The RCA Responds

Dear Fellow Jews,

We are grateful to the editors of Hamodia for giving us an opportunity to explain ourselves, and answer the charges presented in a recent op-ed, “The Hypocrisy of the RCA.”

First, we would like to introduce ourselves. We fear that much as you misunderstood our motives in the RCA statement about the Foley Square rally, you are just as mistaken about who we are.

You might think we are a group of “modern Rabbis” who inhabit a Jewish universe far from the ethereal precincts of the authentic Torah community. The truth is very different. Our members include Rabbis on the left, in the center, and quite a few whose chinuch was entirely in Lithuanian-style yeshivah circles, and whose children and grandchildren identify completely with the chareidi world. Many of us who are not part of that world have very close, positive contact with it.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re not arguing that you should accept us because we are almost chareidi. We are a complete mix. Maybe that is what makes us so different and so inscrutable to you. Other parts of the Torah world aim for more uniformity, in many different ways. There are advantages to that — but also drawbacks. This is not the time or place to explore the pros and cons of diversity. Suffice it to say, however, that almost always, there are issues that are hotly contested among our members, with groups who think that those on the other side are way out of bounds. What might make us unique is that we all still manage to talk to each other, even when we think the others are dead wrong. There are dangers in that — but there is strength as well, and a model of civility and respect that might bring some benefit to other parts of the Torah world.

There is another difference between us, for all our collective differences, and you. We differ in the arenas of our avodas Hashem. You have chosen to keep that avodah strictly within the confines of the Torah community. You try to distinguish yourselves in Torah, tefillah, and raising children loyal to Hashem and His Torah. We work at this as well — and we have much to learn from you about those goals. But we also understand our avodah to include reaching out much further from the centers of the frum population and topics of frum concern. Therefore, we are involved — by choice — with other parts of the Jewish community, with non-Jewish communities, with building and supporting a wider variety of community institutions, with political involvement beyond aid to day schools. This is neither good nor bad. It is just different. The two types of avodah go back to the different derachim of Yehudah and Yosef. Even back then, the suspicion that some of the shevatim had for an avodas chutz led to friction and terrible consequences.

Here is where we might disagree. Because we are involved more with the larger world, we think we understand it better — or at least differently. And this is why we had to respond to the lower Manhattan rally.

The Hamodia op-ed argued that the RCA has protested positions of the Israeli government in the past, and it is therefore hypocritical to argue that this rally served “to aid the many enemies who stand ready to destroy, G-d forbid, the Jewish State.” We say that it is not hypocritical at all. There is simply no comparison between protesting the expulsion of Jews from Gaza, and the nature of the recent protest organized and led by Satmar.

Consider this mashal. Democrats and Republicans argue vociferously about policies, and credit each other with bringing about the demise of the American way. Neither of those parties, however, would argue that the United States is an illegitimate entity, and has no right to exist. When we protested the expulsion, we addressed our deep concerns to a government we recognize — as do most readers of Hamodia, whether they will admit it in public or not. Satmar does not believe that the State is legal or legitimate. You may not know this, but the delegitimizing of Israel is the chief weapon of the Palestinians today. They know they cannot win on the battlefield. They work assiduously for boycotts, sanctions, rejection of Israel in a way that no other country is rejected. If they succeed, the State — the Jewish yishuv, if you will — will not remain viable b’derech hateva.

Review the pictures of the rally, especially the signs speaking of a war on religion, and the lack of freedom of religion in Israel. Can you understand what a victory this is to millions and millions of deep-seated haters of Jews who wish to counter the support for Israel that she asks for as the Middle East’s only democracy? Satmar knows that its sons will never be drafted, and they don’t take money from the “illegal Zionist entity.” What were they protesting, other than the existence of the State itself? We cannot understand — and will not accept — acting in concert with them. We believe that the Gedolei Torah who said to stay away from the rally did not just differ with the organizers about which methods will be effective in countering the proposed measures. It is our understanding that some or all of them understood the terrible effect this could have, consciously or otherwise, on non-Jewish Americans whose favorable image of Israel is under constant attack. Satmar wanted to co-opt the anger and frustration of the Torah community over the Lapid proposals for its own cynical agenda. They wanted to maximize the impact of anti-Israel feeling; our job was to minimize it. Hence, we asserted that those who attended the rally are a small but vocal minority that should not take away from the image Americans have for strong support of Israel. If Americans sense that Jews are not supportive of their own state, they ask themselves why they should be supportive. If any members of Congress were negatively impressed by the rally, organizers will have Jewish blood, G-d forbid, on their hands.

We had one purpose, and only one purpose in our statement: to counter the image of Israel that the rally placed before the American public. We did not comment on the Lapid measures. One reason is that our members are split on how to react to them. We have some members who have been working hard to counter these measures, some of them taking their concerns straight to the Israeli government. We also, however, have members who refuse to label demands for chareidi participation in all parts of the life of the nation and insistence upon the teaching of basic educational skills in schools as a “gezeiras shmad.” Because different points of view are represented among our membership, we sometimes have to stay away from certain issues — just as Agudah does to maintain its fragile alliance between Litvishe and chassidishe elements.

“The most disturbing part” of our statement, the op-ed claimed, is that you think we ascribe our errant positions to the Satmar Rebbe, zt”l. Consider this story, and think again. In 1972, Senators Humphrey and McGovern were vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. McGovern opposed the sale of Phantom jets to Israel; Humphrey, a real friend of the Jewish people, was in favor. Humphrey went to the Satmar Rebbe looking for support. He had previously been told that the Rebbe’s position on Israel was not that which Humphrey encountered in other Jews. No sooner had they all sat down, than the first thing Reb Yoelish said was, “Thank you for helping to protect our brothers in Eretz Yisrael.” Humphrey turned to the others and said, “I thought he was against Israel!” The Rebbe understood what was happening, and explained, “We have a bit of a squabble within the family. But we don’t want to see anyone in the family get hurt.”

 

Neither do we.


 

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin is President of the Rabbinical Council of America. Rabbi Leonard A. Matanky is the First Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America.