Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Election of Rav Herzog

I had not previously known of Prof. Saul Lieberman's efforts in the election of R. Yitzchak Herzog to the position of Chief Rabbi of Israel. The following is from Rav Herzog's son's memoirs, Chaim Herzog, Living History, pp. 27-28:

Four months after my arrival in Palestine, Chief Rabbi Kook passed away. The process of selecting his successor was long drawn out--and, of course, quite political. Many names were bandied about. First and foremost, what was needed was the excellence and erudition to sit in judgment as head of the Rabbinical Supreme Court...

The chief rabbi, much more so in those days, was a central figure in community leadership. He represented the Palestinian Jewish community not only to Jews everywhere but also to Moslems, Christians, and the British Mandatory authorities. My father's scholarship was well known and established. Since he also met all the other qualifications, he emerged as one of two main candidates. The other was Moshe Charlap, the rabbi of a district in Jerusalem and the supervisor at Rabbi Kook's yeshiva. Though a great holy man, he had little experience of the world and was unlikely to display the kind of leadership needed at a time of great turmoil and change. So the lines were drawn--between the old and the new--and the battle began.

Strangely enough, many in the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement again opposed my father, although Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, its head, as well as a number of other leaders, supported him. But the party hacks preferred someone they could control, regardless of the effect on the rabbinate. My grandfather [R. Shmuel Yitzchak Hillman] and Shaul Lieberman, Rabbi Bar-Ilan's son-in-law and one of the world's greatest authorities on the Jerusalem Talmud and Hellenism in ancient Israel, organized a small campaign staff. It was my own initiation to the world of campaigning. In the time-old tradition of Jerusalem and politics in general, there was quite a bit of mudslinging. The main objection to my father--that he held a doctorate--meant he had departed from the straight and narrow path of religious piety and was "tainted" by exposure to foreign intellectuals...

However, the heavy artillery of Orthodox Jewry was soon activated. Rabbi Chaim Grodzinski of Vilna and Rabbi Joseph Rozin of Dvinsk supported my father's candidacy, and as they were the greatest Jewish religious leaders of the age, their endorsements were vital. Gradually, the main centers of learning, the yeshivot, also endorsed my father; the secular community realized that the country needed a spiritual leader who would deal with and answer the problems of the time.

After a long and intense battle, the elections took place in an orphanage on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, on 1 December 1936. I waited tensely at my grandparents' small apartment for the results. Suddenly we heard footsteps running up the stairs. Supporters burst in and announced the results. My father had won, thirty-seven votes to thirty-three, and we rushed to cable the news to my parents in Ireland.

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