About a community of anti-Zionist Jews
By Yirmiyahu Cohen
Published Saturday 25/07/2009 (updated) 27/07/2009 19:34
The True Torah Jews protest in New York
Last month I wrote an article about Abraham Wieder, mayor of an American town of 20,000 Orthodox Jews, who wrote to President Obama praising his efforts to stop the bloodshed in the Middle East, while denouncing the Zionist state as a contravention of the Almighty’s command.
For many in the Middle East that may have been the first time hearing about these Orthodox Jews who oppose Zionism, and our community was inundated with questions: who exactly are we and what percentage of Jews do we make up? And most importantly, can the existence of this segment of Jewry raise our hopes that the long-awaited end of the Zionist regime may come from within?
To answer these questions, I would like to share with you some history of Zionism and of Orthodoxy, and of the large community of anti-Zionist Jews living in the American town of Kiryas Joel, from where Mayor Abraham Wieder expressed his support for Obama and his peace policy.
The town was founded by Rabbi Teitelbaum in 1977. At that time, 14 families of his followers moved into the new town. According to census data, Kiryas Joel grew faster than any other community in New York state from 2000 through 2006. Now it is home to over 20,000 Jews. Kiryas Joel grew by 51%, to 20,071 residents from 13,273, over the six-year period. The village has the youngest median age (15.0) of any population center of over 5,000 residents in the United States.
I personally grew up in America as a member of this community, and I spent seven years attending an excellent yeshiva in Jerusalem. At this yeshiva Zionism was not taught or encouraged, but it was rarely spoken against either. The focus was primarily on Torah study.
To trace the importance of these factors, we must look back to the twentieth century and the near death and rebirth of traditional Orthodox Judaism.
Before World War II, the vast majority of Orthodox Jews lived in Europe, and for a century their communities were devastated from within by Jewish breakaway movements. What began as the “enlightenment,” a movement toward modern culture, led to ideologies such as Socialism, Communism and Zionism. By the time the war broke out, most of the younger Jews had been led away from Judaism by these movements. The Holocaust wiped out European Jewry, including what was left of Orthodoxy there.
Following the end of the war in 1945 and the establishment of the Zionist state in 1948, Jews have lived mainly in America and in the Zionist state. (There were 2 or 3 million Jews living peacefully in Arab countries who had not been affected by Zionism until then, but the Zionists quickly focused their propaganda efforts on these Jews and convinced them to immigrate to their state.) There were few traditional Jews left, and while the Zionists attempted to secularize the Jews in their country, assimilation made inroads in American Jewry. Historians at that time, looking at the current trends, predicted that Orthodox Judaism would soon die out.
But they were wrong. The rabbis of the time skillfully rebuilt their communities, putting strong emphasis on yeshiva schooling for children. Knowing that they were dealing with Jews who had been led away from Judaism by Zionism, many rabbis chose not to focus on fighting Zionism, for fear of alienating their people. They ignored Zionism in their synagogues and yeshivas, focusing instead on traditional Jewish themes. Thus a whole segment of the Orthodox Jewish world was built that could be called “non-Zionists”: Jews for whom Zionism is not important. These number close to a million worldwide today. Many of these Jews are ignorant of the Torah issues surrounding Zionism, so many of them are easily led to believe whatever the Zionist newspapers teach them.
Other rabbis did speak out against Zionism, and they too had success in rebuilding large Orthodox communities. Most notable among these was Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979), founder and architect of the Satmar Hasidic community. Rabbi Teitelbaum spoke throughout his life against Zionism’s false ideology, and he authored several books on the subject. Satmar Hasidim live mainly in Brooklyn, New York and in Kiryas Joel, New York, the town whose mayor wrote the letter to the president. But there are also Satmar communities in London, Belgium and Jerusalem. These communities can be called “anti-Zionist” and they number about 150,000 worldwide.
It was through reading Rabbi Teitelbaum’s books that I became aware of the true contradiction between Zionism and Judaism. The Talmud says that ever since the beginning of exile, Jews are forbidden to conquer the Holy Land, or to fight wars against the non-Jewish nations. They are also forbidden to take physical action toward their redemption. Thus, according to Jewish law a Jewish state is forbidden to exist. It must be dismantled and the land must be ruled by a non-Jewish government.
Another notable anti-Zionist community is the Eidah Hareidis of Jerusalem, founded in the 1920s, of which Neturei Karta, founded in 1935, is a part. The Eidah Chareidis supervises a network of schools throughout the Holy Land that refuse to accept any funding from the Zionist government. Students in these schools today number around 50,000.
At the same time as this amazing growth was taking place in the Orthodox world, a decline was slowly taking shape in the secular Zionist world. Zionism was at first a completely secular movement, to the point that some rabbis declared that the Zionists’ true purpose was to lead Jews away from Judaism, and the state was only a means to that end. In 1948, almost all the state’s leaders, and all of its army, were non-religious Jews. But secular Jewish movements do not last forever, for the simple reason that secularists do not take care to educate their children to follow in their ideology. The old generation of Zionists died out, and the new generation had no particular desire to be Zionists or even Jews. Many of them are moving to other countries, and young secular Israeli youth are, for the first time, dodging the draft. As the decades wore by and Jews became more aware of the Palestinian people, Zionism’s victims, they had less and less desire to continue the fight.
There are, of course, some Zionists who are halfway between religious and secular. Their community educates its children, and they are not dying out like the secularists. These religious Zionists make up the settler communities, and are increasingly becoming the only Jews who really care to continue fighting to maintain the Zionist occupation of the Holy Land.
We Jews stand today at a crossroads in history. As the Zionist movement gradually passes from the hands of the pure secularists to the hands of the religious Zionists, and as anti-Zionist Jews continue to proclaim the true Torah view that Jews have believed for centuries, the rapidly growing non-Zionist community finds itself in the middle. To which side will they go?
It is my sincere hope that they change their approach of deliberately ignoring this subject, and begin to see what I have learned: that Zionism is fundamentally against the principles of Judaism, that it must be clearly and publicly denounced, and that religious Zionism must be declared an heretical movement. My organization, True Torah Jews Against Zionism, is doing a lot of work in this area by spreading books and other reading material against Zionism throughout the Orthodox world. We already have seen some success.
Sadly, however, many non-Zionist Jews have been brainwashed by the incessant Zionist rhetoric of the Jewish newspapers to believe that all Arabs and Muslims are murderers and the only way to protect Jews is to support the Zionist state. Every time the Zionists launch an attack on Palestinians, such as in the Gaza operation this year, they build even more support for themselves, because their actions cause a backlash of Jew hatred in the Arab world, which in turn causes Jews to support the Zionists. It is a never-ending cycle.
The way to end this is to do what we are doing: show Jews that the Zionists are the ones who stirred up this whole fight to begin with, and that their actions have only brought trouble upon Jews; and to show Jews that Jews and Arabs have always and can still live side by side in peace.
We must also remember that as all of these trends are occurring within the Jewish world, Divine Providence is preparing the demographic solution as an end to the tragedy of the Zionist state. In a special report on the 61st anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics surveyed the demographic situation in the Holy Land. According to the report, the worldwide Palestinian population was 10.6 million at the end of 2008, compared to 1.4 million in 1948 – a sevenfold increase. Moreover, the report stated that the total number of Palestinians living in historic Palestine (between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea), by the end of 2008 totaled 5.1 million compared to 5.6 Jews. The report predicted that the Palestinian and Jewish populations in historic Palestine will be equal by 2016. This is all without counting the millions of refugees who long to return to their land.
Thus there is hope on the horizon. A time will soon come when Jews will be faced with the additional ethical dilemma of a minority ruling over a majority. Most secular Jews will surely be uninterested in such a prospect, which goes against the principles of humanism. The religious Zionist and settler communities will continue the fight, but they cannot win it on their own. Their numbers are too small. It will be the larger community of non-Zionist Orthodox Jews who make the difference. Our job, as Jews who know the truth of the Torah, is to bring those Jews to the truth as well. They are ready to hear it.
***Yirmiyahu Cohen is an American rabbi and spokesman for the group Jews Against Zionism. He is the author of several books on Orthodox Jewish thought and history. His articles have appeared at