How a Veteran Settlement Maintained Its Character and Became a Place of Torah
By Yisrael Hershkowitz
It doesn’t happen every day that a town celebrates the induction of a Rav whose father, the current Rav, is on hand. But this happened recently in the chareidi town of Beit Chilkiyah, where the Rav Hatza’ir, Harav Dovid Pollak, shlita, the son of the current Rav, Harav Shlomo Halevi Pollak, shlita, was inaugurated. The elder Rav Pollak has been in his position for 55 years, may he have many more good ones. In Beit Chilkiyah itself, where the Rav is enveloped in love and admiration, they speak of a figure who radiates his light onto the whole town and who is the reason for its success, and primarily for preserving its character. But the Rav himself has a different explanation: “The mesirus nefesh of Harav Zimmerman, zt”l, who established the town, remains potent for the residents to this day.”
It appears that the late hour — even for a large city but much more noticeable for a moshav — isn’t fazing anyone. The offices of the committee of Moshav Beit Chilkiyah are alive with activity. Around the table a discussion is being held about the hachtarah scheduled to take place the next day, an event that is keeping the senior members of the town busy. Now they have gathered at the eleventh hour to tie up the final loose ends.
But it’s not only there that the lights are on. Opposite the committee offices, in a building nearby that houses Yeshivas Shaarei Shemuos, “lights-out” seems very far off — or else the ticking clock has been totally forgotten.
We enter the large hall and discover that third seder is still in session. The clock indicates that it’s almost eleven at night, but the large beis medrash is packed. Nearly 300 bachurim learn in the yeshivah, and the kol Torah resounds in the halls and spills out into the streets.
“This, if you want, is the story of Beit Chilkiyah,” says Rabbi Yitzchak Ringel. Although not one of the town’s veteran residents, having lived here only 10 years, Rabbi Ringel already knows the place better than some of the older members. “The office is busy with the central issue, which is the hachtarah of the Rav, who is the ‘soul’ of the entire town. However, our pride and joy is the yeshivos that thrive in this moshav — Yeshivas Shaarei Shemuos and the Belzer Yeshivah at the entrance to the moshav.”
Indeed, the festive event is keeping all the residents busy — and they are not the only ones. It’s not every day that a Rav, of his own initiative, passes the scepter of leadership to his son, while the residents of the moshav surround him with love and adulation and help him carry out his wishes.
This event took place last week on the modest moshav whose name hardly makes headlines, but which occupies a warm corner in the heart of every Jew who has ever heard of or visited it.
While the town officers are busy with the details of the hachtarah ceremony, such as from where the children’s procession with the flags will depart and who will speak at the seudah in honor of the event, we find ourselves in the actual locus, the heartbeat of the moshav — the modest study in the Rav’s home. This is where the piskei halachah emanate for every resident of the town; here, residents have been inculcated with the concept that whatever the Rav says, goes. Along the way, we pass the town’s central plaza, Harav Zimmerman Square, near the shul. Symbolically enough, it is named for the town’s first Rav, Harav Yosef Halevi Zimmerman, zt”l.
“Maybe that is the reason for the success of this place,” the Rav of the moshav, Harav Shlomo Halevi Pollak, says with his trademark humility. Now, after 55 years of leading, he has decided to pass on the mantle of leadership to his son, the Rav Hatza’ir, Harav Dovid Pollak, who will stand at his father’s side and carry the load of the Rabbanus along with him. “This place was established by a Rav who pledged, while still in the ‘valley of death,’ that if he merited to survive that gehinnom he would go to Eretz Yisrael and establish a town that would be based on Torah and mitzvah observance. Indeed, Harav Zimmerman was the one who established the town, with great mesirus nefesh. He selected each one of the residents. We have only merited to perpetuate his ways, and the objective was to preserve the atmosphere and not, chalilah, to uproot what the previous generation seeded, planted, toiled over and then reaped.”
A Rare Combination
Harav Shlomo Halevi Pollak was appointed Rav of Beit Chilkiyah in 5724/1964, about a year after the passing of Harav Zimmerman. “The moshav,” relates the Rav, “was established ten years before that, in 5714, after the nearby towns of Chofetz Chaim, Yesodot, Yad Binyamin [then known as Netivah] and Bnei Re’em had been established with the founding of the State and even earlier. Beit Chilkiyah itself was established on a plot of land 2,000 dunams [about 494 acres] in size. Its founders, Harav Zimmerman, together with Rav Kalman Schindler, zt”l, of Chofetz Chaim, wanted to establish a town that would be managed in the spirit of Torah. Toward that end, they chose a name that symbolized the words of the passuk in Tehillim: “Chelki Hashem amarti lishmor devarecha.”
The Rav himself did not know Rav Zimmerman. “I was then a young man, living in Petach Tikvah. The members of the moshav decided at the time to form a committee, which was tasked with choosing a Rav to replace the one who had passed away. Various names of well-known people arose, such as Harav Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth, zt”l [author of Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchashah], Harav Avraham Tzvi Beck, zt”l [who later became the Rav of Melbourne and recently passed away in Eretz Yisrael], and other names of well-known Gedolim. Indeed, just the names that were suggested indicate that the residents of the town did not compromise; they wanted a Rav who had a reputation for Torah and horaah.”
Then Rav Pollak was suggested; already by then he was serving as the Maggid Shiur in the yeshivah ketanah of Chug Chasam Sofer in Petach Tikvah. The son-in-law of the Rav, shlita, Rav Ullman, who is also part of our conversation, relates that “the Rav was already familiar with the rabbinical world because he was the son-in-law of the Rav of Katamon, Harav Yehoshua Deutsch, zt”l, and the grandson of Harav Tzvi Yehudah Fuchs, zt”l, a disciple of the Levushei Mordechai, who served as the Rav in the Pajei neighborhood of Petach Tikvah. But despite his being a young man, and despite being — to this day — extremely modest and staying on the sidelines, his reputation had already spread. The residents of the moshav began to exert pressure that he take the mantle of Rabbanus.”
Rav Pollak was an unusual combination: On the one hand he was a Hungarian-chassidic Yid, and on the other hand he had studied in Yeshivas Ponevez, where he was known as one of the iluyim. (“Already there I served in the ‘Rabbanus,’” the Rav smiles as he relates. “At the time, I would maaser the food that I ate, and if so, then I maasered the food for the whole yeshivah. The Ponevezher Rebbetzin, a”h, saw this and appointed me the unofficial mashgiach in the kitchen, so I can say that as a bachur I had already begun working in Rabbanus.”)
Because of his virtues, he became close, also while still a bachur, with the Chazon Ish, zt”l, who would speak with him in halachah. He also became close to the Shevet Halevi, zt”l, who thought very highly of him. Incidentally, for many years, the Shevet Halevi would visit the moshav and considered himself a “local.” The Rav didn’t tell us this; we heard it from his son-in-law. However, the Rav does relate, “On Friday night we would go to the tisch of the Imrei Chaim, zt”l, of Vizhnitz, and each Motzoei Shabbos, we would travel — a group of chassidic bachurim from Ponevezh — to the tisch of the Belzer Rebbe, zy”a, in Tel Aviv. We would get there for shalosh seudos, and each week, the Rebbe would send shirayim especially for the ‘Ponovezher bachurim.’
“In those years there were 60 families on the moshav,” the Rav relates. “The residents were mostly farmers who had orchards where they grew fruit and who raised chickens. So naturally the questions they asked centered primarily on the subject of the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz. They also came with questions on the chickens, which were shechted by the local shochet, Rav Kramer. But when I got [to the moshav] I discovered that it had been established on firm foundations: Rav Zimmerman, who was a student of the Rav of Toshnehad in Hungary and who was very close to his Rebbi, the Mahari”tz Dushinsky, zt”l, made sure that the place was well-established in every way. He made sure to strengthen each family and worried for them, both in material matters and especially in spiritual matters.”
Working together with the Rav was Rav Kalman Schindler, who lived in nearby Chofetz Chaim but worked tirelessly to help the establishment of Beit Chilkiyah. “Rav Schindler,” the Rav relates, “was a tremendous talmid chacham. He merited to learn under Harav Meir Arik and then ended up in Vienna, where he studied in university, although he remained a G-d-fearing Jew. Together with the Rav, they sought out residents who could not only work the fields, as the Jewish Agency required, but who should also be bnei Torah. They did not compromise and the task of choosing the families lasted a long time. Indeed, to this day, not every family is accepted to the town. Only someone who commits to upholding the rules of the town with regard to chinuch of the children, modesty and other things can live here.”
At the time the area was home to many chareidi families. “Within our techum Shabbos was Chofetz Chaim, then considered a chareidi town, and next to it Yesodot and even Bnei Re’em, where chareidi families already lived. These towns were led by well-known Rabbanim such as Harav Ben Tzion Klein, Harav Mamasmaya and Harav Schneiwald. I still remember how we met to commit to keep the laws of Shemittah, as stipulated by the Chazon Ish, and indeed, the halachos were observed in all these towns.”
Don’t Ruin Their Work
“I have occasionally been asked if I have ‘aftohn’ (done anything) in Beit Chilkiyah, if I effected anything here,” the Rav says. “But I always answered that in my eyes, my goal was singular — just preserve what the Rav had done and to make sure not to ruin it. Toward that end, I invested a lot of effort and energy over the decades during which, b’chessed Hashem, I served in the Rabbinate. That is also my request of my son and my successor: to preserve what the previous generation planted and not to ruin anything, chalilah.”
One of the takanos, for example, is that every one of the members has to attend davening and a Torah shiur at the shul every day. “Rav Zimmerman, zt”l, didn’t concede on that,” the Rav relates. “If he noticed that someone wasn’t coming to the shiur, then he would visit him at home or at his barn, to check what was with him — if he was sick, perhaps. It didn’t enter his mind that someone would not be able to come to the shiur unless he was sick. … I can’t say that I was able to be on top of it to that extent, but I at least tried to continue to give the shiurim. Baruch Hashem, we have a shiur in the morning, in the evening, and even, before lunch, a shiur for older baalei battim who have already retired and can devote their time to learning.”
The Rav mentions that takanah, as well as other ones that mainly involve observing the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, in his Shabbos Shuvah drashah each year. In fact, even though most of the residents no longer engage in agriculture, the Rav continues the local custom, and after Kabbalas Shabbos, teaches a few of the halachos hateluyos ba’aretz in shul, in order. Likewise, before Tu B’Av the Rav reminds his charges that one can still plant seeds before Rosh Hashanah so that they should be considered the first year of orlah, or the laws of Shevi’is on the eve of and during the Shemittah year.
Only later, when we meet the members of the committee at their meeting, we hear that the Rav has, as usual, kept quiet more than he has revealed. “It is not everywhere you find a Rav who is so beloved by the residents of his community, young and old alike,” the chairman of the committee says. “As soon as we heard that the Rav wanted to designate his son as his successor, there wasn’t a single person who objected or tried to prevent it. We all unanimously began to work to fulfill his wishes.
“Are you asking how?” he adds. “It happens because of his unique personality. The Rav knows to stand on principle and he hasn’t compromised in the slightest about the takanos of the place. He also knows how to act firmly, but at the same time he speaks with gentle refinement, pleasantly. For example, to this day, the Rav practices the shittah of the Chazon Ish and is very strict to eat only what is cooked in his home and that he has maasered himself. He doesn’t use electricity on Shabbos (his is one of the few Chassidic shuls that has ‘Shabbos electricity’) but he does not demand of others what he demands of himself. By contrast, when it comes to chinuch or preserving tznius standards, there are no compromises and he will not give an inch.”
In fact, the committee members relate, the Rav attends every simchah on the moshav, and because he only eats what was prepared for him at home, the Rebbetzin comes to help the mechuteneste set the table. She brings her own cakes, which “coincidentally” are also placed on the head table. Thus, the Rav can eat some mezonos that are served to him, avoiding offense to the baalei simchah.
It is no wonder that the residents of the moshav are all proud of their Rav and love him with all their hearts. And what’s amazing is that it’s not a very homogenous town. There are Chassidim, misnagdim, Yekkes, a combination of different communities, but they live very harmoniously with one another. “It’s not to be taken for granted,” Rabbi Ringel says, relating that “I came to this place only because of this special atmosphere that I found here. I have no doubt that the Rav and his noble character, which radiates to the entire yishuv, is the cause of this.”
A Place of Torah
During the 55 years of the Rav’s tenure, the town has grown greatly in size — perhaps even tripled. From a town of 60 families it has grown to 200 families, who live in several neighborhoods, new alongside old. But the pride of the residents are the yeshivos that were established on the moshav and which have made the place into a makom Torah — The Belzer Yeshivah and Shaarei Shemuos, as well as a unique kollel that operates within the Ateres Shlomo kollel network. The shul itself is vibrant and pulses with life; there are tefillos and Torah shiurim all hours of the day, until the wee hours of the morning.
How has the moshav maintained its character, while the nearby towns that were established by the same core group have changed theirs? The moshav members with whom we spoke have one answer: “It’s all because of the Rav. He was the one who stood firmly yet pleasantly to make sure that no changes would happen. That the children would attend chareidi schools. He fought for the character of the town, and only in his merit has he turned it into a place of Torah, with all that that entails.”
The Rav himself does not attribute the success to his own deeds, although he does say that, indeed, the subject of the education of the children was always the highest priority for him. “Already in the first years, the question arose of where the children would study. There was a suggestion that they should go learn in national religious schools. Although the teachers would be some of our own, we didn’t agree under any circumstances. We knew that if the supervisors were theirs, then the education would ultimately be theirs as well.”
The moshav launched a campaign that later bore fruit. “In those years, the management of Chinuch Atzmai agreed to open a cheder and a school here. We had almost no children — 72 in total, who were supposed to comprise two schools, for boys and girls, eight classes in each. But we united the classes, and several ages learned in one class; that’s how we managed to operate the school. Over the years, it received the status of a regional school, and children from Beit Chilkiyah, Yesodot and other towns whose parents wanted them to get a Torani chinuch learned there.”
“We invested a lot of blood and toil,” the Rav relates. “We refused any compromises. There was a proposal to agree to outside supervision, but, per Rav Zimmerman’s way, I refused firmly. Indeed, credit goes to the directors of Chinuch Atzmai, who already then recognized the benefit of establishing the school. They operated the cheder and the school even though it was not financially viable. In their merit, generations of students who are yirei Shamayim studied there and the entire town merited to preserve its character.”
The Power of the Rav
Still, we ask the Rav, what is the secret of this place’s success?
“Siyatta diShmaya,” he replies after some thought. “But it is also the power of the baalei batim here. … The residents here were always supportive on any issue of preserving religion. I always felt like I had the backing of the tzibbur. But I also tend to say that Beit Chilkiyah is different from other communities. In all the other communities, they first established the community and then they chose the Rav. But here, Rav Zimmerman was the one who established this place and established the community. … Maybe in that merit, and because his aspirations were only that the children should be educated in the path of Torah, the town continues to be managed the way it was established.”
Due to the fact that the strength of the town comes from the strength of the Rav, he sought to appoint his son, the Rav Hatzai’r, to work at his side in the Rabbanus. “The role of the Rav requires energy, and at my age I don’t have a lot of energy,” the Rav explains. “We have to focus on the individual and on the klal to make sure that things are done the way they are supposed to be done. Therefore, I asked to appoint my son, so that he should carry the burden.”
His son, Harav Dovid, is well-known on the moshav. The Rav himself praises his son effusively and relates that “already as a young boy he was considered a very talented student who, baruch Hashem, merited to grow and succeed in Torah. He also spent a lot of time with my father-in-law, the Rav of Katamon, zt”l, to acquire from him most of the fundamentals of horaah. He has also followed my path: He learned in chassidic yeshivos, but also in Ponevez, and he has perfected himself in many ways.”
Incidentally, the Rav relates what the residents of the town don’t know: that the Rav Hatza’ir delivered his first drashah in the town long before the one he would deliver at the hachtarah. It happened when he was a young bachur. “Harav Zalman Brizel, z”l, came and established the custom that before the bachurim return to yeshivos, a seudas melaveh malkah is held for them. Then we established that every bachur should say a drashah and he, Reb Dovid, got up and delivered a long drashah that was talked about for long after people heard it.”
“This moshav,” the Rav says in conclusion before going back to learning, “was established with mesirus nefesh. The founders, headed by the Rav, zt”l, invested their lifeblood into establishing it, in an effort that this should be a place of Torah. They merited [success] and indeed it has become a place of Torah. Aside for the kol Torah that is heard here, avreichim depart from here each day and deliver shiurim to all the surrounding towns: Gedera, Chofetz Chaim, Bnei Re’em and more. And that is what I asked from my son, shlita: that he preserve what the founders planted here with tears, and that he should continue to act the way he acts today, without compromises on anything relating to preserving Torah and mitzvos.”
A moment before we part, my escort, Rabbi Ringel, points to a sign at the entrance to the moshav, next to Rav Zimmerman Square, that tells the story of this place. “The Rav is the neshamah, the soul of the moshav, and its living spirit,” Rabbi Ringel says. “And when we merit to see the next generation continuing on this path, it is no wonder that we are simply excited; there is no other way to put it.
Beis Chilkiyah — Workers’ Moshav in the Nachal Sorek Region
Set of Rules (From the general set of rules approved by the Oversight Pact for the Agricultural Cooperative)
Each member of the settlement of Beis Chilkiyah needs to sign a commitment to accept the set of rules detailed below. In the event that these rules are violated, the committee of Beis Chilkiyah has the right to retract that person’s right of residence in Beis Chilkiyah.
1) Every man and woman in Beit Chilkiyah pledges to act according to the law of Torah and tradition, Shabbos observance, family purity, etc. They must treat all the other residents in a manner of peace, unity and friendship.
2) Every man is obligated to participate each day in at least one or two hours of shiur in the beis medrash, in shiurim of Torah, Mishnah, Gemara, halachos or mussar.
3) People should not appear for tefillah b’tzibbur in dirty work clothes or with their knees or elbows exposed.
4) The men should not grew their hair at the front into a forelock, as stipulated in Pri Megadim Eshel Avraham 27:4, and in Machatzis Hashekel 27:4.
5) Every married woman is obligated to cover her hair, and her hair should not be visible outside the kerchief.
6) A married woman or teenage girl should not wear clothing that exposes her arms, body or knees, and a woman should not wear a man’s garment.
7) Women and teenage girls must participate in the special shiurim for them to learn halachos and mussar and other lectures.
8) When a girl or boy among the residents reaches the age of 18, they must submit their candidacy to the Beit Chilkiyah committee. If their behavior does not befit the spirit of the spiritual regulations of the town and the person refuses to sign that they are ready to accept to act in accordance with them from then on, the committee of Beit Chilkiyah has the right to refuse to accept them as a member and, as a result, to negate their right to live on the moshav.
9) Parents who plan to send their sons or daughters out of Beit Chilkiyah to learn Torah or a profession must receive permission from the Education Committee of Beit Chilkiyah.
10) Every one of the resident members must act (and accordingly, instruct his family to act) with others in a manner of courtesy and fairness and greet each visitor to the town with good cheer. Each person should help the others and provide support for each other, and peace in the spirit of Torah should reign. Then the vision of our Prophets, “And I will plant them on their land, and they shall no longer be uprooted from upon their land,” will be fulfilled.