Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Reply to Shaul Magid on Satmar Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum’s Anti-Zionist Theology

R' Joel Teitelbaum 

Shaul Magid
In a recent article in Tablet Magazine, Shaul Magid, posits that the world should learn some anti-Zionists ideas from the late Satmarer Rebbe, R' Yoel Teitelbaum z"l...

No ... Magid is not a Satmar Chasid .... far from it... he is an actual radical leftist,  who calls Israel an "Apartheid State" and doesn't want Maalei adumim and Efrat to ever be part of Israel, and would give Chevron to the Palestinians in a heartbeat..
He hates President Trump the best friend Israel ever had, and supported Bernie Sander the self hating Jew ..

 here see a post which appeared on his Facebook page ....
"It makes me proud to be a Jew and an American/Israeli to watch the anti annexation protest in Rabin Square. And proud to have supported Bernie listening to his words to the protestors. Thank you to all in Rabin Square. And thank you Bernie for speaking truth to power

Now a reply to his column;..
by James A. Diamond and Menachem Kellner

In his recent essay for Tablet, professor Shaul Magid, a prominent scholar of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah, calls for “serious engagement” with Satmar Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum’s anti-Zionist theology. 

In assessing the essay’s credibility, it is important that readers understand what is at stake in order to properly decide whether to take up his clarion call for “serious engagement” with Yoel Teitelbaum’s demonization of Zionism. 

It should not be confused with any left-wing critique of Zionism or territorial claims, or relationship with its neighbors. 
To be clear, Rabbi Teitelbaum could not have cared less about Israel’s economic or foreign policy or about Palestinian rights—his anti-Zionism
was directed at the very heart of the notion of a Jewish homeland. 

Magid’s sympathetic presentation of Teitelbaum’s doctrines strategically omits key details that would undermine his presentation of Teitelbaum’s anti-Zionism as a serious theological alternative.



Firstly, although Magid argues for the centrality of the Holocaust in Teitelbaum’s thinking about Zionism, he conspicuously ignores Teitelbaum’s justification of the Holocaust as divine punishment for the sin of Zionism itself. 

The only lengthy quote Magid selectively includes from Teitelbaum’s work is silent on this question, despite Teitelbaum’s repeated insistence that the Shoah was in fact divine recompense for the cardinal sin of Zionism. 

More pertinent to the cogency of Magid’s point about the Holocaust playing a central role in Teitelbaum’s thought would have been something like the following quote from VaYoel Moshe, the very same treatise Magid cites (and many more like it):

“No one takes note of the fact that six million Jews were killed because of these [Zionist] groups, who drew the hearts of the nation [to their cause] and violated the oath of hastening the end by claiming sovereignty and freedom before the time. For aside from this being the bitter punishment set forth in the Gemara for [violating the oaths]—‘I shall abandon your flesh …’—and by oath they and the whole world are punished, and no punishment comes to the world except on account of the wicked, nor does it begin except with the righteous.”

Of course, there is an obvious reason for Magid’s oversight. 

How many of Tablet’s readers would be comfortable with a theology whose cornerstones include the idea that God murdered millions of human beings to make a point against Zionism? 

What kind of monstrous God would contemplate such a method of argument? 

This requires graphic language on our part because the gravity of this theology needs to be fully understood. The logical consequence of Teitelbaum’s reasoning is that God dropped the gas into the chamber that indiscriminately suffocated men, women, and children in retaliation for Herzl’s—and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s—sins.

Teitelbaum’s idea of the Holocaust as divine punishment is not tangential to his “Antichrist” theology, as Magid calls it. It is an essential part of it. 

One cannot concede Zionism as satanic without accepting Teitelbaum’s Holocaust theology anchored in his warped notion of divine justice. 

Even the book of Job, cited by Magid in support of his argument, is an entire book in the Tanakh that militates against this kind of shallow theological causality. 

The readers can decide whether that is a theology worth reconsidering—or “caring” about, in Magid’s language.

Theodicies that justify God’s imposition of innocent suffering for whatever one considers to be a particularly heinous sin can no longer be maintained in the shadow of a million murdered children. This theology is no different than religious voices attributing the current viral pandemic to God’s wrath against the sin of homosexuality. It equally parallels those who “justify” the Holocaust on the grounds that it made the creation of the State of Israel possible.

Secondly, Magid also minimizes a critical biographical detail of Teitelbaum’s rescue from the Nazis by bracketing the word “Zionists” when briefly mentioning those credited with Teitelbaum’s survival during the Nazi genocide of Eastern European Jews. A detailed study of Teitelbaum’s subsequent defense and whitewashing of this apparent hypocritical part of his biography can be read in the pages of Tablet.

The biographical details of Teitelbaum’s own physical survival are critical here—
because if Zionism is satanic, indeed the Antichrist as Magid describes Satmar’s theology, then Teitelbaum himself entered into a Faustian pact with the devil for his own survival. 

This of course undermines Magid’s further claim that “Teitelbaum rejected the largely pragmatic acquiescence to Zionism by other ultra-Orthodox groups such as Agudat Yisrael.” 

In fact, Teitelbaum, when put to the crucial test of his ideological commitments, “acquiesced pragmatically” to the very movement he theologically blamed for the Shoah for the purpose of saving himself from that same catastrophic event. This inescapable detail on its face refutes what Magid surely intends for readers to see as Teitelbaum’s consistency and intellectual honesty.

Thirdly, Magid asserts as a given that “religious Zionist readings of the sources are often forced, and frequently require stretching the elasticity of traditional sources beyond credulity ...” 

This is a claim that belies much scholarship on the evolution of Jewish thought and Halacha throughout Judaism’s history. 

What does it mean for Teitelbaum to claim he “works strictly from within midrashic and legal canonical sources”? 

Midrash by definition is an “elastic” form of rabbinic exegesis that Teitelbaum ingeniously employs as well. For that matter, every major turning point in the evolution of rabbinic theology and law does the same.

Indeed, the rabbinic tradition itself emerged similarly as a thoroughly radical response to the catastrophic events of the first century that left Jews without the Temple, or their spiritual center. 

Can one so easily dismiss Maimonides’ revolutionary introduction of a legal code or his definition of a Jew as conditional on belief in a set of 13 dogmas, by the claim that he stretched the tradition “beyond credulity”? 

Is the entire kabbalistic tradition guilty of the same offence? 

By the same token, Hasidic theology itself with its emphasis on the rebbe as the axis mundi, which Elijah, the great Gaon of Vilna inveighed against, also could be described as “stretching the elasticity of traditional sources beyond credulity.”

With respect to Teitelbaum’s own supposed rabbinic wizardry, a starting point would be his construction of an entire anti-Zionist theological edifice on the foundations of an aggadic passage in the Talmud concerning three oaths. Here too Magid completely glosses the fact that not only is Aggadah in general not authoritative, the central one Teitelbaum adopts to underpin his theology is far from clear and subject to interpretation.

 Rabbi Kook was certainly as steeped in the rabbinic/talmudic tradition as was Teitelbaum. In fact, Kook’s own teacher, Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the dean of the famed Volozhin rabbinic academy, himself supported the Hovevei Tzion movement encouraging the resettlement of the Land of Israel. We are certain that everyone would agree that his rabbinic credentials measure up, if not tower over, Teitelbaum’s. 

At the very least Magid should have presented his admiring reading of Teitelbaum’s opinion as a slam-dunk as his own opinion, just as he prefaces other arguments in his essay with the words “I believe” or “I suggest.” To do otherwise is to mislead readers unfamiliar with the texts he analyzes that the evaluation of religious Zionism as a stretching of the “traditional sources” is beyond dispute, when many, many scholars, both secular and religious, would disagree.

There is also the matter of Teitelbaum’s self-serving use of history to corroborate his theology. 

In the case of the Holocaust, he took Jewish suffering as divine retribution for the sin of Zionism. 

However, the establishment of the State of Israel, its extraordinary successes in both nation-building and defeating its enemies should, by the same logic, have demonstrated God’s endorsement of the Zionist project. 

Indeed, the third of the “three oaths” which play such a central role in Teitelbaum’s anti-Zionist polemic is that God will “adjure the nations not to oppress Israel too much.” Religious Zionists, who feel obligated to take the “three oaths” seriously, argue that the three are a package. Since the third of the three was clearly abrogated by the Holocaust, the first two would no longer reasonably apply.

Teitlbaum and Magid both ignore this reasonable reading of what are clearly nonbinding aggadic sources. Instead of admitting theological error, Teitelbaum shapes history to conform to his ideology, rather than the other way around, by developing his “Zionism as Satan” theology designed to snare Jews into the vise of its perverse and arguably self-aggrandizing theology. 

The great Maimonides was repulsed by precisely this kind of theologian who manipulates all that exists to conform to his opinions rather than formulating correct opinions in conformity with that which exists.

Maimonides, the halachist every rabbinic authority including Teitelbaum would want on their side, not only never mentions these “oaths,” on which Teitelbaum builds his theological anti- Zionism, in his halachic code, but rather his detailed rationalist program for the Jewish return to Zion and the ultimate messianic period depends totally on human initiative. It constitutes a political and spiritual transformation of the Jewish diaspora and subjugation to foreign powers into self-governing statehood by an ingathering of all Jewish exiles into the Land of Israel, all by naturalistic means. 

In fact, there is simply no plausible reading of Maimonides’ activist realization of the Jewish return to and settlement of Israel as a necessary stage in bringing about the messianic period that would not run afoul of Teitelbaum’s “oaths” argument. 

And yet, once again, evidence matters little when one insists on the correctness of one’s ideology. Teitelbaum responds tortuously that Maimonides’ silence on the oaths in his all-encompassing halachic code is precisely because the oaths are of such cardinal importance that he need not mention them. 

Thus, just as he distorted the historical evidence to fit his position, what Maimonides actually said could never get in the way of what Teitelbaum wished he said. Circular reasoning does not a convincing argument make, neither in theology nor in Halacha. Teitelbaum’s true consistency was his unwillingness to surrender his own ideology no matter what clearly refuted it.

Finally, one wonders what the point is of dredging up well-worn arguments from those pre-Shoah debates regarding the vices of Zionism. Before 1948, rejecting Zionism as a danger to the Jewish people may have theoretically made a certain amount of sense. But what do “new diasporists” propose to do with the State of Israel in 2020, which is not 1920 or 1948?

Consider the practical consequences of Teitelbaum’s theology. There is in fact now a Jewish state with close to 9 million citizens, of which approximately 7 million are Jews. To accept Teitelbaum’s as a viable theology would be to identify that state as in league with the devil. Consequently, all its citizens, soldiers, language, culture, and spiritual life are the devil’s weapons, all devised to seduce Jews into a demonic embrace. There is only one solution to this problem, which is of course Israel’s demise.

Just as the ancient rabbis accommodated the reality of irreparable loss of their spiritual center, and just as hasidut addressed the reality of a pervasive spiritual impoverishment, any theology that cannot deal with the reality of a vibrant Jewish state other than literally demonizing it, is bankrupt as a Jewish theology. 

With what exactly does Magid want Jews to “engage seriously,” after one cuts through Teitelbaum’s prodigious and “dense” rabbinic acuity?

It is quite ironic that Magid analogizes Teitelbaum’s anti-Zionist theology to Luther’s consideration of the papacy as the Antichrist.

 Firstly, Luther was a dogmatically vicious anti-Semite whose agenda for the Jews included burning synagogues, expropriating all rabbinic texts, and forbidding rabbis to teach Torah. If Magid’s analogy captures the full import of Teitelbaum’s anti-Zionism, then perhaps there is a lesson there as to its acceptability.

Yet, even more telling is that, if Magid is correct, then he has offered us a historical precedent for where such a theology might lead. The violence, massacres, persecutions, bloodshed, and endless war associated with the reformation Luther launched teaches a sober lesson of where Antichrist theology most certainly would lead. Considering Israel’s precarious geopolitical predicament and relatively tiny population, bloodshed would be the only result—minus whatever lasting cultural and intellectual benefits accrued to mankind from the Reformation.

Magid closes his essay with a comment that can only be characterized as blasphemous if we are talking theology: 

After drawing another contrast between the Zionism of Rabbi Kook and the anti-Zionism of Rabbi Teitelbaum, he writes, “But the chapter on who gets the last laugh has yet to be written.”

The “last laugh” for Rabbi Teitelbaum would entail nothing less than the destruction of the Jewish state and all the apocalyptic implications that would have for Jewish physical and spiritual life. 

The Nazis in fact did have the “last laugh” in their war against the Jews, having murdered two-thirds of Eastern European Jewry. For Teitelbaum’s theology to be resurrected and vindicated would be to entertain more of the same. 

That is certainly no laughing matter.




Anonymous said...

magid was in his youth a baal teshuvah and breslev chusid who turned into a self declared apikorus. there is no point in listening to anything he has to say.

Zako said...

« The self-hate jew is like the girl who was raped and is now looking for the cause of the rape inside herself. At the end she concludes that it happened because of her feminity, so she'll try to eradicate this feminity.
The same happens to the self-hate jew : he suffers under antisemitism, pogrom and Shoah, concludes that the evil is inside him, so he tries to eradicate it by eradicating everything jewish in him AND in other jews.

As a psychotherapist, I encountered a lot of such people, raped women, self-hate jews and anti-macho softies.
You cannot cure that with arguments. Only with psychotherapy. »

concerned said...

Great stuff, thank you DIN!

One more important argument that has to be made is that SatMar wants us to believe that God killed 6 million innocent jews because a handful of jews were TRYING to establish a three years later when the State WAS ESTABLISHED (with help from the world over the guilt of the Holocaust) we should C"V have a much larger Holocoust!! And yet not only has that not happened but Israel has become the haven for oppressed jews the world over!!

frum but normal said...

At least Magid agrees that Jews have a right to Eretz Yisroel within the pre 1967 borders,as opposed to Rabbi Teitelbaum's opinion that we jews have absolutely no right to have a state in any part of Israel and all of it belongs to the Arabs,personally would rather give a KVITEL and get a BRACHA from Magid than from one of the two current Satmar TeitelBum brothers

Shaul Magid said...

You should at least also post my reply to Diamond/Kellner. Available here after their response.