Anti-Semitism Through the Lens of the Torah

(Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In exclusive conversations, two leading Roshei Yeshivah, shlita, Harav Elya Brudny, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Mir in Brooklyn and Harav Aharon Dovid Goldberg, Rosh Yeshivah of Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, share their perspective about the proper response of Jews in galus to anti-Semitism.

What Sets Us Apart

“Umipnei chata’einu galinu mei’artzeinu, v’nisrachaknu mei’al admaseinu” [Tefillas Mussaf]

These words, formulated by the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah, are repeated each Yom Tov, and describe our yearning to return to Eretz Yisrael and the Beis Hamikdash. Harav Elya Brudny, shlita, graciously spent some of his precious time sharing his thoughts and insights with Hamodia about recent events in Galus America.

Lately there have been a spate of anti-Semitic acts committed in various locations around the country. In the view of the Rosh Yeshivah, what should be the reaction to these incidents?

Klal Yisrael must remain keenly aware that, until Moshiach arrives, we are living in galus. We must never be complacent in our host country, no matter how welcoming they seem to be. We are geirim in an eretz nochriah.

Unfortunately, the chareidi community does not fully comprehend that we are living in galus. This is a lesson which Yidden must internalize, because it is a fundamental concept in how a Jew must live and act while in galus. If we chas v’shalom begin to forget this, and fail to act the part of foreigners in our host country, Hashem sends us reminders that we remain distant from artzeinu hakedoshah.

With this in mind, we must act with extra care to abide by the law, and avoid supplying additional excuses for those who hate us to act against our interests. We must realize that dina d’malchusa is binding. We must be more law-abiding than the average American, so that we do not stand out in a negative way. Failure to do so is in effect placing a cherev b’yadom — a sword in their hands — and giving them additional weapons with which to attack us.

How should we respond to these events?

Shtadlanus, which is lobbying the government on our behalf, is one of the methods which Klal Yisrael has always used. The Ramban (Bereishis, 32:4) writes that the Parashah of Vayishlach serves for Klal Yisrael as a guide to show us how to interact with our enemies. Furthermore, the Ramban (Ibid, 33:15) quotes the Midrash which tells how Rav Yanai would review this parashah before meeting with government officials. The concepts of preparing for doron, tefillah and milchamah are sanctioned by Chazal.

Nevertheless, we must understand, whom are we preaching to when we raise our voices in protest? Those who perpetrate these anti-Semitic acts are well aware of the consequences of their actions. The recent shooter in Poway, California, posted a manifesto where he declared that he knew that he would be giving up his entire future, but nevertheless he wanted to “save his race.” The New York Times knew that printing a cartoon with anti-Semitic tropes was beyond the pale. So merely objecting to these acts is certainly not sufficient. We must also daven to Hashem to protect us, both in our ruchniyus and our gashmiyus.

How should we deal with the threat to the Torah way of life posed by the progressive political movement?

This is all part of “Esav soneh l’Yaakov.” There may be a new dynamic to the political landscape, but in essence we are once again being sent a wakeup call from Above.

It is not really about politics. Recently, we were under the impression that through our community’s elected officials, we were able to stave off an attack on our education system. Like the Yidden in Shushan, we thought “achos yesh lanu b’veis hamelech — we have our representative in government.” Then, before we knew it, Hashem struck us “basanveirim — with blindness.” The progressive bloc in the New York State Senate has a 15-vote majority, which is being described as a “permanent majority.”

The truth is that this is all part of the message that Hashem is sending us to remind us that we are still in galus. As the Bais Halevi writes at the beginning of Shemos, the first years that the Bnei Yisrael were in Mitzrayim were utopian. They felt comfortable, and believed that they were part of the fabric of the ruling elite. When we feel that way, Hashem turns the hearts of the hosts against us, as the passuk in Tehillim (105:25) states, “Hofach libam lisno amo — He turned their hearts to hate His nation.” This is to prevent us from being cozy with our situation in galus.

The internet and social media are being used as tools to incite against our community. Is this a new phenomenon which requires new tactics?

I believe that this form of communicated hate serves an important purpose. The Mishnah in Avos (2:1) tells us to look at three things which will prevent us from sinning: “Ayin ro’eh, ozen shomaas, v’chol maasecha basefer nichtavim — An Eye sees, an Ear hears, and all your actions are transcribed in a Book.”

A Jewish family may go to the park and not abide by the laws or the expectations. Within minutes, someone videos their actions and it goes viral. They may think that no one noticed their littering, but soon enough, through social media, thousands of people see what they did. We should learn from this that everything you do, from one end of the world to the other, is seen by the Ribbono shel Olam, and we must live with the knowledge that everything we do is on display. This should encourage us to be on our best behavior and create opportunities for kiddush Hashem.

In the last few years, there are several new neighborhoods where Yidden have established communities. In some places, they have experienced significant challenges such as prohibitions against eruvin, and zoning restrictions on shuls and yeshivos. How should these new neighborhoods handle their interactions with the residents in these matters?

Certainly, if our basic rights are being trampled upon, we should not roll over and play dead. We must use shtadlanus to retain our basic rights, which include having a place to congregate to daven, yeshivos to educate our children, and even eruvin.

However, one must be aware of his communal responsibility in this matter. If a person is in an area which is zoned for three floors, and he pays off an inspector to allow him to build eight, it could impact the community so that when we have a legitimate issue, our needs will not be recognized. If people are dishonest with medical claims, the insurance companies will scrutinize our neighborhoods, and people with pikuach nefesh maladies may have their claims delayed because of it.

RJJ Mercaz HaTorah’s fourth- and fifth-graders exploring the Liberty Science Center.

How should we be mechanech our young children when they hear about the new environment we find ourselves in? How can we allay their fears and instill in them the pride of being a Yid?

The truth is that the two issues are interconnected. The Gemara in Shabbos (89a) teaches us that one reason it was called Har Sinai is because through the mountain, “sinah — hatred” descended to nations. We are hated not because of anything we did, but because they are aware that we are the chosen nation for accepting the Torah, and they rejected it. The anti-Semitism we experience is our badge of honor, since it shows that, “Ata bechartanu mikol ha’amim — we were chosen from all the nations.” That created a jealousy, and they are forever searching to find fault in us.

Our children should be taught that we are the nation chosen by Hashem because we accepted the Torah, and this indeed makes us special. It then follows that we must set an example by being true representatives of the Ribbono shel Olam and the Torah, as we are mekadeish Shem Shamayim through our actions.

Dos & Don’ts in Galus

“‘It is a well-known halachah that Esav hates Yaakov.’” [Rashi, Bereishis 33:4]

The manner in which we respond must be guided by the Gedolei Torah of each generation. When anti-Semitism reared its ugly head, we must follow Torah hashkafah as to what our response should be. Hamodia asked Harav Aharon Dovid Goldberg, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Telshe-Cleveland, to clarify his Torah outlook on this relevant matter.

Recent anti-Semitic events, give us pause to reflect on what our — the Jewish community’s — reaction should be. Are we to confront the hateful speech and actions as they occur, or should we deal with them in a more diplomatic manner?

Over the course of the history of our nation, we do not find that the Gedolei Torah sanctioned public protests to confront anti-Semitism. The only time we find that the Rabbanim called for and joined such demonstrations was when it involved immediate pikuach nefesh, such as the 1943 Rabbis’ March on Washington when they became aware of the atrocities occurring to our brethren in Europe. Otherwise, the favored path has been that of shtadlanus, where our leaders reach out to those who have connections with the powers that be and work behind the scenes to persuade them to assist us in our concerns.

We as a nation must realize that since maamad Har Sinai, there has always been some degree of hatred of the Jewish nation. Our response must center on teshuvah and tefillah, not public rallies.

Does that preclude us from sending out a press release when an anti-Semitic act takes place?

When Jewish organizations send out press releases, it must be done under the guidance of Gedolei Yisrael. When doing so, it is to show our solidarity with the Yidden who are the victims, and to show that we share in their pain. If the situation warrants raising objections against either the perpetrators or government officials, the accepted manner is to do so through discreet shtadlanus. Doing so through rallies and protests is not the manner in which Gedolei Torah have guided us through the ages.

At the hachnasas sefer Torah at Kehillas Beis Doniel in Cleveland Heights, Mr. Gerald Goldfeder of Dallas carries the new sefer Torah. (Shmuel Mann Photography )

Does this avoidance of publicity extend to restricting our displays of religious practice? As an example, should we have a public celebration of a hachnasas sefer Torah, or should we confine it to our own property?

Gedolei Torah have participated in parades for hachnasas sifrei Torah; so as long as it is done with the permission of the authorities and the participants obey the rules they stipulate, there is no reason to avoid having a public parade.

Does this also apply to a public simchas beis hasho’eivah?

This is usually a local issue. There is no general rule for this, and each individual community must consult with its own Rabbanim, who should assess the situation as to how it will be accepted by the residents of the community. They must take into account the population, the ratio of Jewish to non-Jewish residents of the particular neighborhood, and if there is a possibility that it may engender resentment.

Should we be concerned about how a public display of one’s wealth might encourage resentment and anti-Semitism? Is it warranted for us to downplay our opulence by minimizing the extravagance of our homes and lifestyles?

This is a very important point. The Kli Yakar in Devarim (2:3) writes that the Bnei Yishmael and Bnei Esav constantly think that any success of Klal Yisrael was stolen from them. The Bnei Yishmael believe that Yitzchok Avinu stole it from them, and the Bnei Esav think that Yaakov cheated Esav out of their rightful possessions. For this reason, the Torah commanded Klal Yisraelpenu lachem tzafonah” when they approached the Bnei Esav. The Kli Yakar explains this to mean that Klal Yisrael should hide their possessions, so as not to arouse the jealousy of the Bnei Esav when they see what Klal Yisrael has.

To what degree should we engage the gentiles, and in what ways should we avoid interaction with them?

Chazal instituted many takanos to keep us separate from the nations. What a person needs to do in order to conduct business with them is permitted, but essentially we are a nation which is “Hen am levadad yishkon,” a nation which dwells alone and isolated. (Bamidbar, 23:9)

The Bais Halevy in the beginning of Shemos expounds on this point. He writes that when Klal Yisrael were in Mitzrayim, they attempted to emulate the Mitzriyim, going so far as trying to cover up their physical alterations. They hoped that by drawing closer to the Mitzriyim, it would minimize the enmity the Mitzriyim felt towards them and would mitigate the severity of the impending galus.

Logically, this would be a successful strategy. However, Hashem desires that Klal Yisrael remain separate, and actually caused the Mitzriyim to hate the Jews, as the passuk says in Tehillim (105:25), “Hafach libam lisno amo,” Hashem turned their hearts to hate His nation. As a result, they were simply disgusted and revolted by the Yidden. This was not a punishment for their transgressions, but a natural consequence, a means of keeping the separation between them.

The same is true in our galus, as we have unfortunately seen time and time again. When we try to assimilate with the gentiles, Hashem injects their hearts with a hatred, which keeps us at a distance. The way for us to thrive in galus is by separating ourselves and keeping to ourselves.

What is the best way for us to be protected in galus from the anti-Semitic feelings and actions of the gentiles?

The Malbim in Parashas Shelach writes a fascinating thing. After the chet of the Meraglim, the passuk states, “v’ulom chai ani v’yimalei chvod Hashem es kol ha’aretz.” (Bamidbar, 14:21) Hashem swore that His glory would fill the entire world. The Malbim explains that before the chet Meraglim, Klal Yisrael was supposed to enter Eretz Yisrael and there was not to be any galus. Had that happened, the kvod Shamayim in the world would have been limited to Eretz Yisrael alone. Now, after the chet, there was a new order planned, where Klal Yisrael was to be dispersed throughout the world. The entire world would get to see “ki Shem Hashem nikra alecha.” They will see the kiddush Shem Shamayim that Klal Yisrael displays, and how a human being is supposed to act. So, the task of Klal Yisrael in galus is to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim, and by doing so, we are accomplishing our purpose in galus, and this in itself brings us tremendous siyatta diShmaya.

There is one more point which I feel is extremely important to mention. The passuk in Tzefaniah (3:13) states, “She’eiris Yisrael lo ya’asu avlah v’lo yedabru chazav… — The remnants of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies…” The Smag (Sefer Mitzvos Gedolos, Asei 74) explains that she’eiris Yisrael is referring to Klal Yisrael in acharis ha’yamim, in the times of Moshiach. If they deal honestly with the nations of the world, then these nations will tell the Ribbono shel Olam that the Jewish nation is worthy of redemption. But if chas v’shalom we do not deal honestly with them, they will complain to Hashem, saying “This is the nation which You wish to take out of galus?”

These words of the Smag must guide our financial interactions with the gentiles. We must be scrupulous in our dealings with them and create a kiddush Hashem. By not doing so, we may just very well be delaying the Geulah, R”l. n

For an English translation of the full text of the sources, please email

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