If you have not heard of Rav Teichtal,
may Hashem avenge his murder by the Nazis, I suggest you borrow or buy a copy of אם הבנים שמחה Eim Habanim Semecha (EHS) which has also been translated into English. Rav Teichtal is known throughout the world of Halacha, as the famous Posek and author of Responsa שאלות ותשובות משנה שכיר. In fact, I’d venture to say that many Rabbis, save the centrist or religious zionist, would only know of him because of his שאלות ותשובות משנה שכיר. Most certainly, when I was a lad, most people, including centrist and religious Zionist Rabbis hadn’t heard of אם הבנים שמחה because the Charedi anti Zionist world banned the book and exerted extreme pressure on the family not to republish it.
When I was learning in Israel, there was never a time that I went into a bookshop without asking whether they had a copy. The closest I got, was just before I left, when someone gave me the address of a family member, and suggested I might try knocking at their door. I didn’t have the guts to do that. How pleased I was, some twenty years later, when it was republished. When it appeared in English, I was both surprised and not surprised. I was surprised that something I couldn’t lay my hands on appeared in English, but given the compelling nature of the Sefer, I was not surprised that others sought fit to translate it with haste.
Rav Teichtal was the long term Av Beis Din and Rav of Piešťany, in Western Slovakia.
On the 10th of Shvat 1945, as Rav Teichtal was transported to the concentration camp in Mathhausen. Rav Teichtal’s son related (see introduction to EHS)
After starving their victims for a number of days, the oppressors tossed each of them a meager crust of bread, with the evil intent of having them fight pathetically for their paltry allotment. Indeed, one of the Ukrainians grabbed the portion of a Jew – my father’s neighbor – who was desperate for this crust of bread. This angered my father, who demanded the return of the theft. The other travelers begged my father not to get involved, since it might cost him his life. But he said “How can I stand by when the wronged man’s life depends on this food?” Indeed he insisted on taking a stand, and the Ukrainians, with the cooperation of the Nazi soldiers, rose against him and killed him, after torturing him mercilessly.
Prior to the the outbreak of World War 2, Rav Teichtal was as anti-zionist as his mentor, the Minchas Elazar of Muncasz. Rav Teichtal had written anti-zionist polemics like the majority of his Hungarian Charedi colleagues. Describing the views of the Muncazer, Rav Teichtal wrote (EHS):
“The Minchas Elazar opposed resettling and rebuilding the Land [and] based his entire opposition on the idea that salvation must happen with miracles and wonders. In his opinion, anyone who tries to [bring salvation naturally] denies the redemption which will occur miraculously.”
During the war, while hiding in Budapest, he wrote (EHS):
“A large portion of our Israelite [European Jewish] brethren who
were killed would have been saved if they had already been in Eretz
Yisrael. And now, who will accept the responsibility for the pure
blood which has been spilled in our time? Similarly, all those who
deterred the Israelites from going to Eretz Yisrael and participating
with those building [the land] cannot purify themselves and say:
‘Our hands have not shed this blood.’
“Those [anti-Zionists] who have a predisposition on this matter
[fleeing to Palestine] will not see the truth and will not concede to
our words. All of the evidence in the world will not affect them, for
they are smitten with blindness, and their inner biases cause them
to deny even things which are as clear as day. Who amongst us is
greater than the [twelve] spies [meraglim]? The Torah testifies that
they were distinguished, righteous individuals. Nonetheless, since
they were influenced by their desire for authority, they rejected the
desirable Land, and led others astray, causing this bitter exile…
[These] spies were prejudiced by hidden motives. The same holds
true in our times, even among rabbis, rebbes, and Chassidim. This
one has a good rabbinical position; this one is an established Admor,
and this one has a profitable business or factory, or a prestigious
job which provides great satisfaction. They are afraid that their
status will decline if they go to Eretz Yisrael. People of this sort are
influenced by their deep-rooted, selfish motives to such an extent
that they themselves do not realize that their prejudice speaks on
their behalf. People of this sort will not be convinced to accept the
truth, even if they are shown thousands of proofs from the Torah…
The holy kabbalist [Rabbi Eliyahu of Greidetz] who resembles
an angel of the Lord of Hosts states explicitly that the reason
there are tzadikim who oppose [aliyah] is because the kelipot [evil
forces] have become strong within them. It entices them to nullify
this great matter for which the Holy One Blessed Be He constantly
longs. He longs for us to return to our forefathers’ inheritance, for
every Jew has an obligation to strive to return to our Holy Land, as
I will prove unequivocally from the words of our Sages.
The מקובל Rav Eliyahu Greidez, mentioned above, was none other than Rav Eliyahu Gutmacher, ז’ל to whom many Jews in Poland flocked, to receive ברכות and advice, and in whose memory Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu was named.
Perhaps the most heart-rending story that served to motivate Rav Teichtal to be transformed from an anti-Zionist into a religious Zionist was (see here) :
“What can we say; how can we speak, and how shall we justify ourselves? God has found the sin of your servant.” I shall tell you a story.
In a small town there was a shamash (sexton) of a synagogue who died, leaving behind a widow. The people of the community thought about how they could provide her some financial support, for at that time there was no pension for widows. Perhaps it would be possible to allow her to continue the work of her late husband. On the other hand – it is not proper for a woman to serve as the shamash of a synagogue. Eventually it was decided that she would carry out those activities that could be performed outside the synagogue, while the tasks of the shamash during prayer times would be filled by the worshippers themselves, on a voluntary basis. Thus the woman would be able to continue earning the salary that her husband had received.
It came time for “selichot,” and as part of her job the woman had to get up and go about from house to house in the village, waking the people for selichot. She took the special “selichot stick” in her hand and headed for the most distant house in the village – the home of Weiss Shendor. When she knocked on the door, Weiss Shendor awoke, alarmed at the disturbance at such an unusual hour. When he opened the door and saw the wife of the shamash, he asked what she wanted. She explained that as part of her duties she had to go from house to house, waking everyone for selichot. When Weiss Shendor heard this, he tried to persuade her that it was not seemly for a woman to go about outside so early in the morning, in such cold and wet weather, and that it would be better if he did the job in her stead. The woman accepted the offer and handed him the “selichot stick,” and Weiss Shendor set off to waken the people.
Upon knocking at the first house he was asked to identify himself. He answered, “I am Weiss Shendor, and I have taken it upon myself to waken the people for selichot.”
The house owner was incensed. “Weiss Shendor? A pork-eater like you isn’t going to wake me forselichot!” With that he slammed the door and went back to sleep.
He went off to the second house and again came the question, “Who is it?” Again he gave the same reply, and again the same response: “Weiss Shendor? A Shabbat desecrator like you will not come and wake me for selichot!” Again a door was slammed in his face.
The same thing happened at the next house: “A swindler and gambler like you will not wake me forselichot!” – and so on, at every house throughout the entire village. The wake-up round ended with nothing more to show for itself than a trail of scorn and disdain. Not a single person got up for selichot.
When the congregation was gathered for the morning prayers, the rabbi asked: “What happened this year, that no one came to the synagogue for selichot?” The people started justifying themselves and explaining that it was all Weiss Shendor’s fault. He was a shady character who was notorious throughout the village; it was he who had come to awaken them for selichot, and that was why none of them had come.
“Fools!” responded the rabbi. “It’s true that Weiss Shendor is guilty of everything that you’ve accused him of, but this time he was waking you for selichot; he wasn’t doing any of the bad things that he’s known for. So why didn’t you get up?”
[Here Rabbi Teichtal burst into tears and shouted:] It’s true that the Zionists desecrate Shabbat and so forth, but it was they who awakened the nation and shouted, “Get out of the rubble; the gentiles hate us, there is no place for us except in Eretz Yisrael” – and we didn’t listen!
Let us only hope to be worthy of correcting the distortion and having God accept us in the promised land”
These days, alas, not much has changed in respect of the Hungarian ultra-Charedi establishment and the State of Israel, as seen by the following Pashkevil (click to enlarge), appearing now in Jerusalem.