Auction 86 - Part I - Rare & Important Items

Fascinating Letter from Yemenite Rabbi Zadok ben Shalom Yitzhari to David Ben-Gurion – Early First-Hand Account of Discrimination Against Yemenite Jewish Immigrants, 1949 – "Do not allow the nation's officials to afflict His Flock" / Letter from David Ben-Gurion, 1965

Opening: $1,000
Estimate: $2,000 - $4,000

Two letters on the subject of Yemenite Jewish immigrants in Israel: a letter from 1949, handwritten and signed by Rabbi Zadok ben Shalom Yitzhari, discussing discrimination against immigrants from Yemen, anti-religious coercion, and the persecution of members of the Hapoel HaMizrachi movement in the immigrant camps (Mahanot Olim), addressed to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion; and a handwritten, signed letter from Ben-Gurion to Rabbi Yitzhari, dated 1965. Hebrew.
1. A lengthy, intriguing letter, handwritten and signed by Rabbi Zadok ben Shalom Yitzhari (1901-1986), "one of the earliest arrivals on [Operation] ‘Magic Carpet'; a member of an ethnic community with a tradition thousands and hundreds years old." Written in "Rashi" script. Dated 2nd of Tevet 5710 (December 22, 1949).
In colorful Hebrew, Rabbi Yitzhari appeals to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with a request for his assistance and intervention on his own behalf, and on behalf of religiously observant Yemenite Jewish immigrants, following his humiliation at the hands of the authorities at the Rosh Ha'Ayin immigrant camp. The letter, entitled "Security of the Citizen in Israel and the Security of the Religion of Israel" is a first-hand account of discrimination against Yemenite Jewish immigrants in Israel, of attempts to sway them from their traditional way of life, and of the persecution of members of the religious Zionist Hapoel HaMizrachi movement in the immigrant camps by officials of the Israeli establishment and the Jewish Agency.
At the beginning of the letter, Rabbi Yitzhari introduces himself to Ben-Gurion, and speaks of the systemic discrimination against religious Jews: "In our days we have been privileged with redemption, and we have been transported on man-made wings of eagles, to arrive in the Land of our Forefathers. As a man of religion, I have been employed by the organization of Hapoel HaMizrachi; I was given the job of handling matters of religion and tradition in the immigrant camps, and what did my eyes see? Every counselor and social worker working on behalf of Hapoel HaMizrachi is persecuted and hated. And I, as one of the representatives of Hapoel HaMizrachi, suffered persecution up to my neck […] How horrified we were to see that here as well, in our [own] land, state, and government, we are persecuted for our faith and our beliefs, and the contrast is unbearable seventy-seven-fold, for in the Diaspora we were persecuted by the gentiles, whereas here we are persecuted by our brethren […] sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob […] Those same functionaries, directors, and inspectors […] in the immigrant camps – they are the very ones who persecute us, the very ones who mock our Torah and those who study it, and they are the ones who act as criminally as can be, and they have assumed the role of blasphemers and abusers, those who curse the ranks of the Living G-d…".
Much of the letter is devoted to detailing the persecution and repression of the Jewish religion and tradition on the part of the authorities governing the immigrant camps, as related to Rabbi Yitzhari by his fellow Yemenite immigrants. He gives the example of one particular group of immigrants who complained about what they regarded as "disgraceful and bizarre acts done by people who call themselves Jews deliberately antagonizing them by desecrating the Sabbath right in front of them; and the requirement that they enroll their children in a school they deemed inappropriate [where they would be] educated by the types of teachers who remove head coverings and cut off earlocks."
A prominent portion of the letter is dedicated to Rabbi Yitzhari's complaints concerning his own treatment, and the abuse he personally experienced: how he was arrested without warning and interrogated at the hands of one of the officials in charge of the Rosh Ha'Ayin immigrant camp, simply because he was engaged in the promotion of religious causes among the immigrants. The interrogation he underwent was long and difficult; he relates to it briefly by providing excerpts from the dialogue conducted between him and his interrogator. Among other things, he was told: "Your verdict and sentence must be graver than that of a murderer […] You poison all the immigrants and murder them and ruin and destroy them, and pervert their minds, and turn us into their enemies, and we are the ones who brought them here on airplanes, and take care of them and feed them and provide for them and shelter them, etc." Yitzhari was also ordered to hand over to the authorities a portfolio he had kept and had meant to pass on to the relevant state authorities. It contained complaint letters given to him by immigrants. When he refused to cooperate and deliver the portfolio, he was imprisoned behind a barbed-wire fence and publicly humiliated. The incident came to an end when the camp director – "Mr. Yitzhak" (in all likelihood, Yitzhak Maoz), with whom the rabbi had a friendly relationship – entered the picture and apologetically freed him from confinement.
At the end of the letter, Rabbi Yitzhari appeals to Ben-Gurion with the following plea: "Cast your eyes heavenward to G-d Almighty, who has rendered you a shepherd over his people, Israel, and tend to them faithfully, according to their will, their wishes and desires, as is the will of G-d; do not allow the nation's officials to afflict His flock […]" And he concludes by turning to the prime minister with a personal request: "To those who apprehended me and tormented me and imprisoned me at the Rosh Ha'Ayin Camp on Friday, and disgraced me all day long for all to see, just so they could humiliate and subjugate me, and caused me mental anguish and grief and pain and sorrow […] see to it that they are fittingly punished and that justice be seen to be done."
In a footnote at the bottom of the page, Rabbi Yitzhari adds the following apology, immaculately written in cursive Ashkenazi script: "For this I beg my dear sir to forgive his servant, that I have written this letter in Rashi script, for this is what is customary among us, and I do not permit myself for the time being to abandon the tradition of my ancestors, [and I act] in the spirit of 'Hear, my son, the instruction of your father, and forsake not the teaching of your mother'…" [Proverbs 1:8].
[1] f., 32 cm. Good-fair condition. Fold lines to length and width of sheet; closed and open tears along fold lines, with minor damage to text, mended unprofessionally with strips of acidic adhesive tape. Browning to paper in vicinity of taping. Adhesive tape for reinforcement on verso. Minor tear to right edge, causing minor damage to text. Minor creases and stains.
2. Brief letter, handwritten and personally signed by David Ben-Gurion, addressed to Rabbi Yitzhari and dated October 19, 1965 (a time when Ben-Gurion was involved in the parliamentary election campaign for the Sixth Knesset, introducing and heading his new political party list, "Rafi").
In this letter, Ben-Gurion expresses regret over the fact that he was unable to meet with Rabbi Yitzhari in the course of his visit to Rosh Ha'Ayin, and states the following: "Few are the places I have visited where I so enjoyed a discussion with friends as much as I enjoyed myself in Rosh Ha'Ayin following the meeting. I felt that the enthusiasm here was not merely emotional – as it was with some other ‘Edot Mizrach' [Oriental Jews] – rather, here the enthusiasm was imbued with profound wisdom. I was overjoyed to meet learned, wise, level-headed interlocutors who act with a deep sense of responsibility."
Further on in the letter, Ben-Gurion writes: "I had always assumed – without knowing for certain – that there must be many manuscripts [circulating] in Yemen, since I knew there were no printing presses there, and it is far removed from Europe, where, over the past few centuries […] most Hebrew books were printed." Ben-Gurion concludes by requesting that Rabbi Yitzhari send him a Yemenite version of a siddur (prayer book), and asserts that "the Yemenite Tribe is one of the great wonders of Jewish history: far removed in time and place – thousands of years and thousands of miles away from the centers of Judaism – and they have preserved their Judaism better than any other Jewish community."
[1] f., 21 cm. Good condition. Tear to top, with negligible damage to text, mended with adhesive tape. Fold lines and minor creases. Minor stains.

Rabbi Zadok ben Shalom Yitzhari (Salah Al-Sahari, 1901-1986), native of Rada'a, Yemen. Became deeply involved in the affairs of the Yemenite Jewish community when still a youth; certified as a ritual slaughterer at age 15. When he was 16, he moved to Sana'a, where he studied under Rabbi Yihyah Qafih. As a collector of Jewish manuscripts, he visited Jewish communities throughout Yemen. His labor brought him success, material profit, and recognition; he became a senior advisor to the Imam of Yemen, Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din, and one of the chief liaisons with the State of Israel in the execution of Operation "On Eagles' Wings" (1949-50), bringing Jewish immigrants from Yemen to Israel. In 1948, following allegations that he had participated in a plot to assassinate the Imam, he fled to Aden, and from there to Israel. Once in Israel, he served as a representative of the religious Zionist Hapoel HaMizrachi movement in the Rosh Ha'Ayin immigrant camp, but eventually left the organization because of what he perceived as discrimination against the Yemenite Jewish community. Yitzhari became active in politics, associating with various political parties and frameworks – including the "Bnei Teiman BeYisrael" movement which he himself headed – and worked at the same time as an educator. Served as chairman of Rosh Ha'Ayin's local committee, and as chief coordinator of Torah-oriented culture on the local council.

Autograph Letters – Notable Personalities