Hearts of stone, stones with hearts

Excerpt chapter from Arise and Shine! describes Rabbi Kook’s fight to safeguard Jewish right to pray at Kotel.

Mordechai Sones,

Heart of stone
Heart of stone
iStock

Next week, novelist and film director Tzvi Fishman is publishing two sequels to his popular novel Tevye in the Promised Land, which brings the beloved milkman from Fiddler on the Roof to Eretz Yisrael to become a pioneer settler of the Land.

Tevye’s adventures reached a climax in the year 1917 when Tevye and friends in the Hebrew Brigade helped the British chase the Turks out of the Holy Land. The two sequels continue the always-compelling Zionist saga up to 1939 when Tevye, his children and grandchildren, take part in the Jewish underground’s dramatic actions against British rule.

Fishman says he hopes to publish another two volumes, bringing the story up to the founding of the State of Israel. In honor of Rabbi Kook’s yahrtzeit this week we present an excerpt chapter from Arise and Shine! that describes Rabbi Kook’s fight to safeguard the right of the Jews to pray at the Kotel, based on historical records. The soon-to-be-published novels will be available at Amazon Books and in Israel at Beitel.co.il.

Hearts of Stone, Stones with Hearts

Ever since killing the British policemen, Tevye spent less and less time with the holy Chief Rabbi. Because of his deep depression over Hava’s savage murder, the milkman kept to himself, not wanting to project his gloom onto others. When people told him that excessive mourning was forbidden, Tevye didn’t respond. He kept his pain and his anger to himself. Killing the policemen had afforded him some release from his rage, but he couldn’t go on killing policemen forever. In a meeting with Tzvi, Nachshon, and Avraham Stern, everyone had agreed that, for the time being, it was best to cease their private war against the British until an underground army could be trained and equipped with the weapons needed to mount a sustained campaign against the foreign occupiers, and against any renewed Arab violence. Tevye also avoided Rabbi Kook, fearing that the all-knowing Torah Sage would see in his face that he had taken the law into his own hands in killing the agents of British rule. While Tevye himself had no guilt feelings about his action, feeling that in both instances his life had been threatened, he knew that Rabbi Kook lived on a higher plane of universal morality, and that, perhaps, in his higher spiritual world, murder was murder, unless the killing came about in a national war, sanctioned by a government, and not through one man’s private vendetta.

Ruchel’s husband, Nachman, took Tevye’s place accompanying Rabbi Kook to the Kotel to recite his midnight prayers. Due to the limitations the British had placed on Jewish prayer at the Wall, Rabbi Kook appeared there less often. Sitting on the floor of his study, in addition to his mourning over the destruction of the Temple, his heart mourned deeply over the Jews who had been slaughtered in the Arab pogroms throughout the country. , Nachman told Tevye that since the massacres, the aging Rabbi would only eat black bread and drink water. If he slept, he would lie on the floor in his study, with no pillow under his head. Nachman said that Rabbi Kook’s wife, the Rabbinit, was terribly worried about her husband’s failing health. She had forced him to visit a doctor because of the abdominal pains he began to suffer in the aftermath of the carnage and killing. But when Rabbi Kook was called to give testimony before the International Western Wall Commission, he appeared like a lion defending its cubs. Tevye wanted to be there to lend whatever support he could in the battle.

The hearing was held in a large, stately room in the Government Palace. The three, European-dressed Judges of the Commission, a Swede, a Swiss, and the Dutch chairman, sat at a long conference table. A neat pile of files rested before each Judge. Translators sat directly behind them, ready to translate the testimony of the Arabs and Jews who were called before the panel. Transcribers sat nearby to record every word. The Commission had given permission to the Grand Mufti to present his testimony in writing without attending the hearings, but Rabbi Kook insisted on being present himself. British officials and diplomats sat at a long table to the right of the hall. Arab leaders and Zionist spokesmen sat facing them, across the way. Yitzhak Ben Zvi was present, along with the lawyer, Mordechai Eliash, who had prepared a comprehensive brief for the Commission, detailing the long history of Jewish People with the outer Wall of the Second Temple courtyard. Expressions of worry gripped the faces of the Jews. Two British soldiers stood like statues by the door. Toward the back of the hall, Tevye sat in the gallery of spectators alongside Tzvi, Moishe, Nachshon, Hevedke, Nachman, David Raziel, Moshe Segal, and Uri Tzvi Greenberg. Journalists filled the rows reserved for the press.

The blond-haired, Commission Chairman was a noted lawyer and professor of history in Amsterdam. He banged his gavel on the table and called for Rabbi Kook to enter. Immediately, all chattering ceased. Heads turned toward the door as the Chief Rabbi entered the hall, clutching a Bible in his hand. All of the Jews rose in respect. The regal figure stood erect and alert, his eyes taking in the scene with a glance. Dressed in his long satin robe and fur shtreimel, he looked like a king who was about to deliver an important address to the nation.

At the sight of the renowned spiritual leader, the three Judges sat up straight in their chairs. Faces in the crowd looked on in anticipation, sensing that the outcome of the Commission’s findings would be determined by the Chief Rabbi’s words. He stepped onto the small stage in the center of the hall and placed the Bible on the witness stand.

The Chairman cleared his voice and spoke in English with a distinctly Dutch accent. “This International Commission has been given the task of deciding to whom the Western Wall belongs. As Chief Rabbi of Palestine, you have been invited to present your views on the subject.”

He looked to Rabbi Kook for his response. Even though his English was quite good, the eminent Torah scholar responded in Hebrew.

“What do you mean, ‘The International Commission will decide to whom the Kotel belongs?’ Does this committee, or the League of Nations, own the Kotel?”

His tone was adamant and challenging, as if he had come to fight. The three Judges looked surprised. The crowd responded with an outburst of murmuring. A light of hope shone on the faces of the Jews. A banging gavel called for silence. Rabbi Kook continued.

“The entire world belongs to the Creator – Blessed be He – and He proportioned the lands of the Earth to all peoples, bequeathing ownership of the entire Land of Israel, including the Kotel, to the Jewish People. No power in the world, not the League of Nations, nor the Empire of England, and not this Commission, can take this G-d given right away from the Jewish People.”

The Gentile Judges looked surprised by the Rabbi’s bold statement. The Arabs mumbled in protest and laughed. Rabbi Kook held up the Bible.

“I would like to enter this Bible as evidence. Again and again, over a hundred times, it clearly states that the L-rd, King of the World, gave the Land of Israel to the Jews. There can be no more certain proof than this. All of the Christian world, and the Muslims, who base their religion on the foundations of Judaism, accept the Bible as truth. Here then, is proof of our claim that the Kotel, and the entire Land of Israel, is ours.”

“Bravo! Bravo!” the poet, Uri Zvi Greenberg, called out loudly.

Rabbi Kook held out the Holy Scripture. The Judges exchanged confused looks. Glancing at the court courier, the Chairman nodded, and the court official stepped forward and took the Bible from Rabbi Kook’s hand. He set it down on the table in front of the Judges. A burst of protest sounded from the Arabs. In contrast, the Jews looked pleased with the proceedings.

“The Chief Rabbi can continue with his testimony,” the Chairman said.

Rabbi Kook seized the speaker’s podium. His eyes swept the room to give the impression that his words were for everyone.

“Since the Reuters News Agency published a manifesto written by the Mufti of Jerusalem regarding recent violent events and detailing the Arab position on the Kotel, I feel obligated to restore honor to the truth which has been desecrated by his words.”

Forgetting his personal darkness, Tevye listened attentively, glad to be at hearing, realizing that more than supporting the Rabbi by his presence, the Rabbi was strengthening him and healing his wounded faith. Rabbi Kook spoke slowly, allowing time for the translators to convey his words to the Judges.
“The entire civilized world knows that over the ages the Jews never stopped praying at the Western Wall. Everyone knows that it is called the Wailing Wall because of the Jewish tears which have been shed there in heartfelt prayer, generation after generation, ever since the Temple was destroyed, and since the Jewish People were forcefully exiled from their Holy Land, a thousand years before the Muslim religion began.”

The Arabs leaders burst into shouts of protest. One jumped to his feet. With an angry expression, the Chairman banged loudly with his gavel until silence was restored. Then he nodded for the witness to continue. Like an experienced trial lawyer, Rabbi Kook gazed around at the people in the hall, as if they were the true judges of the case.

“Still fresh are the graves of the innocent Jews who were savagely slaughtered in the pogroms which recently bloodied this Land. In his desire to remove the blame from himself, and from other Arab leaders who incited the Arabs to riot against the Jews, the Mufti accuses the victims. He claims that the Jews were planning to take over the Temple Mount. In his written testimony, he maintains that the news spread throughout the country that Jews were attacking Arabs, and that Islam’s holy places were in danger. This is not true. No such plan existed. No Jew raised a hand against an Arab. The incitement was solely on the part of the Arabs themselves. They initiated the massacres.”

Again, the Arabs reacted with shouts of protest. The loud voice of the Chief Rabbi silenced them. His eyes blazed when he looked toward them, glaring with holy accusation.

“With dreadful butchery, Arabs killed and slaughtered elderly Rabbis, respected teachers and innocent students, whose only desire in this world was to spread the word of G-d and His Torah.”

Rabbi Kook turned back toward the Judges.

“They defiled pure and modest women!”

The Judges listened with stern expressions. Reminded of the bitter day, Hevedke trembled. A volcanic feeling of revenge awakened in Tevye’s dulled heart.

“They ruthlessly butchered precious and delicate young children. Not to mention the fact that they burned, desecrated, and defiled sacred Torah scrolls which the entire world, including the more enlightened leaders of Christianity and Islam, consider holy, recognizing its verses as the word of G-d.”
Rabbi Kook paused as he set his penetrating gaze upon each of the Gentile Judges, touching them personally, seeking to make a human connection beyond their outer, official facades.

“They also burned and desecrated many synagogues in a wild fury designed to further their political ambition of driving the Jews from the Promised Land, which the Jewish People inhabited long before Muhammed was born, and which the British Parliament recognizes as the Homeland of the Jews.”

Once again, the Arabs in the hall burst out in angry protest. The Judges seemed taken aback by the rowdy behavior. The banging of the gavel went ignored. Rabbi Kook waited patiently at the podium. Tzvi and Moishe shared happy smiles. Even the secular Zionists seemed inspired by the Rabbi’s speech. British officials looked on grimly, as if they are losing the battle. Fiercely, the frustrated Chairman pounded his gavel until order was restored.

“I will have protesters and hecklers removed from the hall!” he barked.

Gradually, the shouting ceased.

“The Chief Rabbi will kindly continue,” he said.

“I am certain that the Arab nation as a whole, including the majority of Arabs living in Eretz Yisrael, are greatly pained and humiliated over the evil deeds committed by a wild minority. We hope that all of the inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael will join together to rebuild our beloved, but neglected Land, everyone adding his part for the betterment of all, Arabs and Jews alike.”

Everyone listened. Even the soldiers at the door took an interest.

“We hope that the sacred tradition of peaceful relations and mutual benefit will triumph over all of the deceitful schemes of the inciters, and over all of the bloodshed, slaughter of innocents, and evil which the murderous rabble-rousers seek to spread across the Land, to their own detriment and disgrace. ‘For the L-rd will comfort Zion; He will fortify its ruins.’”

The Rabbi’s remarks sparked another round of protest from the Arabs, who shouted that the Jews were the inciters of the riot, with their armed marches to conquer the Temple Mount and their plans to chase the Arabs out of the country. When order was restored, the Judge from Switzerland addressed a question to the calm but adamant Rabbi.


“Why, sir, do you insist on fighting over the rights to this ancient stone wall? Perhaps, the League of Nations will agree to build you a new wall of beautiful Jerusalem stone, in an area where you can pray to your heart’s content.”


“There are people with hearts of stone,” the Rabbi replied. “And there are stones with the hearts of people. The stones of the Kotel are the hearts of the Jewish People. They can never be replaced. The light of G-d graces our Wall, and no other wall in the world. The eyes of the Almighty are focused upon it every single moment, forever and ever.”


A few seconds of silence reigned in the hall. For the first time, the Judge from Sweden spoke up. “It is common knowledge that Palestine and the Western Wall have not been in the possession of the Jewish People for almost 2000 years.”


Rabbi Kook answered without hesitation. “According to Jewish Law, if a man’s house is forcefully stolen, and he never gives up his protest and his longing to return, then the house remains in his ownership in everlasting perpetuity.”


Though he wasn’t religious, the Labor-Party leader, Ben Zvi, nodded in agreement. Beside him, Arabs renewed their shouting. This time, the Commission Chairman rose to his feet.


“There will be quiet during this hearing, or all of the disturbers will find themselves outside.” Turning back toward Rabbi Kook with impatience, he asked if he had anything else to add.


“I do,” the Chief Rabbi answered, turning toward the group of British officials. “Not only do we protest any change or interruption of our prayers at the Kotel, we protest the mistreatment of the Jews who pray at the Wall by the British and by the Arabs alike. British soldiers and Arabs desecrate the prayer books that are placed by the Wall. May all the people of the world remember that when your ancestors still climbed trees in the forest, we were already in possession of the sublime Psalms of King David, exalted prayers and praises to G-d, which all civilized people respect, and which you desecrate in such a callous manner.”


The British officials sat stone-faced, as if impervious to rebuke. Rabbi Kook’s voice rose to a crescendo.
“Take heed all cultured nations, the League of Nations, and specifically the British Empire which has a Mandate in this Land. Cease from your disgraceful actions and do not touch our holiest inheritance again! Take heed and recognize Who is the One who stands behind our Wall!”


David Raziel jumped to his feet and shouted, “Ask Lord Balfour to whom the Kotel belongs!”


Rabbi Kook turned back and addressed the three Judges.


“Days will come when all nations will recognize our legitimate rights to the site of our Holy Temple,” he proclaimed, raising his voice.


The eyes of the Jews around Tevye were shining. Tzvi and Nachshon listened with rapt attention as Rabbi Kook concluded his remarks.


“And everyone will know that the prophecy concerning this holy place - 'For My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples’ - the Jewish Temple of old, will be fulfilled only when that great and holy edifice stands once again in its rightful place, on the Temple Mount, in the possession of its original and rightful owners, the Nation of Israel, G-d’s eternal People, and not in the hands of any other nation – may it be soon!”


“Bravo!” the poet, Uri Zvi Greenberg, shouted, jumping to his feet. On the faces of all the Jews, religious and secular, there were looks of pride and awe. They all applauded enthusiastically at the Rabbi’s passionate words. Even the Judges nodded their heads in respect for the inspiring testimony.


“But that isn’t all I have to say,” Rabbi Kook proclaimed. Once again, he faced the British officials. The courtroom became silent. “In connection to the so-called ‘White Papers,’ limiting the immigration of the Jewish People to Eretz Yisrael - let it be known to the British Government, and to all the governments of the world, that it is not some Gentile empire that gave us a portion in the Holy Land.”


Rabbi Kook turned to face the judges.


“Not the governments of the world, nor the British, nor the League of Nations, gave us the Holy Land as an eternal inheritance. Rather, the Holy One of Israel, King of the entire world.”


The British officials sat stunned. It was unthinkable that a Jew could speak to them this way in the Government Palace.


“And if a government which has been appointed by Divine Providence to be a fortress and a shelter for the persecuted Jewish Nation betrays its mission – not only in allowing the blood of innocent, holy, and pure people to be spilled under its dominion, but in blasphemously defying the words of the living G-d, by physically preventing Israel’s revival in the Holy Land – we can be sure that this government will not succeed in foiling G-d’s eternal plan, and that its empire shall surely crumble and fall, just as mighty empires have fallen before it. ‘The word of our G-d shall stand forever!’”


Rabbi Kook ended his words. He stepped away from the podium. Uri Zvi Greenberg once again leaped up and shouted, “Hip hip, hurray! Hip hip hurray!” The Jews in the hall rose to their feet and applauded. The Arabs rose and started to yell. The Chairman banged for naught with his gavel.


“Quiet! Order in the hearing room!” he shouted, trying to raise his voice over the raucous. But the Arabs continued to shout.


“Order!” the Chairman yelled, rising to his feet. “Come to order at once! There will be no riots in this hearing room!”


The other two Judges stood up as the holy Rabbi left the hall. Whether they agreed or disagreed with his words, he was a man unlike other men, deserving of reverence and respect. Tzvi, Moishe, David Raziel, Moshe Segal, and Tevye hurried forward and surrounded the Chief Rabbi like bodyguards as he strode toward the door. When an angry Arab approached, they pushed him away. Only the British officials remained in their chairs, their pompous faces pink with indignation.

Tzvi Fishman
INN: TF







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