Chosen People to the Chosen Land
Aloh Na'aleh in conjunction with the OU Israel Center
Issue # 25 Behar-Behukotai 5764
Editor: Batsheva Pomerantz
This issue, bridging the months of Iyar and Sivan with its festive days,
presents some aspects about the Torah world’s attitudes to Eretz Yisrael and
Zionism, topics that have an impact on Jews in their personal lives as well
as on their broader place in the unfolding events of the Jewish nation.
The Book “Eim Habanim Semeichah”:
Its Historical Background and Relevance Today
by Rabbi Berel Wein
Reprinted with permission from the author and Jewish Action, the magazine of
the Orthodox Union.
There is an enormously powerful book about the Holocaust, Orthodox Jewry,
the Land of Israel, Zionism, Jewish unity and hatred and the Messianic Era,
that has been in circulation for the past number of decades. Written in
difficult and scholarly rabbinic Hebrew, it is called “Eim Habanim Semeichah”
(The Mother of the Children is Happy), a phrase taken from Psalm 113. The
author is Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, a noted scholar, author of three
volumes of responsa, and rabbi in pre-World War II Slovakia and Hungary.
Rabbi Teichtal was murdered by the Germans during the forced evacuation of
Jewish and Ukrainian prisoners from Auschwitz to the Mathausen concentration
camp, at the end of January, 1945. He was barely sixty years old at the time
of his death.
Since over six million Jews perished in World War II, and each one of them
was unique in his or her own way, what makes Teichtal’s tragedy so
especially significant? The answer lies in “Eim Habanim Semeichah” that he
wrote in 1943 while living in Budapest. Having escaped from the Germans in
Slovakia in 1942 and finding refuge in then as yet German unoccupied
Hungary, Teichtal fulfilled a personal pledge that he had made to write a
book in honor of the Land of Israel. But this book is much more than a paean
of praise for the spiritually imagined Holy Land that has always dominated
Jewish religious thinking in the long exile of the Jews. This work candidly
confronts the terrible issues of shaken faith and loss of tradition raised
by the rise of Zionism and the terribly unimagined events of the Holocaust.
Writing from within the hell of Hitler’s Europe, without books or research
material, Teichtal wrote a work of enormous Torah scholarship and erudition
and of searing pain and challenge.
Before World War II, Rabbi Teichtal was an adherent of the Rabbi of Munkacs,
Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro. This rabbi of Munkacs was the fiercest foe of
all types of Zionism. Rabbi Shapiro also opposed and bitterly criticized the
non-Zionist Agudat Yisrael for its alleged cooperation in certain areas with
the Zionists in building the Land of Israel. Teichtal was as committed an
opponent and as strong a critic of the Zionist movement before the war as
was Shapiro. It was only during the German destruction of the Slovakian
Jewish community, which Teichtal was forced to personally witness and
endure, that he began to draw conclusions diametrically opposed to his
pre-war views on Zionism, Messianic times and secular Jews. In “Eim Habanim
Semeichah”, Teichtal confesses to his previous errors of judgment and
misguided interpretations of Jewish faith. The purpose of his work now is to
call on his fellow, learned Jews, strictly observing of Torah precepts, to
recant their blind and wrong opposition to Zionism. Rather, they should join
with all Jews, irrespective of their level of Torah knowledge and
observance, in a unified effort to build the Land of Israel and the Jewish
people. This effort of united Jewry is to be carried forward on the basis of
Jewish activism and initiative. The lesson of the Holocaust is that the Jews
are to forego the passive attitude of the Jewish exile that relied solely on
Divine intervention and supernatural Messianic deliverance. Instead, the
active programs of settlement and building in the Land of Israel, coupled
with the declared abandonment of the Jewish exile in any foreign country as
a solution to the problems of the Jewish people, and enhanced by a
determined effort to deal with all Jews in tolerance, understanding and even
love, are the methods for the successful initiation of the Messianic Era.
Rabbi Teichtal’s change of heart and attitude did not receive universal
approval. He was driven from certain Hungarian synagogues and not allowed to
conduct his regular Torah classes in other study halls, due to his now
“heretical” views. This opposition to him personally, only caused him to
write and disseminate his book and ideas with even greater impetus. Teichtal
was especially incensed by the statements of certain rabbis in Hungary that
Hungarian Jewry would be spared the fate of German, Polish and Lithuanian
Jewry because of G-d’s presumed approval of its fiercely anti-Zionist,
anti-Enlightenment stance. They claimed that their “Munkacs” attitude stood
in sharp contrast to the prevalent popular Jewish attitudes in those other
lands, where even the Orthodox leadership was corrupted in advocating
Zionist ideas – i.e. immigration to the Land of Israel and the active
rebuilding of the country by Jewish efforts. Of course, history tragically
proved Teichtal correct, since in 1944 Hungarian Jewry met the same fate
that earlier decimated its Eastern European brethren.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust and the rise of the State of Israel, many
of the attitudes in the Orthodox world that Teichtal so criticized and
blamed as being contributory to the Holocaust – insularity, open opposition
to the rebuilding of the Land of Israel through Zionism and now the State of
Israel and its official bodies, sanctioned and institutionalized intolerance
and even hatred of other Jews, a sense of fatalism and inaction in the face
of changing social circumstances, a glorification of the “easy life” of
exile in lands outside of the Land of Israel, a mistaken dogma that preaches
a passive dependence solely upon Divine aid that paralyzes any Jewish
national initiatives – have in fact hardened. A new generation has arisen
that knows not the circumstances of the Holocaust or of the founding of the
State of Israel and thus is unable to draw any historic lessons from these
cataclysmic events. It is to this new generation of committed Orthodox Jews
that Eim Habanim Semeichah should speak and argue its case.
Comments on “Eim Habanim Semeichah”
The following olim read “Eim Habanim Smeichah” in the original Hebrew.
Ari Dobner of Efrat relates that the book’s main message is that “the Land
of Israel (not just the concept) is a central and essential component of
life. No amount of preaching, debating, explaining to the skeptics or cynics
about Israel can achieve what this book does when left in the hands of a
conscientious, self-honest Jew to contemplate and ponder on their own level.
The book inspires tremendous Ahavat Yisrael.” It also trains the observant
Jew to step out of his egocentric “avodat HaShem” and meet the Nation of
Israel, contemplating his role in its history, problems, dreams, tragedies
and struggles. Dobner recommends the book to anyone who feels something for
Israel in their heart but is uncertain how to interpret those feelings and
how to view Israel of today.
Baruch Kelman of Jerusalem says that “if you didn’t realize that Aliyah is a
big mitzvah, after reading this book you will certainly know it.” He
recommends the book to those who are unaware of the importance of living in
Eretz Yisrael. “We recently made Aliyah. When we think of the difficulties,
we just have to look into the sefer and then we know we made the right
decision. We are confident that everything will work out.”
English Translation: Rabbi Moshe Lichtman translated the book into English.
“Eim Habanim Semeichah: On Eretz Yisrael, Redemption, and Unity”, published
by Kol Mevaser Publications and Urim Publications, is unabridged with the
original footnotes and notes of the translator. Headings in the margins
guide the reader.
Eretz Yisrael in Our Sources
There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisrael.
Breishit Rabba 16, 7
Yom Ha’atzmaut Study Day at Nishmat
A Yom Ha’atzmaut Yom Iyun was held at Nishmat, the Jerusalem Center for
Advanced Jewish Study for Women, in memory of student Alisa Flatow, z”l.
Alisa, who was killed in a terrorist attack in Kfar Darom in April 1995, was
dedicated and active for Eretz Yisrael even before coming to learn here. Two
of the lectures dealt with Zionism and Aliyah.
Rabbi Da’vid Sperling spoke about the development of opinions of the leading
mainstream (Haredi) rabbis from the beginning of the Zionist movement in the
late 19th century until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Initially, a small number of rabbis were against Zionism and only a few
supported it. The rest were a silent majority not expressing an opinion on
the matter. The objection of the rabbis against Zionism was based on their
interpretation of the start of redemption and on not joining secular Jews.
The attitude towards the Zionist enterprise became more supportive following
such events as the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and the UN vote on Nov. 29,
1947. For example, President Zalman Shazar, a delegate from Eretz Yisrael at
the UN, received the blessing of the Lubavitch rabbi prior to this crucial
vote. Such rabbis as Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach,
Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin and many other leaders in the Torah world signed a
Da’at Torah in 1949 claiming the establishment of the State of Israel as the
beginning of redemption, and hoping to unite all religious factions to build
a Torah nation.
The halachic imperative of Aliyah was reviewed by Rabbi Zvi Leshem. The main
sources (out of many more) presented were representative of the overwhelming
number of poskim who rule that it is a mitzvah to settle in Eretz Yisrael, a
mitzvah from the Torah, and one required in these times.
Observant Jews keep endless numbers of strictures and details of mitzvot,
and when it comes to living in Eretz Yisrael, which equals all other mitzvot,
for some reason it is not a real issue. It is obligatory for every Jew to
study these laws, to analyze and think seriously about the issue. If Aliyah
is not feasible, they should at least study the issue. They should study
what halachic reason they have for not making Aliyah. “Anyone who lives
abroad has a very serious obligation to extremely consider this issue, the
same way they consider so many halachic issues,” concluded Rabbi Leshem.
Assisting the Oleh
The sixth edition of “Bayit Ne’eman B’Yisrael”, Tehilla’s guide to housing
options and communities for the religious oleh and investor, has recently
been published. In a clear format with maps, it presents over 60 communities
throughout Israel, from the Golan to the Negev. Various Jerusalem
neighborhoods are highlighted. Detailed information is given about size,
religious affiliation, English-speaking residents, educational institutions,
health services, youth groups, and more. A personal perspective about the
community is presented by a contact person from the community, with an email
address to obtain more details.
The booklet includes a description of Tehilla’s newest private initiative,
Kehillot Tehilla, which facilitates the various angles of purchasing real
estate in Israel.
A French version of “Bayit Ne’eman B’Yisrael” was also published.
Only in Israel
Listen to the Kol Yisrael news program at 11:00 pm and the 6:00 am news
broadcast until Erev Shavuot, where you can hear the Hebrew date, the
Gregorian date and a reminder of what day it is in the Omer!
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