Jonathan Muskat

How should we relate to the Neturei Karta?

Someone sent me a recent article in the Five Towns Jewish Times entitled, ““You Shall Love Your Fellow As Yourself” – Even Neturei Karta?” The article quoted Jake Turx, Senior White House correspondent for Ami Magazine, who wrote: “Ahavas Yisroel means loving and being mekarev every single Yid. EVERY. SINGLE. YID. Period, soif passuk, ad kan, ad b’chlal, full stop, v’chulu. Especially the ones that are the hardest to love…. So, my position on Neturei Karta today is no different from the stance I took some two decades ago when identical charges were being leveled against Chabad. Hate was wrong then. Hate is wrong now.” The person asked me for my thoughts. Do I believe that we should hate Neturei Karta?

Neturei Karta now is not the same Neturei Karta as when it was established. It was established in 1938 by Rabbis Amram Blau and Aharon Katzenelbogen after it split off from Agudat Israel because of the latter’s adoption of a more conciliatory and cooperative approach to the Zionist movement. Based on a gemara in Ketuvot (111a), members of Neturei Karta believe that we must wait until the arrival of a Jewish messiah before attempting to establish sovereignty as a Jewish state in Israel. They believe that the Jewish state of Israel, even one that is led by Orthodox Jewish leaders in accordance with halachic principles, is a violation of Divine will and should be dismantled. Even though most of Orthodox Jewry disagrees with this approach, it is an approach that was endorsed by Torah leaders of first rank like the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teietelbaum. He believed that God brought about the Holocaust because of the Zionist movement.

Over the years, Neturei Karta has become more extreme. Its leaders strongly advocate for a “one-state solution,” a Palestinian state, and they refuse all indicia of Israeli citizenship. Its leaders have met with high-ranking Hezbollah officials, they have embraced former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who called to wipe the Zionist regime off the face of the earth and one Neturei Karta leader even served on Yasser Arafat’s cabinet as “Minister for Jewish Affairs.” Since October 7, they have participated in pro-Palestinian rallies which call for the destruction of the Jewish state. Shouldn’t we hate people who align themselves with those who wish to end the State of Israel and kill Jews?

The Torah states, “v-ahavta l’rei-acha komocha,” that we should love our friend like ourselves (Vayikra 19:18). Additionally, the Torah states, “lo tisna et achicha bilvavecha,” that we should not hate our brother in our hearts (Vayikra 19:17). However, the gemara in Masechet Pesachim 113b lists certain sinners that you may hate. By virtue of their sins, they are not considered “achicha” and therefore, we are not governed by the prohibition to hate these individuals.

The truth is that even though there are various halachic sources which provide a license to hate under certain circumstances, many halachic authorities have asserted that the label of a “wicked person” is totally inapplicable in today’s day and age for a variety of reasons. For example, the Chazon Ish famously pointed out (Yoreh De-ah 2:28) that a precondition for being able to treat sinners as apostates is that they receive adequate rebuke; otherwise, we view them as having acted under compulsion. Since today we cannot properly rebuke, we cannot treat them as apostates and we cannot hate them. The Chafetz Chaim (Marganita Tava in the end of Ahavat Chesed, citing Maharam Lublin) has written similarly, as well. Furthermore, we want to rule like Bruria, wife of Rabbi Meir. In Masechet Brachot 10a, the gemara states that there were once some thugs in the neighborhood that caused Rabbi Meir a lot of trouble so the latter prayed that they should die. Bruria told him that instead of praying that they should die, he should pray that they should repent. In fact, the pasuk in Tehillim (104:35) states that we pray that sins should cease from the land, not sinners. The story concludes with Rabbi Meir praying that these thugs should repent and they, indeed, repent. As such, we can argue that since we cannot properly rebuke members of the Neturei Karta, we should not hate them and we should just pray that they should repent.

But we cannot allow the discussion to end here. We are not dealing with a group of people who have committed certain sins, who do not observe key mitzvot of traditional Judaism or who don’t believe in fundamental principles of faith of traditional Judaism. We are dealing with a group of people which supports and assists our enemies who are trying to kill Jews. Jews are being killed every day in Gaza trying to defend the State of Israel from the terrorists that this group supports! We have a halachic responsibility of not standing by while another Jew is in danger of being harmed. As such, we have a halachic responsibility to denounce and try to stop this group in order to save Jewish lives.

For groups like Neturei Karta, instead of the using the word “hate,” which is reserved for those who were rebuked properly, I would use the word “extremist,” “dangerous” and “irrational.” I hate the evil that they promote and I pray that they come back to their senses. I might have compassion for individual members of this group in certain situations. After all, the Torah explicitly states that we must help raise the donkey of our enemy that has collapsed under its burden (Shmot 23:5). Feelings of hatred or bitterness or anger do not necessarily preclude feelings of compassion. As a group, though, I would consider them a destructive force in Judaism. I would not consider their religious perspective to fall within the framework of “elu va’elu divrei Elokim chayim,” an example of a legitimate religious perspective examining an issue. As such, I find it highly inappropriate and irresponsible when someone talks about loving every Jew in the context of Neturei Karta without providing a fuller perspective of how we should relate to them. It may not mean that we should technically hate them, but it does mean that we should publicly pronounce that this group is a danger to the Jewish people and is considered outside the broad camp of authentic  Jewish tradition.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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