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Shabbat Parashat Chukat| 5764
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Interview with Rav Yisraeli in “Hatzofeh” in Honor of Kfar Haroeh’s - 50th Anniversary - From Gaon Batorah U’vamidot pp. 285-288
Kfar Haroeh was one of the first religious agricultural settlements (moshavim). Rav Yisraeli was the founding rabbi and served there for some three decades. Below are his thoughts on some of the challenges of what was, at that time, a new type of rabbinical position.
A rabbi in an agricultural settlement was not a foregone conclusion in the early years (1933) of Hapoel Hamizrachi (Religious Zionist Workers’ Organization). When I was requested by the people of Kfar Haroeh to serve as their rabbi and I came to them, I found a group of people who were indeed united by the religious pioneer ideal. However, they were separated by their country of origin, customs, and the mode of prayer. People came to the settlement from all over Europe, and they began to work hard, physical work that they were not used to and which demanded most of their strength. Now go ahead and have them coalesce into a new, united community, one that accepts the authority of the Torah.
I set for myself as a guiding principle the words of Rav Kook, “to renew the old and sanctify the new,” but in a manner that fit the time and the place. Namely, “to preserve the old and to purify the new.” It was clear that the job of a rabbi in such a place was to be the cement that connects between one member and another and between the entirety of the membership and the Torah of Yisrael. That way, not everyone would claim, “this is the way I want to pray,” or “this is the way I received it from my fathers.” After not a small amount of exertion, lectures, persuasive conversations, which lasted all hours of the day and night, I was successful in finally setting a text for prayer and in ensuring that the Torah’s authority rule prominently.
The difficulty was double. It was not only internal, in regard to different customs and the different origins of the members, but also in regard to the external surroundings. We were surrounded in those days by leftist kibbutzim and villages, whose people would scoff at everything that was holy to us. They didn’t only scoff, but actually fought an ideological war against us. We had to develop, within our community, a very strong Jewish identity in order to stand up to them. On the other hand, we did not live in a ghetto, and we did not close ourselves in. We entered into joint action and realized the joint fate we shared with them in many areas of life: security, concern for health, land improvement. There were daily meetings, and on a daily basis, the Kfar Haroeh member was forced to deal with ridicule and secularism.
On top of this, you have to consider the element of newness to every single religious institution in the kfar (village). There was the struggle over the building of the shul and over the construction of the mikveh. We had to arrange a religious school. There were struggles to properly develop a Shabbat and holiday atmosphere, to convince the public to do away with mixed dancing, which was very accepted among pioneers. Those were days full of renewal and effort.
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