Friday, September 11, 2009

Rabbi Avigdor Miller and the Neturei Karta

One of the issues that have come up with this discussion on Authentic Judaism is that of Rabbi Avigdor Miller and his role in influencing some of the more radical Haredi bloggers. I brought it up in passing and Parshablog has dealt with it in more detail. Whatever problems one may have with the late Rabbi Miller (and believe me I do) Rabbi Miller is of little value in of himself as a target. He is no longer alive and the Haredi world has by and large rejected his more radical views. Rabbi Miller is still useful for going after Haredim because, despite the fact that most would say that they disagree with him on specific points, they still revere him as a scholar. I see this as an intellectual dodge and a moral failure to treat certain issues with due responsibility. This was brought home to me when discussing the issue of Rabbi Miller with Not Brisk, who, while not wishing to defend Rabbi Miller outright, did not hesitate to try to interest me in some of Rabbi Miller’s less polemical work. According to Not Brisk, even I “who obviously can't swallow his [Rabbi Miller’s] world opinions, can still take the ‘good’”. I do not question Rabbi Miller’s intelligence and I have no problem acknowledging that he has written things that are better than his tapes and his books Rejoice O Youth and Awake My Glory. That being said these things are the Rabbi Miller that I know and apparently this is the Rabbi Miller that bloggers like Authentic Judaism and Jewish Philosopher know. Nothing that Rabbi Miller said could change this.

Not Brisk would have me bifurcate between the populist Rabbi Miller and the scholarly Rabbi Miller. Do not get me wrong, I have no problem with having a disagreement with someone and taking what I like about them and discarding what I do not. There are two different types of opposition; there is the opposition where the opponent is still viewed as legitimate and then there is the opposition where the opponent is cast aside as something satanic without any legitimacy. For example I accept that different people are going to have different views on the State of Israel. You may disagree with me about the army or about settlements but we can agree that we are all good Jews here. I will still give you an aliya in shul and agree to eat in your home. That being said, a Neturei Karta person, who believes that Israel should be destroyed, would not be legitimate. (The Neturei Karta are a small but highly visible group. You can often see them at Israel rallies in Hasidic garb and waving Palestinian flags. They also gained a lot of attention when members of their group attended the infamous Holocaust denial conference in Iran.) A member of the Neturei Karta could study Torah sixteen hours a day and be the nicest person you have ever met. All of that would mean nothing against the fact that this person has plotted with and aided those who wish to murder Jews. It is a moral stance for me precisely to not bifurcate between a Neturei Karta member’s actions as a member of the Neturei Karta and his actions when off duty. (Similarly I would not say that someone is in the Klu Klux Klan but he is nice to his mother. A member of the Klan is a member of the Klan, no ands ifs or buts.) Anyone who simply says that they do not personally agree with the Neturei Karta but still wish to accept them as another Jewish opinion is taking a stance and is morally culpable in the continued existence of the Neturei Karta. (To their credit the Haredi community has been pretty good at expelling the Neturei Karta.)

Among the many repulsive things in Rabbi Miller’s writing, Rabbi Miller took certain Neturei Karta type stances in regards to Israel. For example Rabbi Miller has this to say about Zionism:

346. Let us see what they [the Zionists] have accomplished. They have succeeded in gaining for Jews the hostility of the entire Arab world and of most of the “Third World” nations. They have fomented bad relations with Russ and to some extent with France and Mexico. They have created animosity in the United States and elsewhere.
347. These achievements are of small benefit to Jews, but the Israelis and their Zionist proponents are persistent, because they hope to make all lands untenable for Jews (as they did in all Moslem countries) so that Jews be forced to settle in the State of Israel which is losing the population race against the local Arabs (one million Jewish babies have been slain by abortion in the State of Israel from 1948 to 1976, equal to the number of Jewish children slain by Hitler). (Awake My Glory pg. 104)


So according to Rabbi Miller it is the fault of Zionism, not Arab anti-Semitism, for Arab hostility. It is Israel’s fault and not the Arabs that Sephardic and Yemenite Jews had to flee their homes. This is the classic Jews are responsible for anti-Semitism line. Finally, because Israel has legal abortion, the Israeli government is as bad as Hitler. Not surprisingly the Neturei Karta has made use of Rabbi Miller. Because of this Rabbi Miller should be about as kosher as a bacon sandwich; not just some of the things that he said but everything. It is not good enough that the Haredi world accepts some things of his and ignores others.

When I was in the Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, one of the rabbis there recommended to me that I read Rabbi Miller as a good source on Jewish thought. (Little did he know that I was already a fan of listening to his tapes and yelling at them.) I am willing to give this rabbi the benefit of the doubt and imagine that if I were to show him the above passage he would be quick to say that he did not agree with it. That being said the fact that of all the people he could have told me to read he sent me to Rabbi Miller raises certain questions. In a more liberal environment, where one comes expecting to be exposed to many different ideas, this would not have been such a problem. For example someone coming to this blog has to understand that I love and value ideas for their own sake. They should not assume that just because I link to something and say that it is worthwhile to read that I agree with it. The yeshiva system, though, prides itself on the tight control it maintains on its students. These rabbis were, in essence, guaranteeing my father that they would not expose me to any questionable material. As such they cannot play innocent in exposing me to radical anti-Zionism. (This is why you never want to operate an authoritarian system. No one can live up to the implicit responsibility.) So what does it mean when this Haredi rabbi showed significantly less diligence in not exposing me to radical anti-Zionism than he did in not exposing me to say the writings of Rav Abraham Isaac Kook? (I am still waiting for it to be a common Haredi position to say that Rav Kook was a great Jewish thinker who everyone should read even though we may not accept some of his political positions.) I can only conclude that people like this Haredi rabbi do not really oppose Rabbi Miller’s position on Zionism, not in a meaningful way. Of course when engaging in apologetics with outsiders it is important to deny this position. But, when in private, it can be tossed around as a perfectly legitimate option; something to keep in the bag for when the situation calls for some selective self serving outrage against the Israeli government.

12 comments:

Garnel Ironheart said...

What makes Rav Kook's opinions less important that Rav Miller's? Perhaps Rav Miller has some halachic basis for his view. But so does Rav Kook and who can objectively say that Rav Kook must defer to Rav Miller?
So Rav Miller held by the old "It's all our own fault" line, so what? Unfortunately that's the easiest line to disprove. After all, there were no Zionists during the Inquisition/expulsion, crusades, early pogroms, Chielmnicki, etc.

The Bray of Fundie said...

have you seen this Tzemakh Tzedek yet?

http://innate-differences.blogspot.com/2009/09/in-which-chasidic-master-casts.html

I think that you'll have nakhas from it.

The Bray of Fundie said...

I'm here to defend NB.

Bad tsushtel. One can and should slam rank and file NK members. Expel them from schools and congregations. However when dealing with the likes of Rav Miller, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, The Minchas Eluzer of Munkatch and the Satmar Rebbe (flaming radical anti-Zionists one and all) you're talking about Talmidei Khakhomim. Not bored and under-challenged juvenile delinquents with too much time on their hands.

About them our sages advise us: והזהר בגחלתן and /or when applicable כל המהרהר אחר רבו כו. It isn't the place of laymen to criticize them or their shittos either in public or in private. If you've got a Godol to cuddle whose worldview negates theirs more power to you. But don't expect Kharedim to vituperate TKs.

Your concluding paragraph and question about Rav Kook does sting though.

The Bray of Fundie said...

(I am still waiting for it to be a common Haredi position to say that Rav Kook was a great Jewish thinker who everyone should read even though we may not accept some of his political positions.)

Upon further reflection This too is not a good tsushtel.

Had you been comparing and contrasting the satmara Rebbe and Rav Kook zekher sheneihem livrakha, then you might be more on target.

Both were in a certain sense, one-note-Johnnies at least in their non-purely-halakhic works. Anti-Zionism informed almost every Torah of the Rebbe and love of the land and it's people suffused all of Rav Kooks works.

In a certain sense Rav Miller was a lot more broad and diverse. Even in his polemics he has a pantheon of bogeymen. It's not absolute reductionsist "Zionism is the root of all evil"a ala Satmar.

And while it's probably naive to think that your TV Rebee was ignaornt of Rav Miller's stand on Zionism you can still cut him the slack of recommending seforim that were "right" or as we bloggers like to say "spot on" on so many planks in the Yeshivisha Hashqafic platform that don't touch on Zionsim one way or the other.

Mah she'ein kain had he recommended something by Rav Kook...6 pages later you'd have been singing כחול ולבן זה הצבע שלי

The Bray of Fundie said...

You will find, as DovBear did before you, that once I eneter a thread I tend to comment A LOT!!!

Izgad said...

I do not mind people commenting as long as they are respectful and keep to the subject on hand. In your case you have made good comments so you are more than welcome to comment on this blog.
Rav Elchonon Wasserman and the Minchas Eluzer both lived before the founding of the State of Israel. This makes their opposition very different from those who opposed the state after 1948. Before 1948 we could have a discussion about whether it would be a good thing or not to have a secular Jewish state in Israel. I fully recognize that there were good reasons to say no. Once we hit 1948 and we have a State of Israel and an entire Arab world clamoring for its violent destruction than we have a whole new discussion. Now you are either for Israel, clenching your teeth at any problems you may have with it, or you are on the side of those who wish to murder Jews. There is no longer such a thing as an innocent opposition to Israel. Yes I would view the Satmar rebbe as treif. Notice that today Satmer serves as one of the major breeding ground for problem Haredi Jews. I think these things are connected. If your hatred of secular Jews is so strong that you would engage in actions that put directly put Jews in danger you are not going to have a problem doing more minor things like rioting and fraud.
I think there is a lot more to Rav Kook than you are giving him credit for. He was a lot more than just Zionism. Rav Kook’s Zionism and his willingness to work with secular Jews were byproducts of his views on the nature of the soul, the Jewish people and the mechanism of repentance. I could have embraced all of these things as a yeshiva boy without feeling the need to cooperate with the Israeli government (beyond the obvious demanding for funds).
I have fond memories of singing chol v’laven in first grade when I was not in TV.

The Bray of Fundie said...

AHA! Early childhood ,Head-Start Qefira!!!

The Bray of Fundie said...

On a more serious note and to be mailitz yosher (while holding my nose) for satmar. It seems to me that they would disagree with the "arbitrary" demarcation point of 1948 as to them EVERYTHING, not just Jews in Eretz Yisroel is about turning the clock back to approximately 1850.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

He is no longer alive and the Haredi world has by and large rejected his more radical views.

Which are those radical views that they've rejected?

Izgad said...

In the non Satmar Haredi world it is not socially acceptable to come out point blank and say that the State of Israel is a medinah shel kofrim and assur. A good comparison would be to conservatives of the Old South. It is not appropriate, at least in front of outsiders, to come out and talk about the negros ruling in Washington oppressing good Christian white folk. No Birth of a Nation stuff.

Chesky Salomon said...

Before 1948 we could have a discussion about whether it would be a good thing or not to have a secular Jewish state in Israel. … Once we hit 1948 and we have a State of Israel and an entire Arab world clamoring for its violent destruction than we have a whole new discussion. Now you are either for Israel, clenching your teeth at any problems you may have with it, or you are on the side of those who wish to murder Jews. There is no longer such a thing as an innocent opposition to Israel. Yes I would view the Satmar rebbe as treif.

Despite the Satmar Rebbe’s fierce opposition to Zionism, when presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey visited him the Rebbe begged him to sell weapons to Israel.

23a6c266-1387-11e4-9fd7-9b46c275da1e said...

This is an interesting discussion. In the case of Rav Miller and, for that matter, and the Satmar Rebbe, the major problem with Zionism wasn't the Zionism itself, although this presented clear Halachic and philosophical problems, but more specifically was the ***Secular Zionism***. The radical Zionists coming out of the late 19th Century presented a life and death issue that was really just a single branch of secularization and socialist movements that were assualting Yiddishkeit from every direction.

What we can all hope for is that we will reach the Post-Zionist Jewish world, where Israel, as the homeland for Jews and our historical and religious homeland, is an homogenized reality and where secular and frum Jews live together, and maybe not as much at each others throats. Rav Miller is burried IN ERITZ YISROEL. Tell me who believes this would be possible without a state and without the IDF and without the El ha-Gibbor!