Seventh-generation Jerusalemite and longtime defender of the sanctity of his home city Rabbi Menachem Porush passed away Sunday at the age of 95. A deputy minister of Labor and Social Affairs, leader of the Agudath Israel party and Israeli parliamentarian for more than 30 years, he worked around the clock until a heart attack claimed his life.

A gifted orator and journalist, Porush, who was born in 1916, joined the ranks of Jewish activists at the age of 16, when he travelled abroad to write for religious newspapers in the Diaspora. In 1938, he returned to Jerusalem, where he continued his craft as a correspondent for papers in what was then Palestine and later, as an editor.

He followed his father, Rabbi Moshe Porush, into the Agudath Israel party, which he represented as a member of the fourth Knesset, Israel’s parliament. In a legislative career stretching from 1959 to 1994, with a two year break in the mid-1970s, Porush fought for Jewish traditions to remain an integral part of life in the Holy Land.

But those who knew him saw a side that went beyond politics, a readiness to assist anyone who needed help.

“The waiting room at his office was packed with a colorful mix of people,” said journalist Zalman Ruderman, who interviewed the former party leader at the age of 88, a decade after he left his political career behind. “He would still arrive at 9:00 in the morning and left, at times, late at night.”

“What do you mean what do I do?” Porush exclaimed to Ruderman in a stormy voice. “The same thing I always did! People come to me for assistance in all different situations and I try to assist the best that I can.”

The rabbi, likewise, did not mince words when it came to controversial issues. He once told a journalist “that Jerusalem is not Paris or New York. It is the holiest city in the world.”

He lived that belief, serving the city as a councilman and deputy mayor.

In his eulogy, Israeli President Shimon Peres compared Porush to one of the stones of the Western Wall.

“He contributed much to the strengthening of the Torah world,” said Peres, “in [promulgating] Jewish traditions to the Israeli nation and in bringing closer the non-religious and religious” segments of society.

Rabbi Menachem Porush addresses attendees of a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of Kfar Chabad, Israel.
Rabbi Menachem Porush addresses attendees of a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of Kfar Chabad, Israel.

Valued Advice

His correspondence with the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, offers a glimpse into his dedication to the Jewish people.

Many of the letters appear in published volumes without names. Others, some spanning three pages, reveal a relationship that was able to bridge a flash point between Chabad-Lubavitch Chasidim and members of Porush’s party. The disagreement centered on the decision of Chabad-Lubavitch to not join Agudath Israel’s educational system, reflecting the Rebbe’s desire that the Chabad educational network should remain apolitical.

“Just as G‑d’s words turned into action” at the creation of the world, the Rebbe wrote in 1957, “so too the words spoken by us mortals … should have the effect of not just being heard, but words that should be adhered to.”

Twice a year, Porush travelled to the United States to raise money for Israeli educational institutions. Each time, he met with the Rebbe, sometimes for as much as three hours.

“We would discuss everything that I was involved in for the past half year,” Porush once revealed in an interview. “There was plenty for us to speak about. … The Rebbe’s activism spanned the entire globe.

He “would dissect situations to the minutest of details,” continued Porush, “and had an amazing insight that saw into the future, beyond the scope of a normal individual.”

One particular comment had a profound effect on Porush.

“Every generation has its missions,” the Rebbe told Porush. “Our generation also has the [capabilities] to fulfill them.”

“We all need to remember this,” said Porush. “We have the capabilities to fulfill all that was placed on our shoulders.”