The leader of the Satmar hassidic sect declared on Wednesday that the parents of the three Israeli yeshiva boys whose bodies were discovered outside of Hebron on Monday caused their children’s deaths.
Speaking in Yiddish during an event in the New York hassidic village of Kiryas Joel, Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the leader of the larger of two competing Satmar factions, said that the parents of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, “caused the deaths of their sons and they must repent for their actions.”
“During the funerals, the parents eulogized their sons, but I think it would have been preferable if they had done tshuva [repented], if they had said viduy [confession] with tears, in the nusach [style] that is used on Yom Kippur, to repent for their decision to live and learn Torah in a place of barbaric murderers,” he said, according to a translation of the staunchly anti-Zionist Teitelbaum’s remarks posted on the ultra-orthodox Vos Iz Neias website.
Teitelbaum asked who gave the parents “permission” to send their children to study in the settlements “where they were living among known murderers.” Such a decision, he asserted, stemmed from the “evil inclination and the desire for Jews to inhabit the entire State of Israel.”
While “every heart bleeds for the teens, it is incumbent upon us to say that these parents are guilty,” he continued, adding that Zionists who “place the lives of the Jewish people at risk for the sake of Zionism” are the enemy.
Satmar is known for its anti-Zionist ideology and refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.
According to Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College, there are probably 100,000 followers of the Satmar hassidic tradition today.
Teitelbaum’s remarks sparked much criticism.
The 18 days between the June 12 kidnapping and the discovery of the teens’ bodies on Monday was perceived as a time of increased unity between Jews in Israel, with ultra-Orthodox, secular and national-religious groups getting behind the social media campaign #bringbackourboys.
Eulogizing Eyal Yifrah in his hometown of Elad on Tuesday, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said that all of Israel was united in mourning and that in their deaths, the three yeshiva students “command us to continue in the unity and love of Israel that they bequeathed us.”
Jewish groups from across the political and religious spectrum united in condemning Teitelbaum on Thursday, with much of the grief over the death of the teens being transformed into rage directed at the Satmar sect.
“Whatever one’s political views, the Satmar Rebbe’s words blaming the murder of the kidnapped youth on their parents for living where they do is reprehensible,” World Zionist Organization vice chairman Dr. David Breakstone said.
“None of the responsibility for this heinous act of terrorism should be shifted from the shoulders of the its bestial perpetrators.
Would he also blame the death of the dozens who were killed during the intifada in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on their decision, or that of their parents, to fulfill the Zionist dream? Or the death of the schoolchildren in Toulouse [murdered by an Islamist in 2012] for not having fulfilled the commandment to dwell in the Land of Israel? This is not the moment to debate the wisdom of Israel’s settlement policy, but rather to denounce in every possible forum the use of violence as a means of resolving conflict,” Breakstone said.
Such statements are “beyond the pale” and indicate that Satmar “has placed itself outside of Klal Yisrael,” said Rabbi Andrew Sacks, the director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, using a Hebrew phrase referring to the Jewish collective body. “Our tradition teaches us that why such tragedy befalls one person and not another may only be known to God. How very audacious and smug of Rabbi Teitelbaum to appropriate this power to himself.
This is a time for words of comfort and not words of blame.”
Several prominent European ultra-Orthodox Rabbis also censured Teitelbaum.
“I did not think that my heart could break anymore after the discovery of the bodies of our three boys. But after hearing the words of this great rabbi, my heart is now even more broken,” Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said.
“In general, even if you believe that ideologically he’s right, which I definitely do not, it’s tasteless and it’s even worse [to say] that during the shiva [mourning period] when people have an open wound,” Ukrainian Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich said.
Would Teitelbaum have blamed the Jews killed during the Holocaust “when the same anti-Zionists said don’t go to Israel, and therefore they stayed in Europe and were killed?” he asked.
The grand rabbi’s “ill-advised” comments “caused additional pain to the mourners of the three young martyrs, who are already suffering so greatly, simply for fulfilling the mitzva of settling the Land of Israel,” said Robert Levi, chairman of the board of the National Council of Young Israel, a modern-Orthodox national synagogue network in the US.
David Ha’ivri, a former spokesman for the settlement movement, said that Teitelbaum “should not be considered a rabbi” and called on his followers to bar him from any leadership positions and prevent him from speaking publicly.
Both Uri Regev, a reform rabbi who heads the Hiddush religious equality NGO in Jerusalem, and Dr. Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi-hunter and director of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, echoed Ha’ivri’s comments.
“If you despise us so much, why don’t you just get out of our lives?” Regev asked, while Zuroff said that if anyone must repent, it is the Satmar movement.
“The ‘rebbe’ should resign and do the entire Jewish world a great kindness,” Zuroff said.
Such words bring disgrace to god, ultra-Orthodox Rabbi and MK Dov Lipman said, adding that Satmar can “choose the path of hatred and bringing disgrace to God while the rest of the Jewish people choose unity, love and bringing sanctity and glory to God’s name.”
“There is nothing new in the position of Satmar that the State of Israel poses a danger to the spiritual well-being and to the security of the Jewish people.
What deserves attention is the fact that the Satmar Rebbe implies that living within the boundaries of the Green Line is safe. This subtle change might signal that one day they will recognize the Jewish state as well, but it might take them another 60 years,” Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, head of the Conference of European Rabbis, quipped.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, said that his organization has “only one message for the mourners: that they be comforted amid all the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
The Satmar community is proud of the grand rabbi and his statements, Yosef Leib Yaakov, an Israeli representative of the sect, told The Jerusalem Post.
While critics have condemned the rabbi for the content and timing of his remarks, Yaakov countered that it was important to say such things now, while the issue of the teens’ deaths and security issues related to the territories are in the public consciousness.