Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Satmer Rebbe "Retrux"

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 the Rebbe.

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:

But, 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 with you.


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:

For 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 Chassid.

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 near him.

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.


  1. Literally, maybe it should be required that all frum people get some exposure to the academic world. The idea of starting from the beginning and building one logical step at a time upon the previous step is foreign to some people, and they will literally accept anything including the Brooklyn Bridge.

    The last paragraph here is really something. Doesn't tell us a word about what was supposedly wrong with Rav Kook's views, whom many considered a tzaddik and gaon. And furthermore, we are told that the Chicago Rabbi became so inspired at the negative talk about Rav Kook, that he decided to start learning shas. Until that point, he found nothing inspiring in shas? Shas is only meaningful if you say loshon hara about Rav Kook first?

    And why was the well-accepted tzidkus and ahavas yisroel of Rav Kook not itself an inspiration to begin learning shas? That is where Rav Kook got it from.

    In addition, we are told that the Rabbi wanted to know why he blamed Rav Kook more than anybody else for connecting religious Jews to Zionism. Implying that Zionism is for sure bad. The only question is why religious Jews got connected to it, and who was responsible for it.

    There is of course no possibility that jews may be better off now that we have our brethren running our state, and that they will rescue a Jew anywhere, including Entebbe. That we have a Kibbutz Golyos from all over. That our holy land is flourishing with the return of her children after 2000 years. That Torah is studied en masse with the help of the govt, and there is no persecution against Jews. That the Jews were thus able to be matzliach and create the most advanced economy and scientific powerhouse and social institutions, and health care system, and first rate military, and have free access to the mekomos hakedoshim.

    None of these are worthy of discussion. The main inspirational point is who connected all these terrible ideas to religious Jews? We would be better off giving Israel to the Arabs, and moving back to Poland and Germany where life was great and always peaceful. The only thing holding us back from our national dream of returning to Poland is this evil Rav Kook who poisoned the religious Jews' mind. Now that the Rabbi knows this, he is inspired to learn shas. It makes sense.

  2. Learning Shas properly instills logical, orderly thinking, with or without secular academic training on the side. If that has not been accomplished after some time learning, the learning approach has to be reconsidered and corrected.

    In addition---
    Compartmentalization, such that one's Torah learning actvities are done with great rigor, but the other aspects of one's approach to life are driven by untamed, mindless emotion, makes no sense. The Torah lessons learned need to spill over into life in general.

  3. Dear Bob, if one can get the technique of critical thinking down pat from shas, then that is fine. Certainly Reb Moshe's teshuvos seem to be built step by step, making sure that each step is firm, before going to the next.

    But unfortunately, as in the case of the above, yiddishkeit sometimes causes people to have negios or to be naive, and be unable to discern what flows logically, and what is just a leap of faith that a reader thinks he is supposed to take.

    Critical thinking demands that each step be muchrach. That when you state B follows from A, that there is no possible way A could be true and B not. Same for C following from B. If there is the slightest hole, the whole building collapses.

    In the above excerpt, if the writer had presented some arguments for why Zionism is bad, and why those who supported it are therefore to be looked down upon, one could at least have an intelligent discussion or debate. But the piece made it seem like it was axiomatic that Zionism is bad. It was also axiomatic that any Rabbi who supoorted it was bad. The only shaila was to what degree a particular Rabbi supported it. Once that last step was clarified, it became a source of inspiration. Sorry, you need to prove A and B before you claim C.

    Argument: A) Zionism is bad. B) Based on this, those who support it are bad. C) I have evidence Rav Kook supported it. D) Therefore Rav Kook is bad. E) Now that I know Rav Kook is bad, I am inspired to learn shas.

    I will concede that if you prove A, then B likely follows. C is quite probably true, so D would likely follow. I am a bit unsure how E follows from D however. But at any rate, A was never proven or even discussed, so the whole thing collapses like a house of cards.

  4. Subgroups have sometimes added their own axioms to the normative Jewish ones. How do you get that across to someone cocooned in his subgroup?

  5. I don't see why this fellow is bothering to send this defense to RYGB. Imagine if someone wrote a blog post about his "issues" with Moshe Rabbeinu. Who would bother with a rebuttal in defense of Moshe Rabbeinu. The original author is simply making a laughing stock out of himself. The same applies here.

  6. Bob, what bother's me even more than the antizionism is the total lack of logic. Let me even concede A, B, C, D of previous post. I will grant you Rav Kook was a bad man. Let us just worry about the connection between D and E. Now that I know Rav Kook was a bad man, I am inspired to learn shas.

    Hmmm, when you found out Paroh was a bad man, you were not inspired to learn shas. When you found out Haman was a bad man, you were not inspired to learn shas. When you found out Hitler was a bad man, you were not inspired to learn shas. However, when you found out Rav Kook was a bad man, you became inspired to learn shas. What exactly is it about Rav Kook in particular being bad which is inspirational towards learning shas, as compared to the rest of the population of bad people which have less motivational powers vis a vis the adancement of Talmud study. Wouldn't a few thousand bad people taken together be more motivationally adept towards inspiration of higher learning than a single bad person? Why was Rav Kook's badness so uniquely important for the intellectual development of this Rabbi that Rav Kook was able to accomplish what perhaps millions of bad people previously who tried their hardest to get him to learn shas were unable to do. Wouldn't you think that Haman would have given anything to get this Rabbi to learn? Why did it davka devolve upon the evil Rav Kook to be the academic trigger of the Rabbi's higher education?

    All kidding aside, I get frustrated trying to deal with people who divorce themselves from all logic.

  7. A nice contrast to the original letter. (From the 'frummer' bio of the SR)

  8. What Rabbi Winchester was known for here in Chicago was his limitless generosity to anyone who claimed to be in need.

    Those of my father's generation told me of his giving his winter coat of his back in the coldest wind, the last dollar from his wallet, and food from his house. What my father's generation also told me was that his efforts came at terrbiel cost of his own family, who would never admit to him that his efforts in tzedakah in fact required his family to beg the community for support.

    His generous soul could not be questioned, but his judgement was certainly lacking from time to time. I am not sure how others will take that information, but for myself it leaves me even more skeptical of anything this article's author reports.