Haredis indifferent to flag on yeshiva

Ponevezh flies flag every year to honor only place where Jews can study freely.

ponevezh flag 298.88 (photo credit: Matt Wagner)
ponevezh flag 298.88
(photo credit: Matt Wagner)
In the heart of Bnei Brak, on the roof of Ponevezh Yeshiva, the bastion of haredi intellectualism, flew this Independence Day, as it has flown every Independence Day for as long as anyone can remember, the ultimate symbol of Zionism: the flag of Israel. An anathema to large segments of haredi Judaism, the nation's blue and white banner represents all that is misguided in Zionism: The hubris of trying to end exile without waiting for God, the impudence of returning to God's Holy Land without bothering to adhere to His commandments, and the aping of the nations of the world and all their goyish grandeur. Nevertheless, Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, former rabbi of the Lithuanian town of Ponevezh who lost his wife and son in the Holocaust, stubbornly insisted on flying the flag after he established the Yeshiva over 50 years ago. "Nobody ever suspected Rabbi Kahaneman of being a Zionist," said an anonymous longtime student of Ponevezh, which is considered the Harvard or Cambridge of the yeshiva world. "As a Holocaust survivor he had certain sentiments towards the state and its institutions - never its leadership. It was his way of showing gratitude that there was a place for the Jews of the world, a place that supported yeshivot and Torah learning." However, not everyone in Bnei Brak agrees with Kahaneman's sentiments toward the state. That's why two maintenance men, immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, take a break from their regular work at the yeshiva and are paid extra to stand on the roof guarding the flag. "In the past some of the more zealous students at Ponevezh have tried to climb onto the roof and tear the flag down," said the Ponevezh Yeshiva veteran. Neturei Karta, an ultra Orthodox, rabidly anti-Zionist sect loosely connected with Satmar Hassidism regularly demonstrated against the flag flying. But Ponevezh students said they have not staged protests for close to a decade. "Today most people are indifferent to the flag and what it symbolizes," said a Ponevezh student. "Guys respect Kahaneman's decision. "Every year about this time there are few guys that arouse the issue, but the discussion dies out pretty quickly."