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Letter to Journal News


December 31, 1999

The Journal News
200 North Route 303
West Nyack, New York 10994

Re: Jews and the Nation of Islam

To the Editor:
It is with sadness but no surprise that we read Moshe Friedman's comments attempting to disassociate "Satmar" from our recent efforts to improve Black-Jewish relations. First, it needs be stated that none of the Rabbis present at the meeting with Nation of Islam leaders described themselves as "Satmar." The phrase "Satmar Rabbis" was an understandable creation of the reporter due our espousal of the late, sainted Rabbi's philosophy. Nonetheless, it is worth discussing those who claim exclusive rights to speak in the name of this persuasion.

As Mr. Friedman well knows, Satmar is very far from a monolith. In fact, there is probably no Hasidic group today which is as divided into factions and sub-factions as is Satmar. Thus, the prerogative of condemning the "other" in the name of "Satmar" inevitably leads to the question of who are the true spiritual descendants of the late Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum?
Surely, Mr. Friedman would grant that Rabbi Teitelbaum believed in the traditional, exilic, Jewish approach towards anti-Semites (not to imply that Minister Farrakhan fits this description, more on that later) dating back to Jacob's gifts to "his master Esau" and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai's honoring of Vespasian. It is first and foremost one of reconciliation rooted in humility. Indeed, precisely with our "enemies" is this millennia old policy to be pursued. And, as he frequently wrote, Grand Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum wanted the truths of proper Jewish relations with other peoples made known to the entire world.

I fear that Mr. Friedman's motivation in denouncing our lessening of group animosities is the inevitable desire of vested bureaucracies everywhere to maintain"respectability" with its attendant emotional and economic benefits. This is certainly not in keeping with the Satmar Rav's teaching that we value truth above all.

As to those other Jewish communal leaders who sought to portray our opposition to Zionism as an "extremist" stance we hasten to remind them and your readers of certain basic truths of Jewish history. 1) From its inception Zionism was condemned by the overwhelming majority of Torah giants, ranging from R. Chaim Sloveichik and the then Lubavitcher Rebbe (R. Shalom Dov Ber Schneerson) of Eastern Europe to R. Samson Raphael Hirsch of Germany. 2) After the state's establishment in 1948 there were those who, despite believing it to be a tragic sin and error, maintained that we should reluctantly participate in its proceedings in order to better protect Torah interests. They felt and feel only contempt for the notion of statehood. Others believed their opposition obligated refusal to participate in Israeli citizenship, including its many benefits.

Our position, due to its traditional antecedents, is the latter. However, it is obviously far from "disgraceful", "odd ball" or "unprecedented" as described by some quoted in the original article.
Specifically as regards our ongoing dialogue with the Nation of Islam, we are well aware that Minister Farrakhan has in the past, at times, tended to negatively lump all Jews together in his rhetoric. However, it is not uncommon for those with deep religious or ethnic allegiances to engage in stereotypical criticisms of others. This error does not strip its practitioner of his humanity. We must look at the whole man and his efforts. Minister Louis Farrakhan is an extraordinary force for good in the Black community. His followers are responsible, industrious, modest and moral. And for this he and they have our respect.

We extend this respect despite the fact that on many basics our beliefs are not those of Minister Farrakhan. As Jews we believe solely in the Torah of Moses. Yet, this in no way precludes living in peace with each other.

At our meeting with Minister Farrakhan we felt that we were in the presence of an extraordinarily sincere man with deep reverence for our beliefs. We were convinced that he means no ill will towards us or any Jew. And we consider him a friend.

It is our hope that "Satmar" and others will eventually be capable of stepping beyond knee jerk rejections of our efforts to lesson racial animosity. In the interim we urge them to view the fruits of our endeavors with an objective and open mind.

To our friends in the Nation of Islam we wish continued success in all your many humanitarian projects. May G-d bless your efforts for the good.


Rabbi David Weiss

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