Friday, August 10, 2012

New details on famous visit of Ben Gurion with the Chazon Ish

Thanks to Rafi G.
There is a story told of what has become the famous meeting between Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and the Chazon Ish, Rav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz.

The story I always heard is that Ben-Gurion went to Bnei Braq to talk to the Chazon Ish about the serious matters that were diving the Israeli government and the Haredi community, specifically about the yeshiva students and army service. Ben-Gurion asked the Chazon Ish how the two communities could find a way to live together. the Chazon Ish responded, by quoting from the the gemara in Sanhedrin: “If two camels met each other while on the ascent to Beth-Horon … How then should they act? If one is laden and the other unladen, the latter should give way to the former.”, and went on to say that the haredi community has a camel (or wagon, in some versions) that is burdened down with a full package of tradition and customs while the camel of the secular community is bearing no package, no burden, and therefore preference should be given to the haredi community.

That is all I ever heard of the story relating the conversation. That and that when Ben-Gurion left the house of the Chazon Ish he was asked his impression of the rav and Ben Gurion responded that he was impressed with the Chazon Ish's wisdom, and that he had never met anyone as wise as he. That is it. That was the story, as I always heard it, though it always seemed strange to me that the meeting was so short..

Interestingly, there is really more to the story than that. Former President of Israel Yitzchak Navon was also present at the famous meeting between the two giants. He is supposedly the last person alive who was there.

Navon was recently interviewed about his recollection of the meeting, and he describes the conversation vividly. You can listen to the audio of the interview on Ladaat. I found it fascinating.

The story goes, as recounted by Yitzchak Navon, that they went into the house and it was a small house with a lot of books. He describes the conversation as the story above, but that is only the beginning of the conversation. After the Chazon Ish made his comment about the camels and the burden of tradition of the haredi community, Ben Gurion responded by saying "You think this camel, tapping himself on the shoulder referring to the secular community, has no burden? Settling the land, absorbing immigrants, etc. that is nothing? These are not mitzvot?

The Chazon Ish then responded that all that is in the merit of us learnign torah. Because of us, you can do everything that you are doing.

Ben Gurion then asked, those who sit on the borders and guard over you, that is not a mitzva? The Chazon Ish responded that they exist because we are here learning Torah. Ben Gurion said that without them the enemy would slaughter you if those soldiers would not be there protecting you, to which the Chazon Ish responded that it is in the merit of our learning Torah that they are able to work and guard the borders. Ben Gurion then said that he does not denigrate the value of learning torah, but if nobody would be alive [RG: ostensibly because the enemy would invade and kill everyone, if everyone was busy learning torah and not defending the borders], who would be able to learn torah? The Chazon Ish responded that torah is the source of life - etz chaim hee.

They went on to talk about the rampant desecration of Shabbos. the Chazon ish said that he sees chillul shabbos everywhere. People travel to the sea instead of learning torah. It is shocking and upsetting to see in the holy land this type of chillul shabbos. Ben Gurion responded that he himself does not travel to the sea on Shabbos but laborers, who work all week, they shouldn't be allowed to go to the beach on shabbos? We cannot force them if they do not want to learn torah, but they too are Jews. If they do not go to the beach, do you think they will go to shul? The Chazon Ish responded saying that he believes the day will come when everyone [in Israel] will keep Shabbos and daven. Ben Gurion then said that if they want to, he is not opposed to it, but there should not be religious coercion and there should not be anti-religious coercion.

They then parted ways with a warm handshake, and after they left Ben Gurion is quoted commenting on the Chazon Ish's wisdom, and the Chazon ish is quoted commenting that Ben Gurion is person with a neshama gedola.

Navon also says that while some say the discussion took place in yiddish, that is incorrect, and the entire discussion took place in Hebrew.

The rest of the story, beyond what is normally related, is just as fascinating as the beginning of the story.


  1. Oy, whatever happened to the superb spelling on this site? At least fix the typos in the heading.