"Without these haredim, Israel would probably have lost all of Jerusalem in 1948 rather than only part. Yet had it depended on their rabbis, the city would have fallen: It survived because ordinary haredim were less religiously extreme (and perhaps more Zionist) than their leaders."
Evelyn Gordon writes in the Jerusalem Post:
…I want to tell a story, from Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s autobiography:
During the War of Independence, Goren, the IDF’s first chief rabbi, was summoned one Friday morning by the army’s commander in Jerusalem. Army intelligence had just learned that Jordanian tanks would invade central Jerusalem at 11 A.M. on Saturday. Jerusalem had no weaponry that could stop a tank column, the commander said, so the only chance was to dig trenches to bar their path. But since Jordan was shelling the area constantly by day, they could only be dug after sundown, thereby violating Shabbat. Moreover, his soldiers were all fighting at the front and couldn’t be spared, so the only men available were haredi yeshiva students who hadn’t enlisted. Could Goren recruit them?
Jewish law mandates violating Shabbat to save lives, and both Goren and then-Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog agreed this situation qualified. But they feared the students wouldn’t accept their rulings. Herzog therefore sent Goren to the rabbi of Neturei Karta – who flatly forbade violating Shabbat, especially since “it won’t help anyway: The city will fall.”
So Goren decided to appeal directly to the students. He went from yeshiva to yeshiva, explained the situation and requested volunteers – and at each, including the Neturei Karta yeshivas, every hand in the room went up. That night, over 1,000 haredi yeshiva students dug trenches in Jerusalem. Saturday morning, the first three Jordanian tanks hit those trenches and overturned. The rest turned tail and fled.
Without these haredim, Israel would probably have lost all of Jerusalem in 1948 rather than only part. Yet had it depended on their rabbis, the city would have fallen: It survived because ordinary haredim were less religiously extreme (and perhaps more Zionist) than their leaders.
Today, most haredim are still more moderate, and more Zionist, than their leaders. Yet this story probably couldn’t happen today, because it depended on the students not knowing their rabbi disapproved: Unable to traverse the besieged city to consult him, they had to decide for themselves. Today, they would simply telephone. And once told “no,” they wouldn’t disobey. To haredim, their rabbis’ rulings are daas Torah (the Torah’s opinion), and therefore can’t be questioned – regardless of how often they’ve proven wrong.…