Jerusalem (Mar. 26)
Rabbi Chaim Joseph Sonnenfeld, the head of the Agudath Israel Community in Palestine, died to-day after an illness of about three months.
Rabbi Sonnenfeld, who was 83 last November, had been living in Palestine for about 60 years He was one of the greatest living Talmudists. When he came to Palestine as a young man he at once assumed the leadership of the extreme orthodox section. He was an unbending antagonist of the Zionists, including the Mizrachi. Personally, he was held in great respect even by his opponents as a scholar and a man of absolute sincerity. He refused repeated offers of important Rabbinic appointments in order to remain in the Holy Land, and he lived a life of poverty.
When Rabbi Sonnenfeld celebrated his 80th. birthday in 1928, his community wished to arrange a big reception in his honour, but he refused to allow any celebrations. On his 83rd. birthday last November, the District Commissioner for Jerusalem, Major Campbell, and Mrs. Campbell, visited him at his home to convey their congratulations.
It is now close on sixty years since the Almighty privileged me to come to the Holy Land, to take pleasure in its stones and to favour the dust thereof, Rabbi Sonnenfeld wrote in an appeal for peace which he issued in December 1929, after the Palestine outbreak. Providence privileged me to be an eye-witness to the reconstruction of the ruins of Jerusalem, to the extension of its settlement without the called city. Houses were built, colonies were founded. Torah, religious and charitable institutions were established, as well as houses for old people. People living by the labour of their hands or by business came to the Holy Land. During my stay in the Holy Land, specially inspired people were awakened to perform the precepts of Yishuv Eretz-Israel (Revival of Palestine) by agricultural work, and “to eat of its fruit and enjoy its produce”, thus creating the opportunity to exercise those precepts connected with the earth. Thus, with the help of the Almighty, colonies were established in Judea and Galilee, wherein I afterwards had the pleasure to walk and give praises and thanks to Him Who set up the “border of the widow”.
The Wailing Wall, the place whence the Divine Presence has never moved, even in its ruined state, has been a place of refuge and prayer for all the inhabitants of the Holy Land. Whenever the Jewish soul craved to be near the Divine Presence, whenever a Jewish heart felt a need for prayer or supplication, it was in this holy place that it found relief and from here the prayer ascended to heaven. This holy place serves also as a beacon-light for the whole world. The scattered of Israel at the farthest end of the world direct their hearts, whilst at prayer, towards this divine place; and when they are in trouble they ask their brethren in Jerusalem to offer up a prayer for them at this wall.
I have now attained the ago of eighty years and I am punished by the Almighty to witness in my old age the shaking of the foundations of what has taken scores of years to build up by the hard toil and the sweat of the brow of people who have sacrificed their lives with holy love and atrong will, on the altar of establishing a sound and healthy settlement in the Holy Land.
I here appeal to all classes of the population in our Holy Land, particularly to our non-Jewish neighbours; and out of the depth of my broken and aching heart I beg them to have pity on the Holy Land and to stay the evil and destroying hand. Remove hatred from your hearts and do not allow yourselves to be misled by people who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, by mistaken apprehensions, endeavour to sow seeds of separation among the various classes of inhabitants. Lend no ear to reports and libels which have no foundation.
The Jewish inhabitants of the Holy Land mean no harm to any of the rest of the population. They, like all the inhabitants of the country, strive for the progress of the land to the benefit of all its inhabitants. There is in the Holy Land sufficient room for all to live therein peacefully, without one interfering with what belongs to the other.
The Jewish people do not, under any consideration desire to lay hands on that which is not theirs and much less to touch any of the rights of the rest of the inhabitants to the places they have been holding and cherishing in respect and holiness. There is, particularly, no foundation whatsoever for the rumour that the Jews want to acquire the “Har Habaith” (Mosque of Omar site). On the contrary, since, by reason of our sins, we were exiled from our land, our Temple was destroyed and we are without the means of purification set out by our Torah, it is forbidden to any Jewish person to put his foot on the site of the Har Habaith (Mosque of Omar site), until the arrival of the righteous Messiah, who, by the spirit of the Lord, will righteously reign for the welfare of entire humanity and will give us back the means of purification prescribed in our Torah.
I publish my words for all to hear, and I hope that all just people of the nation will recognise the justice of what I say, and will use every possible effort to re-establish peace in the Holy Land, removing suspicion and jealousy from the hearts of all the inhabitants. Then the Almighty will favour our work and direct our activities, so that we may be privileged to see the upbuilding and flourishing of the Holy Land for the happiness of the whole world, and the Divine Presence will rest among us, as in years of old.