Lecture #07b: A Zionist Change of Heart – Rabbi Teichtal Hy"d Part 2

  • Rav Tamir Granot


B.   The Change of Heart (cont.)


Rabbi Teichtal understands the difficulty in accepting a true ideology from "negative" sources, and he addresses this difficulty at length in his book. The following are some of his answers in this regard.


a.      If a view was previously stated by Torah sages and righteous people, then the fact that it later becomes associated with heretics and libertines in no way detracts from its truth. Indeed, the first part of "Em ha-Banim Semekha" includes a great number of sources indicating support for Zionism on the part of great Torah sages at the time of the movement's creation, or even prior to that (Rabbi Yehoshua Kutner, the Netziv, Rabbi Mohliver, etc.). The later opposition of the ultra-Orthodox leadership arose mainly owing to the secular nature of the movement, and therefore their reaction is tainted with the same mistake of judging the view on the basis of its bearer rather than on its own merits.


b.      If a prophet whom we consider righteous tells us to transgress or to nullify a commandment, while a different prophet who is not righteous tells us to fulfill the commandment, what should we do? This is precisely the message of Rabbi Teichtal's parable, and many chapters of his book are devoted to a verification of the thesis that settling Eretz Yisrael is a commandment applying to the entire nation and also one that is time-dependent (in the sense of being possible to fulfill during a particular period), and therefore it is of no importance at all that the person calling one to get up for selichot is Weiss Shendor, since the mitzva must be fulfilled in any case. One cannot be negligent with the excuse that "the prophets led me astray" or "they didn't reprove me" (see Yechezkel chapters 3, 33).


c.      Finally, even if the first two reasons were weak or doubtful, the Holocaust has come and had its say. And this is where we find the revolutionary aspect of Rabbi Teichtal's argument, from the ultra-Orthodox point of view: God speaks to us through history and wants us to listen to His will. If there was a time of grace during the early days of Zionism, this was no coincidence. Rather, it was God's Providence acting for our benefit, and we should have responded to it. Moreover, during the Holocaust God was telling us: I have decided this argument, and I am showing you the way to Eretz Yisrael. In Rabbi Teichtal's view, history contains religious instruction, which may be read and which must be obeyed.


With regard to the Rebbe of Munkacz, Rabbi Teichtal writes as follows:


And now I must add that if our teacher, the author of the "Minchat Elazar," were alive with us, and had seen all that has happened to us – the terrible decrees and the killings that they have perpetrated among us, he too would acknowledge that we should leave the countries of the Diaspora and go to Eretz Yisrael, which has been awarded to us by the world powers, and not wait for the Messiah's call.


R. Teichtal continues:


13. Furthermore, after the utter chaos that our Jewish brethren have experienced, it is obvious that the halachah does not follow those lofty saints who opposed the settlement. The earth has crumbled beneath the feet of millions of Jews here in Europe. Some of them had their blood spilled like water; others remained like a mast at the head of a ship, with no shelter or shade above their heads and no ground beneath their feet. They are like a lone ship in the waves of a sea of troubles; they do not know where to turn and what direction they are facing. In this situation, the halachah follows those gedolim who advocated settling and rebuilding the Land, as I will explain. (Em ha-Banim Semekha, pp. 247-248 in the M. Lichtman translation)


In other words, historical reality is significant; it conveys the will of God, and it must be obeyed. We examined previously the view of Rabbi Wasserman and his teacher, the Chafetz Chayim, maintaining that the proper world view is to be arrived at through study of Torah alone. We also examined Rabbi Dessler's argument in his article, "Emunat Chakhamim," according to which the positions established by the Sages with their immense knowledge and their Divine inspiration cannot be changed because of some or other historical or factual change (and he, too, was referring to the Holocaust). In addition, we reviewed the sermon of the Rebbe of Belz and his brother concerning the "false prophets." Here, Rabbi Teichtal declares that one's religious outlook should be molded by history and its messages, and that the Holocaust leads to an operative religious conclusion: aliya to Eretz Yisrael and participation in building the land.


C.   World View and Historical Reality


Rabbi Teichtal is aware that he needs to defend, on the theoretical level, the fundamental position that he is proposing. He explains:


I will preface with the wondrous words of our mentor, the Kedushat Levi.  Often, when there is an unresolved question in the Talmud, Chazal say "Teiku"[Berachot 8a, 25b; Shabbat 5a, etc.], which stands for "Tishbi yetaretz kushiyot u-ve'ayot" [Eliyahu the Tishbi will solve difficulties and questions]:[1]


At first glance, one might ask: Behold, this will occur after the Redeemer comes (speedily in our days, Amen).  Why, then, must Eliyahu solve the difficulties and questions?  Moshe Rabbeinu a"h, who gave us the Torah and mitzvoth, will be alive; why won't he solve all the difficulties that we have with our holy Torah?


The answer is as follows: Seder HaDorot, commenting on the dispute between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam concerning tefillin, says that Rashi z"l was the "Moshe Rabbeinu" of his group.  Rabbeinu Tam ignored this, saying that Moshe already gave us the Torah.  Now it is up to us to teach according to our intellect's understanding of the holy Torah.[2]


We will explain this briefly.  Chazal say about the disputes between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, "These and those are the words of the living God" (Eiruvin 13b).  For there is a level at which a man's essence determines the way he understands our holy Torah.  If he comes from the world of loving-kindness (chesed), then, according to his understanding of our holy Torah, everything is pure, permitted, and kosher.  If he has the attribute of strength (gevurah), the opposite is true.  Now, Beit Hillel had the attribute of chesed; therefore, they were [more] lenient.  Beit Shammai had the attribute of gevurah; therefore, they were strict.  This is the meaning of "These and those are the words of the living God":  In truth, each one [expressed] the words of the living God, according to their level.[3]


Behold, our Sages z"l who lived after the generation of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel saw that the world needs to operate through chesed.  Therefore, they determined that the halachah always follows Beit Hillel's leniencies.  Now, who is capable of discerning the attribute through which the world needs to function, so that the halachah can be decided accordingly?  Only someone who is alive and exists in this world knows which attribute the world needs.  Someone who is not alive, however, does not know this at all.  Eliyahu is still alive and always exists in this world, for he never tasted the taste of death.[4]  Therefore, he will resolve all the difficulties and questions, for he knows the attribute through which the world needs to function.  This also explains Rabbeinu Tam's statement that once Moshe Rabbeinu a"h gave us the Torah, it is up to us to teach it.[5]


The Kedushat Levi means that since Moshe Rabbeinu does not exist in this world, he cannot determine the halachah now, [at the time of redemption,] based on the world's needs at the time [of the giving of the Torah].  These words are befitting a godly man such as himself.


HaShem enlightened me, and I found that one of the great poskim, whose teachings radiate every day in every house of study, our great mentor, R. Moshe Mabit [a colleague of the Beit Yosef and a member of his court], agrees with our master, the Kedushat Levi, on this point.  In he work, Beit Elokim, he provides the same explanation as the Kedushat Levi as to why Tishbi will resolve our difficulties and not Moshe Rabbeinu.[6]  Thus, two "prophets" prophesied in the same manner.[7]  I will quote his words … [omitted here].


Behold, this is the same thing that our mentor, the Kedushat Levi, says.  That is, since Eliyahu never left this world, and he knows the situation of every generation, he can decide the halachah whenever necessary.  On the other hand, a tzaddik who already departed this world and does not know the circumstances of a [later] generation, cannot decide the halachah for that generation.  All of this demonstrates the greatness of the Kedushat Levi's intellect, for he was worthy enough to concur with our master, the Mabit, who lived at the time of the Beit Yosef.  Had he seen this work, he would have been overjoyed to find a "companion" like himself.


We may conclude from the words of these two profound gedolim that when a tzaddik renders a halachic decision on a particular issue and then ascends to the heavens, the halachah does not necessarily follow his opinion.  If circumstances change, making it very difficult for the generation to follow this tzaddik's stringent opinion, and some good will result from following the opinion of the other tzaddikim, then we do not follow his opinion.  This is so because he is no longer in this world and he does not know what the world needs.  Therefore, today, when it is impossible to remain in the Diaspora because of the great calamity that has befallen Israel, it is obvious that we need not be concerned with the opinion of those gedolim who opposed the settlement.  Rather, the halachah follows those who advocated it, because the times require it.  Moreover, perhaps if the former gedolim were alive today and saw our predicament, they too would agree. (Em ha-Banim Semekha, pp. 248-252)


Halakha, asserts Rabbi Teichtal, is decided at all times in accordance with the needs of that time. We are not talking about abstract, a priori truths, but rather about normative and ideological matters – i.e., questions of behavior within life itself. And in such questions, only a person who is connected to the world can decide. Thus Eliyahu, who is always alive and existing in our midst, is preferable to Moshe Rabbeinu, who has perfect knowledge of the heavenly Torah, but not of the earthly one.


Attention should be paid to the "bridge" that Rabbi Teichtal creates here: according to his argument, a world-view or ideology is like Halakha. Therefore, issues such as the status of secularism, redemption, and Eretz Yisrael are treated no differently from other halakhic questions, in the sense that they must be decided based on knowledge of reality.


There is a further point that is worthy of clarification. According to several important opinions, Halakha is actually not decided on the basis of reality; it simply applies to reality. A halakhic discussion, according to such views, is theoretical and a priori in nature, arising from the words and the subjects dictated by the sources, and continuing with their analysis and interpretation.[8] The importance of recognizing reality arises solely from the fact that this is the arena in which the halakhic directive is implemented. Reality does not speak; it has no opinion, but it is the object of Halakha, and sometimes even its catalyst (as we deduce from such concepts as "pressing need," "extensive monetary loss," "basic natures have changed," etc.). In these terms, we may view the Holocaust as a compelling factor with regard to the halakha maintaining that there should be no cooperation with the Zionist enterprise: this was unquestionably a time of pressing need, and saving lives takes precedence over any other halakha.


However, Rabbi Teichtal clearly means to state more than this. After all, the Satmar Rebbe survived the Holocaust, and likewise the Rebbe of Chabad, and both saw fit to move to the U.S. rather than to Eretz Yisrael. According to Rabbi Teichtal, reality is not only the object of ideology, or a compelling factor. Ideology, or a world-view, is determined on the basis of experience of reality, and listening to what it has to say.


I believe that this is one of the most important messages of the religious-Zionist view, even before we treat its views on matters pertaining to actual events and current affairs. The view according to which we maintain a discourse with history and hear God's voice within it, is what guides religious Zionism in all of its ways, and Rabbi Teichtal is a wonderful representative of this perception. There is a very interesting similarity between the process undergone by Rabbi Teichtal and the process described by Rabbi Soloveitchik – who likewise was raised within an anti-Zionist tradition – when he passed over to the Zionist camp:


If I now identify with the Mizrachi, against my family tradition, it is only because, as previously clarified, I feel that Divine Providence ruled like "Joseph" and against his brothers; that He employs secular Jews as instruments to bring to fruition His great plans regarding the land of Israel. I also believe that there would be no place for Torah in Israel today were it not for the Mizrachi. I built an altar upon which I sacrificed sleepless nights, doubts and reservations. Regardless, the years of the Hilterian holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, and the accomplishments of the Mizrachi in the land of Israel, convinced me of the correctness of our movement's path.[9]


Rabbi Soloveitchik's article identifies the religious Zionist view with the biblical personality of Yosef. Yosef represents a religious position that is sensitive to history and that organizes its world view on the basis of the dialogue that it maintains between history, on the one hand, and Torah and tradition, on the other. Yosef's brothers adopted a conservative, "ultra-Orthodox" approach. The assertion that Divine Providence ruled in accordance with Yosef and against the brothers is not meant as support merely for the Zionist position, but rather as a definition of the proper basic religious approach. Rabbi Soloveitchik never experienced a prophetic revelation, telling him how Divine Providence had decided in the matter of Zionism; he simply read the historical reality.


The view of history as the medium of Divine revelation finds further expression in innumerable sources in the teachings of Rav Kook. The following is one outstanding example:


The main way of listening to God's voice is listening to the entire procession of the ways of life, in all their details; listening to groups of people in accordance with their distinguishing characteristics; and listening to each individual in accordance with his worth; with the supernal, all-encompassing wisdom, living and giving life to all of existence. And to the extent that the details arise more clearly from the supernal, all-encompassing spiritual life, which is the wisdom of the Divine soul in the world – a person will hear more clearly the voice of God speaking to him, instructing him and actually commanding him. "I am the Lord your God" who teaches you what to do, who guides you in the way that you should go. (Arpelei Tohar, p. 62)


From the ultra-Orthodox perspective, the demand "to hear the voice of God" is interpreted in the narrow sense: to observe Halakha. And Halakha is known to us from the literary sources and from the mouths of the great Torah leaders of the generation, who decide matters of Jewish law. Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, along with the Chafetz Chayim and Rabbi Dessler, assume that one's world-view is nothing more than just another chapter in one's halakhic study and commitment. Indeed, this was the view expressed by the Chazon Ish in his famous letter to the Knesset members representing the Mizrachi party, who asked him where one would find written that which he asserted to be "da'at Torah" (the issue in question concerned the prohibition of recruiting girls into the I.D.F. or national service). The Chazon Ish replied: "In the fifth section of the Shulchan Arukh, which is transmitted only to outstanding Torah scholars, whose opinion indeed represents da'at Torah."


As opposed to this view, Rabbi Kook asserts here that God's voice may be heard from every place where He is revealed. God's voice is revealed in history, as well as in every manifestation of reality. Listening in this context assumes an element of prophecy, over and above the halakhic sense of obeying. God's prophets hear His words via non-literary channels; they perceive His message not only from sources within Torah and Halakha. Indeed, the prophetic commandment is one that addresses reality and history.


The innovation that Rabbi Teichtal introduces in response to the experience of the Holocaust is the insistence on the need to hear God's voice within history, and not to suffice with His voice as it sounds from studying books. As arising from Rabbi Teichtal's words, the terrible catastrophe of the Holocaust, in certain respects, is the result of a religious view that limited God's voice to the small space in between words in books, and therefore failed to hear the command to leave the Diaspora in time. It is clear that the ramifications of this view extend far beyond the issue of the Holocaust, which is already part of our past. It pertains to almost all of our dealings with our private as well as historical reality, from time immemorial and until the present.


In the next lecture, we shall focus on the way in which Rabbi Teichtal understood the meaning of the Holocaust and its historical necessity. Thereafter we shall examine the sermons of the Admor of Sanz-Klausenberg, introducing us to a complex Chassidic view that was forged within the horrors of the Holocaust.



Translated by Kaeren Fish


[1]See Tosafot Yom Tov, Eidi'ot 8:7.

[2]Seder HaDorot 1:104b.

[3]See Rashi, Ketuvot 57a, s.v. ha kamashma lan.

[4] Based on the song, Eliyahu HaNavi, recited after the Sabbath.

[5]Kedushat Levi (Jerusalem: HaMosad LeHotza'at Sifrei Mussar VeChassidut, 5718 [1958]), Likutim, vol. 1, p. 316.

[6]Beit Elokim, Sha'ar HaYesodot 60 (end).

[7]Based on Sanhedrin 89a.

[8]   This idea is developed at length by Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik in his work,

Halakhic Man.

[9]   Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik, Five Addresses, p. 36.