Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stiff-backed Rabbi

Let's recall this episode:

In the summer of 1930, the League of Nations dispatched a committee to Eretz Yisrael to clarify the ownership of the Western Wall. The Arabs claimed to be the rightful owners, not only of the Temple Mount but of the Western Wall as well, and they rejected outright permitting Jews to pray at the Wall. The Western Wall is a 'purely Muslim site,' the Mufti claimed, and the Jews can pray there only by the good grace of the Arabs.

When the Rav appeared before the Kotel Commission, he asked the chairman in an impassioned voice:

"What do you mean 'the commission will decide to whom the Wall belongs'? Does this commission or the League of Nations own the Wall? Who gave you permission to decide to whom it belongs? The entire world belongs to the Creator, blessed be He; and He transferred ownership of the entire Land of Israel — including the Kotel — to the Jewish people. No power in the world, not the League of Nations nor this commission, can take this God-given right away from us."

The chairman retorted that the Jews have not been in control of the Land of Israel or the Western Wall for close to two thousand years. At this point, the Rav decided to teach the members of the commission a lesson in Jewish law. Calmly and respectfully, he explained:

"In Jewish law, the concept of yei'ush ba'alim ['owner's despair'] applies even to land. [That is, the owner of stolen or lost property forfeits his ownership over it if he gives up hope of ever retrieving it from the thief.] However, if a person steals someone else's land, and the rightful owner continuously protests the theft, he retains ownership over the land forever."

Rav Kook's proud appearance before the commission made a powerful impact on the Jewish community. The Hator newspaper remarked:
"We cannot refrain from mentioning once again the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, who sanctified God and Israel with his testimony. The witnesses who preceded him stood there meekly, with tottering knees. After the Chief Rabbi's appearance, we felt a bit relieved, as if a weight had been lifted from our hearts. He raised our stature, straightened our posture, and restored dignity to the Torah and our nation

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