Notwithstanding the religious-political battles that have marked Israel’s history from the birth of the State (and earlier), the chagim have always been celebrated by Israel’s political and rabbinic leaders as a time of good will and mutual exchanges of warm greetings. Following are samples of such correspondence from my collection of Passover documents.
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (1910-2012) was a charedi Rav and posek who was broadly recognized as the paramount leader of the Lithuanian-charedi community in both Israel and the Diaspora, with many Ashkenazi Jews also regarding him as their ultimate leading halachic authority. Most roshei yeshiva associated with the Agudat Yisrael movement frequently sought out his opinions and followed his advice and guidelines concerning a wide array of policy and communal issues.
Although he led Israel’s charedi community in rejecting the State of Israel in 1948, R. Elyashiv began his rabbinic career in Israel as a protégé of various religious Zionist rabbis and as a government-employed judge in the state-established High Rabbinic Court. When the religious political party Degel HaTorah was established in 1989, he joined its public leadership and, after Rav Elazar Shach’s death, he essentially became the halachic decisionmaker for the party.
Inside the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox world, R. Elyashiv represented a hardline faction opposed to virtually all encroachments into the insular community. For example, a staunch opponent of the World Zionist Organization, he wrote a letter bitterly criticizing the Shas Party for joining the WZO in 2010 and thereby “turning its back on the basics of Charedi Jewry of the past hundred years” and “promoting a breach in authentic Torah Judaism.”
In this 12 Nissan 2001 correspondence on his Prime Minister letterhead, Benjamin Netanyahu sends Passover greetings to Rav Elyashiv in which he extends to the Rav and to his entire family a happy and kosher Pesach and a healthy summer and wishes good days to all of Israel.
After serving as Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi (1973-1983), Rav Ovadiah Yosef (1920-2013) extended his influence as the spiritual leader of Shas, the Orthodox political party he founded and through which he politically galvanized hundreds of thousands of Sephardic Israelis as he sought to raise the status of Israel’s historically disadvantaged Sephardic community culturally and socioeconomically. As his influence grew, he presided over a veritable empire of Sephardi religious services, including a network of schools with over 40,000 students and a kosher certification (Beit Yosef) that has become a Sephardic standard, and he became a dominant power broker in appointing Sephardic judges in religious courts and electing Sephardic chief rabbis – including his son, Avraham.
Generally considered to be one of the most important religious authorities and an authoritative arbiter of halacha, he was known for his encyclopedic memory and sharp halachic analysis. Though he adhered to a charedi Orthodox ideology, he published relatively liberal Jewish legal rulings; gave less weight to minhagim not well anchored in halacha, undertaking highly controversial efforts to change popular and deeply rooted traditions; and he drew support both from traditional and secular Sephardic Israelis. His notable rulings include permitting women with missing husbands in the Yom Kippur War to remarry; endorsing Ethiopian Jews’ claim to Judaism and helping them immigrate under the Law of Return; and reciting Hallel without a blessing on Yom HaAtzmaut. In recognition of his body of work, he was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 1970.
In this 7 Nissan 1979 correspondence on his Rishon L’Tzion letterhead, R. Yosef sends warm Pesach greetings to Ariel Sharon, then Minister of Agriculture in Menachem Begin’s government:
Peace and blessings and great salvation,
At the outset of Chag HaPesach, may it be upon us for the good, I am hereby honored to send my true blessing to you and to your household for a kosher and joyous holiday.
May it be the will of G-d that the words of Chazal speedily come true: “In Nissan they [i.e., the Jews] were liberated, and in Nissan they are destined to be liberated again” [the citation is to Masechet Rosh Hashanah, folio 11a] and, as in the days of our exodus from Egypt [Hashem] will show us miracles. Hashem will provide strength to his nation and Hashem will bless his nation with peace.” [The citation to Tehillim 29:11]
May you merit to live many good and pleasant years.
Second, exhibited here is the beautiful handwritten dedication in his sefer, Chazon Ovadiah, that R. Yosef sent to Rav Yaakov Neiman (1886-1983), rosh yeshiva of Ohr Yisrael in Lida and later in Petach Tikvah. This sefer, written in Rav Yosef’s characteristic encyclopedic style, presents his commentary on the Pesach Haggadah.
Rav Yosef Soloveitchik (1903-1993), was a descendant of the Lithuanian Soloveitchik rabbinic dynasty who inherited and further developed the “Brisker method” of Talmudic analysis and was perhaps the seminal figure of Modern Orthodox Judaism in 20th century America. As rosh yeshiva of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, he ordained some 2,000 rabbis in almost half a century and he served as mentor and role-model for tens of thousands of Jews, both as a Talmudic scholar and as a religious leader. Widely viewed as having advocated a synthesis between Torah scholarship and Western, secular scholarship, “the Rav” was a traditionalist rosh yeshiva in the Eastern European mold who utilized modern philosophical language to enable his words of Torah to reach a wider, more sophisticated audience.
The tension between modernity and Orthodoxy manifested itself in every area of the Rav’s public life. He staunchly defended the authority of the rabbinate, fought against unwarranted halachic change (for example, he led the campaign against mixed seating in synagogues), and opposed theological dialogue with Reform and Conservative rabbis and with the Church. Yet, at the same time he pioneered Talmudic education for girls, conspicuously abandoned the Brisker family tradition by strongly supporting Zionism, and advocated cooperation with the non-Orthodox – and even with Christians – in the pursuit of social justice and security for the Jewish people.
In this Erev Pesach (1966) correspondence, the Rav extends warm Pesach blessings to Chaim Moshe Shapira:
With deep respect to my friend, grand leader of tens of thousands, Harav Hagaon Moshe Shapira, peace and blessings!
For the Feast of Matzot, I offer him a sincere and heartfelt blessing, and may Hakadosh Baruch Hu spread over him succat shlomo [“his succah of peace”] and guard him from all evil, injuries, and illnesses. May his home be like a watered garden filled with great kindnesses. Moadim L’Simchah, Chagim u’Zemanim L’sasson!
Shapira (1902-1970) was a key Israeli politician in the early days of the state’s existence. A signatory of Israel’s declaration of independence, he served almost continuously as a minister (National Religious Party) from the country’s establishment in 1948 until his death. He studied at various yeshivot before making aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, where he became a leader in the Zionist Executive and dedicated his life to facilitating the immigration of religious Jews to Israel.
Rav Yitzchak Yedidyah Frankel (1913-1986) received semicha at age seventeen in Warsaw (1930); was acclaimed as a gaon in his teens; and made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael (1935), where he settled in the Florentine neighborhood in south Tel Aviv where he was appointed neighborhood rabbi and, in 1973, as chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. He became known for his support, counsel and encouragement to the Lehi and other clandestine groups; he was the only Rav to visit the posts of the fighters on the Tel Aviv-Jaffa border each night, and he was once wounded by Arab fire from Abu Kabir on one such trip.
R. Frankel became renowned for his peacemaking, his settlement of internecine disputes, and his ability to bring religious and secular Jews together. Among his undertakings in this regard was his testimony at the 1935 “Shabbat Trials,” which played a leading role in the acquittal of Jews accused of interfering with traffic on Shabbat; his actions in the wake of the infamous Altalena Affair, where he scattered the crowd through appeals to the dangers of baseless hatred among Jews; and his role in preventing bloodshed after the Bernadotte assassination and the Lehi jailbreak from Jaffa Prison.
In this April 12, 1982, correspondence on his Foreign Secretary letterhead, Yitzchak Shamir thanks R. Frankel for his Passover greetings on Chag HaCherut (the Festival of Freedom) and wishes him “may it be the will of G-d that joy and blessings and health rest on your house and all that is yours” and that “may you rejoice on your festival and during all the days of the year.”
Below are several correspondences from various rabbanim extending Pesach greetings to Rav Menachem Porush (1916-2010), an Israel politician who served as a member of the Knesset for Agudat Yisrael and its alliances (1959-1975 and 1977-1994). As chairman of the Agudat Yisrael Center (1955), he founded Children’s Town to promote Jewish education and combat missionary influence. He also served as deputy head of the Jerusalem city council (1969-74) and served for a time as Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Welfare.
First: In this Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan (“the month of redemption”) 2003 correspondence, Rav Yisrael Meir Lau expresses a poetic reflection of his service as chief rabbi and extends Pesach wishes to Rav Porush:
May your well-being extend forever,
Eleven years have passed since the time I entered – along with my friend, Rav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron – to serve as Chief Rabbi of Israel. During the first five years, I served as president of the Chief Rabbinical Council of Israel, and during the last five years I served as President of the Great Rabbinical Court.
Within the framework of my position, I interacted with many personalities, organizations, and institutions, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, and I had the great merit to work – continuously, frequently, or one-time – with you. This correspondence is designed to express my great thanks for the understanding and partnership in sharing the work which I merited at your side.
At the close of my term of service, which took place over a great historical period, stormy, pregnant with destiny and with great ups and downs, I thank the Rebono shel Olam for his assisting me to pass peacefully over all the stormy waters that carried the boat of the rabbinate and of the nation in Israel and to lead it to shore and safe haven.
As I leave my position, I spread my palms to Hashem with prayer for a true peace within and without, for bringing hearts close, for love of the Torah, for love of Israel and for the fortification of the walls of the State of Israel as a Jewish state in the spirit of the prophets of Israel and the Great Men of the generations.
And, again – with thanks for your friendship, assistance and partnership in the work, I hereby extend to you and to your entire household, may Hashem fill all the desires of your heart for the good.
With blessings for a kosher Pesach and a joyous festival [handwritten:] and with physical health.
Rav Lau (1937- ), who was the youngest person to survive Buchenwald, received semicha (1971) before serving as Rav of North Tel Aviv (1971-78); as chief rabbi of Netanya (1978-88), during which time he was elected as a member of Chief Rabbinical Council; as chief rabbi and president of the Rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv-Yafo (1988-1993); and as Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel (1993-2003), before being reinstalled as chief rabbi of Tel Aviv (2005). He was awarded the Israel Prize for his lifetime achievements and special contribution to society and the State of Israel (2005), and was appointed chairman of Yad Vashem (2008). His publications include Yahadut – Halacha Le’maase (1975), on the practice of Judaism, and Yachel Israel (1993), two volumes on medicine, ethics, and Jewish customs.
Second: In this 13 Nissan 1949 correspondence to Rav Porush, Rav Chaim Meir Hager lauds efforts and accomplishments by a scholar in an [unspecified] “important matter:”
I received your letter attached to the copied correspondence in the matter of the scholar Yaakov Dov Shein, and I had great pleasure to see his extraordinary effort to fulfill my request and with Hashem’s help, he was able to provide assistance and to toil in this important matter, and may it be Hashem’s will that he achieve the desired result, and may this be his reward.
He should please accept my faithful thanks for his effort and care, earning my blessing, and may the pleasantness of Hashem be upon him and may he succeed in whatever he does, and may he merit to serve in the holy position with keenness of spirit, a joyful heart, and a healthy body.
May he celebrate the Holiday of Matzot with rejoicing and kashrut, a happy and kosher holiday, and may it be Hashem’s will that we merit to eat from the sacrifices and the Pascal Sacrifice and to thank Hashem for our delivery and the redemption of our lives.
Admor Rav Hager of Vishnitz (1887-1972), also known as the “Imrei Chaim” after his most famous work, became the fourth Vizhnitzer Rebbe in 1937 after the death of his father, Yisrael Hager, the “Ahavat Yisrael.” The scion of a noble chassidic dynasty, he had a huge following, including the thousands of settlers of Shikun Vizhnitz and the hundreds of students of the Vizhnitzer Yeshiva, both in Bnei Brak, and he served as a member of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah (Council of Torah Sages) of the Agudat Israel.
After World War II, R. Hager made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in 1947, where he devoted himself to the post-Holocaust rejuvenation of chassidism. He established a yishuv comparable to those of pre-Holocaust Europe; purchased land in Bnei Brak; and, encouraged by the Ponevezher Rav, signed a contract for the establishment of “Shikun Vishnitz” (1949). Disciples from pre-war Europe gathered around him and formed a comprehensive net of educational and communal institutions. Rav Hager became a spiritual mentor of the Agudat Israel party in the Knesset and, in return for Aguda’s support in various coalition governments, he helped to win substantial government aid for Bnei Brak and affiliated communities.
Third: In this 13 Nissan 1955 (erev Pesach) correspondence to Rav Porush, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach writes:
After I extend peace and blessings with respect and honor as befits you and your entire family, I hereby inform you that I have received the 1,000 lira that Your Honor sent to me to distribute as I see fit, and I, with blessings to you to merit all good in everything that you are doing for the good of the general public and for individuals, may you grow and succeed and may Hashem be with you. And like the days that we left Egypt, may Hashem show us wonders and quickly bring redemption to His nation and to His portion both in body and in spirit.
With blessings of a happy and kosher holiday to you and to your entire household.
Rav Auerbach (1910-1995) was one of the most significant and outstanding halachic authorities of the 20th century who, though deeply rooted in the charedi world, was respected by all streams of Orthodox Judaism. Serving as the dean of the Kol Torah Yeshiva in Jerusalem, he refused to accept public positions, even rejecting an offer to serve as the chief rabbi of Jerusalem. His rulings express a keen awareness of contemporary influences and evolving Jewish-Israeli society and, utilizing meta-halachic reasoning primarily based on humanistic principles, he shifted between the two extremes of tradition and modernization as he approached each question animated by a keen sensitivity to human concerns and fidelity to halacha.
R. Auerbach’s recognition of the State of Israel was so profound that he ascribed to it the term “The Kingdom of Israel,” a term which he applied broadly to a broad range of halachic issues, such as the definition of Eretz Yisrael. He re-introduced neglected laws concerning the Land of Israel long forgotten during the many years of exile, recognizing the public need for guidance as Jews returned en masse to their homeland after two millennia.
Fourth, and finally: In this April 17, 1978, correspondence on his Mayor of Jerusalem letterhead, Teddy Kollek writes to Rav Porush with a beautiful tribute to Jerusalem and extending Pesach greetings:
With the coming of Passover, I am honored to send to Your Honor and to your family my blessings for a Chag Kasher V’sameach [a happy and kosher holiday].
At the start of the eve of the holiday which elevates the nation, it is our greatest joy to remember Jerusalem – with the declaration “To the coming year in the rebuilt Jerusalem!” Just as our fathers and ancestors declared.
Jerusalem, the eternal hope of the nation, was always and remains today like a red thread that unites and strengthens and unifies the nation in its tribes and layers, wishing with all its might for uniqueness and unity.
And, truly, as large as the wishes for Jerusalem, so is the great concern for her. Our enemies still plan evils against her and many are those who do not accept our governing authority over our dear city, and are seeking to harm it. Jerusalem was always a city of peace, in need of peace and unity, how much more so at this time.
My friends and I in the city municipality are doing everything possible, with the strengths and funds given to us, to open Jerusalem and to beautify it, to enrich it in materiality and spirituality and to make it good and comfortable for its citizens, with the goal of each person being able to live as he chooses according to his tradition and heritage and in a manner that will contain a blessing for the peace and unity that has been hope for and eagerly anticipated, and may it be fulfilled for us – “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: `may all that love you prosper.’” [Citing Psalms 122:6]
Though the charismatic Kollek’s life parallels the birth and development of Israel, ranging from his efforts to build one of the first kibbutzim in Eretz Yisrael, to safeguarding Jews during World War II, to helping to build Israel, he is best known for his 28-year mayoralty of Jerusalem (1965-1993). Much of the face of modern Jerusalem is due to his efforts, as he worked to develop the city to take its place not only as a holy city of ancient origins, but also as the capital of a modern Jewish state; Yitzhak Rabin called him “the greatest builder of Jerusalem since Herod.”
L’Shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim!