Welcome to 70 Faces of Israel. To celebrate 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel, we’re looking at 70 people whose remarkable stories have changed our country and the world.
Name: Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog
Date of Birth: 3rd December 1888, Lomza, Vistula Land (Congress Poland)
Date of Death: 25th July 1959, Jerusalem, Israel
Claim to Fame: First Chief Rabbi of Ireland and Israel
In 1959… Rabbi Herzog passed away
Born in Poland to a rabbinic family, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog mastered the Talmud at a young age. His family relocated to Leeds, United Kingdom, and Paris, France, where his father served as a communal Rabbi. Herzog studied at the Sorbonne, then received his doctorate from the University of London. His thesis, written about his re-discovery of the techelet dye used on Biblical prayer shawls, made him famous across the Jewish world.
Herzog – who was fluent in Gaelic – was known as the “Sinn Fein Rabbi”. He served as the Rabbi of Belfast for three years, then as the Rabbi of Dublin for a further three. He was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland for 14 years and supported the Irish Republic Army.
In 1936, Herzog immigrated to British Mandate Palestine where he succeeded Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. Herzog famously derided the White Paper limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine.
Herzog demonstrated a fierce commitment to the Jewish people. During World War Two, he travelled to the US to ask President Roosevelt for a promise to help European Jews. After the war, Herzog returned to Europe with a mission to save Jewish children and babies who had been hidden with Christians during the Holocaust. He returned these children to their families or to Jewish orphanages.
When the State of Israel was declared in 1948, Herzog became the country’s first Chief Rabbi.
Herzog’s descendants continued his legacy by contributing to Israeli politics. His son Chaim Herzog was a decorated IDF general, who later became the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations and served as the sixth President of Israel. Another son, Yaakov Herzog, served as Israel’s Ambassador to Canada and also as the Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office. His grandson Isaac Herzog is a Member of Knesset and the Leader of the Opposition.
As well as his considerable published works, Rabbi Herzog also wrote the Prayer for the State of Israel. Recited in synagogues globally during Saturday morning services, it asks God to guide the State of Israel and its leaders. It also asks for God to return Diaspora Jews to Israel.
Herzog died in 1959. He received the Israel Prize for Rabbinical Literature in 1958. The award recognised his impressive written contributions to Jewish learning. The Jerusalem municipality named a major thoroughfare in his honour.
Previously: 1958: Itzhak Perlman
Up Next: 1960: Shabtai Rosenne