Monday, 2 November 2020

A Lesson from The Satmar Rav

 I was reading a biography of The Satmar, Rav, Rav Yoel Teitlebaum ztz"l, and came upon this story of what happened when he was visited by then New York City mayor Wagner during an election period. Obviously the mayor was seeking the Rebbe's support in the upcoming election and wanted to ingratiate himself before the Rebbe. What the mayor thus did was speak of his support to the Jewish People and, specifically, his admiration for and love of the State of Israel. The mayor spoke of his many trips to Israel and how he was s full supporter of the State. This is how the mayor wished to ingratiate himself with the Satmar Rav.

The thing is that it worked. During the meeting, the Rebbe greeted the many statements from the mayor regarding Israel most positively. The chassidim in the room, while maintaining their quiet composure on the outside, did not know what was happening. The mayor was expressing support for Israel and the Rebbe was expressing appreciation.

As soon as the meeting was over and Mayor Wagner left, an elder within the chassidim raised the obvious question that was on everyone 's mind. How could the Rebbe express such gratitude for this support of Israel? The Rebbe's response, to paraphrase, was that in terms of a non-Jew, he actually wants to hear positive attitudes towards Israel. We Jews can have our disagreements over Israel but there will still be an overall commitment to the group, the Jewish People. With a non-Jew, though, one can't make a similar statement. It may be that the person may have similar issues with the country that a Jew may have. It may also be that the person is simply an anti-semite trying to find a reason to attack Jews. With such positive statements towards Israel as expressed by Mayor Wagner, however, there is no doubt that the person is a friend of the Jews. 

I believe there is an important message in the Satmar Rav's response in regard to our world today. I do no think that every critique of Israel necessary indicates antisemitism but I do think that there may be some antisemitic elements in such critiques. We must, as such, approach any criticism of Israel from others hesitantly even as we may even agree with its basic principle. Does this critique of Israel truly just reflect a viewpoint with which I may also agree or, in its expression, is there also a connection to antisemitism? We must, as such, always be wary of any connection with those critical of Israel.  

Rabbi Ben Hecht

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