Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, Rabbi of Brisk (1853-1918)

When Rabbi Chaim of Brisk spoke about Zionism, he gave the following parable: Once there was a town in which there was a well that had been closed and sealed for as long as anyone could remember. It was common knowledge that the water of this well was poisoned, such that anyone who drank from it would go insane.

One day, a group of distinguished doctors came to town, and they heard about the well. “We must investigate this well for ourselves,” they said. As they were distinguished doctors, the townspeople could not refuse them, and so they agreed to open the well for them. The doctors performed tests on the water, and determined that there was nothing bad or poisonous about it; the water was perfectly safe to drink. People began to drink from the well, and they indeed became insane. As more and more people drank and went insane, these insane people began to look at the sane people who had not drunk from the water as insane. For such is the way of insanity: those who suffer from it believe themselves to be normal and everyone else to be insane. The sane people, of course, told the insane people that they had gone insane, but their words went unheeded.

Now that the well was open, more and more people drank from it, until there were left only a small number of people, or perhaps one person, who had not drunk. The whole town shouted at this tiny minority, “Lunatics! Lunatics!” There came a point where these few individuals stopped and reconsidered: “Perhaps the whole town is correct and we are the lunatics, and we must drink from the well water and heal ourselves.”

But then they reassured themselves with the following logic, “We still remember the days when the well was closed and sealed, and everyone knew that the water was poisoned and whoever drank from it would go insane. If so, then we must be correct. We are normal and sane, the others are all insane, and we will not drink from the well.”

If this parable applied long ago, in Rabbi Chaim Brisker’s time, it applies all the more to our day and age, when unfortunately the majority of the Jewish people are Zionists. Sometimes anti-Zionist Jews experience moments of weakness, when they wonder if perhaps they are insane and it is the Zionists who are normal Jews. To regain their bearings, they must continually look back at the previous generations of Jews who all believed in the coming of moshiach, who all believed that the redemption was exclusively G-d’s domain, who all believed that Jews were in exile because G-d wanted them there. They must read the classic Jewish commentaries and works of previous centuries, and realize that it is not they but the Zionists who are the anomaly in Jewish history.

Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk was invited by the German architects of Agudath Israel to their founding conferences in 1909 and 1912, but afterwards he withdrew his support from it. Family members relate that Rabbi Chaim gave the following analogy to explain his opposition to the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah: In the old times, everyone had a candle in his house to give light. It was a small candle, but a candle nonetheless. And even if someone did not have a candle in his house, there was always a candle in his neighborhood that he could use. But then they built an electric power station to supply light to the entire city at once. Once the electricity was running, nobody kept candles in his house anymore, and if, G-d forbid, the power station stopped working, the entire city would be in the dark, with no source of light. (Mikatowitz Ad Hei B’Iyar, p. 56)

Rabbi Chaim in his wisdom foresaw that a worldwide Orthodox organization could be a good thing, but could also be a very bad thing. As long as every rabbi is independent, even if some rabbis err, there will always be some still on the right path. But when all rabbis subscribe to a single organization, if something goes wrong with that organization, all of its members go down with it. With eerie accuracy, Rabbi Chaim’s analogy foreshadowed events that took place many years after his passing, when the Agudah activists in 1947-49 led their followers into full-fledged participation in the Zionist enterprise, without the benefit of any ruling even from their own rabbinical council.

Rabbi Meir Berlin, a Mizrachi leader, related that his nephew Reb Chaim of Brisk once said, “The Zionists attract Jews to their movement by dressing it up as ‘the mitzvah of settling in Eretz Yisroel.’ Eretz Yisroel is indeed the Holy Land. But consider: a synagogue is a holy place; nevertheless if it is a Reform synagogue, it is forbidden to go inside. Who knows if it will not come to the point where, despite its holiness, Eretz Yisroel will be ‘reformed’?” (Uvdos Vehanhagos, v. 4 p. 206)

The Jewish people have suffered many plagues – the Sadducees, Karaites, Hellenisers, Shabbesai Zvi, Haskalah, Reform and many others. But the strongest of them all is Zionism, because its heresy focuses on the center of Judaism.” (Mishkenos Haro’im p. 269)

Reb Chaim was once asked why he did not visit Eretz Yisroel. He replied with an analogy: one can check the slaughtering knife perfectly, slaughter an animal according to Jewish law, and soak and salt the meat according to the strictest interpretation of the law. But if the meat is cooked in a non-kosher pot, it will not be kosher. Similarly, Eretz Yisroel itself is a good thing, but when it’s “cooked in Zionism” it becomes non-kosher. (Related by Rabbi Dov Sokolovsky, printed in Om Ani Chomah, Shvat-Adar 5731 (Feb. 1971), p. 97; Mishkenos Haro’im p. 278)

During the First World War, when the British were fighting the Germans, the Revisionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky organized a Jewish brigade that fought in the British army, and this caused a lot of hatred toward Jews (in Germany and Austria). Rabbi Boruch Ber Leibowitz related that his teacher, Reb Chaim Brisker, said at that time, “These Jews are ‘rodfim’ (endangering) the Jewish people.” Then he added, “If you repeat this in my name, you are a rodef on me!” That is how much he feared the Zionists. (Harav Hadomeh Lemalach, p. 393)


Rabbinic Quotations

Rabbi Chaim Brisker

World War I

Vladimir Jabotinsky

Agudath Israel

Eretz Yisroel