HaRav Kook zts"l on Drafting Yeshiva Students

The story below, which needs no introduction, was related by Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen, Chief rabbi of Haifa, and translated by Rabbi Chanan Morrison.

Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook,

Judaism הרב צבי יהודה קוק זצ"ל.
הרב צבי יהודה קוק זצ"ל.
אתר 'ישיבה'

"When you wage war against your enemies..." (Deut. 21:10)

Rabbi She'ar Yashuv Cohen, chief rabbi of Haifa and son of the Rav HaNazir, related the following story:

During the winter of 5708 [1947-1948], I was one of the younger students at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, as well as a member of the Haganah [the pre-state Jewish defense organization]. This was during the tense period of rioting and attacks that began after the 29th of November UN vote to establish a Jewish state, before the State of Israel was declared on the 5th of Iyyar.

In those days, there was much turmoil in the yeshiva whether the students should enlist to fight and defend. Both my father, the Rav HaNazir, and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook felt that it was incumbent upon all to go out and fight this milchemet mitzvah, a compulsory war in which all are obligated to participate.

However, those close to the rosh yeshiva, who was Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap, held that yeshiva students should continue their Torah studies in the yeshiva, and the merit of their Torah learning would bring victory in battle.

"On your walls, Jerusalem, I have posted watchmen" (Isaiah 62:6) - those watchmen are scholars, diligently studying Torah.

At that time, the situation in the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City was desperate. I came up with the idea of organizing a group of yeshiva students and establishing in the Quarter a 'Fighting-Defense Yeshiva.' The yeshiva's daily schedule would be comprised of eight hours for defense and guard duty, eight hours for Torah study, and eight hours for rest and sleep.

The proposal was brought before the Haganah command and was approved. But those close to Rabbi Charlap were totally opposed to the idea. This dispute within Mercaz HaRav disturbed me deeply, and caused me much anguish.

Later, as I exited the yeshiva, I saw huge notices pasted on the entrance to the yeshiva. It was a broadside quoting Rav Avraham Yischak HaCohen Kook zts"l,  in order to prove that yeshiva students should not be drafted into the army. When I read the notices, I was in shock. Was I acting against the teachings of Maran HaRav Kook?

Agitated and upset, I made my way down the road toward Zion Square. There I saw a figure walking toward me, slightly limping. As he came closer, I saw that it was Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, his son.

I was very close to Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah; he was like an uncle to me. When he saw my shocked look, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah became concerned. 'What happened, She'ar Yashuv? Why do you look like that? Don't be afraid, tell me.'

Under the pressure of his questioning, I told him about organizing a fighting yeshiva in the Jewish Quarter, and my distress when I saw the announcements which indicated that we were acting against the guidance of Rav Kook.

When he heard my words, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah was horrified. He grabbed me by my shoulders and began to shout, "This is a complete forgery! A distortion and utter falsehood!" His shouts echoed from one end of the street to the other. He was extremely upset.

After calming down, he explained that his father had written this letter during the First World War, regarding the draft of yeshiva students who had escaped from Russia to England. Rav Kook felt that these students should be exempt from the draft, just as the British exempted other clergy students.

But here - Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah continued with emotion - here we are fighting for our hold on the land of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem. This is undoubtedly a milchemet mitzvah; whereas in England, the demand was that the yeshiva students fight for a foreign army.

The rabbi's words reassured me, and I asked if he would be willing to write them down so that they could be publicized. He agreed, and publicized a broadside in which he objected to the use of his father's letter to Rabbi Hertz, chief rabbi of England.

The Pamphlet

Rabbi She'ar Yashuv also asked Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah to publish his views on the matter in a more detailed and reasoned format. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah replied that there is no point in writing an article when the city is under siege and the printing presses are closed down.

Rabbi She'ar Yashuv, however, was able to get a special approval from the defense board, so that a pamphlet containing five articles was published soon after.

In his article, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah explained that joining the army at that time was important for three reasons:

  • As a matter of saving lives and pikuach nefesh;
  • To fulfill the mitzvah of conquering the Land;
  • Due to the great public kiddush Hashem when the nation is redeemed from danger.

A Copy for Rabbi She'ar Yashuv

Even though Rabbi She'ar Yashuv was the one who had initiated the pamphlet's publication, he himself did not receive a copy when it was printed. Only several months later, due to the special circumstances of that time, did he receive a copy.

Rabbi She'ar Yashuv was one of the volunteers who somehow made their way inside the Old City. He joined the fighters there, and was seriously wounded in the battles. When the Old City was captured by the Arab Legion, he was taken prisoner.

After seven months as a prisoner in Jordan, the prisoners were returned to Israel in a prisoner exchange deal. Rabbi She'ar Yashuv was brought to Zichron Yaakov to recuperate, and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah came to visit him the morning after his arrival.

Rabbi She'ar Yashuv recounted:

"The next morning, as I was removing my tefillin after morning prayers, I looked out the window. And there I saw Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah, slowly climbing the mountain! Afterward I found out that he had taken the first bus from Jerusalem, and traveled early in the morning all the way to Zichron Yaakov in order to greet me. I ran toward him, and he hugged and kissed me. He cried over me like a child. The truth is that my situation was so serious that everyone had nearly given up all hope. Until then, such a thing had never happened - returning alive from captivity in an Arab country. But King Abdullah wanted to show the world that he was an enlightened king who respected international law....

"After his outburst of emotion, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah put his hand in his coat pocket and brought out a small pamphlet, containing his article about defending the country. Inside was an inscription: 'For my dear beloved friend - the initiator, advisor, and solicitor [of this tract]. This pamphlet is kept from the day of its appearance, until God's redeemed will return in peace, and joyfully come to Zion.'

"I still have that pamphlet, carefully stored in my possession."

((From Mashmiah Yeshuah, pp. 270-272, by R. Simcha Raz and Hilla Valberstein, translated by R. Chanan Morrison and sent by him to Arutz Sheva. Rabbi Chanan Morrison, of Mitzpeh Yericho, is author of "Gold From the Land of Israel". His website, ravkooktorah.org, is dedicated to presenting the Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook)