Part 2: A Great Spiritual Shepherdess and Her Bond with Zion

Part 1 of this letter began to discuss the life and pioneering accomplishments of Sarah Schenirer, the Chassidic woman who founded the Bais Yaakov network of Torah schools for girls. She passed away on Shabbos eve, 26 Adar 1, 5695 – March 1, 1935. Today is 26 Adar 1, and it is therefore her yahrtzeit.
Part 2 of this letter will discuss how Sarah actively encouraged her students to move to the Land of Zion. Before we can discuss this topic, we first need to understand her spiritual outlook regarding the purpose of the Land. I will therefore briefly review with you the following development among Jews in the early 20th century which influenced her outlook:
The World Zionist Organization, which was established in 1897, became dominated by secular leaders who sought to have nationalism replace the Torah as the guiding spirit of our people. This is why the W.Z.O. passed a resolution in 1911 which proclaimed: “Zionism has nothing to do with religion.” In addition, the W.Z.O. began to establish schools and cultural programs which stressed that “nationalism” was the new raison d’etre of our people. These developments caused a good number of the religious members of the W.Z.O. to resign. Many of those that resigned later joined the new international Chareidi organization, Agudath Israel, which was founded by the Chofetz Chaim and other leading sages in 1912 on the following principle: The fulfillment of the Torah – the Divine Teaching – is the raison d’etre of our people.
Sarah Schenirer was part of the Chareidi community. The term “chareidi” connotes fervent concern or zeal, and it also refers to the “trembling” that can result from intense loving concern or awe. The Prophet Isaiah uses the related term “Chareidim” to describe those who are fervently loyal to the Torah when many of our people are ignoring the Divine Teaching; thus, the Prophet refers to these loyal souls as those who are “Chareidim regarding His word” (Isaiah 66:5). During the early 20th century, the term Chareidim was used to describe those Torah-committed Jews who strongly opposed the efforts of the World Zionist Organization to have nationalism replace the Torah as the raison d’etre of our people. They therefore did not join the W.Z.O., and they strived to renew Zion in the spirit of the Divine Teaching.
Most of the information is this letter is from the book, “Carry Me in Your Heart” – The Life and Legacy of Sarah Schenirer. It was written by her student, Pearl Benisch, and published by Feldheim.
Dear Friends,
With the help of Agudath Israel, the following movement for young Jewish women and girls was founded by Sarah Schenirer: “Bnos Agudath Israel.” The students in the Bais Yaakov movement were active in this youth organization, and these activists felt a great longing for the Land of Zion. Their longing for the Land was strengthened when they read in the Bais Yaakov Journal about Sarah Schenirer’s intense desire to tread on the holy soil where the prophets and sages walked. They were moved by her desire “to hear every tree, every blade of grass retell the erstwhile glory of our Land.” The lessons on the psalms taught by Sarah and other teachers increased their inspiration by exalting the Land as the abode of the “Shechinah” – Divine Presence.
The Hebrew term “aliyah” – an ascent – also refers to moving to our Sacred Land. The deeper reason for the use of this term with regard to moving to our Sacred Land is because such a move is a spiritual ascent. With the help of Agudath Israel, the Bnos organization set up three “hachsharos” –  training centers – which prepared groups of young activists for their aliyah to our Sacred Land, which is also known in our tradition as “Eretz Yisrael” – the Land of Israel (Ezekiel 40:2)..  
When Bnos Agudath Israel began preparing these young activists for aliyah, the immigration certificates to Eretz Yisrael were controlled by the Jewish Agency of the World Zionist Organization, as when the British government began to rule over the Land after World War One, it gave the W.Z.O. administrative control over the Jewish communities in the Land. (Ironically, when this transfer of power took place, the majority of the Jewish residents in the Land were Chareidi men and women who had established communities in the Land before the rise of the World Zionist Organization.)
After consolidating its power, the Jewish Agency decided not to give immigration certificates to Chareidi men and women in the Diaspora. This was because the Chareidim were not members of the W.Z.O.; moreover, the Jewish Agency was afraid that a large Chareidi immigration would reinforce the existing Chareidi population in the Land and thereby endanger the control of the W.Z.O. over the Land. After several years of protests to the Jewish Agency, Agudath Israel finally received a small number of immigration certificates.
After receiving some certificates, the first Bnos aliyah group was scheduled to depart to Eretz Yisrael in 1934. Sarah Schenirer received the great news with tremendous joy and enthusiasm. Before these dedicated youth embarked on their journey, Sarah wrote an inspirational letter to them which was published in the Bais Yaakov Journal. The letter reminded them of the following words from the ancient prayer that we chant on the Festivals: “Because of our sins, we were exiled from our Land.” These words are based on the messages from the Prophets of Israel regarding the cause of the exile from our Land. The following is the text of the letter which was addressed to her “dear daughters”:
Remember your great responsibility there in the Holy Land, where every blade of grass reminds you that “Because of our sins, we were exiled from our Land.” What a great responsibility it will be for you, to be more vigilant than in the Diaspora not to transgress God’s mitzvos.
Remember the great trust our people have invested in you and especially that of Agudath Israel, which gave you this great opportunity to live in the Promised Land. You are about to go to Jerusalem, the city of unity, of wholeness as her name proclaims. Only in Jerusalem can you feel Hashem’s Presence so closely. It is the center of the universe that God created, the place where His Shechinah rests.
Our tribes came to the Land, inspired by the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, eager to spread God’s truth to the world. As it says, “From Zion will go forth Torah, and the Word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).
You too, my dear children, are going to the Holy Land with a purpose. Realizing the great merit of settling Eretz Yisrael, inspired by the holiness surrounding you, you should fulfil the mitzvos with more enthusiasm and joy than you do here.
May Hashem bless you with success in your ways and with everything you do. May you also influence the estranged Jewish youth in our Land to heed Hashem’s word.  May the Almighty watch over you and help you in all your holy endeavors.
Sarah’s inspiring words about the spiritual purpose of the Land can remind us of the following message that Moshe, our Teacher, conveyed to our people before we entered the Promised Land:
“See! I have taught you statutes and social laws, as Hashem, my God, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to posses it.” (Deuteronomy 4:5)
Have a Good and Strengthening Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
Related Comments:
1. At a later stage, in 1939, the British government severely limited Jewish immigration to the Land; thus, there were only a small number of immigration certificates available that year. Most of these were given to those groups that were members of the World Zionist Organization.
2. Some members of the W.Z.O. have the misconception that all the Chassidic Rebbes of Eastern Europe forbade their Chassidim from settling in Eretz Yisrael after the W.Z.O. assumed control over the Land. Dr. Yitzchak Alfasi is a noted historian of the Chassidic movement, and he has written a documented work, soon to be published, which refutes this claim. The work includes the following information:
There were leading Chassidic Rebbes during the period between World War 1 and World War 2 who actively supported settling Eretz Yisrael, even though they strongly opposed the secular ideology of the World Zionist Organization. Among them was the Belzer Rebbe, whose name was Rav Aharon Rokeach; the Modzitzer Rebbe, who was known as the Imrei Shaul; and the Gerrer Rebbe, who was known as the Imrei Emes.
The following are some examples of the Gerrer Rebbe’s active support of settling Eretz Yisrael: In the early 1920’s, Gerrer Chassidim founded the Chareidi agricultural settlement of Bnei Brak. It later developed into a city. Gerrer Chassidim later founded two other Chareidi agricultural settlements. Other Gerrer Chassidim settled in cities. Many more Gerrer Chassidim wanted to come to Eretz Yisrael, but as we discussed in the above letter, they were unable to ascend to the Land due to the discrimination of the Jewish Agency against Chareidi immigrants.
The Gerrer Rebbe visited Eretz Yisrael six times, and on his sixth visit, he planned to remain in Eretz Yisrael permanently, already having an apartment in Jerusalem. There were certain pressing circumstances, however, which forced him to return to Poland. After Nazi Germany invaded Poland, he was on the Nazis’ most wanted list, but he managed to escape to Eretz Yisrael with several of his sons in 1940. When he arrived, there was already a network of Gerrer institutions which had been founded under his guidelines by the Gerrer Chassidim in the Land. 
There were only two Chassidic Rebbes who officially opposed aliyah after the W.Z.O. took control of the Land: The Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Satmar Rebbe. The Satmar Rebbe later withdrew his ban on aliyah, but the Lubavitcher Rebbe did not.
Dr. Alfasi also discusses the various Chassidic groups that made aliyah to the Land during the period from the late 18 century until the early 20th century. For example, a group of Lubavitcher Chassidim settled in Hebron. One of the prominent members of this group was Rebbetzen Menuchah Rochel Slonim, daughter of Rebbe Dov Ber, the “Mitteler (middle) Rebbe.” 
In 1936, there was the third international convention of Agudath Israel. At this convention, leading Torah sages, including great Chassidic Rebbes, appealed to members of Agudath Israel to strive to make aliyah, and to strengthen the Chareidi settlement in the Land. As we learned, the lack of immigration certificates for Chareidi men and women was a major obstacle to this goal.
The above information from the work by Dr. Yitzchak Alfasi appeared in an article about this work which was published in the English edition of Mishapaca Magazine (33 Sivan, 5768 – June 25, 2008).


Hazon - Our Universal Vision