Da’as Torah and the Holocaust

This is a topic that comes up frequently, and when it appeared on a friend’s Facebook discussion I put these thoughts together.

(A) A big part of Judaism is learning to nullify our will to Hashem’s will. The leaders of our nation have always been the people who did this best — who learned Torah and let it guide them, rather than trying to superimpose their own values on the Torah. A person who goes to a Rav with an important matter almost always has an opinion, he (or she) is just asking for guidance from a person who has learned to do this better than he himself has.

(B) Obviously Rabbonim can err. Why obviously? Because the Torah makes it explicit. Moshe made mistakes. The Sanhedrin will make mistakes and bring a Korban for it. And we follow them anyways — for two reasons. 1) The Torah tells us to. 2) They still know better than we do. They still get it right more often than we do. The Torah still says that Israel without its Sages is like a dove without wings.

One thing that certainly cannot be done is to try to second-guess them based upon an alternate reality that never happened — e.g. saying that “the Holocaust” somehow proves Rabbonim were wrong telling people not to leave Europe.

If we look at Jewish history, it happens repeatedly: appearances are deceiving. What appears to be is not the reality — which is really about where we stand with HaShem. See Megillas Esther, for example. No one looked more wrong than Mordechai did when he refused to bow to Haman, which appeared to have caused the decree to wipe out the Jews. The reality is precisely the opposite; Mordechai’s actions saved us from that same deadly decree.

It is well-known that people who left Europe before the war had tremendous difficulty keeping their level of observance. It was only truly unique people who came over to America or Eretz Yisrael and built without compromise. We simply cannot say that had hundreds of thousands more fled Europe (making the invalid assumption that the Americans or Brits would let them in to the US or EY) and sacrificed their dedication to Hashem U’Toraso, that everything else would have stayed equal. Rommel did not invade EY because he lost one battle to the British after having won a series of others. What would have happened if, to the contrary, he had won that battle as well?

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37 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Our finest leaders can only see what HaShem allows them to see. They do their best in light of what the situation appears to demand.

  2. Y. Ben-David says:

    It is important to keep some facts in mind when considering these questions:
    (1) While it is true that people who left Europe had difficulty in maintaining their observance SO DID THOSE WHO REMAINED. The majority of religious youth in interwar Poland, the main center of Jewish life in Europe, abandoned religious observance. Millions of other Jews were trapped in Stalinist Russia. Kosher shechita was banned in Poland in the late 1930’s and even many religious Jews ended up eating non-kosher meat.
    (2) By the late 1930’s, it was obvious to a lot of people that the traditional Jewish centers of Poland, Romania, Hungary and Lithuania were doomed. The region was boxed in between two monstrous, aggressive antisemitic tyrannies….Nazi Germany and Communist USSR. Even if the Holocaust had not happened but World War II had played out in a similar way as it did, the Soviets would have gotten control of those old Jewish centers and liquidated religious life.
    (3) One of the big arguments used against aliyah to Eretz Israel in the late 1930’s was the violence of the Arab uprising and so people thought it was not “safe” to live in Eretz Israel. Howvever, by the late 1930’s the Arab uprising was suppressed by the British and the Jewish self-defense organizations, the Haganah and ETZEL were learning rapidly how to fight effectively. It must be remembered that prior to the unexpected collpase of France in June 1940, Eretz Israel was surrouned by “friendly” British and French-controlled territories. It was only upon the fall of France that the Germans were able to move large forces to North Africa, leading to Rommel’s threat to British Egypt and Eretz Israel.
    (4) Again, regarding Jews moving to other places and encountering spiritual challenges, it must be remembered this was not only because these new places had some sort of unclean atmosphere, but the whole Orthodox world was facing unprecedented challenges due to the economic distress many Jews faced, the rise of antisemitism in the old countries, despair among the Jewish youth who faced uncertain economic future and the danger of violent antisemitism and antisemitic discrimination, and confrontation with new ideas for social reform and scientific and technological advances that the traditional Rabbinic leadership had great difficulties in dealing with.

    Therefore it is not hard to understand why so many Jews felt that there was no future for them in the old Jewish centers, and that it was time to come home to Eretz Israel and to work hard to build a new religious future there.

  3. Nate says:

    My limited view

    You are correct to some extent yet the question at heart is whether one’s Jewish soul can be restored after falling away or not keeping their original level of observance upon ignoring their Rabbi / keader’s advice not to flee Europe?

    The Rabbonim and other Jewish leaders who urged others to stay did not appear to take such a possibility into account (that one’s Jewish soul can be restored) nor appeared to believe that such a risk would be worth it, the post-WW2 Baal Teshuva movement would suggest otherwise whereas many of those who did listen to their leader’s advice to stay upon surviving such horrors understandably fell away from observance with little possibility of restoring such a person’s Jewish soul aside from a remnant who managed to maintain their faith in Hashem in such terrible conditions.

  4. Ari Rieser says:

    I personally feel that rather than debating what the Gedolei Hador should or shouldn’t have decided differently 75 years ago, a far more important conversation should be as to what they should be advising right now. Seeing the current state of decay in both America and Europe, why haven’t our Gedolim taken up the cause of Yishuv Ha’aretz and started a strong Aliyah movement is something our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will unfortunately ponder and lament 75 years from now…

  5. Tal Benschar says:

    This is a complex issue to raise in a blog post. I would recommend R. Alfred Cohen’s excellent article on the topic, here: http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/cohen_DaatTorah.pdf

    On the specific issue you raise, R. Cohen writes:

    And yet – one finds it extremely difficult not to assume that their advice not to flee Europe while there was still time was tragically off the mark. It is a difficult decision to defend. Perhaps it is important to realize that a bad outcome doesn’t necessarily prove the advice was bad.

    Sometimes the unexpected does happen, which no one could have predicted. Sometimes surgery must take place – but the patient dies of an allergic reaction to the anesthesia. That doesn’t mean it was a mistake to perform the necessary surgery, it just means that we are not always in control of the consequences of our seemingly wise decisions or even that we can always foresee all the possible results.

    Mulling over this paradox, Rav Hutner offered the following metaphor: Assume there are two people poised to jump from the roof of a building; horrified onlookers beg them not to. One agrees, and proceeds to take the stairs in order to reach the street, but trips and breaks his neck. The other man decides to jump, but happens to land on a mattress on the back of a truck! Although the outcome for him was miraculously good (and even more so in the face of what happened to the other would-be jumper), yet it would be ridiculous to blame the onlookers for giving bad advice. The advice was wise, and the one who listened to them indeed chose the right path. The guidance of our Torah leaders, Rav Hutner concluded, is just that – Torah-inspired wisdom, but it is not prophecy, and it is not fail safe. Our rabbis are wise men, not prophets.

  6. Avi6 says:

    There are a couple of faulty assumptions here:
    1) The people who did leave Europe in time were disregarding the opinion of the gedolim
    2) There were no gedolim who advocated leaving Europe before 1939
    3) We should never personally learn from past history when making present decisions
    4) The communities and America and Israel would not be spritually improved if thousands more frum Jews had left Europe earlier and strengthened those communities.

    There is a powerful message in one of the kinos concerning the Crusades against Worms, Mainz, and Speyer. When Ezra haSofer had urged them to come help rebuild the 2nd Bais HaMikdash, they replied “No thanks, we’ll stay in our little Jerusalem.” One of the meforshim suggests that this resulted in the calamity against those communities in particular (see the ArtScroll commentary). Certainly their leaders were gedolim of even greater stature!

    In our day, there is a tiny minority of rabbonim outside of Israel who are advocating aliya to their congregants, even though most hold it’s a mitzva, we have advanced travel and communications, we have seen open miracles there in our day, and America is declining before our eyes. Why? Because ALL of us are comfortable and resistant to change.

  7. Shmuel W says:

    The question of Da’as Torah in regards to the holocaust serves the following key point. If an agreed upon arbiter of “da’as torah” (itself a long conversation) says someone should do x does he have to actually do x? Of course emunas chachomim is important but MUST the recipient act in accordance with the given da’as torah? Churban Europe shows us clearly not b/c ppl like my grandparents who took my 8 year old father and fled Poland saved their lives and people who stayed mostly died. The Shalosh Aveiros Chamuros do not include Da’as Torah. Emunas Chachomim is important, da’as torah has become a way to outsource decision making.

  8. Doc Reifer says:

    You should read Binyomin Brown’s book on the Chazon Ish. The book includes a very insightful discussion on “daas Torah” in particular with respect to the holocaust. It appears that there were or are 3 opinions re daas torah (even within meaning of daas Torah there are differing views!). One was the view of R’ Elchonon hy’d who stated that anyone who listens to the gedolim will not be harmed. His opinion was also most extreme – he felt that knowledge of the Torah alone is sufficient to opine. R’ Chaim Ozer held that daas Torah should be consulted, but the gadol must be knowledgable in the subject area before having an opinion. The Chazon Ish held that listening to daas Torah does not guarantee success. Rather, it’s a chiyuv to do so. I suggest those interested to take a look into the book. No doubt I’m not remembering everything in it!

  9. Joe Hill says:

    Neither the Americans nor the Brits were issuing immigration visas to thousands and thousands of Jews in Europe to emigrate to either the U.S. or Palestine. There simply was no option for the European Jewish masses to escape the continent and emigrate. The doors were closed. The doors were closed in 1930, they were closed in 1935 and they were still closed in 1940. Only very few, and typically those with significant financial resources to pay, were able to obtain such immigration visas.

    So the claim that the rabbis consoled the Jews not to leave Europe is simply a blood libel by those that have an ingrained hatred of rabbis and/or Judaism. At most, if even that, there were few isolated cases of people who could have actually emigrated that were counsoled against taking advantage of an opportunity available to them. Excruciatingly few ever could have emigrated Europe even if they had wanted to. And fewer still of the European Jewish people even wanted to emigrate prior to the outbreak of war when the doors firmly shut closed. Once war came it was virtually impossible to leave even if one wanted to and even if one had one of those precious few immigration visas.

  10. Joe Hill says:

    An additional point often overlooked, that R. Menken correctly alludes to, is that a spiritual death, where one G-d forbid loses his faith and becomes faithless and G-dless as many unfortunately who left Europe for the Goldene Medina pre-WWII experienced, is worse than a physical death, where one still retains their permanent future in the Heavenly World which importance far exceeds their temporary presence in this world. Thus, as the great sage and leader of worldwide Jewry Rav Elchonon Wasserman hy’d said before he was brutally murdered for being a Jew “what benefit is there to flee from a physical danger to a spiritual danger”.

  11. Yaakov Menken says:

    Besides what is said above by Joe Hill, I think Avi6 is reversing it. What we know is that there were Gedolim who advised not to leave Europe, and they are accused of being “short-sighted.” This was a rejection of that condemnation.

    Also, some of what Y. Ben-David said may be correct, but the fact is that the Zionists were issuing precious few visas for the “old-style” Jews of Europe. They wanted Zionists, not Torah scholars (which, come to think of it, sounds familiar).

    I also don’t think any parallel at all can be drawn between the United States and Europe of the 1930’s — or even the Europe of 2015.

  12. Y. Ben-David says:

    Rav Menken-
    It is true that the Labor Zionist leaders did not give out immigration certificates on a democratic basis….i.e. based on the religious/non-religious population distribution of the country of origin (even to this day Labor Zionists seem to have a problem accepting democratic decisions of the people). People with the power to give out the certificates tended to to give them to people of a similar background or outlook. My question is: had the religious people been given the power to distribute the certificates, would they have done it any different way, i.e. democratically, or would they have favored religious people over the non-religious?

  13. Dave Zigel says:

    Anyone desiring a greater insight in this issue, should read the article by Rav Yitzchok Hutner in October 1977 edition of the Jewish Observer. Here is an excerpt:

    It will be our task this evening to untangle the web of distortions about recent Jewish history, which has already been woven, and uncover the Torah perspective which has been hidden from us.

    To be sure, it will not be easy to regain this perspective. The thoughts that we will explore this evening will be difficult to digest because of our long subsistence upon the forced diet of public opinion. The creators of the powerful force of public opinion are beyond the realm of our control and the mind-numbing results of their influence are largely out of our hands. In order to achieve any hold on the truth, we will first have to free ourselves form the iron-clad grip of their puissance and open our minds and hearts to the sometimes bitter pill of truth…

    An example of how public opinion can be molded – indeed warped – at the whim of powerful individuals can be taken from a study of Russian history textbooks published during the respective reigns of Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev … Undoubtedly, “public opinion” during each period, once the children’s minds had been suitably molded, reflected the thinking and the wishes of the state. While more subtle in form, this ability to direct public opinion exists in democratic countries as well. Thus, we already pointed out at the beginning that we must make every effort to free ourselves from the powerful grip of public opinion, and must be ever on our guard that our opinions of the true nature of world events be shaped only by Torah views seen through Torah eyes.

    Sadly, even in our own circles, the mold for shaping public opinion lies in the hands of the State of Israel. And appropriate example of this dangerous process of selectively “rewriting” history may be found in the extraordinary purging from the public record of all evidence of the culpability of the forerunners of the [Jewish] State in the tragedy of European Jewry, and the substitution of factors inconsequential to the calamity that ultimately occurred.

    To cover its own contribution to the final catastrophic events, those of the State in a position to influence public opinion circulated the notorious canard that Gedolei Yisroel were responsible for the destruction of many communities because they did not urge immigration. This charge is, of course, a gross distortion of the truth, and need not be granted more dignity than it deserves by issuing a formal refutation. However, at the same time as the State made certain to include this charge a historical fact in every account of the war years, it successfully sought to omit any mention of its own contribution to the impending tragedy. . . .

    In 1923 Hitler wrote Mein Kampf . . . [which] was read by Haj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who found most significant alliances of modern times. . . Not only did the Mufti visit Hitler and his top aides on a number of occasions, but indeed with Adolph Eichmann, he visited the Auschwitz gas chamber incognito to check on its efficiency.

    The extent of the Mufti’s influence upon the Nazi forces may be seen in a crucial decision made by Hitler at the height of the war. Railroad trains were much in demand by the Axis, and Hitler’s troops badly needed reinforcements in Russia. Yet, soon after he landed in Berlin in 1941, the Mufti demanded that all available resources be used to annihilate Jews. The choice: “Juden nach Auschwitz” or “Soldaten nach Stalingrad” was to be resolved this way . . . Two months later (Jan 20, 1942) at the Wannasee Conference, the formal decision was made to annihilate all Jews who had survived the ghettos, forced labor, starvation, and disease.

    Of course, the mufti was serving his own perverted fears, which were the influx of millions of Jews into Palestine and the destruction of the Mufti’s personal empire. Yet, there can be no doubt that through their symbiotic relationship, Hitler and the Mufti each helped the other accomplish his own evil goal. Eichman simply wanted to kill Jews; the Mufti wanted to make sure they never reached Palestine. In the end, the “final solution” was the same . .. At one point, Eichmann even seemed to blame the Mufti for the entire extermination plan, when he declared, “I am a personal friend of the Grand Mufti. We have promised that no Jew would enter Palestine any more.” . . .

    It should be manifest, however, that until the great public pressures for the establishment of a Jewish State, the Mufti had no interest in the Jews of Warsaw, Budapest or Vilna. Once the Jews of Europe became a threat to the Mufti because of their imminent influx into the Holy Land, the Mufti in turn became for them the incarnation of the Angel of Death. Years ago, it was still easy to find old residents of Yerushalayim who remembered the cordial relations they had maintained with the Mufti in the years before the impending creation of a Jewish State. Once the looming reality of a State of Israel was before him, the Mufti spared no effort in influencing Hitler to murder as many Jews as possible in the shortest amount of time. This shameful episode, where the founders and early leaders of the State were clearly a factor in the destruction of many Jews, has been completely suppressed and expunged from the record. Thus it is that our children who study the history of this turbulent era are taught that the Gedolei Yisroel share responsibility for the destruction of European Jewry and learn nothing of the guilt of others who are enshrined as heroes.

  14. Y. Ben-David says:

    Joe Hill-
    The fact is that after 1933 there were a couple of hundred thousand “legal” olim and I believe there were also tens of thousands of “illegal” olim. Had more people made the effort to come, no doubt many more could have been saved. Is there any value in the saying “where there is life there is hope”?
    Also do we know exactly how the calculation works of who gets a wonderful olam haba and who doesn’t? Is it based merely on external observance of the mitzvot or do other considerations come into play ,e.g. a non-observant Jew who sacrifices himself in war or other extreme situations to save other people and do any of us really understand how the calculation is made? For instance, what about someone who did stay in Europe based on the advice he received and then, surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, subsequently abandons religious observance?

  15. shaya says:

    Good point, Ari Reiser. On assimilation grounds alone, the argument for aliyah is just so strong. Going off the derech in America meaning marrying non-Jews and having non-Jewish children. In Israel, it means (in most cases) marrying Jews and having Jewish children, and perhaps fasting on Yom Kippur but not being otherwise observant. Obviously regardless of the tragedy of going off the derech in any particular case, having Jewish grandchildren speaking Hebrew is better than having non-Jewish grandchildren with no connection at all to the Jewish people.

  16. Ellen Lebowicz says:

    I agree with Ari Reiser. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, it took me a long time to lay to rest Hashem’s role in the Holocaust. No one has a hotline to HKBH, certainly not me, and this was the only way I personally could move on. Certainly more attention needs to be paid to what is happening today, and Faigy Mayer A”H, (I have yet to read your posting in your other column)is a tragic reminder that pre-WWII Europe (which certainly was far from what has been portrayed over the past couple decades) would have not been today what it was then without the tragedy of the Holocaust. While what was rebuilt on these shores by the survivors was nothing short of miraculous, retaining Europe of the ’30’s was then not only a way to give continuity to a generation who’d lost everything, but also an expression of people who could not continue the eternal cycle within a halachic (and healing) framework of life and death, no shiva, no shloshim, no real yahrzeits, no gravesites, no closure. All of us, including Daas Torah, need to finally lay to rest this most painful period in our history. We need to learn about it, we need to grieve it, we need to remember it, we need to have our yahrzeits (and Tisha B’Av has been a meaningful place to have that yahrzeit), but we need to leave the shore of early 1900’s Europe and deal with where we are today. Our children and grandchildren do not have the same connection to the earlier times that those of us that grew up with the survivors have, and do not relate to what we refuse to let go of. Faigy Mayer’s tragedy is the extreme consequence of what can happen when we keep trying to close ourselves off from a scary and rapidly changing world. We can’t stop the internet, nor people’s use of it. Torah is true for every day and age, and we need to trust in Hashem that He will find a way to keep the Torah’s teachings alive in the 21st century without our trying to preserve the broken glass bubble of the early 20th century.

  17. Eli Blum says:

    One important theory/Hashkafic point that you are missing …. If the RBSO wanted Klal Yisroel to have a Churban Europe (which is a given), then the signs would have pointed Da’as Torah to tell people to stay. It is only when you bring in the “Derech Teva” that people can claim that running could have saved more.

    [It’s not only that, but it’s that as well. And your latter point was mine precisely. –YM]

  18. Moshe Dick says:

    Dear Rabbi Menken!

    Your article has a fatal flaw. You assume that “Daas Torah” covers all of one’s life decisions, as Doc Reifer’s comments illustrate this. The fact is that this understanding of Daas Torah is a modern invention. Explicitly, from the words of the Torah -“Lo sossur- throughout Shas and up to the twentieth century , “Daas Torah” as a concept to follow “gedolim”‘s words only applied to HALACHIC decisions. It was never meant to apply to mundane, everyday matters. The opinions given by many Gedolim before the war had no objective halachic content. Overwhelmingly, they were words of advise, and certainly did not fall under the mantle of “Daas Torah”. People had the option of following these words or not. It had no halachic meaning. Tragically, the advise to stay was erroneous. This in no way diminished the greatness of our pre-war Rabbonim and Gedolim. It was not a psak that they issued, it was their opinion and,indeed, even their opinions could be faulty-as it proved to be. I know that the Haredi tsibbur assiduously has promoted that idea of “Daas Torah’ that it is all-encompasssing and rules all of our lifes. That is not what Daas Torah meant throughout three millennia. The change has more to do with politic than with the Torah truth.

  19. joel rich says:

    So why did chazal disparage mordechai for his involvement in politics?

    Why can’t we just admit that most of us have a narrative about daat torah and will interpret historical events in a manner consistent with our narrative?

  20. dr. bill says:

    Rabbi Menken, You write: “A big part of Judaism is learning to nullify our will to Hashem’s will.” While that is correct and the most dominant of Biblical narratives about Divine Law, it means that what obligates us in shemirat hamitzvot is Divine Will. It has nothing to do with attempting via Torah learning or however, to somehow short-circuit – ki lo machshevosai machshevosaychem. Emunas chachamim, when it applies, has other more direct and precise bases.

  21. Yaakov Menken says:

    Moshe, Medrash Vayikra Rabba Shmini: Amar Rebbe Akiva, Israel is compared to a bird; just like a bird cannot fly without wings, so Israel cannot do a thing without its elders. And similarly, Shmos Rabba: anyone who takes eitzah, advice, from the elders, will not stumble.

    I never knew Rebbe Akiva was a “modern invention!” Who, of course, “made up” this new idea of Da’as Torah? The Gedolim? What else did they “make up” then? Gedolim are Torah scholars, they’re not out for a power grab. Why is “shimush [serving] Talmidei Chachamim” so important? Because their “regular” conduct and talk about “regular” matters is also instructive.

    This is quite a “new invention” that somehow took the Jewish world by storm — and without anyone even realizing it happened. Suddenly, Yemenites, Sephardim, Ashkenazim and Chassidim all simultaneously invented a “new” concept of Da’as Torah. All the traditional communities from around the Jewish world all submit to their Rabbonim for guidance in all matters — Sha”s wasn’t founded without a Moetzes any more than the Agudah or Degel HaTorah.

    See the essay of the Sha’arei Aharon on Emunas Chachamim. The “new invention” is challenging what it always meant to go to Rabbinic authority.

    Dr. Bill, Torah learning is no short circuit at all. It is the only possible way to learn the Divine Will. I was not trying to offer the best or most precise halachic basis, but rather the common-sense basis.

  22. Y. Ben-David says:

    Dave Zigel-
    I would appreciate it if you our someone else would clarify Rav Hutner’s position because this article has been defined by the Jewish Observer as Da’at Torah. I frankly don’t understand what is being said there and what conclusions should be derived from it.
    Are the Zionist leaders responsible for the Holocaust? Are the masses of Jews who made aliyah,( or at least wanted to) and who came to Eretz Israel with the intention of a Jewish state responsible for the Holocaust (this is the Satmar position, as I understand it)? Were they responsible for first forcing the initially reluctant hand of the Mufti who then forced the hand the Nazis to carry out the Holocaust?
    If the answer to these questions is affirmative, according to Rav Hutner, should we then adopt the Satmar-Edah Haredit position and reduce contact with the state as much as possible while denying any legitimacy to it, perhaps even coming to the point of doing everything in our power to ultimately bring it down?

  23. L. Oberstein says:

    It is unfair to ascribe super human wisdom to human beings. The problem is not that the rabbis were wrong, it is the assumption that they knew what would happen in the future and still told people to stay in Europe and die. They did not tell people to die, they did not grasp the enormity of the danger. Neither did most other people, who weren’t rabbis. The United States basically closed down mass migration in 1924 and even before the Holocaust, did not fill the quotas due to the Depression. The options for refugees were slim to none. So, it wasn’t that the rabbis didn’t let them leave, it was that they had nowhere to go.
    We all too often judge the past with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. When my Uncle Joe left his shtetle of Polnoa,Ukraine in 1914, the Mekarever Rebbe,Mav Moshe Mordechai, told him that when he got to America , he should make a Mekarever Kloiz and bring him over. Uncle Joe was sent to the port of Galveston and then given a ticket to a small town in Southern Alabama ,Troy. He moved to the big city of Montgomery and brought over his parents and siblings. I don’t think that a Mekarever Kloiz would have succeeded in Montgomery,Alabama in the 1920’s. So, get real and stop ascribing qualities to rabbis that even Moshe Rabbeinu never claimed for himself. The “dvar Torah” I recently heard still rings in my ears. Safek = Amalek, you can’t think, you ask Daas Torah and have no doubts, you blindly follow the Gedolim, no matter what they say. Tell me, in real life, do people really live that way?Why? None of my mentors preached that narishkeit.Rabbi EWein alsways says that none of his teachers taught that.

  24. Ari Kahn says:

    There was a teaching of the Chafetz Chaim – which was articulated regarding WW1 that leaving a place of physical danger to a place of spiritual danger does not make sense. Rav Elchonon applied this teaching for WW2 – with regards to YU and not America!
    Rav Elchanan himself did in fact try to get out at a later date, all this can be gleaned from the comprehensive biography “Or Elchanan”.
    See this letter

    I think that Rav Soloveitchik’s teaching about Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai is particularly apt. (“The Rav Speaks” (“Chamesh Drashot” end of the first drasha- page 50-52 ). Rav Soloveitchik explains that the angst experienced by Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai on his death bed was due to the huge decision he had to make as Yerushalayim was about to be destroyed. Does he pray for the city or the sages? Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai – head of the Sanhedrin – whose own “Daas Torah” was not inferior to any sage of the 20th century, on his death bed wasn’t sure if he was headed to heaven or hell. As we see in the Gemara he is both attacked and defended for his decision.
    Gemara in Gitten 56b juxtaposed with Brachot 28b
    Gitten 56b –
    He said to him: Give me Yavneh and its Wise Men, and the family chain of Rabban Gamaliel, and physicians to heal R. Zadok. R. Yoseph, or some say R. Akiva, applied to him the verse, [God] turns wise men backward and makes their knowledge foolish. He ought to have said to him; Let them [the Jews] off this time. He, however, thought that so much he would not grant, and so even a little would not be saved.
    Brachot 28b
    When Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai fell ill, his disciples went in to visit him. When he saw them he began to cry. His disciples said to him: Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer! Why are you crying? He replied: If I were being taken today before a human king who is here today and tomorrow in the grave, whose anger if he is angry with me does not last forever, who if he imprisons me does not imprison me forever and who if he puts me to death does not put me to everlasting death, and whom I can persuade with words and bribe with money, even so I would cry. Now that I am being taken before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, who lives and endures for ever and ever, whose anger, if He is angry with me, is an everlasting anger, who if He imprisons me imprisons me forever, who if He puts me to death puts me to death for ever, and whom I cannot persuade with words or bribe with money moreover, when there are two paths before me, one leading to Paradise and the other to Gehinnom, and I do not know by which I shall be taken, shall I not cry?

  25. BR says:

    Joe Hill writes: “An additional point often overlooked, that R. Menken correctly alludes to, is that a spiritual death… is worse than a physical death” and ends with a quote from Rav Elchonon Wasserman.

    The medrashim say that Haman also made decrees regarding shmad, yet the Megillah doesn’t mention that at all. Not only that, Purim is totally focused on the physical destruction of the Jewish people.

    The Levush at the beginning of Hilchos Chanukah (which the M”B partially quotes) clearly states that the spiritual destruction of Chanukah was ONLY a spiritual destruction unlike Purim which was a total destruction, therefore Chazal ONLY instituted days of praise and thanks while Purim, even if they would have given up their religion they would have been killed, therefore days of feasting were declared. See 670:2 in the Levush.

    So I am not sure the approach provided by Mr. Hill is universal.

  26. Bob Miller says:

    Jews in Europe during the period we’re discussing had not only major problems leaving Europe, but also major problems entering other places because of antisemitism and other factors. Had the cited Gedolim given different advice, it’s hard to know how much total emigration could have actually increased.

    Important background information can be found in the book by Theodore S. Hamerow, “While We Watched: Europe, America, and the Holocaust” New York: Norton, 2008.

  27. Yaakov Menken says:

    BR — I believe you’ve subtly changed the emphasis. Total destruction includes both physical and spiritual. Thus, on Purim the mitzvos hayom include both. Chanukah was about a spiritual eradication only, and thus the focus is upon the spiritual. That in no way contradicts Joe Hill.

  28. lacosta says:

    i recall a famous anonymous article in Jewish Observer eons ago called ‘bikrovai akadesh’ that took basically this approach —-

    the jewish people went massively OTD in europe in the 19th C . [the shitos involved were nationalism -zionism- or socialism [communism etc]. thus ayin tachat ayin produced NationalSocialism as the reaction ]. they were too far gone ; even much of the hareidi communities weakened between the Wars. RBSO then executed Kiddush Hashem in the Ezekiel sense— I will rule over You with an Iron Hand and battle you l’einei hagoyim. unfortunately , the haredi community was decimated once the decree to remove everyone else was begun.

    [it doesn’t explain why the zionist entity was not too destroyed , nor the millions of OTD’s in the US .]

    the article did warn that anyone who knows of RBSO’s executing this decree just a short time ago and refuses to ‘Get with the Program ‘ has seen the Open Fire of Hell and is asking to be pushed in….

  29. Avraham says:

    I think that one must disntinguish between Gedolim who saw both options as being dangerous (from either a physical or spiritual sense) and therefore did not encourage emigration and those – such as the Rebbe of Belz – who assured their followers that they would be fine and were sadly mistaken. (One can see Professor Kaplan’s article on Daas Torah for details of that tragic incident.) It is far harder to justify the concept of Daas Torah in the latter scenario.

    I was shocked to see a quote of Rav Hutner’s Jewish Observer article in this discussion. While no one can challnge his status as a gadol, I remember well when it was printed and it was roundly denounced in the Yeshivish wrold. I was learning in a well known Lakewood branch (as yeshivas such as Philly, Long Beach and Scranton were fondly called) at the time and the response of all the leading Roshei yeshiva of the day was that – with all due respect – he was simply wrong.

  30. L. Oberstein says:

    I am wondering if our picture of Eastern European communal leadership is accurate. Did the Rabbonim really have that much power? I think that the Gerrer Rebbe made several trips to Eretz Yisrael prior to the war and that, had it been possible, more would have settled there. Unfortunately, the British limited aliyah and the Jewish Agency controlled who got certificates. If you were offered a better job with more pay and benefits and cheaper housing and taxes than a major Torah center , would you pick up and move to Montana, Idaho or Arkansas? Or if you live in Lodz in 1933and only speak Yiddish and some Polish, would you really pick up and move to Bolivia, Paraguay,etc. By the time you were ready to do so, the possibility to leave was gone. Milliions of Rusian Jews left 1880-1924 and almost all became Mechallelei Shabbos and sent their children to public schools. Orthodoxy was a Moshav Zekeinim doomed to die out in the honest opinion of many,if not most, frum Jews, not just frei in 1939. But, ths discussion surely beats dealing with what we do now. 20/20 hindsight is great, if only we could use it in the stock market.
    In hindsight, much more could have been done, but , who knew? jabotinsky told people to leave, how many Betaris died in the Holocaust because they couldn’t or wouldn’t leave?

  31. drz says:

    Avraham —

    The Yeshivish world fully embraced and accepted the aforementioned Jewish Observer article by Rav Hutner zt”l. Indeed, the position outlined by Rav Hutner in that article wasn’t new in any sense. The Torah world had already expressed all that long before, even if not as eloquently as Rav Hutner put it all together at that time. The only opposition, which you refer to, came exclusively from the Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox world. There was nothing in the article that anyone in the Yeshivish world would find remotely objectionable. It was their sentiments all along and they were happy to see it published and expressed to the wider world at large.

  32. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that that if one is interested in exploring the sources of R Menkin’s post, the roots are set forth in Kovetz HeAaros al Masecta Yevamos by REW HaShem Yimkam Damo, ( the portion on Milei D Aaggadata), Vayoel Moshe and many other writings by R Yoel Teitelbaum ZL, the Satmar Rav ZL, and an article by R Y Hutner ZL in the JO. I would note that during last summer’s war, Charedi publications such as Yated ( US edition) and Mishpacha had many pictures of Chayalim davening, learning and eradicating terrorists, and precious little anti Zionist rhetoric. There will be articles and pictures about staunchly anti Zionist RY and Admorim in such publications. However, as the lead article in Hakirah points out, one can find many yeshivishe and chasidishe Bnei and Bnos Torah in the US who accept the fact that there is a sovereign state of Israel and are very thankful for its existence, but who don’t ascribe any theological importance to it and a vocal sector that has strong rejectionist tendencies. These are the facts of life in 2015. In Israel, issues such as IDF service and Shemittah observance are unfortunate “third rail” issues where the hashkafic label prevails over both the halachic issues involved and the need for an individual cheshbon hanefesh.

  33. Steve Brizel says:

    For those interested, look in the new issue of Chakirah. R Gamilel Smallo revisits the essay by R Hutner ZL and make a case that R Hutner ZL, who considered himself a talmid of RAYHK, ZL did not assign any particular transgression or blame Zionism or Hashkala as did other prominent RY before the Holocaust such as REW ZL HaShem Yimkam Damo and viewed the critical issue as not rooted in theodicy and but rather what to learn from the Holocaust which R Hutner ZL viewed as part of a historical pattern of Galus, Churban and Geulah. R Hutner ZL, according to R Smallo , in this vein derived two key hashkafic lessons:
    1) don’t trust the nations of the world and
    2) don’t trust your own might.

    I would note that the essay addressed but not offer a solution for R Hutner ZL’s well known views that the secular Zionism led the Mufti to collaborate with the Nazis,a POV that ignores the fact that the Arab leadership was fomenting anti Semitic and anti Zionist rhetoric , demonstrations and worse well before the rise of Nazism in the late 1920s and assumption of power in 1933. I think that the essay is must reading for anyone interested in a closer reading of the essay in question.

    The essay also noted that R S Wolbe ZL also changed his mind from assessing blame to urging his readers not to engage in theodicy for the Holocaust if they were not part of the generation of the survivors.

    FWIW, I have also heard that prominent Rabbonim and Talmidei Chachamim who survived Churban Europa/ the Shoah/Holocaust, were of the POV that R Hutner ZL would never have written the article in question if he had experienced the horrors of those years in person in Europe.

    R Menken wrote in part:
    “It is well-known that people who left Europe before the war had tremendous difficulty keeping their level of observance. It was only truly unique people who came over to America or Eretz Yisrael and built without compromise”

    However, most of the great Talmidei Chachamim who became the founders, developers and leaders and RY of almost all of the yeshivos in North America were in North America pre WW2, and certainly pre the outbreak of America’s entry into the war and and been told that the next frontier for Torah was in North America and that the handwriting was on the wall for the future of the Jewish community in Europe. The issue on the communal and individual level was whether these RY, many of who had given shiurim during the course of their pre war visits to the US at RIETS, were accept appointments in RIETS and HTC or to build new Mosdos HaTorah.

  34. drz says:

    Steve —

    Rav Hutner zt”l was a fierce opponent of the State and of Zionism and he very much indeed held them responsible for much of the tragedies that occurred during the holocaust. This obvious fact, aside from being widely known to his talmidim who often heard him as well as the wider public who sometimes heard him address the issue, can simply be ascertained from the aforementioned citation of his JO article, particularly where Rav Hutner writes:

    “And appropriate example of this dangerous process of selectively “rewriting” history may be found in the extraordinary purging from the public record of all evidence of the culpability of the forerunners of the [Jewish] State in the tragedy of European Jewry”

    Regarding the Mufti, it is certainly true he was fomenting anti-Semitism prior to the rising of the Nazis. But with the rise of Hitler, he used Germany as his vehicle to implement further troubles for the Jewish population.

    Regarding the idea of such comments coming from someone who had experienced the horrors of those years in person in Europe, look no further than Rav Chaim Michael Dov Weissmandl zt”l, who experienced the horrors first-hand and was as well deeply involved in the rescue attempts, and he even more stridently places the blame at the feet of the Zionists for sabotaging the Jewish rescue efforts in the name of instead doing what they thought necessary to create a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine even at the cost of European Jewish lives.

    As far as the rebuilding of the Torah world in postwar America is concerned, the vast bulk of that credit goes to two individuals. Namely, Rav Ahron Kotler zt”l and the Satmar Rebbe zt”l. The first is responsible for the vast Torah and Yeshiva network in the Yeshivish world while the latter is responsible for the same in the Chasidic world.

    • Z says:

      Quite frankly its humorous for somebody to credit Rav kotler with the majority of the credit. Put down the artscroll hagiography.If one man is responsible for rebuilding the torah world in america postwar its Rav shraga feival mendlowitz. Rav mendlowitz basicly had his hand in building up most of the what are now the “older” Yeshivahs (like bmg).

  35. tzippi says:

    Moshe Dick wrote: Your article has a fatal flaw. You assume that “Daas Torah” covers all of one’s life decisions, as Doc Reifer’s comments illustrate this. The fact is that this understanding of Daas Torah is a modern invention. Explicitly, from the words of the Torah -“Lo sossur- throughout Shas and up to the twentieth century , “Daas Torah” as a concept to follow “gedolim”‘s words only applied to HALACHIC decisions. It was never meant to apply to mundane, everyday matters. The opinions given by many Gedolim before the war had no objective halachic content. Overwhelmingly, they were words of advise, and certainly did not fall under the mantle of “Daas Torah”. People had the option of following these words or not. It had no halachic meaning. Tragically, the advise to stay was erroneous. This in no way diminished the greatness of our pre-war Rabbonim and Gedolim. It was not a psak that they issued, it was their opinion and,indeed, even their opinions could be faulty-as it proved to be. I know that the Haredi tsibbur assiduously has promoted that idea of “Daas Torah’ that it is all-encompasssing and rules all of our lifes. That is not what Daas Torah meant throughout three millennia. The change has more to do with politic than with the Torah truth.

    Now I can’t hold my own in this conversation and won’t touch Daas Torah. But what of the imperative of “Let US make man”? At the very least there is the concept of, in not asking for a decisive psak, consulting with someone older and wiser. Let’s not lose sight of that.
    And Torah itself is all-encompassing, and who better to help us figure out how to live the most fully cohesive, integrated life, than Torah leaders? Of course not just anyone, one has to choose and hopefully wisely. But babies and bathwater…

  36. Steve Brizel says:

    Drz-I don’t see what the roles of RAK and the SR have to do with my point-namely whether the essay of R Hutner ZL was viewed with complete approval by great Talmidei Chachamim who survived the Holocaust. I think that the bottom line remains that most of the pre WW2 generation of great Talmidei Chachamim neither ardently supported nor fought Zionism.

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