Menu JTA Search

Special Interview a Very Influential Rabbi in Israel

Rabbi Eliezer Schach, the illustrious dean of the famous Yeshiva of Ponivezh in Bnai Brak, is very influential in the internal politics of Israel.

He reads no newspapers, nor does he listen to radio news. He needs very little sleep and for long hours during the day and night he is busy learning the Torah and Musar (Morals). He delivers Shiurim (lessons) in his own yeshiva of Bnai Brak and in other yeshivas. He is the chairman of Vaad Hayeshivas in Jerusalem and of a number of other educational institutions.

Schach, who is in his eighties, is the recognized leader par excellence of the Lithuanian Torah World. One of the greatest Talmudic scholars of our time, he was a yeshiva dean in pre-war Poland and arrived in Palestine in 1941, during World War II, from Vilna.

For many years, he derived his strong political influence from being one of the chairmen of the Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Israel. The other chairman is the Rebbe of Gur.

Shortly before the last Knesset elections, Schach resigned from the Council of Sages. He gave no reason for his sudden resignation. But his close confidants told me, during a recent visit to Israel, that he was unhappy with the attitudes of his co-chairman, the Gerer Rebbe.

Actually, they represent two worlds. Schach is the undisputed leader and top spokesman for the “Litvak Yeshivas” of the “Misnagdim” (opponents of the Hasidic movement) camp, while the Rebbe of Gur, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, enjoys the unshakable admiration of his Hasidim.

LEADING POLITICIANS SEEK RABBI’S ADVICE

Leading politicians of Israel’s various parties have tried hard to see Schach in order to hear his advice and get him on their side. He has turned them down. His closet adviser and confidant is Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz of the Aguda, who is of Hungarian origin and who studied, before World War II, at the well-known “Lithuanian” Yeshiva of Mir, which was then part of Poland.

When I recently visited Schach in his small apartment adjoining the Ponivezh Yeshiva in Bnai Brak, the entrance was full of people — from Israel and the United States – who were waiting to receive his blessings. Although he usually doesn’t receive journalists for interviews, he greeted this reporter with a friendly smile. It was previously agreed that we would have a “conversation”.

Schach stressed, during our conversation, that “only the observance of the Torah can guarantee the existence of the Jewish people.” He continued: “The existence of Israel will be assured if the Jews will observe the Shabes. Unfortunately, nowadays, there are many houses that are empty of Jewish contents. Assimilation also prevails in Israel.”

Schach pointed out that the “Jews shouldn’t tease the goyim because until the arrival of the Messiah we are all in golus (exile.) Also Israel is in golus — in Golus America.” The principle of not teasing the Gentiles is, according to him, relevant to all situations.

The hatred toward the Jews, he declared, has not decreased with the establishment of the State of Israel. The reverse is true. It is on the rise because the Gentiles are envious. Jews shouldn’t tease the Soviets either, he said.

To my question whether or not he intends to visit the United States, he gave a negative answer. He jokingly said: “I am a Zionist, who lives only in Israel.”

NEXT STORY