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