Today is the second day of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year marking the birthday of the world 5,739 years ago.
Today in Jerusalem, most Jews, including Prime Minister Menachem Begin will go to the Synagogue to pray for peace and the success of the Camp David agreements.
Not Rabbi Moshe Hirsch.
No indeed. Rabbi Hirsch will don his finest shtreiml (beaver tail hat), his katfan and his jubay (cape). "For the holidays we wear white on white instead of the brown. It's very nice," and he will go to the temple to pray.
"We will pray to the Lord to terminate this Zionist kingdom of wickedness, this wicked Jewish nation which has arisen in our time.We will pray for this and then we will sound the shoffar, the ram's horn."
This is a rabbi?
In fact, Rabbi Moshe Hirsch is not only a well-known rabbi, he is a leader of and one of seven-man council of the Neturei Karta, the anti-Zionist sect of ultra-Orthodox Jerusalemites.
Not only that, Rabbi Hirsch is one of the hottest PR men this side of the Mount of Olives.
As a PR guy he's a little, you should pardon the expression, unorthodox. But he is very effective.
Right now Rabbi Hirsch is quite irritated with the Israeli government although he doesn't admit that it exits, which makes things a little tricky. He's angry because he wants his group of Orthodox Jews who live in a 17th-century-style religious ghetto, Mea Shearim, to accede from the State of Israel and to be declared by the United States a principality like Monaco.
So far he hasn't had much luck. That, however, does not quell Rabbi Hirsch's zeal. He figures the press is the answer. If he can get enough good PR he'll be able to sway world opinion.
So, on the very eve of Rosh Hashanna he solicits an interview to make his pitch.
"Listen." he says, "have I got a scoop for you." 'Lemme Explain'
If you didn't actually know you were talking to a real rabbi, and the most Orthodox kind of Rabbi, you would think you were talking to Woody Allen imitating a rabbi. In fact Rabbi Hirsch looks like Woody Allen. He has a funny-shaped face, large puffy lips, very few teeth, a slight lisp. What's left of his hair (which clearly once was flaming red and is now mostly white with traces of pink is in the form of a scraggly beard. The Orthodox curls most sects wear at the sideburns, he pushes back behind his ears. He wears a yarmulke under his black, broad-beamed Jerusalem hat and the traditional long black coat, white shirt and heavy black shoes.
He speaks with a Brooklyn accent, having been brought up on the Lower East Side of New York, the son of very pious Orthodox Polish and Romanian Jews.
He came to live in Mea Shearim more than 20 years ago, married "a Palestinian Jewish woman" and has lived in his little ghetto ever since. He blushes when asked his age and will only say, "Just put somewhere in the upper 40s."
He is very impatient with small talk and wants to get to the heart of the matter right away. He rubs is hands together, smacks his lips and says, "Lemme explain."
"See, the 12th principle of our faith. I believe, is that the Messiah will gather in the Jewish exiled who re-dispersed throughout the nations of the world. Zionism is diametrically opposed to Judaism. Zionism wishes to define the Jewish people as a nationalistic entity. The Zionists say in effect "Look here, God. We do not like exile. Take us back, and if you don't we'll just rill our sleeves and take ourselves back."
He smacks his lips again, really getting into it now. He rolls his eyes upward, almost with glee, and says, "This, of course equals heresy. The Jewish people are charged by divine oath not to force themselves back to the Holy Land against the wishes of those residing here. So if they do they are open to the consequences."
He lets that one sink in for a moment.
"The Talmud says this violation 'will make your flesh prey to the deer of the forest.' The Jewish people were given the Holy Land by God and we sinned and we were exiled and charge not to take back the land. Therefore, a Jewish state can only expect consequences which no one would look forward to." He looks a bit menacing now. He pulls at his scruffy beard, pauses, then pronounces, "The Holocaust was due to Zionism." 'Guardians of the City'
A lot of people in Jerusalem, both Arabs and Jews, think Rabbi Hirsch if way off beam. And practically everybody makes fun of him. Yet he represents what the government estimates as 10,000 Orthodox Jews in Mea Shearim itself and what he says are as many as 100,000 worldwide. "We represent 1 1/2 percent of the population of Israel," he says. Neturei Karta means "Guardian of the City," and as Rabbi Hirsch will proudly point out, that is exactly what they think they are doing. And he couldn't care less what people think about him. The idea of it makes him chuckel. "We feel obligated to chastise by rhetoric others who have been disoriented by the Zionist education," he explains."There are two motives in our publicity attempts. One is that we want results. The other is we want the world to be made aware that no matter how small, there is a Jewish group here which remains apart from Zionism." 'Dear Visitor'
Most PR types could not live without a telephone. Unfortunately for Rabbi Hirsch, there are no telephones in Mea Shearim in protest against the evil Zionist state. So he has to use a pay phone to make his contacts. If one wants to find him, it is necessary to go to the ghetto.
There are no cars allowed: in fact, the gate is not large enough for one to enter. Above the gate there is a large sign instructing tourists on what to wear.
"Dear Visitor," it reads, "You are quite welcome to Mea Shearim but please do not antagonize our religious inhabitants by strolling through our streets in immodest clothing. Our Torah required the Jewish woman to be in modest dress."
Modest dress means dress sleeves reaching to the elbow, stockings, no slacks, and married women must have their hair covered.
"There are, of course, people who come here uninitiated." "They are asked to comply with the law.When one insists anyway or is guided by an Israeli guide who insists it's a free country, well, the most common way is to raise one's voice in protest, make them feel uncomfortable." Usually, he says with a giggle, it works. But then, if they still insist on walking around in inmodest dress, buckets of water come down on their heads from nowhere.
"Then, if the police come and try to stop us, well, stones come down from nowhere. When there is a local entanglement with the authorities, then stones are used in self-defense."
He can't control a large cackle this time.
Inside Mea Shearim, which is now 104 years old, it is like being put in a time capsule and taken back several centuries to a Jewish ghetto in Eastern Europe, from whence its inhabitants come. Russia, Poland, Hungary. For one thing, they do not speak Hebrew, the official language of Israel.
"Language," explains Rabbi Hirsch, "is one of the tolls of nationalism. We will not yield to the Zionist bait of extending a holy tongue which we use in our studies and prayers. We speak Yiddish."
Tiny narrow streets and passageways lead to small stone houses with balconies on the second floor. A market place leaves the main part of town smelling like a gaint garbage pail. The filth of Mea Shearim is overwhelming. Signs of decay are everywhere. The houses are crumbling, the walls need painting. On this afternoon it was the "is one of the tools of nationalism. We eve of the Sabbath, and the men, in their black hats and long black coats, were scurrying to and from the ritual bath in a basement of a small house, brightly colored towels wrapped around their necks, their curled sideburns dripping water down their shirts.
In the temple on the main square, one can see through the windows the men at prayer, and the sounds of their sing-song voices chanting can be heard throughout the quarter most of the day.
There is a Yeshiva in Mea Shearim where many Jews come from abroad to study. It is there that Rabbi Hirsch teaches "Post-graduate Talmud," when he is not being "foreign minister" of Neturei Karta and chief flack.
Those men who do not study work in small shops in the ghetto. "Those who do not have the opportunity or the ability to study support those who do," he says.
There are no women in sight in Mea Shearim, only an occasional figure in a kerchief, long skirt and thick black stockings lurking near a doorway. Eve the young girls, a few of whom were playing near their houses, wore the same, covered-up attire.
And of course the women do not study.
"Women's chosen purpose in life is not to study," says Rabbi Hirsch. "Maimonides terms study for women to be vanity. The accent for them is preparing them for the role of the Jewish woman. Bearing children, bringing up children in the ways of God, how to sew, to cook. They study house wiving. They must cover their heads when they marry, by a wig or a scarf."
When a reporter offered her hand to Rabbi Hirsch he shook his head and refused to take it. Later he explained.
"Women are unclean," he says matter of factly.
In fact, women are so unclean that they must shave the hair on their body once a month during their menstrual periods and bathe to cleanse themselves. Also, their husbands are not allowed to touch them for seven days before and seven days after.
And no man is ever allowed to touch a woman before he marries, or a woman not his wife after he marries.
"I don't really like to explain this to you." he says, staring down at his feet while he talks. "And what will the others think of me if I talk to you about such things."
Marriages, he says reluctantly, are arranged by a matchmaker as indeed his own was. And being a nice Jewish boy from New York, he made quite a good marriage to the daughter of Rabbi Aharom Katzenellenbogen, one of the leaders of Meea Shearim.
But enough of this. The good rabbi is beginning to tap his fingers and swing his foot in frustration. He wants to talk about "the Cause."
Out comes a thick envelope of material, photocopied press releases, clippings from other newspapers, pamphlets, each with an explanation. A question is answere with, "We'll get to that part later, now let me explain to you something first."
There is a letter to King Hussein requesting that Mea Shearim become part of Jordan; there is a letter to President Carter explaining why he should not be fooled by Begin; there is letter to Kurt Waldheim at the United Nation asking permission to become a principality, and there is a letter to Yasser Arafat proclaiming solidarity with his cause.
"We wrote him a letter and we were the top of the news," boasts Rabbi Hirsch. "Although publicity-wise I don't know whether it's a good idea to accentuate that."
Geographically, explain Rabbi Hirsch, "We've asked King Hussein to declare Mea Shearim and vicinity as a settlement of Jordan which would establish a Jordanian settlement on Israeli territory. Oh yeah, this is when the United States intervened and he refused us. Hussein had his apology on the front page of El Kuds, the local Arab paper here."
One of Rabbi Hirsch's proudest achievements was to corral Mrs. Cyrus Vance when she was visiting Mea Shearim recently and bend her ear about their cause.
"I personally got her out of the clutches of the authorities," he beams, "and gave her an extra half-hour tour against the wishes of the Israeli government. The guide was really afraid I was going to sell her on the Neturei Karta."
All of this doesn't exactly endear Rabbi Hirsch to the Israeli government, but they are at a loss as to what to do about him. For one thing he does represent somewhere around 100,000 people. And for another, to try to stop them would look like religious persecution, something the Jews can hardly afford to do. So they just ignore Mea Shearim and the Neturei Karta.
It's just easier not to mess with them. Pretend they don't exist. Neither the women nor the men do military service. And nobody pays taxes.
"We don't pay taxes because the states of Israel doesn't exist," he says. "And people protest to different degrees. Some don't use the post office, some don't use the telephone, some don't use the 100-pound note because it has the image of Israel on it."
And of course Rabbi Hirsch, being the most visible of the lot, has personally suffered at the hands of the Israelis for his anti-Zionist preachings.
"The authorities," he says in a somber tone of outrage, "came and took away my electric carrot juicer. I had to bait it out, and it cost me $1.50."
Today, in Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah, thousands of Jews will come to the Wailing Wall to pray.
Not Rabbi Moshe Hirsch.
But there is no time to go into it. The holy eve is about to begin.
It is time to end the interview. "Wait, wait," cries Rabbi Hirsch reaching out to stop a reporter. Then, realizing he is not allowed to touch her, he recoils. "Listen, here's another press release. Haven't you got another two minutes for the Wailing Wall thing? See, we long for it more than anyone, but we stay away from it because it was captured by the Zionist conquerers to sell their wares. . . ."