Editor’s note: Last weeks marked the 79th yahrzeit of Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940), a fearless Zionist leader who founded Betar and the Irgun and was the hero of such personalities as Menachem Begin and Rabbi Meir Kahane.
Jabotinsky was born in 1880 and grew up in a home where Jewish tradition was considered for the elderly. His hometown was Odessa, whose Jews were known for distancing themselves from Torah and mitzvot.
Through his Zionist work, however, Jabotinsky came closer to Judaism. Several times he expressed genuine regret for not having received a traditional Jewish education. When his friends asked him about his changed attitudes concerning religion and faith, he explained that over time he realized that the mysterious foundation of faith and religion was a basis without which life could not be built, and certainly, not a Jewish life.
True, he criticized phenomena that seemed to contradict the values of freedom of conscience and freedom of opinion, but it is important to note that in this matter, although in a different style, he concurred with some of the views of Rabbi Kook, who saw the values of freedom and liberty as important beliefs.
In the constitution of the New Zionist Organization which he founded, he wrote: “The aim of Zionism is the redemption of Israel and its land, the revival of its sovereignty and language, and the rooting of its sacred teachings in the life of the nation. Its ways: Creating a Hebrew majority in Eretz Yisrael on both sides of the Jordan, establishing the Hebrew state on the foundations of civil liberty and the principles of justice in the spirit of Torat Yisrael.”
It is worth noting that in the first version he wrote “the imposing of its sacred teachings in the life of the nation,” but in the end, compromised with the opinion of the majority of the founding members, and wrote “rooting” instead of “imposing.”
These are the foundations that underpin the positive attitude to tradition in the Revisionist Zionist movement in its various incarnations, up to today’s Likud party.
His Attitude toward Rabbi Kook
In an article written at the end of the summer of 1934, after the acquittal of Avraham Stavsky of Arlozorov’s murder, Jabotinsky addressed Rabbi Kook: “From Rabbi Falk [the military rabbi of the Jewish Legion in World War I], I first heard the name Rabbi Kook. The rabbi was living in London at the time, and Falk was one of his students. It is not easy to faithfully describe a student’s attitude towards his rabbi. Rabbi Falk spoke of Rabbi Kook not only as a revered teacher but as a holy guide. For hours, he sat and explained to me Rabbi Kook’s worldview …
“For the first time in my spiritual life, my heart opened to that same ancient terrain – but new for me – which contains answers to all our deep problems, and stems from our ancient Scriptures…and behind all the revelations hidden in the verses and aggadot stands a rare and precious human personality, a soul living in a unique world, a world of lofty and noble ideas, a soul that builds its daily life according to an eternal order, a soul that breathes and operates in certain perpetual contact with a supernatural power” (Mo’adei Raayah, p. 395).
Concerning Public Shabbat Desecration
In the name of Rav Kook, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Chechik, related: “It once happened that on a Sunday, Jews whose hearts ached for the desecration of Shabbat, came and told Rabbeinu that on Shabbat some youth had gathered on the field behind the Bukhara houses playing soccer, and transgressed Shabbat prohibitions. Since the youth were members of Betar, whose leader was Ze’ev Jabotinsky, consequently, it would be highly appropriate for Rabbeinu to write a letter of protest to him.
“After Rabbeinu sadly listened to them, he asked me for a piece of paper, and wrote a pleasantly-worded protest letter with candid reproach to Mr. Jabotinsky, and asked me to give it to him. When I arrived and handed Jabotinsky the letter and he saw that it was from Rav Kook, zt”l, he asked me to wait until he read it. After reading the letter, he sank into reflection, his face expressing sorrow.
Immediately, he asked me: Do you know the contents of Rav Kook’s letter? After I told him I did, he asked me to tell Rabbeinu not to worry, that he would use all of his influence to make sure it didn’t happen again and added that he would also meet Rabbeinu to discuss the matter. He graciously accompanied me to the door, and asked me to send his warm regards to “our dear rabbi.”
The Attitude of Rav Kook and
His Son Towads Jabotinsky
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda supported Jabotinsky’s political positions, and the armed struggle of the Underground movements, Irgun and Lechi, against the British occupation and Arab rioters, and even boasted that he agreed to hide Underground literature in his home.
Similarly, I also heard testimony that Rav Kook zt”l had tremendous appreciation for Jabotinsky’s self-sacrifice for the people of Israel, his correct positions, and the purity of his character traits.
I heard that when a letter was brought to Rav Kook from Jabotinsky concerning the libel surrounding the murder of Arlozorov, he said that Jabotinsky was “an angel of G-d.” No such leader of the Jewish people at that time received such adoration from Rav Kook.
His Last Day
On his last day, the 29th of Tammuz, 5700 (August 4, 1940), while traveling from New York to the Betar camp in the suburbs, he unexpectedly asked one of his companions, who was a traditional Jew, to sing for him the Kol Nidre prayer, saying that he did not quite recall the words in Aramaic. After he sang it to him once, Jabotinsky sank into deep reflection, and asked him to sing Kol Nidre a few more times.
As is well-known in Jewish tradition, a person’s last day holds a concise expression of his entire life. Jabotinsky’s cleaving Kol Nidre, symbolizing more than any other prayer the sacred day of Yom Kippur, expresses the purity of his actions for the sake of the Jewish nation, its land, and its spiritual culture.
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed is rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Bracha and author of “Peninei Halacha,” a multi-volume halachic work that has sold over a half million copies. An expanded version of this article appeared in Hebrew in Israel’s Besheva newspaper.
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Ze’ev Jabotinsky on Religion
The education I received in ancien-regime Russia and Italy was thoroughly rationalistic in outlook; yet in the end, almost without realizing it was happening , I have had to acknowledge that no rationalism can reveal to me the only truth that is worth knowing: whence I come and whither I am going and what is the hunger I feel in my soul.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky on Shmiras HaMitzvos
Once it bothered me that those with the means to contact the divine spent so much time in petty, material, anthropomorphic pursuits, such as ritual. But then came a time when a great realization set in – namely, that perhaps three-quarters of everything genuinely civilized consists of ritual and ceremony….
There is no social collective that would not lapse into barbarism were it not for the iron bit in its mouth of immemorial custom and manners. This realization made me aware of the wealth of sacred obstinacy that a minority must possess to preserve inwardly and manifest outwardly a ceremonial life differing so boldly and radically from that of its surrounding environment.