The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
Faith and the Holocaust
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Teichtal's World View: Conservative or Innovative?
Foundations of Rabbi Teichtal's World View
I shall now
attempt to summarize some of the main elements of Rabbi Teichtal's world view.
commandment of settling Eretz Yisrael is an obligation that applies to every Jew
at all times.
2. There is a
redemption "track" that comes about through natural processes; it is initiated
by man, and then the private commandment becomes an integral part of the
process. In other words, by fulfilling one's private commandment to settle Eretz
Yisrael, a Jew thereby participates in the process of
3. Our era is
the era of redemption. More Jews have come together in Eretz Yisrael than have
been seen here since the Second Temple period, and the country is continually
growing and developing. The status of "redemption" should not be withheld from
this era just because there are no miracles or prophecy; our Sages did speak of
the possibility of redemption through human processes that would encounter
difficulties and setbacks.
"freethinkers" who built up the land should not be viewed as heretics and
apostates, for three reasons. Firstly, they are like "captive children" – Jews
who, for reasons outside of their own control, have been brought up ignorant of
much of their Jewish heritage and its laws. Secondly, they are fulfilling the
important commandment of settling the land. Thirdly, they are countering and
repairing the damage effected by the Enlightenment, which led to assimilation;
in this sense, they may be viewed as engaging in
5. Even if we
do not accept the defense set out in no. 4 above, the common mission and the
importance of Jewish unity at the time of redemption make it essential to work
in favor of the Jewish settlement of the land despite misgivings. There is
certainly no room for preventing aliya and settlement of the land just
because there are heretics there.
Holocaust represents the "footsteps of the Messiah" preceding the redemption,
and therefore the troubles are necessary. Rabbi Teichtal offers many
explanations for this necessity, as discussed in the previous two
7. The mistake
on the part of the ultra-Orthodox community in its negative attitude towards
Zionism and its adoption of a policy of "sit and do nothing," arising inter
alia from excessive caution, led indirectly to the deaths of many Jews in
the Holocaust. The ultra-Orthodox leadership is responsible for this, as well as
for the secular character of the Zionist endeavor.
As to the
connection between opposition to Zionism and the Holocaust, I would like to
state clearly that in Rabbi Teichtal's words I find no argument corresponding
(inversely) to that of the Satmar Rebbe, claiming that the Holocaust was a
punishment for the sin of opposition. The Holocaust happened for other,
independent reasons. However, in His great mercy God prepared an escape route,
which came to be blocked by the anti-Zionist position. From this perspective,
this position bears responsibility, on the leadership and religious level,
albeit indirect and certainly unintentional.
Teichtal's philosophical turn-around may be viewed from two
From the one
perspective, his theology or historiosophy is conservative. Ideologically, Rabbi
Teichtal became a Zionist, but in terms of theology he continued to maintain the
same fundamental ultra-Orthodox assumptions: he employs the concepts of sin and
punishment; he perceives the Holocaust as part of God's direction of reality;
and he offers no criticism of the fundamental assumptions of religious thought
in the wake of the Holocaust. All of these indicators point to a conservative
way of thinking.
occurs only in the ideological dimension, while the fundamentals of his
philosophy remain as they were. Rabbi Teichtal argues that Am Yisrael should
behave differently from the way in which they did until now, because an analysis
of reality demands this, and he backs up this demand by adopting a perception of
the process of redemption ("at its time," "a poor man riding upon a donkey")
which has its foundations in classical Jewish sources and which, in his view, is
almost obvious. But his religious point of departure, his view of Divine
Providence, his theology, his concepts of good and evil, and his cultural
perception – all of these remain outside of the scope of his book and the
turn-around that it represents.
perspective from which we may view Rabbi Teichtal's change is that of "religious
existence." What does his view tell us about "religiosity" itself, about a
religious standpoint? I offer the following thoughts on the difference between
the ultra-Orthodox reaction to the Holocaust and the Zionist reaction, from the
point of view of a psychological movement within a religious
ultra-Orthodox position seeks acceptance of God's judgment. Acceptance is an
active movement on the inside, but outwardly it is passive. The view of exile as
a punishment and the faith in a miraculous redemption necessarily mold a
religious stance that accepts anything that happens as a Divine decree that must
be viewed as part of a religious test. Exile turned the historical situation of
the Jews into a one-way street: history does not await or expect our reaction;
all that is left to us is acceptance. Acceptance of God's judgment has
therapeutic power because it denies the arbitrariness of history, and because it
is an important element in the spiritual repair that is necessary prior to
redemption. The attempt to change reality itself in the general sense (on the
individual level a person is obviously permitted to try to escape, since perhaps
God's decree is not aimed at him specifically) – for example, by a revolt
against the Nazis, or by establishing a Jewish state – is therefore an
anti-religious act by definition, since it conflicts with the Divine decree.
this, let us consider a parable on the individual level. Let us imagine the case
of a person who is diagnosed, heaven forefend, with a fatal disease. One
religious reaction to this would be to accept the situation and to live with it,
attempting to elevate it to the highest possible spiritual experience – not to
try to escape it or change it.
reaction is a lack of acceptance of the decree. I once heard of a well-known
Zionist figure who was informed that he was suffering from fatal condition.
Until the very end he fought, refusing to recognize his illness, not uttering a
word about death and not agreeing even to recite the "vidui" since he
viewed it as a capitulation. According to this view, reality is an arena for
fighting. Or, in religious terms, reality is a religious test in the practical
arena. According to this view, the future is not decreed and dictated in
advance; rather, it is open to change. A Zionist views history as an
opportunity, and views whatever happens as signals or calls to action, not as
ultra-Orthodox perspective there is therefore something un-religious about the
phenomenon of religious Zionism. It is a sort of paradox: religiosity means
acceptance, while Zionism means rebellion and acting for change. Faith in God's
Providence should lead to acceptance and reconcilement, not
perspective we may describe the change that Rabbi Teichtal underwent as an
all-encompassing, revolutionary change of heart. The religious test is carried
over from the inner dimension – from submission to events and justification of
God's decree – to the realm of history. Without human action, history will not
move forward – as Rabbi Teichtal argues in several places.
I believe this to be an accurate analysis of the religious Zionist revolution in
As to Rabbi
Teichtal, we stand at an exegetical crossroads. One way to understand the change
of position brought about by the Holocaust is that he meant it to apply only
from now on, as formulated in the words, "Once, the anti-Zionism position was
appropriate; now, even the Rebbe of Munkacz would agree that it is no longer."
Another understanding is that he meant the change to be retroactive – "Now we
know that those who were opposed, at the time, were wrong;" "we should have been
Zionists from the outset."
the second possibility, Rabbi Teichtal truly abandons the religiosity of
acceptance and reconcilement, in favor of the battle. According to the first view, we must say
that the very recommendation of and support for aliya after the Holocaust
is itself an acceptance of history. While history's message may have changed,
the fundamental movement of response remains one of acceptance: the Holocaust
forces us, by Divine decree, to abandon the exile, but it does not create a new
consciousness of taking responsibility for reality.
I am inclined
towards the second view, according to which the change applies retroactively. In
other words, the Zionist approach conformed with God's will from the outset, and
therefore the main message of Em Ha-Banim Semekha is a transition from a
religious position of acceptance and submission to one of historical activism
with a view to changing reality.
fascinating to compare the spiritual, ideological change in Rabbi Teichtal with
the move that appears to arise in the Rebbe of Piasetzno's Esh Kodesh
(which we will address in greater detail in a future lecture). In both cases the
reaction arises from within the Holocaust, as the events are taking place. The
relationship between Rabbi Teichtal's position and that of the Rebbe of
Piasetzno is not one of conflict – as, for example, with the Satmar Rebbe.
Rather, they are two reactions that follow parallel tracks without ever meeting.
For the Rebbe of Piasetzno, almost everything is internal and subjective. The
suffering, breakdown, the religious act – all of these are directed inward, and
this is the significance that is awarded to them. For Rabbi Teichtal, the repair
is not to be found in some subjective, internal place, but rather is objective
and external and to be found in history: settling Eretz Yisrael is the greatest