I received the note below today. Why the writer thought it would have any impact on my perspective is beyond me. It does not. But I present it to you for your independent perusal.
Dear Rabbi Bechhofer,
I revert to your post made this past year regarding the Satmar Rebbe's views of Rav Kook z"l.
In response to my e-mail request to you then (see attached PDF) you
edited your blog and humbly watered down your negative statement about
As it was recently the 33rd yahrzeit of the Satmar Rebbe z"l, and as we
approach rapidly the awe days of Aseres Yemei Tshuvah, I think it is
important to add some information, copied below, that might restore the
deserving kovod of a gaon, tzadik, and manhig hador. There is also a
powerful video of a recent hesped given by a Litvishe rav who recounts
the tremendous kovod and respect shown to the Satmar Rebbe z"l by the
vast majority of "LITVISHE" gedolim of his time. I urge you to watch it
for its revealing information you may not have known:
more importantly, here's some reading material that I had just recently
become aware of and took the time to copy the text in order to share it
EXCERPTS FROM A BOOK ABOUT THE SATMAR REBBE’S VIEWS OF RAV KOOK Z”L
Many may have known the Satmar Rebbe, but Rabbi Chaim Moshe Stauber was
the Rebbe’s personal “hoiz bochur”…. close attendant and personal
confidant ...., spending over 20 years in his radiant presence.
Handpicked by the Rebbe for many important missions, he served the Rebbe
until his final days.
In his unique biography, The Satmar Rebbe: The life and times of Rav Yoel Teitlbaum zt"l published by Feldheim,
he not only chronicles the Rebbe’s remarkable life, but invites you
into the Rebbe’s innermost offices. One story, perhaps not widely known,
deals with the Rebbe’s views of Rav Kook z”l and his own remarks.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
Shavuos, the (Satmar) Beis Medrash was majestically decorated with
flowers and greenery. Guests from out-of-town including Chassidim from
Eretz Yisroel, South America, Europe, and Canada, were seated throughout
the Beis Medrash.
Of the many people who came to Williamsburg to be with the Rebbe for
Shavuos, was a special Rav from Chicago, Rabbi Dovid Winchester. Rabbi
Winchester was a native Chicagoan who had learned in Chevron Yeshiva
during the pogroms of 1929, and miraculously survived. The clean-shaven
Rabbi Winchester was a talmid chacham, but was certainly not a Satmar
He was the rabbi of the Nussach Ari Shul in Chicago, so why did he leave his own congregation to spend Shavuos with the Rebbe?
The Rebbe had gone to Chicago for the wedding of the daughter of the
Weitzener Rav, Reb Zvi Hirsch Meisels. At that time, he gave a drasha
that lasted two-and-a-half hours, and Rabbi Winchester was so impressed
with the Rebbe's Torah erudition that he looked for opportunities to be
On one occasion, he heard the Rebbe blame Rav Kook for "building the
bridge between religious Jews and Zionism," and Rabbi Winchester, who
had been Rav Kook's talmid and personal aide, protested. The Rebbe took
him aside and clarified for Rav Winchester why he blamed Rav Kook more
than anyone else. As a result, Rav Winchester took it upon himself to
begin learning through all of Shas, and strove to be every Shavuos
-Kabbalas HaTorah- at the Rebbe.
By YORAM HAZONY
Today's debates over the place of religion in modern life often showcase the claim that belief in God stifles reason and science. As Richard Dawkins writes in his best-seller "The God Delusion," religious belief "discourages questioning by its very nature." In "The End of Faith," his own New Atheist manifesto, Sam Harris writes that religion represents "a vanishing point beyond which rational discourse proves impossible."
The argument that religion suppresses rational inquiry is often based on the idea that "reason" and "revelation" are opposites. On this view, shared by atheist crusaders and some believers as well, the whole point of the Bible is to provide divine knowledge for guiding our lives, so we don't need questioning and independence of mind.
This dichotomy between reason and revelation has a great deal of history behind it, but I have never accepted it. In fact, as an Orthodox Jew, I often find the whole discussion quite frustrating. I will let Christians speak for their own sacred texts, but in the Hebrew Bible (or "Old Testament") and the classical rabbinical sources that are the basis for my religion, one of the abiding themes is precisely the ever-urgent need for human beings, if they are to find what is true and just, to maintain their capacity for independent thought and action.
Almost every major hero and heroine of the Hebrew Bible is depicted as independent-minded, disobedient, even contentious. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph's brothers, Moses and Aaron, Gideon and Samuel, prophets such as Elijah and Elisha, and exilic biblical figures such as Daniel, Mordechai and Esther—all are portrayed as confronting authority and breaking the laws and commands of kings. And for this they are praised.
But aren't these biblical figures just disobeying human institutions in response to commands from on high? Not at all. Very often the disobedience we see in Hebrew Scripture is initiated by human beings with no word from God at all. Thus the midwives Shifra and Pua resist Pharaoh's decree to murder the Israelite children in the Exodus narrative. And Moses' mother and sister hide the infant boy, although it is against the law. And Moses grows up and slays an Egyptian who is beating a Hebrew slave.
None of these deeds is initiated or guided by divine command. Like many other stories in the Bible, they tell us about human beings who make their stand entirely on their own authority.
Some will want to object that the biblical heroes exhibit such
independence of mind only with respect to other human beings, and that they become pushovers when God enters the picture. But that isn't right either. Many biblical figures dare to extend their arguments and criticism to God himself. Abraham is famous for challenging God over the fate of Sodom: "Will not the judge of all the earth do justice?" Moses repeatedly argues against God's intention to destroy Israel. David is outraged over what he sees as God's unjust killing of one of his men, and similar arguments with God appear in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Havakuk, Jonah and Job.
Nor do these biblical figures stop at just arguing with God. They also disobey God. Abel disregards God's instructions to go work the soil, while his brother Cain obeys—yet it is Abel whom God loves, not Cain. Moses, too, directly disobeys God's command to lead the people up to Canaan after the sin of the golden calf. Aaron refuses to conduct the sacrificial service as commanded after God kills his two sons. The daughters of Tzelofhad even demand that Moses alter God's law because they deem it unjust. And in all these cases, the biblical narrative endorses such resistance.
The Bible acknowledges this pattern explicitly when God gives the name "Israel" to Jacob and his descendants, saying: "Your name will no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have contended with God and with men and have prevailed."
Reread that last sentence. It says that the God of Israel so cherishes independent-minded men and women that he himself names them Israel, meaning "will contend with God," as a sign of his love and esteem.
The claim that the Hebrew Bible seeks to suppress inquiry and argument can be maintained only by way of colossal ignorance or willful distortion. In fact, no literary tradition of the pre-modern world—including Greek philosophy—was so effortlessly radical in its endorsement of human questioning, seeking and argument. And few have rivaled it in modernity either.
Perhaps it is time for the participants in the great "religion wars" of our day to give the Hebrew Bible another read.—Dr. Hazony is the author of "The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture," which has just been published by Cambridge University Press.
A version of this article appeared August 25, 2012, on page C2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The God of Independent Minds.