Forgotten History – The Torah-Underground Nexusby Tzvi Fishman
Once again, the integrity of the Land of Israel is at risk due to foreign interference, just like it was before the foundation of the Jewish state. The men who opposed these concessions in the 1930s and ‘40s were members of the Jewish Underground, many of whose leaders had strong ties to tradition.
Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, for example, had a profound influence on Irgun leaders Moshe Segal and David Raziel. “It is not widely known that the Irgun’s first leader, David Raziel, studied at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook,” Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen, a teacher at Machon Meir Yeshiva, told The Jewish Press.
“One of his study partners was Rabbi Kook’s son, Rav Tzvi Yehuda, who eventually took over as head of the yeshiva and later founded the Gush Emunim Movement, which populated Israel’s heartland with Jewish communities after the Six-Day War,” he said.
“During Raziel’s years at the yeshiva, he was deeply imbued with Rav Kook’s vision of Israel’s historic rebirth, as seen in the ingathering of exiles, the settlement of the Land, and the revival of the Hebrew language. … Rav Kook’s vision for Israel’s national rebirth very much fueled Raziel’s later underground activities.”
David Raziel wasn’t the only prominent underground fighter with a strong connection to Torah. Uri Zvi Greenberg was the poet of the Jewish Underground in the 1940s. His impassioned words and visions of redemption inspired a generation of young Jews searching for a Judaism that soared free over ghetto walls to a national Torah in Zion, lighting the path toward Jerusalem’s former glory and the establishment of the Kingdom of G-d on earth.
Raised in a chassidic family in Lvov, Greenberg studied Torah throughout his youth. His writings abound with images from the Tanach, yearnings for redemption, along with harsh criticism of all forms of social movements that strove to disconnect Zionism from the Torah.
Rabbi HaKohen explains: “In one famous poem, ‘I Will Tell it to a Child,’ Greenberg attributes the Machiach’s not coming to the Jewish merchants and landowners who strive after material gain, paying no heed to the fact that the Temple Mount lies in disgrace and ruin. Avraham Yair Stern broke away from the Irgun to form the more militant Lehi movement. While the highly intellectual Stern had no formal religious education as a youth, he became friendly with Raziel during the years they learned together at Hebrew University. Raziel, the fervently religious Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva student, introduced Stern, a lover of Greek literature, philosophy, and the arts, to the unparalleled wisdom of the Torah.
In his letters to his wife-to-be, Ronnie, Stern writes that he decided to establish their future married life upon the foundations of Judaism, including Shabbat, kashrut, tefillin, Torah study, and prayer. In the few short years before he was assassinated by the British, Stern developed a yearning to sanctify his life in Kiddush Hashem for the nation. In a poem, he writes:
“The fire of Joshua’s battleground will sear our faces and eyes like the sun of Givon. The shadow of our flag like the wings of eagles will frighten the foxes of Zion. And above, our sun will rest on our heads like the hand of G-d, and we will kiss the dust of our Land and cry with happiness like children. A day will come when our dust will fly off in every direction from the generations of exile. To our nation planted in our blood, to the heights of G-d will we lift our praise. Our hands raised like the branches of palms to the corners of the heavens will grasp a G-d of zealously and vengeance. Take our lives, but do our bidding, for it is fierce and bold.”
After Stern was gunned down in his Tel Aviv hideout, Yisrael Eldad promulgated, in secret underground broadcasts, articles, and street posters, a deeply religious Zionist philosophy that inspired Lehi fighters to continue the armed struggle against the British.
“In Poland, Eldad and Menachem Begin were close friends,” Yisrael Medad told The Jewish Press. “Using his pen like a sword in battle, Eldad believed that Jewish statehood was not the end goal of the Zionist struggle, but rather the establishment of what he called, ‘Malchut Yisrael,’ the kingdom of Israel, in which all of the world’s Jews would live in the full borders of Biblical Israel, crowned by the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem.”
Menachem Begin, too, had deep ties to Judaism.
“Like most of the Jewish youth in Brisk, Begin had a traditional cheder and Talmud Torah education,” Rabbi HaKohen said. “When he was eight, he delivered his first speech, on Lag B’Omer, on the subject of Bar Kochva, who, with Rabbi Akiva, led the final Jewish revolt against Rome….
“While exposing himself to the wide spectrum of secular knowledge, he always maintained an invincible attachment to G-d, as can be seen in his outpourings of prayer during his incarceration in Gulag labor camps, which he describes in his book, White Nights. Interestingly, in his underground years as leader of the Irgun, he disguised himself as a rabbi, and he played the role without having to act.
“Throughout his life, he honored and respected Jewish traditions and was fully knowledgeable of Jewish customs and laws. In the words of his longtime friend and advisor, Harry Hurwitz, Menachem Begin was, ‘above all things, a man of immense and supreme faith whose constant prayer was ‘Bezrat Hashem, with the help of the Almighty.’