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What are the positions of the Chassidic groups Ger, Belz and Alexander on Zionism?


From what I have seen of your site, I think it is very good.

I was wondering if you could help me with one thing:

Which Poylisher Chassidim hold to views such as on this site? I say this because it seems that Ger is quite far from your viewpoint and I know little about Alexander and Belz etc.

- Yosef

Dear Yosef,

The following is a letter from the Sfas Emes, the Gerrer Rebbe (1847-1905). The letter is printed in the book Chiddushei Harim and Gur Aryeh, Bilgoraya 5673, letter number 8 at the end of the book.

Thursday of Parshas Kedoshim 5661 (1901), Gur.

Life and peace to the honor of my friend, the great and famous and holy rabbi, Rabbi Yisroel shlita.

I received your letter, accompanied by the pilpul on halacha. I was happy to see you walking with broad knowledge through the Talmud and poskim. Now I will do your bidding to tell you my humble opinion on this subject (moving to Eretz Yisroel) as far as halacha, and practically speaking.

Briefly, certainly one who has a little fear of Heaven, accepts upon himself to keep the mitzvos of terumos and maaseros, and knows that his wife will not be against it, should not be afraid to go to Eretz Yisroel, and it will be considered a mitzvah. Even though this aliyah would not be for the sake of the mitzvah, we say that "by doing mitzvos for the wrong reasons one will eventually come to do them for the right reasons." But one who is not certain of himself that he will fulfill the many mitzvos of the land gifts to the poor and tithes come out to about a fifth of the produce or more, and keeping the Shmittah is even harder, a great test, especially if all their livelihood will be from the produce of the land then he should not bring himself to such a test.

And especially regarding what you proposed to permit people who act improperly in our countries to go to Eretz Yisroel, on the assumption that once they live there they will humble themselves, G-d forbid that a descendent of my father should say such a thing! These people only go to benefit from the land, for their livelihood is difficult here. Surely you have heard about the groups of irreligious and wicked people who have spread in Eretz Yisroel and Jerusalem. Woe to the ears that hear this! Therefore in this case there is definitely a possibility of a prohibition.

All this pertains to the halacha. Now, turning to the practical sphere, you wish to make efforts in this area, to convince Jews to move to Eretz Yisroel. But you should not rely on stories; rather you should first send a few men with good sense and they should stay there for at least a few months, to see if it is really possible to live off the produce of the land. Hearing is not the same as seeing. And it is well known that there are many poor people in Eretz Yisroel why do they not live off the produce of the land? And at least you must first ask people you know who have lived there several years and see what they have to say about this. You say that there has been a change there, that the land is sprouting with blessing, more than previously, but I have not heard this. You can get the true story from the Jews of Eretz Yisroel.

Regarding what you wrote further that through your efforts a majority of the Jewish people will come there, your words are all astounding. In this matter we say, "Let not he who puts on his sword boast like him who takes it off" (Melachim I 20:11). We cannot use this as one of our reasons to permit immigration to Eretz Yisroel.

May the Holy One, blessed is He, restore our captivity soon, and bring us up to Zion with song, and make us joyous as much as the days of our affliction.

His friend who seeks his peace, Aryeh Leib of Gur.

His successor, the Imrei Emes, was also very strong in his opposition to Zionism. However, he did encourage his chassidim to move to Eretz Yisroel, and made trips there to strengthen the community. As a member of Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, he was criticized by Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro, the Munkaczer Rebbe, for the Agudah activists excesses in stressing emigration to the Holy Land. In response, the Imrei Emes said that he was only the honorary president but had no actual power over the activists:

"In truth, I already dislike bearing the title of honorary president of the Agudah. I would willingly give up the honor and I wish I had never taken it on. For what do I need such a big responsibility? Who am I that people should blame these things on me? I would like you to suggest a different way for religious Jews to unite, so that there might be no complaints against us." (Tikun Olam, p. 19)

In the years immediately prior to the establishment of the Zionist state, Agudah policy was dominated by Isaac Meir Levine, son-in-law of the Imrei Emes. However, he was mostly unable to consult with the Imrei Emes (who was then in his last year of life) or other gedolim, and the decision reached by him and other Agudah activists to enter the provisional government was not based on any ruling from the gedolim. See Mikatowitz Ad Hei B'Iyar, Chapter 6.

The Gerrer Rebbes' policy from then on has been to vote, but that does not mean that they would disagree with the halachic sources forbidding the establishment of a state.

The Belzer Rav, Rabbi Ahron Rokeach, followed in the footsteps of his father, Rabbi Yissachar Dov, as a strong anti-Zionist and anti-Agudist. This stance was maintained from the time he became rebbe in the mid-1920's until his escape to Palestine in the midst of the War. When the Eidah became an official kehillah in the 1920s, the Zionists, who called their kehillah Kneses Yisroel, arranged with the British that every Jew would automatically be included in their kehillah, unless he went once a year and registered himself as a yotzei. So that is what the Jews of the Old Yishuv did. Several rabbis in Europe wrote letters exhorting everyone to go and register himself as yotzei, including the Belzer Rov, Reb Ahron. But when Reb Ahron later came to Jerusalem, he did not register himself as a yotzei. They asked him, didnt you yourself write that one must? He said that he didnt remember this ruling. They showed him the letter he had written. He wrote another letter saying I dont remember, which was circulated by the Zionists, while the anti-Zionists circulated the old letter. Some attribute his change of attitude to gratitude to the Zionist Rabbi Isaac Herzog, who had been instrumental in his rescue from Europe. Others say that it had to do with the Belzer community in Eretz Yisroel, which was largely founded by chassidim with Zionist leanings who had left Belz in Europe in reaction to the strong anti-Zionist stance of their previous rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov.

At the first elections to the Knesset, Rabbi Ahron's name appears on the declaration in favor of voting, but some claim that the signature was not genuine. Reb Ahron lived until 1957. In 1966, Reb Ahrons nephew, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, then only eighteen years old, became the new Belzer Rebbe. He and his followers continued to cooperate with the Israeli government and to utilize government funds to support their yeshivos. However, this does not mean that they would disagree with the halachic sources forbidding the establishment of a state.

The Alexander Rebbes and their chassidim did not take part in the Agudah politics in Poland. Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi, the Alexander Rebbe who passed away in 1925, had this to say about Agudah:

"Regarding the Agudah, what can I say and what can I speak? My heart is pained for the slain of the house of Israel! My soul cries in secret over the great destruction and terrible desolation, burning and flickering like fire! The misfortunes grow worse from day to day, and who knows will grow out of this? May Hashem have mercy on the remainder of us. I am almost weakened from suffering so much over this." (Tikun Olam, p. 56).

Yechiel Rosenberg, a follower of the Rebbe Reb Shmuel Tzvi who later lived in Acre, Palestine, related the following story: he was once in Alexander to spend Rosh Hashanah with the Rebbe, and before the blowing of the shofar, they announced, “If anyone here has connections with Mizrachi (the religious Zionist party), the shofar blower will have in mind that he should not fulfill the mitzvah of hearing shofar with his blowing. And let him leave the synagogue.” (Oros Rabboseinu, p. 17, quoted in Mishkenos Haro’im v. 6)

Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi's son Rabbi Yitzchok Menachem continued in his ways. He was killed in Treblinka in 1943. About the continuation of the Alexander dynasty in Bnei Brak I have no information right now.