Making Fun of Avodah Zarah
Dead Ideologies and Live Ideologies
An oven and a stove shall be smashed – they are defiled, and they shall be defiled to you. (11:35)
The Satmar Rebbe said in the name of tzaddikim that the word “oven” (תנור) in this verse alludes to the Zionist movement, which could be considered to have been born in the year 1896 (תרנ”ו), when Herzl published his book “The Jewish State.” The Torah says that תרנ”ו must be smashed, for it is defiled. (Rabbi Yishai Buchinger, Zichronos Fun Heilign Satmar Rebben, p. 17-18)
He also said that תש”ח, the year the Zionist state was founded, is alluded to in the verse, “Go, descend, for your people have become corrupt (שחת). They have strayed quickly from the way that I have commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf…” (Shemos 32:7).
In the spirit of “leitzanusa d’avodah zarah” (Megillah 25b) we will bring a few more quotes from gedolim in this vein. The Minchas Elazar once said that the Torah contains allusions to both Herzl and Rav Kook in the following verse: “Do not explore after your heart and after your eyes” (Bamidbar 15:39). “Heart” refers to Herzl, whose name means heart. “Eyes” refer to Rav Kook, whose name means look. (The Gemara in Berachos 12b comments on this verse that “heart” refers to heresy and “eyes” refer to sinful thoughts.)
When Rav Kook was appointed as Zionist chief rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld commented prophetically, “Their first chief rabbi is a Kohein. The second will be a Levi, the third will be a Yisroel, and the fourth will be a mamzer.” Indeed, the second chief rabbi was Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, the third was Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman, and the fourth was Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who permitted mamzerim.
Once the Satmar Rebbe was working on writing Vayoel Moshe late in the afternoon and twilight periods, until the last minutes when it was still possible to daven Mincha. He rushed downstairs to daven, and there he met his friend Rabbi Avrohom Kalmanovitz, the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva. The Rebbe excused himself, saying he was in a hurry to daven Mincha. “The Rebbe hasn’t davened Mincha yet?!” said Rabbi Kalmanovitz. “We have already davened Maariv.” The Rebbe replied with a smile, “We are working to make night into day, while others make day into night!” (Vayoel Moshe Emes, pp. 19-20)
The Satmar Rebbe used to say that the Mizrachi (meaning eastern) party picked an appropriate name: the Gemara (Bava Basra 25a) says that the Shechinah is in the west, and everything they do is against the Shechinah. (Gerlitz, Der Zeil Fun Di Yiddishe Velt p. 222) (Actually the name “Mizrachi” was intended as a contraction of the words “Merkaz Ruchni.”)
A descendent of the great Rabbi Yisroel of Ruzhin (1797-1850) told the Satmar Rebbe that when Rabbi Yisroel heard about Rabbi Hirsch Kalischer’s ideas, he had the following to say: “How does geulah (redemption) come about? We take the word golah (exile) and add to it an alef, which stands for the Yechido Shel Olam, the One G-d. But if the Yechido Shel Olam is not part of it, then it is not geulah but golah, and it prevents the geulah!”
The Rebbe once repeated this story and added a twist of his own: “The Zionists call their independence day Yom Ha-atzmaus. If you remove the alef from atzmaus, you get atzamos – bones. I am afraid” – he said with a tremble – “that their Yom Ha-atzmaus will lead, G-d forbid, to bones, because of the terrifying warning given by Chazal that if we force the end of exile, He will permit our flesh like the gazelles and deer of the field. This is a tremendous danger for the Jewish people!” (Moshian Shel Yisroel v. 3, p. 338)
In Eastern Europe before WWII, the Zionists transformed Jewish youth and led them away from traditional life. Rabbi Yehoshua of Djikov quipped, “The Haggadah says, Vayehi sham l’goy – if you see a town where Jews are becoming like goyim – melamed shehayu metziyanim sham – this shows that the Zionists must have been there!” (Daas Zekeinim ch. 11 par. 3)
Once the Rebbe wondered why tachanun was not said on the yahrtzeit of a tzaddik, when one would have thought that one should omit tachanun on the yahrtzeit of a wicked person since “when the wicked perish there is song” (Mishlei 11:10). (The Rebbe, p. 176)
A man once came to greet the Rebbe, who asked him where he came from. The man said that he had come from Eretz Yisroel to see the state of Judaism in America. He continued by saying that, baruch Hashem, he sees that everything is fine, and concluded, “Ashrei haam shekacha lo,” pronouncing the word “shekacha” with a patach instead of a komatz. The Rebbe replied, quoting the Gemara (Shabbos 105b), “Such is the profession of the evil inclination: today he tells a man to do this (kach) and the next day he tells him to do this (kach), until he tells him to worship idols, and he goes and worships.” (ibid. p. 177)
When the Rebbe came to Eretz Yisroel in 1945, he met a young man named Leizer who had been brought up Chassidic and learned under the Rebbe in Hungary, but now was dressed in the modern style, and without a beard or payos. Someone introduced him, saying, “This is Leizer from Ungvar.” The Rebbe said, “Really? When you learned by me, you looked a little different!” The young man excused himself, “I’ve been in Jerusalem for five years.” The Rebbe heaved a deep sigh and said with a sweet smile, “Yes, yes, Uva letzion goel – when you come to Zion, you are ois-leizer!” (Peulas Tzaddik Lechaim, pp. 60-61)
On the sixth of Tishrei 5727 (1966), upon returning from a massive protest against autopsies, the Rebbe said, “The Torah (Devarim 14:1) says לא תתגודדו ולא תשימו קרחה בין עיניכם למת. The Gemara (Yevamos 14a) explains: Lo sisgodedu – do not make agudos agudos. This means that if there were no Agudah (i.e. if Agudah did not participate in the Zionist government but rather joined in the struggle against it from the outside) there would be no קרחה בין עיניכם למת – no autopsies. (The Rebbe, p. 181)
The Rebbe once asked a Jew from Eretz Yisroel what was new. When the man answered that all was well (“b’seder”), the Rebbe said, “By the seder there is also maror.” (ibid. p. 193)
During one of the Rebbe’s visits to Eretz Yisroel, a former talmid who had become well-to-do and modern invited the Rebbe to visit him. When the host introduced his three children, the Rebbe asked the eldest, “What grade are you in?” “I am in Kitah Chet,” she declared proudly. The Rebbe frowned ruefully, “I think that every grade in that school is a kitah chet.” (The Satmar Rebbe, by Rabbi Chaim Moshe Stauber, p. 277)
If one of these [rodents] falls into any earthenware vessel, all that is inside shall be defiled, and you shall break it. (Vayikra 11:33)
The Gemara (Shabbos 138b) says, “The Torah will one day be forgotten from Israel…a woman will take a loaf of terumah bread that was baked in a defiled oven and go around to all the shuls and batei medrash asking if it is ritually defiled or clean, and no one will know the answer. But doesn’t the Torah say explicitly that it is defiled? Rather, the question will be whether it is first degree defilement or second degree, and no one will know the answer.”
We must ask: Chazal were making a prediction about our time, when the laws of ritual defilement are no longer kept, since we have no red heifer and we are all defiled. Why then did they pick the laws of defilement as an example of a law of the Torah that will be forgotten? Why didn’t they pick a law that is kept nowadays, such as a law of Shabbos or forbidden food?
There is another place where we find that the Jewish people was tested on the laws of defilement and failed. Chaggai Hanavi (2:12-14) tested the kohanim and said, “If a man holds defiled meat [i.e. a dead rodent] in the corner of his garment and touches bread, soup, wine, oil or any food, will it become defiled?” And they said, no. “And if one defiled by a dead body touches any of these, will it become defiled?” And they said, yes. And Chaggai said, “So is this people and so is this nation before me, said Hashem.”
Again, we see that the question of defilement spreading from one object to another seems to be the key test as to whether Torah was forgotten and whether the Jewish people can be rebuilt. What is so essential about this question?
Rabbi Yaakov Teitelbaum (1897-1969, rav in Kew Gardens), said that in order to answer this, we must first note that there are two aspects of defilement that we do not find in any other area of halacha. Firstly, if kosher meat and treif meat are placed side by side, unless the treif meat is hot and placed on the bottom, the kosher does not become treif. The kosher remains kosher and the treif remains treif. But if one object is clean and the other is defiled, the clean is always affected by the defiled and never vice versa. This occurs not only when they come into direct contact, but even when something else intervenes between them: one object becomes defiled to the first degree, and the next to the second degree. Sometimes defilement spreads without any physical contact, such as to an object in the same room as a dead body or in the same vessel as a dead rodent.
Furthermore, one would think that the holier an item is, the less susceptible it is to defilement, but the Torah teaches us the opposite. With regular food, defilement cannot proceed beyond the second degree, but with terumah, it reaches the third degree, and with sacrificial meat it reaches the fourth degree. The reason is that defilement always wants to cling to the most holy object. This is also the reason why, according to one opinion, a dead Jewish body has a higher level of defilement than a dead gentile body (Yevamos 61a). The Ohr Hachaim (on Bamidbar 19:2) gives the analogy of two barrels, one full of honey and the other full of manure. When emptied out and then left in the sun to rot, the barrel that once contained honey attracts more flies, due to its sweetness. So too, when a Jewish body is emptied of its holy soul, the powers of defilement are attracted to it more than to a gentile’s dead body, because the gentile’s soul had less holiness.
With this in mind, we realize that defilement can be used as a metaphor for heresy and false ideas. Heresy also spreads very easily, as Shlomo Hamelech said, “Keep your path far from it” (Mishlei 5:8), which Chazal (Shabbos 116a) explain as a reference to heresy. And the Gemara continues there: “If a man is being pursued by a murderer or a poisonous snake, he may enter a house of idol worship to save himself but not a house of heresy, because the heretics know and deny, while the idol worshippers do not know any better (and are simply doing what their fathers taught them).”
Chaggai Hanavi foresaw that during Bayis Sheini, the central problem of the Jewish people would be not idolatry as in Bayis Rishon, but heresy: the Sadducees and the Hellenizers. Therefore, at the dawn of Bayis Sheini, Chaggai tested the kohanim, as leaders of the people, to see if they understood the danger of heresy and how contagious it was. They kohanim answered no to Chaggai’s first question, thus failing the test (Pesachim 17a). They did not know that the defilement of a dead rodent could spread as far as the fourth degree. This led Chaggai to pronounce, “So is this people and so is this nation before me, said Hashem.” If the leaders do not recognize the danger of heresy, what will become of the nation? They will be led astray and the leaders will be held responsible, for it is up to them to steer the people onto the right path, as Rashi says in our Parsha.
Similarly, Chazal foresaw the heresies of our time and said, “The Torah will one day be forgotten from Israel.” Which Torah? The Torah that teaches us how easily and how far false Torah views can spread. In a time when such false views can easily be written or spoken by anyone and spread around the world through countless forms of media, it is up to the leaders of the Jewish people to speak out the true Torah view and thus stem the tide of falsehood. Jews are hungry for the truth, as the posuk (Amos 8:11) quoted in that same Gemara says, “Behold, days are coming, said Hashem, when I will send out a hunger in the land: not a hunger for bread, and not a thirst for water, but to hear the words of Hashem.”
But it remains to be explained: how is it that the kohanim tested by Chaggai did not know that a rodent could communicate fourth-degree defilement, but knew that a person defiled by a dead body could do so? The Gemara (Pesachim 17a) provides the answer: “Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: They were well-versed in the defilement of dead bodies, but not well-versed in the defilement of rodents.”
Metaphorically, this refers to certain rabbis in our time, who speak out publicly against all sorts of “dead” heresies that the Jewish people has faced throughout history. They warn their listeners against the dangers of the Sadducees, the Hellenizers, the Karaites, the Sabbateans, the Christians, and the assimilationists. But they never say a word against the idolatry that is alive and well, spreading quickly like multiplying rodents in our times – the Jewish nationalist movement. When an idolatry is dead, along with all those who once bowed to it, it is easy to speak against it. But when the idolatry is alive, it is easier to keep quiet, because speaking against it could bring insults upon the speaker – as well as loss of his rabbinic position. (Kol Yaakov pp. 11-14)
Rabbi Yaakov Teitelbaum spoke these words in 1951. Sixty years have passed, and if he were alive today he would certainly add secular Zionism to his list of dead ideologies against which people have no trouble speaking. The old generation of fiery secular Zionists has all but died out, and their children are no longer interested in keeping a Jewish state alive through endless warfare.
Today we live in the era of post-Zionism. Israeli politicians are conducting negotiations to give back more and more of their country to the Palestinians. Israeli citizens are dodging the draft because they see their country’s wars as pointless. More and more, they are feeling that the benefits of having a state are not worth the price of constant struggle with their Arab neighbors. The 2007 National Survey of American Jews found that less than half of American Jews under the age of 35 are comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.
Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens have already moved to other countries and have no plans to return. The Zionist Absorption Ministry, once famous for bringing millions of Jews to the State of Israel and providing them with housing and employment, stated recently that between 18,000 and 21,000 Israelis emigrate each year. There are 650,000 Israelis living abroad, and 450,000 of them live in North America. The Ministry is struggling unsuccessfully to recover these expatriates.
Yet among the Orthodox, Zionism is on the rise. The religious parties and the chareidi newspapers are the most hawkish opponents of land concessions. The West Bank settlers are mostly religious. The hesder yeshiva units are the most motivated soldiers in the army. Even as secular Israelis vacation in every part of the world except their own country, Orthodox Jews in America and other countries make the State of Israel their destination of choice – for vacation as well as education. Even as the Israelis leave their country in droves, the religious organizations are drumming up support for aliyah. It is this chareidi Zionism that is the “live” idolatry of our times – and the speakers are silent.
To compound the problem, people play the name game. Zionism is defined as secular Zionism, so that everyone who is pro-Torah is automatically defined as anti-Zionist and could not possibily be accused of promoting Zionism. “The State of Israel” is replaced by the innocent sounding “Eretz Yisroel,” a place where Jews live and are in danger. Strengthening the army and praying for its success are portrayed as nothing more than concern for Jewish lives.
In such a time of confusion, we need to show our rabbanim and gedolim that we are ready to hear from them the truth. In the words of the Navi, we are “not hungry for bread, nor thirsty for water, but to hear the words of Hashem.”