Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 3 November 2008

Gedolim Who Matter Part 2 - Rav Issachar Teichtal

HaRav Issachar Teichtal
From his Wikipedia page
Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal was born in Hungary in 1885 from a family of well-known rabbis and Jewish leaders. His parents were Gittel and Yitzchak Teichtal. His father was a scholar, teacher, and a chasid of the Rebbe of Sanz. At thirteen years of age, Yisachar began his yeshiva study under Rabbi Shalom Weider who was the av beit din (town rabbi) of Nyrdhaa, Hungary. At age fifteen he moved to Gavne, Poland, where he was a student of Rabbi Shalom Unger.
He returned to Hungary and at the age of twenty-one he received rabbinic ordination (semichah) from the Rebbe of Talisheva. Rabbi Teichtal received another ordination a year latter from Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg and a third ordination the same year from Rabbi Mordechai Leib Winkler. Rabbi Teichtal first married when he was 19 years of age to Freidl Ginz. When Freidl died at a young age he married Nechamah Friedman.
In 1921 Rabbi Teichtal became the av beit din and Rabbi of Pishtian, a city famous for its mineral baths, in Czechoslovakia. Remaining in Pishtian for 25 years he established the Moriah Yeshiva.

World War II
Czechoslovakia was invaded in 1938 while Rabbi Teichtal was still residing in Pishtian. As the Nazi oppression increased he found himself along with ten other family members in hiding at the local beit midrash (house of learning). From his hiding place he witnessed many atrocities including the mass deportation of friends and neighbors.
The Chief Rabbi of Slovakia in Nitra sent messengers offering refuge for Rabbi Teichtal and his family. In the month of Elul, 1942, he and his family escaped into Hungary to go into hiding in Nitra. After much wandering he finally ended up in Budapest where he remained for nearly two years. In Budapest he completed his seminal work, Eim HaBanim Semeichah after working on it for a little more than one year.
In 1944 Hungary was invaded by the Nazis. Thinking that Slovakia might be safe, the Teichtal family returned there to wait out the end of the war. At the time the Nazis stepped up their efforts to find remaining Jews. Rabbi Teichtal and his family were captured and transported to Auschwitz.

As the Soviet army advanced through Poland, in January 1945, the inmates of Auschwitz, including Rabbi Teichtal and his family, were transported deeper into Germany. Rabbi Teichtal died in a train on his way to the Mauthausen concentration camp on the 10th of Shevat, 5705 (January 24, 1945). The following quotation is from an account of his father’s death on a train transport related by Rabbi Chayim Menachem Teichtal:
After starving their victims for a number of days, the oppressors tossed each of them a meager crust of bread, with the evil intent of having them fight pathetically for their paltry allotment. Indeed, one of the Ukrainians grabbed the portion of a Jew – my father’s neighbor - who was desperate for this crust of bread. This angered my father, who demanded the return of the theft. The other travelers begged my father not to get involved, since it might cost him his life. But he said “How can I stand by when the wronged man’s life depends on this food?” Indeed he insisted on taking a stand, and the Ukrainians, with the cooperation of the Nazi soldiers, rose against him and killed him, after torturing him mercilessly.
(from the Historical Introduction of Eim Habonim Semeichah: on Eretz Yisrael, Redemption, and Unity published in 2000 by Kol Mevaser Publications, Mevaseret Tzion, Israel; pg xxiv).
As a result of the holocaust Rabbi Teichtal radically changed his position on Israel as he struggled to make meaning out of what was happening around him. His carefully constructed arguments are outlined in his book Eim Habanim Semeichah penned during his wanderings in hiding from his Nazi oppressors and their collaborators. In that work, first published in 1943, he makes a case for Zionism and a call for the Jewish people to unite to rebuild the land of Israel bringing about the ultimate redemption. In this respect his work had a precursor in the works of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. His original view had been that of the majority in the Orthodox Jewish world at the time which discouraged an active movement for a return of Jews to Israel. The prevalent view at that time was that G-d would bring about a return without the need of human mechanizations. One remnant of this view, now held by only a minority within Orthodox Judaism, is that the State of Israel is itself illegitimate and contrary to the will of G-d. Neturei Karta is an example of one small, but high profile, group which is still actively opposed to the modern state of Israel.

Rabbi Teichtal wrote much more than the Eim Habanim Semeichah, in particular שו"ת משנה שכיר Mishneh Sochir (responsa). Rabbi Teichtal was a prolific writer, and miraculously a number of his other works survived both his untimely death and the holocaust. Many of his works are still in manuscript form and have not yet been published. The Mishneh Sachir Center located in Bnei Brak, Israel is an advanced Talmudic learning academy named in the honor of Rabbi Teichtal carrying on his work and preserving his legacy.
Why he matters
Rav Teichtal was not only a genius but also capable of insight that few other of his time were capable of. Too often, very intelligent people become set in their opinions and refuse to consider the possibility that other points of view might have equal merit to their own. Despite evidence to the contrary, they continue to hold to their beliefs and delegitimize all others.
Rav Teichtal, on the other hand, although raised in a staunchly anti-Zionist environment, was able to contemplate during his time in hiding the possible meaning of the conflagaration our people were engulfed in during the Holocaust. His self-reflection enabled him to reach a conclusion far different that the one he had held before the war and his perspective on the return to Israel changed dramatically as a result. With his ability to change his mind, he was able to see how our holy sources actually endorsed a return to Zion as being acceptable in halachah and he proved this in his book, Eim HaBanim Semeicha.
Too often, the arguments for Zionism are couched in political or idealistic terms. We forget that, as Jews, we are obliged to direct our lives within the guiding lines of halachah. With Rav Teichtal's example, we are able to know that those Jews who see the return to Israel in our time as a sign of the beginning of our final redemption are not merely dreamers but fulfilling God's will as foretold to us by our prophets and Sages.

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