Who’s your rebbe?


I’m not a rabbi. Nor do I play one on TV. But I imagine that in certain quarters, citing an ideological opponent’s rabbi against him is something of a coup de grace.

That’s the impression I get anyway from a recent exchange between the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America and the folks at Hamodia, the haredi Orthodox daily. The fight concerns a protest earlier this month by many thousands of haredi Orthodox Jews, who gathered in Lower Manhattan to protest plans to draft their Israeli counterparts into the military

The protest, which was advertised with banners with a distinctly anti-Zionist tone, sparked an unusual rebuke from the RCA, which criticized the gathering for undermining “the image Americans have of strong, unshakeable, wall-to-wall Jewish support of Israel.”

The statement noted that the rally, which was deemed so significant it brought about a rare rapprochement between the two warring factions of the Satmar hasidic community, was “an insult to the memory” of the late Satmar leader who, despite ideological opposition to the creation of the State of Israel, put the protection of Jewish lives first. “It is unthinkable that as the largest Jewish community in the world deals with a nuclear threat from Iran, a military front opening with Syria, and the mushrooming of global anti-Semitism, that he would have countenanced aiding and abetting our enemies,” RCA President Rabbi Shmuel Goldin said.

You didn’t think Satmar would take that lying down, did you?

Last week, an op-ed in the haredi newspaper Hamodia shot back. Headlined “The Hypocrisy of the RCA,” the newspaper noted that the council had not spoken out in the face of earlier rallies taking issue with particular positions of the Israeli government. And to show that the Modern Orthodox rabbis are not the only ones capable of citing the opposing camp’s spiritual leaders against it, quoted Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik saying that one must fight for Judaism even when the crowd is against you.

The RCA, naturally, couldn’t let that swipe go unanswered. In a response published in Hamodia, the RCA asserted that the difference between the recent rally and earlier ones is that Satmar doesn’t recognize Israel’s legitimacy, which is a boon to those who want to see the Jewish state’s downfall. But this being a group of rabbis, the RCA couldn’t help but cite the late Satmar leader again.

Consider this story, and think again. In 1972, Senators Humphrey and McGovern were vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. McGovern opposed the sale of Phantom jets to Israel; Humphrey, a real friend of the Jewish people, was in favor. Humphrey went to the Satmar Rebbe looking for support. He had previously been told that the Rebbe’s position on Israel was not that which Humphrey encountered in other Jews. No sooner had they all sat down, than the first thing Reb Yoelish said was, “Thank you for helping to protect our brothers in Eretz Yisrael.” Humphrey turned to the others and said, “I thought he was against Israel!” The Rebbe understood what was happening, and explained, “We have a bit of a squabble within the family. But we don’t want to see anyone in the family get hurt.”

Hamodia came back again this week under the awkward headline “Let’s State the True Facts,” making a number of smallish rebuttals to the RCA. The bottom line, though, was this, which more than anything gives some insight into the haredi mindset as it confronts challenges to its privileges at the Western Wall and elsewhere:

Right now, the Torah community is under attack, by what our Gedolim tell us is an existential threat to the primacy of Torah. If our adversaries are successful, our way of life will not remain viable b’derech hateva. Consider this: In the past, the RCA has reserved statements of “Condemnation” for protesting the likes of The Gaza Flotilla, Genocide, Jewish Acts of Violence, and Child Abuse. They have now added the Foley Square rally to that special group.

Rabbis Goldin and Matanky present themselves as heads of an organization that includes Rabbis “whose children and grandchildren identify completely with the chareidi world,” and that many of those who do not “have close, positive contact with it.” To “Condemn” our outcry over this assault on the absolute value of Torah learning is to delegitimize our cries in the eyes of the greater Jewish world, and only serves “to aid the many enemies who stand ready to destroy, G-d forbid” Torah Jewry. We can not accept that.

Neither should they.

Over to you, RCA.

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