation needs parnossa.' Dovid replied, 'Let them support each other, by giving charity to the needy...'[They responded that the Jews didn't have sufficient funds to help those in need. Dovid then answered] 'spread out your hands in the garrisons.' [i.e. Attack another nation.]

"Therefore, after completing the Tehillim composed by Dovid, we tell him that we don't want to be placed in such a situation. We don't want the advice Dovid gave us during his lifetime. For `Tzadikim are greater after their death...'; we want to attain a livelihood in his merit, without having to turn to our fellow Jews or to another nation.

"Incidentally, R' Zonnenfeld's zt'l love for Tehillim was indescribable. When a bris to which he was invited was delayed, he would sit and say Tehillim. In his home, as well, he often said Tehillim. On the trip to TransJordan, while the rest of us were looking out at the mountains and plains, admiring the beauty of nature, he didn't raise his eyes even once to look outside. His eyes remained glued to the Tehillim, which he recited unceasingly.

"Now, a timely interpretation by Rav Zonnenfeld: It says, Lemishpatecha amdu hayom, ki hakol avodechah. (`To your judgment they stood today, for all are your servants.') The Zohar states that the word "hayom" always refers to Rosh Hashanah. In this posuk, it is stated explicitly that they stood for judgment, and `today' is a reference to Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgment. The gematria of this posuk is 861, corresponding to Rosh Hashanah, which also adds up to 861 — wonder of wonders!

"I will conclude here with a blessing for the new year. May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year. May you merit to continue your holy work. And may the merit of Dovid Hamelech always shield you.

"If you would like to hear any explanations on Tehillim, which you may add to your library, should they be worthy in your eyes, I will be happy to write to you, beH'y, in my spare time.

"In great respect and friendship,

Avrohom Chaim Na'eh

Rav of the Bucharim Neighborhood

Author of the work Shiurei Torah

P.O.B. 5025,

The holy city of Yerushalaim"

End of Part 2


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