Guest post by R. Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is the Executive Vice President Emeritus of the Orthodox Union and the Editor-in-Chief of the Koren Talmud Bavli.
Rare indeed is a book in which the author confesses that he made a great mistake. Rarer still is the author who is willing to retract his whole Weltanschauung, his entire worldview or hashkafa.
I have researched this matter and have found hardly any examples of an entire book written as a confession of a major error in our Jewish literature, or, for that matter, in the literature of the world at large.
Yet there is one book, and it is among my very favorite ones, in which the author admits that he and his mentors and teachers were wrong, and tragically so. That book is entitled Eim Ha-Banim Semeicha and was written by Rav Issachar Teichtal, zt”l, May God avenge his blood.
Rav Teichtal was the Rabbi of the small resort community Pishtian, in what is today Slovakia. He was a great talmid chacham and posek, and authored several volumes of responsa (She’eilos U-Teshuvos), known as Mishne Sachir. When I was a much younger man I was told by an older friend, who survived the Holocaust and lived in the region where Rav Teichtal was well known, that his halachic rulings were to the people of that time and place as authoritative as were the rulings of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l to me and to my generation.
Rav Teichtal had many great rebbeim, and had a special relationship with the Munkacser Rav, the Minchas Elazar, who was known as a great zealot and vehement anti-Zionist. Rav Teichtal too had strong anti-Zionist opinions, and, like his mentor, attributed the woes of the Jewish people in the late 1930s to the fact that Zionism was on the rise.
As the terrible Holocaust drew closer, however, Rav Teichtal began to rethink those opinions. He suffered terribly in the early years of the Holocaust, and spent many of those years in hiding and in flight. In one of those places of hiding, bereft of his library and seforim, he wrote the book Eim Ha-Banim Semeicha. In it he retracts his previous anti-Zionist statements, and criticizes, albeit respectfully, his mentor the Minchas Elazar, and others, for their anti-Zionist views.
He quotes from a dazzling array of sources in Tanach and Talmud, in Rishonim and Acharonim, in Sifrei Machshava and Sifrei Chassidus, to support his new position; namely, that not only is returning to the land of Israel a great mitzvah at this particular time, but that the failure of the Jewish people to move to Israel en masse in the decades leading up to the Holocaust was a grievous sin, and can even be seen as one of the reasons for the Holocaust.
I first came upon this sefer in my late adolescence and it was an eye opener to me. Much more recently I came to know some of Rav Teichtal’s descendents, who survived the Holocaust, and who now live in various communities in Israel. I have learned much about him through them, and have systematically collected everything that has been written about him.
I also possess all of the various other seforim which he wrote, which include the many volumes of Shu”t Mishne Sachir, and his Holocaust diaries entitled Kur Ha-Shoah. Most exciting has been the publication by his family of his sermons from the pre-World War I years up until the early 1940s. The story behind his family’s ability to recover these manuscripts is a near miraculous one.
These sermons are now published in three thick volumes entitled Mishne Sachir al Ha-Torah Ve-Ha-Moadim. I study these volumes regularly, and include quotations from them in my own writings and talks. I have a personal theory, with which others disagree, that the beginnings of his change of heart regarding Zionism can be found in these earlier writings. I maintain that he did not suddenly change his opinion under the pressures and stress of the Holocaust, but had gradually begun to reformulate his opinions in the aftermath of World War I.
Whether I am correct in my thesis or not is immaterial. What is important is that this great Gaon, who was killed in the very last months of the terrible war, has left us a legacy of many written works. Especially prominent among them is Eim Ha-Banim Semeicha, which in my opinion is nothing less than an authoritative encyclopedia supporting the great mitzvah of living in the land of Israel.