In general, the term "off the derech" is used to refer to someone who has left the proper path of Torah observance and taken on a lifestyle free of mitzvos. However, this is an arbitrary definition which I think is far too limited. Specifically, I think it's about time that the term be applied not only to those of our brethren who have mistakenly concluded that Judaism has nothing to offer them but also to those whose piety leads them to engage in unJewish activities that betray the main principles of Judaism.
And in this regard, I'm thinking specifically of the Satmar chasidim. No, not just the Neturei Karta whackjobs but their "mainstream" cousins. Recall that Chazal gave us three defining characteristics of Jewish people - we are supposed to be rachmanim (merciful), bayshanim (easily embarrassed) and gomei chasadim (doers of kind deeds). In addition, we are repeatedly told by Chazal that one must respect the Torah sages of the Jewish people without regard to their political views. However, a recent article in Ynet shows that Satmar, in its ongoing quest to achieve some kind of twisted purity, has abandoned those characteristics:
According to the Satmar rebbe, Zionism is a total violation of the Torah. "If we were to take all the violations of the generation and the many transgressions committed around the world and placed them on one side of a scale and the Zionist state on the other side, it would be overwhelmingly decided that it is root of all impurity and damage in the entire world and contaminates the entire world," the rebbe wrote in the pamphlet.
In response to the question "Who is the minister of the Zionists in Heaven?", the rabbi answered in a response from the previous century, "Obviously the Angel of Death is their minister. Behold, every country has its governor… this country, which is rooted and based in the forces of impurity and the Other Side, this certainly is its minister."
The pamphlet also outlines: Even those who believe that a Jewish state must exist in the Land of Israel having no other choice because of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) "violate the holy Torah." The pamphlet directs readers to the Tractate of Avot, saying that the sentence "every man is judged favorably" is said about everyone except Zionists. In addition, it asserts that it is a mitzvah to speak lashon hara (slander) about Zionists.
"Whoever has a part in this is delaying redemption at every moment and is delaying the inspiration of the Divine Presence and is delaying the coming of the Messiah. Even someone who takes the smallest part, even as slight as the edge of a yod (the tenth and smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet)… even someone who bends towards them, even by one hair, must be avoided like a bowshot. Whoever thinks yes (that Zionism is the correct path) and not just whoever says yes or even has a thought to this effect, is certainly a heretic."
The rabbi added, "I do not want to have any association with a Jew who thinks like this, and I do not want to find anyone who thinks like this even for a moment in my beit midrash (house of study)… In previous generations, if people only suspected of someone that he has tendencies to think this way in his heart, he was sent away, not included in prayer, and in this manner was they ride themselves of such plight."
Let's review some salient history. The Satmar Rav, one Yoel Teitelbaum, escaped from Hungary during the Second World War through help from the Zionist movement in Israel, leaving behind most of his disciples with a vague promise that if they daven hard enough God will save them. Clearly they didn't because He didn't. After reaching Israel, the Rav decamped to the United States as quickly as he could and spent the rest of his life condemning the people who had saved his skin from the Nazi gas chambers.
In addition, let's discuss methodology. One of the most important principles of halachic discourse is the concept of eilu v'eilu. It is fundamental towards analyzing halacha and determining which practices are to be considered normative and which are beyond the pale of acceptable Orthodox behaviour. It allows for the great complexity, depth and subtlety of halacha. It is also absent from Satmar philosophy.
A couple of examples will suffice. A few posts ago I discussed a difference in approach between HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, and HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt"l on a particular medical issue. If one looks at Rav Auerbach's teshuva, one finds in the opening paragraphs an amazing statement. Having been asked to write on the subject and being aware that Rav Moshe had already paskened an answer, Rav Auerbach contacted him to ask for his permission to publish a dissenting answer. In contrast, when Rav Moshe published a teshuva on the subject of in vitro fertilization that the Satmar Rav didn't agree with, he instructed three of his chasidim to go to Rav Moshe and demand that he retract it. No discussion, no debate, no eilu v'eilu. Just "how dare you have a different approach, I don't care what you think, I demand you agree with me now!" I have never read the Satmar's books and have no interest. I also don't care that some consider him a Gadol HaDor or even the Gadol HaDor. Such an attitude precludes me from taking an interest in his point of view.
But to get back to the original point, let us now examine how the Satmar's words disqualify his beliefs from being considered normative Judaism:
Rachmanim: The pamphlet directs readers to the Tractate of Avot, saying that the sentence "every man is judged favorably" is said about everyone except Zionists. In addition, it asserts that it is a mitzvah to speak lashon hara (slander) about Zionists.
Bayshanim: "Truly, if it were possible, and even with true devotion, to announce to the nations of the world that these evil people are not the representatives of Israel and Torah- and mitzvoth-keeping Jews, who have no connection to them, this would be one of the biggest mitzvoth that would need to be carried out with devotion,"
Gomlei Chasadim: Even those who believe that a Jewish state must exist in the Land of Israel having no other choice because of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) "violate the holy Torah." The pamphlet directs readers to the Tractate of Avot, saying that the sentence "every man is judged favorably" is said about everyone except Zionists. In addition, it asserts that it is a mitzvah to speak lashon hara (slander) about Zionists.
In terms of the matter of reverence for Torah sages, one can only imagine what these self-appointed guardians of the holiness of Israel would say about the great leaders of the last two centuries like both Rav Kooks, Rav Alkalai, Rav Reines, Rav Kalischer, the Netziv of Volozhin and others who saw religious value in Zionism and the aschalta d'guela beginning to unfold in our days.
We must stop giving deference to this group of aliens who garb themselves in false purity and holiness. It matters not that they read from a sefer Torah identical to one that authentic Jews use or that they wear tzitzis and tefillin just like ours. We must stand up and announce that by abandoned the three defining characteristics of the Jewish people through their creation of a religion based on hatred of the av nivchar, as well as their lack of respect for Torah giants who make their Rav look like an intellectual and spiritual midget.