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The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Faith and the Holocaust
Yeshivat Har Etzion


 

Lecture #09a:

The Holocaust in the Teachings of Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam of Sanz-Klausenburg

(Part 1)

By Rav Tamir Granot

 

 

            We shall now address the philosophy of the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg, which was formulated in the wake of the Holocaust and as the conclusion that he drew from it.  In this lecture we will focus on historical and biographical aspects of the subject and offer some initial comments.  In the next lectures we will take a more in-depth view of the ideological and philosophical issues (including Rabbi Halberstam's attitude towards Zionism and the nation of Israel, as well as the question of faith).

 

A.  His life

 

            Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam zt"l was the son of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Halberstam (1851-1918), the Av Beit Din of Rudnik; he was the great-grandson (on his father's side) of Rabbi Chayim Halberstam, author of Divrei Chayim and the founder of the Sanz dynasty, and the son of the great-granddaughter of Rabbi Zvi Elimelekh Shapira of Dinov, the Benei Yissakhar.

 

            At a very early age, Rabbi Halberstam was recognized as a genius; he was tested on the entire Talmud at the age of 13. When he was fourteen, his father, who had been his main teacher, passed away, and the same year he himself was ordained as a teacher.

 

 

 

He married Pessia Teitelbaum, the daughter of R. Chayim Zvi Teitelbaum, the rabbi of Sighet and author of Atzei Chayim, (the brother of Rabbi Yoel Moshe Teitelbaum of Satmar), and the couple had eleven children.  At the age of 21, he was appointed rabbi of Klausenburg, Hungary, and he also headed the yeshiva there.  During the Holocaust, he was part of a labor force that was ordered by the Nazis to clear out the remains of the Warsaw ghetto; he was then sent to Auschwitz.  He participated in one of the death marches and also spent time at the labor camp, experiencing terrible suffering.  His wife and all eleven of his children died in the Holocaust.

 

After the war, Rabbi Halberstam set about establishing Torah institutions in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany and Austria.  In 1946, he traveled to the US to raise funds to help Holocaust survivors, and he set up more Torah institutions in Mexico and in New York, intended for survivors who had settled there.  He started his family anew with Chaya Nechama Ungar, the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel David Ungar, the Av Beit Din of Nitra, and they had seven children.

 

            In 1955, Rabbi Halberstam visited Eretz Yisrael for the first time, and he decided to establish a Chassidic center, Kiryat Sanz, in Netanya.  He founded the new Sanz chassidut, as well as "Mif'al ha-Shas" and Kollel Shas.  He also founded the Laniado hospital in Netanya, serving all residents of Netanya and the surrounding areas, as well as many other charitable and communal projects.

 

            He passed away on the 9th of Tammuz, 5754.  He was succeeded by his two sons, who serve as Rebbes in Israel and in America.

 

B.  Attitude Towards Zionism Amongst the Jews of Galicia Prior to the Holocaust

 

            As we know, the Chassidic movement was unsupportive of Zionism.  While there were roshei yeshiva and rabbis outside of the Chassidic movement who were in favor of the Zionist idea in principle and whose reservations mainly concerned the secular character of the movement's leadership, the approach of the Chassidim was one of opposition in principle.  The reasons for this have been discussed in previous lectures that have focused on the Rebbes of Satmar and Belz.  Among the Rebbes in Poland, there were some – including the Rebbes of Radzin, Sokhachov, and Gur – who encouraged their Chassidim to move to Eretz Yisrael and who favored pragmatic cooperation with the Zionists.  In the more extremist Galicia and Hungary, however, opposition to Zionism was almost universal.  M. Piekarz writes:

 

The position of the Rebbes of Belz and Sanz[1] is characteristic of the tzaddikim (Chassidic leaders) of Galicia.  Rabbi Shelomo of Bobov ruled unequivocally that Judaism… negates a racial definition of being Jewish; rather, the yardstick for measuring Jewish identity is Torah observance.  Furthermore, "The life-force of Am Yisrael is manifest specifically in the nation's dispersion…;" and also: "The Zionists aspire to ascend (to the land) en masse and to establish sovereignty; this represents a violation of the oaths that the Holy One, blessed be He, imposed on Israel…," and so on in this vein.[2]

 

Opposition to Zionism characterizes all the Rebbes of Sanz;[3] it was also the position of Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga of Shinova,[4] the eldest son of Rabbi Chayim of Sanz, and of the second son, Rabbi Barukh of Gurelitz, the grandfather of the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg, and of their other relatives.  We will elaborate concerning these two personalities as the Sanz-Klausenburger Rebbe drew his philosophy from them in many respects.

 

            Rabbi Chayim Halberstam, the founder of the Sanz dynasty, died in 1876 – before significant Zionist activity was underway. His son, Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga of Shinova, was thus the first of the leaders of Sanz to address the issue of Zionism.  The Ahavat Tzion movement began operating in the town of Tarna in Galicia in 1897.  Some of the movement's leaders appealed to the Rebbe of Shinova for his approbation, since the Rebbe was known for his activity on behalf of Eretz Yisrael; he had visited there and had done much to raise donations for the "yishuv ha-yashan," the Jews living in Eretz Yisrael prior to the waves of Zionist immigration.[5] The events are described by the Rebbe of Shinova himself in a letter to the newspaper Ha-Maggid, dated 16th Adar of that year:

 

When I was told this, I wrote to upright and faithful people with whom we are acquainted in Eretz Yisrael… and within a few days they responded that this would represent, heaven forefend, the destruction of the land, since the people who were arriving were ignorant and fickle, without even a spark of fear of heaven…

 

He continues:

 

I saw in the book Shivat Tzion that it is written: "One who lives in Eretz Yisrael need not uphold the Torah…  therefore, great is [the merit of] dwelling in Eretz Yisrael, where even if they do not observe the Torah, they have the merit of repairing the ground of Eretz Yisrael."…  May their spirit be blasted for the extent to which they desire to lead Israel astray…  for they wish to make ruins of the settlement of the holy land…  for the chaluka [charity sent by Jews overseas] is limited…  and heaven forbid that the money be spent on these fickle ones.

 

We detect in the excerpt above, as well as in other writings,[6] two main reasons for the Rebbe's objection to Zionism:

 

1.  The nationalist ideology lends legitimacy to a secular way of life in Eretz Yisrael.  This generates the danger of a mortal blow to the religious character of the old yishuv.

2.  The practical fear for the fate of the old yishuv and the kollels in Eretz Yisrael if Zionist activity would have a detrimental effect on them.[7]

 

            The Tzaddik of Shinova's opposition to Zionism was strong, and he is quoted as having said, "When a Jew says 'Shema Yisrael,' he must repudiate all forms of idolatry in the world.  Zionism is also idolatry, and it, too, must be repudiated."[8]

 

            His younger brother, Rabbi Barukh of Rudnik/Gurelitz, adopted a similar position;[9] his opposition is likewise based mainly on the secular character of the movement and its nationalist worldview. Some of the Tzaddikim of the Sanz dynasty, such as Rabbi Hanna of Kloshitz, the grandson of the Rebbe of Shinova, were opposed even to Agudat Yisrael.

 

C.  The Chassidic Community of Klausenburg

 

            The process by which Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda of Sanz-Klausenburg came to serve as the rabbi of Klausenburg testifies to his anti-Zionist stance at the time.[10] Like the other communities of Hungary, Klausenburg had undergone a schism between "Enlightened" and Orthodox Jews.[11] In light of this split the "charedi" community of Klausenburg belonged to the Orthodox umbrella organization.[12] The appointment of Rabbi Moshe Glasner as spiritual leader of the community during the 1910's undermined the stability of the Orthodox community, owing to his support for Zionism and the integration of occupational studies along with yeshiva study.[13] Against this background, there was a split within the Orthodox community of Klausenburg in around 1919,[14] when a group – composed mainly of Chassidim from Sighet[15] – separated itself from the rest of the Orthodox camp and fought for its right to be recognized as an independent community.[16] As had happened elsewhere, the new community defined itself as "Sefaradit," in reference to the prayer formula generally accepted by Chassidim ("nussach sefarad," not "sefardi").

 

            After achieving recognition as a separate community, the Sefarad-Chassidic community chose as its leader Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstam.  This choice arose both from his family connection with Sighet and his suitability to serve as rabbi of a community that defined itself in terms of negation of the Zionism and modernization that were becoming prevalent in the main community under the leadership of Rabbi Glasner.

 

In his youth

 

The question that we wish to address is whether, in the wake of the Holocaust and the establishment of the center of Sanz-Klausenburg chassidut in the State of Israel, the Rebbe altered his traditional view of Zionism.  Was his absolute commitment to the tradition of his forefathers also an ideological commitment? Was it at all possible for him to express views that deviated from the anti-Zionist tradition of Galicia and Hungary, where he had grown up and served as rabbi?

 

D.  Building up Eretz Yisrael and the Rebbe's attitude towards the State

 

The following are various aspects of the activities and leadership of the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg that testify to his positive attitude towards the State:

 

a.             The choice of Eretz Yisrael as the center for his Chassidic court: The activity of the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg after the Holocaust proves that he viewed the establishment of his Chassidut in Eretz Yisrael as a central objective of his role as leader and rehabilitator of the ruins.  Unquestionably, this reflected more than just a realistic assessment of the conditions in Eretz Yisrael as being conducive to the establishment of his court; after all, he was well acquainted with – and even brought to fruition – the American alternative, which continues to exist.  The decision to make the center of his Chassidut in Eretz Yisrael was made at a time when the foundations of his court in the US were already stable.  His announcement, upon leaving the DP camps in Germany for New York – "I am going to Eretz Yisrael via America"[17] – was meant in the practical and literal sense.

 

b.            Activity on behalf of all Jews, not only the Chassidic community: The extensive, "all-inclusive" scope of the establishment of his court and its institutions proves that his intention was to integrate into the reality of Eretz Yisrael as it was and to contribute towards it – whether through institutions for Torah, charity, or volunteering, or through establishing a hospital in Netanya (Laniado) to serve all Israelis, and not only the Chassidic community.

 

c.      The choice of the Netanya coast as the location for the center of his Chassidut: in continuation of point b., the choice of Netanya, and specifically the sea shore, was important.  The choice of this large, secular city and a location on the coast rather than an existing ultra-orthodox center such as Benei Berak or Jerusalem proves that the Rebbe did not perceive his settling in Israel as "Jewish exile within Eretz Yisrael,"[18] but rather as a permanent settling with a self-awareness of belonging to the State and to the general population, despite its secular character.[19]

 

d.      Dialogue with the leaders of the State: The Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg maintained ongoing dialogue with the leaders of the State and its institutions, and he had expectations of them both on the practical level (such as approving the establishment of the hospital or the Chassidic center) and in the cultural, spiritual realm.  There were times when he was sorely disappointed, and even left the country as a result.[20] However, those very expectations show that he did not relate to the State as a merely material or economic framework, but rather as an entity with inherent significance.  In this context, we should also take note of the harsh attacks that he suffered from his conservative-minded Chassidic opponents as a result of this attitude.  In 5721, an ultra-orthodox newspaper published a picture of his meeting with David Ben-Gurion, and stated that the meeting had centered on the establishment of a State-religious educational network for Sanz.  The picture was accompanied by harsh words against the Rebbe: he is referred to as a "Johnny Come Lately" (he had arrived in the country a year previously), and accused of attempting to create "shaatnez" between two "opposing forces" – Chassidism and Zionism.[21]

 

All of the above shows that the Rebbe, for the most part, maintained a positive dialogue with the State and its institutions, and that he viewed settlement in the land in the national sense as a true value, and not just as a personal commandment, as many of the founding fathers of Chassidut in previous generations had maintained.  In our next lecture, we will examine the ideological basis for this view.

 

 

(Translated by Kaeren Fish)

 

 



[1] These two Chassidic dynasties were connected from their very origins.  Rabbi Chayim of Sanz journeyed to visit Rabbi Sar-Shalom, the first Belzer Rebbe, while the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg twice visited Rabbi Aharon Rokeach of Belz, the founder of Belz chassidut in Israel after the Holocaust.

[2] See M. Piekarz, Polish Chassidism: Philosophical Trends Between the Two World Wars and During the Holocaust (Heb.), (Jerusalem, 5750), pp. 227-228; A.A.  Ehrenberg, Arzei Ha-Levanon (Jerusalem, 5727), pp.  95-96; Rabbi Ben-Tzion Halberstam (of Bobov), Kedushat Tzion, part II, pp. 60-85.  See also Y.D. Weisberg, Rabbeinu Ha-Kadosh Mi-Sanz: Ba'al Divrei Chayim, part II, pp. 131-139 (about the Rabbi of Shinova) and p. 283.  After the Zionist movement adopted the magen david as its symbol, the Rebbe of Bobov ordered that the symbol be removed from the coverings of Sifrei Torah.

[3]  The position of the Rebbes of Bobov is mentioned above in the citation from Piekarz.  Rabbi Shelomo, the founder of the Bobov dynasty, was the grandson of Rabbi Chayim of Sanz; Meir Natan was his father.

[4] See note 2, Rabbeinu Ha-Kadosh Mi-Sanz.

[5] He founded the Beit Midrash for Sanz Chassidim in Tzefat, which has retained its central role for Sanz Chassidim to this day.

[6] Very similar words were addressed to Rabbi Feivish Segal, the Rabbi of Berdshin in Galicia, in a letter published in the same newspaper on the 7th of Adar II, 5657.  See also his letter to Rabbi Yosef Feigenbaum of Tarna.

[7] I have not found in his writings any opposition to Zionism on the grounds that it negates the perception of a miraculous redemption or the like.  The very fact that he corresponded with people whom he knows in Eretz Yisrael in order to clarify the nature of the new movement's activities testifies to his approach to the question in practical terms rather than as an ideological or historiosophic issue.

[8] See source cited in note 6.

[9]  His letter against Zionism was published in the book Dovev Siftei Yeshenim.  See Rabbeinu Ha-Kadosh Mi-Sanz, pp. 337-338.

[10]  See also the biography in the first section of this shiur.

[11]  See Y. Katz, Ha-Kera Shelo Nit'acha, (Jerusalem, 1995).

[12] See S. Zikhroni and Y.  Schwartz, Zikhron Netzach li-Kehillat Klausenburg, (Tel Aviv, 5728) and the biography of the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg: A. Suresky, Lapid Ha-Esh (Benei Berak, 5757-5763) (hereafter – Lapid Ha-Esh, p. 88.

[13]  See Lapid Ha-Esh, p. 89.  The authors do not disqualify the Rabbi personally, despite their desire to justify the appointment of the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg.  Rather, they describe the spiritual decline evident in the city and the establishment of the Tarbut school as part of its "Zionization."  See S.Y. Gross, "Ish Ha-Machshava Ve-Ha-Ma'aseh," in Diglenu (Kislev, 5715).  Concerning the Zionist yeshiva, see M. Brayer, "Ha-Yeshivot Be-Romania," in S.K. Mirsky (ed.), Mosdot Torah Be-Europa Be-Vinyanam U-Ve-Churbanam, (New York, 5716), which contains a chapter on the yeshiva of Klausenburg.

[14]  See Shefa Chayim by the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg, part VI, p. 171 and onwards, which contains the "Articles of the Sefarad Beit Midrash of Klausenburg."  The nature of the articles reflects the customs of an extreme Chassidic group.

[15]  The father-in-law of the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg, in his first marriage, was Rabbi Chayim Zvi Teitelbaum, author of Atzei Chayim, of Sighet.  He himself was related to (and named after) the great rabbi of Sighet in the mid-19th century, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, author of Yitav Lev.

[16]  For a discussion of the controversy surrounding this split, see Y.Y. Cohen, Chakhmei Transylvania (4080-4304), (Jerusalem, 5749), part I, pp. 249, 257; A.Z. Friedman, "Nachpesa Darkeinu," in Diglenu 12, (Elul-Tishrei, 5682-5683).

[17]  Lapid Ha-Esh, p. 389

[18] This is an oft-repeated expression among ultra-orthodox ideologues.  It reflects a distinction between real, tangible, historical existence in Eretz Yisrael and the historiosophic view of the period as one of exile, foreign to the new Zionist Israeli identity.  This dichotomy is at the core of Aviezer Ravitzky's book, Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism (Chicago, 1996).

[19]  At the circumcision of the son of one of his Chassidim in Emmanuel in 5744, he encouraged and praised the man for fulfilling the commandment of settling the land despite the dangers involved.  This is yet another example of his view of establishing a settlement – an overtly public act – as commendable.

[20]  See Shefa Chayim, end of part VI.

[21]  The picture is attached at the end of the shiur.  My grateful thanks to my brother-in-law, R. Maoz Kahana shlita, for copying it at the National Library.

 

 
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