Refuting Vayoel Moshe, Point by Point

A Review of “Alo Na’aleh”

A Review of “Alo Na’aleh”

הרב מרדכי ציון, ‘עלה נעלה: מענה לספר ויואל משה, תשובות מפי הרה”ג שלמה אבינר שליט”א’, בית אל תשע”ב, 278 עמודים

By Ezra Brand

The opinion of R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, better known as the Satmar Rebbe, opposing the State of Israel has recently received a resurgence of interest. With the shifting to the right of the Orthodox Jewish world in general, as well as attempts by some Israeli politicians to end Chareidi draft exemptions in particular, many Chareidim are now feeling sympathetic to the Satmar opinion. In any discussion online about Israel drafting Chareidim or cutting funding to yeshivas, there will always be one person commenting on the prescience of the Satmar Rebbe. I have heard that some people are using the Kahanist slogan in regard to this: “הרבי מסאטמאר צדק” (“The Satmar Rebbe was right”)! Therefore, the appearance of a book intended as a response to the Satmar opinion is timely[1].

Alo Na’aleh is a response to the Satmar Rebbe’s book, Vayo’el Moshe. To be more precise, it is a response to the first of the three parts of Vayo’el Moshe, which is titled “Ma’amar Shalosh Shevu’ot”. Alo Na’aleh is written by R’ Mordechai Tzion, in consultation with his Rebbe, R’ Shlomo Aviner[2]. It is published by Sifriyat Chava (ספריית חוה), the publishing house based in Beit El that publishes R’ Shlomo Aviner’s books. Vayo’el Moshewas published in 1961[3]. Although it might seem strange to write a response to a book so long after the book was originally published, the times seem to call for it.

There have been other attempted rebuttals to Vayo’el Moshe (including by R’ Aviner himself, see further), but Alo Na’aleh is probably the most comprehensive (though it is only on the “Ma’amar Shalosh Shevuos” part of Vayo’el Moshe). It is the most comprehensive both in the sheer amount of sources quoted, and in terms of the fact that every point made by Vayo’el Moshe is discussed and disputed (including the reason given by R’ Yoel for the title of his book!). Much of the earlier literature that responds to Vayo’el Moshe is quoted byAlo Na’aleh, but no bibliography is provided. I will therefore provide one here (including works not mentioned in Alo Na’aleh).

הרב חיים שרגא פייביל פראנק, בירור הלכה במעלת ומצות ישובה של ארץ ישראל : תולדות זאב, ירושלים      תשכ”ד (ומילואים ב’המעין’, טבת תשכ”ה)

הרב מרדכי עטייה, סוד השבועה, ירושלים תשכ”ה

הרב מנחם מנדל כשר, התקופה הגדולה, ירושלים תשכ”ט

הרב רפאל קצנלנבויגן, ‘לא מרד אלא השבת גזילה לבעליו’, שערים, כ’ בסיון תשכ”ט

הרב משה מונק, ‘שלושת השבועות’, שערים, ד’ בתמוז תשכ”ט

הרב שמואל הכהן וינגרטן, השבעתי אתכם, ירושלים תשל”ו

הרב חיים צימרמן, ‘בענין שלש שבועות’, תורה לישראל, ירושלים תשל”ח (available here)

מחבר אונונימי, פוקח עוורים, ירושלים תשמ”ד[4] (available here)

הרב שלמה אבינר, ‘שלא יעלו בחומה’, הלכות משיח לרמב”ם, ירושלים תשס”ג

הרב יעקב זיסברג, ‘נפש עדה’, נחלת יעקב, ב, הרב ברכה תשס”ה

הנותן ליעף כח: כ”ח קושיות על ויואל משה, הוצאת בני הישיבות (בעילום שם המחבר)

הרב אברהם ווייס, מחנה החרדי, גליון 341

חוברת “בעית זמננו” (א:ד)

The beginning of the introduction is fascinating. It attempts to find an ultimately uncomfortable middle ground between attacking the Satmar Rebbe for his harsh anti-Zionism, and respecting him for his greatness in Torah. The introduction begins by bringing a Radvaz (Shu”t 4:187), which says that it is prohibited to degrade a talmid chacham, even if that talmid chacham is “making a mistake in the foundations of the religion” (במקור: תלמיד חכם הטועה בעיונו בדבר מעיקרי הדת)[5]. While the author states clearly that despite their differences of opinion he will still repect the Satmar Rebbe, there is a silent polemic against the Satmar Rebbe’s famously harsh attacks against his opponents.

The rest of the introduction of the book is gossipy. A string of juicy stories are told, portraying the negative attitude of various people toward Vayo’el Moshe. The book then gets down to business, responding to Vayo’el Moshe point by point.

Alo Na’aleh indeed lives up to its aspiration of pointing out the many (apparent) mistakes in “Ma’amar Shalosh Shevuos” of Vayo’el Moshe. The author even demonstrates that the Satmar Rebbe made some historical mistakes. For example, in the introduction of Vayo’el Moshe, the Satmar Rebbe explains why all the poskim didn’t bring the Three Oaths in their halacha seforim: “This issue of the awakening of a movement to transgress these oaths, we have not found from the days of Ben Koziba until the time of the Rambam, which is about a thousand years, and so too from the time of the Rambam until the days of Shabsai Tzvi, and so too, from after the time of Shabsai Tzvi until now in these generations. Therefore the poskim in all these generations did not see any need to explain this issue in their times.” Alo Na’aleh correctly points out (pg. 15) that there were many other attempts by Jews to rebel against non-Jew in the time period discussed by the Satmar Rebbe.

However, true to form, Alo Na’aleh attempts to defend the Satmar Rebbe. Before discussing a particularly egregious misreading of a source in Vayo’el Moshe, Alo Na’aleh(pg. 172-3) claims that the misreadings of the sources exhibited in Vayo’el Moshe don’t stem from actual mistakes by the Satmar Rebbe. Rather, the Satmar Rebbe was convinced that Zionism was a terrible calamity, and was willing to twist sources in order to convince people that it is wrong. In other words, the ends justify the means. Alo Na’alehfinds a source permitting such tactics in the well-known Gemara in Pesachim 112a, where it says that הרוצה ליחנק היתלה באילן גדול, explained by Rashi there to mean that one is permitted to falsely quote his Rebbe if he knows the halacha to be true, and he won’t be listened to otherwise. However, Alo Na’aleh limits this heter to polemical works such asVayo’el Moshe.

While Alo Na’aleh does identify mistakes exhibited in Vayo’el Moshe, it has many flaws itself. It is often long-winded, bringing paragraphs from pro-Zionist authors having nothing to do with the issue at hand. In addition, there is a lack of consistency in the writing style, as entire articles, or pieces of articles, are brought down verbatim in the main body of the text, without any kind of indentation or other helpful citation. Besides for ruining the literary consistency, it can take an effort to know when the quotation ends. It is for these two reasons that Alo Na’aleh runs to a long 278 pages.

Another issue is the lack of clear organization in Alo Na’aleh.  Often, the text will give one response to Vayo’el Moshe, move on to a different response, then return to the first response without any warning. This can make it difficult to follow.

A good amount of research has gone into Alo Na’aleh, and the responses to the Satmar Rebbe are the most comprehensive to date. But it is a work marked by flaws: technical errors, a propensity to go off on tangents, and a lack of clarity in its argumentation. A respectable effort that falls short of its promise[6].


* I would like to thank Eliezer Brodt for reviewing this post, and my father for editing it.

[1] Although the Satmar Rebbe (meaning R’ Yoel, as opposed to his father)  wasn’t the first to attack Zionism based on (pseudo-) halachic sources, he was the one to have the biggest impact. For a short scholarly discussion of the Samar Rebbe’s opposition to Zionism (focusing on his interpretation of the Three Oaths), see יצחק קראוס, שלש השבועות כיסוד למשנתו האנטי-צונית של ר’ יואל טייטלבאום, עבודת גמר לתואר מוסמך בפילוסופיה יהודית, האוניברסיטה העיברית בבלטימור, תש”נ. A general history of discussion of the Three Oaths is given by Mordechai Breur: מרדכי ברויאר, ‘הדיון בשלוש השבועות בדורות האחרונים’, גאולה ומדינה, ירושלים תשל”ט, עמ’ 49- 57. For a history of Eastern European Chareidi opposition to Zionism, see יוסף שלמון, ‘תגובת החרדים במזרח אירופה לציונות מדינית’, הציונות ומתנגדיה בעם היהודי, ירושלים תש”נ, עמ’ 51- 73.

[2] R’ Tzion seems to claim at the end of his introduction (pg. 14) that the book basically consists of his writing down the responses of R’ Aviner; however, from R’ Aviner’s haskamah it is clear that the R’ Tzion had a much substantial part in the writing of the book.

[3] Shalmon (ibid., footnote 1), says that that was a second edition. I am not sure when the first edition was published, and what the difference was between the first and second editions.

[4] This book claims that a large part of Vayo’el Moshe was forged!

[5] The Radvaz proves this from the famous Gemara in Sanhedrin 99a, where R’ Hillel says that Mashiach will never come, since there was only a one-time chance in the time of Chizkiyahu Hamelech. R’ Yosef there responds to this statement of R’ Hillel by saying, “Hashem should forgive him” (שרי ליה מריה), and does not degrade him. As to whether R’ Hillel’s statement makes him a heretic, see Marc Shapiro’s Limits of Orthodox Theology. R’ Tzion on page 10 quotes a responsum from R’ Yehuda Hertzel Henkin, a grandson of R’ Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, that Chazal even refrained from degrading the famous heretic Elisha ben Avuyah (Shu”t B’nei Banim 2:34). With respect to R’ Henkin, I find this attitude of respect to one’s enemies he attributes to Chazal does not  fit in with hundreds of examples throughout the generations of Torah leaders’ harshness to enemies and heretics. Even Elisha ben Avuyah was branded “Acher” (“The Other”) by Chazal, which is not the most respectful title.

[6] The most comprehensive discussion if the Three Oaths that is also well organized isנפש עדה in נחלת יעקב, mentioned earlier in the bibliography.

From Seforim, here.

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