Rav Isaac Hutner & The TWA Hijacking

In his part two lecture on the Ben Ish Chai at Torah in Motion, Marc B. Shapiro relayed what he learned by interviewing a woman (Mrs. Berkowitz) on the plane next to Rav Hutner in the famous 1970 TWA hijacking: “It was not true that Rav Hutner was taken to a different area. He was there the whole time. The problem is that we have this idea of Gedolei Yisrael (great rabbis)… Rav Hutner wanted nothing to do with the other passengers. He refused to be a leader. People were coming over to him. They had nothing to eat. So they were given food by the terrorists. People were coming over to Rav Hutner and asking if they could eat this or that. And he refused to answer. ‘I don’t want to get involved.’ Mrs. Berkowitz asked him, ‘How can you not answer them? People need to know the halacha.’ He said, ‘Don’t ask me questions because if you do, the terrorists will look at me as someone important.’

“Sometimes people we expect to be the leaders don’t want that role and people we don’t expect will rise to the fore. He disappointed everyone on the plane. He decided to be for himself. He didn’t do anything bad. He simply showed that he didn’t measure up…”

“She heard him tell the hijackers that if they release him, he will make sure they get a lot of money. His students in America were doing the same thing… They were willing pay a million dollars to get Rav Hutner out. This went to R. Moshe Feinstein [and some say R. Yaakov Kamenetsky] and he said no, it is forbidden to ransom him. We’re not going to favor a rosh yeshiva.

“Can you imagine the Hillul HaShem (desecration of God’s name) if you take out the rosh yeshiva? People would say, ‘This is Torah? The great rabbi doesn’t remain with everyone else. He saves his own skin.’ If Rav Hutner was ransomed, that would have been the end of his reputation.”

“Some of the passengers on the plane came out with very negative feelings about Rav Hutner. David Raab was interviewed and he said that didn’t come out with negative feelings. He quotes in the book a crazy thing, the passengers were giving out sodas, and Rav Hutner said, ‘Can I have a cold one?’ People were flabbergasted.”

“We have gadolim who were afraid. Rav [JB] Soloveitchik was afraid. R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg was afraid… Did the Belzer Rebbe [in the Holocaust] need to stay and die with everyone? Some rabbis thought they should stay and others thought no. The Hasidim thought the rebbe should go.”

“We never hired him to be a leader under fire. We hired him to teach Torah… Yehezkiel says it will be on Failed Messiah. Let it be on Failed Messiah. I hope he puts it on. He doesn’t listen… I don’t think this is bad [about Rav Hutner]. People assume a lot worse. This should get the record out.”

“Rav Hutner never recovered psychologically.”

Wikipedia: “In the late 1960s he began to visit Israel again, planning to build a new yeshiva there. On 6 September 1970, he and his wife, daughter, and son-in-law Yonasan David were returning to New York on TWA Flight 74 when their flight was hijacked by the PFLP Palestinian terrorist organization. The terrorists freed the non-Jewish passengers and held the Jewish passengers hostage on the plane for one week, after which the women and children were released and sent to Cyprus. The hijacked airplanes were subsequently detonated. The remaining 40-plus Jewish men – including Rabbi Hutner, Rabbi David, and two students accompanying Rabbi Hutner, Rabbi Meir Fund and Rabbi Yaakov Drillman – and male flight crew continued to be held hostage in and around Amman, Jordan; Rabbi Hutner was held alone in an isolated location while Jews around the world prayed for his safe release. The terrorists tried to cut off his beard, but were stopped by their commanders. Rabbi Hutner was reunited with the rest of the hostages on 18 September, and was finally released on 26 September and flown together with his family members to Nicosia, Cyprus. Israeli Knesset Member Rabbi Menachem Porush chartered a private plane to meet the Hutners in Nicosia, and gave the Rav his own shirt and tallit katan, since Rabbi Hutner’s tallit, tefillin, shirt, jacket and hat had been confiscated during his three-week ordeal. Rabbi Porush reported that Rabbi Hutner had also lost 20 kilograms (44 lb), and his students appeared similarly emaciated. On 28 September Rabbi Hutner and his group were flown back to New York via Europe, and were home just in time for the first night of Rosh Hashana.[9]”

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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