The Guardians of the City
By URIEL ZIMMER
A brief overview of the
Neturei Karta's anti-Zionist position
First Published in the Jewish Life 1960
of the author
(Originally published in Torah-Judaism
and the State of Israel [New York: 1972])
Uriel Zimmer first began writing in the orthodox
Jewish Press in 1939 and has since contributed many hundreds of
thought-provoking articles throughout the orthodox Press. He has been the editor
of the oldest existing Jerusalem Hebrew daily -"Hakol"- for many years
and has frequently written for the columns of the "Jewish Post",
London, "Der Yid", New York, and "Emounatenu" of Paris.
He is a linguist of renown and has translated some of
the writings of Rabbi Hirsch from German into Hebrew, the essays of Nathan
Birnbaum, the poems of de Haan from German into English, and the Tanya from
Hebrew into Yiddish.
He has traveled widely on the European Continent,
including Turkey, and also in Latin-America. In 1946 he visited many of the D.P.
camps, and was associated there with active rescue work. He was a co-founder of
the first branch of the Agudist Youth Movement in Haifa in 1938.
Uriel Zimmer has had the closest personal contacts
with many of the sages and thinkers of independent Orthodoxy, and is persona
grata with many of the Gedolim of our days. He is closely affiliated with the
activities of the "Chabad" (Lubavitch) movement. He was a close friend
of the late Rabbi Moshe Blau, Dr. Isaac Breuer and Dr. Pinchas Kohn.
He was born in Vienna in 1921 and settled in
Jerusalem in 1934. He is the United Nations correspondent of several newspapers.
The Guardians of the City
By URIEL ZIMMER
Yehudah the Prince sent Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Ami to tour the
towns of Eretz Israel to establish there teachers and sages. They came to one
place and found there, neither teachers nor sages. Thus, they spoke unto them:
“bring us the guardians of the city”. They went and brought the policemen of
the city. The Rabbi’s asked: “are these the guardians of the city? nay,
these are the destroyers of the city”. “Who than are the guardians of the
city?” - "The teachers and sages" they answered, for the Scripture
says (Psalms 126): If the Lord build nor a house, in vain have its builders
labored for it. (Yerushalmi, Chagiga, Ch. 1, 7).
Talmudical episode, repeated several times in the Midrashim, has certainly
inspired the way of thought of the Jewish people. The Sages of Israel were
always regarded as the true "Guardians of the City" and it is they who
have guarded it throughout the generations.
of the City" or, in the language of the above Talmudical quotation,
"Neturei Karta" ‑ in the spirit of this quotation, is also the
name that has been chosen by a movement in Jerusalem, and here the stress is
both on the "guardians" and on the City - the Holy City of Jerusalem,
"Neturei Karta" is a synonym for the bogey man. To others, the name
conveys the idea of fanaticism, bigotry, and what‑not. To others again, it
is the Enemy No. 1 of the Jewish People and of the Holy Land. Very few, however,
are even aware of the meaning of the name, and less still are those who have any
amount of actual knowledge about the movement carrying that name.
Karta" can be fully understood only against the background of the
picturesque scene of Jerusalem; and Jerusalem, in turn, has something in it that
cannot be conveyed in words, that cannot even be grasped by seeing, but that
must be lived in to be understood. It is therefore only an external description
that can be expected here.
It is a
well‑known rule of logic that every definition consists of two parts:
statement of the group to which the object belongs, and description of the
specific characteristic by which the particular object of definition differs
from the other parts of its group. In an attempt to find a definition for
"Neturei Karta," therefore, let us try to follow the same
narrowing‑down pattern, and subsequently dwell upon each of the two parts.
Karla is part of the non‑Zionist trend within Orthodoxy, and it is the
Jerusalem brand of that trend. In other words: the specific trait of Neturei
Karta consists of its local Jerusalemite color. This coloring marks it out from
the far larger trend of which Neturei Karta is part. Let us therefore first
present the trend as a whole, and later refer to its specific Jerusalem brand.
Orthodoxy and Zionism
to the modern Zionist movement on the part of important segments of orthodox
Rabbinic leadership is as old as the Zionist movement itself. Some orthodox
quarters nowadays may not feel very comfortable about it, but it is a fact that
while some segments of Orthodoxy supported Zionism from the first, some
outstanding Rabbinic personalities ranked foremost among the opponents of
Zionism from its inception, and this opposition was shared throughout the Jewish
world, across the boundaries of Chasidim, Misnagdim, etc. ‑ Rabbi Chaim of
Brisk, the Lubavitcher rebbes, the Rabbinic and Chasidic leaders of Poland,
Galicia and Hungary, the rabbis of German Orthodoxy were all equally opposed to
Zionism from its very beginning.
opposition was voiced in various styles and versions, varying according to
individual and local background. They all regarded the philosophy of Zionism as
diametrically opposed to the most basic principles of Judaism. This author has
made an attempt elsewhere* at analyzing this
ideology in detail. Space does not permit more than a brief summary of its
Zionism or Jewish Nationalism represents an attempt at transforming the Jewish
people to a new identity, to "a nation among the nations" instead of
"the Chosen People" of G‑d. Hence, all the basic definitions
become forcibly molded into the pattern of non‑Jewish nationalism. Torah,
the soul, the raison deter, the condition sine qua non for the
existence of the Jewish people, nay of the entire world becomes a
"religion" which, under modern concepts, is the private domain of each
individual. Eretz Israel, the Holy Land, becomes the "national home",
and the State or ‑ in former years ‑ the striving to achieve the
"Judenstaat", is also part of the general trend of secularization and
transformation of the hallowed idea of Messianic redemption. This trend,
therefore, is seen as diametrically opposed to Torah, hence the fierce objection
to Zionism. No one denies that there have been other orthodox Jews who ‑
with more or less justification - held different views and some even regarded
Zionism ‑ and later the State of Israel ‑ as "the dawn of the
Messianic era." It is not the intention here to go into that controversy,
but it remains a fact that there has always been an orthodox anti‑Zionist
view, and that such views have been adhered to by very outstanding Rabbinic
State of Israel came into being, very few among these high‑ranking
orthodox leaders, if any, changed their views. The State of Israel being the
realization, the implementation of Zionism, there could be very little done to
change the objection in principle. Neither did the reality of the State warrant
any such change of view or disprove the original negative attitude towards
Zionism. There could, in the view of this trend, be only a question of what
tactics should be applied, in light of the fact that what had formerly been an
organization built on voluntary membership has now become a State with means of
other hand, it is a fact that very few among these Rabbinic leaders have spoken
up for their own view since the inception of the State of Israel. Whether the
reason was a lack of courage, a fear of the loss of funds for the institutions
led by them, or otherwise ‑ the fact remains. This has created the
erroneous belief among the masses of Jews that non‑Zionism on the orthodox
side is confined to a small sect of fanatics. To put it very mildly and
carefully, non‑Zionism in Orthodoxy is still a quite powerful trend with a
considerable following, although there may be differences of opinion as to the
practical steps to be taken in demonstrating that view. This, in general
outlines, is the world‑picture of which Neturei Karta, basically,
constitutes a local cell.
The "Old Yishuv"
now turn to the local Jerusalem scene. Many people take Neturei Karta as
synonymous with the "Old Yishuv." This is very inaccurate. There are
many active followers of Neturei Karta who could not easily be classified as
being part of the "Old Yishuv," and there are lots of members of the
"Old Yishuv" who are in no way "Neturei Karta." Yet, one
might say with some accuracy that Neturei Karta considers itself as the defender
and spokesman of the Old Yishuv, and it is on the soil of the Old Yishuv that
Neturei Karta came into being, and it is only, against this background that it
can be understood.
Yishuv is the realization of a movement which came into being some 150 years
ago, a movement which swept throughout European Jewry of that era. The sources
of the movement are to be sought entirely in the spiritual field; although the
turmoil of the Napoleonic era may, have had some indirect bearing on the
environments in which it was born. The disciples of the Gaon of Vilna, the
disciples and followers of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch ‑
headed by Rabbi Mendel of Vitebsk the adherents of the Chasam Sofer of Pressburg,
sent groups of selected scholars and pious men to dwell in the Holy Land and
devote their lives there to the study and pursuit of the Holy Torah.
no outward stimulus, no general movement of Jewish emigration existing at that
time in Central or Eastern Europe. The journey to the shores of the Holy Land
entailed many perils, taking many months and often years. The homes these
emigrants left behind were snug and warm, however modest. The new land was a
harsh undeveloped land. Settling in this new environment entailed countless
hardships, trials and travails. Ardent love of the Holy Land made it possible
for them to overcome all these hardships. Plagues, diseases, often hunger and
distress could not deter them. It was not, as is so often erroneously stated, in
order to die and be buried in the sacred soil, but in order to live there a
saintly and devout life, that these people had come to the shores of Palestine.
earthquake of 1837 in Safed ‑ then the main center of the Old Yishuv
‑ killed a comparatively large number of the immigrants, these pious Jews
only asked themselves: What sin had they committed to deserve such punishment?
And they found their fault in that they had concentrated only in the Holy City
of Safed which at that time ‑ as a crossroad of camel caravans ‑
offered more economic stability, and had neglected her older sister Jerusalem
which, accessible only through a hazardous journey through the Judean hills on
donkey back, offered but little security. It was then that the European
("Ashkenazi") part of the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem was founded, first
inside the ancient walls of the Old City; and later outside the walls to the
North and West.
go too far beyond the scope of this article to give even a brief outline of the
fascinating history of the unsung heroes of the Old Yishuv. It is important,
however, for our topic, to define, however briefly, the ideology animating them:
By coming to the Holy Land they had not only sought self‑perfection
through and on the sacred soil, but they also felt they were carrying out a
certain mission for the entire Jewish people, and particularly for the Jewish
communities whence they emanated. Those communities, in turn, regarded them as
their representatives and considered it a duty of honor to care for their
livelihood. There was no need for vociferous fundraising, but "Rabbi Meir
Baal Haness" was a popular institution to which practically every Jewish
man and woman contributed voluntarily.
and grandsons of those first founders of the Old Yishuv were already born on
Holy Land soil. It is true that their idealism may not have displayed the
tension, the dynamic force inherent in every "first" effort. On the
other hand, their roots in the soil of the Holy Land were even deeper. To them,
the Judean hills, the magic blue of Lake Kinneres, the frowning, mysterious
mountains of Galilee around Safed were not only the Holy Land ‑ but home
in the most simple and literal sense of the word. These mountains and hills
resounded not only with the voice of the ancient forefathers, but also with the
memories of their own childhood.
turbulent era of the 19th and early 20th centuries in Eastern Europe had its
equivalent also in Jerusalem, though less fiercely. There could have been no
serious clash with such elements as the Maskilim, since there were so few of
them amidst the walls of Jerusalem, but they did occur occasionally.
advent of Zionism, a new element entered the scene of the Holy Land.
It is an
almost forgotten fact that the first agricultural settlement outside Jerusalem
‑ Petach Tikvah ‑ was founded by sons of the Old Yishuv. The
by‑laws of the Association organized for the founding of that
"colony" ‑ as it used to be called then ‑ would now sound
like a "fanatic" and "extremist" code.*
"colonies," however, were founded by an entirely different element.
The young Zionists had come to Palestine for a purpose precisely opposite to
that of the old Yishuv: to create on the soil of the ancient Jewish
"homeland" a new type of Jew, a Jew not dominated and governed
by the Torah, but a Jew aiming to build a "nation among nations."
people of the Old Yishuv were opposed to these tendencies. But, what is more,
they saw in these tendencies not only an effort to change the identity of the
People, but also the identity of the Land which was so dear to them. In
other words, their opposition was based not only on their religious views in
general, but also on their particular attachment to the Holy Land. No wonder,
therefore, that the clash on the soil of the Holy Land was more vehement than
World War I, the Zionist Organization and its affiliate institutions gained a
certain degree of official recognition by the British authorities who had in
1917 issued the Balfour Declaration, and later appointed Sir Herbert Samuel as
High Commissioner for Palestine. These were the results of efforts made by world
Zionism, particularly by those of its leaders who had influence in London.
Yishuv saw itself in danger of being forced to give up its own independent way
of life, To combat that danger, it sought the support of another Jewish world
organization, Agudath Israel, which was then outspokenly anti‑Zionist, and
which had been founded in 1912 as a combined effort of Rabbinic leaders from
Poland, Lithuania, Russia, and Germany ‑ for the explicit purpose, of
combating Zionism. The present leaders of Neturei Karta were at that time active
members of Agudath Israel. Rabbi Amram Blau, for instance, was the editor of Kol
Israel, then the official organ of Agudath Israel in Jerusalem.
describe what the battle was actually about would require much local detail, yet
at least the major points are necessary to obtain as idea. The British
authorities, in the "Palestine Order in Council" ‑ which served
as a sort of constitution for the Mandatory territory of Palestine ‑
recognized a "Jewish Community" ‑ Knesseth Israel ‑ of
which every Jew above the age of eighteen had to be a member. This "Jewish
Community," (whose governing council was the "Vaad Leumi") was
practically a unit of the Zionist Organization. In other words, this in effect
meant a compulsory affiliation with the Zionist movement. Agudath Israel
successfully achieved the right not to be a member of the Knesseth Israel. An
"Orthodox Community" (Eda Charedith) was founded which, at that
time, was regarded a synonym for Agudath Israel. The Chief Rabbinate, recognized
by the British, was also part of the Knesseth Israel. The Agudah founded its own
Rabbinate, headed by the late Rabbi Sonnenfeld.
later years when European leaders of Agudath Israel began taking more interest
in Palestine, the Eda Charedith was regarded only as a cell of the Agudah. In
the early thirties, an Agudath Israel delegation from Poland visited Palestine.
The clashes between the Agudah and the Vaad Leumi had become bitter. The
visitors regarded it as their duty to bring about a sort of armistice. The local
leaders maintained a different attitude. To make a long story short, a
compromise was finally reached, and the younger, extremist group was expelled
from the Agudah. This group was to become the Neturei Karta. The name was
assumed about 1940.
beginning, the group's activities consisted of sporadically publishing posters
(much of Jerusalem's controversies to this day are being fought through a battle
of pasquevilles) criticizing the Agudah leadership. Rabbi Aaron Katzenellenbogen,
occasionally also Rabbi Amram Blau, in their frequent public speeches, used to
criticize and sometimes poke fun at the Agudah leadership. A piquant note was
added to those attacks by the fact that both had brothers who occupied leading
positions with the Agudath Israel. Rabbi Aaron Katzenellenbogen's brother is
Rabbi Raphael Katzenellenbogen, presently affiliated with Poale Agudath Israel,
and Rabbi Amram Blau's brother was Rabbi Moshe Blau, the famous Agudah leader
and representative before various political and governmental bodies.
elections were held to the Eda Charedith, the separate Jewish Community founded
by the Agudah, to which both groups still belonged. The list, or lists, of
Neturei Karta won the elections, and the Agudah was practically left out of the
Eda Charedith. Still, there was the person of Rabbi Joseph Zvi Dushinsky, the
chief Rabbi of the Eda, who was esteemed and recognized by both.
Rabbi Moshe Blau suddenly died in a very dramatic way, at the age of 61: He was
on a boat on his way to Europe and the U.S. and died on the Mediterranean island
of Messina, where he had been taken off the boat in an effort to perform an
emergency operation. His body was flown to Eretz Israel. Rabbi Blau, to be sure,
was a staunch and proud Agudah leader. Yet, he had been a son of the Old Yishuv,
the sixth generation ‑ on his mother's side ‑ in the Holy Land. It
was no secret that, despite the sharp and merciless criticism aimed at the
Agudah by his own brother and other leaders of Neturei Karta, in their heart
they loved him as "a chip off the old block." Many a Neturei Karta'nik
who was among the 10,000 people who attended his funeral shed a tear when the
aged and patriarchal Rabbi Dushinsky, with a shaking voice, proclaimed: "We
have all sinned against him ‑ let us all say the prayer of
confession" and, at the head of the massed thousands, the venerable rabbi
beat on his heart with his right fist when he pronounced the words of the
death of Rabbi Moshe Blau, the Agudah leadership went over more and more to
Polish immigrants who had little understanding for the spirit of the Old Yishuv.
The secession of Neturei Karta from the Agudah became more outspoken.
establishment of the State of Israel in spring 1948 was followed by the death of
Rabbi Dushinsky in late 1948. With his passing away, the last link between
Neturei Karta and their mother organization was broken.
various clashes between Neturei Karta and the authorities of the State of
Israel, the refusal of the former to award even a "de facto"
recognition to the other, etc., etc ‑ are well known and have been highly
publicized. It would serve no purpose to recite them here.
ideology behind all these acts and outbreaks is obvious, on the basis of our
explanations earlier: "The State of Israel is an organic part of Zionism.
is against the Torah, and so is the State which implements it - and this not
only because the State happens to be governed by non‑religious people, but
because the very idea of a 'Judenstaat' is foreign to Torah. In the same manner
as we were not members of the Zionist Organization, therefore, we refuse to have
any relationship or give any recognition to the State, at least to such extent
as is feasible."
of continuing our deliberations in the realm of theory, it might be more useful
at this point to dispel several commonly accepted misconceptions about Neturei
Karta, which, in a way, will render the picture more complete.
charge that Neturei Karta "hate" the Holy Land is one of the most
ridiculous ever made. These are people who, as said, are natives of the country
for generations; and attached to it as one can only be to his native soil. Yet,
it might be worthwhile to quote a few practical episodes, perhaps not commonly
known; Meah Shearim is located on the extreme demarcation line between Israel
and Jordan: In the Meah Shearim section, the so‑called "Hungarian
Houses" (Bottey Ungarn, built some eighty years ago with the aid of
donations from Hungary), are the closest to the border. Jordan territory is
literally a few steps away. During the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, this section
was under the heaviest shell‑fire. The majority of its residents then fled
to the relatively safer quarters located farther off the demarcation lines.
Rabbi Amram Blau, the leader of Neturei Karta, refused to abandon the Hungarian
Houses where he lives. Sure enough, he was wounded by an Arab shell, and had to
be given medical care. No sooner were his wounds patched than he returned to his
home, a few yards from the border, which he refused to leave.
this love of the native soil confined to certain sections of Jerusalem. It may
not be generally known that already some thirty years ago; the very same people
who now constitute Neturei Karta (as said, no group by that name had existed as
yet by that time) founded a company under the name of "Ramatayim Zofim"
for the purpose of acquiring a certain piece of land near the site of the
Biblical town of that name (now on Jordan territory, Ramah, the site of the tomb
of the Prophet Samuel) and founding a semi-agricultural settlement there. The
company had been registered with the (British Mandatory) Government and
practical steps had been taken, to implement the plan, which failed of execution
only for financial reasons.
opinion frequently heard refers to their "violence." The truth is that
while there is quite a lot of violence going on in Israel, Neturei Karta has
practically no part in it. To quote but one example, only recently the press
reported about a Moroccan immigrant who, enraged about a social worker who did
not grant his wish, bit her ear off… Throughout the years, there have been a
number of authenticated reports of brutal outbreaks of the Jerusalem police
against orthodox Jews at large, under the pretext that they were Neturei
Karta’niks. Some on‑the‑spot pictures were published in Time
magazine and other sources. This writer has more than once been an eyewitness to
those events. Once, as the readers will recall, they even resulted in the murder
of Rabbi Segalov (who, incidentally, was not even a Neturei Karta’nik). Yet,
on the other hand, there has never been any demonstration or outbreak of Neturei
Karta accompanied by more than shouting and yelling. When a representative of
the Agudah claimed several years ago that he had been beaten by some young boys
of Neturei Karta, the whole thing was later exposed by one of Israel's
outstanding weekly magazines (Ayin Bi‑Ayin, certainly not
affiliated with Neturei Karta) as a publicity stunt and a hoax.
there is the strong and sometimes poisonous language sometimes used by the
various publications, pamphlets, or posters of Neturei Karta. It is certainly
disgusting to many, regardless of their attitude towards the substance of the
matters under discussion. On the other hand, however, one must not forget two
facts: first, this is the Middle East, after all. Strong, pointed language is
the general trend. During election campaigns, or other occasions, Israel's
various parties ‑ all of them ‑ use a far worse kind of language.
Secondly, has anybody ever taken the trouble to examine the language used by the
opponents of Neturei Karta? Compared with this, even the most poisonous attacks
by Neturei Karta are as child‑play, and there is plenty of evidence to
prove this point. When one is hurt, he cries and only rarely will he chose his
let us mention one more point which is the source of a great number of
misconceptions: Neturei Karta has become a sort of scapegoat, blamed for every
evil, a sort of pretext granting a prior absolution for every sort of cruelty or
violence. Let us quote only one typical example:
1949, a demonstration was held in Jerusalem against the public desecration of
the Sabbath. The demonstration was organized by an ad‑hoc,
non‑partisan committee, and at its head marched Rabbi Abraham Chaim Shag,
then a member of the Knesseth (Parliament) representing Mizrachi. The Jerusalem
police attacked the demonstrators, the fire brigade used its hoses, there were
several injured people, etc. ‑ quite a "usual" thing in
Jerusalem. To my knowledge, Neturei Karta did not even participate in the
demonstration, but if they did it was only in a very passive manner. The
organizers, as said, belonged to an entirely different background. Yet, during
the evening broadcast following that Sabbath, the official communiqué of the
Kol Israel Radio stated that the police had been forced to disperse a Neturei
Karta demonstration. . .
up, we reach the following conclusions: Neturei Karta is the Jerusalem brand of
a world‑wide existing view, shared ideologically by far broader circles
around the world. Others may not have the courage to speak up for their own
views, in view of their non‑popularity, and in view of the possible damage
to their fund‑raising efforts. Neturei Karta may use sharper language,
they may go to extremes in demonstrating their view, but the view‑itself
is by far not confined to the ranks of Neturei Karta. If there exists a
difference between Neturei Karta and other groups holding similar views - it is
in the deeper attachment, in the more ardent love for the soil of the Holy Land
by which Neturei Karta are distinct.