Tag Archives: Religious Zionist

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz

Planting Trees on Tu b’Shevat

Rabbi Ze’ev Yavetz

Ze’ev Wolf Yavetz (1847-1924) was born in what is now Kolno, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire) to a wealthy Orthodox Jewish family. A noted scholar from a young age, he became a distinguished historian, linguist, writer, and teacher. When he was 40, Rabbi Yavetz made aliyah to the Holy Land with his family and joined the Yehud moshava, where he worked in a vineyard. Shortly after, he was hired by Baron Edmond de Rothschild to head the new Rothschild-funded school in Zikhron Ya’akov. (Zikhron Ya’akov was one of the first modern Jewish settlements in Israel, founded by Edmond de Rothschild in 1882, and named after his father Ya’akov “James” Rothschild.) In 1890, when the holiday of Tu b’Shevat came around, Rabbi Yavetz wanted to do something meaningful with his students in honour of the Jewish “new year for trees”. So, he took his class on a tree-planting trip. This turned into a yearly tradition, and was soon adopted by neighbouring schools and villages. Eventually, the Jewish National Fund adopted the custom, too, and to this day over a million Jews participate in the JNF’s Tu b’Shevat tree-planting drive each year. In all, the JNF has planted over 260 million trees in Israel, making it the only country in the world to have increased its tree population in the last century. Meanwhile, Rabbi Yavetz joined the Hebrew Language Committee (famously founded by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) and helped to develop the modern Hebrew tongue. He coined a number of modern Hebrew words, including tarbut and kvish. Unlike other Zionists, Rabbi Yavetz never abandoned his faith, and worked hard to ensure Jews in Israel observe Torah law, and live like their ancestors. For this reason, he was a co-founder of the Mizrachi religious Zionist movement. (The more well-known Bnei Akiva organization is the youth arm of Mizrachi.) Mizrachi would go on to establish Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, ensure that Israeli government kitchens keep kashrut, and that public services rest on Shabbat. Mizrachi also had a political party, which had many names over the years, and is now known as HaBayit HaYehudi (“The Jewish Home”). Rabbi Yavetz spent the last years of his life in London, where he wrote a monumental 14-volume history of the Jewish people called Toldot Israel. Today, a school in Zikhron Ya’akov is named after him, as is the village of Kfar Yavetz.

Happy Tu b’Shevat!

Words of the Week

… from the most inhospitable soil, surrounded on every side by barrenness and the most miserable form of cultivation, I was driven into a fertile and thriving country estate where the scanty soil gave place to good crops and cultivation, and then vineyards and finally to the most beautiful, luxurious orange groves, all created in 20 or 30 years by the exertions of the Jewish community who live there.
– Winston Churchillreporting to Parliament after visiting Rishon LeZion in 1921

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein

In Memory of an Outstanding Rabbi

Rabbi Lichtenstein

Rabbi Lichtenstein

Aharon Lichtenstein (1933-2015) was born in Paris, France. His family fled the War in 1941, settling in the U.S., where Lichtenstein grew up. He went on to study at Yeshiva University, earning both a B.A. and rabbinic ordination, and continued his studies at Harvard, graduating with a Ph.D in Literature. He returned to Yeshiva University as a Talmud teacher, and then served as its dean (Rosh Yeshiva). After several years in that post, he made aliyah to Israel in 1971, and headed another Yeshiva, while quickly becoming a famed scholar and the central leader for Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist Jews. He soon became one of the world’s top authorities in Halakha (Jewish law), too. Working with the ‘Takana’ organization, Rabbi Lichtenstein helped to combat harassment within the religious world, while also supporting the cause of women and encouraging women’s Torah studies. His support and outreach efforts spread beyond the religious world, encompassing secular communities, and even non-Jewish communities. Rabbi Lichtenstein also wrote a number of highly-acclaimed texts and commentaries. A noted scholar, he could easily quote both Jewish wisdom and secular philosophy. Last year he was awarded Israel’s highest honour – the Israel Prize. Sadly, Rabbi Lichtenstein passed away last week. Upon news of his passing, religious and political leaders from across the spectrum united to eulogize and honour him, including both Ultra-Orthodox and Reform rabbis, as well as conservative and liberal politicians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as a “Zionist leader and Torah scholar of unparalleled stature… He loved the Land of Israel, the people of Israel, and the Torah of Israel.”

Words of the Week

God transcends all definitions, including the definition of “existence”.
Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon)