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Medinat Yisrael: Through a Torah Lens

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was such a profound event that no serious thinker could avoid contemplating the implications of this historic moment. There is obvious religious importance in the return of a form of Jewish sovereignty to a portion of the Biblical Land after nearly two thousand years of exile. How did a variety of great religious personalities respond to this?  

What follows is a series of brief profiles of, as well as personal reflections from, a limited selection of Torah giants, each of whom lived during the miraculous establishment of the Jewish State and responded positively in his own way.  

Each one of these diverse thinkers has his own approach, with great nuance that cannot be discerned from a single quote or brief essay, and which sometimes evolved over time. This sampling of rabbinic thought offers us a glimpse into different ways of viewing the enormity and complexity of the events in a religiously positive light.  

—Rabbi Gil Student, Jewish Action book editor 


The Rav believed the State of Israel was the fulfillment of the mitzvah of yishuv Ha’Aretz. Courtesy of Yeshiva University Archives

Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik
(Pruzhen, Poland, 1903-Boston, Massachusetts, 1993) 

By Rabbi Menachem Dov Genack 

In general, the Rav’s thought, indeed his whole way of looking at the world, was marked by a dialectical approach, a never-ending effort to live with the tension of opposing poles of an issue. His attitude toward the State of Israel was no exception. Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik firmly believed that the State of Israel—the establishment of Jewish sovereignty itself—was a fulfillment of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’Aretz, a view that he attributed to the Ramban. Jewish destiny in Jewish hands was, for the Rav, not merely the realization of a nationalist dream, but the observance of a religious imperative—yet he also emphasized the danger of nationalism divorced from religious underpinnings and criticized such tendencies within the religious camp as well. 

The Rav made only one trip to the Holy Land, in 1935, when he was a candidate for the chief rabbinate of Tel Aviv. During his visit, he merited to see Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, who was then in the last months of his life. Rav Kook made a deep impression on the Rav; he described Rav Kook as “a great religious personality—Judaism to him was not an idea, it was a great experience, a passion, a love, it was a living reality. . . . When you read his books and his writings, it is like a stormy sea, like a powerful tide driving you to lands unknown.” Interestingly, I heard from Rabbi Avraham Shapira, the late chief rabbi of Israel, that Rav Kook told him to take advantage of the opportunity to attend the Rav’s shiurim, because hearing the Rav was like hearing his grandfather Rav Chaim.  

The Rav shared the story of his visit to a secular kibbutz, ideologically located “on the border of Stalinism,” which, he was shocked to discover, maintained a kosher kitchen:  

They told me the following incident, which had taken place a few years before . . . Rav Kook came to the kibbutz for Shabbat . . . . On Saturday night, after he made Havdalah, they had a gathering and he began to dance with them. He told them stories about his past, about his father and mother, absolutely not indicating disapproval or censure about their behavior. On Sunday morning, he said to them: “Shalom, lehitra’ot, v’le’echol b’yachad seudah achat—Farewell, and next time let us eat together at one table.” The next day, the dishes were thrown out and the kitchen was made kosher. . . . You ask what power he exerted? It was the power of his religious personality.  

The Rav shared Rav Kook’s optimism regarding the potential of the non-affiliated Jew in Israel to adopt a Torah life. 

I believe that the Rav shared Rav Kook’s optimism regarding the potential of the non-affiliated Jew in Israel to adopt a life of Torah. In his Chamesh Derashot, the Rav wrote: “By him watering an orchard in the Emek, the vitalizing dew of the Eternal One of Israel, the Creator of the Universe, also alights upon this seemingly disinterested non-believer. . . .” Yet the Rav’s Zionism differed qualitatively from Rav Kook’s ecstatic Messianic viewpoint. The Rav’s perspective was more dispassionate, seeing the State as part of G-d’s plan of counteracting the physical, psychological and emotional devastation of the centuries of Jewish persecution that culminated in the Holocaust, rather than as a Divine utopia foreshadowing the End of Days. Likewise, Rav Kook emphasized the quality of the Jewish people as a nation; the concept of a state fit well into his religious consciousness. The Rav, on the other hand, focused more on the individual; “the flight of the alone to the Alone,” a quote he borrowed from Plotinus, epitomized his view of religion.  

A key point for the Rav was his belief that Judaism in the Diaspora would not have been able to survive without the establishment of the State. “Were it not for the State of Israel,” he often said, “American Jewry would be wiped away in a tidal wave of assimilation.” The Rav was completely correct—Israel was crucial to maintaining American Jewish identity. (Sadly, much of American Jewry no longer possesses instinctive support for Israel, and it is being swept away by assimilation.) In addition, the Rav saw in the establishment of the State the refutation of the Catholic theological view of Judaism as a historical relic.  

‘Were it not for the State of Israel,’ he often said, ‘American Jewry would be wiped away in a tidal wave of assimilation.’ 

But the State also created the possibility for Judaism to be reinvigorated; only in a Jewish state could there emerge a rich, multidimensional Judaism. In a sermon from 1946 contained in the newly published book The Return to Zion, the Rav writes that only in Israel could Judaism be “transformed into an all-encompassing space—long, wide, and deep, with distant horizons and unending boundaries—in a word: a true worldview.” [See “The Return to Zion” on page 58.] I heard the Rav quote Rav Kook’s interpretation of the words we recite in Ne’ilah, “Lema’an nechdal mei’oshek yadeinu—that we may desist from the theft of our hands.” Why at the culmination of Ne’ilah do we pray to no longer commit theft? Rav Kook explained that our request is not about theft committed with our hands; it is that G-d accept our teshuvah so that we can desist from the theft of our hands themselves, of our potential. On a national level, I would add, it is the founding of the State that allows the Jewish people to desist from the theft of its great potential.   

The Rav’s relationship with the State was multifaceted, as to be expected from such a complex thinker, but his attitude toward the State of Israel as the realization of a religious ideal was a constant in both his philosophy and his life.  

Rabbi Menachem Dov Genack is CEO, OU Kosher. 

David Ben-Gurion reading the Declaration of Independence in the Tel Aviv Museum on May 14, 1948. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Kluger Zoltan



Rabbi Herzog served as chief rabbi of Israel during a time of tremendous turmoil. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Hans Pinn

Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog (Lomza, Poland, 1888-Jerusalem, 1959) 

By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff 

Contrary to what many people think, the first chief rabbi of the modern State of Israel was not Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook but Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog. Rav Kook was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the New Yishuv, but he passed away in 1935, thirteen years before the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel. After Rav Kook’s passing, the search committee for a new rav placed two candidates before the body in charge of the selection, and Rabbi Herzog, then serving as the chief rabbi of the Irish Free State, was chosen over Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlop, the rosh yeshivah of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, now located in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Yerushalayim.  

Rabbi Herzog was born in 1888, in Lomza, Poland, where his family had lived for several generations. His father, Rabbi Yoel Herzog, was a well-known talmid chacham in the city and served as one of the dayanim, alongside the city’s rav, Rabbi Noach Yitzchak Diskin.  (He was a brother of Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, one of the unofficial rabbanim of the Old Yishuv of Yerushalayim and the rebbi of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, first rav of the Eidah Hachareidis.) Rabbi Yoel Herzog also served as a dayan alongside Rabbi Malkiel Tzvi Halevi Tannenbaum, author of Divrei Malkiel, one of the greatest posekim in Lithuania in his generation. In contrast to most rabbanim of the time, Rabbi Yoel Herzog has been described as a “fiery Zionist”—he was a strong supporter of Chovevei Zion, a forerunner of the Zionist movement. As a young man, he met Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, one of the early founders of Religious Zionism, who invited the much younger Rabbi Yoel Herzog to the first Zionist Congress, where Rabbi Mohilever planned to introduce him to Theodor Herzl. At the last minute, Rav Yoel was unable to attend because his son Yitzchak became seriously ill. Most fortunate for the history of Klal Yisrael, the young Yitzchak recovered. 

The younger Rabbi Herzog grew up in an environment that believed very strongly in the building of a modern Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael, and later on in his life he had no difficulty cooperating with non-religious elements to bring about the creation of a Jewish state in the Holy Land.  

The senior Rabbi Herzog left Poland, first to become rabbi of Leeds, England, and then to be the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Paris. There were no significant yeshivot in England or France in this era, yet the young Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog became a tremendous gaon in learning, first by learning b’chavruta with his father, and then on his own. A linguist and a Renaissance man, he pursued his secular education at University of London and the Sorbonne, eventually earning a master’s degree equivalent from the Sorbonne and a PhD from University of London. During this time, he continued his growth in Torah learning by studying on his own and corresponding with the greatest of the Torah world at the time. He later named his two sons after Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk and the Ridbaz, gedolim whose acquaintance he had developed via correspondence from London, Paris, and later, Ireland, where he served first as the chief rabbi of Belfast and later of Dublin; he eventually became the chief rabbi of the Irish Free State when it achieved its independence. 

Rabbi Herzog was presumably the only person in history who might seriously have become either the Ashkenazi or the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel. 

Rabbi Herzog was offered many positions at larger, more prestigious and wealthier communities, all of which he turned down, stating that his intention was to move to Eretz Yisrael and nowhere else. When his father passed away in 1933, the community beseeched him to take his father’s place as rav of Paris, but he told them he would not relocate anywhere other than to the Holy Land. He had also been offered to become chacham bashi, or chief rabbi, of Salonika, at the time the most prestigious rabbinic post in the Sephardic world, with the understanding that whenever any post of chacham bashi anywhere in Eretz Yisrael would become available, he would have the position virtually guaranteed. He turned down this offer also, saying that he did not want to assume any position outside of Palestine even on an interim basis. He was presumably the only person in history who might seriously have become either the Ashkenazi or the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel.  

When the position of rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yafo became vacant in 1933, he became a candidate for the position, alongside Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik; however, the organized Mizrachi community in Eretz Yisrael backed Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, who was selected for the position. But as mentioned above, two years later he was elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine, and when the State was founded in 1948, he became its first Ashkenazi chief rabbi. 

Rabbi Herzog’s tenure was during a time of tremendous turmoil for the Jewish people in general, and particularly for the Yishuv in Eretz Yisrael. This was the period of the rise of Nazi Germany, the Arab riots, and the British issuing repeated White Papers restricting Jewish immigration to Israel when it was needed most. Rabbi Herzog, an eloquent and native English speaker, a tireless worker and an egoless communal activist, used all of his considerable talents to help Klal Yisrael in every imaginable way during this difficult period. We can single out his traveling in the middle of the war from Israel to the United States to personally lobby President Roosevelt to help the plight of Jews being massacred by the Nazis, and his considerable efforts after the war to locate Jewish children who had been placed in Christian orphanages during the war and reunite them with their people. 

Well before the founding of the State, Rabbi Herzog was probably the first one to write on how the new state should be run, specifically addressing the integration and application of halachah to the entire legal system of a modern new country. He published sefarim, lectured and lobbied that the new state and its legal system should be run according to halachah. He felt that its criminal justice system should use dayanim as judges, and that Choshen Mishpat should be its legal foundation—not Anglo-Saxon common law, as unfortunately resulted. He opposed the State having capital punishment, contending that the method whereby halachah allows it would not be met. 

He even advocated certain adjustments to the way batei din traditionally operated, and the way halachah was usually interpreted, so that Jewish law could be used in a modern setting. For example, he wanted to adjust the system of yerushah so that daughters would inherit equally with their brothers, and he introduced the idea of fathers paying child support for their children until society considered them adults. Although he was by and large unsuccessful in introducing most of his ideas to Israeli jurisprudence, these last two are currently practiced in the official batei din of the State of Israel. And although Israel officially has capital punishment, it has been carried out only once in the history of the State (Adolph Eichmann). 

In closing, it is fair to say that unlike Rav Kook, Rabbi Charlop and others, who built their belief in the Medinah upon philosophic and kabbalistic foundations, Rabbi Herzog emphasized the practical—matters such as what structure the legal system would have and how the courts would work. Although this aspect of his life’s goals was only moderately successful, he did create a basic structure that exists until this day.  

Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff, formerly a pulpit rav in Buffalo and Baltimore, now lives in Neve Yaakov in Jerusalem, where he teaches, writes, and visits Jewish communities all over the world. He is a prolific author on rabbinic scholarship, in both English and Hebrew. 

Crowds following the funeral procession of Chief Rabbi Herzog through the streets of Jerusalem. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Moshe Pridan



Rabbi Zevin commanded respect in every corner of the Jewish world. Courtesy of Benny Gur

Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin
(Kazimirov, Russia, 1888-Jerusalem, 1978) 

By Yehuda Esral  

Perhaps one of the most fascinating and enigmatic figures in the years leading up and subsequent to the founding of the State of Israel was Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin. Growing up in a family of Chabad Chassidim, studying under some of the greatest Lithuanian roshei yeshivah and later becoming a member of the Mizrachi party, Rabbi Zevin had a multifaceted background that set the stage for an even more colorful life. 

Rabbi Zevin was born in 1888 in Kazimirov, a small town in Russia. His father, Rabbi Aharon Mordechai, a Chabad chassid, was the rav of the town. From a young age he studied locally with a melamed, and after his bar mitzvah, at which point his unusual abilities in learning were recognized, he was sent to learn in the famed Mir Yeshiva in Poland, where he was paired up with Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg. After several years in the yeshivah, he returned to Babroisk, another Chabad hub, where he learned under the rav of Babroisk, rebbe of the Kapust branch of Chabad, Rabbi Shmaryahu Noach Schneerson. When Rabbi Zevin was just eighteen years old, his father passed away and despite his young age, he was called upon to fill the position of rav of Kazimirov. 

Thus began his career, one which would prove to be both challenging and highly consequential. Working together with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, he endeavored to create secret societies spreading Torah among the youth of Russia, endangering his life in doing so. He was an editor of and regular contributor to many Torah publications of his day including the Torah periodical Yagdil Torah, which he headed together with his lifelong friend Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky.   

In 1934, he transplanted his family to Eretz Yisrael, where he presided over a Chabad community in Tel Aviv. He merited to develop a relationship with the chief rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, in the last year and a half of the latter’s life. 

His prolific writing career was nearly unparalleled in his time. His many sefarim became instant classics, meriting numerous reprints over the years. His unique ability to present complex ideas and topics in a manner that was both thorough and succinct set a new standard in the world of Torah literature. Rabbi Zevin was able to unearth novel chiddushim without breaking the flow of a simple interpretation, making his writing valuable to both the seasoned talmid chacham and layman alike. 

. . . in our days, wherein we merited the establishment of the independent State of Israel, freed from the burden of other governments and the servitude of the exile, it is clear that the War of Independence had all of the pertinent laws of milchemet mitzvah, as well as its very obligation. 

His crowning jewel and everlasting legacy undoubtedly was the Encyclopedia Talmudit. In 1942, together with Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, he embarked on a project in which every major Talmudic concept was explained and elaborated on from its Talmudic source, including its development and discussion throughout the generations, up until contemporary times. The project, the expanse and scope of which had never previously been ventured, claimed every spare minute of Rabbi Zevin’s life. The extraordinary work, which is still in production today, is a testament to the profound influence that its lead visionary and trailblazing researcher, Rabbi Zevin, continues to exert on the popular study of halachah.   

While naturally inclined to focus on his learning and writing, Rabbi Zevin often found himself pulled into social and political issues. In 1959, after the passing of Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog, the chief rabbi of Israel, many assumed it was to be Rabbi Zevin who would fill the post. However, Rabbi Zevin, who always shunned the limelight, declined on the grounds that it would interrupt his work on the Encyclopedia. 

Rabbi Zevin’s views on the State of Israel are difficult to paint in one broad stroke. The plurality of viewpoints and influences from which he drew inspiration fail to direct us sufficiently to his own positions. Like everything Rabbi Zevin did, however, nothing was established without being thoroughly examined through the exacting lens of halachah as he understood it. 

The establishment of the State of Israel, besides for providing a self-governed homeland to the Jewish people, offered a unique opportunity to fulfill the mitzvot of the Land, in Rabbi Zevin’s eyes. According to the Rambam, without most of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael, the obligation for terumot and ma’aserot is only rabbinic. Rabbi Zevin viewed every Jew who came to Israel as a partner in “restoring” these mitzvot to their Biblical origin.  

In 1948, an anonymous article appeared in various publications, imploring the public to join the Haganah in what would become the War of Independence. “Everyone understands that there will be no endurance for inhabiting the Land of Israel, G-d forbid, and for the Jewish population throughout the exile without an independent state in our Land.” Yeshivah students and Torah scholars alike were prevailed upon to leave the beit midrash and fight for the Land of Israel. In coming years, evidence strongly indicated that this consequential article came from the pen of Rabbi Zevin. 

Rabbi Zevin articulated this position more clearly years later in his sefer, Le’Or HaHalachah. In discussing the topic of milchemet mitzvah, he writes “. . . in our days, wherein we merited the establishment of the independent State of Israel, freed from the burden of other governments and the servitude of the exile, it is clear that the War of Independence had all of the pertinent laws of milchemet mitzvah, as well as its very obligation.” 

The very nature of the founding of the State of Israel, however, proved more difficult for Rabbi Zevin to pinpoint. In an essay published in 1959 in the Machanayim journal, Rabbi Zevin wrote, “Israel’s independence is the greatest miracle we have witnessed in recent generations. Despite this, I cannot claim that it is considered to be the aschalta d’Geulah. We are not among the inner sanctum of G-d, and thus cannot conceive of what the ultimate Redemption will look like         . . . Nonetheless, we are commanded to thank and praise Hashem for the wonder that He bestowed upon us. Whoever refrains from doing so is guilty of denying the goodness of Hashem. . . We must hope that with the passage of time, this celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, which carries the aura of sanctity and is based in the Torah, spreads throughout the Jewish People.” 

While Rabbi Zevin’s personal practice was to recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut without a berachah, he made sure to attend minyan that day at Mosad Harav Kook, where they were accustomed to recite Hallel with a berachah 

In 1964, Rabbi Zevin was appointed to the Chief Rabbinate Council, serving in this role for many years. With every election, he would encourage others to vote for the Dati Leumi party in the Knesset, feeling that their agenda was most closely aligned with the interests of his community. (It should be noted that he perhaps differed in this regard from the guidance of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, with whom he shared a warm and mutually reverent relationship.) 

In 1973, when a law was introduced that would repeal the draft exemption for full-time yeshivah students, Rabbi Zevin penned an essay entitled “Al Tig’u B’Meshichai (“Touch Not My Anointed Ones”), in which he directs strong words toward the Dati Leumi party, which supported the law. “In the place of spiritual might, we see confusion, a lack of recognition and disgrace toward the highest value in Judaism: Talmud Torah k’negged kulam, Torah study parallels all the others.”  

Rabbi Zevin passed away on the 21st of Adar 5738 (1978). His funeral at Har Hamenuchot was attended by thousands, representing the full gamut of the Torah world, from the Eidah Hachareidis to Mizrachi, Brisk to Chabad, Litvish and Sephardi, a true testament to the widespread respect commanded by one of the greatest talmidei chachamim of his time. 

Yehuda Esral lives in Lakewood, New Jersey.  

Jerusalem’s Rehavia Quarter, 1935. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Zoltan Kluger



A supporter of Rav Kook, Rabbi Frank was, at the same time, a leading halachic authority among the anti-Zionist Old Yishuv. Photo: Central Zionist Archives

Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank
(Kovno, Lithuania, 1873-Jerusalem, 1960) 

By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff  

After Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog was elected chief rabbi of the Jewish settlement in Palestine, the decision was made to divide the position, which had been previously held by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, into two positions: Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine and Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, who had been serving as the primary dayan of the city’s main beit din for almost two decades, was appointed as the new rav of Yerushalayim. At this time in history, the Eidah Hachareidis, which was still affiliated with Agudas Yisrael (and was therefore the umbrella organization of all Ashkenazi Chareidi Jews of the Old Yishuv), had its own rav, Rav Yosef Tzvi Duschinsky, who was a generation older than Rabbi Frank. Rabbi Frank’s acceptance of his appointment as the rav of Yerushalayim was itself a political statement: he was accepting a position officially part of the nascent Zionist community, and he was still the av beit din of the anti-Zionist Old Yishuv community since he had been appointed a dayan of that community years earlier by Rabbi Shmuel Salant. 

Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank was born in 1873 in Kovno, then part of the vast Russian Empire. His parents, Rabbi Yehuda Leib and Malka Frank, were active in the Chovevei Zion organization, a forerunner of Herzl’s Zionist movement. Rabbi Yehuda Leib was also a leader of the Hedeira Society, an organization involved in grassroots development of the New Yishuv. He was one of the founders of the village of Hadera, now a city of over 100,000 inhabitants.  

The young Rabbi Frank studied in several of the classic yeshivot until 1892, when he immigrated to Eretz Yisrael with his brother, sister and first cousin, Shmuel Hillel Shenker, who later married the daughter of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, who was to become the first rav of the Eidah Hachareidis. Rabbi Frank continued studying in the yeshivot in Yerushalayim and was soon viewed as a halachic equal of the great posekim there, notwithstanding that they were all two generations older than he was. To facilitate studying without the distractions of community responsibilities, he moved to Yafo (Tel Aviv did not yet exist), where he developed a close, mutually respectful relationship with Rav Kook, then rav of Yafo. This connection began their working relationship over the next thirty years on numerous matters affecting the entire community in Eretz Yisrael. 

In 1907, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, the ninety-one-year-old rav of Yerushalayim, asked the thirty-four-year-old Rabbi Frank to serve alongside him as a member of the official beit din of Yerushalayim. Notwithstanding that he was, by decades, the youngest rav on the beit din, Rabbi Frank was soon recognized as the unofficial leader of the Yerushalayim rabbinate. 

Rabbi Frank is the only individual in history to have served as the head of the beit din recognized by the Eidah Hachareidis and also as an official rav in the State of Israel. 

During World War I, he remained hidden in an attic in Yerushalayim so that the Turks would not expel him from the country for being an enemy alien. (He had been born in the Russian Empire, which was part of the “Triple Entente” [later called the “Allies”], whereas the Ottoman Empire was one of the “Central Powers,” allied with the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires.) The Turks never discovered his hiding place, which was fortunate because from it he directed all the rabbinic affairs of the city until the British drove the Turks from the city.  

After the war, Rabbi Frank was at the forefront of several attempts to organize the rabbinate of the entire country and its batei din into one. This created much controversy in the Old Yishuv, making Rabbi Frank the strongest halachic voice in favor of the Chief Rabbinate, while Rabbi Sonnenfeld and other members of the Eidah Hachareidis were exceedingly opposed. Angering the opposition even more, in 1921, Rabbi Frank recommended inviting Rav Kook to Yerushalayim to become the official Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine. 

Rabbi Frank held a very unusual role in halachah and politics. Although many in the Old Yishuv strongly opposed his positions concerning the State, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, and the role and position of Rabbi Kook, his greatness as a posek and his personage were always respected. In this, he stands in great contrast to both Rav Kook and Rabbi Herzog. Rav Kook was essentially ostracized by most of the Old Yishuv rabbanim; the Chareidi press and leadership often lambasted his opinions and personage.  

Similarly, when Rabbi Herzog became chief rabbi of Palestine, his opinions were ignored by most of the Old Yishuv rabbanim, and he was frequently attacked by Mizrachi rabbanim and lay leaders who disagreed with his positions. His piskei halachah were frequently not accepted, and, upon occasion, he withdrew his pesak halachah rather than publicly dispute rulings of other respected posekim, such as the Chazon Ish, so as not to divide the halachic authority of the nascent country. 

Not so Rabbi Frank. When he reached a halachic conclusion, he did not bow to pressure from anyone. Many, if not most, of these halachic rulings became the standard followed in Eretz Yisrael. For example, he ruled that powdered milk from America could be used, notwithstanding the universal acceptance among the posekim of both the Old and the New Yishuv against using non-chalav Yisrael milk. Despite his independent approach to pesak halachah, no one dared criticize Rabbi Frank personally even when they disagreed with his positions, whether political or halachic. 

Rabbi Frank is the only individual in history to have served as the head of the beit din recognized by the Eidah Hachareidis, and also as an official rav in the State of Israel. He held his position as chief rabbi of Yerushalayim from 1935 until his passing on the 21st of Kislev, 5721 (December 10, 1960) when he was almost eighty-eight years old. 

Upon Rabbi Frank’s passing, there was an attempt to fill his position with someone who would be respected as a posek by all streams of Klal Yisrael, and who, at the same time, would be politically acceptable. First, they approached Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who, after consultation with his extended family, decided against taking the position. They then approached Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who ultimately decided to remain in his post as the rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Kol Torah. The fact that the two greatest posekim of Klal Yisrael were both offered to succeed Rabbi Frank, and that they both strongly considered accepting the position, might be the greatest testimony to Rabbi Frank’s unique contribution to the Jewish world and the State of Israel. 

The Old City of Jerusalem in 1948. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office 



Rabbi Amital viewed the State as an instrument of Hashem and a catalyst for kiddush Hashem. Courtesy of Yeshivat Har Etzion

Rabbi Yehuda Amital
(Oradea, Romania, 1924-Jerusalem, 2010) 

By Rabbi Moshe Taragin 

Born in 1924 in a small shtetl in Romania, Rabbi Yehuda Amital lived through the revolutions of Jewish history in the twentieth century. He survived the concentration camps and fought in the War of Independence. After the war, he studied and taught in premier yeshivot in Israel, and married the granddaughter of Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer. By founding Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, he deeply shaped both the Israeli Torah world and the settler movement. His life was a microcosm of twentieth-century Jewish history, and he left an indelible impact upon religious society in Israel.  

A Sense of Mission 

Many Holocaust survivors were burdened by survivor’s guilt. For Rav Amital, survival generated a sense of mission to fill the void left by the many who had perished. Conscious of this mission, he changed his family name from Klein to Amital to encapsulate the pasuk in Michah that portrays the Jewish survivors (ami, my nation) as a regenerating force similar to dew (tal). Recognizing his own assignment of revitalizing our people, he took the name Amital. 

The Hesder Revolution 

In the aftermath of the Six-Day War, it was evident that our community desperately needed a new yeshivah model. Limited options were available for students desiring to merge army service with serious Torah study. Hesder hadn’t yet “taken off,” and was certainly not viewed as an ideal option for aspiring Torah scholars. On a communal level, the Religious Zionist community was in dire need of future Torah teachers and rabbis. Rabbi Amital launched Yeshivat Har Etzion, aware that he was designing a template for Hesder in general. While seeking to preserve the spirit of the European yeshivah world, he also updated it. Chief among his updates was the restoration of serious Tanach study, which had been largely neglected for at least five hundred years. Much of the Hesder movement, which today numbers close to eighty yeshivot, was shaped by Rabbi Amital’s original design. 

Twenty years after forming Yeshivat Har Etzion and the surrounding city of Alon Shevut, Rabbi Amital was a driving force behind the formation of Mechinot for students uninterested in an intense five-year course of Torah study and army service. Mechinot were designed to instill religious pride, and afford Torah literacy for future soldiers who would ascend the ranks of the IDF and ultimately influence general Israeli society. Through sculpting Hesder, reviving Tanach study, and inaugurating the Mechina movement, Rav Amital was responsible for most of the Torah institutions in the Religious Zionist sector.  

Kiddush Hashem 

Rabbi Amital transformed and expanded the connotations of kiddush Hashem. Bringing Hashem into our world extended beyond Torah study and mitzvah performance, and even beyond martyrdom. Hashem’s presence in our world is a function of the state of His people. As our situation improves and our people prosper, the presence of Hashem is amplified, generating a kiddush Hashem. Conversely, when we suffer, or even decline, Hashem’s presence recedes, and any regression of His presence in our world is a chillul Hashem. The arc of Jewish history determines the presence of Hashem in our world, and the undulations of Jewish history yield both kiddush and chillul Hashem 

Much of the Hesder movement, which today numbers close to eighty yeshivot, was shaped by Rabbi Amital’s original design.

The Holocaust was the single greatest chillul Hashem since the destruction of the first Mikdash 2,700 years ago. The systematic attempt to eradicate everything Jewish from the streets of Europe was an assault on the Divine presence, not just on the Jewish people. A few years later, the restoration of Jewish sovereignty and peoplehood in our ancient homeland replenished Hashem’s presence and created a kiddush Hashem 

Annually, on Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Amital reviewed the events of the past year, analyzing how they had impacted Hashem’s presence. From the fall of Communism to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, human events in general and the trajectory of the State of Israel in particular were part of a larger Divine drama.  

Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 by a religious Hesder talmid was a chillul Hashem that had to be reversed. Joining a secular government shortly after the murder was Rabbi Amital’s attempt to restore the presence of Hashem after it had been disfigured during those dark days. As his students, we were constantly aware that our personal lives and our national history each determined Hashem’s presence in the human realm. 


Viewing the State as an instrument of Hashem and a catalyst for kiddush Hashem, Rabbi Amital was an institutionalist who respected the offices and symbols of our government. Over the years, I recall heated staff meetings in which rabbanim debated various demands of the army or the government that we felt compromised our educational interests. Our stiff opposition and strong disagreement never degenerated into disrespect for the national institutions that were expressions of kiddush Hashem. Though we disagreed with government policies, the icons and agencies of the Jewish State were sacred. 

Jewish Geometry  

Though a student of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook’s writings, Rabbi Amital made an important break with a view adopted by many students of Rav Kook. Many of those students depicted a triangle composed of three components: Torah, Land, and People. A triangle metaphor implies inseparability, while suggesting that all three values are equivalent.  

Rabbi Amital altered this geometry by describing these three values as positioned along a chronological timeline. Upon our departure from Egypt, our nation was born, while the Torah was only delivered seven weeks later. Based on this chronology, when necessary, the needs of Am Yisrael supersede Torah study. This calculation is already latent in much of Chassidut, which deeply influenced Rabbi Amital’s thought. 

Similarly, Jewish peoplehood and Torah each preceded our entry into the Land of Israel, determining that both Am Yisrael and Torah supersede settlement of the Land. Rabbi Amital lamented that our hyper-emphasis upon settlement had distracted us from other national agendas. Likewise, Jewish nationhood required a partnership with a secular Israel that was disenfranchised both with Torah and with greater Israel. To Rabbi Amital, this partnership was a sacred duty to Am Yisrael and to Jewish peoplehood, the highest of the three values. Finally, national needs, such as the prospect of peace, which in the 1990s seemed possible, would warrant painful land compromises. Converting the three values from a triangle to a timeline dramatically altered Religious Zionist ideology.  

Rabbi Amital relandscaped the Israeli Torah world, saw the presence of Hashem in the evolution of our State, and prioritized Am Yisrael as the cardinal value of life in Israel.  

Rabbi Moshe Taragin has been a rosh metivta at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Gush Etzion for the past twenty-four years. He has semichah from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, a BA in computer science from Yeshiva College, and an MA in English literature from City University. 

Rabbi Yehuda Amital teaching his students at Yeshivat Har Etzion. Courtesy of Yeshivat Har Etzion



Rabbi Friedman was a Chassidic rebbe who was an ardent supporter of Mizrachi. Courtesy of Rabbi Yosef Ginsberg/Rabbi Dr. Meir Tzvi Grossman

Rabbi Yaakov Friedman
(Bohush, Romania, 1878–Tel Aviv, 1957) 

By Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb  

The Chassidic movement made immigration to the Land of Israel a priority from its earliest days. Rav Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, himself valued ahavat Eretz Yisrael so highly that his successor, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, successfully encouraged several of his most prominent colleagues and their followers to move there in the latter years of the eighteenth century. 

Several Chassidic leaders actively continued to support aliyah, emigration from Eastern Europe and settlement of the Holy Land, throughout the history of the movement, despite the opposition they occasionally faced from some of their contemporaries. One of the most determined supporters of aliyah was Rav Yisrael of Ruzhin—a great-grandson of the Mezritcher Maggid—many of whose followers settled in the Holy Land in the mid-nineteenth century, raising families and establishing synagogues, schools and charitable institutions that are still around today. 

Rav Yisrael, known popularly as “the Ruzhiner,” had several sons who became Chassidic leaders, establishing “courts” that persisted at least until the Holocaust, including many that continue to thrive in modern Israel. They include Chortkov, Sadigura, Boyan, Kapishnitz, Bohush, Shtefanesht and Husiatyn. 

The many descendants of the Ruzhiner followed their ancestor’s lead in every possible way by advocating aliyah and by those in the Diaspora financially supporting settlement in Eretz Yisrael. However, for ideological reasons many, and perhaps most, carefully separated themselves from the various Zionist movements. Still, they never ceased to follow the example of their distinguished ancestor. 

One of the descendants of the Ruzhiner who did identify with the Zionist movement to some extent was a great-grandson of his, Rabbi Yaakov Friedman. While yet in Romania in his youth, he helped form a Religious Zionist organization, and he himself immigrated to Eretz Yisrael with his family and lived to witness and ardently celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel. 

Rabbi Friedman was the son of Rav Yitzchak, the rebbe of Bohush, a small town in Romania; Rav Yitzchak’s father was Rav Shalom Yosef, firstborn son of the Ruzhiner. His lineage is significant because his personal religious philosophy and his conduct as a spiritual leader were shaped by the example of his forebears. 

Born in Bohush, Rav Yaakov Friedman married young. His bride was the daughter of Rav Yisrael of Husiatyn, a town situated in what is now Ukraine. Rav Yisrael, himself a grandson of the Ruzhiner, was the son of Rav Mordechai Shraga Friedman, the youngest son of the Ruzhiner. Rav Mordechai Shraga had many followers, known as Husiatiner (often pronounced “Shotiner”) Chassidim, whose reputation was that of the idit d’idit, or crème de la crème, of that region because of their pious simplicity, interpersonal warmth and wit, and subdued erudition. 

Rav Yaakov and his father-in-law Rav Yisrael immigrated to Eretz Yisrael with their families in 1937. They resided in Tel Aviv, where they established a small synagogue that eventually became a vibrant center not only for the few Husiatiner Chassidim who had survived the Holocaust but for the entire rapidly growing city. Rav Yaakov, who celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, assumed the title of Husiatiner Rebbe upon his father-in-law’s demise in 1947, and continued in that role until his own passing in 1957. Every Yom Ha’atzmaut, Rav Yaakov would host a tisch, and wearing his shtreimel, he would deliver a unique derashah connected to the significance of the day.  

‘Were it not for the State of Israel,’ he often said, ‘American Jewry would be wiped away in a tidal wave of assimilation.’ 

Fortunately for us, Rav Yaakov kept a written record of his public talks, many of which were passionate sermons supporting Religious Zionism that were delivered at gatherings of his followers on Shabbat and chagim. These writings have been published in two volumes entitled Oholei Yaakov (The Tents of Jacob). They constitute a treasure trove of Chassidic discourses, ultimately based upon the spiritual heritage of his ancestors, but directed to an audience who witnessed the Holocaust yet also lived to see and celebrate the creation of the State of Israel. In his writings as in his personal example, Rav Yaakov had the uncanny ability to apply traditional Chassidic teachings to the historical circumstances in which he found himself. Moreover, Rav Yaakov had a deep spiritual connection to Eretz Yisrael, as well as the unique ability to see the Yad Hashem at play and to recognize the good within those involved in the Zionist enterprise, even those who seemed distant from tradition. What is evident in many of his teachings and writings is his love and positivity toward the Zionist cause, the State of Israel, and each and every member of Klal Yisrael. 

Two selections from his written works will serve as an introduction to his thought. The first, freely translated from the original Hebrew, is from a talk he gave in 1950: 

Now that we are privileged to have the State of Israel and witness an ingathering of exiles, it is appropriate that we rejoice. As the Ohr HaChaim insists in his comment upon the opening verse in Parashat Ki Tavo: “Ein lismo’ach ela b’yeshivat ha’Aretz—one must reserve expressions of joy for when the Land is being settled.” 

But is it possible to rejoice when we witness our spiritual condition? I avoid harsh criticism. It is our obligation to judge everyone favorably. There are three causes for our painful and worrisome spiritual situation: (1) the deficient education that some of us received; (2) the detrimental surroundings in which some of us reside; and (3) the frightful Shoah that befell our people these past few years. 

The verse “. . . for He will avenge the blood of His servants” (Deuteronomy 32) has not yet been fulfilled. How apt are the words of King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 8:11): “For the sentence of the deed of evil is not executed swiftly; and so, the mind of men fills up with the thought of doing wrong.” Note Rashi’s comments, which inform us that the Almighty’s delay in holding evildoers to account often causes us to adopt faulty beliefs.  

Yes, the current spiritual situation is of concern, but we must not despair . . . Teshuvah, the enhancement of our spirituality, will come, not from America or England but from us, here in the Land of Israel. 

Rav Yaakov takes this last statement further with another frequent theme of his, exemplified in the following quotation from a talk he gave in Elul 1952: 

Now, right now, what is to be done? This is a question I was asked when I visited Yerushalayim earlier this year. And I answered: We do not have the ability to change the ways of secular Jews, for we have no influence over them. But we do have influence over ourselves! Let us proceed to bolster our faith, to develop our love for Torah and our fear of Heaven, our ethical conduct and our morality, and guide the world around us toward righteousness. Then we will achieve, with the help of the Almighty, the Geulah sheleimah. 

The Husiatiner Rebbe, Rav Yaakov, successor of Rav Yisrael, had a son Rav Yitzchak, who succeeded him but who passed away not long after his father. All three are buried in the Tiberias cemetery, alongside each other. 

As we celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the State of Israel, and as we anticipate the next seventy-five years, we would do well to emulate the teachings of Rav Yaakov of Husiatyn—to celebrate the establishment of a sovereign State of Israel as a Divine gift, to recognize its flaws, and to correct them not by judging others but by looking inwards so that our teshuvah sheleimah effects a Geulah sheleimah. 

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is executive vice president, emeritus of the Orthodox Union

View of Mount Carmel in 1947. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Zoltan Kluger



Rabbi Lichtenstein believed that kedushat Ha’aretz is paramount. Courtesy of Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gershon Elinsoz

Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein 

(Paris, 1933–Jerusalem, 2015) 

By Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein 

We all have favorite stories. One of my father’s was always mentioned whenever he discussed the significance of Eretz Yisrael. It was not a tale of action or a dramatic war episode, nor did it even transpire in the Land of Israel. It truly was, though, a drama—a learning moment of deep significance that occurred between a powerful rebbi and an attentive talmid, which left a lifelong impression upon the devoted student. 

Having arrived in the United States as a refugee from Europe in 1942, my father first had the opportunity to visit Eretz Yisrael at age twenty-eight. It was the realization of a dream to visit the Land that he was so attached to and to meet the society that he was deeply connected to. It was a lengthy nine-week-long stay during which he crisscrossed the country, interacted with all segments of the religious community, from Meah Shearim to Kibbutz Sa’ad, and soaked up the unique atmosphere of the country. Upon his return, he went to visit his rebbi, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, zt”l, who inquired about his impressions. Having arrived from cosmopolitan New York City, my father mentioned various phenomena reflective of a society that revolved around Jewish life experiences and the prominent role of Yiddishkeit in the public sphere. Each of these was curtly dismissed by Rabbi Hutner with the comment, “I saw the exact same thing in Warsaw or Vilna.” After nothing was left as an expression of Eretz Yisrael’s uniqueness, Rabbi Hutner roared, “And what about the kedushah? Did you not experience the kedushah, in and of itself?” It was a retort that my father never forgot—it pierced his soul and forever transformed the meaning of Eretz Yisrael for him. 

I mention this to emphasize that any discussion of the religious value of Medinat Yisrael in my father’s hashkafah must always be overshadowed by the centrality of kedushat Eretz Yisrael to the religious experience of life in Israel. The basic religious experience is the man-G-d encounter, and therefore the primary significance of Eretz Yisrael must be its role in this encounter. He deeply felt the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael, integrated it into the totality of his avodat Hashem, and saw it as enhancing the Torah that he taught and the mitzvot that he fulfilled.  

In this scheme of things, kedushah with its transcendental nature is paramount, while the State, which is a political vehicle and a means rather than an end (I vividly remember his shock when someone quoted to him Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook’s statement that the state is the ultimate happiness/beatitude, ha’osher hayoter elyon) is a secondary and minor value.  

However, if the man-G-d encounter is described in the Torah as being lifnei Hashem (in the presence of Hakadosh Baruch Hu), there is an additional relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, is also crucial to religious life, that is described by the Torah—to stand and serve G-d. 

This indeed was a cardinal element of my father’s avodat Hashem—the fact that it is avodah, i.e., service. Man’s mission is to serve G-d and to harness all of his resources to realize G-d’s goals in our world.  

The shortcomings and failures of the Jewish State are not a reason to reject it, but an additional spur to action, just as its historical and religious accomplishments are not a reason for it to rest upon its laurels but an incentive to further these goals. 

His bar mitzvah parashah was Bamidbar, and he always viewed the role of Shevet Levi, defined in that parashah as service (avodah and sheirut), as a paradigm for the basic posture of religious life. He approvingly quoted Milton’s “they also serve who only stand and wait” as an expression of man’s placing himself at G-d’s command, and he very much identifies in his writings with F.H. Bradley’s description of man as being at “my station and its duties.” In the broader sense, this is part of a worldview that sees man as a proactive being with a Divine mandate to improve and preserve the world, l’ovdah ul’shomrah; it is his mission to do so in the service of his Creator. Man’s subordination and indebtedness to his Creator is not only a metaphysical fact but also an obligation to devote oneself to serving the Almighty. As Yeshayahu (44:21) states: “. . . atah yetzarticha, eved li, I have formed you. You are My servant.” 

The role of man in improving the world is not limited to nature and science, but is equally true of history and society. The Torah emphasizes the need to engage history, and the proper organization of society is a major concern of it. Thus, Medinat Yisrael is not only an important expression of Jewish identity, a safe haven for Jews and a national home for which we must thank Hakadosh Baruch Hu, but also an opportunity and a call to action. If the Rambam, following in Yirmiyahu’s footsteps, claimed that true knowledge of G-d requires emulating His attributes of justice, mercy and charity, chesed, tzedakah u’mishpat, in the world, and if it is incumbent upon us to improve Jewish life and the life of Jews, then the challenge of establishing a just and religious society is primarily in a Jewish state. If the Torah teaches that realizing Jewish historical destiny is a goal of ours, then the place to do so is in Eretz Yisrael. The shortcomings and failures of the Jewish State are not a reason to reject it, but an additional spur to action, just as its historical and religious accomplishments are not a reason to rest upon its laurels but an incentive to further these goals. When explaining his decision to go on aliyah, my father commented that he wanted to be a participant on the playing field and not a spectator in the grandstands of the Jewish historical drama. He was a soldier committed to Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s missions, and it was thus that he viewed Medinat Yisrael. Baruch Hashem, he was able to contribute much as an operative of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. He had the privilege, together with others, to be matziv gvul almanah,* in Gush Etzion and to have a significant impact upon the stability and prosperity of a fledgling settlement that is now an established community. His major contribution—the establishment of a major center of Torah learning and his articulation for Religious Zionist society of a vision in which history and general knowledge are integrated into Torah, the legitimization of Torah study that goes hand in hand with military service, as well as representing a worldview that fused religious humanism with Torah—was not only an educational and Torah accomplishment but also a direct contribution to the spiritual well-being of Israel and, therefore, a fulfillment of mitzvat yishuv ha’Aretz. 

Anyone familiar with my father knows that every topic that he discussed was always demonstrated to have several different qualities. Medinat Yisrael would certainly elicit from him a multi-faceted presentation that would highlight quite a few positive values associated with its establishment and emphasize the need for thanksgiving to Hakadosh Baruch Hu for these accomplishments. He would not shy away from addressing negative elements and would frame the challenges facing us to enhance and improve life in Medinat Yisrael. Due to space constraints, I have focused upon one particular point, but the reader must bear in mind that this is a very partial presentation of his view and but a single perspective selected from an array of perspectives that my father had regarding Medinat Yisrael. It is, though, a characteristic and powerful example of his worldview and the ability of an inspired and devoted individual to serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu and to contribute to Am Yisrael through his service. May his perspective and example inspire us. 

Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein is co-rosh yeshivah of Yeshivat Har Etzion.

*Ed. Note: The Gemara states that one who sees Jewish houses in Eretz Yisrael that have been restored after the Churban recites a blessing “matziv gvul almanah,” He who reestablishes a widow in her borders,” which refers to the restoration of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael.   

The village of Ein Kerem, beside Jerusalem, during the British Mandate in the Land of Israel, circa 1920. Courtesy of the Israel Government Press Office/Larsson


More in this section:

The Birth of the Jewish State: Rabbinic Views and Perspectives compiled and translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski

The Return to Zion—An Excerpt by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik

Voices of Faith: Memories of 1948 by Rabbanit Miriam Hauer, Rabbanit Puah Shteiner and Rabbi Berel Wein; interviews by Toby Klein Greenwald

A Bridge of Paper by Charlotte Friedland


This article was featured in the Summer 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
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