Aug 27, 2009

Rav Chaim Kanievsky served in the IDF

Yes, you read that title correctly. You can stop rubbing your eyes.

I am going to translate this article about how Rav Chaim Kanievsky served in the army, or else to be known as "Sticks and Stones"for those of you who might have trouble with the Hebrew. I had never heard this before, and find the story fascinating.

Rav Shmuel Grossbard, father of one of the mashgichim in Ponevvezh Yeshiva, passed away this week. His children were surprised when Rav Chaim Kanievsky came in to be menachem aveilim, and were even more surprised with what he told them shortly after he arrived.

"You have no idea why I troubled myself to come console you?" Rav Kanievsky asked.. "I have hakarat hatov for your father who was my commander in the army and helped me a lot!"

Those present were surprised by what he said that he had served in the army. One of those present had the courage to ask "The Rav was in the army? We never heard this before about our father, and about the Rav even more so!"

Rav Kanievsky smiled and related to them, "It was during the War of Independence, I was then learning in the Yeshiva of Lomza in Petach Tikva. The war started and everyone was drafted to the army with no exceptions. Of course, we knew nothing, until one day a large vehicle pulled up outside the yeshiva and they said everybody has to get in to go protect the country.

Because none of us knew how to hold a gun,they gave us sticks and stones and put us out to guard a large hill. I remember everyone was very scared and Rav Berel Povarsky hid in a bathroom and got out of it. But me and Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, we went, and he was sitting beside me the whole time saying tehillim while crying.

Your father, z"l, was appointed as commander, because he was the oldest in the group. because he was commander, he got the largest stick. When we got there, I asked him what we should do. he told me you should go up the hill and sit and learn where they can't see you, but take a stick and two stones so if the Arabs would come you can scare them away. We sat there for a long time, and after we left the place we were told the Arabs had shot to that same place."

When he finished relating this story he said, "Out of gratitude for then, I have come to console you."

This story is absolutely amazing. It needs absolutely no further commenting, but I am still going to make a couple of points...
First, the obvious - Rav Chaim Kanievsky "served" in the army, though he seems to have done so while learning the whole time.
Second, nobody ever knew about it. Despite the microscope the gedolim live under, always surrounded by people, everyone commenting on their every move, and something like this was never made known....
Third, it seems plenty of rabbonim served in the same time period. they did what they had to.
Fourth, this Rav Grossbard - even his kids didn't know this about him.
Fifth, Rav Kanievsky remembered this his whole life and waited for the opportunity to show his gratitude. Why he had to show it in the form of comforting his death I don't know, but he still came to show hakarat hatov for something done 62 years earlier!

Absolutely amazing story.


  1. Sticks and Stone?!
    Sounds like a story out of czarist russia.
    I guess the real weapons were reserved for the non-yeshiva bochurim.

  2. I have read before how they took everybody they could grab to fight in the war. It was a war for the very existence. Everybody had to go. and it was a new state. they had few weapons. everything they could grab was used.
    It just shows how much more so was the victory a miracle.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. It IS an amazing story.
    My favorite part was where it said:
    "because he was commander, he got the largest stick."
    Look how far the IDF has come, thank God.

  5. It is an amazing story, but a type of story I've heard before quite a number of times. I've always wondered why the technical aspects of the "giyus" during the milchemet shichrur hasn't really been documented very well anywhere (well, anywhere that I've seen to date).

    The description isn't entirely accurate because it seems to be missing one small point (that the Rav likely was never aware of). Generally some hours or days before, the Roshei Yeshiva (and the heads of other educational institutions) were informed that the students will be needed and that they should prepare as best as possible.

    Interestingly enough I heard some of these stories directly from my father and grandfather who were there at the time. In fact, they were quite close to this particular Yeshiva (ישיבת לומז'א) because they lived in Petach Tikvah (more accurately in Kfar Sirkin just outside Petach Tikvah) at the time.

    The sticks and stones were purely out of necessity as there was a shortage of proper weapons and ammunition (and thus few people were trained in the use of those weapons to avoid wasting ammunition). Luckily we had a most powerful ally at our side.

    I am *VERY* impressed that a Charedi publication published this in its entirety. It is heartening to me that they did.


  6. And these Rabanim never, ever told anyone? Their children? Why?

  7. Despite the microscope the gedolim live under, always surrounded by people, everyone commenting on their every move, and something like this was never made known....

    On the contrary the microscope only came about in the past 20 years or so.

  8. the previous viznitzer rebbe and the sert-viznitzer rebbe also served in the IDF during that war

  9. When my father fought, the local brigade had one small artillery canon so they mounted it on the back of a truck and drove from place to place, firing at each one to give the Arabs the impression that they had a dozen guns. It worked too.

  10. Somebody removed the original article?

    1. the entire website moved changed domain suffixes last year from .net to .info . the link must have changed because of it. That link is still using the old domain. I tried changing it to the .info, but it doesnt bring up the article. will see if I can find it in their archives


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