Rare split exposed within Agudah leadership in lead up to pro-Israel DC rally

Despite initial support by some, six of Agudah’s 13 rabbinic advisors ultimately opposed the rally for its overtly secular atmosphere and failing to accommodate Haredi sensibilities

Participants at the DC rally. Credit: Eli Feldblum

Nov 28, 2023 1:40 PM


Rabbinic advisors and lay leaders for Agudath Israel of America were split over Agudah’s role in the Nov. 14 pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C., following the organization's initial support of the event. Six members of Agudah’s 13-member Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah — or Council of Torah Sages — publicly withdrew their support due largely to its overtly secular nature.

The Agudah, an organization that lobbies for Haredi Jewish interests in the U.S., surprised many by sharing a poster for the rally on X, formerly Twitter, in the leadup to the event. The organization also released a statement declaring its support for the rally, according to multiple media outlets, which many took to mean that the rally had the backing of the Moetzes, the Agudah’s official rabbinic authority. 

“In light of the ongoing life-threatening danger confronting Israeli soldiers and all of our dear brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel, and with great concern about the extremely volatile political climate here in the United States, we feel it is important” to attend the rally, the Agudah statement said.

However, dissent among Moetzes members appeared soon after. 

In a highly charged video message that circulated on social media as early as Nov. 12, Rabbi Yitzchok Sorotzkin, a prominent yeshiva lecturer in Lakewood, N.J., and a Moetzes member, strongly opposed the rally, calling it “trayf like chazer” — or as non-kosher as a pig. The event, Sorotzkin said, suggested a reliance on our own strength for our protection, rather than on God’s. “We must realize that it’s not the army that’s going to save us.” He claimed, furthermore, that a public rally would “antagonize the Arabs and Muslims and the non-Jews,” which would only lead to greater antisemitism and further endanger Jewish lives.

On the morning of Nov. 14., soon before the rally began, another wave of rabbis withdrew their support.

In a letter to his followers, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, another Moetzes member, wrote that the rabbis had been initially assured that the event organizers would accommodate Haredi religious sensibilities. However, after the program was made available, he learned that the rally was to be “a celebration of secular Zionism,” which, he wrote, “is a rejection of the Jewish faith.” 

Feldman was also disappointed to learn, among other things, that a Christian pastor would be speaking at the event, that attendees would sing the Israeli national anthem Hatikvah, and that the President and Ambassador of the State of Israel would have a “dominant presence.”

Feldman’s letter spoke directly to the Haredi community’s complicated relationship with Israel and Zionism. “Torah Jews recognize the need for a government in Israel, and, of course, will do nothing to dismantle it or to expose it to danger,” he wrote. “But they cannot recognize its ideology as legitimately Jewish” — because of its secular orientation.

In addition to Sorotzkin and Feldman, Moetzes members Elya Brudny, Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, Yeruchim Olshin, and Yakov Horowitz all discouraged their followers from attending the rally, according to letters obtained by the Haredi news site Yeshiva World News. In their letter, they expressed concerns about “joining with religious streams who are far from the Torah path.” The rabbis also wrote that they realized “the main speakers are a mixture of people whose entire essence is the opposite of Torah.”

These rabbis’ views contradicted those expressed by Rabbi Avi Shafran, Agudah's director of public affairs. In an opinion piece published on Oct. 10 in the Forward, Shafran wrote that Haredim should unite with secular Jews, not avoid them. Too often, Haredim “isolate ourselves in entirely separate communities from our fellow Jews,” Shafran wrote. “We need to foster a stronger sense of Klal Yisrael — a complete Jewish community.” He added that Haredim should express “concern for fellow Jews because they are, well, fellow Jews. Regardless of how they express that identity.”

Agudah’s endorsement of the pro-Israel rally was also criticized by Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, who leads one faction of the Satmar Hasidic community — though he had a somewhat different rationale from that of the Moetzes rabbis.

“The politicians of Agudath Israel in America write that we should go to Washington together with all the Zionist organizations, to show support for the war and for the [Israeli] government,” Teitelbaum said in a speech in mid-November. “It is a disgrace and a shame. They never felt the importance of giving support and encouragement to Jews who protest violations of Torah law,” he added, referring to Israeli Haredim who have protested against various aspects of secular life in Israel. 

While many Haredi communities have historically opposed Zionism, Satmar Hasidim are known to hold a firmer stance on this, opposing Israel’s secular orientation and believing that Jews should not have their own state before the arrival of the messiah.

Agudah representatives did not immediately respond to Shtetl’s request for comment.