'Israel has no right to exist.' Oh, yeah? Says who?
In the second Book of Samuel, in Chapter 24, David is commanded to take a census. He does so, but instead of indirectly counting the Israelites as was done correctly by Moses, David irresponsibly has the Israelites counted directly. For this error in judgment 71,000 Jews die in a plague. I have never been able to understand the why’s and the wherefores’ of this narrative. However, what I have been able to take away from this account is that Jewish lives may be held in forfeit when one of our leaders makes a mistake in judgment.
This lesson should have come home to roost just prior to and during World War II when many of our Rabbinic leaders hindered or actually forbade their students or their flocks from leaving Europe and immigrating to what was then called Palestine.
The basis for this ban stems from a religious conviction that is grounded in a passage from the Talmud. In the Talmudic tractate Ketubot (110b-11a) there is a doctrine known as The Three Oaths. When this doctrine is viewed as dogma and not merely a guideline, it becomes religious law or Halacha. To contravene Halacha is tantamount to heresy.
The Three Oaths are:
1- While we Jews are in exile, we are sworn not to forcefully reclaim the Land of Israel.
2- While in exile, we Jews are sworn not to rebel against the nations that have been good enough to host us.
3- These host nations are sworn not to subjugate we Jews excessively.
The likes of Trumpeldor, Jabotinsky, the Irgun, Lehi, the Palmach, Haganah, etc. by virtue of their force of arms on behalf of the Land of Israel make them violators of the first Oath. Jews seemed to have been more compliant in obeying the second Oath inasmuch as hardly any resisted when set upon and murdered by the Germans, Poles, Latvians, Estonians Ukrainians and others during World War II. As to the third oath, anti-Zionists seem not to be troubled that the rigors (cynically understated) of the Holocaust were certainly excessive. Bottom line: The Holy Land is an exclusionary zone that is forbidden for Jews, in Yiddish “פֿאַרביידן פֿאַר יהודים “.
If you buy into that The Three Oaths are binding then two questions arise:
Firstly, what is the doctrinal basis for empowering these religious leaders to impose their authority on the rank and file of world Jewry?
And secondly, just who are these anti-Zionist Rabbis?
In answer to the first question: There is an authoritative doctrine, particularly in Orthodox Judaism referred to as “Da’at Torah, דֵעָת תורה” in Ivrit. This doctrine attributes authority to rabbis for deciding secular and spiritual matters.
Da’at Torah derrives from a tractate in the Babylonian Talmud, Ḥulin 90b, where it has the meaning of an unequivocal legal opinion that may be taught publicly. However, in modern times the term דֵעָת תורה has taken on a religious ideological significance. דֵעָת תורה has come to hold that great Torah scholars have an almost infallible ability to determine the proper path for Jewish people, not only in strictly religious matters, but also for social and political questions. It is used for Rabbinic arm-twisting, for “my way or the highway” as long as the highway does not lead to Israel.
In answer to the second question as to who are these Rabbis; well, they are the “Great Ones”, the Gadolim, or גדולים. Great Torah scholars are called “Gadolim, גדולים “, the Great Ones. It is a term used by religious Jews to refer to the most revered rabbis of their generation. Some גדולים use The Three Oaths as their basis for ruling that immigration to what is now Israel and/or the creation of the nation-state of Israel is sacrilegious and indistinguishable from heresy.
Many Gadolim belonged (and many still belong) to an organization known as Agudas Israel. In the early 20th century Agudas Israel was the anti-Zionist movement as well as the political and communal voice of Orthodox Jewry.
In the in the summer of 1937 Agudas Israel met in Marienbad, Czechoslovakia. During the convention, Gadolim from Lithuania, Latvia, Belgium, Hungry, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere rejected any proposal for a Jewish State on either side of the Jordan River. This is true even if it were established as a religious state. This is because such a regime would be a form of heresy in the devout belief that the Exile would only be ended with the advent of the Messiah. Because such a state would represent a desecration of the Name of God, Jews would have to patiently wait for their redemption.
It is sadly ironic that later on, in 1938, Germany annexed the southern portion of Czechoslovakia which included Marienbad. The Gedolim of the Agudas Israel should have been thinking just how to save their communities and how to resist the coming onslaught instead of obsessing about a Jewish state in the British Mandate of Palestine.
One of these Gadolim, a prominent leader who attended the Agudas Yisrael convention was Rabbi Aharon Kotler.
"There is no doubt that teaching in Ivrit is completely forbidden. It is an assimilation worse than all other assimilations in the world. For the goal of Zionism is to uproot the holy Torah from its source. Assimilation with gentiles is like a gentile idol, which can be nullified; but assimilation with Ivrit is a Jewish idol, which can never be nullified!”
“If you teach in English, that is the language of the country and we have no choice, because we need to know the language to earn a living and so on. This is like teaching one's child a trade. But if we teach in Ivrit here in America, it serves no constructive purpose; it is only to bring the children closer to Zionism. Therefore it is definitely forbidden." The staff, objecting to the ruling, threatened to resign; subsequently a compromise was reached.
With leaders the likes of Kotler, our suffering in the Holocaust was exacerbated. Most of his students were murdered by the Germans. And lest you think that Rabbi Kotler was alone in his anti-Zionist view; he had plenty of supporters; there was no shortage of other misguided visionaries.
While it has not been confirmed that Rabbi Kotler discouraged his students from leaving Lithuania this was not the case of another of the Gadolim and colleague of Rabbi Kotler: Elchanan Wasserman. In 1939, just before the German invasion, Rabbi Wasserman forbade his students from accepting visas to the United States to study at Yeshiva University and what is now the Hebrew Theological College in Illinois. Rabbi Wasserman took a dim view of American Jewry due to what he perceived as a spiritually dangerous atmosphere in those two institutions.
Rabbi Wasserman discouraged emigration to America or to Palestine, viewing them as places of spiritual danger. He was particularity critical of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine and claimed "Anti-Semites want to kill the body, but Zionists kill the soul. Better to die than consort with the Zionists." And so he did: Rabbi Wasserman was murdered by Lithuanian police in 1941.
Another one of the leading Gadolim who attended the 1937 Agudas Yisrael convention was Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe. He is quoted as saying:
“The Holocaust is God’s punishment of the Jewish people for its sins, and primarily for the sin of Zionism. The Zionist concept implied a denial of God’s ability to deliver his people and disrupted the natural place of the people of Israel, destined to remain exiled until the true deliverance.”
In 1943 before he fled Europe, Rabbi Teitelbaum excommunicated an individual for suggesting that any of the 13,000 Jews living in Satmar escape into Romania in order to avoid the impending holocaust. Deportations from Satmar to the death camps began in 1944.
In originally putting this essay together I thought that once I got to World War II I could put the article safely to bed. Obviously with the advent of the State of Israel, voices from the anti-Zionist camp would be outmoded or superfluous. I was mistaken. There must be at least a quarter of a million religious Jews out there who vociferously oppose the State of Israel. And I’m not talking about the Neturei Karta fringe group of nut cases who suck up to the Muslim Arabs. I’m talking about these groups: Satmar, Dushinsky, Toldos Aharon, Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok, Spinka, Brisk, Sanz-Tshokave, a faction of Breslover Chasidim and Mishkenos HoRoim.
There are probably more; I do not claim expertise, but you get the point. Maybe you’re naïve the way I was. When Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, rolls around my only concern is how do I say the Hallel prayer. Do I say it with or without a blessing. I was not bothered nor did I give any credence to The Three Oaths. In fact, I had never heard about The Three Oaths, but I am glad I do now. For me to believe in The Three Oaths as Halacha is “Crossing a Red Line”. If you are an adherent of The Three Oaths, you are telling me that Israel has no right to exist. And then I am telling you that a limit has been reached, beyond which your heavenly protection can no longer be guaranteed.