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From the Commie Archives: Rav Soloveitchik and the Student Zionist Organization

Editor’s Note: For the first issue of Vol. 85, The Commentator has decided to reprint the following articles on the role of secular Zionism at Yeshiva University and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s stance regarding the issue.


Title: From the Archives (December 2, 1959; Volume 25 Issue 4) — Torah Scholar Advises Against S.Z.O. Chapter 

Author: Commentator Staff 

Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik has advised Student Council not to sponsor a Student Zionist Organization chapter at Yeshiva. Student Council had passed by a 10-4 margin a resolution chartering the chapter, after more than five hours of heated debate. Benjamin Hirsch ‘60, president of Student Council, pointed out that enactment of this resolution would pend a decision by Rabbi Soloveitchik, professor of Talmud in R.I.E.T.S. 

Rabbi Soloveitchik was approached by a S.C. committee consisting of Mr. Hirsch, Henry Book ‘60, Steven Riskin ‘60, and Joshua Levy ‘61. Rabbi Soloveitchik strongly advocated a religious Zionist organization at Yeshiva College. However, he suggested that this organization be founded within the Yeshiva framework rather than be associated with any non-religious organization. 

S.Z.O.A. Controversy 

For the past few years the question of affiliation with S.Z.O has been a great controversy in Student Council. Student Council had, by narrow decisions, maintained that since S.Z.O. is non-religious, its views don’t coincide with that of Yeshiva, and, consequently S.Z.O. has been voted down. 

Last year a Religious Zionist Club was formed instead of the proposed chapter. Joseph Lifschitz ‘61, last year’s R.Z.C. president, stated that as the club had not been successful in attracting student membership, it would request the formation of an S.Z.O. group. 

After deciding that S.C. should not decide on a basic philosophy for affiliation with national Jewish organizations, S.Z.O.’s chapter was approved. 


Title: From the Archives (December 2, 1959; Volume 25 Issue 4) — Advice and Consent 

Author:  Lawrence Halpern and The Commentator Governing Board of 1959-60 

Rarely has an issue stirred up as much debate among the students as the recent Student Zionist Organization controversy. Many impassioned speeches were delivered at the last Student Council meeting over this very problem. The trouble with impassioned speeches is that each party ends up farther apart after debate than before. And so it happened. Some felt that the idea of joining a secular Zionist group intruded into the realm of Halacha. Others felt that despite its shortcomings, an S.Z.O. chapter on campus would encourage Zionist sentiments at Yeshiva College. This controversy split the students into two camps. 

Acting on behalf of Student Council, the Executive Council brought the problem to Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, professor of Talmud at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Soloveitchik advocated the reestablishment of a religious Zionist organization and advised against an S.Z.O. chapter at Yeshiva. 

The issue is now dead. We have heard the advice of a Gadol Ha’Dor and we must abide by it. 

One excellent result of this controversy has been the reawakening of student interest in Zionist affiliation. Frankly, in recent years this has been a sore spot at Yeshiva. Several attempts have been made at organizing a religious Zionist club. None of them have been very successful. 

One cannot say that desire for Zionist affiliation is lacking. Discussions of the past three weeks have shown otherwise. 

There is no sense in wasting time with further discussion. Both camps must forget their differences, join hands and form an active three-dimensional Zionist organization — an organization which will unite the entire student body in a common desire to see the land of Israel prosperous and secure under the supreme law of the Torah in Israel. 


Title: From the Archives (December 2, 1959; Volume 25 Issue 4) — The President Speaks: Our Guide to Action 

Author:  Benjamin Hirsch 

A successful organization must have a philosophy of purpose. Unfortunately, many organizations flounder about with no set direction, no goal, no purpose and no such philosophy. My aim in Council this year is to establish a sound raison d’etre. Our purpose must be to show by virtue of our actions the true meaning of traditional Judaism. 

Our University is the citadel of orthodoxy in America. We all believe in the idea — that’s why we are here and not at Columbia, Harvard, or Yale. We must show ethically and spiritually the superiority of our mode of life. This is our purpose, our raison d’etre. This is not a religious revival, rather it is the reawakening of our responsibility to the Jewish community. This is the reason for Council’s stand on the pool hall, cheating and religious responsibility, and this was the reason why a Student Council committee was sent to Rabbi Soloveitchik for his advice on the S.Z.O. controversy. No longer will S.C. shirk its responsibilities. We can no longer be silent and yet truly represent you. Our work is too important. The letters, phone calls and congratulations that I have received from various Jewish leaders leave no doubt that this work must be continued. The Orthodox Jewish Community want us to join them in asserting the superiority of traditional Judaism. This we must do. 

Program of Religious Zionism 

It follows that if we accept the above philosophy we must accept Rabbi Soloveitchik’s advice. We must bring to Yeshiva College a dynamic, living program of religious Zionism. We must still the cynics cries of “it can’t be done; why waste time?” We must do it with hard work and dedication to our ideals. 

Religious Zionism is a single concept, it is the only Zionism. Our claim to Israel stems from the Torah, and if we accept this principle of Torah we must accept all the responsibility that goes with it. No cynic can tell me that Zionism is dead at Yeshiva, here, where three times a day we voice our belief that God shall return us to Zion. 

Religious Zionism must become a living Principle that takes hold in our minds and our hearts. We need no social organization, no pompous speaker, no elaborate budget to tell us of Artzaynu Ha’Kadosha. All student leaders have pledged to me that they will actively campaign for a Religious Zionist Club and we will, please God, make it a reality. 

There has also been much talk of “breaking down the walls of the ghetto — becoming more like the other people.” I’m always reminded of the story of four Jewish boys who were walking in the street, and some rowdies yelled “Jew” in a derogatory fashion. One boy said, “They’re insulting us,” the second said, “Let’s fight,” the third said, “They want to hit us; let’s run,” but the fourth said, “No, they’re complimenting us; they realize we’re Jews.” This attitude must be ours; we must always be proud of our heritage. Throughout life we must have this dual honor and responsibility. 


Photo Caption: The Commentator archives

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