Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and Hebron

The Chief Rabbi demanded that the British take severe and immediate measures against the Arab rioters. To Lock's question, "What can be done?" Rabbi Kook responded, "Shoot the murderers!"

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Rabbi Chanan Morrison

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"Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, also known as Hebron, in the land of Canaan. Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her." (Genesis 23:2)

On February 18, 1930, a somber gathering assembled in the Yeshurun synagogue in Jerusalem. Both the synagogue and its plaza were packed, as crowds attended the memorial service for the Jews of Hebron killed in the Arab rioting half a year earlier.

Hebron, the 18th of Av 5689 (August 24, 1929)

On that tragic Sabbath day, news about the massacre in Hebron reached the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, then director of the National Committee, hurried to Rabbi Kook's house. Together, they headed to speak with Sir Harry Lock, acting British High Commissioner, so that he would take action and protect the Jews of Hebron. (High Commissioner John Chancellor was temporarily away on home leave.)

The Chief Rabbi demanded that the British take severe and immediate measures against the Arab rioters. To Lock's question, "What can be done?" Rabbi Kook responded, "Shoot the murderers!"

"But I have received no orders about this," was the feeble reply.

"Then I am commanding you!" Rabbi Kook cried out. "In the name of the human conscience, I demand this!"

Rabbi Kook held Lock responsible for British inaction. During an official reception soon after, Sir Lock held out his hand to the Chief Rabbi. Rabbi Kook, however, refused to take it. "I do not shake hands that are defiled with Jewish blood," he said.

The following day, the extent of the Hebron massacre was revealed. 67 Jews - yeshiva students, elderly rabbis, women and children - had been slaughtered by Arab mobs. The British police had done nothing to protect them. The Jewish community of Hebron was destroyed, and their property had been looted and stolen. The British shipped off the survivors to Jerusalem.

The tzaddik Rabbi Arieh Levine accompanied Rabbi Kook that Sunday to the Hadassah hospital, in order to hear news of the Hebron community by telephone. Rabbi Levine recalled the terrible memories that would be forever etched in his heart:

"When the Rav heard about the murder of the holy martyrs, he fell backwards and fainted. After coming to, he cried bitterly and tore his clothes '[for] the house of Israel and God's people who had fallen by the sword.' He sat in the dust and recited the blessing 'baruch dayan ha'emet'. For some time after that, his bread was the bread of tears and he slept without a pillow. Old age suddenly fell upon him and he began to suffer terrible pains. This tragedy brought about the illness from which the Rav never recovered."

Memorial Service in Jerusalem

Six months later, grieving crowds filled the Yeshurun synagogue. A mourning mood of Tisha B'Av dwelled on the gathering, as they assembled in pained silence. Survivors of the massacre, who had witnessed the atrocities before their eyes, said the kaddish prayer for family members killed in the rioting.

Rabbi Yakov Yosef Slonim, who lost his son (the sole Jewish member of the Hebron municipal council) and grandchildren, opened the assembly in the name of the remnant of the Hebron community. No healing has taken place during the past six months, he reported. The murder and the theft have not be rectified. The British government and the Jewish leadership have done nothing to correct the situation by reclaiming Jewish property and resettling Hebron.

Rabbi Kook's Speech

Afterwards, the Chief Rabbi spoke:

"The holy martyrs of Hebron do not need a memorial service. The Jewish people can never forget the holy and pure souls who were slaughtered and killed by murderers and vile thugs.

"Rather, we must remember and remind the Jewish people not to forget the city of the Patriarchs. The people must know what Hebron means to us.

"'The actions of the fathers are signposts for the children.' When the weak-hearted spies arrived at Hebron, they were frightened by the rough nation that lived in the land. But 'Caleb quieted the people for Moses. He said, "We must go forth and occupy the land - we can do it!"'

"Despite the terrible tragedy that occurred to us in Hebron, we too openly announce, 'Our strength now is like our strength then.' We will not abandon our places and aspirations. Hebron is the city of our fathers, the city of the Machpela cave, the city of David, the cradle of our kingship, a city of refuge.

"Those who dishearten the Jews rebuilding the community with arguments of political expedience; those who scorn and say, 'What are those wretched Jews doing?'; those who do not help build Hebron - they are attacking the very roots of our nation. In the future, they will need to give account for their actions. If ruffians and hooligans repaid our kindness with malice, we have only one eternal response: Jewish Hebron will once again be built, in honor and glory!

"The inner meaning of Hebron is to draw strength and rouse ourselves with the power of eternal Israel.

"That proud Jew [Caleb] announced years later, 'I am still strong... as my strength was then, so is my strength now.' So, too, must we announce to all: 'Our strength now is as our strength was then.' We shall re-establish Hebron in even greater glory, with peace and security for every Jew. With God's help, we will merit to see Hebron completely rebuilt, soon in our days."


Postscript

Some Jewish families did indeed return to Hebron in 1931, only to be evacuated by the British authorities in 1936 at the start of the Arab revolt. For 40 years, there was no Jewish community in Hebron - until 1970, when the Israeli government permitted once again Jewish settlement in Hebron. The return to Hebron after the Six-Day War was spearheaded by former students of Mercaz Harav, disciples of Rabbi Kook's son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook.

In 1992, Rabbi Kook's grandson, Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan, moved to Hebron. Six years later, the 63-year-old rabbi was stabbed to death in his home by an Arab terrorist. But soon after, his daughter (Rabbi Kook's great-granddaughter), together with her husband and children, moved to Hebron - thus continuing the connection between the Kook family and the city of the Patriarchs.

[Based on Malachim Kivnei Adam, pp. 155-157; 160;164-165]


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