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The parable of the full cart and the empty cart

Meshel Haagala hameleah veHaagala hareikah

The parable of the full cart and the empty cart is the name given to an opinion expressed by the Chazon Ish to Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, to explain the ideal relationship seculars and religious should have.


On October 20, 1952, during the coalition negotiations to form the fourth Israeli government, David Ben Gurion met Hazon Ish in his house in Bnei Brak.


According to Yitzhak Navon, Ben-Gurion's assistant (and future President of Israel), the Prime Minister initiated the meeting after he realized the Rav was the main source of authority on Religious Parliament members and practitioners.


Such authority over others intrigued him, and he asked to meet with him.


The purpose of the visit was a general exchange of views on the problem: how religious and non-religious people can live in coordination and cooperation in the State of Israel.


The question of recruiting girls into the IDF was not discussed at all and the visit had nothing to do with current political affairs.


According to Navon's report, Ben-Gurion asked:

"I came to talk to you about one issue. How can religious and non-religious Jews live together in this country, without exploding from within? Jews come here from many countries, by the hundreds and thousands, with diverse traditions, cultures, and views. The State is in external danger, the Arabs still want to destroy us, and we must find everything that is common between the parts of the people. And there is a fundamental problem: these are Jews and these are Jews, so how will they live together?"

The Chazon Ish replied to him with a parable (sourced from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin), known as the parable of the empty cart:

"If two camels meet on the road in a lane, and one carries a load, and the other does not, the one who does not carry a load must make way for the camel that is loaded. We religious Jews are likened to a camel that is loaded - we have a lot of mitzvots. We have the burden of a lot of commandments. You have to clear us the way".

Ben-Gurion reacted indignantly to the claim about the empty wagon: "Is settling the land not a mitzvah? Is it not a burden? Is protecting life not a mitzva? And what of the boys, whom your people object to: they sit on the borders and guard you. Is this not a mitzvah?"


And the Chazon Ish replied: "Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain." (Psalm 127:1).


The official announcement by the government to the press said that the purpose of the visit was a general exchange of views on coordination and cooperation between secular and religious groups in the State of Israel.


Contrary to the initial announcement, this meeting had more significance than just a "general exchange of views." During the meeting, the Prime Minister took a step towards yeshiva students by agreeing to maintain a limited exemption from military service for them.


In fact, as early as February 1948, an agreement was reached to provide a limited exemption for ultra-Orthodox youth from military conscription. Then, on January 9, 1951, the Prime Minister ordered the Chief of Staff to exempt yeshiva recruits from regular service. While the meeting between Ben Gurion and the Chazon Ish did not establish the ultra-Orthodox exemption, it did provide a significant boost to this controversial arrangement. Additionally, it carried symbolic support, which was no less significant.


Read also: the status quo.


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