Monday, March 14, 2011
Review : The Rebbe by Rabbi Dovid Meisels , Lakewood ; Israel Book Shop, 2010.
Reviewed by Schneur. Welcome Back, Schneur. We hope to hear lots more from you.
This book represents another first in Orthodox publications in the U.S. An English language biography of the Satmarer Rebbe, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum who died in 1979 (I will refer to him as RJT ). Although the late Yosef Weisshaus published a book called "The Rebbe" in English about the Satmarer Rebbe in 2008, it was more of a compilation of Minhagim and hashkafos of the Rebbe , rather than an attempt at a full scale biography of the Rebbe. There have also been several academic articles about the Rebbe in English, including an important one by Rabbi Alan Nadler in Judaism Magazine. What makes an English language biography of RJT unusual is the fact that he was a vocal opponent of the use of the English language by his followers and insisted that they speak Yiddish, thus one is left with the impression that this book is not aimed at the Satmarer community nor at those Hungarian kehilloth in orbit around Satmar like Kashau, Pupa or Krasna. They too have adopted a hard line against the use of the English language. Hence the biography is aimed at those sectors of the Orthodox community who use English and are capable of reading a long English book, most likely the book is aimed at the so-called "Yeshivishe" community, which in recent years has a shown a new sympathy to the Satmarer Rebbe's position on Zionism and Israel, (probably based on the sympathy the Brisker school has to anti-Zionism) although they continue to reject his positions on Yiddish, Derech Halimmud (Talmudic methodology) and issues of Tzeniuth, (Modesty) as these would necessitate life style changes and a different course of religious studies. which obviously they are not interested in doing.
The author Rabbi Meisels has published any number of pamphlets in English about various Jewish holidays and customs which have in general been ignored by the Orthodox Jewish community. His grandfather was the alte Vaitzener Rov of Chicago who was a cousin of the Satmar Rebbe. The title pages informs us that the book was not actually written by the author in English but was translated by Reb Yirmiyahu Cohen who has been identified as an American Neturei Karta ("Natruna," actually - HT) activist. As most historically important personalities RJT was a complex character. This volume emphasizes his war against Zionism and the State of Israel and his role in creating a powerful and strong Chasidic community in the US. The volume also depicts his early life and family background as well as his life in Rumania (Satmar changed political designations in the 20th century going between Hungary and Rumania) prior to World War 2. The most interesting part of the book is the depiction of the efforts of RJT in building the Satmar community in the US after his arrival here in 1947. With a fair amount of detail the author depicts the Satmar schools, summer camps, kashruth organization, Yeshivoth, girls schools and the community of Kiryath Joel, all created by RJT We are introduced to the problems the Rebbe faced such as the loss of religious behavior by many of the Concentration Camp survivors even those from Hungary. Rabbi Meisels does not refrain from mentioning that the Rebbe, whose motto was the refrain of the Chasam Sopher "Chodosh Assur Min haTorah," (New innovations are forbidden by the Torah) actually himself introduced significant modifications in the communal structure. thus he introduced secular studies in the Satmar elementary schools and later even in high schools. More importantly he created schools for girls , something that not only did not exist in greater Hungary prior to 1944, but was fought by the Rebbe and other Chasidic gedolim like the Belzer Rav in Galicia. Yet the Rebbe was adept enough to sense that America was different than Rumania or Hungary and secular studies were required here an dwomen needed some form of formal Jewish education.
Of course he faced opposition here , but his personality was so dominant that he overwhelmed men like the the Krasner Rav, Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein, and other kanoim who opposed anything new except for modern technology. The author also introduces us to the Rebbe's key assistants, men like R. Lippa Friedman , Sender Deutsch (I i wish he discussed his role in more detail) Mr. Hertz Frankel, and R. Yudel Rosenberg, who ran the Satmar summer camps and Matzo bakeries. R. Meisels also details the Rebbe's opposition to Zionism and to the state of Israel in detail. By now we all know about RJT's attitude agaisnt Zionism and Israel, so there is little new here. While Meisels stresses the role the Gimmel Shevuoth played in forming the Rebbe's ideological basis for this policy, he does not really detail the theoretical aspects of this thinking. Nor does he present an even handed depiction of a very lively debate concerning the halachic status of the Gimmel Shevuoth with gedolim taking various positions. He seems to be unaware that the chozer Rav Yoel Kahan wrote a refuation of the position of RJT. What is clear though is that the position of the Satmarer Rebbe and his Hungarain Rabbinic associates was not the universally accepted position at any time and certainly was a Daas Yachid after the brutal destruction of European Jewry by the Germans between 1939- 1945. Clearly after 1945 the Belzer Rav, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Gerrer Rebbe and others dropped their opposition to the idea of Israel and sought to work to create a Jewish basis for the state. [I was looking at the new biography of Rav Lopian called REB ELAH, and it states that Rav Lopian held those who did not vote in municipal elections responsible for the decress of Mixed swimming pools in Jerusalem.] R. Meisels does discuss the Rebbe's rescue in 1944 . On page 114 he attributes the Rebbe's rescue to the fact that the mother of the Zionist leader, Dr. Fischer,, appeared to to him in a dream and ordered him to rescue the Rebbe, which meant including him on the list of those to be included in the Kasztner transport. It ought to be noted that this whole project was a Zionist sponsored project and Fischer, Kasztner and other were all Zionist leaders.
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