Lecture #15a: The Shoah in the Teachings of Rabbi Barukh Yehoshua Rabinowitz (Part 1)

  • Rav Tamir Granot




The story of Rabbi Barukh Rabinowitz and his work – "Binat Nevonim" – illuminates yet another aspect of the unique religious significance of the Holocaust.  In this shiur, we will examine some excerpts from the book and return to the problem discussed in the previous shiur – dealing with suffering.  We will also revisit, from a new angle, the question of attitude towards all Jews in the wake of the Holocaust.




Rabbi Barukh Yehoshua Rabinowitz was born in Poland in 5675 (1914) and died in Petach-Tikva, Israel in 5759 (1999).  He was a relative of the "holy Jew" of Peshischa as well as Rabbi Tzvi Elimelekh of Dinov, author of "Bnei Yissakhar."  He was married to the daughter of Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira of Munkacs, author of "Minchat Elazar," and he remained at his father-in-law's side until the latter's death in 5697 (1937), at which point he took over as rabbi and Admor of Munkacs Chassidism.  Thus, Rabbi Rabinowitz was among the leaders of Hungarian Jewry during the smuggling and absorption of Jewish refugees from Poland and Galicia during the Holocaust, including the Admorim of Belz and Bobov.  He left Hungary towards the end of the war.


The latter part of his biography is not well documented.  It is clear that he arrived in Israel, gave up his position as Admor, and then took up a rabbinical position in Brazil.  He later returned to Eretz Yisrael, serving for some time as the Rabbi of Cholon, and then became a community rabbi in Petach Tikva. 


In the encyclopedia "Ha-Chassidut Mi-Dor Le-Dor," Y. Alfasi comments on this period: "He removed his mantle and passed it on to his sons."  However, the truth seems rather more complicated.  His son, Rabbi Moshe Rabinowitz, was called upon by loyal Munkacs chassidim to serve as their Admor because they were angry with his father for abandoning his followers.  The Munkacs chassidim would not forgive the elder Rabbi Rabinowitz for his departure, nor, apparently, for his cooperation with the Zionist establishment and his support for Zionism and Eretz Yisrael.  Rabbi Rabinowitz's father-in-law, the "Minchat Elazar," had been one of the greatest opponents of Zionism, and thus the behavior of the son-in-law was regarded almost as treason.


In "Binat Nevonim," which appears to have been written in his final years, Rabbi Rabinowitz addresses all of these questions with great delicacy, avoiding any clear definition of his views and also aiming no accusations at others.


I do not know whether Rabbi Rabinowitz's Zionism was a result of the Holocaust or whether he had thought along those lines previously.  I have also been unable to find detailed information on his life and his rabbinical leadership.  I would be most grateful to readers who could supply such information.


"Binat Nevonim" - Overview


In the preface to his book, Rabbi Rabinowitz recounts his experiences during the Holocaust, including his wondrous deliverance at the beginning of the war, and describes his activity in the community of Munkacs.  In the early chapters, he discusses issues of faith that arose during the Holocaust, with special attention to the subject of the "hiding of God's face."  Further on in the book, he addresses the subject of the "end of days" and the "footsteps of the Messiah," and he attempts to provide a historiosophic view of Jewish history in the modern era.  An important chapter in the book is devoted to the subject of Jewish unity.


The Holocaust, the "End," and Dispute


As we have seen in the case of the Admorim of Slonim and Klausenberg, the common fate of European Jews, making no distinction between different streams and levels of observance, led to a rethinking of the traditional attitude towards Jewish "sinners" and of the entire subject of Jewish identity.  "Binat Nevonim" gives exceptionally powerful expression to the connection between the Holocaust and the value of Jewish unity:


But as for the Second Temple, where the people were engaged in Torah, and the commandments, and acts of loving kindness – why was it destroyed? Because there was senseless hatred.  This teaches us that senseless hatred may be compared to the three cardinal sins: idolatry, sexual immorality, and murder (Yoma 9b)…

And since there was no explicitly promised time that this exile would end, several dates passed that could have been suitable for an end to it, but since they had not repented for the sin of divisiveness, the end was postponed from one such date to the next.  This had already began at the time of the Second Temple; we know of the dispute between Horkanus and Aristobolus (Bava Kama 82b), which led to the kingdom of Edom spreading through Israel, following which the Temple was destroyed.  And we know of the dispute that led to the establishment of the House of Honio (Onias) in Alexandria, and since that time divisiveness has continued to exist among Jews…

Since then, divisiveness has prevailed in Israel.  Not only the major disputes, such as those against the Sadducees and the Boethusians and the Karaites and the like, all the way to adherents of the Enlightenment and Reform, and to Professor Kaplan in our generation, who denies the God of Israel and who heads their seminary.  Rather, the divisiveness includes also the sort that prevails between one rabbi and another, even where their intention is to bring glory to God.  Concerning them it is written, "lo titgodedu" (Devarim 14:1) – you shall not form separate, closed groups, but rather you shall all be a single group; thus it is written, "He has founded His company upon the earth" (Amos 9:6)(Sifri Re'eh, piska 96).

Therefore, for as long as they fail to repent for this sin, the redemption is postponed.  It makes no difference that they are engaged in Torah and observance of the commandments, or even in acts of loving kindness, since they were likewise engaged at that time, as well, as the Gemara tells us – they were engaged in Torah and the commandments and acts of loving kindness, but since they did not repent, the Temple was destroyed.

Hence, there are many times that are propitious for the arrival of the Messiah, especially during the wars of the gentiles, as explained below – but on condition that everyone repents for this sin.  My teacher, my father-in-law, the tzaddik Rabbi Chaim Elazar, of blessed and saintly memory, wrote what he heard from the holy Rabbi Yechezkel of Shinawa, who heard it said in the name of the Seer of Lublin, that he once declared joyfully that he had seen, with Divine inspiration, that the redemption was close at hand, and that the children of Moshe and the ten tribes had already begun to awaken to fight on our behalf, for it was a time of heavenly favor.  Then, after a short time, the Seer of Lublin wept greatly and said that he saw, with Divine inspiration, that a decree had issued from Heaven that they should desist from their initiative and not fight for us, since the redemption was being postponed for an unlimited time, for the sin of the leaders of our generation, each of whom declares, "I shall reign."  So said the Seer of Lublin.  And he [Rabbi Chaim Elazar] wrote further that we know what is written in the work Heikhal ha-Berakha on the Torah, by the holy Rabbi of Komarna – that the holy Ba'al Shem Tov, may his merit protect us, once struck his head against a tree with much weeping during the Mincha prayer, when he saw, with Divine inspiration, what would happen in the later generations, when Rebbes would multiply like sesame, a great number, and they themselves would delay the redemption.  In other words, it would be inevitable that disputes would arise among them (see Divrei Torah part II, ot 15, and Sha'ar Yissakhar, in the section called Yesha Rav, siman 15, for the month of Tishrei).

And the same has happened in our times, in the year 5701 (tav sin alef – 1941), as it is written, "When you take a count (tisa) of Bnei Yisrael by their number, then every man shall give a ransom for his soul to God" (Shemot 30:12).  It is written in Sefer Alshikh, in Parashat Ki Tisa: "I heard in the name of the sage Rabbi Shlomo ben Alkabetz, z"l, that this is meant as an instruction to Bnei Yisrael concerning their unity, lest any one of them think that he is removed from anyone else.  For this reason each one gives a half-shekel; it is as though each person is only a 'half,' and only when he joins with each and every other Jew that an entire 'one' is created…" 

And it is written in Sanhedrin 102: "Rabbi Yitzchak said: There is no suffering, of all the sorts of suffering that occur, that does not contain a tiny portion of [punishment for] the golden calf, as it is written (Shemot 32:34): 'On the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.'"  And concerning this it is written, in Sefer Toldot Yaakov Yosef, authored by the holy Rabbi of Polnoye, in Parashat Ki Tisa, that it is the sin of the golden calf, which is actually the sin of divisiveness and hatred, that delays the time of remembrance for the redemption of the Divine Presence and Israel, until the coming of Eliyahu the prophet, etc. 

When will there be a lifting of the head, at the time of remembrance (may it not take long)? When there will be the number tav shin alef (701), which has the same numerical value as the words "nekima al ovdei ha-avoda zara" (revenge on the idolaters) (this calculation is set forth in Sefer Ha-Alshikh, Parashat Tetzaveh); that form and matter will unite to bring many back from sin, and the evil inclination will be brought to submission, and all will be goodness.


The greatest sin, the original sin that spawned all others, the sin that led to the Destruction, was the sin of dispute.  Only the correction of this sin can bring about the Redemption.  Interestingly, Rabbi Rabinowitz does not attribute the internal state of dispute to the streams that had parted ways with traditional Orthodox Judaism.  Rather, he chooses to look inward; he asserts that dispute is no less characteristic of the internal relations between different rabbis and Admorim.  He asserts that the repair for this sin requires the repentance of specifically those who are committed to Torah.  This position is especially significant in light of Rabbi Rabinowitz's biographical background: his father-in-law, the "Minchat Elazar," was renowned as an extreme disputant; these disputes were "for the sake of Heaven," but he nevertheless engaged in dispute with every possible opponent.  He was vehemently opposed to Zionism, and especially Religious Zionism.  He had a dispute with the Rebbe of Gur over the establishment of Agudat Yisrael and concerning the vocational training offered to students of the Gur yeshiva in Warsaw.  He also maintained a bitter polemic with the Rebbe of Belz. 


While Rabbi Rabinowitz defends his father-in-law, maintaining that some of the accusations leveled at him had been slanderous while others had arisen from misunderstandings, he ultimately condemns the divisive approach maintained by Orthodox Jewry, concluding that it was not the various opinions themselves that represented the primordial sin, but rather the conflict and hatred engendered in their supporters.


Rabbi Rabinowitz tackles the issue of the "end of days" from the same perspective.  Throughout Jewish history and in its literature, kabbalistic masters and saintly sages have calculated various dates as marking the destined time for the Redemption.  Each of these predictions was proved incorrect, as the appointed time came and went, with the cumulative effect of undermining faith in the Redemption.  Why, asks Rabbi Rabinowitz, were none of these prophecies concerning the "end" realized?


His answer brings us back to the sin of dispute, which caused the Destruction of the Second Temple.  Our redemption depends on the correction of the same sin that brought about the Destruction, and hence the promised "end" cannot appear so long as the sin of dispute remains.  This, in Rabbi Rabinowitz's view, explains the reason for and significance of the Holocaust: it was a general repair of the sin of dispute.  The Holocaust cannot be explained as the result of heresy, of abandonment of religion, or of Zionism, since during those terrible years there were millions of Chassidim and other strictly Orthodox Jews, who had opposed both the Enlightenment and Zionism, who were put to death.  If there is any sin that is common to all Jews, and concerning which those Jews who purport to observe the commandments bear special responsibility, then surely it is the sin of dispute.


Rabbi Rabinowitz views the Holocaust not as a punishment for this sin, but rather as Divine process of repairing it by means of God's attribute of justice.  The Nazi decree that every Jew, regardless of any other criteria, would be put to death, created a fundamentally common fate that extended beyond any internal disputes.  This, for him, was the deepest meaning behind the Holocaust.  In the following excerpt, Rabbi Rabinowitz describes the horrific moments in front of the gas chambers as moments of physical and spiritual unity of all Jews:


And yet, the year 5701 passed by, and things had still not changed, divisiveness and hatred remained, but this was already the final "counting."  Therefore, in the year 5702, God sent us the great Holocaust.  Never has there been such suffering; six million were murdered – a third of all Jews, ten times six hundred thousand of our Jewish brethren.  And this killing was unique, for in front of the gas chambers the Jews were stripped of their clothing and they were pushed one into the other, into the chambers, and flesh met with flesh.  And thus it was that all of them became Jewish martyrs, at a single moment, when they cried out "Shema Yisrael" and returned their pure souls to God in heaven, "joined to one another, pushed together and inseparable" (Iyov 41:9).  There were no differences between them – between rich and poor, between learned scholars and ignoramuses, between the noblest and the lowliest.  Every person felt that he was a "half," and that together they represented a shekel, by the standard of the holy shekel.  They paid this half-shekel with their lives, "all who pass among them that are numbered" all together, as explained in [the] Toldot [Yaakov Yosef?], where he explains: "'This shall they give, all who pass among them that are numbered (ha-over al ha-pekudim)' – meaning, that when the time of [God's] counting (pekida) passes by, because this sin has not yet been repaired, and every person is a 'half' [i.e., only half existing or half-functional] since [in the absence of the Temple] matter is separate from form, therefore they give a half-shekel every year to arouse people's hearts, so that the material will be subjugated to the form, which is the ultimate purpose, so that we may be worthy of the true redeemer with this unity…"


Although he does not say so explicitly, it seems that Rabbi Rabinowitz expected, or hoped, that the State of Israel would be a blessed continuation of that process of repairing the sin of dispute.  The gathering of the entire Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael, under the same rule and with joint political existence, could provide a wonderful opportunity for repairing the sin of divisiveness and dispute.




Translated by Kaeren Fish