Herzog, Isaac

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HERZOG, ISAAC (1888–1959), rabbinic scholar; chief rabbi of Israel. Born in Lomza, Poland, Herzog was nine years old when his father R. Joel Herzog immigrated to Leeds, England, to be the rabbi there. Though Isaac never attended a yeshivah, he achieved the highest standards in rabbinic scholarship, receiving semikhah from Jacob David Wilkowsky (Ridbaz) of Safed. Herzog was awarded his doctorate of literature by the London University for a thesis on The Dyeing of Purple in Ancient Israel (1919), which deals with the coloring of one of the threads of the *ẓiẓit (see Num. 15:38). As part of his dissertation, he proved that the process used by the Radzyner ḥasidim to create the blue dye for ẓiẓit was incorrect. The Radzyner Rebbe had been misled by an unscrupulous chemist who had added iron filings to the mixture. During World War ii, the Radzyner blue dyeing factories and their process were lost. Ironically, after the war, the surviving Radzyn ḥasidim approached Herzog, who gave them the correspondence between him and the Radzyner dyemakers. Thus, they were able to reestablish their dyeing business in Israel, where it still functions to this day.

Endowed with a brilliant analytical mind and a phenomenal memory, Herzog was soon recognized as one of the great rabbinical scholars of his time, besides being a linguist and jurist and at home in mathematics and natural sciences. The charm of his personality, which combined ascetic innocence with conversational wit and diplomatic talents, made a great impression.

Herzog served as rabbi in Belfast (Northern Ireland), 1916–19, and in Dublin until 1936, receiving the title of chief rabbi of the Irish Free State after 1921. He maintained excellent relations with political and ecclesiastical figures, and established a life-long friendship with Eamon de Valera, the Irish prime minister. By testifying before a committee of the Irish senate he succeeded in safeguarding sheḥitah against the provisions of a Slaughter of Animals Act (1935). Herzog was an ardent Zionist and a founder of the Mizrachi Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.

In 1932 Herzog declined an invitation to the rabbinate of Salonika. In 1936 he accepted the invitation to become chief rabbi of Palestine in succession to A.I. *Kook and assumed office in 1937. With the exception of a few die-hard fanatics, who sporadically challenged him, Herzog enjoyed the respect of the vast majority, including the non-religious elements, particularly in the kibbutzim. In the winter of 1938, in reaction to the British Peel Commission and in anticipation to the eventual emergence of an independent Jewish State, Herzog convened a rabbinic conference to discuss the halakhic issues that would arise with Jewish sovereignty. They included kashrut and Sabbath observance, laws of marriage and divorce, as well as the incorporation of halakhah into the civil and criminal codes. The discussions took into account the fact of non-Jewish citizens and that the majority of the Jewish citizens would not be observant. Herzog was particularly innovative in dealing with the issue of cooperation between a Jewish state and non-Jewish countries. He resorted to the halakhic concept of partnership. He used the same idea as the basis for citizen rights and obligations of non-Jews within the Jewish state. Another area of special concern was the equal status of women and the repercussions on the laws of inheritance. According to Jewish law, women do not inherit their husbands' or parents' property. Herzog grappled with ways to reconcile Jewish law with modern values and practice. As chief rabbi, he was president of the Rabbinical Court of Appeal and of the Chief Rabbinate Council, and thus, through the enactment of takkanot in matters of personal status, he was responsible for significant advances, reconciling the necessities of modern living with the demands of halakhah. These takkanot include the acceptance of non-observant Jews as witnesses before the rabbinic court, the payment of alimony and the coercion of recalcitrant husbands who refuse to give their wives a get (decree of divorce). He was also responsible for formulating the statutory regulations governing the rabbinic courts. These were first implemented in 1943. Along with the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Ben-Zion Ḥai *Ouziel, he did away with the separation of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in the rabbinic courts. He also served as president of the Va'ad ha-Yeshivot, established in 1940 to solicit financial support for the country's talmudic colleges. It was his initiative that led to Isaac *Wolfson's building Hechal Shlomo, the seat of the chief rabbinate, and other important religious organizations and services. From the time of his arrival in Israel in 1937, Herzog became the champion of all the Jews arrested by the British Mandate authorities. He actively intervened on behalf of all those sentenced to death. Unfortunately, his efforts were not always successful.

Before, during, and after World War ii Herzog was one of the representatives of Palestinian and world Jewry to the various conferences and commissions organized to find a solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict over Palestine. He set forth the Jewish spiritual claims to the Holy Land and stressed the need of a refuge for the survivors of the Holocaust. Herzog, deeply stirred by the tragedy of the Holocaust, traveled to London (1940), the United States (1941), South Africa (1941), Turkey (1943), and Cairo (1944) trying to rescue Jews. Thus, in 1940 he received from Soviet Russia permits for staff and students of Lithuanian and Polish yeshivot stranded in Vilna to cross Russia to the Far East. In 1946 he traveled throughout Europe for six months in an attempt to find and rescue the many Jewish children, mostly orphans, who were hidden in monasteries and convents and with non-Jewish families during the years of Nazi persecution (see Massa Haẓẓalah, 1947). In the course of these travels he was received by the pope and many leading statesmen. Herzog fought unsuccessfully to have the laws of the new State of Israel based on Torah law. He was especially disappointed that the vast majority of rabbis in Israel did not assist him in his efforts to base the laws of inheritance on halakhah. In responding to another of the challenges made by the new State of Israel to halakhah, Herzog took a stance that was different from his predecessor, Rabbi Abraham Isaac ha-Kohen *Kook. Rabbi Kook opposed granting women the right to vote or to hold public office. Herzog, on the other hand, felt that modern democratic standards and the positive impact of the votes cast by religious women demanded that Jewish law find a way to allow women's suffrage. In the end, he did find the right combination of halakhic precedent to support the right of women to vote and to hold office. Indeed, Herzog worked constantly to reconcile Torah, the State, and democracy.

Among Herzog's published works are the first two volumes of the planned five of Main Institutions of Jewish Law 193639 (1965–672). His talmudic research is contained in Divrei Yiẓḥak, partly published in his father J. Herzog's ImreiYo'el (v. 1, 1921) and partly in his father-in-law S.I. *Hillman's Or ha-Yashar (1921), and Torat ha-Ohel (1948). Two volumes of responsa, Heikhal Yiẓḥak, appeared in 1960 and 1967. His son, Chaim, edited Judaism: Law & Ethics, a selection of his father's essays in 1974. The Royal Purple and the Biblical Blue Argaman and Tekhelet, Herzog's Ph.D. dissertation, was published in 1987. Pesakim u-Khetavim, nine volumes of responsa and letters, were published between 1989 and 1996. Torat ha-Ohel, containing novellae on the Rambam and the Talmud, appeared in 1993. The digest of responsa Oẓar ha-Posekim (11 vols. to 1969) was founded by Herzog in 1940, as was the Harry Fischel Institute for Research in Jewish Law, one of the functions of which was to train dayyanim for the rabbinical courts of Israel. *Massu'ot Yiẓḥak, a religious settlement named after Herzog, located first in the Eẓyon group in the Hebron hills and destroyed in 1948, was rebuilt near Ashkelon.

His wife, sarah (1899–1979), daughter of Samuel Isaac Hillman, was the president of the Mizrachi Women's Organization and chairman of the Ezrat Nashim hospital in Jerusalem in which capacity she was mainly responsible for the erection of its new facilities (1968).

His son Chaim *Herzog (1918–1997) was Israel's sixth president.

Herzog's second son, jacob (1921–1972), was a lawyer and doctor of international law in addition to having been ordained as a rabbi. He published a translation and commentary in English of certain tractates of the Mishnah. Before the State of Israel, he was in Haganah intelligence. In the Foreign Ministry of the State he was successively counselor on Jerusalem, director of U.S. Division, adviser to Ben-Gurion during the Sinai Campaign, Israel minister plenipotentiary in Washington, Israel ambassador to Canada, and assistant director general of the Foreign Ministry. From 1965 he was director general of the Prime Minister's Office. He was chairman of the Committee for Twentieth Anniversary Celebrations of the State of Israel.

Chief Rabbi Herzog was the author of the "Prayer for the State of Israel" that is recited in synagogues throughout the world on the Sabbath. He was also responsible for including the phrase, "reshit ẓemiḥat ge'ulateinu – the beginning of the emergence of our salvation," in the beginning of the prayer.


J. Safran, in: S. Federbush (ed.), Ḥokhmat Yisrael be Eiropah (1965), 127–49; G. Bat-Yehudah, in: L. Jung (ed.), Men of the Spirit (1964), 125–38; S. Zevin, ibid., 141–5; idem. (ed.). Mazkeret, Koveẓ Torani le-Zekher I. Herzog (1962); Z. Singer and S. Avidor, in: Ayin be-Ayin, no. 14 (March 28, 1958, 9–23; Kressel, Leksikon, 1 (1965), 634–5; T. Preschel, in: Or ha-Mizraḥ, 3–4 (Jan. 1962), 73–80, bibliography; I. Goldschlag, in: Aresheth, 2 (1960), 437–8. add. bibliography: I. Warhaftig, in: Engaging Modernity: Rabbinic Leaders and the Challenge of the Twentieth Century (1997), 275–319; S.Y. Cohen, in: Jewish Law Association Studies, 5 (1991), 9–20; Z. Warhaftig, in: ibid., 21–32; D. Frimer, in: ibid., 33–48; B.Z. Greenberger, in: ibid., 49–112; E. Schochetman, in: ibid., 113–24; S. Urbach, Pe'iluto ha-Medinit shel ha-Rav Herzog ad Kom ha-Medinah (1985); S. Maislesh, Rabbanut be-Se'arat ha-Yamim: Hayav u-Mishnato shel ha-Rav Yiẓḥaq Eisak Herzog (1991); S. Avidor ha-Cohen, Yaḥid be-Doro: Megilat Hayav shel Rabbi Yitzḥaq Eisak ha-Levi Herzog (1980); D.H. Ellenson, in: Gender Issues in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa (2001); M. Waldman, in: Tehumin, 8 (1987), 121–29; S. Eliash, in: Ha-Umah, 66/67 (1982), 86–95; idem, in: Cathedra, 21 (1982), 155–70; Y. Ahituv, in: Etgar ha-Ribonit Yeẓirah ve-Hagut ba-Asor ha-Rishon la-Medinah (1999), 199–213; E. Westreich, in: Me'ah Shenot Ẓiyyonut Datit, 2 (2003), 83–129; Y. Edelstein, in: Kivunim, 13 (1982), 151–59. Website: www.tekhelet.com.

[Jacob Goldman /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]

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