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Supplement: Would the Chazon Ish compromise?

Eliezer Shulman

When the Israeli government tried to conscript religious girls to serve in the National Service program in 1953, the chareidi world was in an uproar. Then an astounding rumor began to circulate: the Chazon Ish was prepared to sign a compromise agreement with Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. A rare eyewitness account describes the storm that beset chareidi Jewry during those turbulent days — and the historic letter that set the record straight.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

old photCheshvan 5713

The chareidi community in the fledgling State of Israel was preoccupied by an issue that threatened their core: the newly proposed National Service Law, which had been initiated by the Ben-Gurion government and decreed that every religious girl who had been granted an exemption from military service was required to join Sherut Leumi.

The legislative initiative encountered fierce opposition from the chareidi Knesset members, following the instructions of gedolei Torah who had ruled that the law was a matter of yehareig v’al yaavor (a requirement to give one’s life rather than transgress). Rav Yitzchak Meir Levin, who served as the minister of welfare, resigned from his position on 4 Tishrei 1952 in protest over the new law, and the Agudas Yisrael and Poalei Agudas Yisrael parties dropped out of the ruling coalition, leaving it with only 60 members.

Nevertheless, the government continued in its efforts to implement the law. The clash between the state’s demands and the requirements of halachah had reached a sensitive point. It seemed that the delicate balance that had been achieved in the “status quo” agreement — an agreement between Agudas Yisrael and the secular government led by David Ben-Gurion pertaining to religious issues such as Shabbos and kashrus in the public arena — was about to collapse.

The chareidi public made many efforts to prevent the law from being passed, including staging a massive, stormy protest. At the same time, a distinguished delegation visited the prime minister’s office: Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank ztz”l, the rav of Yerushalayim and one of the foremost opponents of the terrible decree, as well as Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer ztz”l and Rav Meir Karelitz ztz”l. During their meeting, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank burst into bitter tears, which did not seem to leave an impact on the prime minister, but did give voice to the gravity of the issue.

Shortly thereafter, it became known that Ben-Gurion was planning to pay a visit to the Chazon Ish, who was leading the battle against the law, in order to discuss the matter with him.

A journal found in the archives of Rav Shimon Yosef Meller, the author of a monumental series of books about the Brisker Rav, reveals the internal storm that beset chareidi Jewry during the days before that visit. 

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