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Update: A Communal Leader on the R’ Telsner and Groner Affair

March 16, 2014 – 1:42 pm76 Comments

By Alex Fein:

hypocrisy2Update: An communal leader, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, submitted the following questions to Galus in the hope that they might elicit a response from the Chabad rabbinate:

“Might I suggest that Galus asks what is, in my mind, the key question on the issue of Chabad and Zionism, and on the issue of Chabad rabbis of modern orthodox shuls?

The key question is:
The fundamental credo of Religious Zionism is that the State of Israel, that came into being on 5 Iyar 5708, was a blessing from God and, despite its imperfections, something for which we must give thanks. Did the Rebbe, and the Rebbe before him (who was the leader of Chabad in 1948) accept this view or disagree with it? 
And the related questions are:
And hence do Chabad rabbis agree or disagree with it? And hence are they religious Zionists, in the sense that their congregants understand?
Anything about “we have a network of institutions in Israel” or “we give Mishloach Manot in Israel” or “many Chabadniks serve in the IDF” or even “we are thankful that Israel is in Jewish hands” are utter irrelevancies and deliberate obfuscations.
They have got away without answering this question, or have managed to answer alternative questions instead, because no-one has pressed them on this specific point. Maybe, in light of the present furore and the line you’re taking, this is what Galus needs to do.”


The original article:

Over the past few days, a furore has erupted. Sam Tatarka, Rabbi Smukler, and Ian Waller have joined a chorus of condemnation of Rabbis Zvi Telsner and Chaim Tzvi Groner.

The rabbis have issued a public backdown regarding their having given written support to an anti-conscription rally organised by Adass.

The backdown is almost as appalling as their initial support for anti-state groups. While neither rabbi has the fortitude to stand by his convictions, both indulge in weasel words that are obviously a response to the fury that has spread throughout the religious community.

I’ll republish their letter with my own commentary within their text.

[Rabbis Telsner and Groner]: “Earlier this week we were presented with a letter on which to add our signatures concerning a communal Tefilah gathering in relation to the proposed conscription laws in Israel.  Unfortunately the letter also included a negative inference to the Israeli government which we deeply regret and from which we would like to emphatically disassociate ourselves.”

[Alex Fein]: What has happened in the interim to cause this, “deep regret?” Is it public opprobrium? Without such condemnation, would their joining anti-Zionists in support of a movement that demands money from the state while refusing to acknowledge its right to exist, still stand?

Are the rabbis’ halachic opinions similarly flexible? If they deliver an opinion that their community dislikes, will they express similar “regret” and “disassociate [sic]” themselves from it – emphatically?

I find it hard to believe they would have put their names to a letter they had both failed to read, so at some point, they must have thought it a sterling idea to throw their lot in with the anti-Zionists.

This is not about whether one can justifiably criticise the Israeli government, as some have suggested. Communal disquiet has emerged from the company these Rabbis keep when they put their name to such a protest.

And the argument that we need learning as much as we need security is a complete furphy. No one anywhere is trying to prevent learning. No one is even suggesting that haredim take up guns and fight. They are simply being asked – along with the rest of the Israeli population – to engage in national service.

[Rabbis Telsner and Groner] “We, and the Yeshivah Centre, strongly and proudly support Israel. We have a heartfelt and enduring love for and commitment to Eretz Yisroel, its people and its heroic Defense Forces.”

[Alex Fein] The Rabbis say they support Israel. Why then do they join forces with those who seek the destruction of the state while gladly accepting government handouts?

The rabbis state they have a “love for and commitment to Eretz Yisroel,” but what about Medinat Yisrael? Do they support the state? If not, what does that mean for their de facto spiritual leadership of the community? What does it mean for the scores of Chabad rabbis who lead our congregations who take their cues from Rabbis Telsner and Groner. 80% of us are Zionists of one stripe or another. Are our rabbis? If not, why not?

[Rabbis Telsner and Groner] “A large number of our graduates and indeed Chabad Chassidim from Israel and around the world, serve in the Israeli Army and choose to make Aliya and live in our Holy Land. We have the highest regard for the bravery and sacrifice of our Israeli soldiers. Chabad chassidim, including leading activists, communal leaders and educators around the world proudly serve in the IDF. In addition, thousands of Chabad youth and adults support our soldiers on the field and in their bases on a daily basis.”

[Alex Fein]: So what? Does that in any way ameliorate the rabbi’s signing, then disavowing the flyer? That some of their students support the State is lovely. Do the rabbis have the temerity to suggest that they deserve some personal kudos for the bravery of their students?

[Rabbis Telsner and Groner]: “This week in Israel, Chabad will be delivering tens of thousands of mishloach monos to our troops throughout the land, giving up time with their own families in order to bring cheer, encouragement and hope to our forces, by celebrating with them the joy of Purim.”

[Alex Fein]: What on earth does this have to do with that appalling flyer and their support of it?

Moreover, the above statement is utterly disingenuous. Should we not expect religious Israeli citizens to support the men and women who defend them? Should we not expect religious Israeli citizens to celebrate the festivals with members of the armed forces? Only failure to do so would be worthy of comment. It is patently ridiculous to expect non-Chabad Jews anywhere to applaud Chabad Israelis for engaging in basic religious decency.

[Rabbis Telsner and Groner]: “The conscription issues are highly complex.”

[Alex Fein]: Indeed, these issues are sufficiently complex that they should give one pause before signing simplistic and damaging flyers.

[Rabbis Telsner and Groner]: “We hope and pray that Jewish people around the world can come together and unite for the safety and security of Eretz Yisroel, its noble defence forces and its people.”

[Alex Fein]: I’m always suspicious of calls for unity. They usually come from people whose divisive behaviour causes harsh criticism. If unity were really uppermost on the rabbis’ list of priorities – and not a thoroughly hypocritical means of misdirection – they would not have signed the flyer in the first place.

[Rabbis Telsner and Groner]: “With heartfelt prayers for a true and lasting peace in our holyland and around the world, and for the Geulah Shlemah.”

[Alex Fein]: Rabbis Telsner’s and Groner’s actions appall many religious Jews, including many Chabad members.

These men are senior spiritual leaders of a movement that dominates Melbourne’s religious life. In many areas, secular Zionist, and even religious Zionists have divested themselves of religious responsibility and bestowed on Chabad custodianship over Melbourne’s Jewish future.


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