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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The chareidim of old, Part III

Along with his public service, which caused him to travel often to Germany in order to raise funds for the ‘Bikkur Cholim’ hospital in Yerushalaim, Rabbi Yoel Moshe continued to work for the honor of the Torah. He was the gabbai of the central synagogue ‘Beit Yaakov’ (the Churba) which his predecessors labored to build and he gave over a daily shiur in gemara there.

The success in the establishment of new neighborhoods motivated the residents of Yerushalaim to proceed to the next stage of development. Rabbi Yoel Moshe understood that the pasuk in Isaiah (65:21) “they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them” as speaks first of the building of houses – that is new neighborhoods – and then the development of agriculture. Thus, he established the ‘company of the settlement of the land of Israel’ (חברת יישוב ארץ ישראל) in 1874.

Before Petach Tikva was established, there were several attempts at purchasing land that failed. First, there was an attempt to buy government land next to Yericho. Rabbi Meir Auerbach (author of Imrei Bina), the Rabbi of Yerushalaim, joined in this endeavor and half of the stocks of the project were entrusted to his safekeeping. Already at this early point, it was decided to call the new settlement ‘Petach Tikva,’ from the verse in Hosea which described the transformation of a murky valley (עמק עכור) into a new hope (פתח תקווה). Emek Akur, where Achan ben Karmi was put to death is located in the vicinity of Yericho, and thus the name was particularly fitting.

It is interesting to note that in the book Kol HaTor, the name ‘Petach Tikva’ appears as one of the 155 traits of Mashiach ben Yosef, who according to the Gr”a, has the function of establishing agricultural settlements in the Holy land. There is no clear source testifying that the members of the group had such hidden intentions in their choice of this name. But it is a safe assumption that a connection exists.

The attempt at purchacing land in the Jordan valley failed after the Turkish sultan began to worry about the sale of land to foreign citizens (Rav Yoel Moshe was a citizen of Germany and his colleagues were citizens of other European states). The sultan bought the lands himself and turned them into lands of the monarchy.

One of those involved in the Yericho affair was Rabbi David Meir Guttman, a wealthy Jew who had recently made aliya from Hungary and was enthusiastic to establish Jewish settlements in the land. He spent much of his personal funds on such endeavors. What motivated Guttman to make aliya was the religious situation in Chutz LaAretz. In Hungary, from which Guttman made aliya, the Haskala and reform movements made major inroads and the status of Judaism continued to decline. Guttman hoped that it would be possible to create in the land of Israel a new Jewish population center, true to the Torah, and which does not suffer from the religious problems of the Diaspora.

It is interesting to note that decades later, the question that bothered many potential olim was how they would get along from a religious perspective in the ‘secular’ Land of Israel. In Guttman’s days, those settling the land were all ‘chareidi,’ so there was much logic in Guttman’s vision.

To be continued …