Shiur #08a: Rabbi Teichtal's Perception of the Holocaust (Part 1)

  • Rav Tamir Granot


A.  Meaning of the Holocaust, Version 1: Anti-Zionist Ideology


In the previous lecture, we looked at the way in which Rabbi Teichtal justifies – ideologically and halakhically – his change of position, and the fundamental legitimacy he awards to changing one's religious world-view.


However, Rabbi Teichtal also sought to provide, for himself and for the public, an accounting of the reasons for ultra-Orthodox opposition to Zionism – despite the halakhic and ideological truths that he sets forth at length in his book.


Why, then, were the ultra-Orthodox opposed to Zionism, according to Rabbi Teichtal?


1. "Chadash" ("new") is forbidden by the Torah


Among the ultra-Orthodox public there prevails an all-encompassing religious and existential rejection of any sort of innovation. In a case of doubt, this is the default assumption – certainly in a context as problematic as that of Zionism:


Those who tremble at the word of HaShem, however, stood on the side and refrained from sharing in the work.  They stood by their age-old claim, "It is preferable to sit and do nothing." (p. 23)[1]


2. Irreligious approach of the Zionist pioneers


Concerning this reason, Rabbi Teichtal is scathing in his criticism. He invokes the Satmar Rebbe's parable of the ruffian who burns down the house and then appears as the hero to save its inhabitants – but in the opposite direction. In essence, he asks: How can we justify our opposition to the Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael on the basis of its secular character, where this is not a decree of fate, but rather a reality for which we ourselves are responsible? The main reason why the Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael is mainly secular is because the ultra-Orthodox were apathetic and did nothing to support it. Their later opposition to Zionism is therefore a sort of justification of a latter sin on the basis of an earlier one:


In the meantime, these "initiators" began rebuilding our Holy Land (so may it continue and prosper), while the Orthodox Jews and the tzaddikim stood aloof.  It is clear that "he who prepares prior to the Sabbath will eat on the Sabbath" (Avoda Zara 3a), and since the Orthodox did not toil, they have absolutely no influence in the Land.  Those who toil and build have the influence, and they are the masters of the Land.  It is therefore, no wonder that they are in control, "for He who guards the fig tree will eat its fruit" (Mishlei 27:18).


Now, what will the Orthodox say? I do not know if they will ever be able to vindicate themselves before the heavenly court for not participating in the movement to rebuild the Land, and for not heeding the call of these tzaddikim of the generation.  These tzaddikim were renowned as completely selfless, holy men of God, and all of their utterances were as complete and true as the Torah of Moshe from the Almighty.  And since this awakening came from such holy mouths, they should have listened and joined in this sacred task.  Had the God-fearing, religious Jews been involved in this undertaking, our Holy Land would have a completely different, more sanctified, appearance and form than it has now.  In truth, though, our Father in Heaven desires and is pleased with the current appearance and form (as I will explain later on, based on unequivocal proofs from Chazal).  All agree, however, that if the Orthodox would have cooperated with and participated in the building effort, it would have been exceedingly lofty and holy.  Now that they kept themselves at a distance, they should not wonder or question the situation, for they are at fault. (ibid.)


3. Caution


Rabbi Teichtal also identifies the psychological attitude at the root of the ultra-Orthodox position: an inherent sense of caution. Clearly, in comparison with the conditions in Eretz Yisrael, the socio-spiritual situation of the Diaspora communities was an insulated, protected one, and aliya entailed some degree of spiritual risk. Concerning this motivation, Rabbi Teichtal writes:


Truthfully, one can judge these Orthodox Jews favorably by saying that they stood at a distance because of excessive caution.  They were afraid that perhaps this movement would not be completely in the spirit of the Torah, as it should be.  With all due respect, however, they overlooked the worlds of pious mentor, the author of Chovot Ha-Levavot.  In his introduction he writes, "One of the components of caution is not be overly cautious."[2]  He further states that if every person who is involved in something positive would wait silently until all of his requirements are fulfilled, no one would accomplish anything.  If every person who wishes to acquire all of the positive attributes would disregard a particular one because he cannot attain them all, then all of mankind would be void of goodness and lack pleasantness.  The paths of goodness would be desolate, and the habitations of kindness would be abandoned.


These words were written with insight and wisdom and have indeed come to fruition regarding today's Orthodox Jews.  Due to excessive caution they kept their distance from the builders [of Zion], and now we are void of goodness. (pp. 24-25)


4. The Nature of Redemption


In Rabbi Teichtal's view, this is the most significant reason for Charedi opposition to Zionism: the view that redemption will come as a sudden gift from Heaven, miraculously, rather than as a human initiative involving a lengthy process. The following is his presentation of the position of his teacher, the Rebbe of Munkacz:


This certainly refutes the outcry of our master and teacher, the holy gaon of Munkacz z"l, the author of Minchat Elazar,[3] who opposed resettling and rebuilding the Land.  I, too, was part of his entourage, and I know that he based his entire opposition on the idea that salvation must happen with miracles and wonders.  In his opinion, anyone who tries to [bring salvation naturally] denies the redemption which will occur miraculously.  His writings are filled with this,[4] and he cried aloud about it. (p.147)


While Rabbi Teichtal dismisses all of the other reasons out of hand, regarding them as counsel of the evil inclination or even as sins or negative attributes in and of themselves, he addresses the perception of a miraculous redemption head-on. Although some of his arguments had already been set forth in the past, first by Rabbi Kalischer in his work Shivat Tzion and thereafter by other great sages, his discussion is nevertheless interesting and fruitful.


We shall make mention here of one principal argument, according to which our tradition poses two alternatives for redemption, based on the nation's repentance. According to some sources there is a fixed time for redemption, even if the Jews do not repent; but if the Jews do repent, redemption will come earlier. "If they are not worthy – it will be 'at its time.' If they do repent, then 'I shall hasten it'" (Sanhedrin 98a). According to Rabbi Teichtal's interpretation, these two tracks for redemption differ from one another not only regarding the time of redemption, but also regarding its essence. His approach is based on a citation from memory from the words of the Or ha-Chayim:[5]


The Or HaChaim HaKadosh reveals the answer with his Ruach HaKodesh [divine inspiration].  He explains that there are actually two aspects of the coming of Mashiach.  The first is one of loftiness and grandeur, which is expressed by Chazal as, "If they are worthy" (Sanhedrin 98a).  The second is one of poverty and distress.  The prophet Zekharya alludes to this, "Behold, your king will come to you … poor and riding upon a donkey" (9:9).  This is the aspect of, "If they are not worthy" (Sanhedrin 98a).  If we do the will of the Omnipresent and fulfill His commandments, redemption will arise amidst prosperity and grandeur.  If, however, we do not fulfill His will, redemption will inevitably come amidst adversity, distress, and poverty.  The hardships will serve as a substitute for the merit that we would have had by keeping the Torah and its mitzvot.  (See the Or HaChayim inside [Vayikra 25:25-28].  I do not have it in front of me at this time.)  (p. 94)


In other words, in conveying their vision of the redemption, our Sages do present the miraculous redemption – as in the teachings of the Rebbe of Munkacz, but they also present a different process of redemption: the process that we are living through right now. Concerning this teaching of the Or ha-Chayim and the difference between a case of "they are worthy" and one where "they are not worthy," Rabbi Teichtal adds the dispute between Rav and Shmuel, and writes sharply:


Rashi also writes in this vein.  The Talmud states: "Rav said, 'All of the predetermined times for redemption have passed, and this matter depends only on repentance and good deeds.'  Shmuel said, 'It is sufficient for the mourner to remain in his state of mourning'" (Sanhedrin 97b).  Rashi explains (as a second interpretation), "The pain of exile is sufficient for the Jews.  They will be redeemed even without repentance."


In my Derashot, I used this idea to explain the Midrash on the verse, "Alas, who will survive when He does these things" (Bamidbar 24:23).  The Midrash states: "'When He does these things (mi-sumo E-l)' [means] 'from Shmuel (mi-Shmuel),' as it says, 'Pardon my iniquity for it is great' (Tehillim 25:11)." [We were unable to locate this Midrash.]  This is truly perplexing.  It seems to me that the explanation lies in the above-mentioned dispute between Rav and Shmuel… The Midrash maintains that there is really no dispute.  In the absence of the pain of exile, even Shmuel admits that repentance is needed.  When the exile is painful, even Rav admits that this suffering secures forgiveness for Israel's iniquities, and they will be redeemed without repentance.


This explains the Midrash's statement, "mi-sumo E-l – mi-Shmuel." That is to say, "who will survive" if the redemption takes place as Shmuel stated, through the pain of exile, without repentance?  The afflictions will be abundant and intense.  Some of our greatest Talmudic Sages state, "Let Mashiach come, but let me not see him" (Sanhedrin 98b).  The Midrash concludes, "As it says, 'Pardon my iniquity for it is great – ki rav hu.'"  That is to say, in this scenario even Rav concedes, because Israel's iniquity is already pardoned. (p. 95)


The differing and contradictory descriptions of our Sages concerning the process of redemption give rise to the conclusion that they are actually presenting two different paradigms for redemption. They do not contradict one another, but rather serve as two conditional possibilities, with the condition defined as repentance. Redemption is inevitable; the time and the manner in which it will come about are conditional. The great majority of the seeming inconsistencies and contradictions in the sources in Chazal can be resolved in view of this two-track perception of redemption. Some of them are talking about a miraculous redemption that will come about through repentance and God's grace; others are talking about a redemption that will come only "at its set time," through oppression and troubles and a lengthy, difficult process.


The mistake of the Rebbe of Munkacz lay in his failure to take note of the "process" track of redemption, the track associated with a situation where "they are not worthy." This led him to denounce the process of redemption that he was witnessing with his own eyes, because it could not be reconciled with his monolithic view of miraculous redemption. Rabbi Teichtal shows understanding for this mistake, viewing it as the result of his teacher's great sanctity:


However, will all due respect, he, on his lofty level, assumed everyone to be in the category of "worthy ones," as he was.  In reality, though, this generation is not worthy (due to our numerous sins).  Therefore, the redemption must happen with miracles disguised in nature (as I cited in the name of Or HaChaim HaKadosh [p. 134]).  Everything that I have cited from the Midrash, Zohar, and Yerushalmi, proves that it will come little by little, like all natural processes.  Therefore, we have an absolute obligation to become involved in this undertaking with all of our strengths, as I will explain below.  Then, HaShem will bring our efforts to a successful end, and we will see the final redemption speedily in our days, Amen.  (p. 147)


In other words, the contrast between the vision of the "true" redemption, on the miraculous and exalted track of "they are worthy," and its actual realization through settlement in Eretz Yisrael and the ingathering of the exiles etc., with difficulty and troubles and without repentance, is solved when we identify the redemption of our times with the track of "they are not worthy," and identify our reality as manifesting its anticipated character. Then the descriptions of Chazal pertaining to this paradigm of redemption conform with wondrous precision to our rough, slow, and imperfect reality.


The Result of the Charedi Position: Failure to Prevent the Holocaust


The ultra-Orthodox opposition to Zionism – whether for principled reasons or because of weakness and excessive caution – had historical consequences, in Hungary of 1943, that cannot be ignored or explained away. Rabbi Teichtal's words in this regard are direct and painful:


Furthermore, if all of Klal Yisrael would have agreed to rebuild the Land it would have already been built-up and perfected enough to absorb a large portion of the Diaspora Jews.  A great number of our fellow Jews who were recently killed (due to our numerous sins) would have been saved, for they would have already been in Eretz Yisrael.  Who will accept responsibility for the innocent blood that has been spilled in our days? It seems to me that all of the leaders who prevented the people of Israel from joining the builders cannot cleanse their hands and say, "Our hands did not spill this blood!" (Devarim 21:7).[6] (pp. 23-24)


These words were written with insight and wisdom and have indeed come to fruition regarding today's Orthodox Jews.  Due to excessive caution they kept their distance from the builders, and now we are void of goodness.  The paths of goodness are desolate, and the habitation of salvation has been abandoned.  We could have saved thousands upon thousands of Jews who were killed or who died unusual deaths (may the Merciful One save us).  Yirmiyahu's prophecy has indeed been fulfilled through us, "My tent has been plundered, and all my cords have been broken.  My children have left me, and are not more" (Yirmiyahu 10:20). (p. 25)


There is a direct causal connection, Rabbi Teichtal asserts, between the possibility of the Holocaust taking place and the opposition to Zionism that preceded it. These are not the words of a Zionist, anti-Charedi leader. They are the words of a Charedi rabbi from Hungary, and his pain and sense of guilt cry out bitterly. The Holocaust was not only a decree of fate, or an accident, or the result of anti-Semitism. It was a blow to which Divine Providence had earlier provide the antidote, but the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox public, its rabbis and its Admorim, failed to prescribe this antidote, nor even to warn of the approaching blow. There is no way to separate the blow from what came before – the grave spiritual mistake and religious sin in opposing Zionism, and the failure to participate in the process of redemption.


Rabbi Teichtal does not assert that the Holocaust happened because of the Charedi anti-Zionist policy. Rather, he argues that perhaps some of its catastrophic consequences could have been prevented. Still, it remains for him to explain why this catastrophe was decreed at all, from a historiosophic point of view – i.e., from the point of view of God's guidance of history:


It seems, however, quite incomprehensible why HaShem would do such a thing.  Why would He bring us Mashiach by way of great afflictions?  Is HaShem incapable (God forbid) of saving us without great misfortunes?  Could our righteous Mashiach not come with an abundance of good? (p. 94)


This question will be addressed in the next section of this lecture.



Translated by Kaeren Fish


[1]     All of the citations in this lecture are from R. Moshe Lichtman's translation, Eim Habanim Semeichah: On EretzYisrael, Redemption, and Unity (Jerusalem: Urim, 2000).

[2]              Chovot Ha-Levavot (Lev Tov edition), vol. 1, p.51.

[3]     Rabbi Chayim Elazar Shapira zt"l (5632–5697), one of the most important Chassidic leaders in Hungary, was known for his work Minchat Elazar - halakhic responsa and a commentary on the Zohar. He was one of the fiercest critics of the Zionist movement and the initiative to rebuild the land in our time. - Editor's note

[4]             See Divrei Ha-Iggeret (Jerusalem, 5692 [1932]) and Teshuvot Minchat Elazar 5:12.

[5]    Rabbi Chayim ben Attar zt"l was born in Morocco in 4056, moved to Jerusalem in 4120, and died there on 15th of Tammuz, 4123. One of the very few Torah sages referred to as "kadosh" (holy) even by laymen, he wrote works in both the revealed and secret realms of the Torah. Especially esteemed is his commentary on the Torah, entitled Or ha-Chayim, which integrates the esoteric realm together with the literal reading. For further reading, see Toldot Rabbeinu Chayim ben Attar by Rabbi Reuven Margaliot. - Editor's note


[6]             Also see Or HaChayim on Vayikra 25:25.