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Sunday, July 27, 2014 

The true picture of Joel Teitelbaum: a coward

Tablet magazine can be a very mixed bag, with some articles fine and others dreadful, but here's an article they published about Satmar's founder that tells quite a bit about the true personality of a man who launched a Haredi sect that's been more trouble for Israel and many others than they're worth. Here's an example:
As I argue in greater detail in the following, Rabbi Yoel’s life, activities, and decisions during the Holocaust and his pressing need to explain and justify them thereafter offer a possible explanation for the extremism of his later views. Any fair examination of the historical record shows that Rabbi Yoel’s contribution to assisting Jewish refugees and to the rescue of Transylvanian Haredi Jews was negligible. Prior to the Holocaust, he ignored the dangers threatening the Jews of Transylvania and failed to engage in the preparation of rescue and aid plans. Although he became privy to reports on the extermination of the Jewish communities in Poland, given his position as a member of the Central Bureau and through his connections with the authorities, he refrained from calling on his followers to save or prepare themselves. On the contrary, he warned any would-be immigrants to Palestine or other countries that they were in danger of severely harming their Haredi way of life. Moreover, he refrained from cooperating with the Zionist—and even with the Haredi—leadership in addressing current issues or preparing for the impending threat and even opposed measures of a religious nature, such as prayer and fast days, which he feared would be perceived as a protest against the authorities.

When the danger of war became real and immediate, Rabbi Yoel did his best to equip himself and his closest circle with certificates or visas that would facilitate their escape to Palestine or the United States. At the same time, he thwarted all attempts at cooperation between the heads of the Orthodox communities and the Zionist organizations, which could have helped to rescue them. He failed to set a personal example and rejected his associates’ advice to prepare a hiding place or attempt to cross the border to Romania. Had he done so, some of his Hasidim may have done the same and thus survived.

When put to the test, he chose to save himself clandestinely after his own congregation had already been incarcerated in ghettos and to abandon his followers in the time of their harshest adversity. His conduct stands in stark contrast to that of other rabbis in his vicinity, many of whom rejected pleas to save themselves and accompanied their congregations to the transport trains, the extermination camps, and in some cases even into the gas chambers.

[...] In spite of the numerous reports of anti-Semitic occurrences in Germany and Poland, the Central Bureau, of which Rabbi Yoel was a prominent leader, took no actions to prepare for the imminent threat to Romanian Jewry. Moreover, the Bureau did nothing to try to revoke the requirement to prove Romanian citizenship, nor did it offer aid and relief to the Polish refugees. The same passive policy was adopted by several other organizations, such as the Jewish Party and the Union of Romanian Jews (Uniunea Evreilor Români). Other organizations, by contrast, undertook initiatives such as the formation of Jewish Self-Defense Brigades and a relief network for refugees, established by the Bureau of the Neolog Communities. (The Reform Movement in Hungary was called Neology.) Despite the prohibition and the risk involved, the Zionist youth movements maintained their activities, prepared for underground action, and at the same time trained pioneers for emigration to Palestine.

When the Goga government came to power in the late 1937, Rabbi Yoel decided to travel to Czechoslovakia. Fearing he may try to escape, leaders of his own community begged him not to abandon them at a time of crisis. In response, he argued that a tzadik could only perform his work in safety and, ignoring their pleas, departed as scheduled. A few weeks later, when the king dissolved the government, Rabbi Yoel returned to Satmar, and in his next sermon he justified having left his community. Although aware of the gravity of the situation, in his speech he offered no practical solutions and merely called upon his followers to put their trust in divine deliverance.

Through his involvement in rescue efforts and his connections with the Jewish leadership in Budapest, Rabbi Yoel was well aware of the danger to European Jewry in general and to the Hungarian Jews in particular. Nevertheless, he held that any initiative to revoke the anti-Jewish measures or protest against them was doomed to fail and could even exacerbate the situation. Thus, for instance, although aware of the violent activities initiated by the Romanian student organizations, some of which he experienced firsthand, he objected to the formation of the Jewish defense brigades.
And that's just the beginning. There's more telling how he did not prove himself a leader or offer any inspiration for his followers. In the followup article that tells more, it says:
During his stay in the Cluj ghetto, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum hid rather than position himself as a leader. On the rescue train, he avoided the other passengers, failed to encourage or to comfort them, and did not share the precious commodities provided by his followers with them. In Bergen-Belsen, too, despite the preferential treatment accorded him in the camp, he refrained from assuming a leadership role, even among the observant inmates. After his release, Rabbi Yoel elected to run a rescue campaign from the safety of Switzerland. His efforts to rescue Jewish children raised by gentiles were restricted to fundraising, and even in that task he failed abysmally. Once again, his conduct stands in stark contrast to that of other rabbis, who returned to their hometowns to lead their surviving flocks or worked relentlessly in the DP camps. All the sources describing the rescue activities of the Haredi community during the Holocaust, including archival sources, indicate that compared to other rabbis who survived the Holocaust, Rabbi Yoel’s contribution was negligible in both scope and significance.

After the Holocaust, Rabbi Yoel also turned his back on all those who had helped to rescue him. After settling in Palestine in 1946, he refrained from expressing any gratitude to the people and institutions that had been instrumental in his rescue and had endeavored to obtain certificates for him, among them Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog, Agudath Israel leaders Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Levin and Rabbi Moshe Porush, and Ha-Mizrahi’s Rabbi Joseph Yitzhak Rotenberg. He scathingly attacked the institutions they headed and, unlike other Hasidic rebbes they helped rescue, refused to make even the slightest symbolic gesture of gratitude. Moreover, it seems he repudiated his benefactors on a personal level, too. As far as we know, Rabbi Yoel never sent any letters of gratitude or appreciation to any of the people or institutions involved in his rescue.
A selfish, spiteful and ungrateful man till the bitter end, it sounds like. He also called Zionists descendants of Amalekites, declared the Holocaust God's punishment for Zionism, which is another way of saying it was a crime to want to live in Israel proper.

And most mysterious is how, despite all these damning revelations, he succeeded in forming a community with a backwards, Orwellian groupthink mentality that even listened to his atrocious ideas of how they should handle say, their hair, shouldn't work for a living and self-support, discriminate against women in ways not all that different from how fascists did, and not think for themselves. Teitelbaum's son continues his wicked ways today, and leads many people into states of misery that'll take ages to repair. Today, it's high time the Satmar were confronted about all this, and told clearly why it's vital to think for yourself and earn a living to aid yourself too.

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