Michael Boyden

A Letter to the Satmar Chassidim

My dear fellow Jews of the Satmar Chassidim (If you’ll excuse me for using the epithet “fellow” Jews),

I hope you won’t mind me saying so, but the sight of tens of thousands of you protesting in New York against Israel’s intention to conscript charedim would have been impressive had it not been so pathetic.

You carried placards proclaiming that any attempt to draft ultra-orthodox Jews would be “An Attack on Freedom of Religion”. By the way, where were you when attempts were made to prevent the Women of the Wall from worshipping at the Kotel? Or is the right to freedom of religion divisible?

Of course, we understand that you oppose the fact that a Jewish State was established before the Coming of the Messiah. Indeed, one of your placards proclaimed: “Orthodox Jews will proudly go to Jail rather than join the Zionist Army.”

You seem to have chosen to ignore the example set by Nachshon ben Aminadav. If you recall, our ancestors were at the shore of the Red Sea and they saw the Egyptians pursuing after them. In panic Moses turned to God for help and He replied: “Tell the Children of Israel to start moving!” According to the Midrash, it was only when Nachshon jumped into the Sea that the waters parted.

In other words, sitting back and waiting for the Messiah to save you is not necessarily the Jewish way of doing things.

Incidentally, while I’m writing, let me ask you another question: If, as your placards state, orthodox Jews would rather go to jail than serve in the army, what are the graduates of yeshivot ha-hesder doing in the IDF? Or does your definition of orthodoxy exclude them?

We haven’t forgotten that your opposition to Zionism did not prevent your late rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum from availing himself of the services of a controversial Hungarian Zionist activist by the name of Rudolph Kastner when it came to assisting him and his wife escape from Nazi-controlled Transylvania in 1944. There’s nothing like biting off the hand that feeds you.

Why was your protest so pathetic? Primarily because Israeli policy makers are not going to be influenced by anti-Zionist chassidim who choose to live in Williamsburg and Brooklyn rather than throw in their lot with the Jewish State. Nowadays, as opposed to those of your revered Rabbi Teitelbaum, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

In a few weeks’ time we shall be marking the 20th anniversary of the death of our beloved son, Yonatan z”l, who was killed in a Hezbollah attack while on active service defending the State of Israel.

Next time you fly to Eretz Yisroel, something that many of you do particularly at the chagim, please spare a thought for the fact that it’s only because of brave men and women like Yonatan that there is a Jewish State for you to visit.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.