As one of the most controversial figures in recent times, Rabbi Meir Kahane’s very name still resonates with many. For those who have taken the time to familiarize themselves with his works, there is but little controversy. But critics are hardly well-versed in Rabbi Kahane’s teachings and thus resort to defamations intended to distract individuals from grappling with issues he raised. An ambiguous quote out of context along with a critique of supposed followers (who hardly represent Rabbi Kahane’s path), often suffices for the majority of his critics. Yet, even on the most controversial of issues, many would be surprised to learn just how Rabbi Kahane’s teachings differ from their current perceptions.
Unfortunately, Rabbi Kahane did not merit to have a strong public backing, for he sought the cold, bitter truth in its stead. Thus, often, rabbis would express support privately while loathing to do so publicly. Some, due to public pressure, went so far as to condemn his activism while privately pledging support or seeking his aid when trouble arose. But away from the spotlight, many mainstream Orthodox Jewish leaders have had a higher regard for Rabbi Kahane than most would imagine. While few voiced this admiration, a number of great men did – though the public is, for the most part, unaware. That is not to say that all his views had been fully supported by each of these figures, but that he earned their admiration despite any differences.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rosh Yeshiva of Kol Torah, was consulted by Rabbi Kahane on a number of occasions regarding Jewish legal decisions. In one such instance, after Rabbi Auerbach had ruled against Rabbi Kahane in two separate monetary cases, the former was stunned to see Rabbi Kahane return for his ruling on a third case. Rabbi Auerbach remarked to his students that he was so impressed with Rabbi Kahane’s humility in accepting his rulings despite the losses incurred, that it served as a powerful influence on him.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Kohanim, served as keynote speaker at an event in Rabbi Kahane’s honor. He stated that Rabbi Kahane was a righteous man who displayed self-sacrifice for the Jewish nation and was murdered for the sanctification of G-d’s name. He also referred to him as a “Torah hero” who’s every word was rooted in Torah sources. He chastised those who refused to give him the honor he deserved.
Rabbi Dr. Saul Berman, Associate Professor at Yeshiva University, joined Rabbi Kahane on a number of occasions and supported the Jewish Defense League in its defense of locals and its fight for Soviet Jewry.
Mayer Birnbaum, famed author of “Lieutenant Birnbaum: A Soldier’s Story,” was a strong supporter of Rabbi Kahane, especially due to his background and experiences with anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Herbert (Chaim Zev) Bomzer, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University and President of the Rabbinical Board of Flatbush, would host Rabbi Kahane and ensure that he would deliver the yearly Israel address to the Brooklyn Talmudical Academy student body. He referred to Rabbi Kahane as “truly immersed in Torah all the time.” Later, Rabbi Bomzer would hold an annual memorial for Rabbi Kahane in an effort to preserve his legacy.
Rabbi Dr. Chaim Brovender, Rosh Yeshiva of Midreshet Lindenbaum, stated that despite any differences, he saw Rabbi Kahane as a very charismatic man who “had a good answer for every problem.” He also gave Rabbi Kahane credit for encouraging him to live in Israel.
Irving M. Bunim, lay leader of Orthodox Jewry and dedicated assistant to Rabbi Aharon Kotler, was a strong supporter and admirer of Rabbi Kahane and his activism, even at a time when few were.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was known for declaring that the Jewish people owed a great debt to Rabbi Kahane. In one instance, Rabbi Carlebach retained a bill borrowed from Rabbi Kahane as a symbol of the public debt owed him. Together, the two organized one of the first Noahide conferences for gentiles wishing to accept upon themselves Noahide law.
Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, was Rabbi Kahane’s personal mentor and one of his staunchest supporters. Rabbi Eliyahu wrote an approbation to his works, noting that “only the Torah way interested Rabbi Kahane, which he constantly toiled over and which served as his strength,” and “when one considers the depth and clarity of his works, one is astonished [at how] all his time and thoughts were invested in Torah while other matters were secondary.” He concludes, “Fortunate is the family that publishes his works for others to learn from.” At Rabbi Kahane’s funeral, Rabbi Eliyahu delivered a powerful eulogy, stating that people underestimated Rabbi Kahane’s scholarship and were unaware of his countless acts of charity and kindness. He also claimed that Rabbi Kahane was the reincarnation of a fearless biblical personality.
Rabbi Yitzchok Ezrachi, Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, admired Rabbi Kahane’s teachings and frequently attended his classes at the Torah Ore yeshiva.
Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz, Rabbi of the Western Wall for nearly three decades, delivered a touching eulogy at Rabbi Kahane’s funeral and claimed that he dreamt of the demise of the Moshiach ben Yosef on the day that Rabbi Kahane was murdered, before hearing of the news.
Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi, Rabbi of Karnei Shomron, stated that: “Today we look back and realize that it is clear that Rabbi Kahane was right. He alone fought the battle of Israel and the Torah, but we preferred to avoid joining.”
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz, the Bostoner Rebbe, heaped praise upon Rabbi Kahane for initiating defense groups to help protect Jewish communities. Later, Rabbi Horowitz hosted the JDL International Leadership Conference at Boston’s Beth Pinchas synagogue.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder of the Hineni outreach organization, often showered praises on Rabbi Kahane. She wrote a number of essays describing Rabbi Kahane’s greatness and contributions, referring to him as one who “dedicated his entire life to the service of our nation.”
Rabbi Avraham Kalmanowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, personally ordained Rabbi Kahane and had an apparent adoration of him. Once, after hearing of Rabbi Kahane’s sacrifice for Torah, Rabbi Kalmanowitz approached him and stated that: “Because you sanctified G-d’s name … your name and fame shall spread far and wide.”
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaath, had an affinity for Rabbi Kahane and expressed this fondness on a number of occasions.
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Klein, Menahel (principal) of the Mirrer Mesivta for over forty years, would contact Rabbi Kahane regularly requesting the presence of the JDL to protect the Yeshiva students from attack. Rabbi Kahane sent his toughest group (the “chaya squad”) to ensure the yeshiva students would remain safe and avoid missing a minute of studies.
Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz Harav and son of the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, looked up to Rabbi Kahane and, later, endorsed him in his bid for a Knesset seat, stating: “The presence of Rabbi Kahane and his uncompromising words from the Knesset platform will undoubtedly add strength and value to the obligatory struggle on behalf of the entire Land of Israel.”
Rabbi Shlomo Korach, Chief Sephardic Rabbi and Av Beit Din of Bnei Brak, saw in Rabbi Kahane a man committed to the truth. He praised Rabbi Kahane for being the first to raise the issue of the kidnapped Yemenite children and as “the only one who didn’t let me down in my hopes and dreams in Israel.”
Rabbi Yosef Mendelevitch, famous Jewish Soviet refusenik, considered Rabbi Kahane a savior of Soviet Jewry. In one interview, he stated that: “Rabbi Kahane was a representative for us. His activities made us feel good. His actions showed that Jews cared. His actions may have been controversial, but his role was very important. He was a symbol for Russian Jews.”
Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Mashgiach (counselor) at Rabbi Chaim Berlin and popular orator, initially was wary of Rabbi Kahane’s activities and often expressed so. With time, Rabbi Miller began expressing more and more praise for the rabbi and his ideology. While discussing Jewish assimilation efforts, he once stated, “Rabbi Kahane says a good deal of common sense … and is perfectly right.” Regarding Israeli policy and the Arab demographic threat, he stated, “in that sense, Kahane is right. Jews should have a certain independence of non-Jews, we don’t care what they will say. We’re not going to fight against our brothers just to please the non-Jew.” Of Rabbi Kahane’s character, he stated the following: “He had a fiery love for the Jewish people … He criticized the Reformers and the Assimilationists more than anybody else, and that’s why he was so hated! He showed them up in such a way that there he was really a terrible embarrassment for them, and they had to get rid of him. We regret what happened to him. He was in a certain sense an asset to us … When a person has good qualities we’re for him!” He also encouraged his followers to attend Rabbi Kahane’s funeral, stating that he was headed straight for paradise, for he was “a Jew who stood for the wonderful cause of showing his Judaism.”
Rabbi Avraham Pam, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaath, had, on rare occasions, spoke of his respect for Rabbi Kahane and the impression he made on him.
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, Professor of Rabbinic Literature at Yeshiva University, considered Rabbi Kahane one of his positive influences and close friends. “You can’t imagine the influence he had on so many young people,” he once said. “When he sang you felt that Eretz Yisrael was in the room. He was a talmid chacham that we all looked up to.” Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff felt that the formation of the JDL “was such an important move, we all owe a great debt to him because it changed our thinking. As a result of JDL, you have in every Jewish neighborhood where there are problems today, Jewish patrols. This was unheard of. It later gives birth to Hatzola!” Regarding Soviet Jewry, he stated that “Meir did wonderful things… He went out in the street when no one heard about Russian Jewry and started demonstrating, campaigning.” While he felt that Rabbi Kahane exaggerated the threat to U.S. Jews, “regarding Israel, he hit the nail on the head.”
Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg, Holocaust Chairman of the New York Board of Rabbis, knew Rabbi Kahane well and was proud to have him speak in his synagogue. He related that Rabbi Kahane was “a brilliant lawyer, rabbi, politician and leader. He fully loved the Jewish people and lived and died for Israel and Judaism. He would come out for and energize a small group of old, poor and powerless Jews in a terrible neighborhood simply because they were Jews and he was asked.”
Rabbi Mordechai Savitsky, Honorary President of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis, was impressed with Rabbi Kahane’s initiatives for Jewry and would praise Rabbi Kahane and his efforts in protecting Jews.
Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Ore, thought highly of Rabbi Kahane, eventually enlisting him to give weekly classes in his institution, which he did for some time.
While Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, disagreed with the effectiveness of JDL tactics vis-à-vis Soviet Jewry, he supported Rabbi Kahane on issues concerning Israel, including the issue of Arabs, relinquishing land, building settlements and the incorporation of Jewish law into Israeli policy. After hearing of Rabbi Kahane’s death, Rabbi Schneerson remarked that “one of the greatest Jewish leaders in history has fallen.” He later blessed Rabbi Kahane’s son to be successful in fulfilling his “holy father’s” work.
Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Shach, Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh and staunch anti-Zionist in principle, stated that Rabbi Kahane was the perfect Jew with the exception of his following the path of the Zionist rabbis. He specifically noted to his students that all men must learn three things from Rabbi Kahane’s greatness: To be stubborn in achieving one’s goals, to possess true fear of heaven and to disregard what is considered popular.
Rabbi Avraham Shapira, Chief Rabbi of Israel and Rosh Yeshiva of Merkaz Harav, stated that Rabbi Kahane was an inseparable part of Orthodox Judaism. He later openly backed Rabbi Kahane’s State of Judea movement. Though many rabbis were pressured by government officials and affluent donors to denounce Rabbi Kahane, Rabbi Shapira refused to publish such an address even when immense pressure was used.
Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik, Rosh Yeshiva of Brisk, once stated: “What Rabbi Kahane said was absolutely correct, just we don’t say it because the world will criticize us, but somebody had to say it.”
Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Diaspora Yeshiva, a known admirer of Rabbi Kahane, compared him to Abraham, claiming that both were revolutionaries ahead of their time.
Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, Senior Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University and son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, had much praise for Kahane. He stated that Rabbi Kahane’s “whole goal was always ‘how do you make each Jew stand tall?’”
Rabbi Noach Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah, admired Rabbi Kahane so that he even sought to secure him in his staff, believing Rabbi Kahane was just what the kiruv movement needed.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, Rosh Yeshiva of Hazon Ya’akov and son of Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, described Rabbi Kahane as one who fulfilled his role faithfully. He declared that “we must learn from his great actions in order that we learn the way of the Torah.”
Rabbi Meir Ze’ev, Head of the Council of Iraqi Jewry, stated that he knew Rabbi Kahane as a man of kindness. He stated: “I remember when he would divide his Knesset salary amongst numerous families. I sent him lists of avrechim (Torah students) and he never said no, he gave to all. He helped all. He was entirely dedicated to love of the Jewish people.” He also stated that Rabbi Kahane was “the only one who spoke out on behalf of Iraqi Jewry oppressed under Hussein.” He stressed our obligation to name streets and institutions after him, due to his dedication and sacrifice.
Rabbi Yitzhak Shlomo Zilberman, founder of Yeshivat Aderet Eliyahu and pioneer of the Zilberman method of Torah study, was a strong admirer of Rabbi Kahane.
Though some supported Rabbi Kahane fully in his major positions, most would support him on one issue while disagreeing on others. While some admired his fight for Soviet Jewry, others were less ecstatic about confronting the Soviets. While some backed his defense of helpless Jews in crime-ridden areas, others felt his approach would harm their reputation. While some embraced his push for Aliyah, others felt it an unnecessary creed. While some supported his strong positions against terror, others felt uncomfortable at the thought of such measures. His fight for increasing Jewish education, inspiring Jewish pride and love for one another, giving youth a reason for being Jewish and battling against assimilation were a bit more challenging to criticize.
All in all, some of the greatest of rabbis saw in Rabbi Kahane a man of vision and a scholar bearing Torah truth, a far cry from the mindless, extremist image often depicted. In fact, were one to consider the many controversial statements issued by leading rabbis in recent times, one would encounter a world of words far more extreme than any that Rabbi Kahane ever expressed. But what made him controversial was not the speech he used in the study hall, but his full intention of implementing the positions he espoused.
Rabbi Kahane would often lament that many had heard about him while so few had actually heard him. So pick up a book. Read an article. Check out some of the fascinating debates available online or browse mkwords.com. Learn firsthand and decide for yourself.