History

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook and Hebron

The Chief Rabbi's fiery speech at the 1929 massacre memorial inspired many, as did his refusal to shakes hands with a British official.

13.7.16, 14:01
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook was the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel and an influential leader who sought to unite religious and secular Jewish society. Family members live in Hebron today including a great-granddaughter, Tzipi Schlissel who heads the Hebron History Museum in Beit Hadassah. 
 
Torah scrolls rescued from the 1929 Hebron massacre today are in use at the Beit HaRav Kook center in Jerusalem. Recently they have been rededicated in memory of the soldiers of Operation Protective Edge.
 
The following is based on a except from the book Stories from the Land of Israel Rabbi Chanan Morrison, adapted from Malachim Kivnei Adam, pp. 155-157; 160; 164-165.
 
THE 1929 MASSACRE
 
"arah died in Kiryat Arba, also known as Hebron... Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her." (Genesis 23:2)
 
A somber gathering assembled in Jerusalem's Yeshurun synagogue. The large synagogue and its plaza were packed as crowds attended a memorial service for the Jews of Hebron who had been killed during the riots six months earlier, on August 24th, 1929.
 
On that tragic Sabbath day, news of deadly rioting in Hebron reached the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, then director of the National Committee, hurried to Rabbi Kook's house. Together they hastened to meet with Harry Luke, the acting British high commissioner, to urge him to take action and protect the Jews of Hebron.
 
The Chief Rabbi demanded that the British take severe and immediate measures against the rioters.
 
"What can be done?" Luke asked.
 
Rabbi Kook's response was to the point. "Shoot the murderers!"
 
"But I have received no such orders."
 
"Then I am commanding you!" Rabbi Kook roared. "In the name of humanity's moral conscience, I demand this!"
 
Rabbi Kook held the acting commissioner responsible for British inaction during the subsequent massacre. Not long after this heated exchange, an official reception was held in Jerusalem, and Mr. Luke held out his hand to greet the Chief
Rabbi. To the shock of many, Rabbi Kook refused to shake it.
 
With quiet fury, the rabbi explained, "I do not shake hands defiled with Jewish blood."
 
This incident is also recorded in the book An Angel Among Men by Simcha Raz, translated by Rabbi Moshe Lichtman, pp. 191-194.  
 

(Photo: Rabbi Kook (right) with Mayor William O'Dwyer of New York (center) and Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein (left) of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Hebron. The rabbis traveled to the United States together in 1924 as part of the Central Relief Committee (CRC) Emergency Campaign. Rabbi Kook helped the Slabodka Yeshiva relocate from Europe to Hebron. Several of the students were later killed in the massacre. The school, still known as the Hebron Yeshiva, relocated to Jerusalem where today is it one of Israel's largest Torah institutions. Credit: Wiki Commons.)
 
The day after the rioting in Hebron, the extent of the massacre was revealed. Mobs had slaughtered 67 Jews —including yeshiva students, elderly rabbis, women, and children of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic backgrounds. The British police had done little to protect them. The Jewish community of Hebron was destroyed, and their property looted and stolen. The British shipped the survivors off to Jerusalem.
 
The "tzaddik of Jerusalem" Rabbi Arieh Levine accompanied Rabbi Kook that Sunday to Hadassah Hospital on HaNevi'im Street in order to hear news of the Hebron community by telephone. Rabbi Levine recalled the frightful memories that would be forever etched in his heart.
 
"When the Rabbi heard about the murder of the holy martyrs, he fell backwards and fainted. After coming to, he cried bitterly and tore his clothes over the house of Israel and God's people who had fallen by the sword." He sat in the dust and recited the blessing, Baruch Dayan Ha'Emet (Blessed is the True Judge)."
 
For some time after that, his bread was the bread of tears and he slept without a pillow. Old age suddenly befell him, and he began to suffer terrible pains. This tragedy brought about the illness from which the Rabbi never recovered.
 
THE MEMORIAL SERVICE
 
Six months after the massacre, grieving crowds filled the Yeshurun synagogue in Jerusalem. A mourning atmosphere, like that on the fast of Tisha B'Av, lingered in the air as they assembled in pained silence. Survivors of the massacre, who had witnessed the atrocities before their eyes, recited Kaddish for family members murdered in the rioting.
 
Rabbi Jacob Joseph Slonim, who had lost his son (Eliezer Dan Slonim, who was fluent in Arabic and a member of the Hebron municipal council) and grandchildren in the massacre, opened the assembly in the name of the remnant of the Hebron community.
 

(Photo: The Slonim family of Hebron, 1928. Most were killed in the massacre. The bearded Rabbi Slonim is seated under his son, Eliezer Dan Slonim, a well-connected community leader. Residents fled to the Slonim house for protection. When the mob reached his house, they demaded him to bring out "the strangers," to which Eliezer Dan replied, "there are no strangers here, they are all family." Credit: Wiki Commons.)
 
"No healing has taken place during the past six months, he reported. "The murder and the theft have not been rectified. The British government and the Jewish leadership have done nothing to correct the situation. They have not worked to reclaim Jewish property and resettle Hebron."
 
Afterwards, the Chief Rabbi rose to speak:
 
"The holy martyrs of Hebron do not need a memorial service. The Jewish people can never forget the holy and pure souls who were slaughtered by murderers and vile thugs.
 
Rather, we must remember and remind the Jewish people not to forget the city of the Patriarchs. The people must know what Hebron means to us.
 
We have an ancient tradition that 'The actions of the fathers are signposts for their descendants.' When the weak-hearted spies arrived at Hebron, they were frightened by the fierce nations who lived in the land. But Caleb quieted the people for Moses. He said, 'We must go forth and conquer the land. We can do it!' (Numbers 13:30)
 
Despite the terrible tragedy that took place in Hebron, we announce to the world, 'Our strength is now like our strength was then.' We will not abandon our holy places and sacred aspirations. Hebron is the city of our fathers, the city of the Cave of Machpela where our Patriarchs are buried. It is the city of David, the cradle of our sovereign monarchy.
 
Those who discourage the ones trying to rebuild the Jewish community in Hebron with arguments of political expedience; those who scorn and say, 'What are those wretched Jews doing?' Those who refuse to help rebuild Hebron -- they are attacking the very roots of our people. In the future, they will have to give account for their actions. If ruffians and hooligans have repaid our kindness with malice, we have only one eternal response: Jewish Hebron will once again be built, in honor and glory!
 
The inner meaning of Hebron is to draw strength and galvanize ourselves with the power of Netzach Yisrael, Eternal Israel.
 
That proud Jew, Caleb, announced years later, 'I am still strong... As my strength was then, so is my strength now' (Joshua 14:11). We, too, announce to the world: our strength now is as our strength was then. We shall reestablish Hebron in even greater glory, with peace and security for every Jew. With God’s help, we will merit to see Hebron completely rebuilt, speedily in our days."
 
THE RETURN TO HEBRON
 
While some Jewish families did return to Hebron in 1931, they were evacuated by the British authorities at the start of the renewed rioting in 1936. For 34 years, there was no Jewish community in Hebron —until after the Six Day War of 1967.
 
This return to Hebron after was spearheaded by former students of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, disciples of Rabbi Kook's son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook.
 

(Photo: Rabbi Moshe Levinger (left) and Chanan Porat (right) dancing with students of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva and others in 1975 after the government voted to repatriate abandoned Jewish lands redeemed after the Six Day War. Credit: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office National Photo Collection.)
 
In 1992, Rabbi Kook's grandson, Rabbi Shlomo Ra'anan, moved to Hebron with his wife.
 
Six years later, a terrorist climbed up a pole and into his bedroom window at night. The 63-year-old rabbi struggled with his attacker and was stabbed repeatedly and killed. 
 

(Photo: Rabbi Shomo Ra'anan.)
 
His wife Chaya Ra'anan chose to remain in Hebron and her daughter Tzipi Schlissel and son-in-law Rabbi Yisrael Schlissel joined them. Today, Rabbi Schlissel runs the Ohr Shlomo Torah Study Center in Hebron and Tzipi heads the Hebron Museum of History at Beit Hadassah. Tzipi's maternal grandmother also has a Hebron connection to Hebron, being a survivor of the 1929 massacre.
 
(Photo: Tzipi Schlissel at the Hebron History Museum, now featuring the new 4D film "Touching Eternity")
 
Beit HaRav Kook, the home and yeshiva of Rabbi Kook, as mentioned above today houses a study center, museum and synagogue. The Torah scrolls at Beit HaRav Kook were some of those rescued from the riots, in which historic places such as the Avraham Avinu synagogue were ransacked and vandalized. In 2014 the Torah scrolls were rededicated in memory of the soldiers who fought in Operation Protective Edge.
 

(Photo: Torah scrolls at Beit HaRav Kook in Jerusalem. The Hebrew inscription reads "TARPAT pogram," an acronym for the year 1929.)
 
Today, visitors who come to Hebron are taken to the refurbished Avraham Avinu Synagogue where regular services are held. They are taken to the Tel Hevron neighborhood where Rabbi Ra'anan's widow still lives. There stand the archaeological excavations which sit next to a children's playground, a new generation living side by side with its ancient heritage. Rabbi Kook's dream to see the Jewish Community of Hebron reestablished has come true but much more is needed.
 
To visit Hebron and for more information on looted property reclamation projects contact us:
 
 
United States contact info:

http://www.hebronfund.org
1760 Ocean Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11230
718-677-6886
info@hebronfund.org

Israeli contact info:
http://en.hebron.org.il/
02-996-5333
office@hebron.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/hebronofficial
 
SOURCE NOTES:
* Lash Balint, Judy: Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times page 51
Rav Kook's Mission to America by Joshua Hoffman
* Plea to British to Prevent Massacre Falls on Deaf Ears - Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Sep. 1, 1929