Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Cheshvan 5760 - October 20, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The Struggle for Shabbos 50 Years Ago -- On Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, They Got up from Shiva
by N. Ze'evi

Part I

It was in the early days of the State that many patterns were set that are still followed today. Though the gedolei Torah had no illusions about whom they were dealing with, many were optimistic in those times. They were happy to be rid of the British rule, and thought that things could only get better under the Jews. After all a quarter of the government was religious.

Nonetheless, events overtook the expectations. The new government expanded the chilul Shabbos and defended it. All religious Jewry was at first united in the struggle to defend the sanctity of Shabbos in their own neighborhoods. The early struggles were to ban traffic on Meah Shearim street on Shabbos -- a route that lay entirely within the chareidi neighborhoods.

This is the chronicle of the words and the violence that accompanied the struggle for Shabbos in Yerushalayim of 50 years ago. Who won that struggle? It was very lopsided at the time -- the religious community seemed to be beaten, time and again. However, for a look at what has happened in the long run, see the accompanying article on Haifa!

In the summer of 5709 (1949), there was tension in the air. When the waves of enthusiasm over the establishment of the State -- which overcame even parts of the chareidi community, began to subside -- the battle over the identity of the public domain of Eretz Hakodesh in general, and Yerushalayim in particular, commenced.

The late hour at which Shabbos ended during the summer led the owners of movie theaters in Yerushalayim to open their ticket booths in the late hours of the afternoon. Sometimes, even the movies began before motzei Shabbos. All of the official requests to stop this, made in various ways on the issue, were of no avail. In those days, the communities were smaller, and lived in closer proximity to each other. The chilul Shabbos took place right in the face of the chareidi community that was used to a real Shabbos kodesh.

On Shabbos parshas Bamidbar, a protest rally, attended even by HaRav Uziel the Chief Rabbi as a representative of the Chief Rabbinate, was held in the Zichron Moshe shul. At the end of the meeting, the demonstrators left for a quiet and orderly demonstration in front of the various movie theaters in the city. At the nearby Edison movie theater, the demonstrators encountered a police patrol.

After a brief deliberation, a delegation of demonstrators was permitted to meet with the Edison's owner, who promised to close the ticket booth and not to begin the show until motzei Shabbos.

Suddenly, the commanding police officer issued an order to forcibly disperse the crowd. The police obeyed the order with much relish and enthusiasm. People were brutally and cruelly beaten, and antisemitic expressions were hurled at the demonstrators. "Scum of the earth," the policemen shouted. "Draft dodgers, wavers of the white flag. " (During the War of Independence, rumors were spread that chareidi Jews from Meah Shearim had gone out to the Jordanian army with a white flag of surrender.)

In one case, a policeman received a sharp slap in the face from a pained demonstrator, after having told him: "Get out of here. Go wave a white flag." The man at whom the policeman happened to shout was a religious Jew who had been injured in the war, and had come to the rally to express his pain over the Shabbos desecration.

The police even summoned the Fire Department and ordered the firemen to disperse the demonstrators by spraying jets of water on them. The commanding officer of the Fire Department, Avrohom Leiderman, refused to obey the order and was arrested, though released shortly afterward.

The police began to make arrests. Demonstrators were seized one after the other, forcefully hurled into police vans, and driven on Shabbos to the police station. On motzei Shabbos, they were released on bail by Rabbi Moshe Porush of Central Agudas Yisroel, and Rabbi Uriel Tzimmer, the editor of Hakol.

Protesting the Police Brutality

The brutal behavior of the police aroused fury and shock in all sectors of the chareidi community. Hakol, a daily newspaper of Agudas Yisroel, published an editorial the following day, which attacked the police for "the excessive enthusiasm" it displayed in the affair.

"Whoever says that the Israeli Police Department is not worthy of its name, because it doesn't have the strength to stop the crime wave which is inundating the State, is wrong," the paper wrote. "True, there are thieves, murderers, bandits and the police can't do a thing to stop their crimes or to bring them to justice. But all these are only trifles. When `more serious and severe' things occur, then go ask Yerushalayim's masses, and they'll tell you: there's nothing like the Police of the State of Israel for vigilance, speed and courage.

"What an impression its appearance made! In line with the best and bloodiest tradition of the police coming to quiet a mass of natives, the Jewish police appeared before their brothers, and smacked them right and left, abounding in Shabbos desecration. To anger the chareidim, they arrested a number of the demonstrators and forced them to desecrate Shabbos by throwing them into vans and driving them to the police station on Shabbos.

"A number of days ago, Mr. Ben Gurion announced that Jewish officers would be tried for having offended Druse sensitivities. Will those who offended the sensitivities and physically harassed chareidi Jews also be brought to justice?"

That day, the City Council also discussed the issue. Deputy Mayor Dr. Mordechai Buchsbaum sharply decried the behavior of the cinema owners and the heads of the Police Department. At that meeting, Mayor D. Oster claimed that he had appealed to the cinema owners a week before, asking them to refrain from Shabbos desecration, but they had refused to comply. At the end of the meeting, decisions were taken to appoint a committee to examine the affair, and to ask the Interior Ministry to pass an auxiliary law to prevent Shabbos desecration.

The Testimony of the Victims

In the meantime, the community received more information about the cruel behavior of the police that Shabbos, and the fury heightened. Hakol published the testimony of Rabbi Zev Katznelenbogen who had been arrested that Shabbos. Rabbi Katznelenbogen describes the events very vividly, and it is worthwhile to bring his testimony in full:

"I participated in the demonstration initiated by official figures, such as the Chief Rabbi, the director of Central Agudas Yisroel, and Knesset members -- all of whom are not suspected of breaking the law and disrupting order.

"I arrived at the Eden cinema with the demonstrators. I behaved in accordance with the halocho that every Jew must protest when he sees Shabbos desecration. At this point, I don't want to relate how the police behaved, or repeat the crass, hate-filled expressions they hurled at Torah observant Jews. The newspapers have already described the behavior of the traffic officer who drove back and forth on his motorcycle among the crowd, precisely in order to enrage it. I'll just tell what happened to me.

"The demonstration, as usual, attracted a large crowd of non- Shabbos observers. Some of them came out of curiosity, to see what would occur and some, who opposed the demonstration, came to disrupt it. Near me stood a soldier who opposed the demonstration. A debate developed between us. While we were still debating, Officer Axsfeld approached me and said: `You're not allowed to stand here. Get a move on.'

"I angrily asked: `Is it forbidden for me to stand here because I am religious and to speak with a person who has permission to stand here, because he isn't religious?'

"The answer was: `You're under arrest.'

"I told him that I don't object to being arrested for so serious a crime. I was certain that he would take me by foot to the police station and as a result I displayed no opposition. Suddenly, Sergeant Kadosh appeared, and grabbed my hand firmly, while looking the officer in the eye, and finding favor in his eyes. They led me to the car which stood there ready to punish the `the law and order breakers' by forcing them to ride on Shabbos.

"When I emphatically told them that I wouldn't get into the car because I didn't want to desecrate the Shabbos, they began to beat me cruelly and indiscriminately. When they didn't succeed in pulling me in, they asked the policemen in the car to help them. Axsfeld grabbed me by my clothes and ripped them, while the police near the car began dragging me by my hair. While yanking out my hair, they managed to throw me into the van. Seeing myself surrounded by soldiers, as if I were suspected of belonging to the underground of `those days,' I reconciled myself to the depressing reality.

"When the van began to move and I was out of view of the crowd, the police flung me to the bottom of the van and began beating me mercilessly with their clubs. When I asked them to let me sit, they beat me even harder. Seized by their wild lusts, some of the police staked out `strategic positions' on my back, while two policemen stood on my feet, two on my hands and one on my neck. The impressions made by the nails of their shoes are still evident.

"One of them, in civilian clothes, beat me in the stomach with his club. He beat me so severely, that one of the policemen ( whose number is 1736) had pity on me and asked them to stop, even though he himself had, in the beginning, participated in this `delightful game.' But even after I was taken out of the van and brought to the cell, the game continued.

"On motzei Shabbos Axsfeld, and the `hero' who had mounted the strategic position on my neck, arrived. I asked the hero to tell me his name. He refused, saying: `That's none of your business,' even though I had told him that I wanted to file a legal complaint against him.

"I ask: Is there a law which permits police to force a man who doesn't object to walking to prison, to ride there? May a policeman give vent to his wild lusts and hurt a defenseless person under arrest? Can officer X cover up for Y only because Y is a policeman?

"The Police Minister and the Justice Minister must answer these questions."

Continued . . .

Slowly, Yerushalayim's chareidi community began to feel that its blood was free-for-all. The assaults on innocent chareidi pedestrians became everyday occurrences. The following Shabbos there was an additional flare-up.

It began on Shavuos, which fell that year on a Friday. The Shabbos barrier, which had been set up near the Kehal Yereim shul in Meah Shearim, incensed the soldiers in the army jeep which passed by the shul. The soldiers entered the shul and began to beat the members of the congregation. One of the soldiers shattered the glass of the shul's door, and injured his hand. The injury, which he had inflicted on himself, angered the other soldiers.

Another jeep and a military police van scoured the chareidi neighborhoods at that time, and beat pedestrians. Reb Nosson Beck happened to be walking through Meah Shearim with his American cousins, and tried to stop one of the soldiers from striking a chareidi woman. The soldiers hurled him to the ground and stepped on him. Reb Nosson's cousin, who in English asked why the soldiers were behaving that way, was also beaten, and his lip had to be stitched.

The behavior of the police grew wilder from moment to moment. They began to fire their guns into the air, and continued on to the Batei Ungarin neighborhood, where they shattered window panes, broke into apartments, and dragged people outside, while crying: "Tomorrow we'll slaughter you."

In Beit Yisroel, they threw stones into the Karliner shul. HaRav Pinchas Eliezer Paksher, a sixty-year-old Jew, was seriously injured by a stone. He attended the wedding of his daughter, the following week, with a dressing on his head. (She married HaRav Dovid Auerbach.)

The rowdy behavior lasted until late at night. On Shabbos morning, the military jeeps continued to pass back and forth within the chareidi neighborhoods and to incite the residents. At one in the afternoon, the skirmishes in front of the cinemas, where police patrols had been stationed, were renewed. There too, chareidim were beaten until they bled.

Warning Against the Trend

On Sunday, the 8th of Sivan, 5709, Hakol published an article in which it warned against the new and serious trend which was developing, and appeared to be receiving implicit government backing because of the latter's silence.

"Before us is the root of all evil -- the root of cruel hatred for chareidi Jews. If this root is not expunged immediately, it is liable to sprout toxic fruits, which will poison life in the State of Israel, not only for those who were the first to absorb the noxious darts of the hatred, but for all of the country's residents.

"The events which transpired on Shabbos in Yerushalayim should not be discounted. According to all indications, this was a wild outburst, and the official reason given for it -- the injury of a soldier, who injured himself -- was only a fig leaf meant to hide the true cause from the public. If there had been no deep seated animosity -- and not stam animosity, but animosity as deep as the abyss -- such an insignificant occurrence would not have served as the cause of so disgraceful and shameful an outburst.

"If anyone in the chareidi community seeks to justify the behavior of the soldiers on the claim that they were angry over the injury their friend suffered, let us remind those justifiers of what the Hebrew press wrote in the `good old days.' No one can deny that the British soldiers who served in Israel during the Mandate days had much cause for anger against the Jewish communities. But didn't all of the Jewish institutions kick up a fuss over the cruel revelry of the British? Did they not claim, and justly so, that soldiers are forbidden to be influenced by such incidents, and must remain disciplined, and not take justice into their own hands? Didn't the entire Hebrew press, without any exception, stress that one of the foundations on which all governments are based is the principle of punishing the criminal, and not venting anger against an entire community for the deeds of one person, whom the community itself is incapable of curbing?

"What occurred on Shabbos in Yerushalayim constitutes a serious warning sign to the government of Israel and to the army. The refusal to expunge the roots of hatred by inflicting serious punishments meant to teach others a lesson, is liable, on the morrow, to rebound on us all, including those who are able to eradicate the evil root, but refuse to do so."

Pouring Oil Onto the Fire

The very day after the Shabbos events, an inflammatory proclamation signed by the representatives of both Mapai and Mapam in Yerushalayim, was issued. Among other things, it said:

"Residents of Yerushalayim for a number of weeks witnessed the attempts of the black powers in the yishuv to impose a reign of terror on us, under the guise of the preservation of religious values.

"Heading these gangs are forces which did not participate in the wars to protect Yerushalayim. At that time they waved a white flag, and were prepared to surrender. These men, who denied all that is precious to the Nation and to the homeland, have awakened and want to forcibly impose a regime which most of the people, as the recent elections to the Knesset prove, reject without any shadow of a doubt."

These parties even came out against attempts at democratic protest against religious desecration:

"From experience, we know that in all countries where democracy prevailed, the black powers attempted to use democratic concepts in order to impose their regimes. The Hebrew yishuv, headed by the working community, knew how to reject such a plot with full force."

The end of the manifesto contains a clear warning about what they said was yet to come:

"We will make our statements openly. Blessed is the soldier or the policeman who prevents the forces of poison and destruction from imposing a regime which is against the will of the decisive majority of the nation. Whoever undermines the laws of the State, or functions in contradiction to its book of laws, will be met by firm opposition."

During that period the two parties which signed the manifesto, Mapai and Mapam, were deeply divided over important issues, a rift which continued to grow worse. The party journals and newspapers were engaged in mutual mudslinging. However in respect to chareidi Jewry, they found a common language.

Trying to Ward Off the Threats

Chareidi Jewry was terror stricken. When security forces which are supposed to protect civilians are involved in repressing residents, one doesn't know what to expect. During the ensuing days, Hakol issued warnings about what was still liable to occur. The newspaper reported that telegrams had been sent to the erstwhile Religious Affairs Minister Fishman-Maimon, warning him about the Leftist parties' plans to wage a "pogrom" in Yerushalayim on forthcoming Shabbosim.

The paper also quoted a Yerushalayim resident who had overheard two soldiers causally speaking about the events, and concurring on the preferred mode of action. "The people have to be removed from their homes and placed against a wall. Then a number of them should be fired at. That's the only way we'll have quiet," they said.

One of the reporters of the paper spoke with a representative of the army's rabbinate, who told him that high ranking officials in the IDF said that all of the Shabbos rides of the army via Meah Shearim are "necessary" and that the government authorities will not restrict the measures the soldiers take against the residents, and that no soldier will be punished even if he uses the cruelest means possible.

In the meantime, the chareidi press engaged in inner analyses of the events. Hakol published the reaction of one of its readers, who took advantage of the issue in order to attack the chareidi representatives: "When I left the demonstration, I passed by a billboard which was still filled with election posters. Unwittingly, my glance fell on the poster of the United Religious Front. The poster said two things which happened to concur with my thoughts at that moment: `The Shabbos which is being publicly desecrated calls out to you to vote for slate `B' of the United Religious Front.' I told myself: More than 40,000 residents responded to the call of the publicly desecrated Shabbos, and voted for the Religious Front. They managed to bring 16 representatives and one vice president to the Knesset. The publicly desecrated Shabbosos are thus represented by three out of the twelve ministers -- a quarter of the government, then is Shabbos observant. Nonetheless, the publicly desecrated Shabbos continues to cry out bitterly, and her voice is like one in the wilderness which no one hears. The walls of the Knesset have already absorbed ninety-nine measures of speech.

"What haven't they spoken about there? They have spoken about politics, economics, absorption, hospitalization, belt- tightening and the Palmach. They have spoken about everything under the sun. But the pained and exhorting cry of the Shabbos still hasn't been heard there. Tomorrow or the day afterward, they'll once again approach the chareidi community and tell it: Shabbos, which is publicly desecrated appeals to you to vote for us. Won't the chareidi community answer them with the question: Who revealed the meaning of Shabbos' call to you? You haven't heard it at all."

Another article on the topic was written by "L. Eidelberg" (Rav Shmuel Kivilevitz) under the heading, "The Shabbos Affair and its Conclusion." In this article, the author attacks the issue from a number of different angles. Writing, at first from the aspect of "know what to answer," he explains the meaning of the democratic prerogative to demand Shabbos observance in the country's public life. Chareidi Jewry, he said, never requested legislation whose purpose would be to force every Jew to keep the laws of the Torah. It focuses only on allowing itself to live according to its own beliefs and outlook. Among the moderate, the aspiration to accord the State some sort of a religious cloak does prevail, while the "extremists" aspire only to enable themselves to live as they please, without coercion and without disturbance. The demand to stop public Shabbos desecration is rooted in the fact that such deeds disturb the efforts of the chareidi Jew to personally maintain his Torah lifestyle, from educational and other aspects.

Later on, he attacks the provocative proclamations of Mapai and Mapam, and blames them for striding along the paths of antisemites of all times.

"In this proclamation, its authors reached the height of brazenness and malicious distortion. We don't know how a psychiatrist would describe people who dare to tell Yerushalayim's residents that the chareidi community did not participate in the defense of the city. True, the authors of the proclamation want to create `history' so that one day they will be able to shed the responsibility for the many failures which they brought about in Yerushalayim. But the friends of the authors of the proclamation, who manned the outposts and fortified them along with chareidi Jews, will laugh at such `facts.' Mapai and Mapam are following the path paved by those of Israel's enemies who attributed their own failures to the `betrayals' of the Jews. Even if such `traitors' stood at the front lines and even if their blood was spilled, while the blood of the supposedly loyal citizens was not spilled, every German or Russian still knew that such charges had no basis, and that their sole purpose was to attack the Jews.

"Like all notable frauds, they pretend to be the persecuted ones, and they sigh: the black forces seek to impose a reign of terror. But here too, they are imitating the proclamations of the dark ages of Russia, of the Andics (a Polish, nationalistic antisemitic party), and of the Nazis of Germany.

"That proclamation is a mark of shame and disgrace for those who composed it, and a warning to the entire chareidi community, and first and foremost to the religious representatives in the government institutions."

Regarding this point, the author of the article decided to criticize the religious activists, whose voice was barely heard in the affair. He writes: "It would have made much sense if the chareidi representatives had reexamined the position of their chief partner in the government. If they were influenced by the remarks of the members of the Mapam about the clerical and bourgeois Mapai, and indulged in the hope that indeed the Mapai's attitude toward tradition seemed to be growing more positive, then the Mapai men came along and publicly revealed their opinion. This revelation mandates a general criticism of the position of the religious representatives who supported the anti-religious platform of Mapai, in the hope that unofficially, they would be able to tip it in their direction, and draw Mapai closer to their position. These hopes, which even at the onset had no basis except for wishful desire which is the father of thought, have been totally dispelled by now. Today, it has become clear that tomorrow and two days hence, the religious representatives will have to borrow the film "The Black Man has Done His Share," from the Mapam. It would be highly plausible if the religious representatives took this into consideration.

"But the chareidi community must not cling to illusions regarding the position of the religious representatives. There is no basis for the hope that all that occurred is enough to open their eyes. We are entitled to demand one thing of them: We may demand that they not undermine the right of the chareidi public to fight. The religious representatives should know that the coalition is not a momentary stratagem, and that Mapai itself safeguards the readiness and alertness of its public. The religious representatives should not consider it an affront to their honor if they cannot arrest the battle of the chareidi community. May they not want to do the work of Mapai, not even by different ways, and by means of other pressure methods. They must recall that the quicker the chareidi community leaves the system, the sooner they will be told: `You've finished your work. Now go.' "

One reporter of Hakol bitterly criticizes those who spread the delusion that the establishment of the State brought succor and relief for Jewry and was aschalta degeula. Under the title, "Shehechiyanu," he ironically censures the gullibility of such Jews, and presents them with the bitter truth:

"This past year, with the establishment of the State of Israel, many jumped for joy every time something new surfaced in the State and recited a shehechiyanu.

"Obviously Scripture's phrase concerning `eaters of wax candles' does not refer to them, for they were far from mentioning sheim Shomayim even in such a situation. Instead, it refers to Jews who jumped out of their skins upon hearing the slogan `like all the other nations,' and still knew and aspired to combine their joy with blessings and acknowledgments to His great Name, not feeling the alienation, the strangeness and the distance between these two situations.

"It seems as if the Shabbos events of the past few weeks will also be like cold, eye-opening showers to them. If this is so, we suggest that they recite a shehechiyanu over our having become like all the other nations. For example:

"They pull the beards of Jews as do Cossacks and Nazis -- shehechiyanu; they impede religious observance like the Russians -- shehechiyanu; they seize passersby in the streets like the British -- shehechiyanu; they riot in the neighborhood like the blacks in Cholon -- shehechiyanu; they breach the walls of tsnius, like the French -- shehechiyanu.

"The list is still long. Like `all of the nations' -- all of them together."

End of Part I

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