Kosher Bookworm

Literature of the 3 weeks and the Shoah


Midway through the month of Tammuz our religious focus shifts to observances commemorating the saddest events in our history. The destruction of the two temples, the murders and massacres of centuries past, and the hateful actions that fill our daily news feeds are given special attention at this time of year.

“Em Habanim Semeha: Restoration of Zion As a Response During the Holocaust,” by Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, edited and translated by Rabbi Dr. Pesach Schindler, emerges as a premier literary work of the Holocaust era. Teichtal, a chassidic rabbi, was a fervent adherent of a rabid anti-Zionist ideology. During the last years of the Holocaust, as its horrors enveloped his community and ultimately consumed him as well, he openly repudiated his anti-Zionist beliefs and committed his feelings into writings, which evolved into “Eim HaBanim Semeha.”

The book was hidden before Rabbi Teichtal was deported. After the war, it was brought to Israel and printed in Hebrew. Based on classical Jewish sources, the author tries to find meaning in the tragedy unfolding around him. He began to see the galus as the prime source of all the troubles. He regarded aliyah to Israel as the rectifying force, which did not happen because of the widespread anti-Zionist stand of most of the chassidic leadership in Europe during the inter-war years.

In addition to strong theological arguments for the settlement of Israel, Rabbi Teichtal condemns his fellow chassidic rabbis. He directly blames them for the large Jewish presence that remained in East Europe on the eve of World War II.

In 1999 “Eim HaBanim Semeha” was translated into English by Rabbi Dr. Pesach Schindler of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, one of the most distinguished scholars of both the Holocaust era and the chassidic community under Nazi rule. What makes Rabbi Schindler’s work unique is that he does not treat it as a literal translation, but as a learning experience. He translates the most important sections of the book together with detailed footnotes that are designed to be informative and allow the reader to conduct further research. Additionally, the print, type style, and format make it a very user-friendly volume.

Rabbi Schindler, in paraphrasing Rabbi Teichtal’s original work, has edited the book to make it readable for both the expert and the layperson.

In his eloquent and informative introduction to the book, Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, the former rabbi of Shaaray Tefila in Lawrence and a close friend of Dr. Schindler, noted the value of the editor’s introduction to the work. “It enables even readers unfamiliar with the historic background to appreciate the momentous nature of Rabbi Teichtal’s ‘conversion’ from radical anti-Zionism to a passionate advocacy of religious Zionism,” he says.

Rabbi Wurzburger further notes that one major technical flaw in the original volume is that because of its hasty composition under trying conditions, some of the language assumes that the reader has a firm base in the works cited. Thus, notes Rabbi Wurzburger, “even individuals who can read the Hebrew original will derive much benefit from Dr. Schindler’s excellent notes and commentary. With the tools of scholarship at his disposal, he is able to illuminate what would otherwise have remained obscure to those who cannot match his [Rabbi Teichtal’s] extensive knowledge of Talmudic and chassidic literature.”

This is a very delicate topic, sensitive to some who have refused to acknowledge past misjudgments. Rabbi Dr. Schindler’s treatment of this text reflects a keen sensitivity to the issue at hand. I highly recommend it.

Originally published July 16, 2008