Rabbi Shimon Schwab, Rabbi of Khal Adas Jeshurun (1908-1993)

The following article, entitled "Zion or Zionism?" appeared in Mitteilungen, the bulletin of K'hal Adath Jeshurun, NYC, Adar 1-2 5736.

The United Nations has resolved by majority vote to equate Zionism with racism.

All over the world Jews have reacted by indignant protests and vigorous public declarations: "We are all Zionists," "Judaism is Zionism" and so on. This Jewish response is most unfortunate. A vicious lie is being answered with a simplistic untruth.

Zionism is not at all identical with Judaism. In fact it is diametrically opposed to it. Zionism is a political philosophy which considers the divine nation of the Torah a nation like all others, albeit with certain religious traditions which may or may not become part of the law of the Jewish land, subject to a majority vote of a democratic parliament. Zionism has transformed the holy land, the holy tongue, the holy nation into secular entities.

Zionism has created a sovereign state governed by man-made laws and not by the G-d given laws of the Torah. All these are dry facts, indisputable.

Zion is the house of our life. Zion is the citadel of G-d, sanctuary of the Torah, the holy city which surrounds it, the holy land of which it is the eternal capital.

The Zion of David and Shlomo, the Zion of our prophets and sages and singers and mourners and lovers - all this is the very opposite of Zionism. No! A thousand times no! We love Zion and therefore we are non-Zionists.

We are Jews who hate racism because we all have been the foremost victims of racism. We hate racism because all men were created in G-d's image, be they white, black, or yellow.

However, we are G-d's firstborn son. We are indeed a kingdom of priests and a holy people, chosen to serve Him and carry on His commandments, chosen to suffer if need be for the glory of G-d and the redemption of all mankind.

Eretz Yisroel was given us as an everlasting possession, but it was never promised by a guarantee from G-d of unconditional permanent existence for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisroel. On the contrary, it is a major teaching of Torah that the Jewish people has to earn the right to dwell in the land. And whenever Jews stop earning this right, Jews stop living in the land - heaven forbid. This we learn from countless passages of the Tanach as well as from the pages of history.

Therefore, the UN resolution should serve us indeed as a powerful eye-opener to return to the only source of our strength, to finally disregard Zionism and rediscover Zion, to discard the UN and go home to the Torah.

In the fall of 1988, a prominent Zionist rabbi published an article arguing that since Eretz Yisroel is vital to Jewish existence as a nation-state, where land is in danger of being lost it is permissible to sacrifice the lives of the few for the purpose of keeping the land and thereby sparing the nation at large.

Rabbi Shimon Schwab reacted sharply in an article published in the April/May 1989 issue of his community’s newsletter, and later published in Selected Speeches (p. 72):

What about a talmid chacham sh’ein bo deah - a scholar of Torah who unfortunately does not have the true Daas Hashem? According to Vayikra Rabbah, a dead animal's carcass is better than him. We are not referring to any given individual, but rather to a small group of authorities who fit the description. Here again, we must realize that any talmid chacham of this group, notwithstanding his erudition and scholarly achievements, has lost his deah because he is a child of our dark age and a victim of the garbled teachings of controversial role models. He may have been overcome by a sense of his own greatness, which the establishment has conferred upon him. We must pity him, without feeling self-righteous, and deplore the fact that so much diligence and intelligence is going down the drain. But let us beware of a better-than-thou mentality. Rather, let us thank Hashem, who has granted us the zechus to sit at the feet of uncontroversial Torah teachers, who were the talmidim of universally recognized gedolei Yisroel of the past generation, who have inspired us and guided our steps. Otherwise, we ourselves would have been drawn into the same whirlpool of confusion. Who knows? We might even have been much worse than these scholars are. Our refusal to recognize their pronouncements and actions is not tainted with vilification. All name-calling of personalities is demeaning, and therefore ruled out, and so is hate, which is self-destructive. We must treat our opponents with compassion, as we would treat someone who has lost his sense of direction. Always rather be sad than mad... But let us also remember at the same time not to yield even an inch of our emunah peshutah, and not to fall into the trap posed by the easygoing formulas of the new Centrist orientation. There must never be any contact with organized heresy, in whatever shape or form. When it comes to Zionism, even the kind that has changed it from realpolitik into a pre-messianic religion, let us be firm and brave and defy all forces which tend to weaken our fundamentalist - yes - loyalty to the unadulterated heritage which we have received from our forbears. But all this without hate, without anger and with great humility.

The Torah says, "And Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until dawn" (Bereishis 32:25).

There seems to be a dispute among the Talmudic Sages as to who this angel was. The most prevalent opinion (Bereishis Rabbah 77:3 and Tanchuma 8, quoted by Rashi) is that it was Esav's guardian angel, Samael.

But the Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer (chapter 37) says, "The angel said, 'Let me go free.' Yaakov said, 'I will not set you free until you tell me your name.' Then the angel gave Yaakov the name Yisroel, like his own name, for his name was also Yisroel." What is the meaning of this puzzling passage?

Rabbi Shimon Schwab (1908-1993) explained that there is actually no contradiction here. The Midrash says (Bereishis Rabbah 78:5) that Yaakov Avinu's face was engraved on G-d's throne. This means that G-d's glory is founded on the principle of truth, which was the attribute of Yaakov Avinu as it states, "Give truth to Yaakov" (Micah 7:20). The guardian angel of Esav, whom the Sages called Samael, is in charge of the opposite of truth, but he paints himself as a promoter of truth. This is why the Sages say (Chullin 91a) that the angel appeared to Yaakov as a Torah scholar.

This angel Samael called himself "Yisroel" because his whole essence was falsehood. Similarly, Esav's descendents established the Christian religion, which adopted the Jewish Bible as part of its literature, yet interprets words in the Bible such as "Zion", "Jerusalem" and "Israel" as references to their own adherents and their own idolatry. And among our own people, the Reform Jews, who deny that G-d ever gave the Torah, call themselves "rabbis" when they should really be called "priests". They call their places of worship "synagogues" when in reality they are houses of emptiness and belief in nothing.

And people say that there is a state in the beloved Holy Land whose ministers, leaders and legislators are heretics and non-believers, who desecrate the holiness of G-d's people, and yet they gave their state the name "Israel"! (It is interesting that Rabbi Schwab says "people say" – perhaps he did not quite believe that such a thing could happen.)

The Torah continues, "And he saw that he could not overcome him, and he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Yaakov's thigh was dislodged as he wrestled with him." This symbolizes that Yaakov's attribute of truth was partially compromised. Therefore we pray, "And purify our heart to serve you in truth," until the time when "Yaakov will come in completeness to the city of Shechem" (33:18). Shechem is the initials of "shem kvod malchuso" – the name of the glory of His kingdom. And this is enough for someone who understands. (Mayan Beis Hashoeva)

In this cryptic last paragraph, Rabbi Schwab may mean that Yaakov, the true Jewish people, the true Israel, is engaged in a struggle with the false Zionist "Israel". The Zionists saw that they could not completely defeat the true Jews, so they adopted a different tactic: they induced some of the true Jews to compromise their principles of truth. There have been rabbis who opposed Zionism, yet sanctioned some limited cooperation with the Zionist system with the justification that this furthers their battle against it. This, says Rabbi Schwab, was compromising Yaakov's attribute of truth.

Rabbi Schwab was an active member of Agudath Israel of America. However, it is known that he refused to attend conferences together with the Agudah rabbis of Eretz Yisroel, because he did not approve of their policy of cooperation with the Zionist government.