“Aliyah to Israel in this time is heresy”

“Israel claims to protect Jews in the lands of the exile, but the opposite is true: Jews in the exile pay a high price for Israel.” Rabbi Moshe David Katz, Chairman of Naturna, the hasbara arm of the Satmar Hassidim, explains why the State of Israel is responsible for global antisemitism, why his friends worked to prevent the Aliyah of French Jews to Israel and opposed the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem, and why they do not intervene in Israeli affairs but help resistance to enlistment in the IDF.

Zvika Klein

When people speak of American Jewry, we sometimes forget that not everyone is a member of the representative Jewish organizations, or that not everyone is Zionist by definition. This is the case with the Satmar Hassidim, who oppose the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish State and who think that the Israeli leadership must not speak in their name throughout the world. They even raise a lot of money for anti-Zionist purposes, including to prevent the service of Charedi soldiers in the IDF. After many requests and appeals, Rabbi Moshe David Katz, a fourth generation Satmar Chassid, agreed to speak with us. He serves as Director and Chairman of Naturna, or Torah Turke Jew, a kind of hasbarah arm of the Chassidue in the media and the world outside Satmar.

He was born in Williamsburg and learned all his life in Satmar institutions. “The Zionists are worse than all the past groups,” Katz begn, “After all, there were always those who separated themselves from the public, like the Saducees and the Haskalah, but they never took over all of Israel, over the majority. The maskilim would say: ‘Be a Jew in your home and a man outside.’ They incited, but they detached themselves from the Jewish People and did not have the chutzpah to represent them. The leaders of the nation were always Gedolim and they were responsible for the community. Everyone knew that by Israel the root is faith and religion. But then came Zionism, and they tried to change Judaism into nationalism. For them Judaism is culture, the modern Hebrew language, and the Land of Israel. The Zionists believe that nationalism is Judaism. We believe that we became a nation at the giving of the Torah, as it says ‘On this day you became a nation.’ As proof: If Judaism was a nationality or a race, then conversion would be impossible. And if you can convert, then this proves that Judaism is a faith and religion and not racism and nationalism. This is the basis for the difference between Zionism and its opponents.”

He claims that “The Zionist trial now is whether it’s OK to be independent before the coming of the Messiah or not. That’s our whole idea. We need to be in exile until the redemption. When God calls us through the Messiah, we will all go to Israel. This is the Torah on one foot, and this is how I was taught.”

My Nationality is in the US

The Satmar Chassidut is a Chassidic court founded by Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum in 1905 in the town of Satu Mare in Transylvania, in present day Romania. After the Holocaust, the Chassidic center moved to Williamsburg, New York, where it became one of the largest in the world. After the first Rebbe passed, the Chassidut was led by his nephew, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum. Soon after his death in 2006, the Chassidut split between his sons – Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, whose court is in Kiryat Yoel, and Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, whose court is in Williamsburg. The Chassidut is characterized by zealousness and rigid ideological opposition to Zionism and the State of Israel.

When you grew up as a child, what did you know about Israel?

“I knew that Israel is not part of our culture and life. That we will get there after waiting, when the redemption comes and even though it dawdles, I will wait for it. Of course, we always knew that there are many Jews there, and we pray for the Jews in Israel, like we pray for the Jews in Britain when they have troubles. On the other hand, we do not pray for the government. This needs to be avoided. We must not be a part of them in any way – neither taking money from them nor taking part in elections. This is our approach in Satmar. As far as we are concerned, the government is heresy against the principles of faith and is not supposed to even exist. We do vote in elections in the US because the government by us is OK. We can be a part of it. To the contrary, we need to look for the good in the government, which will protect us until the redemption.

“Our problem is that the government in Israel represents it throughout the world, and they claim to represent all the Jews. The Nation State Law states that the Israeli government represents the Jews throughout the world, and promises to protect their safety in each and every country. When Bibi speaks in the world and says he represents all the Jews, it angers us, since we do not believe that we are a part of it. The approach in Israel, that Judaism is nationalism and not religion, is a great desecration of God’s name and a great danger. It leads to all the Gentiles thinking of the Jews in the exile as being another nationality, that they are not part of the government and the citizens. This is the aim of the antisemites, to classify all of Jewry as a foreign entity where they dwell.

“Hitler in his work Mein Kampf, in his incitement and disgusting statements against the People of Israel, dealt in the blood libel that Jews are different, that they are not German citizens since they have a Jewish religion. Hitler claims that the Jews have a separate citizenship, foreign people, a foreign implant which need to be removed. Hitler’s proof was the Zionist idea, which he claimed was aimed at establishing the character of Jewry as nationalism. The Zionist idea is the foundation on which Hitler built the blood libel that the Jews are a foreign implant which needs to be erased and destroyed.

“Israel wants to prove that Judaism is racism and nationalism, and Naturna, our organization, wants to prove the opposite: That Judaism is belief and religion. I am a Jew who believes in the thirteen principles of faith, and my nationality is in the US.”

The Cost of Dual Loyalty

Katz seeks to bring a quote from Binyamin Zeev Herzl, where he says that antisemitism is good for Zionism, since then the Jews will make Aliyah. “The antisemites will be our best friends, the antisemitic states will be our allies,” he quoted from Herzl’s diary. “This is the reason we make it public that we are not related to the State of Israel,” Katz continued, “The Jews of the exile are not the Israelis’ cannon fodder. The State does not represent the Jews and certainly not Judaism, it does represent Israel or its voters. Don’t offer us representation around the world, we don’t want you to represent us, we are doing just fine on our own.”

According to Katz, the aid which Israel claims to provide Jews around the world is “clever and wicked,” and causes antisemitism throughout the world. “As American Jews, we see that the Gentiles do not like it that the Jews are more loyal to Israel than their government, or that a Jew votes in American elections according to what’s good for Israel. They don’t think about their education, economy, or security here in America. They call it ‘dual loyalty.’ Afterwards Israelis come and say of this or that candidate that they are ‘good for Israel’ or bad for Israel.’ It creates a very bad impression for American Jews, and what they see from the outside is that they use our government for Israel, which is a separate entity. We owe loyalty to the US, as Yirmiyahu said: ‘Seek the peace of the city which I exiled you to’ and not to deviate from that.

“The fact is that when there is a riot and problems in Israel, such as in Gaza with the Palestinians, there is always more antisemitism throughout the world. When there is a war in Israel, there is terror around the world and antisemitism towards the Jews. The Arab in the street understands that the Jew and Israel are synonymous. When Israel warmongers against the Palestinians, we pay a price for it, and we don’t think it has to be this way. Israel claims to protect the security of Jews in the lands of exile, but the opposite is true: The Jews in the exile pay a high price for Israel.”

Katz does not wish to speak of Neturei Karta, a small Charedi group which opposes the existence of the State of Israel and even supports the Palestinians. He only wishes to stress the difference between them and Satmar: “We don’t get into political matters against Zionism. Our claim is based on the Torah. Contrary to other groups, we will not say that the Palestinians are right or Israel. We never met with the Arab leadership. What we do is make it public that Israel does not represent us, and that we are not responsible for their deeds. For us, even if the Palestinians make peace with Israel, we will still oppose its existence.

But antisemites use the materials you publish against the State of Israel.

“Our materials are always based on what Israel did, that it is bad for the Jews. We do not publish statements about Israel’s activity against other nations, since we don’t want to create antagonism. We don’t want to make those not angry at us or the Jews – to be angry. Those are the rules of my Rabbis, which I implement in my work. The line is not to enter into politics, but only to say: This is not us.”

But you do for instance protest against Israel on political matters.

“True, we do protest, but only regarding internal Israeli or Jewish issues. For instance, the draft decree, or when they ostensibly speak in our name or the name of Jews around the world at the UN or in Congress in the US, then we will protest, because Bibi does not represent us.” One can find pictures on Naturna’s website of Satmar Chassidim protesting in the rain against Netanyahu before his speech at the UN. Among other things, the signs said: “Israel does not represent the Jews or Judaism”; “The position of Bibi Netanyahu will harm American Jewry.” The reference to him is also not as the “Prime Minister” or “Binyamin Netanyahu” but simply and perhaps dismissively as “Bibi.”

“We will not say that Israel is politically mistaken. You will not see Satmar Chassidim protesting against Israel and for the Palestinians,” he clarified, but he admits that there is a difference between how they express themselves “on the street” and how they do so in the “beit midrash” – where they allow themselves to be more critical of Israel. “In the beit midrash you can hear voices of people saying that Israelis are provoking the nations and killing Palestinians and that this is a forbidden act. Or you will hear that Israelis care more about land and less about human life. It’s a very delicate line. There will be Satmar Chassidim who say in the beit midrash that the Israelis lack the markings of a Jew – ‘merciful, bashful, and charitable.’ In the street, outside Satmar communities, we will never express ourselves in this way.”

When I try and understand what else they say in the Satmar “beit midrash” on Israel, he responds that “In the beit midrash people will not be afraid to say that Israel endangers the lives of Jews. Many people by us feel that way. Certainly, we do not want the existence of the state as a Jewish one, but even according to their lights, Israel needs to strive for peace. ‘Its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.’ In their eyes, they need to do all the work in the world and reconcile between the two sides, live in piece and not enter wars and endanger human life. But do not get me wrong, even if Israel lives in peace with the Palestinians, we will still oppose the State of Israel.”

Katz gives me a theoretical example: “If a Palestinian leader asks us: ‘What is your position regarding what Israel does to us?’ we will tell him: ‘We are more against the State of Israel than you; you are angry because they stole your land, but we will continue to oppose Israel even if you live with them in peace. This is how we avoid talking about the subject. We have a problem with the fact that people are killed by Jews. It doesn’t need to be this way.”

And it’s not terrible to see them murder Jews?

“Obviously. You are right, and this fact keeps me awake at nights, and this is the reason that we go public day and night that we cannot be angry at Jews over Israelis. In Israel, they are willing to see Jews murdered in the army or the battlefield, but all that is to gain more land or settlements, sadly that’s the main thing they care about. Jewish organizations like the Jewish Agency and other similar bodies incite American Jews to come to Israel and live in settlements, and unfortunately, some of their families were murdered or massacred to death. The blood of Israel is on their hands,” Katz claimed angrily.

Corbyn is not the Jews’ Problem

You and your organization serve as a kind of Satmar Foreign Ministry, and I assume that you closely follow what is happening in Israel.

“Yes, obviously we are following, but that doesn’t at all mean that we or I will respond to everything. We only react to things which touch on our agenda. We will respond when an Israeli figure tries to use us, the Jews of the exile, as cannon fodder. For instance, former Israeli ambassador to Washington Michael Oren said in the wake of the complex situation in Britain with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn that we need to offer the Jews of the kingdom to make Aliyah to Israel and even offer them financial benefits. And we say – what business is it of yours what happens in the Jewish community in Britain? We, Satmar, have a community there, and they are very angry about such statements. He wants to use our community because he has an issue there with Palestinians, so he says of this or that politician that he’s an anti-Semite, and then he causes us problems. So I tell Oren” Stay away, you don’t represent us.” The organization even collected signatures of Charedi Rabbis declaring that in their view Corbyn is not a problem for the Jewish community.”

But Corbyn is antisemitic even without his serious anti-Israeli statements.

“Even if so, be careful about how you talk about it, because he could end up winning and becoming Prime Minister. The Jews there are trying to manage this situation themselves, and then Oren comes and speaks like that. We tweeted about this in a very sharp manner and very many people retweeted it. Even when they were talking about moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, we uploaded a clip of Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro (spokesman for Naturna) who spoke about it.” In the clip, Shapiro can be seen watching the American President Donald Trump declaring Jerusalem as the “capital of the Jewish People.” Shapiro explains that “There is no political connection between Israel and Jerusalem. It’s just a holy city,” he declared, “The Jewish People have no capital, we never had a capital. The Jewish People are a religious community. We pray towards Jerusalem and treat it as a holy city, not as the political capital of the Jewish People.” The clip has close to two million views on Facebook alone. Their page has 300,000 followers from around the world. Katz: “When Rabbi Shapiro is asked about politics in Israel, he asks: ‘Why don’t you ask me about politics in China or Taiwan? If I answer , that means I’m connected to them, and the truth is that I am not.”

You financially support the campaign against the Draft Law?

“First of all, we indeed support the campaign in Israel against the draft. In terms of the war against decrees in general, we have a different approach: First of all, the difference between Satmar and the Edah Hacharedit and bodies like Agudat Israel and Degel hatorah is that they feel that to fight the draft or any other issue, they need to be ‘on the inside,’ part of the system. We think that we need to influence ‘from the outside.’ Satmar and the Edah Hacharedit consider voting in Israel to be a very serious prohibition, because the voters are ‘founders of the government,’ partners and those who admit the authority of the ‘rule of heresy.’ Even if they work in the Knesset in favor of religion, this is forbidden, just as one may not work on Shabbat even if the monetary loss is great. It is forbidden to vote and send representatives to the Knesset. After all, when you have two parties for instance in the US, Republicans and Democrats, each will oppose the law of the other, even if it is good. That’s politics. So it is regarding the draft of Charedim and other interests they have within the political system. In our opinion, for instance, if Yair Lapid didn’t see Charedim in the Knesset, he would not deal with it all the time. There would be no focus on Charedim. So that’s how it is with the draft.”

Torah Study in Israel is Worthless

As part of their hasbarah efforts, Satmar Chassidim have worked to ensure that French Jews not make Aliyah a few years ago. They provided grants to yeshiva students and even established Charedi institutions for those olim so that they don’t learn in state schools. Katz does not want to talk about the subject too much, but he does say that “We worked so that the Jews remain in France, since Aliyah to Israel at this time is heresy against the value that the ingathering of the exiles will happen when our Just Messiah comes. The Messiah King will gather the People of Israel. In our opinion, if they leave the Republic, this will be a great problem. For instance, if a person walks in France with his kid and sees a kosher restaurant, he will go in because it is Jewish. But in Israel this does not necessarily happen – because everyone there is Jewish, even without the observance of the Torah. So there isn’t that separation. Even if Jews in France have problems, like antisemitic incidents, we need to make public that Jews in France are not related to Israel, that there is no relation at all between the two.”

Would you be happy if the State of Israel ceased to exist?

“We pray that it will be ended based on mercy and charity without any pain or harm to a Jew.”

Do you have a special prayer against the existence of the State of Israel?

“No, this is what we mean when we say the words ‘and the informers should have no hope’ in prayer.”

Katz does not see any value in the flourishing of the study of Torah in Israel. According to him, many of the Gedolim did not live in the Land of Israel: “The Babylonian Talmud was written in Iraq, most of the Ashkenazi and Sefardi Gedolim did not live in the State of Israel. Most of the Torah in fact was not in Israel. This is part of our philosophy.” He also adds that “Some of the talented iluyim who made Aliyah led to the destruction of some of the great communities in the lands of exile.”

It All Derives from Ahavat Israel

An interesting point is that Naturna represents both factions in Satmar, perhaps the only body doing so for two groups that are not on good terms. “We will always be in both papers, and we consult with both sides on our responses and how we operate,” he explained, saying that he himself does not entirely belong to any of the factions, trying instead to be part of both equally.

As opposed to the past, when Satmar Chassidim were detached from technology, today more and more youth and adults are connected to the internet and have cellphones. Katz agrees with my claim about the Chassidut, which is starting to change: “The problem is that it can’t be avoided. Our two Rebbes try to get the public to stay away from the internet, but it’s a problem, because it’s a way to make a living and therefore very hard to limit. Once in truth like you noted, we were more isolated and not exposed the internet, but since the Chassidut has grown, politicians in the US understand that our communities are growing, that we have a lot of children, so they automatically want to be in touch with us. In the wake of the high price of housing, Satmar Chassidim live in all sorts of places – not just in Kiryas Yoel, Williamsburg, Borough Park, but in other areas.” According to a study conducted in 2006, there are close to 120,000 Satmar Chassidim around the world, most of them in the US. Other studies pointed to lower numbers. The two factions of Satmar have 500 households per faction in Israel.

“It’s hard to know how many Satmar Chassidim there in the world today, as there are people who don’t look like Chassidim or who don’t observe all the customs, but who are certainly affiliated with us,” Katz said.

It would seem that for most of our readers, the sense is that you simply hate us.

“The reason we are against the State of Israel is because we are for Jews and love the Jews. There is the famous saying: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. That’s how we see the Jewish People: Don’t put all the Jews in one place. After all, the plan of the Holy One, Blessed Be He is that there be Jews everywhere, while the gathering of all Jews in one place is the hope of the antisemities, so they can destroy us. The Jews should be everywhere in our view. They say of the Satmar Rebbe, that the greatest Zionist came to him with a personal problem, and he treated him like a Chassid. He treated everyone in the same way. There is no personal issue here with Jews, but a belief in the justice of our path, which is very different than yours. We cry just like you when there are serious events. We also cry over the source of the trouble: The State of Israel. All our charity groups are aimed at all Jews, without asking them what they think of Israel. For instance, activities of visiting the sick and a range of other charity activities.”

To end the conversation, he wishes to stress: “I don’t want to insult people; the Satmar Rebbe never mentioned people he was against in his drashas. I believe that the Satmar Rebbe loved Jews much more than all the Zionists. He also gave money to all the Jews. It didn’t matter what they believed or not. If a person is a Jew and needed help – he came to his aid. It all derived from ahavat Israel.”


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