Monday, June 6, 2011

The Founding of Agudas Yisrael

From The Politics of Torah: The Jewish Political Tradition and the Founding of Agudat Israel, by Alan L.Mittleman, in reference to the 1912 founding conference of Agudas Yisrael in Kattowitz:

The movement presented itself as an event of world historical proportions: the true core of the Jewish people, led by the sages of Israel, were rousing themselves from their exilic passivity to organize and act in the name of Torah on the stage of history.

The idea that the sages of Israel orchestrated this renaissance of the Jewish people, was another piece of symbolism. The reality, known to rabbis and laymen alike, that the movement was largely organized and led by activist laymen, was veiled behind the deference and ritualized humility of the laymen. Thus, the provisional committee which drafted the invitation, for example, explicitly states that they have not acted in their own name, but only as agents of the true representatives of Torah and therefore the leaders of klal Israel.

The issue of the relationship of rabbis to laymen became an underlying problem in the early phase of the movement. On the one hand, the laymen needed the rabbinate for symbolic purposes... On the other hand, the rabbinate clearly got its directions from the laity... The "political" orientation of the laymen deferred to the administrative orientation of the rabbis. Yet such deference could not be complete when crucial constitutional matters were at stake.

Such a constitutional crisis arose at the very moment of Agudah's birth in Kattowitz... Rosenheim (the lay leader - N.S.) was involved in a daunting conflict with Rabbi Breuer over the so-called "Hungarian demand" that only Jews belonging to separatists congregations could have standing in the movement... Who has the right to decide on the criteria? The problem touched upon the issue of the respective spheres of rabbinic versus lay competence... The solution, so typical of Jewish political life, was a consensual compromise based on each side getting less than it hoped for but more than it would have achieved had the other side prevailed.

From Isaac Breuer, Darki (Jerusalem: Mossad Yitzhak Breuer, 1988), p. 170 (reference from Prof. Lawrence Kaplan):

[From its inception through to the Second World War, the Council of Torah Sages was a council] which never enjoyed any real existence.

From Gershon Bacon, The Politics of Tradition: Agudat Israel in Poland, 1916-1939:

...There were two notable failures of organization which cast doubt on the ideological pretensions of the Aguda and exposed some severe political weaknesses. These were the failure to maintain a functioning rabbinical supervisory council, and the minimal political success of the Aguda outside the boundaries of former Congress Poland...

The Council of Torah Sages first met only on January 30, 1922, although Agudah ideology had stressed from the outset that the rabbis were supposed to be the final arbiters in all party affairs. Even at this first meeting, the full planned contingent of rabbis and rebbes was not present. At that meeting, however, the rabbis did perform their advisory function... After this auspicious beginning, the council appears not have functioned on any regular basis. Instead, it emerged at infrequent intervals with some kind of proclamation or decision, usually in connection with upcoming elections or party conventions. The rabbinic stamp of approval given to the policies and candidates of the Aguda enabled the party to present itself to the public as the upholder of tradition.

In a footnote:
Retrospective accounts of the Aguda movement stress the rabbinic element practically to the exclusion of all other factors. See e.g. J. Friedenson, "A Concise History of Agudath Israel," in Yaakov Rosenheim Memorial Anthology (New York: Orthodox LIbrary 1968) pp. 1-37.

21 comments:

  1. Why do I get the feeling that many of the lay leaders of the Agudah privately felt like Mizrachi leader R. Yehuda Leib Fishman-Maimon who said:

    "On matters of halahca, we defer to them (the Rabbis). On matters regarding life in the market, they should defer to us"

    ReplyDelete
  2. You could have been far more controversial and shown the founding picture in which no one is wearing a black hat.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The book "Darki" by R' Yitzchak Breuer is quite enlightening. One of the main members and pushers of the Agudah - who was then stabbed in the back by the so called moetzes.

    His best quote (forgive me if I don't translate this properly): "The moetzes is a graveyard - and I'm not too sure that it is an honorable burial."

    ReplyDelete
  4. Why is it controversial if they did not wear hats? Wearing a hat is not a hashkafic decision but rather a halachic one. Those who follow the Rav's minhagim for instance, believe that an additional Atifa should be worn for dvarim shbikedusha due to halachic considerations. I dont understand why it became a hashkafic decision.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wearing a BLACK hat is indeed of hashqafic import.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I didn't realize Mein Weg was translated into Hebrew. Nice to know. I believe it is in Mein Weg (Darki) that Breuer mentions that he had a portrait of Kant hanging behind his desk in Frankfurt. How the shakers and movers behind Agudah have changed!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Harazieli, thank you for that illuminating and explanatory statement. You merely made a claim with no substance. If you want to back it up can you explain to me why modern orthodoxy's greatest leaders all wore/wear BLACK hats (e.g. the Rav, Rav Ahahron Lichtenstein, Rav schechter, Rav Rosensweig). The black part is just because it objectively looks nicer then a white straw one or other such types.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Puzzled,

    Take a look around the haredi world and you will notice an undeniable reality. Haredi Jews wear black hats. Non-haredi Jews do not except for a handful of certain Y.U. types and some non-Haredi rabbis.(Many non-haredi rabbis nowadays do not wear black hats.)

    The reality of the BLACK hat being emblematic of the haredi world is as obvious as the knitted kippah being emblematic of most of the non-haredi frum world.

    Back in the good old days many haredi-affiliated Jews wore hats of other hues such as brown or gray. Then, that become unacceptable leading to the reality of today whereby specifcially the black hat has become a symbol of harediism.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Interestingly enough, in inter-war Poland, the "Litai-Lithuanian misnagdim" voted for the Mizrachi in elections for the Polish Sejm (parliament) because they felt that Hasidei Gur dominated the Agudas Israel party. The Belz Hasidim also refused to vote for the Aguda, supporting instead a non-Jewish party.

    The Orthodox/religious parties in Poland were in a state of collapse as the interwar period passed seeing as how their vote decreased by half between 1919
    and 1939. Even though Jews were 10%of the population of Poland, the Jewish parties were unable to stop legislation banning kosher shechita. Just thinking about Jewish life in interwar Poland makes me sad, but it also makes me appreciate the renaissance we have in Israel.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "The black part is just because it objectively looks nicer then a white straw one or other such types."

    I don't think you know the meaning of the word "objective."

    Black is from chassidut, period. The current style of yeshivish hat comes from Italy in the 1970's via those learning in Israel in that decade, period.

    ReplyDelete
  11. "Black is from chassidut, period. The current style of yeshivish hat comes from Italy in the 1970's via those learning in Israel in that decade, period."

    That is indeed intressante, if true. How do you know this, Nachum?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Gershon Bacon writes: "Even at this first meeting, the full planned contingent of rabbis and rebbes was not present. "

    Is this sentence supposed to be significant? If one rabbi was out with a cold, then there too, "the full planned contingent of rabbis and rebbes was not present." Without providing percentages, this statement is telling us nothing.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Harazieli I understand that Charedim all wear black hats, but the main rabbinic leaders of the MO movement also do. So is it will a hashkafic statement, if two completely different hashkafas both wear it?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Puzzled,

    Please read what I wrote again. Some non-haredi rabbis (only some) wear black hats whereas this is not the accepted mode of dress in the non-haredi world. Since all haredim wear black hats it has become emblematic of their hashqafa.

    Once again I remind you that there are pictures of the old yeshiva in Hebron from the early 20th century in which many of the haredi talmidim wear hats which are not black. Nowadays, once would not see this which has led to the fact that the black hat is representative of the haredi world.

    The very fact that it is not acceptable in the haredi world to wear hats which are not black speaks volumes for the fact that the black hat is not worn because of its beauty but because of hashqafic significance. Back in Hebron, the choice of color existed because the black hat did not have the same hashqafic relevance.

    A good yomtef to the Admor MeSlifka.

    ReplyDelete
  15. DF, I wish I could remember where I saw it, but I remember reading that the wide-brimmed Borsalino style comes from Italy (non-Jewish) in the 1970's. Italy was the closest hat manufacturer to Israel, and so the style caught on among yeshiva buchrim here then. It was then taken up by Americans, who were starting to come here for the year, who brought it to the US. It then fossilized into place (much as the black hat and much else of the Chassidic/Charedi garb did in the decades and centuries preceding) and even grew to the extreme brims we see today.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Black hat, I can only guess as to it's meaning. But.
    There is a book that tells us the reason for the chasidic garb. The book is called, Tamin and Minhogim ( Reasons and Traditions,) it is written in Hebrew or in Yiddish.

    The book explains that the Baal Shem Tov told his followers to wear tails of an animal on their heads and their jackets should be made of the spit of a worm (silk), so they shall be humble and to know that these creatures were created before man and that the animals fulfill their purpose in life.

    This idea (of the shtreimel) was taken from the pogroms against the Jews that forced them to wear animal tails on their heads. As a way to humiliate the Jews.

    I understand that mostly all of the Chasidic households possess this book, but after asking about 1000 Chasidim over a approximately 15 year period, only two were able to give a correct answer, as to why they are worn.

    Today most streimels (fur hats) cost anywere from $1000, to $5000, average being about $3000, ea., and most,99% or more of the long jackets are polyester, not silk.

    When thinking about how I would fit into this society, I realized that all the clothing I own (hats included) dose not add up to $3000, and for the Chasidim that is the cost of only one hat. So, How dose one humble himself when wearing such an expensive hat?
    As for the jacket, (according to the Baal Shem Tov) it is clearly a fake, when it is not made of silk.

    As for the explanation on the payot.
    The Torah states, do not cut off the corners of your hair, (it is said, because idol worshippers did so and God did not want the Jewish people to mimic them) it dose not state, grow long side locks.

    The origin of the long peyot came from when the Jews were in Yemen. There the Yemenites forced the Jews to grow long side locks, so to mock, ridicule and break the spirit of the Jews.

    The Sages of the communities in Yemen led the Jewish people to consider the long peyot as a Badge of Honor.

    This was told to me by my relatives, who heard it from their fathers, who were Chasidic Jews in Hungary, and I heard the same explanation from a Chasidic Jew from Boro Park, Brooklyn. I also heard that it was published in the Forewards and or the Algemeiner (Yiddish news papers) many years ago.

    Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld says "there is no holiness in peyot." He can be heard saying so on his CD, "Achieving Greatness."

    There is no halacha on the peyot, the Gemara dose not mention it, not even once.

    You can find Rabbis that would fabricate such a figment, but you would not find it in the Torah.

    All this brings me to ask, is this, the Chassidic garb that is worn today, and the long peyot, is not living a lie, if it is not the truth of the Torah and the dictates of our Sages?

    The Shulchan Aruch states that all animals even non kosher if used for your own benefit (e.g. streimel) and not killed in self-defence, is to be slaughtered according to halacha.

    Have you ever seen how these animals that are used to make the streimel killed. They grip it's neck with pliers, then a wire is inserted both in it's mouth and in it's rectum, electrocuting it so as not to damage the fur. The poor creature is screaming with imnense fear and tremendous pain, and all this is done in front of all the other animals, (can be seen on You Tube) clearly tza'ar baalei chaim. After this the Chasidic men put this on their heads, then goes into the synagogues on Yom Kippur the holiest day of the year and cries, OH PLEASE HASHEM FORGIVE ME FOR MY SINS! I would laugh but it is too sad and painful.

    As for the long black coat, I read in a note in the Artscroll Gemara somewere, that back in the days of the Gemara, it was a worldly custom when mourning to wear a long black coat, Therefore it was worn by the Jewish people in mourning for the destruction of the Holy Temple.

    I hope you enjoy what I have written and take no offence if you are Chassidic. Even if we are from two worlds, we are still one people.
    o

    ReplyDelete
  17. >I didn't realize Mein Weg was translated into Hebrew. Nice to know. I believe it is in Mein Weg (Darki) that Breuer mentions that he had a portrait of Kant hanging behind his desk in Frankfurt. How the shakers and movers behind Agudah have changed!

    He also read Goethe to his children and in fact learned English for the sole purpose of reading them Shakespeare!

    His magnum opus Neue Kuzari was recently translated into Hebrew as כוזרי החדש.

    ReplyDelete
  18. "The poor creature is screaming with imnense fear and tremendous pain, and all this is done in front of all the other animals, (can be seen on You Tube) clearly tza'ar baalei chaim."

    Dont be so melodramatic, and dont be taken by videos. One can make anything look cruel and vicious, by taking only certain photographs and accompanying it to the right music. You can do the same thing with bris mila and shechitah, you know. Of course one should be sensitive for an animal's pain and suffering, nobodly need peurile lectures to tell them that. But there's a difference between compassion, on the one hand, and attempts to ruin entire industry's on the other. Zovchie adam, agolim yishakon.

    yeed

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous said...
    "But there's a difference between compassion, on the one hand, and attempts to ruin entire industry's on the other."

    There is no difference.

    The compassionate halacha way of slaughtering animals, is what makes the Jewish people different from the nations of the world.
    "Companion for God's creatures."

    Improvement dose not equal ruination.

    Senseless cruelty is the only thing that will be ruined.
    o

    ReplyDelete
  20. Isaac,

    you enliven me. you are a great and passionate writer and i want to thank you for the information you have provided. so much of what you have said here so perfectly scripts my own thoughts (e.g., "So, How dose one humble himself when wearing such an expensive hat?" - alway so bizarre to me!) And your very apparent fervor regarding animal cruelty - right on man!
    just wanted to send my esteem your way.

    love and light to you

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.