Setting the Record Straight about Orthodox Rabbis’ Appeal to Hitler

March 20, 2019 | Moshe Grussgott
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In 1928, the Polish branch of Agudath Israel—the leading Orthodox organization at the time—aligned itself with the ex-socialist Jozef Pilsudski’s authoritarian and nationalist ruling coalition. Now a recent article, ignoring the fact that the Pilsudski regime kept the ferocious anti-Semites of the major opposition party out of power, has drawn a parallel between this decision by Agudath Israel and a letter sent to Adolf Hitler by German Orthodox rabbis in 1933, and sees in both a parallel to current Orthodox support for Donald Trump and an alleged Orthodox tolerance for “white nationalism.” Moshe Grussgott refutes this argument:

German Orthodox leaders appealed [in a letter] to Hitler that Communist Jews didn’t represent true Jewry, and that traditional/Orthodox Judaism actually shared certain values with Nazism. . . . As [the historian of Orthodoxy Marc] Shapiro points out, this letter is obviously a sad and desperate attempt by a persecuted people to appease a strongman and to spare European Jews from persecution and murder. . . . [T]o take this letter as . . . an expression of genuine Orthodox values is akin to a journalist visiting a plantation in the American South in 1860, being told by the black slaves how much they loved their master and how they identified with white supremacy over blacks, and then reporting this conversation at face value as evidence of some sort of genuine sense of affinity and identification. . . .

As for the present Orthodox leadership, and the allegation that it did not properly stand up to the ideology motivating the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue:

[I]n August of 2017—a mere fourteen months before the Pittsburgh shooting—the RCA, the largest group of Orthodox rabbis in North America, strongly and unequivocally condemned white nationalism and took what they called the unusual step of denouncing President Trump for equivocating on this matter. . . . [Furthermore], a simple Google search reveals the following about the various Jewish communal statements in the wake of [the Pittsburgh] shooting: the statement of the Conservative movement does not mention white nationalism; the statement of the Reform movement does not mention white nationalism; the statement of the Jewish Federations of North America does not mention white nationalism. [And so forth]. . . .

These statements do all condemn hatred, bigotry, and anti-Semitism in general terms, to be sure; just as the [equivalent] Orthodox statements do. But none of them specifically denounces “white nationalism.” Do all of these organizations have a tolerance for white nationalism? Perhaps what really accounts for this is that the main purpose of major communal statements in the immediate wake of such an internal communal tragedy is to express empathy for the victims and to condemn the act of violence in a concise and general manner, without delving into too much commentary.

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