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Teichthal, Yisakhar Shelomoh

(1885–1945), Hasidic rabbi. Born in Nagyhalász in northeastern Hungary and educated in Hasidic yeshivas in Poland and Hungary, Yisakhar Shelomoh Teichthal studied in several Hasidic kloyzn (small study and prayer houses) in Poland during his teen years, most notably in the kloyz of the Sandz Hasidim in Tarnów, before returning to Hungary. There he became a close disciple of Mosheh Grünwald (1853–1910) at the renowned yeshiva of Chust, the second largest Orthodox yeshiva in the country.

Teichthal received his rabbinical ordination from Hungary’s leading Talmudic scholars in 1906. From around 1910 to 1921, he served as a dayan (rabbinical judge) and assistant to his father-in-law, Ya‘akov Yitsḥak, in Hajdúböszörmény, Hungary, and quickly earned a reputation for erudition in Jewish law, reflected later in his published responsa.

In 1921, Teichthal was appointed Orthodox rabbi of the Slovakian resort town of Piešt’any, where he founded Yeshivat Moriyah, whose goal was to train Orthodox congregational rabbis for communities in Hungary and Slovakia to counteract the growing influence of the Neolog and Status Quo rabbis. Piešt’any, whose Jewish community of about 1,300 was itself divided between the Orthodox and the modernizing “Jeshurun” community, boasted a famous spa with hot springs frequented by some of the leading Hungarian and Slovakian Hasidic rabbis, most of whom were outspoken opponents of Zionism. Ḥayim El‘azar Shapira, the Munkatsher rebbe, was an occasional visitor to Piešt’any and spent time in Teichthal’s home, and Teichthal came to consider himself one of his Hasidim.

All indications are that until the onset of World War II, Teichthal fully advocated the anti-Zionist ideology that prevailed among the ultra-Orthodox rabbis of northern Hungary and Czechoslovakia and was championed most vocally by the Munkatsher rebbe. The seminal prewar compendium of more than 150 rabbinical letters and signatures denouncing the Zionist enterprise, Sefer Tikun ‘olam (1936), includes a lengthy letter by Teichthal (which had originally appeared in the Munkatsh Yiddish weekly, Yidishe tsaytung, on 9 February 1936) harshly critical of Zionist settlers in Palestine and also vehemently opposing the non-Zionist Orthodox federation Agudas Yisroel, which Teichthal—like his master, the Munkatsher rebbe—accused of collaborating with the Zionists merely by supporting settlements in Palestine.

When the Nazis occupied Slovakia, Teichthal escaped Piešt’any, along with thousands of other Jews, first to Nitra, still in Slovakia, and eventually to Budapest, where he arrived in late October 1942. It was apparently during this dark period, upon witnessing the brutality of the Nazi onslaught, that Teichthal composed his remarkable work Em ha-banim semeḥah, published in Budapest in December 1943 by Salomon Katzburg, the last remaining Jewish publisher in Nazi-occupied Europe. In this book, Teichthal expresses what is arguably the most dramatically documented ideological change in modern Jewish thought. His passionate endorsement of Zionism and penitential repudiation of his prewar opposition to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine are the central subjects of Em ha-banim semeḥah. It has been reissued numerous times since its original publication in 1943 and has been translated into English twice. It is especially popular to this day in religious Zionist circles.

The first volume of Teichthal’s collected responsa, Mishneh sakhir, was published in Bardejov (Slovakia) in 1924. Teichthal also published a small selection of his sermons, Tov yig’al. All of the copies of the second volume of Mishneh sakhir, which was apparently printed in Trnava in 1939–1940 but not yet distributed, were, it seems, destroyed by the Nazis. Fortunately, before leaving Piešt’any in August 1942, Teichthal entrusted all of his manuscripts—including the destroyed responsa along with sermons, memoirs, and correspondence—to a gentile neighbor. After the war, Teichthal’s literary remains were recovered in Piešt’any by his daughters and entrusted to Teichthal’s son, Ḥayim Menaḥem Teichthal, who published three volumes of responsa—Mishneh sakhir, based on his father’s manuscripts (1973, 1987, 1996)—and Teichthal’s memoirs and sermons from the Holocaust years, Emunah tserufah be-khur ha-Sho’ah: Pirke zikhronot (2 vols.; 1995, 2000).

The last, turbulent year of Teichthal’s life is poorly documented, and there are conflicting accounts of the exact circumstances of his death. In March 1944, having heard reports of the amelioration of conditions for Jews remaining in Slovakia, Teichthal left Budapest for Slovakia in an attempt to recover the page proofs of his unpublished volume of responsa in Trnava. He hid for a time in a series of safe houses in Pressburg (Bratislava), but ultimately was deported to Auschwitz toward the end of 1944. Based on numerous, if somewhat conflicting, eyewitness accounts, it appears that Teichthal was murdered during a transport of Jews out of Auschwitz as the Germans retreated from the advancing Soviet army on 24 January 1945.

Suggested Reading

Eliezer Schweid, “Simḥat em ha-banim: Ha-Tsedakat ha-el ha-tsiyonit shel R. Yisakhar Shelomoh Taikhtal,” in Minḥah le-Sarah: Meḥkarim be-filosofyah yehudit uve-kabalah, ed. Mosheh Idel, Devorah Dimant, and Sholem Rozenberg, pp. 380–398 (Jerusalem, 1994); Ḥayim Menaḥem Taikhtel, “Toldot ha-meḥaber: Perakim be-ḥayav ha-so‘arim,” in She’elot u-teshuvot Mishneh sakhir, pp. 16–25 (Jerusalem, 1987); Yisakhar Shelomoh Taikhtel, Em Habanim Semeha: Restoration of Zion as a Response during the Holocaust, trans. and ed. Pesach Schindler (Hoboken, N.J., 1999); Me’ir Vunder, “R. Yisakhar Shelomoh Taikhtal,” in Me’ore Galitsyah: Entsiklopedyah le-ḥakhme Galitsyah, vol. 3, cols. 141–144 (Jerusalem, 1986).