Exclusive Interview with a Former Kannai, Part II: The Community

This is Part II of an interview with Rabbi Moshe Yossef, a former kannai who lived in the anti-Zionist community in Jerusalem for many years. In Part I, he tells of his personal experiences. Below he responds to  questions about the kannai community.

How do people survive economically without governmental benefits? Are there outside donations?
The bulk of the people in these communities, especially here in Jerusalem, live very, very simply.

Their communal institutions, which accept no money from the State of Israel, receive a small amount of support from the Satmar Hasidic group in the USA.  There are still kannaim living here without having accepted Israeli citizenship.  They do not receive any benefits from the State, including (state-organized) medical insurance.

What do you admire about them? Concerns?

I have always believed that anyone who lives by their convictions, even if these convictions should be wrong, is to be admired for their courage.

There is a fine line of distinction between genuine zeal and hot-headedness.  It takes a higher person to be a real kannai.  The source in the Torah for the term kannai is the incident with Pinchas.  Hashem himself testified (in the Torah) to the fact that Pinchas did what he did not because he was a hot-head, but purely out of a genuine feeling of wanting to stand up for what is right.  My concern is that there has always been, and will always be, a small fringe who call themselves kannaim, but who actions are not based on true and sincere motives.

Is the role of women and girls different from that in the mainstream haredi community? At what age do girls marry? What kind of jobs do employed women hold?

The womenfolk of the kannaim abide by a dress code which is somewhat stricter than that of the mainstream Haredi community.  Their educational institutions are also geared to place more emphasis on being a good mother, and less on academic achievement and career orientation.

How many children?

The families I knew had an average of about 12-20 children.

Do most women wear shalim (cloaks)? Have you seen women with their faces veiled? [This topic has come up on the blog previously.]

I am not familiar with the word: “shalim”.  In the Haredi world, (married) women’s head coverings could consist of a tichel (scarf), hat (or beret), sheitel (wig) or a combination of a sheitel and a hat.  Amongst the kannaim only a tichel (specific types at that).

I have never seen any Jewish women with their faces covered.  My wife was just talking to a neighbor of ours about this issue.  She (the neighbor) says she has seen a few ba’alot teshuva (returnees to Orthodox Judaism) women in Beit Shemesh covering their faces. This has nothing to do with kanaut, but misguided individuals who lack a strong background or direction in finding their way back to their faith.

Do you think that the community will continue as it is or are there signs that times are changing? What trends have you noticed?

During our Pilot Trip to Jerusalem in June 1994, shortly before we settled here, I looked up an old friend of mine.  We spoke about the Old Times – 1978-1983, when we had learned together in yeshiva, and, amongst other things, the “wars” between the factions in the Holy City.  (In those days attending a demonstration in Israel meant literally taking one’s life in one’s hands.  It took a great deal of courage and conviction to stand up for one’s beliefs then).

He told me that times had changed since then: “Today there are no real kannaim, as we knew them, and no real Zionists as we knew them.  Both groups have become fewer in number, and those who remain are not, as a rule, willing to live by the same degree of dedication as their predecessors.  The wars of today had become a shadow of what they had been.  People today, on both sides of the fence, are more inclined to just want to live a quiet life.

What misperceptions about the community would you like to clarify?

Sadly, it has always been a tradition here in Israel that the media feels some sort of duty to knock down Haredim in general, at any opportunity, all the more so the kannaim, and to describe them as extreme, wild fanatics, who don’t at all belong in the real world.  I believe that this is based in some part on ignorance, but also on hate.  In some cases I have to say that I find the media relating to these people in a way which is downright anti-semitic.

I have almost never seen any attempt by the press to report on kannaim, without choosing to represent them all as: ‘Neturei Karta’ (lit. Guardians of the City) – a small group consisting in fact of probably no more than a few dozen families world-wide.  In fact the only exception to this was an article in a Haredi publication, which was still not altogether accurate.  The world would be a better place if journalists would refrain from writing about issues they know nothing about.

Rabbi Yossef, thank you again for enlightening my readers.

Interview with Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch on Troubled Teens
Interview with Sephardi Lady of Orthonomics


  1. The world would be a better place if journalists would refrain from writing about issues they know nothing about.
    So true. If only they could care to learn about those issues.

  2. Great interview! Keep up the work and Shabbat Shalom.