Haredim and the Holocaust, 2

UOJ quotes the infamous letter written by Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman telling a student not to go to YU or HTC (Skokie), even though it would get him safely out of Europe:

"I received your letter, but unfortunately there is nothing I can do. The yeshivos in America which can bring talmidim from overseas are the yeshivah of Dr. Revel (YU) and [HTC in Chicago]. However, both are places of spiritual danger because they are run in a spirit of disloyalty to the Torah. Therefore, of what benefit would it be to escape [Europe] from physical danger to spiritual danger."…

UOJ notes that later in the letter, Rabbi Wasserman suggests the student contact Rabbi Shlomo Hymen at Yeshiva Torah Vodas who, Rabbi Wasserman writes, will help him. But then UOJ continues:

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was urged [by Rabbi Henkin] to bring over all of his students to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Rabbi Shlomo Hyman had agreed to step aside as the Rosh Hayeshiva and gladly have R’ Elchonon take his place. Instead he went back to Europe where he was slaughtered along with his students . He is quoted in his "Kovetz Maamarim" as saying he intended himself and his students to be a "korbon" or a sacrifice, on behalf of American Jewry. So much for "daas Torah" and "gedolim infallibility".

Rabbis gave notoriously poor advice all during WW2; the above is only one example out of many rabbinic failures. From Hungarian hasidim to Chabad, from Litvaks to Galitzianers, rabbis failed. You can say this means God "hid" the truth from them, or you can say God never spoke to them in the first place. My money is on option number two.



Filed under Haredim, History, Modern Orthodoxy

24 responses to “Haredim and the Holocaust, 2

  1. Yochanan Lavie

    Question: Isn’t YU’s RIETS yeshiva named after Yitzak Elchanan Wasserman? Same guy? If he hated YU, why name the yeshiva part of it after him?

  2. Lawrence M. Reisman

    The yeshiva was named after Rav Yitzchak Elchonon Spector of Kovno, who died in the late 19th century.

  3. Anonymous

    Rabbi Akiva was wrong with bar kochva, but it doesn’t mean I will stop studying talmud. Even the greatest rabbis can make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes mean the loss of many lives. But they could only make decisions based on the limited information they had. I don’t know how much prophecy these rabbis were claimed to have, but I know they never claimed to be omniscient.

  4. shmuel

    Problem is that charedim today treat them as if they were omnicient; that “rabbis are preferred over prophets” (from the Talmud); that Daas Torah equals some form of infallibility; that even when you demonstrate, as I have done, that rabbis have made wrong decisions over the past 2,000 years, you (I) can’t seem to get the idea through to charedim that we’re dealing with humans here, not G-d, and that they’ve made loads of mistakes. Nothing wrong with being human, but there’s plenty wrong when they insist I “mivatel my daas” (negate my own understanding, ideas, reasoning and theories) to theirs, especially when they have such a poor track record.

  5. frumbabe

    had tora vdas been able to bring r elchonon he would have come to the usa with his students. it was only yu that was capable. and he chose death over spiritual destruction

  6. chief doofis

    Perhaps some descendant of the geniuses who knocked YU all of those years (or your typical Charedi Rosh Yeshiva today) ought to pay a visit to Washington Heights, and check out the Beth Medrash. He will see many young men, albeit a little cleaner looking, a little more courteous, and definitely better educated, learning the same Torah, night and day.

    The failure of the Holocaust generation of “gedolim” was not their inability to foresee the defeat of Poland, France, and for a while, the Soviet Union. Many of the greatest political and military minds of the early 20th century, made the same mistake. Their mistake was, and still is, the obstinate refusal to believe that a Torah life can be combined with secular knowledge. Of course, they will all take money from us, and they will allow YU type doctors, dentists and other professionals touch their sacred bodies. Of course, we are still treif to them. Perhaps if we stopped letting our sons, and worse, our daughters, be influenced by the self serving propaganda they disseminate, stop financially supporting their Koillels, tell our sons, and sons in law that we expect them to work for a living (note: a first grade Rebbe, is also working for a living, you can have it both ways), we can put an end to their monopoly on Orthodoxy.

  7. Los Angeles Yid

    Here is a thought provoking Shuir on this topic:


    Listen it appears that he has a different understanding than most other people do.

  8. PishPosh

    Devin Sper “The Future of Israel” discusses the antecedents for this type of apathy and it started with Yavneh. Basically it postulates, and with great respect to our historical figures, that Rabbinic Judaism was non Temple centered and ergo thats where it works from.
    How else can you explain all this drek about Tahara and Woman on buses, kashrut, while not saying a word about the desecration of the Har Hamoriah. Not one mass protest like they do over what may or may not be jewish burial ground They pay a bunch of lip service, blah blah, but if the Mikdash gets rebuilt then they are jobless, over and out, get them lost. They dont care because a Beit Mikdash signifies our unity in minhag and avodah and no one will need their damed opinions. The politics of Rabbinic Judaism is “Judea Capta” so why make a fuss. With all the court Jews we had in privlege and power, how many worked towards geulat haaretz??? It took Non Religous chilonim to go up to the good land This is why the Sanhedrin, to be a true Sanhedrin must when deciding Halacha and not sit on old tired custom. They must stop thinking like Rabbis and start thinking like Zkaynim. Elders who guide and lead cannot be beholden to diasporic laws nor superstitious parochial chauvenists.
    The Torah from Tzion must henceforth be based on a lev chadash. Rabbi Meir and Yehudah Hanasi have no place if this is to be a true reinvigorated independent Sanhedrin, if not it just remains another Beit Din with fancy Rabbis.
    What we have to day is a cult of Rabbi worship, avoday zorah in the xtreme.

  9. Anonymous

    PishPosh, don’t forget the orthodox jews who encouraged immigration to Israel. I refer specifically to Rav Kook and other great, selfless rabbis who encouraged secular jews to move to israel. I think rather than drift from the gemara and halacha, we should focus on the teachings and way of Judaism of these religious leaders who tried to bring peace and love between all jews.

  10. YUGUY

    As a spiritually lacking student of YU, I have no right to comment on this page, but I beg pardons from those of you I offend.

    This willingness to sacrifice oneself as a korbun for Hashem is not a good trait. A Rabbi has to be like a father to his talmidim. The situation of a Rebbe giving his talmidim as a korbun bears a remarkable resemblance to Molech, an Avodah Zarah involving a parent sacrificing a child.

    The fact of the matter is that people were lead to their deaths because of the decision of Jewish leadership at the time of the Holocaust. Rabbi Wasserman was willing to stay in Europe to be a korbun rather than have his precious talmidim go to YU.

    The way I have always been taught the story, there were two batei mikdashim. One chorbun was attributed to Avodah Zorah, the other Sinas Chinam. I don’t know if causing the deaths of talmidim is Avodah Zarah, but its clear there was strong sinas chinam toward the people that lived in the very room I type from now.

    The Korbun these rabbis brought of themselves and tehir children, their followers may not be the cause of the Chorbun in Europe, but it definitely did not help the Chorbun in America that is still going on, as people share a similar Sinas Chinam that Rabbi Wasserman did in the 30’s. My jewish bretheren in America look at me in a different light because I attend YU, and cearly its nothing new. I just wonder, if Wasserman really sac’d himself for the betterment of American Jewry, someone should inform him that his Korbun was rejected.

  11. Yochanan Lavie

    Pish Posh: I agree with you 100%. Although I don’t want to throw out everything the rabbis did, I would like to see a renewed Judaism.

  12. Yochanan Lavie

    YU Guy: no one answered my first post. Check it out, please, and get back to me. Thanks.

  13. PishPosh

    Harav Kook is one of the few Rebbeim whose writings occupy a large shelf of my seforim room. I do respect him and mourn the fact that he didnt live in our generation today.

  14. PishPosh

    “This willingness to sacrifice oneself as a korbun for Hashem is not a good trait. A Rabbi has to be like a father to his talmidim. The situation of a Rebbe giving his talmidim as a korbun bears a remarkable resemblance to Molech, an Avodah Zarah involving a parent sacrificing a child.”

    YUGuy, this is a very interesting chidush, I can understand the worry of spiritual corruption, but it posits that the talmidim are a bunch of morons who learned nothing from the Rav and are easily misled and therefore cannot ever be trusted with anything yiddishe and forever must be led.
    What then has he taught them and what then have they learned from him.?

    I wonder if anybody ever asked Rav Simcah if he thought that his father had taken the correct course?

  15. PishPosh

    Lawrence Reisman, are you the same gentleman who posts on the Yeshiav forum under the name Pesach I believe???

  16. chief doofis

    Dear YUGUY

    While I firmly believe that R. Wasserman erred in his disapproval of YU (and any alternate form of secular education) it is wrong to DIRECTLY blame the deaths of his followeres on him. They died as a result of political and military blunders made by many European and Western countries. Even in 1938 -39, noone could really foresee the disaster that would soon overtake Poland. Had the Poles fought the Germans with the same tenacity that the Finns fought the Russians with, the French and British may have had the time to open a second front against Germany. Had Stalin listened to his advisers and to his spies, the German advance into Russian held territory would have been greatly delayed or prevented.

    The problem with R. Wasserman (as you posted) was his (and so many others) inordinate fear of YU (and similar institutions). Most so called Charedim are so misled by propaganda that they actually think that the student body at YU is disproportionatly gay!! (That’s because a tiny handful of grad students (1) at one branch organized a gay club several years ago). They refuse to comprehend that you attend minyan more often than most of them do, and spend as much time learning as they do. All this while struggling to complete three years of college!! (Check out a typical kollel schedule. Start seder at 10, mincha at 1:30, go home and relax till 4:30, and then return to Yeshiva until 7:00. No tests, no curriculum, no attendance checks. No school in April, August or October!! No one expects them to contribute anything financially towards society, short of filling out the food stamp and HUD applications!! So what if they promise all sorts of things on the Ketuba that is publicly read!!

    The spiritual heirs of that legacy are now filling the Koillels (as opposed to Kollels) of America and Israel. They are the ones who now seek all sorts of benefits from the Israeli government, but walk out of shuls where the Bracha for the Medina is recited. They are the ones who “pasken” which territories the Israelis can or cannot return, but it’s not their kids who defend Israel!! (Although, of course, they boldly claim that their Torah learning protects the whole world!!)

    The mistakes made by those “G’dolim” are the sublimation of all that the religion encompasses to the sole Mitzva of Limud Tora. How could any of these fressers ever fulfill Leket, Shikcha or Pe’ah? T’rumot? Don’t they realize that not ONE Biblical character (not David, Solomon, Nehemia, Yirmiyahu, is ever shown kvetching the Bahnk!!)

    If you are a good YUGUY, or similar, you are COMBINING the pursuit of secular knowledge with acceptance of Tora and Mitzvot. They are combining the study of Tora with pursuit of handouts!

    Keep up thje good work!

  17. YUGUY

    Yochanan. The post right below you claims that Rabbi Itzchak Elchanan Theological Seminar is named after Reb Itzchak Elchanan Spector.

  18. I just posted on this. The problem is the logic they use, that it is better to die than to go to a place that is less frum.

    Isn’t proper logic that it is better to live and go to a less frum place and then lead the people to be more frum? Isn’t that the definition of leadership? So it was not shortsightedness that guided these g’dolim, but insecurity in their ability to lead. At least, that is their story.

  19. “I wonder if anybody ever asked Rav Simcah if he thought that his father had taken the correct course?”

    I remember hearing years ago that Rav Simcha when asked would say his father was very extreme. I don’t think he in any way thought his father made the best choice.

  20. Bava Kama Sutra

    I always said that rabbis can give good answer about what to do when your ox is having sex with your neighbor’s donkey and other relevant issues, but if you ask them an advise about life you can end up dead at worst and messed up at best.

    And Wasserman is definitely a murderer; he can make korbon on his own life not other people life.

  21. Yochanan Lavie

    YU Guy- thanks. I need to get a new pair of glasses…

  22. Schneur

    While I am in basic agreement with what you say. There are any number of tales where gdolim like Reb Sicha Zelig Riger of Brisk, Rav Yeshayele Halberstam of Krakow and the alte Belzer rov (orally) all refused to dispense advice during the War as to what is correct. In tinmes of extremis thee is no Daas Torah.
    In all honesty only Jabotinsky saw the disaster coming and advocated mass evacuation.
    The Religious Zionist rabbis too did nothing as they too wee unaware of the coming Churban.
    The idea that gedolim are prophets is a new concept that has no basis in Jewish theology or history.
    Rabbis even the greatest are religious judges educators and if lucky communal leaders. They are not prophets.
    The advent of Hassidism (as well as the growth of secualr Judaism)and its influence on all of Orthodoxy produced the new concept of Daas Torah. IN pre 19th century POland and Germany it was Shdatlanim and wealthy Court Jews along with a select group of Communal rabbis who set public policy.

  23. Lawrence M. Reisman

    Dear Pish Posh:

    I am not the “same gentleman who posts on the Yeshiav forum under the name Pesach.” I don’t even know where the Yehiav forum is, and I only post under my own name. I also leave my e-mail address open for those who want to contact me privately.

    I have been writing either articles or letters to the editor for the past 25 years. In all that time, I have written two letters anonymously, and one under an assumed name. The two anonymous letters were written concerning Chabad, and I was worried about some negative feedback (which never occurred). The assumed name article was done that way at my wife’s request.

  24. PishPosh

    Sorry Lawrence, it was the GlobalYeshiva forum I was reffering too. I just feel like ive read your postings before, in a good way of course, on other Jewish sites, and its just a bit of deja vu I guess.

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