Warhaftig was an important leader of the Mafdal – the National Religious Party.
During WWII, he saved the lives of up to 6,000 people, and was the last of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence to arrive in the Land of Israel, in 1947.
He served in the Knesset for 27 years, including 12 years as Israel’s Minister of Religious Affairs. He held a PhD in Mishpat Ivri, or Jewish jurisprudence, and was instrumental in the founding of the Rabbinical Court system. On matters of settlements and territorial expansion, he was a dove. On matters of religion? More of a hawk.
His most lasting contribution, however, was probably his role in authoring the Law of Return – a piece of legislation that goes to the heart of Israeli society, touching upon who is welcome to immigrate to this country and who, for the purposes of the State, who is considered a Jew.
He died in Jerusalem in 2002, at the age of ninety-six.
The thirty-seven people who signed Megillat Ha’Atzmaut on May 14, 1948, represented many factions of the Jewish population: There were revisionists and Labor Party apparatchiks; capitalists and communists and socialists; kibbutznikim, moshavnikim and city-folk; charedi rabbis and atheists.
Over the course of the past several months, our team has diligently tracked down the closest living relative of each one of these signatories, and interviewed them. We talked about their ancestors and families, about the promise of the Declaration, the places in which we delivered on that promise, the places in which we exceeded our wildest dreams, and also about the places where we fell short.
And it is through these descendants of the men and women who – with the strike of a pen – gave birth to this country of ours, that we wish to learn something about ourselves.
Today we’ll meet Zorach Warhaftig, and his eldest son, Emanuel Warhaftig. He’ll present one of the many political perspectives we’ll be featuring throughout the series.
For Zorach Warhaftig’s testimony for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, see this four part oral history series.
In 1961 Eliezer Whartman of the Israel State Archives conducted a series of interviews with 31 of the 37 signatories of the Declaration of Independence. For the full interview with Zorach Warhaftig, see here.
For a 1999 essay Warhaftig wrote for the Shalem Press, see Azure Online.
For Adir Zik’s documentary on Warhaftig’s life and activity during WWII, featuring his sons, see this film (in Hebrew).
For an account of Warhaftig’s life, see this New York Times obituary.
For Warhaftig’s thoughts on the Law of Return and the question of ‘Who is a Jew’ see this essay.
For a Hebrew-language biography, see Itamar Warhaftig’s Alaich Zarach.
Mitch Ginsburg and Lev Cohen are the senior producers of Signed, Sealed, Delivered? This episode was mixed by Sela Waisblum. Zev Levi scored and sound designed it with music from Blue Dot Sessions. Our music consultants are Tomer Kariv and Yoni Turner, and our dubber is Yoav Yefet.
This series is dedicated to the memory of David Harman, who was a true believer in the values of the Declaration of Independence, in Zionism, in democracy and – most of all – in equality.