Jan 4, 2007

Teddy Kollek's legacy

TThe other day Teddy Kollek, former mayor of Jerusalem, died at the age of 95. I posted a brief notice of his passing with some words of praise for his having built the city of Jerusalem as we know it today.

Since then, many postings have gone about around the Jewish blogosphere regarding Teddy Kollek. Most of them have been critical in nature (to say the least) and only a few have been positive.

Because his funeral is going on right now, as I write, I would like to elaborate a bit more and fortify my thoughts with another positive post on Teddy Kollek's behalf.

Teddy Kollek was a controversial figure in Jerusalem politics. He was considered divisive, and he is branded as a leftist. You are probably surprised to hear he was devisive, considering all the obits you might have read that talk about how he unified the city. The truth is, he is remembered as one who unified the residents of Jerusalem because he greatly improved the living conditions of the Arabs of East Jerusalem. He unified the city in its Jewish - Arab issues.

Kollek was documented a number of times of being discriminatory against the haredi and religious public. He slandered them on occassion, most famously when he declared his wish in 1972 to burn down Mea Shearim (because he was against their shabbos protests).

In the pre-state British-Mandate era, Kolleck served as chief liaison between the Haganah and the British. Menachem Begin's Irgun Zvai Leumi blamed the unit under Kolleck's control for handing Irgun members over to the British and for torturing young Irgun fighters during the period known as the "Season".

However, despite all that, I think Teddy Kollek has merit. He built Jerusalem into the beautiful and vibrant city it is today. Even after he was defeated by Ehud Olmert for the mayorship of Jerusalem in the 1990's, he continued to work and invest his efforts on behalf of the success of Jerusalem. He continued raising phenomenal amounts of money for Jerusalem.

That is not a point that is debatable. He is the person responsible the modern-day Jerusalem we all love.

The Talmud talks about King of Israel Omri who built a city in Samaria to rival Jerusalem. He was considered an evil king. The Talmud says that the reason he was successful and his reign continued in three of his desendants when other evil kings did not last is because of the merit he had by adding a great city to Israel. That is despite the fact that that great city he built was one of the manifestations of his evil! In the Navi Melachim I (16:25), Omri is described as having been evil and even worse than the evil kings that had proceeded him. He is faulted with leading the Israelites astray.

Eim Habanim Semeicha uses this story of Omri as proof that even if someone was a complete rasha (and I do not know if Kollek qualifies for that description just because of those events described earlier), but the mitzva fulfilled properly of settling the Land of Israel by bulding cities gives him great merit, enough merit that he deserved the kingship of Israel for three generations. It might not make him a tzaddik, but it does give great merit.

(Rav Teichtal in Eim Habanim Semeicha goes on and discusses how the founders of Israel all have merit despite their beeing evil and anti-religious. They have the merit of building Eretz Yisroel. The book is well worth a read. If you do not have it, go buy it. If you can, the (original) Hebrew edition is much better than the English translated edition. If you want, read it online at the link above.)

Even if you think Teddy Kollek was not a good person, or even possibly evil (as many do based on the various posts on blogs and in online forums frequented by the religious public), he still has the merit of having built the great city of Jerusalem. For that alone, his memory should be blessed.


  1. Rafi,
    I admire you for being an Oheiv Yisrael - for looking at the positive in everyone.

  2. thanks yaak, but I don't think that of everybody. But builders of Israel get the benefit of the doubt by me...

  3. nice post. someone wrote a similar post about sharon after he became ill and religious people refused to pray for him. he wrote about how much sharon contributed to the security of the state over the years. maybe it was you. i don't remember

  4. it might have been me, maybe not. I posted something positive about Sharon as well back then..


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