Rabbi Gold, who passed away this week at 88, was known for feisty and infectious Zionist passion and for biting witticism. He understood God’s love for all Jews in absolute terms (which he sought to emulate absolutely), and he understood God’s grant of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People in absolute terms, in a totality wrapped with kedusha, holiness. These are not gifts that one can simply fritter away.
Sholom Gold, a Religious Zionist rabbi who over the past 40 years made his home in Jerusalem, was known for feisty and infectious Zionist passion and for biting witticism. He passed away this week at 88.
Rabbi Gold quipped that if you wake up in the middle of the night and are asked to quote a verse from the Bible, the following prophecy should roll off your tongue like the smoothest of nectars: “And you, mountains of Israel, shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to My People Israel, for they will soon arrive” (Ezekiel 36:8).
Rabbi Gold meant that every Jew of this generation ought to be excited by the flowering of the Land of Israel and the Jewish People’s return to that land, and enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to participate in mitzvat yishuv haaretz (the obligation to settle and rebuild Israel).
Gold called this mitzva, this commandment, the “passion of our time,” the central mission of the Jewish People in the 20th and 21st centuries, the greatest historical challenge of the Jewish People in 2,000 years.
He was constantly challenging the Torah-observant (Orthodox) community in North America, of which he was a prominent leader before making Aliyah in 1982, to get serious about immigrating in droves to Israel and fighting for the character and territorial integrity of the state.
In fact, it drove him batty that American Jews who were religiously zealous in all other fields of Torah observance were so lackadaisical about observing this keynote obligation. He viewed the obligation of Aliyah as a stark directive from the Heavens that surpassed all others in grand historical importance.
Rabbi Gold would lambast any American yeshiva boy or communal rabbi who crossed his path in Israel with a holy harangue. They would receive a sharp and learned lecture from Rabbi Gold about their unequivocal duty to build the Jewish future in Israel, which he delivered with righteous (and often hilarious) fury.
He would taunt them that to the best of his considerable knowledge, there were no sources in the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud suggesting that it was a mitzva to live in Lakewood, NJ or Monsey, NY (– places where many Ultra-Orthodox Jews today reside, in golus, exile).
Rabbi Gold z”l: “There are no sources in the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud suggesting that it is a mitzva to live in Lakewood, NJ or Monsey, NY!”
Rabbi Gold would then describe modern Israel in terms so exciting and endearing that few could walk away without realizing they were missing the chance to experience and contribute to a miracle in the making.
Writing in this newspaper in 1991, Rabbi Gold asserted straight out that the future of the Jewish People was not in America where Jewry was assimilating itself to death. “Here and only here (in Israel) can there be a spiritual future for our people.”
In 2010 Rabbi Gold wrote to the National Council of Young Israel in the US: “There are many unexpected regards that come with embracing Eretz Yisroel. First and foremost is the age-old powerful Ahavat Eretz Yisroel (love of the land of Israel) that sustained the Jewish people through 2,000 years of exile. You become one with Patriarchs, the Prophets, and Jews of all generations.”
“One also learns that there is yet another, and in some sense more powerful and profound dimension about Eretz Yisroel that may overwhelm you one day – and that is the love of the earth of Israel itself. A love of the hills, the valleys, the springs, the brooks, the trees and the flowers, the birds, the goats of Ein Gedi, the awesome panoramic views that dazzle and excite the soul as they open up in all their majesty, the fields and the orchids, the olive trees and the statuesque palm trees, the hiking trails and the rushing winter rains pouring into the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee)… Eretz Yisroel is the ‘passion of our time.’ Get with it!”
In his around-the-clock synagogue classes and college lectures Rabbi Gold would thunder that the land of Israel and the State of Israel should never be taken for granted. He would reference a Midrash Mechilta (made famous by the 12th century commentator Rashi on Exodus 13:11) which teaches that “One must consider the Land of Israel as if it had been gifted anew by God on each and every day. One must never view Israel as just an inheritance received from our ancestors.”
Rabbi Gold was super-proud that his five children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren all live in Israel. He would add in delight and with his characteristic jest that “most of them speak English with a terrible accent.”
One might ask: Where did Rabbi Gold’s passionate Zionism come from? After all, this was not omnipresent during his masterful and much celebrated career as a pulpit rabbi in 1960s and 1970s in Toronto, Ontario and West Hempstead, New York.
(Note: Rabbi Gold was the beloved rabbi in my parents’ shul, Congregation Bnai Torah of Toronto. In later years, he became a friend and mentor to me. He also was a loyal reader, and critic, of The Jerusalem Post.)
Rabbi Gold chalked up his Zionism to his father and grandfather who often would challenge the anti-Zionist Satmar Hassidim in Williamsburg, NY where they lived. But in his memoir, Touching History (Gefen Publishing, 2015), Gold also attributes his Aliyah to a dog named Charlie.
Charlie, you see, had been left behind in NY when his owners (who were Gold’s parishioners) moved to Israel. One night while out walking at the same time as Charlie, Rabbi Gold learned that Charlie’s “family” had purchased and sent a ticket for the pup to join them in Israel. “I said to myself – that dog can go on Aliyah, and I won’t?! So, I returned from my walk and informed my family that we were making Aliyah.”
This was Rabbi Gold’s way: Always mischievous and tongue in cheek while deadly serious and sincere at the same time.
Rabbi Gold z”l: “If you want to speak to God, go to the Western Wall. But if you want to see Him, go to Shuk Machane Yehuda.”
If there was one thing that fired-up Rabbi Gold more than the importance of Aliyah it was the imperative of keeping the Land of Israel whole. He was an early and fierce opponent of the Oslo Accords and all subsequent parceling away of Israeli territory to Arab authorities. Along with then-Chief Rabbis Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliyahu he was one of the founders of the Union of Rabbis for the Land of Israel and a regular at protests advocating for Jewish prayer and Israeli national rights on Jerusalem’s Holy Temple Mount.
In 2016, Rabbi Gold told Arutz Sheva that “every time we relinquish any part of Eretz Yisrael it only brings upon us terrible suffering. It is high time that people understand that there will be no relinquishing of land. No Jews will be removed from their homes. Indeed, the so-called two-state solution to solve the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a solution at all. It would be a ‘final solution’ and that can’t – and will not – take place. We must stand and fight so that this will never happen.”
I sense that Rabbi Gold’s absolutism regarding the wholeness of the Land of Israel ran deeper than pedestrian conservative political sentiment. He certainly was “hard right wing” in the conventional sense of the term, but I think he opposed territorial concessions mainly because it smacked of weak faith in God.
Rabbi Gold understood God’s love for all Jews in absolute terms (which he sought to emulate absolutely), and he understood God’s grant of the Land of Israel to the Jewish People in absolute terms, in a totality wrapped with kedusha, holiness. These are not gifts that one can simply fritter away.
Going back to his love for the flora and fauna of Israel, I am reminded of a famous Rabbi Gold lecture which years ago I turned (in 2017, with his permission) into an op-ed article in this newspaper called “Letter from a tomato.” This was a mock missive where the tomatoes, oranges and eggplants of this land called upon the Jews of the Diaspora to hurry-up and make Aliyah.
“We, the indigenous vegetables and fruits of the Land of Israel want Jews to know what a dramatic transformation has been wrought over the past century in our subterranean world. A great command has come from G-d: Grow! Respond to the work of Zionist pioneers! Make Israel great again! As Rabbi Abba taught in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a): There is no greater sign of redemption than the agricultural re-blooming of the Land of Israel.”
Rabbi Sholom Gold would say: Listen to Israeli tomatoes! They are bearers of a Divine message: That G-d has re-juiced the Land of Israel so that all His children can come home and live in plenty.
And in his signature manner, Rabbi Gold of very blessed memory offered this ardent, razor-sharp religious advice: “If you want to speak to God, go to the Western Wall,” he would say. “But if you want to see Him, go to Shuk Machane Yehuda.”