Monday, April 27, 2009

Recriminations and Politics

Yom Ha'atzma'ut brings out the strongest emotions in contemporary Jews, both Zionist and anti-Zionists. For the Mizrachi, following RYBS' idea of the Six Knocks, Israel was a good thing, in that it was, and should have been even more so, a refuge for the displaced of Europe. For the followers of R' Tzvi Yehuda Kook, it was the First Flowering of the Redemption, a beginning to the Messianic Final Redemption of the Jewish people, and that idea made its way into the Prayer for the State of Israel.

Meanwhile, the Orthodox anti-Zionists, mostly Chassidim, felt that any State set up not along religious lines, by non- or anti-religious people, could not be a legitimate Jewish State. This came out in several flavors.

For one, some believe that while Hilter killed Jewish bodies and made them into martyrs, the secular Zionists destroyed the Jewishness of souls, and took away their reward in the world to come.

For another, some believe that God extracted three oaths from us and the world, not to try to bring the Final Redemption by artificial means. We would not go up to Israel "as a wall," we would not rebel against the nations under which we were subjugated, while the other nations promised not to oppress us too much. For the Zionists, of course, these Oaths were inoperative, given what was going on in Europe - the deaths of Six Million and enslavement of the rest of European Jewry, surely is excessive subjugation.

But one of the most sensitive areas where this conflict comes out is in the escape of several Chassidic rebbes while their flocks died in the ovens. A number of Chassidic rebbes, such as the Satmarer and the Munkatcher, two of the most vehemently anti-Zionist rebbes, managed to get Zionist escape visas, but were unable to get sufficient visas for their families, let alone their thousands of followers. So they left, and made speeches reassuring their followers that they need not try to escape, that God would find a way to save them. Ephraim Zuroff has spoken about this on many occasions, as has Esther Farbstein. Even in Lithuania, very few yeshivas took advantage of the Japanese exit visas that allowed them to shelter in Shanghai; most felt God will provide, like the man on the roof (I sent the boat and the helicopter, you didn't use them, of course you drowned).

The simple answer is that nobody knew ahead of time that the Nazis would destroy Hungarian Jewry, they didn't conquer Hungary until very late in the war. But this is complicated by the idea that Hasidic Rebbes, and Roshei Yeshiva, are holy men who either have a direct channel to God, or who have Daat Torah, a perspective akin to prophecy, imbued by lifelong immersion in Torah, that makes the speaker an expert in fields which he has not studied.

This leaves us with many painful questions:

1) if the Rebbes were holy men with direct channels to God, couldn't they have interceded on behalf of their followers?

2) if they were holy men with direct channels to God, shouldn't they have known the end was coming, and encouraged their followers to flee?

3) if they were holy men with anti-Zionist principles, how could they have relied on the Zionists to get them out? and even more, having been rescued by the Zionists, how could they not have seen what RYB Soloveitchik saw - the imprimatur of history confirming that the Zionists were correct, that having a Jewish state, even if not a perfect religious state, was a positive good?

If we say they were not holy men with direct channels to God, then it is easy - they were people, with a drive to live, and do whatever it took to survive. That they survived and recreated a version of their prewar communities is a tremendous thing, and indicates that God does shine on them.

But for both the believer and the unbeliever, we are left with painful admissions:

a) to the believer, how could they have betrayed their followers to their deaths? should they not have at least had the dignity to stay with their flocks to the end, to help them with their painful journeys?

b) to the non-believer: they should have stayed and died in the ovens, by surviving they prove that their ideas are morally bankrupt, they should have (god forbid) died in the ovens along with their outdated corrupt ideologies.

And so for both the believer, and the non-believer, we are left with a cognitive disconnect: how could these rebbes have done what they did? Were they truly rebbes, how could they betray their people? Or since they betrayed their people, that proves they were never truly rebbes!

What one believes about these rebbes and rabbis, is based in (or can be attributed to, by opponents) recriminations about the Other, and politics about My Group is Better than Your Group. I don't see any good answers here.

I just thank God on this Yom Ha'atzma'ut that we have a State of Israel, which is the United States' only true ally in the region, as well as being a defender of Jews and Jewish interests around the world.


Garnel Ironheart said...

Remember what happened during the 'Aza incursion a few months ago?

All the local chareidim fled to Bnei Beraq and Yerushalayim. Now, the whole reason they don't go into the army, they say, is because their Torah learning is the true protection of the State. So why did they run?

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Rav Meir Kahane hy'd refused to criticize Rav Elhanan Wasserman hy'd, whose ideas he strongly disagreed with, precisely because he went back to be with his community and provide what strength he could in the ordeal to come. Any time I heard him mention Rav Wasserman, he made sure to mention that.