President, Mizrachi Zionist Organization of America
The National Mizrachi Convention which will open its sessions this Thursday in Rochester, N. Y., will gather at a most decisive moment in the annals of the orthodox Zionist movement. Its stand on the issues as to what shall be the status of the faith of Israel on the Land of Israel will determine the future course of this movement in this country and elsewhere.
At the very outset it must be made perfectly clear that the Mizrachi stands at the parting of the ways in relation to the Zionist movement as a whole and to the manner and procedure which have been adopted in recent years in the process of the up building of our Homeland.
“The land of Israel, for the people of Israel, in the spirit of the Law of Israel” is of the Mizrachi program. This program presupposes the recognition of three fundamentals, “the land, the people, and the Torah” as the three cornerstones upon which the future not only of Jews but also of Judaism, not only of the renaissance of Jewish physical life but also of Jewish spiritual and cultural life must be erected.
THE NECESSARY BALANCE
The Mizrachi has, since its inception three decades ago, formulated its unshakeable belief in the historic necessity for integrating these three elements into the new Jewish life which we are endeavoring to create and to further in the land of our fathers. The elimination of, or the relegating to the background, of any one of these foundations would, in our view, inevitably lead to a catastrophe. As the architects of the new structure we should always look out for the necessary balance lest the structure defy the plan and, losing shape, totter, crumble, and collapse.
Since that memorable day when the founders and leaders of the Mizrachi movement took their seats within the halls of the Zionist Congress our movement has had to face a difficult battle on two fronts. To be sure, this was a truly Jewish war, a war of the spirit, a war of elucidation, a war of patience and of persuasion. Standing with both feet firmly upon the ground of Jewish traditions, steeped in undivided loyalty to the precepts and doctrines of the Jewish law and lore, the Mizrachi encountered opposition on the part of those who stood nearest to it. There were the very elements who, like the Mizrachi, stand with both feet firmly upon the ground of the Torah, who yield to none in their greatness in the field of Jewish learning and in their absolute identification with Traditional Judaism but who have not as yet attained, for perfectly understandable historic reasons, an understanding of the need for national cohesion and for national concentrated effort for the realization of our religious and national destiny. This was the encounter of the Mizrachi with forces of the extreme right.
THE MIZRACHI’S ISSUE
However, the battle had to be carried on within the Zionist movement itself with those who stood at the extreme left. Here again it had to be a truly Jewish war, a battle of the spirit, of patience, of perseverance, of persecution. For the Mizrachi fully appreciated the contribution to the preservation of Jewish life and for the renaissance of our people and our land on the part of these elements whose understanding of and devotion to the problems of Jewish life is as yet limited to the national values of the land and the Hebrew language.
The issue which the Mizrachi has repeatedly been compelled to take with this element centered in their failure to appreciate the fact that although they may constitute the majority at the Zionist Congress, the bulk of the Jewish masses will be repelledâ€”at any rate not attracted toâ€”from our historic task in Palestine should the movement fail to take into consideration these fun## mentals of Jewish doctrine and practice which have always characterized and governed the thoughts of our people.
To properly appreciate the position of the Mizrachi in the Zionist movement and within the framework of the Palestinian activity it is essential to always bear in mind a fact of singular importance:
NOT A CLERICAL PARTY
That the Mizrachi has never regarded itself as a clerical party, or as a political group which seeks to impose the power of religion on the state or the community or to institute in Palestine such a regime as would be a violation of the principles of the freedom of conscience, a system that would pry into the life of individuals. Nothing of the kind has ever been advocated or demanded. All the efforts of the Mizrachi in and without the Zionist Congress have always been aimed at the maintenance of the balance in the hope that when Yishub advances and grows stronger the healthful forces of Jewish life, of tradition, and of genuine Jewish culture will assert themselves for the preservation of genuine Jewish character in the new Jewish life in Palestine.
Events of recent years, however, and particularly of the recent year, have shown that this method of patience and hope of maintaining the balance is no longer adequate. The Mizrachi can no longer stand idly by looking at the repeated occurrences of flagrant public violation of the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays, indulged in by organizations and groups who derive their support from public Jewish funds; on land owned and operated with the assistance of public Jewish funds to which the observant and Jewishly loyal masses of our people generously and hopefully contribute.
A CASE IN POINT
One fact recently reported in an extensive correspondence between the Jewish Community Council and the Workers’ Council of Haifa illustrates the situation sufficiently. The Workers’ Council maintains for the Jewish workers of the city public kitchens to which all workers, regardless of religious views, must resort. The workers’ kitchen, it appears, has consistently refused to purchase meat from Jewish butchers. In defiance of their own sacred principle of “Jewish labor”, the leaders of the establishment prefer to purchase trefah meat including probably camels’ meat, to feed the Jewish workers although every effort has been made to point out to them that the butchers are prepared to supply them with kosher meat at prices equally low if not lower. All the efforts of the Jewish Community Council to put an end to this shocking condition have met with indifference, evasion and foul excuses.
The Mizrachi can no longer stand idly by contemplating the trend which is manifesting itself in the Hebrew educational system of Palestine where instruction is carried on not only not in accordance with but in direct defiance of the principles and traditions for which so many countless generations have lived, labored, and died the death of martyrs. Taking for the sake of argument the position of a Zionism which is only nationally conscious, the Mizrachi finds it necessary to raise a voice of solemn warning: whither will such a system lead us? Can the life of the people be built merely upon the admiration of and affection for a language?
THE DANGERS FOR THE YOUNG
Where is the guarantee that the younger generation now being reared in the present Hebrew educational system, brought up in the hollow atmosphere of a secular nationalism, will not within a decade or so, pressed into a narrow strip of land which does not exceed the territory of Vermont, on an island which is surrounded by a sea of Arabic-speaking peoples, lured by the attraction across the Mediterranean, fascinated by the wealth and the opportunities across the Atlantic, will not such a generation, so poorly equipped in national resistance, become susceptible to disillusionment, to abandonment, to desertion, to collapse?
It is for these reasons that the Mizrachi delegation at the last Zionist Congress has formulated its demands. What did we implore the Zionist Convention to do? Merely that the Congress goes on record as declaring:
(a) That the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays are the days of rest for the entire Yishub and that no labor, handiwork, or commerce be carried on these days;
(b) That the Keren Kayemeth be called upon to insert into its agreement with settlers on its land a special clause obligating such settlers to observe the Sabbath by abstaining from any work in the field or garden:
(c) That the Congress obligates all Zionist groups who maintain public eating places in cities, villages, or kvuzoth to see to it that such establishments are kept kosher in accordance with Jewish law;
(d) That the Congress obligates all Zionist groups and parties to abstain from organizing public gatherings, games, or outings, on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays;
(e) That the Congress calls upon the Zionist Executive to demand of the Palestinian government to release Jewish workers who are employed in government offices or public works from doing work on the Sabbath and on the Jewish holidays;
(f) That the Congress demand that the Palestinian government validate the Sabbath ordinance for the Jewish settlements.
In submitting these demands the Mizrachi made clear that upon their realization the participation of the Mizrachi in Zionist work depends. Our demands have been ignored and thus a very grave crisis has arisen.
Grave indeed is the situation. Is it hopeless? It is not for the Mizrachi to answer this question. We should like to entertain the hope that the Zionist movement will be blessed with the vision, foresight, and understanding which are necessary to bring about a solution that will, with the aid of God, make possible the harmonius and speedy upbuilding of Eretz Israel in the true and historic spirit of our people.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.