Part Five: A Loving Rav of Renewal

Radical Stories for Rosh Hashanah:




The adjective “radical” has the following definitions:


1. Relating to the root or origin


2. Favoring basic change


Rosh Hashanah – the New Year – expresses both definitions, as this sacred festival is the beginning of a ten-day period of renewal when we engage in a process of basic change through returning to our sacred roots.


When Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman arrived in the Land of Zion in 1940, there were influential secular kibbutzim that cut themselves off from these sacred roots. Rav Yosef Shlomo, however, had a radical vision of members of these secular kibbutzim returning to these roots. Towards the end of this letter, I will share with you some radical stories about some members of secular kibbutzim who have begun to fulfill the Rav’s vision.


Dear Friends,


As we discussed, the Prophets of Israel had a vision of our future spiritual renewal in the Land of Zion through the study and fulfillment of the Torah – the Divine Teaching. Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman reminded us of this vision by referring to the Divine promise, “All your children will be students of Hashem” (Isaiah 54:13). His reminder, however, was in an era when the majority of Jews in the Land of Zion did not want their children to be students of Hashem, for the secular Zionist establishment in the Land stressed that nationalism had replaced the Torah as the guiding spirit of our people. Many people therefore felt that the Rav was simply dreaming, and they approached his radical vision with skepticism. Their skepticism was reinforced by the awareness that many of the leaders of the Zionist establishment were from influential secular kibbutzim, and that some of these influential kibbutzim were openly hostile to the Jewish spiritual tradition. The following story can serve as an example:


A Jewish survivor of the Holocaust managed to come to the Land of Zion, and the only relative that he had in the Land was a son who lived on Kibbutz Sha’ar Hagolan. This kibbutz was founded by Hashomer Hatza’ir – a socialist Zionist youth organization which was known for its strident secularism. This survivor arrived with only one possession – a Torah scroll that he had become attached to during his period of great suffering. This Torah scroll was especially precious to him, as the Germans attempted to destroy all the Torah scrolls in the areas they conquered. When he arrived at his son’s kibbutz, he brought his Torah scroll with him. When the leaders of the kibbutz saw the Torah scroll, they were upset, as they felt the presence of the Torah scroll would have a “negative” influence on the youth of their secular kibbutz. They therefore called for an emergency meeting of the kibbutz’s governing council.


The governing council decided that although the son had the right to bring his father to the kibbutz, the father had no right to bring a Torah scroll into the kibbutz. Without any consideration for the feelings of this Holocaust survivor, the Torah scroll that he was attached to was forcibly removed from the kibbutz. The story of their cold and insensitive behavior became known, and it caused much anguish among the religious Jews of the Land.

As we shall now discuss, Rav Yosef Shlomo had a special vision of spiritual renewal among the members of the secular kibbutzim, and he felt that this renewal would include their embracing the following sacred items of our tradition:

1. Tefillin – These are leather boxes with sacred scrolls which are worn by men on their head and arm during the weekday morning prayer service.   

2. Mezuzos – These are cases with sacred scrolls which are posted on the doorpost of the home.

The sacred scrolls of the tefillin and mezuzos include the proclamation of the Divine Oneness and Unity (Deuteronomy 6:4). As the commentator, Rashi, explains, this proclamation reminds us of the future age of universal enlightenment when all the peoples of the earth will have the higher consciousness of the Divine Oneness and Unity, as it is written:

“For then I will radically cause the nations to speak a pure language, so that they all will call upon the Name of Hashem and serve Him with a united resolve.” (Zephaniah 3:9)


And it is also written: “On that day Hashem will be One and His Name One” (Zechariah 14:9).

About a year after Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman arrived in the Land, he attended a conference of Agudath Israel. While most of the speakers spoke about the war and its terrible consequences, Rav Yosef Shlomo spoke about the need to rebuild in the Land of Zion the Torah centers that were destroyed in Europe. He then issued the following proclamation regarding Ein Charod, a prominent secular kibbutz, and Nahalal, a prominent secular moshav:

“Write tefillin and mezuzos for the children of Ein Charod; we will yet establish Torah elementary schools and yeshivos for the children of Nahalal!”

Four years after this proclamation, the Sabbatical Year arrived, the sacred year when we are to fulfill the following mitzvah:

“Six years shall you sow your land and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year, you shall let it go and abandon it, and the needy of your people shall eat, and the wildlife of the field shall eat what is left; so shall you do to your vineyard and your olive grove.” (Exodus 23:10,11)


Through this mitzvah, explains the Talmud, Hashem is telling Israel:


“Sow for six years and let go of the land in the seventh year in order that you know that the land is Mine.” (Sanhedrin 39a)


This mitzvah therefore reminds us that we are not the owners of the earth. With this realization, we can then fulfill our mandate to serve as custodians of the earth – “to serve it and to protect it” (Genesis 2:15).


Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman spoke to the religious farmers and workers who were affiliated with Agudath Israel and called upon them to properly observe this land-related mitzvah. And he proclaimed:


“To whom are we calling? We are even calling the people at Kibbutz Sha’ar Hagolan who banished from their midst the Torah scroll, in order that their children not see it and learn from it.”


And he added: “I do not give up hope for any individual in Israel.” As he later told his disciples at the yeshiva, the deceptive, man-made ideologies that led many of our people astray will soon lose their appeal, and the People of Israel will begin a process of renewal; thus, “they will all return to the Torah.”


As Rav Yosef Shlomo explained to his son, Rav Avraham, his hope for each member of our people is not just a dream, for it is written in our Sacred Scriptures that God “devises means that none of us be banished” (2 Samuel: 14:14).


His son, Rav Avraham, told the following story: During the last months of his father’s life, a delegation from Kibbutz Ein Charod came to tell him that the kibbutz had just built a synagogue! And they invited the Rav to come to the dedication. The Rav was very ill, and he therefore was not able to travel to the dedication; however, the news about their initial step towards spiritual renewal caused his eyes to be full with the light of joy.


In the year 2007, there was a public announcement that Torah classes would begin on Kibbutz Ein Harod! The teacher was Rabbi Yiftach Zisling, a grandson of one of the kibbutz’s founders, Aharon Zisling, who was also one of the leaders of the leftist party, Mapam, which was stridently secular. What inspired his grandson, Yiftach, to become a rabbi? After Yiftach left the army, he began a process of spiritual searching which led him to a Torah seminar sponsored by the noted Chareidi outreach organization, Arachim. When the Torah teachers at the seminar heard his family name, they told him about the following aspect of his family history that he was not aware of: The grandfather of his grandfather was Rabbi Ben Zion Zisling, a noted Torah scholar who came to Jerusalem a hundred years earlier; moreover, he was one of the founders of Yeshiva Heichal HaTalmud in Tel Aviv. This discovery inspired Yiftach to further explore his spiritual roots. As a result, he began to devote his life to the study and teaching of Torah. He moved to Rachasim, a Torah-committed village in the North of Israel; however, he later decided to reconnect to Kibbutz Ein Harod, in order to offer Torah classes for members of the Kibbutz who were open to exploring their spiritual roots. Members of the kibbutz began studying the weekly Torah portion, and they now also study the Talmud.


Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman would have been delighted at this development – a step towards the fulfillment of his vision. The following development is another step towards the fulfillment of this vision: There is another Chareidi outreach organization named, Ayelet Hashchar (Morning Star), which has been placing Torah-committed couples on more than 60 kibbutzim and moshavim. Among the kibbutzim which have benefited from the warm and dedicated outreach of these couples is Kibbutz Geva.


Thanks to Ayelet Hashachar,  this kibbutz experienced its first Yom Kippur service. A member of the kibbutz wrote a thank you letter to the director of Ayelet HaShachar expressing appreciation “for having created for us a mikdash me’at (miniature sanctuary) in the midst of our everyday lives and secular existence, and for having made it possible for us to touch the holiness, the elevation, of this unique day – Yom Hakippurim.” The kibbutz member added:


“The emotions during the prayers broke down all barriers, and enabled us to touch every link in the chain of our common tradition, reaching back to the roots of our common existence.”


The above radical stories remind me of the following Divine promise:


And as for Me, this is My covenant with them, said Hashem: My spirit which is upon you and My words that I have placed in your mouth will not be withdrawn from your mouth nor from the mouth of your offspring nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring, from this moment and forever, said Hashem.” (Isaiah 59:20,21)


May we be blessed with a Good and Renewing Shabbos.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen


P.S. The stories and information in this letter appear in Volume 2 of the memoirs of.Rav Shlomo Lorincz, of blessed memory, who was a distinguished member of Israel’s Knesset. These memoirs focus on his relationship with leading Torah sages, and the title of this highly recommended work is B’M’chitsasom – In Their Shadow. It is published by Feldheim, and Volume 1 has already been translated into English. For information, visit:

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