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Readers Debate Zionism in Yated Neeman Newspaper

Aug. 31, 2007

The Monsey-based English-language Jewish newspaper Yated Neeman (Aug. 17, 2007) printed a letter in its "Readers Write" section from a Feivel Goldman, entitled "The Gedolim's View Vis-à-vis the State of Israel."

The letter stated,

Rabbi Yitzchok Tzvi Schwarz wrote an article last week which praised the tzidkus and chochma of the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum zt"l. Certainly, these points cannot be debated. The Satmar Rebbe was a gaon olam and a tremendous tzaddik. However, Rabbi Schwarz's almost romantic portrayal of the Satmar shita as possibly being shown to be correct in modern times (Rabbi Schwarz give recent disappointments and tragedies as Oslo and the Gaza withdrawal as examples) was, in my opinion, off the mark.

Rabbi Schwarz writes correctly that the Satmar Rebbe maintained that the State of Israel is a vehicle of the Soton, an evil mirage, and that Zionists are puppets of the Soton. Any successes experienced by the State were and are all maaseh Soton, a test from Hashem to see if we'll be swayed, just like the function of a sign or wonder from a novi sheker. This is, indeed, the Satmar shita. This is why the Satmar Rebbe held that it is forbidden to vote in Israeli elections and to participate in the Israeli government.

The vast majority of gedolei hador strongly, though respectfully, disagreed and continue to disagree with the Satmar shita. They encouraged and continue to encourage Jews to vote in Israeli elections and to join parties in the Knesset, such as UTJ and Shas. They have not changed their shitos as a result of Oslo and Gaza. Maran Rav Shach zt"l started Degel Hatorah, now UTJ, and disagreed with the Satmar Rebbe's view vis-à-vis the State of Israel. Ybl"c Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman shlita continue to support Rav Shach's shita, as do the vast majority of gedolim.

There are two important errors here, one made by Goldman and the other made by Schwarz, the author of the original article.

1) Goldman distorts the Satmar Rebbe's shita, and then proceeds to cite other rabbis who disagreed with it. The idea that the success of Zionism and its state is attributable to the Satan is not the foundation stone of the Rebbe's shita, only a consequence of it. The foundation of the Rebbe's shita is that founding a Jewish state is forbidden under the Three Oaths in Kesubos 111a, a denial of the Divine nature of our exile and hope for future redemption, and a violation of our obligation to live at peace with all nations and not wage wars. This is based on solid texts in the Gemora, Rishonim and Acharonim, and we challenge Mr. Goldman or anyone else to find a gadol who disagreed with this.

On the contrary, we find that gedolim consistently voiced this "shita". At Agudath Israel's 1937 Knessia, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Rabbi Ahron Kotler, and Rabbi Mordechai Rottenberg of Antwerp held that we should reject any proposal of a Jewish state, even if it be on both banks of the Jordan, and even if it be built on a religious foundation, because this is a kind of denial of the belief in the coming of moshiach (Hapardes). Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, in his statement to the U.N. in 1947, said, "Orthodox Jewry has not the slightest intention of subjugating any section of the population of the Holy Land&We furthermore wish to express our definite opposition to a Jewish state in any part of Palestine." The Chazon Ish was quoted by Rabbi Moshe Scheinfeld as being completely opposed to a Jewish state (Mikatowitz Ad Hei B'Iyar, p. 97.)

When the Rebbe saw that the Zionists actually succeeded in creating a state, and that many otherwise religious Jews were, in their ignorance and excitement, supporting the existence of the state, he concluded that this was a test from Hashem similar to a miracle performed by a false prophet. Yes, there were some rabbis who disagreed and found other ways to explain the Zionists' successes. But their disagreement on this issue should not be mistaken for disagreement on the basic halachic issue.

This distinction was perhaps best stated by the Brisker Rav when confronted by Jews who claimed that the state was foretold by the prophets and kabbalah, and is thus part of Hashem's plan and should be supported. The Brisker Rav replied, " The Gemora states explicitly that even when something is foretold by prophecy, it is forbidden to violate the law of the Torah. It says in Berachos 10a that Chizkiyahu foresaw that he would have wicked children, and because of this he refrained from having children. Why? If he saw prophetically that he would have children, it would happen no matter what, so why did he try to avoid it? The answer is, since - according to what Chizkiyahu held - it was forbidden to bring bad children into the world, he was obligated to make all efforts to avoid doing it, despite the knowledge that his efforts would fail and the children would be born anyway. So too here, it is forbidden to found a state, for it will cause bloodshed. Even if the prophets say it will happen anyway, it is forbidden for us to help."

The Brisker Rav gave another example to illustrate this point: "The Rambam writes that we can see the hand of Hashem even in the spreading of the major religions of the gentiles. These religions serve to prepare the world for the Days of Moshiach, by bringing belief in Hashem and the Torah albeit in a corrupted form - to the whole world. Does that mean that we should go and help spread these religions?" (Teshuvos Vehanhagos v. 2, siman 140)

The voting issue as well is but a consequence of the fact that the state is forbidden. The Rebbe held that we should show our opposition to its existence by boycotting all participation in it. Other rabbis permitted participation in order to "fight from within", and they were not concerned that people might misconstrue participation as consent. They used the analogy of a man who is attacked by robbers and begins negotiating with them over what to steal. Nobody will think that this man advocates robbery. (Our Mr. Goldman apparently thinks so.)

2) The mistake made by Schwarz is more common, and can sometimes be heard even in Satmar circles, namely: to suggest that the "failures" of Oslo and Gaza have caused a shift toward the Satmar shita. Actually, the opposite is true: the past fifteen years have seen the Zionist movement grow even more dangerous from a Torah viewpoint, because its strongest defenders have increasingly been observant Jews. In an era when secular Zionists are more and more willing to make concessions for the sake of peace, it is the religious Zionists who are saying that the Zionist state isn't Zionist enough for them.

This change warrants a new approach in the fight against Zionism. In the early decades of the state, gedolim fought against the state's anti-religious laws, but many of them did not say much on the halachic question of creating a state, since the state was founded and run by people who did not ask any halachic questions. Today, with Zionism becoming an increasingly religious ideology, it is time for us as Torah Jews who follow the gedolim to set the record straight and find out what gedolim actually held and hold.

The following week (Aug. 23) the Yated printed three strong anti-Zionist letters in its "Readers Write" section, in response to the letter by Feivel Goldman. One of them was from us, consisting of the above comments.

This, and another letter by Rabbi Schwarz, author of the original article, both stressed the fact that gedolim all agreed that it was forbidden to found a state. They cited a statement by Rabbi Ahron Kotler, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman and Rabbi Mordechai Rottenberg in 1937, as well as statements by the Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rov and Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky.

A third letter, written by Dovid Simcha Kushner, focused on the Brisker Rov and his fiery war against Zionism. The Brisker family and students today, he wrote, even refrain from eating food that is under the supervision of certain rabbinic organizations because their leaders take "defiled money" from the Zionist state.

We see this week's "Readers Write" column as a positive step for the Yated, a newspaper which in recent years has printed much hawkish Zionist material. The Yated is a composite of material from different sources, and thus contains contradictory trends. On the one hand, it has cast itself as the newspaper of the yeshiva world, with news and feature articles about yeshivas and their rabbis. On the other hand, its front page articles about the Israeli political scene are written by strong Zionists who oppose the peace process, advocate war with Hamas and Iran, and cry anti-Semitism against anyone who speaks against the State of Israel. (Some of the material and opinions presented by the Yated's writers seem to be borrowed from Zionist websites.)

It is our hope that the Yated editor will one day realize that the front-page writers he employs do not truly represent the views of his yeshiva world readers, and will change the newspaper's approach accordingly.

On Aug. 31, the newspaper printed four more letters on the subject of Zionism and the state.

In response to our challenge to find any gadol who held that the Zionists' actions did not constitute a transgression of the Three Oaths, one writer this week mentioned the Avnei Nezer. He then continued:

One writer is busy with the 'religious Zionism' as the secular one is pretty much over. What about the 'religious anti-Zionism' where people who say they are speaking for Klal Yisroel, Neturei Karta or the Satmar Rebbe are willing to give back Eretz Yisroel to the Palestinians despite the fact that not one gadol held that after the fact we should dismantle the medina by giving it back to the nations of the world.

What we should do, and what your newspaper should be promulgating, is what a great Rebbe of the previous generation urged us to do when he discussed the Zionist leadership: 'We should daven that Hashem should bring an end to the medina not via the nations of the world because that would be dangerous, but rather through the coming of Moshiach" (Divrei Yoel, Parshas Bo)."

All the Avnei Nezer writes about the oaths (in Yoreh Deah 454 and 456) is that when the non-Jewish power ruling over the Holy Land permits Jewish immigration, this immigration does not violate the oaths, because it is not considered "with a strong hand." But fighting a war to achieve statehood is definitely "with a strong hand"; and it is also forcing the end of exile. The Avnei Nezer passed away in 1910 and his words must be viewed in the context in which they were written: immigration under the Turks. He did not live to see what the Zionists did in 1947-1948, and thus nothing he writes can be seen as a ruling on those later events.

He writes that "not one gadol held that after the fact we should dismantle the medina by giving it back to the nations of the world." In fact, the Satmar Rebbe did say that we should dismantle the state and give it back. He says this in Al Hageulah chapter 44. In general, it is hard to understand why anyone would think the concept of "before the fact" versus "after the fact" should have any bearing here. In halacha, that concept applies to cases of dispute, where sometimes we follow the stringent opinion as a first resort but when in a difficult situation are allowed to rely on a lenient opinion. In our case, there is no such lenient opinion.

The Rebbe's words that we should pray that G-d should bring an end to the state were said strictly regarding prayer. In the present situation, where those in power will not listen to halacha, we can only pray that Hashem should bring an end to the state. But if the question is posed: what should leaders of the state do if they were interested in following halacha, then the Rebbe's unequivocal answer was that they should give up their state.