These men, too, are my brothers. Although it is getting more difficult than ever to think of them that way. Most people know the issues I have with Satmar. There are many. But for purposes of this essay I will focus on their strident opposition to the existence of the State of Israel.
As I have said many times, they have every right to believe as they do, and state their case loudly and clearly. It is a view based on the now deceased Satmar Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum. The 3 oaths mentioned in the Gemarah (Kesuvos 111a) prevent the Jewish people from any right to rule in the land of Israel. So under any condition, even if the state was ruled entirely by a Charedi government, they would still be opposed to it. As much as I vehemently disagree with them, I respect their right to hold these views. Elu V’Elu.
What I do not respect is the stridency by which they express those views… and the extent to which they go to make their point.
It started with the Satmar Rebbe himself, who referred to Rav Kook as an Ish Tzar V’Oyev because of his pro State views. This attitude has spread far beyond Satmar and is used to justify one Chilul HaShem after another by the Satmar Rebbe’s admirers in Meah Shearim and elsewhere. The very same attitude is responsible for the fringe Neturei Kartaniks who embrace people like Iran’s Ahmadinejad. Who espouses wiping Israel off the map… something I’m sure would get the approval of Satmar and all their sympathizers if done in a peaceful way. They have clearly stated that this is their goal.
Yesterday they did it again. They called for a rally in Manhattan. This was a rare moment of unity between the feuding brothers Teitelbaum – each claiming to be the heir to the Satmar throne. They called out their ‘troops’ in this cause. The result was a massive rally as can be seen in the photos at VIN. I’m sure they would call this a tremendous success and Kiddush HaShem.
Their stated purpose for this protest was their opposition to the Israeli draft of Charedim. In this they have the support of many Charedi rabbinic leaders. But their underlying antipathy for the State should not be over-looked. I believe this was true motivation for this rally. Here was yet another opportunity to bash Israel. I’m sure they relished the moment.
The Centrist RCA condemned the rally. No surprise there. But many Charedi rabbinic leaders opposed that rally too, starting with R’ Aharon Leib Steinman. R’ Chaim Kanievsky added his name to R’ Steinman’s. And in America so too did Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky.
Back to Satmar. I do not see how a protest like this benefits Klal Yisroel in any way no matter how one feels about drafting Charedim. How is a public demonstration in Manhattan going to impact in any way on the government in Israel’s decision to equalize the draft? Especially if the protest was made by people who believe in dismantling the State?
Do they think Netanyahu will say, ‘Oh, Satmar is opposed to the draft… What was I thinking?!’ Or do they just think a rally like this will catch on with the greater Charedi public because of their leaders’ own strident opposition to the draft? Or perhaps they believe that a massive demonstration by a monolithic group of Chasidim that have separated themselves from the rest of the civilized world will somehow strike a chord with the American people?
Why did they do it? The answer to this is – I believe – of an entirely different nature. This was simply an opportunity to capitalize on something they thought would have universal appeal in the Charedi world. It is a sort of ‘I told you so’ moment… saying, ‘See how evil the Israeli government is?’ ‘You thought co-operating with them and getting funded was worth it?!’ ‘Well… what do you say now?!’ ‘Come join us in our goal to dismantle the Jewish State.’
I don’t think it worked. As I said, mainstream Orthodoxy condemned it, and Charedi rabbinic leaders were opposed to it. I hope they were as appalled at this demonstration as I was. But even if they were as appalled as I was and expressed it publicly, I doubt that that would sway Satmar in any way.
The only question is – how is this going to affect the relationship between mainstream Charedim and Satmar in the future? Will there ever again be a call from a Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva (or Mashgiach) to invite Satmar to one of its own rallies? … as was the case with the internet Asifa last year? Will they still chase down Satmar and capitulate to all their demands on how to conduct an Asifa, just to get them to attend?
Isn’t it about time to realize that Satmar is so far away from mainstream Orthodoxy – and even mainstream Charedim – that they should never again want to participate with them on any matters? Isn’t standing on the same stage with them in some way legitimizing them? I have heard that said in other contexts!
Like I said, this is not about Elu V’Elu anymore. This is about tolerating antics that are anathema to the Torah world in the name of their Shitos. In my view it should not be any more acceptable to stand with Satmar than it is to stand with Neturei Karta who have made clear their love affair with the President of Iran. They may not go that far themselves. But the hatred of the Jewish state is the same.
Apparently the speaker in the photo above is Rav Eli Ber Wachtfogel. He is a Litvishe Charedi Rosh HaYeshiva. I’m told that there were also many other non Chasidic Litvishe type Charedi rabbinic leaders there too – like Chaim Berlin’s Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Aharon Schecther.
Rav Schechter has walked in lockstep with Litvishe Charedi rabbinic leaders in Israel with respect to their bans. I recall his strident attack against Rabbi Natan Slifkin at an event held at a Modern Orthodox Shul in Teaneck a few years ago. Rabbi Slifkin was viciously attacked for having the Chutzpah to challenge Israeli Gedolim with respect to the ban on his books. And yet yesterday he decided to ignore the call by some of these very same Gedolim to not participate in this demonstration. I find this very hard to reconcile.
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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