Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem (1817-1898)

When Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, in his last years, heard about the new Zionist movement, he realized the danger it posed to the Jewish people. He called for his two of his greatest disciples, Rabbi Zorach Braverman and Rabbi Moshe Frankenthal, and said to them, “Write letters in my name to three of the gedolei hador, asking them to call a meeting of rabbanim to decide how to stop this movement before it is too late. There is a fearful danger looming on the horizon of Judaism, a danger the likes of which never existed before. This movement is likely to bring destruction on the Jewish people! Write that in my opinion, the rabbanim should get together and excommunicate the Zionists from the Jewish people. They should forbid their bread, their wine, and intermarriage with them, just as Chazal did to the Kuthites. I am certain that if we do not take this step, the Jewish people will eventually regret it.” But some people questioned the need for the such an extreme step – the Zionist leaders were known to be irreligious and heretical, and so in any case no good Jew would pay any attention to them. Others warned that the Zionists had support in the gentile world, and fighting them would only backfire. Still others said that it would be impossible to organize such a gathering because the Maskilim had connections in the governments and they would work hard to prevent the gathering. So in the end, the gathering never took place. Reb Yehoshua Leib was always upset about this and he warned, “A day will come when they will realize the correctness of my suggestion.” (Mara D’ara Yisroel, v. 2 p. 43)

Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rov, once related that Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin was a great fighter against Chassidism as long as he was in Europe, but from the time he came to Yerushalayim and onwards he never spoke a bad word about Chassidim. In fact, one of his main talmidim was Reb Yeshaya Orenstein, a Chabad Chassid. “The reason for the change,” explained the Brisker Rov, “was that when he came to Yerushalayim and saw the great danger of the Chovevei Tzion, who dressed and acted like bnei Torah, and seemed to be coming to promote the great mitzvah of settling in the Land of Israel, when in truth their main objective was the heretical idea of nationalism; and also the danger of the maskilim who dressed like the religious Jews but had the goal of capturing innocent young souls for their modern schools, Reb Yehoshua Leib decided that now all arrows must be directed at them; we must fight side by side with the Chasidim against them. “Today,” the Brisker Rov concluded, “the problem of the hour is Zionism. We must use all our strength against them – un tzvei milchamos ken men nisht firen (we can’t fight two wars at once).” (Uvdos Vehanhagos Leveis Brisk, v. 4 p. 67)

In Jerusalem there lived a tzaddik who sat all day wearing tallis and tefillin and learning Torah, and he adopted the practice of speaking only in the Holy Tongue. Once he came to Reb Yehoshua Leib to ask a question. He began to say his question in the Holy Tongue, when Reb Yehoshua Leib interrupted him with a rebuke: “Get out of my house! For all the days of our exile, Yiddish will be spoken!” Then he added, “The Jews in Germany, fearing that if they spoke the gentile language they would assimilate, chose a dialect of German spoken by peasants and made it their national language, to serve as a barrier between them and the gentiles. This is how our Yiddish was born. If this language was the barrier to assimilation, it is itself the Holy Tongue!” (Mara D’ara Yisroel, v. 2 p. 95)


Rabbinic Quotations

Modern Hebrew