Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rav Amital zt"l had a great deal of influence on me and I'd like to say a few personal words about him, inadequate as they may be.

Let me begin by observing that eulogies of the "he was a talmid chacham but nevertheless he was a decent human being" variety are less appreciations of the deceased than they are damning indictments of our society. I'll try to turn this into more of an appreciation by being more specific about the particular kind of decent human being he was, but if a bit of implicit indictment remains, so be it.

Rav Amital was comfortable in his own skin. He never tried to impress himself or others. He was resistant to rigid ideologies of any sort; he didn't get carried away and he didn't generally over-react to events. In short, he was very level-headed and wise, the kind of person you wanted at your side during a crisis.

Rav Amital came by this gift of character honestly. He was never exposed to the disconnected elitism of cloistered Litvishe yeshiva bocherim or of Hungarian rebbishe einiklech, since he was neither. (In fact, his family was Hungarian and non-chassidish.) He loved baalabatim because he came from a world of baalabatim and he never left that world. He was exposed to enough of life and saw enough tragedy not to share the enthusiasms of the provincial.

When I came to the Gush not long after the Yom Kippur war, it was natural for the chutznikim to gravitate to Rav Lichtenstein, with whom we had a common language. But the yeshiva was very small then and we got to know Rav Amital well. Eight talmidim of the yeshiva had fallen in the Yom Kippur War and it had taken a great toll on Rav Amital; he was plainly somewhat depressed the whole year.

On Purim, he invited all the Americans to his home in Givat Mordechai for the seudah. (There were 18 of us.) A prominent dati-leumi personality (DLP) was invited as well and every time Rav Amital asked him to say a few words, he would answer "od lo bamadregah" and have another drink and another pickle. Finally, he stood up, declared he was bamadregah and launched into an unending tirade about kedushas Eretz Yisrael and how the "Amerikakim" don't understand any of this. He insisted that Rav Amital's daughter Ayelet bring him some soil so he could show the Amerikakim what ahavat Eretz Yisrael is all about. She did and he made a brachah and ate the soil, while Ayelet shouted "DLP, zeh zevel! DLP, zeh zevel!" In the meantime, whenever he could get a word in edgewise, Rav Amital would try to explain that the main thing isn't soil but people. He'd shout "DLP, ha-ikar zeh Am Yisrael!"but his heroic efforts failed to sway DLP, who finally insisted that "Kresh" (Rav Amital's son-in-law, Shmulik Karsh) drive us all to some hill near Beit Fajar, so he could prostrate himself.

I mention all this not just because it was, in some bizarre way, a formative experience for many of us, but because it was also the first time we could actually witness the subtle transformation that Rav Amital was undergoing. He had recently published his book "Hamaalot MiMaamakim", which was in most ways of the Kooknik atchalta de-geulah genre. But already then it seemed that he had seen too much life to inhabit the world of fantasy and he had too much empathy for people to sacrifice them to ideology.

All this came more and more to the fore as the Kooknik roadmap towards redemption diverged increasingly from the reality he saw with his eyes. He began Meimad as a contra to Kooknik determinism. Unfortunately, what began as a forum for clear-eyed realism was in short order taken over by fantasists of a far more pernicious sort and Rav Amital ultimately abandoned politics (probably considerably later than he should have).

But anyone who knew him understands that Rav Amital was never interested in politics, only in Am Yisrael. The images I will retain of him are of a warm, empathetic, down-to-earth mensch, who also happened to be a great talmid chacham.

I will remember him on Purim with a toy guitar singing Sol a Kokosh Mar.

I will remember when Andy K. and I stayed with the Amitals for Shabbos and after the lights went out on Friday night and the family went to sleep, we somehow messed up the dial-a-flush toilet and water started shpritzing in all directions and Rav Amital came out in his pajamas and the three of us were all crowded into this tiny bathroom in the pitch black trying to figure something out.

I will remember when I came to say goodbye to Rav Amital at the end of my year in Gush and he said to me "Ben, lama ata ozev otanu?" and instead of treating it as the rhetorical question it was, I began to stammer and I decided right that very second that I would return to Israel to live at the very first opportunity.

It has been 30 years since I returned here and I have never forgotten my debt to him. I only wish I had told him. Yehe zichro baruch.

14 Comments:

Anonymous yoeli from kj said...

zol ehr zain a meilitz yosher far inz aleh.did he write any seforim?

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" He began Meimad as a contra to Kooknik determinism. Unfortunately, what began as a forum for clear-eyed realism was in short order taken over by fantasists of a far more pernicious sort"

Please explain.

-- Balaabus

PS Love your blog

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Y. Ben-David said...

Your anecdote about Hanan Porat is quite enlightening. It seems, based on what you wrote here, that he has calmed down considerably in the last few decades. A few weeks before the destruction of Gush Katif, he came to my town. People came expecting some fighting words, but he seemed totally defeated, saying it was now time to pray, and he said there he opposed road-blocking and other forms of active anti-government protest. I interrupted him (he took it graciously) and started a tirade about how we ourselves built up the Sharon monster and how we welcomed him to our yishuvim and betei midrash even after the disaster of his Lebanon War, its useless casualties and the international condemnation due to Sabra and Shatilla. It seems Hanan Porat has learned something about our political system and has a much more realistic attitude about our supposed "malchut Israel" that is in power.

Not being a Gushnik, I didn't really know much about Rav Amital before he passed away. From what I now know, he was a titan in the world of Torah and had much courage in encouraging the rich new TANACH studies which have renewed enthusiasm in me for learning which came out of the Gush and Michelelet Herzog. This in spite of my disagreements with his later political stands. He will be missed.

We also wish Hanan Porat, another inspiring giant in our RZ camp, a refuah shleima.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Balaabus,

I was mekatzer because if I say too much about this point, I'll probably regret it when I calm down. Briefly, Rav Amital started Meimad because he objected to those who are ideologically opposed to territorial withdrawals regardless of the consequences, only to find himself surrounded by those who are ideologically in favor of territorial withdrawals regardless of the consequences. (More precisely, they are very strongly inclined to seek favor with certain circles who hold them in contempt, but stop me before I get started...)
Perhaps Kalman will enlighten us further.

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Shloimie's wife said...

As always, thank you.

1:04 AM  
Anonymous Y. Ben-David said...

I have never quite understood this priotization question: which is more important, Am Israel or Eretz Israel?
Most of Am Israel didn't want to leave Egypt, but they were forced to. Later most of those that left wanted to go back. Which is more important, Am Israel or Eretz Israel?
Many people, including many religious people view Hana Porat as a "fanatic" because he goes around quoting the TANACH in order to motivate people to settle Eretz Israel. But what about the Marx-quoting Halutzim who cleared the swamps and ended up burying a lot of their babies because of the malaria and who also had to endure attacks by Arabs who didn't want them there? Are they more "rational" than Hanan Porat? What is more important, Am Israel or Eretz Israel?

A heard a gadol give an argument that Am Israel is more important than Eretz Israel and he claimed that even if you hold like the RAMBAN and say there is an imperative to settle Eretz Israel, the RAMBAN would agree that "pikuach nefesh" would annul his psak. Is there ANY country in the world or any organized settlement on land anywhere where there isn't a possible "pikuach nefesh" situation where armed force and possibly casualties are involved in defending that settlement or country? Should we have a country if it means fighting and possibly losing life in its defense? Which is more important, Am Israel or Eretz Israel? Who is a "fanatic" and who isn't? There have been cases where a synagogue caught fire and people risked their lives to save the Sifrei Torah. This is considered a praisworthy act. Are they "fanatics" or not? If not, why is struggling to save a Sefer Torah okay but not Eretz Israel?

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" only to find himself surrounded by those who are ideologically in favor of territorial withdrawals regardless of the consequences. (More precisely, they are very strongly inclined to seek favor with certain circles who hold them in contempt, but stop me before I get started...) "

I don't know - it wasn't "they" who joined the government in 1995 to say "nisht unzereh" with respect to the assisination. It wasn't "they" who reamined in the government when "sacrifices for peace" became official government policy when two buses/cafes a week were blown up. More people in "am yisrael" died in one bus bombing then all of his students in the YK War. He didn't leave the government over this.
I'm glad you acknowledge that he remained in politics for a long time - too many of his students refuse to admit this. His foray into politics was a great human tragedy and the religious community could sure use a healthy dose of his perspective on rabbonim and roshei yeshiva, etc. unfortunately his voice won't be heard b/c of his political mistakes.

"he didn't get carried away and he didn't generally over-react to events"
In the above respect I think you used the qualifier "generally" correctly. if you read Hagai Segal's review of Rechner's biography on RYA (written when book was published) you will see how in certain instances RYA was all doom and gloom and doomsday.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think anything would have lost from your tribute to Rav Amital if you had left out the nasty comments about Chanan Porat. I say this as a student of Rav Amital, one who voted Meimad, and one who identifies with Rav Amital's later views. I'm a regular reader of your blog, and I look forward to your posts, but what you wrote about Chanan Porat is simply lashon hara.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm 9:21 anonymous

I would that with respect to " He was never exposed to the disconnected elitism of cloistered Litvishe yeshiva bocherim or of Hungarian rebbishe einiklech, since he was neither.", once has to take that with grain of salt since he did learn in an elitist litvishe yeshiva (chevron - about as elitist as they come - albeit somewhat more openminded) and married into the "kletsk" Meltzer family - again the somewhat more open-minded wing than the fanatical elitist wing (Kotler) which became Kletsk New Jersey.

It's probably more accurate to say that he was exposed to it - and like his brother's in law and cousins in rechovot, largely rejected it.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah, the origins of ben chorins purim tish!

2:09 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Anon 11:00,
Thanks for pointing that out, since I didn't reflect upon the possibility before posting. Having now reflected on it, I don't think Chanan would or should be embarrassed about anything he did. I have nothing but admiration for someone whose idea of drunken debauchery consists of extravagant displays of love for Eretz Yisrael. Nevertheless, just to be on the safe side, I'm removing his name from the post.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you should take DLP's name out of the comments, as well. If you're removing DLP's name from your post to avoid lashon hara, you haven't accomplished much if you leave his name in the comments.

5:41 PM  
Anonymous yoeli said...

i see shtisim has a shiur.

2:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you so much. Very meaningful.

6:01 AM  

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