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Debating The Zionist Legacy

Dear Editor,

I have been following the Barry Jacobson–Rabbi Ginzberg exchange (5TJT, June 14 and June 21). Since I lived in West Hempstead when Barry was growing up, I was particularly moved by the sensitive and intelligent piece he has written. I have some comments to make about Rabbi Ginzberg’s reply.

His dressing down of Barry on the Herzl “prophecy” statement was unbecoming. It is clear to any fair-minded person that Barry was stating the obvious. Herzl’s vision, dream, and hope of a Jewish state; his creating the organization to carry it out; his bearing as a statesman who was welcomed in the highest level of European aristocracy; and his precise prediction that in 50 years there would be a state is nothing short of awesome. He saw what no one else was capable of seeing. The only one who came close was Rav Kook, who in 1907 wrote a masterful near-prophetic (I am being very careful with the “p” word) call to Eretz Yisrael, where he predicted with uncanny accuracy what would happen to European Jewry, and pleaded with them to come to Eretz Yisrael.

Rav Moshe Feinstein finds no fault with salvation that comes through the non-observant, non-religious, etc. Don’t tell Hashem whom He should choose to do His bidding.

Rabbi Ginzberg, your question to Barry whether he or his friends “feel the same giyul nefesh when they hear chareidim called parasites, etc.” is completely irrelevant. We are deeply hurt when those whom we feel closest to spew forth an ongoing torrent of hatred. We expect Torah Jews to be examples of ahavat Yisrael—not the purveyors for 65 years now with certainly no letup in sight of gross and crass ugly criticism. They have always found fault with the State.

Rabbi Ginzberg, your swipe at Barry about Satmar raises a question that has troubled me for the longest time. Even a brief perusal of the Satmar Rebbe’s sefarim makes it quite clear that he believes that anyone who participates in the Israeli government, voting, etc., transgresses many sins of the most serious order—yehoreg v’al yaavor. He repeats it time and time again.

Time out for a relevant story.

I arrived in Eretz Yisrael for the first time toward the end of June 1955, onboard an Italian liner called The Messapia. I was part of a group of Torah Vodaas bachurim (I personally was then already in Ner Yisroel) that included, as I recall, Nosson Scherman, Joey Weinstien, Yankel Goldberg, Chaim Liebel, and Arum Landesman. On the boat was the Satmar Rebbe and an entourage on the way to campaign against voting in elections to be held that summer. Reb Aharon also came to Eretz Yisrael and barnstormed the country, exhorting all to go vote. I can see him now from a balcony in Meah She’arim, crying out, “Men darf vuten gimmel-dalet,” time and time again. The letters represented Agudah and Po’alei Agudah that ran as one party.

The Rebbe makes it clear that anyone voting or urging people to vote or in any way be involved with the government is a certified apikoras, kofer beikar, min, and the like. The Rebbe thus accuses all the gedolei Yisrael of the last 65 years of being the lowest of the low. Now, Barry didn’t say anything like that. I would have expected Lakewood to dump the Rebbe’s sefarim into the closest body of water, ban them, and stand up for the honor of all gedolei Yisrael. The Rebbe’s sefer could be entitled, “The Unmaking of All Gedolei Torah.” It mystifies me why the whole chareidi, Torahdik, and yeshiva didn’t community stand up and roar in defiance against Satmar blasphemy. Yet you write so respectfully about “the shittah that is based on a comprehensive and deep understanding of Torah.” I am certain that the Ribbono shel Olam has “paskened” not like Satmar. (His shittah was grossly mistaken and I can prove it. But that’s not for now.)

I have a further observation to make at this point.

The chareidi community:

1. despises the national anthem (the drunk author);

2. has no use for the flag. “A shmmateh on a shteken” (“a rag on a stick”);

3. doesn’t pray for the State;

4. nor for the soldiers who defend them;

5. does not celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut;

6. does not celebrate Yom Yerushalayim;

7. does not go to the army;

8. spews forth hatred (a grandson came home from yeshiva ketanah relating that his rebbe told the class, “The worst thing that happened since Creation is the establishment of the State of Israel”)

9. considers Yom HaShoah and the siren anathema;

10. pays no attention to the two minutes of silence on Yom HaZikaron.

Now look again at this composite picture of chareidi conduct. Rabbi Ginzberg will certainly explain, justify, and find solid sources for every one of those positions.

But one question about the total picture. Who else agrees with and embraces all the above? The answer is obvious and should shake chareidi society to the core: The Israeli Arabs and the post-Zionist Left. Not such pretty bedfellows. That should set off warning bells. You can explain everything, yet you remain dead wrong. It was 50 years since I first experienced Barry’s “giyul nefesh,” absolute disgust, with the constant fault-finding and bashing of the State that I consciously dropped out of chareidi hashkafah and never looked back.

Jews have always been loyal citizens in all the lands of their dispersion—except in their own country. If you had pulled this shtick in Czarist Russia, in Cossack Ukraine, in the Germanic states, or Poland, they would have expelled you, shot you, or burned you at the stake. But in your own country you are big heroes because you know these wicked Zionists won’t do those things, and their soldiers will protect you. You spit at the state but you demand that the State support your lifestyle—what chutzpah!

I will rest my case until round two.

Sholom Gold

Har Nof, Yerushalayim

P.S.: In 1955 Rav Shach took me into Ponevezh Yeshiva and had me sit near him for a whole z’man. That tidbit is just to establish a little credibility. I was also Barry’s rabbi in West Hempstead before I went on aliyah. Please don’t hold that against him.

Rabbi Ginzberg Responds

Dear Rabbi Gold, shlita,

I am truly honored that the rav took out time from his busy schedule to not only read my article, but to respond to it as well. Despite the length and passion of your letter addressing many of my points, I really believe that we don’t differ on the fundamentals of what Eretz Yisrael means to both of us, just in our approach to it. I remember with great fondness sitting at your Shabbos table in Har Nof in the first few months after you made aliyah with your family (I was a guest of my old dear friend, your son Reb Menachem, currently of Afula) and discussing (not arguing over) the significance of Eretz Yisrael to every Yid. I couldn’t agree more then and I can’t agree more today, more than 30 years later.

I have neither the interest nor the ability to argue the fundamentals of Herzl’s “prophetic” contributions to the history of the State. What I did say was that it is being disingenuous to find fault with those in the chareidi community who are well aware of the “kavanah” of Herzl to remove all vestige of Torah and mitzvos in the promised land—as recorded by his own rabbi’s memoirs—and therefore do not (or rather cannot) view his contributions to Klal Yisrael with any significance.

I had to also check several times the heading of the letter to make sure that it was being addressed to me personally. For where in anything that I wrote does it infer that I support personally either the Satmar shittah or “the ongoing torrent of hatred” of Eretz Yisrael? On a personal level, my heart and soul is tied together with Eretz Yisrael; in the more than 27 years as rav of a shul (both in Hillcrest and now in Cedarhurst) there is not a Shabbos or yom tov when we don’t say a Mishebeirach for the chayalim of Eretz Yisrael. As my rebbeim have done before me, I reject completely the Satmar shittah, and my wife and I are filled with pride and joy that our oldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren have chosen to live their lives in Artzeinu HaKedoshah—a dream that is shared by her parents. I have also had the great zechus of spending several years living in Eretz Yisrael, where one of my wonderful experiences was spending dozens of Shabbossos at different army bases around the country sharing and spreading some genuine heartfelt Shabbos ruach.

While I truly enjoyed reading your passionate defense of Eretz Yisrael (as I always enjoy reading everything that the distinguished rav writes), you are speaking to the converted and it is misplaced.

Where do the distinguished rav and I differ? I believe in the appreciation of the greatness of gedolei Torah whom we both strongly disagree with. Your words in describing the Satmar shittah as “grossly mistaken” and also that you are “certain” that the Ribbono shel Olam has paskened not like Satmar” (end quote). Wow! With Hashem himself paskening the issue, how can there be another side to the discussion?

I am not privy to what Hashem paskens on any matters, maybe because I still live in galus and am not deserving of “avirah d’ara machkim.” And so the way I deal with the Satmar shittah (which, like you, I find great difficulty with) is to quote from the gadol ha’dor of the previous generation that you refer to as well in your letter. I heard from a contemporary gadol, Rav Dovid Speigel, shlita, the Ostrov-Kalushiner Rebbe of Cedarhurst, who was a talmid muvhak of the Lakewood rosh yeshiva Rav Ahron Kotler, zt’l. Rav Spiegel was once with the rosh yeshiva when one of his talmidim asked him about the Satmar Rebbe’s shittah. Rav Ahron, zt’l, responded, “The Satmar Rebbe is a gadol b’Torah but he is a yachid, and we are a rabbim” (loose translation).

That is it in a nutshell. The Lakewood rosh yeshiva taught his talmidim then, and he teaches me now as well, that unless you are “certain” that the Ribbono shel Olam has paskened that one particular shittah is correct (which for most of us, He didn’t) we need not accept nor even understand every gadol’s opinion or shittah; we accept that he’s a gadol but we follow the “rabbim” or our own mesorah. And if that’s the path that the rosh yeshiva, zt’l, laid out for us, then that’s the path we do not stray from, and all other arguments are moot at that point.

In conclusion, the rav’s tidbit about his experience with Rav Shach, zt’l, which was “just to establish a little credibility,” was completely unnecessary, as Rabbi Gold’s lifelong dedication to Klal Yisrael over the last 50 years, whether in Toronto, West Hempstead, or Yerushalayim, has more credibility than all the rest of us combined.

The only reason I wrote my article was not to debate the 100-year issue of the pros or cons of Zionists vs. chareidim, but only to protest the bizayon haTorah in the manner that Barry referred to Rav Shach, zt’l, in his earlier article.

You asked me not to hold it against Barry that you were his rav before you made aliyah; on the contrary, I now understand how he developed his great love for Eretz Yisrael by listening to and observing his great rav’s passion for it. What I do hold against him, however, is the fact that he didn’t learn from his great rav how to speak publicly (or privately for that matter) about gedolei Torah.

May we be zocheh to see the coming together of all Yidden of all types with the coming of Mashiach . . . even before we get to round two.

Warmest regards,

A. Ginzberg

A Thank-You

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Posted by on July 5, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.