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Palestine Jewry is Stirred over Organization of Autonomous Communities

February 21, 1928
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(By Our Jerusalem Correspondent)

The Holy City is in a state of commotion; there are meetings, and proclamations, appeals and conflicts without end. The hundred or so Jewish quarters in Jerusalem are stirred to their depths, there are countless disputes and argumentations. And it is not confined to the men-women and children are also engaged in it.

What has happened? The new law regulating the Jewish Communities in Palestine has come into force, since January 1st.

The Agudath Israel and part of the more moderate Orthodoxy, too. are dissatisfied with the law. complaining that it has been built on anti-religious foundations, since it gives women the franchise, and the freethinkers, that is to say, those Jews who are not members of the synagogues, are also entitled to vote in the election of the Rabbis. They wanted membership of the Jewish Communities to be confined to observing Jews, that women should not have the vote or the right to be elected, and that the Rabbi should be the head of the Community.

DISSENTIENTS FOR SECESSION

As long as the law had not yet been published in its final form, the dissentients contented themselves with sending protests and memorandums to the Government and the League of Nations and writing articles in the Agudist organ “Kol Yisroel.” Now that the law is in force, and the Vaad Leumi. the chief organ of the Palestine Yishub secures the power, the dissentients are unable to contain themselves. They have jumped at the Article in the new law, which gives every Jew the right to declare that he is leaving the Jewish Community, and there is now an agitation going on to induce the people to leave the Jewish Community. The first move in this campaign was the big demonstration of mourning and lamentation held at the Wailing Wall. An appeal was published, signed by Rabbi Chaim Sonnenfeld and fifty other Rabbis. a day of mourning was proclaimed, and the people were called to the Waiting Wall. It had been intended to make it also a day of fasting, but the Fast of Tibet had occurred only a few days previously, and there could not be two fasts in one week. And the Agudath Israel collected a big gathering at the Wailing Wall, psalms were recited, speeches were delivered, and the Shofar was blown, as if it was the the greatest catastrophe in Jewish life. Cables were sent to the League of Nations, to the Colonial Office and to Lord Plumer.

But the feal campaign started only when the Agudath Israel and the other dissentients began flooding the Jewish quarters with proclamations calling on all Jews in the name of religion and Judaism to sign a declaration to the Government announcing their decision to leave the Jewish Community. The proclamations are issued not only in Hebrew, but also in Yiddish. Spagnol and Arabic. They are signed by leaders of the Agudath Israel, by Rabbis both of the extreme and the moderate groups, by respected Jewish residents and by leaders of the institutions of the old Yishub. Letters have been published from the Belzer Rebbe. the Sokolover Rebbe and other famous Rabbis. The Gerer Chassidim, who are not in good relations with the Agudath Israel, are carrying on a separate agitation. The Council of all the Kolelim. which distributes Halukah among the Landsmanschaften, is also engaging in an agitation of its own. Each group is working separately, but they all have the same object-to fight the common enemy, the Vaad Leumi.

AGUDAH ADVOCATES SEPARATISM

And now comes the campaign of collecting the declarations of those who intend to leave the Jewish Community. This campaign is still in progress, at its full height. According to the law. the declaration of each Separatist must be submitted not direct to the Government, but through the Vaad Leumi or some other authorized representative. The Agudath Israel and other dissentient groups are using this provision. They have printed thousands of copies of special forms which give the text of a declaration of secession from the Jewish Community, and officials of Agudist institutions. Yeshiba students and others are going from house to house. urging all and sundry to sign the declarations. They claim to have already secured thousands of signatures. It is reported that people who live in houses owned by the Kolelim are threatened with ejection if they do not sign. Those who hold positions in the Institutions are threatened with dismissal. Other Jews are being told that the atheists, the Sabbath breakers. are out to introduce into the Jewish Community all manner of impious practices which oftend against the laws of God and the Torah. Merchants and businessmen are being worked upon with frightful tales of the heavy load of taxation which the Vaad Leumi would impose on the members of the Jewish Communities.

It is said that very strange things are happening in connection with the campaign. Yeshiba students, who in the ordinary way are very shy. find their way now into the kitchens to try to persuade the housewife and the women servants to sign the declaration. Sometimes they come across a Chaluza who is working as a servant in the house, and then there is trouble. In some places fighting has occurred and several young men who have tried to obstruct the signature collectors in their work have been arrested and sentenced to a couple of weeks’ imprisonment.

An interesting point is that when it comes to the Rabbinical Council, the institution which is given such wide recognition and powers under the new law, we find that with the exceptions of Rabbis Kook and Jacob Meir, all its members are taking part in the agitation against the law. The reason is apparently that they fear that the new elections will oust them from the Rabbinical Council, and this is probably the case also with those who are in control of the administration of Shechita and of burial funds, and fear that they may lose their jobs. The Agudath Israel and the moderate Orthodox Party, which supports Rabbi Kook against Rabbi Sonnenfeld, have joined forces for the time being. They will probably find it impossible to work together afterwards, and may be expected that they will fall apart into two separate communities, but meanwhile they are both engaged in the same agitation. They are boasting that in Jerusalem, Safed. Tiberias and Hebron, they, the Separatists, will be the majority of the Jewish population, and will thus compel the Government to give them the rights of the official community.

The Jewish Community of Palestine, that model Jewry which was to be the seed out of which the Jewish renaissance would grow, has been given a little measure of autonomy of self-administration. And it is incapable of uniting to utilize its rights.

CHIEF RABBI NOT IN CONFLICT

I have spoken about it with Rabbi Kook. who is standing aside, taking no part in the conflicts. He is the Chief Rabbi, the man holding the supreme position, both now and under the new law. Nobody is dreaming of deposing him. Surely he ought to come out in support of the Vaad Leumi. and declare himself publicly against the disrupters. He has told me that he does not interfere because all the disputing parties, all the various sections of the people, are equally dear to him. He finds good and bad aspects among them all, among those who are organized around the Vaad Leumi, among the moderate orthodoxy and among the Agudath Israel. He is ready to assist the good in each of these parties. He is neutral and desires to continue to be neutral. He will ask the Government to allow him to be registered in all the Jewish Communities which will be organized or else to be registered in none. Otherwise, he is prepared even to resign his lost. He has enough work to do, he adds, without holding the official Chief Rabbinate. He has his Yeshiva, he has the supervision of a number of institutions of the old Yishub, he even takes part in the work of the Diskin Orphanage, which is in the hands of the Agudath Israel, and he has his literary work, he stated.

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