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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The chareidim of old, Part IV

Before the establishment of Petach Tikvah, there were several attempts to purchase lands for agriculture. In the vicinity of Ramle, the lands of the village of Duran became available for sale but the Pasha preferred to sell them to the Christian merchant Tiyan (from whom lands in the vicinity of the Yarkon were later bought). A few years later, these lands were indeed bought and on them was established the settlement of Rehovot.

The Sephardic Rabbi of Hebron, Rabbi Eliyahu Manni, initiated the purchase of land from the village of Sanabra near Hebron. The Rabbis of Yerushalaim, Rabbi Shmuel Salant and Rabbi Meir Auerbach, also supported this purchase. The purchase was also supported by the elder sage, Rabbi Yehuda Alkelai. This attempt, however, did not succeed.

In this purchase there was another important figure who was involved – Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, one the talmidei chachamim who made aliya from Hungary. Rabbi Schlesinger (like his father-in-law – Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein of Kolomia, one of the biggest zealots of his generation) was a great zealot who opposed vehemently any trace of the haskalah movement. The same zealotry with which he acted against the religious reformers in Europe aided him in his activity settling the land. As a student of the students of the Chatam Sofer, who saw agricultural labor in the land of Israel a mitzvah in every aspect, he related to the settlement of the land in a holy and reverent manner.

When he joined the purchase of the second phase of Petach Tikvah (where he also bought land for his father-in-law), he proposed that on the day they cast the lots for the division of the stakes they should declare a public fast. Then after they purify themselves in the water of the Yarkon (it was much cleaner then), they should pray the morning prayers as if it was Hoshana Rabba. After the morning prayers, they should recite the entire book of Psalms. The entire day should pass in fasting, praying, and service of Hashem until evening at which point they will establish a great feast.

His entire life, Rabbi Schlesinger ran from any rabbinic appointment which were offered to him. In spite of this fierce opposition to the haskalah – he supported and worked towards the open study of crafts and skills – especially the study of agriculture. Many years before Eliezer ben Yehudah – Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger preached the common use of the Hebrew language as well as advocating the teaching of spoken Hebrew to both boys and girls.

To be continued …